JOIN US IN AN INTERVIEW WITH DANIEL KIETSKI FROM SKOPJE, MACEDONIA !
Daniel Kiteski is the blogger behind passportsymphony.com. He graduated from the Faculty of Economics in his native city, Skopje, as one of the best students in his class. And after that, Macedonia, and for that fact, Europe as well seemed too small and not adventurous enough for his taste. Therefore, he started traveling to other destinations. He’s a digital marketing specialist with working experience in 3 different continents and visited 35 countries on his own in the cheapest way possible at only 25 years of age.
Skopje, the capital and largest city of the Republic of Macedonia, is said to be a seven thousand year old city. It lies in the heart of the Balkan Peninsula and is home to one-third of the Macedonia’s population.
It was also the hometown of the greatest humanitarian of the world, Mother Teresa, who though Albanian by ethnicity, was born in Skopje. Don’t miss her Memorial House located in the center of the city where she was baptized as a child and lived with her family until the day she left it to quench her thirsting love for humanity.
If you’re looking for a different experience and want to visit a European capital that
doesn’t look that European, then Skopje is a great choice. We all hear the cliché phrase “city of contrasts” mentioned by tour operators trying to promote a city and as much as I don’t like clichés, Skopje really is a city of contrasts.
Why visit Skopje?
There can be several reasons, but I would point out two –
Firstly, because it has (recently built) statues worth millions of euros and only 20 meters away from beggars that don’t have a roof over their head. Great contrast, right?
And secondly, because it’s a city that’s a home to both, Christian and Muslim people and the divide is really obvious in some parts. Just take a walk around the city center you’ll see a lot of modern buildings, bars, and monuments. Cross the iconic Stone Bridge and you’ll see mosques, Ottoman architecture, and women wearing burkas. You’ll go from feeling like you’re in Paris to feeling like you’re somewhere in the Middle East in only two minutes. Of course, there are a lot of other reasons to visit as well and I’ll share them throughout this interview.
Which is the most convenient and favoured transport of Skopje? Which is the best mode of transport available from the airport to city?
The most convenient transport of Skopje is the bus. Even though there are around
one million people living in Skopje, the city still doesn’t have a metro line or a tram
line. Hence, the only public transportation option is the bus but they are still cool.
Most of them look like the old double-decker buses in London showcased in Harry
If you’re a foreigner visiting Skopje, I wouldn’t recommend you to take a cab from
the airport because there’s a high chance of getting overcharged. The only other
option you have is the shuttle bus that will take you straight to the city center for
180 denars (around 3 euros). You can find the schedules here.
Where to get the best exchange rates in Skopje? Do you
recommend a particular bank for it?
Yes, I do. There are two currency exchange shops in the old City Mall of Skopje
located on the exit right next to the Holiday Inn that offer the best exchange rate in
the city. Avoid exchanging your money at the airport or in the bank.
Which is the best area to stay in Skopje?
The obvious answer here would be the city center. Yes, it gets pretty crowded
during rush hour and there are people around all the time but it’s close to a lot of
touristy places and you can get practically anywhere (including the city outskirts)
without having to change the bus.
Which are the top 3 must visit places in Skopje?
It’s a bit difficult to choose only three but I would have to go with these:
The Matka Canyon is one of the most famous outdoors tourist attractions not only in Skopje but in the whole region. Matka is home to Vrelo, an underwater cave that no one knows exactly how deep it is. It might, in fact, be the deepest underwater cave in Europe as far as we know. If you’re into kayaking or rock climbing, then you have a couple of more reasons to visit. You can come close to the canyon entrance with the bus number 60.
The Vodno Hill will give you the best view of the city. When you reach the top, you’ll also see the third highest cross in the world. The Millennium Cross is 77 meters tall and can be seen from pretty much anywhere in Skopje. If you don’t want to hike to the top, you can take the zip line.
On the other side of the Vodno Hill, hidden in the forested slopes of the settlement of Gorno Nerezi you’ll find St. Panteleimon which is one of Skopje’s most beautiful monasteries. The monastery was built in 1164 and is one of the oldest monasteries in Macedonia that passed the test of time. St. Panteleimon is famous for its outstanding fresco paintings which appear as they were way ahead of their time, with all the dramatic facial expressions, which were uncommon for the traditional Byzantine art at the time. The most impressive fresco painting is the one of the Lamentation of Christ, seen as a masterpiece by many art experts, as it displays elements associated with the Renaissance, three centuries before renaissance actually became popular in Europe.
The Old Bazaar will give you a taste of Skopje’s Ottoman side. It’s located right next to the city center but it feels like a part of another city. It’s also the biggest Old Bazaar in the Balkan.
What are the best day trips for nature, culture, and history from Skopje?
Well, I already mentioned two of them- Vodno and Matka. If you want to visit these
places you will need the whole day. Some other ideas I might mention are the Stobi
ancient town and Kozjak.
Stobi was the capital of the Macedonia province during the times of the Roman
empire. If you’re a fan of history, you definitely have to visit this place. It’s located an
hour away from Skopje (unfortunately no bus goes there) and the entry fee is 120
denars (2 euros).
Kozjak Dam is actually one of my personal favorites. Again, no public transport will
take you here and you would either have to rent a car or get a taxi but it’ll be worth
it. The dam forms a beautiful, crystal-clear lake that looks as if it’s trapped between
the mountains. In the forests surrounding the lake, you can also find bores, wolves,
and even bears. Keep in mind this isn’t too far from Skopje’s outskirts.
Can you suggest where one should go to spot street art in Skopje?
Ever since I know about myself, Skopje has been a street art-friendly city. However, I
couldn’t point out a “best place to street art”. Just take a walk around the city or get
on the bus and look through the window. You’ll find street art all around you.
What is the most loved local food, savory and sweet of Skopje? Do you suggest a place to try them?
A lot of people start their day with burek for breakfast (either with meat or cheese). Some other delicious dishes include kebab, sarma (delicious cabbage rolls) and/or tavche gravche, pastramajlija (the Macedonian version of pizza), and ajvar (the most delicious appetizer ever. A good place to try these would be the Old Bohemian Street and the Ethno Village restaurants. We also have a lot of amazing sweets like tulumba, indijanka, ekler (Google them) that can be found in pretty much all local sweetshops but my personal favorite is Sheherezada (they have several stores located in different parts of the city). Finally, I cannot miss mentioning the “Donuts from Hrom”, one of the best ones I ever tried anywhere.
Where to head for shopping in Skopje?
There were several new malls open throughout the last decade but if you ask me I’d avoid them. You can find almost anything you will find in the malls for half the price in two places: the Bit Bazaar and the Shutka Market. Both are open-air markets and are not really pretty places but you can buy pretty much anything for a very cheap price. The Bit Bazaar is located right next to the Old Bazaar and you can reach Shutka with the bus number 19.
For both short-term and long-term visitors how easy it is to travel in Skopje without speaking the local language?
I would say it’s pretty easy if you’re a short-term visitor and moderately hard if you’re a long-term visitor but still a lot easier than it was 15 years ago! For a full Skopje guide visit here. Only a few people from the older generations speak English but most of the younger ones do since English in our schools is now taught starting from the first grade.
Would you recommend any local apps for food, transport or hidden gems in Skopje?
Some apps that you can use for food ordering are Klikni Jadi and Brzo Zalce and you can use the JSP app for public transportation. Also, for a free walking tour of the city, you can visit this website.
As for hidden gems, I briefly mentioned the Shutka Market but I didn’t tell you that it is located in the largest (and I believe only) Romani-run settlement in Europe. Romani people are believed to have migrated to Europe from Northern India more than 1,000 years ago. Today, they are discriminated in a lot of European countries but a lot of them found a permanent home in Shutka. Finally, a couple of other places that are not really hidden gems but I would absolutely have to mention before the end of this interview are the Old Kale Fortress, the City Park and the Museum of Macedonian Struggle.