I take a shower while the hostel still sleeps. To approach the bus terminal, I take a city bus at 6:40 and walk 15 minutes. There is a very special side of seeing a city during sun rise. It is empty, life starts to appear and there is an amazing light.
When travelling there is no perfect time to go from one city to another. In the morning or during the day, one “misses” the sunlight to visit the city. Travelling after the sun set means arriving at night at a new place, which is not nice either. At the end I think that going early morning is a good compromise, even if one needs to wake up early.
The café at the bus terminal has nothing to eat and points me to the kebab/bbq shop. Salad, bread and 6 meatballs are my breakfast, together with a bad coffee. At 7:25 sharp leaves the van direction Skopje. I’m the only one with luggage among the 10 passengers.
With clear sky and snowy mountains it is again beautiful.
At the North Macedonia border the control does not want to accept my Portuguese ID card. “Passport? Don’t yo have passport? Cannot read this card”. I don’t know why, I did not feel like getting my Swiss passport from the backpack. “I don’t need passport, I’m from European Union”, I answered. He asked me to wait. The other passengers went back to the bus and the police officer went to the main building. One minute later comes out running back to the reading machine, puts back my ID card, does something in the computer and it worked.
As soon as the bus opened the door at the terminal in Skopje there is “taxi?”, “airport?”. I get myself quickly into the building and sit down to check why mobile internet is not working and plan the day.
I want to buy the train ticket for this afternoon at the train station that should be just next to the bus terminal. I see a door that goes to another building and behind a second door open and stairs that look like in a train station. Look above this second door and it confirms. Everything is dirty and abandoned. A row of guichets with no one. There is one with light and I go there. Someone comes. I ask for the ticket to Gevgeljia, he confirms me the 16:55 time and adds: “better 16:00 buy ticket. Maybe problem with train”. The state of abandon of the station talks about the railway status of the country. I hear some train arriving, check at the screens which can be but none matches the time. On the platform no one comes out and no one waits to get in. Later I’ll see if I’ve train.
When I arrive to the central square looking for a café to go to the toilet, I see a group of people starting a tour. The umbrella of the guide states “Free tour”. I join. The toilet will have to wait a couple of hours.
“You can follow me or these two stray dogs, they also know the way”. There are a lot of stray dogs in Skopje (there were also some in Pristina). These two, they follow every day the guided tour and bark to the cars that pass on the road next to the group, as to protect us tourists. There are double decker buses like in London, but these are Chinese made. There are many buildings being built or redone, part of the “Skopje 2014” project which did not finish yet. The guide say that Macedonians are calm and tolerant, that like in the Balkans they do not follow all the rules, several – including himself – escape taxes, and that even if they do not accept the decisions of the government, they end up accepting them.
The city centre is nice, easy to walk and with several big statues. The bazaar is the second biggest in Europe, after the one in Istanbul. Today as it is Sunday it is quiet.
Toilet, finally. At one restaurant recommended by the guide I eat a typical dish of beans and a salad. Fortunately, they accept Euros, as I did not get Dinars yet and the restaurant does not accept cards. I look for a Café to rest and write a bit.
At 16:00 I could buy the train ticket. The lady at the counter confirmed it will be on time and that a small part will be done with a bus, as there is a problem with a bridge. After that I go to walk a bit more, seat at a Café for a machiatto.
The train is not old but is dirty and uncared. It is pitch dark outside, so I take out the computer to type the memories of the day.
There is a bridge with a crack, so between two stations there is a bus transfer. There are so few passengers that all of them plus 3 people from the train fit in a mini-bus. The train at the other side, in a middle of nowhere train station, is closed and turned off. The train driver comes with the passengers to open and start it.
My initial plan would be to go tomorrow morning to Thessaloniki, from Skopje. However, the only bus is in the afternoon. Today there were no buses. Instead, I go to the border town this evening and tomorrow morning I go to the first city in the Greek side to take a bus to Thessaloniki.
At Gevgeljia I meet Georgi, a couchsurfer that accepted that I sleep at his grand-mother house, next to his place. We go for a burek dinner and then beer and waffle. Georgi is translator between French, English, Turkish, Macedonian, Greek and Bulgarian. We speak in French, he tells me about his trips in the region, how he is now afraid to visit new countries, after what he sees on you tube. Tomorrow, the father of another couchsurfer – Angel – will drive my to Polykastro, in Greece.
Next Stop: Greece.