By bike through Macedonia

Friday, 2nd of December 2011

From Niš we left by train. We could not find neither couchsurfers nor cheap rooms south, we would not make more than 50 kilometers in the few hours with daylight, we could not spend too much money on sleeping in hotels and we did not want to camp in the cold, so we decided to go by train to Skopje.

We squeezed our bikes into the old train and waited for the controller to come and charge us the extra 200 – 300 Dinar (2 – 3 €) for our bikes. We were surprised when he asked for 900 Dinar. “You have to bikes and that other thing. They each cost you 300 Denar.” He explained bored. “But the ticket seller told us it was only 200 – 300 in total! We do not have any more than …” I counted all the money left “… 505 Dinar!” The controller did not appear too pitiful: “Well then you have to leave the train at the next station.” We discussed a while but he did not change his mind. Roberto packed his emergency-5-Dollars and I gave him my 500 Dinar, but he was still not satisfied. “I need 100 Dinar more or one Euro.” I offered him a packet of cigarettes of that value and explained again that we did not bring any more money. He still did not care. When Roberto found a 2-Euro-piece in his bag he finally left us in peace.

The border control was easier than expected. As usual the controller was confused when he saw the Mexican passport. Then he asked his colleague, asked somebody else, made a phone call and came back with the stamp. Welcome to Macedonia.

After another 15 minutes another train controller came. We gave him the tickets and the new receives for the bikes. “Ah, those are your bikes? Then you have to pay for them”, he smiled. I explained that we already did so and that that was why we gave him the receives. “But you are in Macedonia now.

In Skopje’s Main square

You did pay for Serbia only.” He really wanted to charge us 4 € again. We explained our situation and as the first controller he decided to kick us out at the next station. Luckily I remembered the 5 € I left in my camera-bag and with a grumpy face I gave him our very last money and he left.

Arriving to Skopje we followed the bus route to our host Sanja’s place and where happy to see some bicycle lanes. They were in a bad condition and full of parking cars and pedestrians but they existed.

We came along great with Sanja. She showed us around and explained the Macedonian history and everything about Skopje to us. She also made us try our first Macedonian Burek and Pita. We stayed two nights with her and her brother, cooked, walked, worked and had fun. The following two nights we spent in a hostel in the town, because Sanjas brother had already invited some other guests. In the hostel we met another Roberto from Tijuana and some other nice travelers. We also went to see an old hammam but when we arrived we saw signs explaining that there was the National Gallery of Macedonia inside. Also nice. We entered. The lights where off and there were no other tourists. We asked some of the security-guys watching TV if the museum was open and the one answered: “It is Monday, it is closed.” It took only few seconds until both of them realized that it was Wednesday, 3 pm and they should have probably switched the lights on some hours ago.

We have decided to try with the bikes again because the temperatures did not appear as cold as in Niš. At 9 am we left the hostel heading south.

Enjoying the view after some bad gradients  

It was not too hard to find the way out of the city, but there are only 1/4 of Macedonian’s 2 Million habitants living there.

We cycled on the old road parallel to the freeway again, until the two lanes got separated by a mountain. That was when we had to take the “short” way: over the mountain. The way was hard, especially for Roberto who had to heft the big trailer, but the view over all the hills was beautiful and on the way down we made a break by a beautiful lake.

Unfortunately most of the downhill-way was in a very bad condition and we were forced to walk the way down.

We made it! Soon the street would get a little better and we could enjoy the rest of the ride down to the lake

After 50 kilometers we arrived in Veles a small town in Macedonia and soon found Goran’s place. Goran is another great host who even offered us to sleep in his bed while he slept on the couch in the living room. We watched some movies, talked about the different countries we have been traveling to and ate a lot of junk food.

Again it was easy to leave the town – just all downhill to the riverside and then parallel to the water and freeway. After a 1-hour-brake for Roberto and some extra-kilometers for me (I forgot my phone uphill at Goran’s place) we hurried up a little and made the first 25 kilometer in an incredible speed.

Kavadarci’s main square

The last 20 kilometers were full of hills again and we reduced our speed on less than one quarter. In Kavadarci we met with our host Mishela. She and her family are amazing. Mishela showed us all her small town and presented us to some of her friends. Her young uncle Goran (Goran is a very common name in Macedonia) and his wife invited us for a great dinner and we enjoyed our time in Kavadarci very much. All the day we ate and ate and probably have already gained more than all the kilos that we had lost before. Mishela cooks a very traditional Macedonian dish, her mother cooks the most delicious food all the time, Roberto cooks great Chilaquiles again and I am happy with the German Christmas bread called Weihnachtsstollen and a special Gingerbread-bread we eat for Christmas.

Delicious Macedonian peppers selfmade by Mishelas mother

Both I have found in a supermarket in the town. To buy the ingredients for our dishes Mishela offered us to go to the market with her. There she explained us exactly how to distinguish fresh fruits and vegetables from old ones. Mishela had a discussion with the egg-sellers, Roberto chatted with the German-speaking tomato-seller and I could not stop buying the tiny and very cheap mandarins that tasted incredibly good. The day in the green market was very lively.

We are very happy in Kavadarci but tomorrow it is time to wipe off the dust from our bikes, heft our big and full bellies up the bikes and head south again.

In the green market


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