If you’d like a statue of yourself made after your death, I’d recommend going to Macedonia and doing something passably generous. They have statues in spades in Skopje, so much so that they keep having to construct new stone bridges just to make room for new ones. It’s as if a decision was made upon independence that they ought to commemorate a few historical figures, to cement a fledgling national identity, and in the 24 years since then nobody at the government has got around to reviewing whether the program needs continued funding.
Everyone who was ever anyone in this part of the world has homage paid to them in Skopje, as do some individuals who you suspect never were – so while Alexander the Great may take pride of place, just down the road you can also find ‘Andreas – church benefactor, 1371-95’. There you have it: someone who once gave a few bob to organised religion, immortalised in stone in the heart of a sovereign nation seven centuries later.
On the subject of organised religion, Skopje was the birthplace of Mother Teresa in 1910, a fact which hasn’t escaped the notice of city planners. As well as a museum dedicated to her, they have a scattering of plaques featuring some of her famous quotes. An element of compromise seems to have gone into which sayings to include, for interspersed along with the usual pleas for love and charity can be found: “The greatest threat to world peace is abortion!!!”
Can anyone please confirm if Mother Teresa actually said that? Even if she did say it, I doubt she said it with three exclamation marks – that doesn’t sound very nun-like. Perhaps she added ‘LOL JK…’ In any case, Mother Teresa wouldn’t have liked our hostel in Sofia much. It was a place of such nocturnal chaos that we returned from our last night of drinking at 7am to find one of our room-mates waiting outside reception for an un-named Austrian guy to return from the pharmacy with her morning-after pill. Mother Teresa would have been much happier in Skopje’s Urban Hostel, with its quiet, family-friendly vibe.
Skopje does have other hostels which supply a more conventional rowdy Euro-traveller ethos – tourism has picked up since I last came in 2011, when Macedonia’s entire backpacker population averaged about 12 in high season. However, Urban Hostel provides comfort and restbite to those travellers whose bodies have been wrecked by the cheap alcohol of Macedonia’s noisy neighbours. It also has a Jacuzzi. Mother Teresa would definitely have gone for a dip.
It’s not hard to see why more people are visiting Macedonia. I’ve rarely seen such a delightfully quirky capital as Skopje – a messy mismatch of different architectural styles, hidden away amongst deserted green mountains. The people are vivacious, and the plentiful cafes are soporific on a sunny summer’s day. Homage to the Ottoman past is paid by the cobbled old town, Carsija, which is overlooked by a ruined fortress where I once spent an afternoon smoking blunts and developing the world’s first Anglo-Macedonian creole with some kind strangers.
Life would be good here, I think, reclining in a jacuzzi…However there wasn’t much time to relax, as we were shortly to head off to our next Macedonian stop: Ohrid…
Oh Tom, never do you return without a tail to tell… Find out more about Tom’s adventures by following us on Twitter and using #tomsblog.