Скопје, Северна Македонија
Skopje, North Macedonia
January 4th 2023
Skopje has been the destination I have been most interested to visit in the Balkans. Seemingly unknown to me and probably the rest of the west, the culture, architecture, and history has long been a big black hole in my world knowledge.
Bad timing, or maybe perfect time depending on how you look at it, I soon learned that Skopje during winter is one of, if not the, most polluted cities in Europe. Thick smog clings to the city like glue. I could physically taste burning and pepper-like scents in the air. It irritated my lungs and made me revaluate my sightseeing plans. People here wear masks outside and then take them off inside, the opposite of COVID-19 behaviour. Many simply move out during the winter, and stay with their family in the country. It seems ridiculous that it could continue. At the time of writing, the concentration of PM2.5, fine particulates in the air, is 12.8 times higher than the WHO air quality guideline.
Their main public transport system is comprised of old London double-deckers
Similarly, stray cats and dogs cling to every corner of the city. I of course made friends with many. Just when I thought I could escape though, I open the door to my flat building and a heavy-set cat immediately meows at me from the stairs. He can't be asked to climb to his destination, instead he waits for someone to open the elevator.
Impatient elevator cat
Special mention also to the best money designs in the Balkans:
It's not all bad however. The city itself is, in my opinion, maybe the most interesting looking in Europe. There are so many statues and monuments, the bridges are super cute and the whole place feels small yet big. I had to get my insulated jacket repaired, all my clothes have holes in but this one had a huge gash that was leaking insulation material (super important to keep in this weather). Speaking the few Bulgarian phrases I know, and hoping they translated well to the incredibly closely related Macedonian language, a father and son tailor treated me with the upmost friendliness. After I said I was leaving in 2 days, they easily changed their repair schedule from 6 days to 1 day. No extra charge, just smiles and backpats. They have truly made the biggest impression on me so far. It is the little things, after all.