In the Lair of the Eccentric

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Skopje, Macedonia – September 2014

Baffled. That’s the word I’ve been searching for. It’s not often, anymore, that a place leaves me at a loss for words. I believe this is the first time it’s happened out of sheer bewilderment. I’ve heard that Skopje is undergoing a renaissance that many compare to Las Vegas. An appropriate comparison, if you see it on a superficial level. However, I feel that there’s much more love involved in the ornamentation. Skopje looks like it was decorated by Liberace’s favorite spinster aunt. A traveler. An eccentric. A collector. Every trinket is precious and has its place on the dusty shelves. There’s an order to the disorder. She knows where everything is.

Alexander the Great dominates the living room, a conversation piece on steroids. In the evenings, it lights up in neon colors which change hue every few minutes.

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Souvenirs of London and Paris can be found at the end of the corridor.

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And art. Oh, yes. Art. Gilt, glitz, and glitter. Her bedchamber is a luxurious lair.

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A neon nightlight illuminates the evening glamor. It also changes hue.

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Larger than life flamboyance is an understatement.

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Ageless, feisty. She is a lady of many projects in various stages of incompletion.

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If you listen closely, her extravagant monologues turn to events of the past. Never forget the time when time stopped. She never throws anything away, however broken and battered it may be.

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Is that..? Oh my. Yes, ladies and germs. It is indeed a pirate ship. Perched near relics of the spartan years. But she’s not content with one. Oh, no. Two more just like it are being built further along the river bank.

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And, of course, there are the obligatory cats. Everywhere. All of them are not only welcomed, but beckoned.

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Smaller curios are placed amid the massive effigies and neon. Shimmering gold contrasts with the green patina of unpolished bronze. A haphazard symmetry to their arrangement. I wander through this wonderland of kitsch for hours. No matter which angle I try, my photos can’t capture the full effect. Either I’m too far away to catch the smaller details or the larger statues are cut off when I get close enough to the miniature treasures. My head begins to hurt from hours of relentless stimuli. Eccentrics are fascinating, but exhausting. Now I need a nap.

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63 thoughts on “In the Lair of the Eccentric

    • One cannot say that Skopje doesn’t have character. It’s a funny place to visit for a day or two. The people are very pleasant. Skopje also has a really cool authentic Ottoman bazaar that I haven’t yet written about. It deserves its own post.

  1. First class words and pictures Julie – very Jonathan Meades especially “Skopje looks like it was decorated by Liberace’s favorite spinster aunt”. Until you prompted me to look, I hadn’t realised the extent of Skopje’s troubled past which I guess explains its off-kilter present.

    • Thanks, Robin. I hadn’t truly understood the concept of “Balkan culture” until I visited Skopje. It’s like a festive blend of cultures, European and Ottoman.

  2. “Every trinket is precious and has its place on the dusty shelves.”…Such a perfect description for what follows. Beautiful photos, but I, too, would need a nap. Overstimulated, for sure. Great post…you always take us there. ☺

  3. I really enjoyed your tour around Skopje and the many facettes of it. The picture with the cats and the colourfoul tiles is my favourite. You are more and more convincing me to visit Montenegro. Thank you, dear Julia, for opening my eyes.:)

  4. So lovely to be “bewildered ” dear Julie ! I love this post , ” she never throws anything away , however broken and battered it might be ” … ( sadly not so in the U.S.) I wonder what extraordinary objects you saw at the Ottoman bazaar ? Enjoy your nap zzzzzzz ( hugs )

    • Thank you, dear Meg. It’s good to be thrown off kilter sometimes. It keeps us young. The Ottoman bazaar was extraordinary. I will post about it in the future, for sure.

    • Thank you, Tricia. I can imagine that it looked very different in 1994. The manager of the guesthouse I stayed at told me that the city got a loan to beautify the downtown area, and the loan quickly paid itself off, because the new look is attracting the most tourists they’ve ever had. It’s still far from being mobbed, but who knows how many more people will discover it after all of the renovation work is finished and word gets out. As for the food, I don’t eat meat so I wasn’t able to eat much except shopska salad and cheese burek. But they were tasty.

  5. According to Jack Kerouac, “Paris is a woman but London is an independent man puffing his pipe in a pub.” Now I know that Skopje, Macedonia is a spinster aunt. While I’m not a spinster, I have a feeling that I’m the eccentric aunt of my family (rather like the title) A marvelous post, filled with glamour, flamboyance, and glitz. My kind of city!!!

    • I have a feeling you may be the eccentric aunt of your family, too. 😉 As am I and my sister, who, as of now, is still a spinster. I think you’d really like Skopje, mostly because of the museums there. I didn’t make it inside any museums, but I’m sure they are fascinating. Especially the shiny new archeology museum.

  6. Another fascinating post, Julie, as you literally hand-hold the reader through a tour of a place with a chequered history. What is the best time to visit these places, July- August? Best wishes… Raj.

    • Thank you, Raj. Probably anytime between April and October is good for the southern Balkans. July-August is high season, but as Macedonia is still off the beaten path, it’s less mobbed than the rest of Europe. Skopje will probably have even more treasures to discover in the future, as the construction and beautification projects are slowly completed.

    • It’s too bad your Balkan trip didn’t include Macedonia. Very underrated place, in my opinion. But, of course, discovering it before the masses do is part of what makes it special. Nice to hear from you!

  7. Every once in a while, Julie. I’ll read one of your posts in reverse, and above is one extraordinary example as to why I venture time to such a choice. At first the city, Skopje in the last seems a delightful crafted model by the hands of a exquisite artisan of built environments, a place of observation, a story domain to stroll amongst. To then upon entry, be greeted and welcome by the caretakers and guides to the detail of such a fine city with its river and ships perched upon the ancient silt of its banks. Time does indeed stop, pauses in such wondrous places, around each bend, corner, thoughtful baffle harbouring worlds within a world. Feisty and ageless in such intense ways, in that it is difficult here to gain a complete sense of how such tales, alive build continuously in flexing its poetry about and to Skopje existence. Yet can stop the sky above from falling, night or day, one feels, fills like a conversation laced with intimacy and an ornate swashbuckling grandeur, that is both welcoming and captivating. Her history, one where merchants of nations afar have left in remembrance, their ideals to share, perhaps gifts of welcoming and carriage to those who visit from time to time. Skopje, a conversation space, warrior and horse mark both return and a place to set out from, to tour the baffles between each world and realm mapped insider her roads, streets and lanes, to then return once more and choose a different direction. Yes to read a post in reverse is a wonderful journey of moments at times, and above is one such gathering of moments.

  8. Julie, you know that I’m easy to convince … now I wanna goo there! I just don’t know this city! The photos are just great, it seems a city in transformation, with many faces.

    • Hi Cris – you are an open-minded traveler, so I’m sure you’d like it. Plus Lake Ohrid is not far and that’s a beautiful place. If you ever go to Skopje, I’m sure it will look different from when I was there.

  9. I have never been to Skopje, but I have some Macedonian friends who complain that too many monuments that have been put up in the main square. They say they would have preferred far fewer and more well thought out.

    • Interesting to know your friends’ opinion. The Macedonians I met while in Skopje were very proud of the new look. I was disappointed that I couldn’t find an angle to get more of the monuments and statues in a single photo. There are more than I’ve shown here and they are set at odd angles. It is over-the-top and disorganized, but it’s attracting attention and tourist dollars. Some go just to see the wacky design. If attracting tourists was the goal of the project, then it seems to have worked.

  10. Liberace had to come from somewhere! Fabulous descriptions Julie, I can’t help wondering how much fun weddings must be in this town. Why I’m wondering I don’t know but it all looks so wedding cake-y!

    • I was told that the rationale was to attract tourists. It seems to have worked, because I was also told that the money they borrowed for the renovation has already been paid back.

      • Wow Julie. Thank you so much for the lovely words & pics for this city of mine. Unfortunately for people who actually live here in Skopje like myself, these pics are bittersweet. The money they spent on the renovation are not payed back, and the government just put some new taxes and other state debts to pay for all this. You know by now, Macedonians are poor, very poor, and so most of them hate this New Skopje. The rationale wasn’t to attract tourists, it was money laundering. I am so sorry to write ugly things on such a beautiful story, but people need to know the truth.

        • Hi Elena – thank you very much for setting the record straight. Don’t be sorry. It’s important that we know the truth, and I’m really not surprised. That would explain the overkill on the design. It made me suspicious to tell you the truth. I know how things work over in this part of Europe. The young man who told me that it was about attracting tourists and that the money has been paid back has obviously (and sadly) been misguided. I didn’t totally believe him, but he was so enthusiastic and proud that I kept my mouth shut. Thank you again for letting me know. I try to be accurate on my blog, but sometimes it’s hard to get the correct information.

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