"I love pretty much most things about Macedonia". This is how the expat from Dublin, Cillian Foster experiences the country.
After two years of "experience" in Skopje as an expat, he now welcomes tourists in the capital city of Skopje. Together with his friend Dejan, they recently opened the Railway Hostel, which, of course, is located near the Railway Station (Transportation Center).
Cillian previously lived in Malta since 2017 after leaving Ireland, but after 4 years had passed, he "felt it was time for something new and a fresh start". It was in Malta that he met many people from the Balkans, and got on very well with them, having similar personalities and outlooks on life. And so he moved to Skopje in 2021.
“The people are amazingly helpful, and very welcoming and friendly to me since day one. I love the way Skopje has such a bohemian vibe to it, it’s a very unique city that is quite like a maze but for me, I love to get lost in places and find my way again. I love the urban feel of the city, the graffiti, and the food is amazing, as I am a meat lover and what meat lover doesn’t enjoy BBQ-style food. The nightlife is great, always with good buzz around the bars and being a musician for many years back in Ireland I love going to bars like Rakija Bar, Beer House, Wine Bar and Beertija which is great for live music and meeting new people”, Cillian explains for Skopje.IN.
The idea for the hostel, which is an apartment converted into a hostel, with one 4-bed room, and one 8-bed room, came as he was constantly looking for something to invest his finances in.
“I have a very good relationship with my landlord here. We had been talking one day and he was asking what I would like to do for the future and told him, he then mentioned he had done his research regarding opening a hostel in the city which wasn’t something I’d thought of, but over a coffee, he told me all about it and without hesitation I was in”, Cillian adds.
Then, they had multiple meetings to put a business plan into place and it took them about 4 months to find a location they felt would work which is so close to the train and bus station.
“This has been essential to the early days of the hostel having been very busy for the beginning of this journey”, he adds.
Both of the rooms, as he explains, are mixed with a large communal living room and kitchen area.
Everything in the hostel is brand new, which was a big investment, and it took some time for everything to arrive, Cillian says. He added that Dejan’s experience in running Airbnb apartments previously brought a different feel to the hostel, which is, as Cillian says, more homely and a warm and comfortable space to stay.
“With the timing of our opening we only caught the end of the peak tourist season, and although it was very successful we will see how the next season goes, but we have talked about expanding the business to open up another. For me personally, I am always on the lookout for any business ventures and I would love to open up a bar at some point in the future. But for now, let’s concentrate on one thing at a time and get it right”, Cillian hopes.
Asked about how it feels for him to now welcome tourists and direct them to the place where he once found himself for the first time, Cillian explains that, being Irish, he comes from a very social background, so he always loved meeting new people from all different parts of the world, adding that this suits his personality perfectly.
Being here for nearly two years, he points out that he has explored a lot of Skopje, and he feels that he has a good understanding of places to recommend to their guests. He adds that he also enjoys sharing his experiences here.
“I have some of my favorite bars and restaurants to go to, which I also recommend to our guests. Dejan being a Macedonian brings much more knowledge to the table than me, and he tells our guests some hidden gems around the city that you won’t find in any travel guidebooks for our guests to see the true Macedonia experience”, Cillian says.
Their guests, as he explains, have been to most of the neighboring Balkan countries, so they are pretty much aware of where they want to go when they arrive here.
“The one thing I do feel that people tend to do is not give Skopje enough time to explore it, as most tourists want to get to somewhere like Ohrid which is a must-see, but having currently traveled to 29 European countries, Skopje for me really has it all and is only getting better by the day. It is like Ireland in the sunshine for me, having the city life and then you can jump on a bus and travel one hour to the beautiful Matka Canyon, or travel in any direction, and see the beautiful green nature views, which in the winter turns into a Winter Wonderland which shows the white snow, which opens up an entirely different experience”, Cillian is decisive.
The visa as the biggest obstacle
When he came to Skopje, Cillian explains that it was nearly impossible to sort out a visa, so unfortunately, he had to leave the country after his 90 days were up. Afterward, he moved to Lithuania for a few months, continuing to his home in Dublin, and getting back in Skopje again at the beginning of 2022.
In that period, a lawyer set up his company which entitled him to a visa. The visa process wasn’t straightforward and had its hiccups, Cillian says.
“I think the biggest challenge was getting the visa and it would be great to see the Macedonian government open up to the digital nomad experience and offer residence visa with a bit more ease as our way of life has definitely changed dramatically since COVID struck and opened the possibility for a lot more workers to work remotely. Macedonia having a tonne of coffee chops around is a digital nomad’s dream location where you can work for the majority of the year in the beautiful weather in an outdoor environment and be constantly inspired by the both busy and chilled atmosphere Skopje offers”, Cillian is decisive.