We all know the famous cities: London, Paris, New York, Los Angeles, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Dubai, Istanbul, Rome, and the list can go on and on. Then you have the cities that are smaller but still pack a punch when it comes to popularity, such as Venice, Italy. In this “Hidden Gems” series I will not include any of these. Instead, I will focus on the places you most likely have never heard of. Also, each gem will be a place that I have traveled to.
Traveling to Macedonia
It was January 26, 2015, and my father and I were taking a trip to the Republic of Macedonia and the Republic of Kosovo. Leaving early in the morning from our home in Bucharest, Romania, it did not take long before we crossed the border into Bulgaria. The day was overcast and as we made our way across Bulgaria we started climbing into the mountains. By the time we arrived at the border crossing into Macedonia, we were surrounded by snow.
As soon as we crossed the border, I noticed that the living conditions in Macedonia were pretty low. Small villages, that we passed, were run down. Small plots of land that the people used for gardens, were most likely their only lifeline.
This dreary countryside soon turned into one of beauty as we finally entered into the capital city, Skopje (pronounced “SKOPE-yey”). It was dusk, and we saw many minarets peek their crescent moon above the city. We passed a bazaar on our right side before turning down one of the main boulevards. Our hotel was supposed to be easy to find, my mom had booked a great place for us in the center of the city, but we happened to take a couple of wrong turns and ended up treating ourselves to an unexpected tour of the city. It was beautiful.
Statues & Buildings
Skopje has history, a 2,000-year-old history to be exact. It has rich Ottoman and Byzantine heritage and has undergone a massive, yet controversial, makeover in the last few years. A Lonely Planet (travel guide-book) article called it, “one of the best-value city breaks in Europe right now.” I agree.
You can see much of the history as portrayed by the statues. There were hundreds of them decorating the bridges, lining the “Vardar River”, and interrupting the walkways as my dad and I explored. The most prominent statue was of Alexander the Great, situated in the middle of a square, on a mighty horse and with his sword raised.
Many of the museums, government buildings, and theaters have been recently renovated in a government project intended, “to give a boost to the national identity and bolster tourism.” By this time it was dark and the view, as the spotlights illuminated the magnificent buildings and inevitably glistened off the nearby river, was impressive, but sadly I do not remember the people. Somehow, they were left in the shadows.
The Macedonian Call
And a vision appeared to Paul in the night; There stood a man of Macedonia, and prayed him, saying, Come over into Macedonia, and help us.
The “Hidden Gems” series is meant to shine the light on cities that are not well-known. I want to share the travel experience with you, and take you on the journey with me to these neat places. I hope you can visit these places one day too, to “feel” the culture, smell the unique food, and walk the streets of history. I want you to enjoy the experience. I must admit, though, there is a spiritual calling that I hope you will catch, as well.
My dad and I were in Skopje to prayer walk. To claim this city and country for Jesus. Macedonia does not have a known Jesus Name church in its borders. It needs someone to answer the cry of the Macedonian man, like the one cried out to Paul in Acts chapter 16. I pray you catch the burden of a beautiful city; a place who needs someone to share the light of the Gospel in the shadows… to the people.
“Come over into Macedonia” – Acts 16:9