One of the great parts of our most recent trip to the Balkans was that it pushed me out of my comfort zone. Normally when I travel I obsessively and compulsively project manage the living hell out of the whole thing. To the point where almost every minute of every day is accounted for in some way or another. I’d attribute this proclivity to my business training, but that’d be lying – I’ve been like this forever. But anyway, being that there was only a week between booking tickets and departing on this adventure, I didn’t have the time to plan everything. And thus, I didn’t realize when we left that we were destined to fall in love with Skopje, Macedonia.
I mean, what’s not to love about all of this quirky, Yugoslav-era, “communist” architecture?
By the time we’d arrived in Skopje, I’d read a couple of articles by bloggers on the city, but nothing in too great of detail about the extant architecture. I knew it was undergoing a radical facelift – and boy, it looked like Las Vegas’ ugly sister had some low rent work in Tijuana. Yikes. The new buildings were ostentatious and not much to my taste. But, as I wrote about Tbilisi’s similar (but not quite as drastic) transformation, it’s none of my business how development manifests across the developing world.
What is my business, however, were all of the glorious brutal structures from decades past. I’m talking about those glorious 70s and 80s, when brutalist/Stalinist/whatever-you-want-to-call-it megastructures were in vogue.
Speaking of vogue…
Walking down the streets of Skopje, David and I might as well have been extras from the seminal documentary “Paris is Burning” (or maybe just drag queens from “RuPaul’s Drag Race”) the way we were snapping at and cat calling the aging structures.
Sure, we liked Skopje for other reasons as well. The markets were great, particularly the green market – bursting at the seams with red peppers in preparation for families making ajvar – think marinara, but with a bell pepper base instead of tomatoes.
And there was a decent Mexican restaurant where we ate twice (shame). And the random booksellers on the sides of the roads selling ancient books organized in no particular way? We maybe liked them the most.
But when we think back to our time in Macedonia’s stranger than life capital, we think about the architecture. For a much more in depth read on the architecture of Skopje, pre 2014 facelift, I highly recommend Nate’s article on it over at Yomadic, as well as this one featured on Roads and Kingdoms. They’re both far more articulate than my kneejerk catcalling.