It was time to leave Bulgaria, I’ve spent more time here than expected and that started getting me down, so next on the list was Macedonia!
I checked my transport options, packed once again, and hit the road. I had two spots of interest in Macedonia, considering than my days on the road were now counted I wanted to see, Skopje – the capital city, and Ohrid Lake.
I was lucky enough that the bus from Sofia to Macedonia had WiFi and I had the chance to see that I had an invite for couch surfing in Skopje. I must admit that the journey not only felt like way longer than expected but it actually was, as we got stopped at the borders, our passports were collected and it took them ages to check them and return them, also all of us had to get off the bus and have our bags searched, quite frankly I think my whole bag could have been stuffed with dead bodies and they wouldn’t have noticed, it felt like one of those ‘procedures’ that is done just to tick a box. One person did not make it into Macedonia, he got taken off the bus, and I later learned that Macedonia’s visas are fairly impossible to get for a lot of travellers. I felt happy and blessed that I’m European once again.
While on the bus, I met an interesting guy from Spain, and we had fun chats for most of the travel, until I felt tired and sleepy and managed to invent a way to stay comfortable in my seat and not lose my head on every sharp bend of the road that was taken with a little bit too much speed haha.
After what felt like forever, we finally found ourselves at the main bus station in Skopje. I did not have any of the local currency and thought I’d exchange just a few pounds to have some change for silly cheap stuff like coffee. I wanted to exchange whatever leva I had left (the Bulgarian currency), but when I was told I won’t be given a proper receipt and checked the exchange rate they were offering me, guess what – it turned out to be more than a rip off, so I decided to just withdraw cash from my Revolut card when I find a free ATM. So here’s a piece of advice, don’t exchange money at the bus station in Skopje, it will be a rip off.
Once in Skopje, I thought I’d walk to my host’s place, despite it being around 45mins walk away from the station I actually enjoyed the walk, as it took me along the river and I could see the brand new grand buildings that have been erected in the past four years. Then I found myself slightly lost, but people were helpful and I managed to find my way around and find my host after wandering around.
My host was an Australian who ended up in Skopje after landing a prestigious position, I won’t say more. He met me near his flat and we went for a refreshing drink before going out to have some food. And what is interesting is that I felt more comfortable reading the menu in Macedonian than English, simply because some of the translations were pretty vague and didn’t really mean much to me – Balkan cuisine is mostly poorly described in English.
I also felt like I don’t know whether to speak English or Bulgarian (with a south-western dialect) when I had to exchange words with Macedonians, because see Bulgaria and Macedonia have a rather odd story, we were one country up until the second world war. So since it is so recent many Bulgarians don’t accept that Macedonia is a separate country, to many it is Bulgarian land and Bulgarian people who were cut out of our territory. Hence I didn’t know what Macedonian people feel towards us Bulgarians. Are they bitter, do they hate us, what’s their view of our nations? Would they treat me better if I speak English, would they treat me worse or better for speaking Bulgarian to them? I had a few odd situations where I spoke to waiters mainly in English but asked for menus in Macedonian and encouraged them to say things in Macedonian when they were struggling with English…. confusions did not come from the use of 2-3 different languages, but they did look very surprised by the arsenal of languages I was using to speak with them.
I did not plan to spend much time in Skopje, I had just about enough to walk around town and make some awesome pictures, see I continue to improve on my photography skills haha, and also to eat really nice, cheap food.
What I found strange about Skopje was the massive contrast, between new and old, expensive and cheap. Standing on some of the new big bridges (one too many if you ask me) in the heart of town it takes a slight turn of the head to see how big this contrast between new grand, glowing buildings and old, unkept buildings. Much money has been spent to build a new town centre and I heard these money came out at the expense of hospitals and schools, ouch. The idea to bring more tourists and get them to spend money in Macedonia is great, don’t get me wrong, but it just doesn’t need to be done this particular way…and also why not loosen up on the visas, the easier you make it to enter a country for tourism, the more tourists there will be. From multiple conversations about politics with Macedonians and Bulgarians I feel that both our poor countries have their faiths in the hands of not so clever and yet very corrupt politicians.
Anyway, let me show you some of the nice things one can see in Skopje.
Walking around town centre I saw monuments of the brothers Cyril and Methodius as well as other Saints that I always strongly associated with the Bulgarian culture and language, so I had mixed feelings seeing them in Skopje. I know Bulgarian’s territory has changed so many times over the centuries, and that our language is most likely the basis from which other languages derived (don’t correct me if I’m wrong) but still seeing them pay their respects to ”our” Saints (I know how stupid this sounds, but let me be irrational, sentimental and unwilling to share some stuff) with monuments kind of felt weird and I didn’t like the feeling.
I went up to the fortress and enjoyed the green and the view from high up of the city.
And on my last night in Skopje, I met this beautiful, homeless soul, I really wish I could have taken him with me. There are too many strays in Eastern Europe, I really wish to do something about it!
Next on my list to visit- Ohrid Lake.