Most of the plane journey I spent dosing off and listening to an audiobook. I didn’t want to build up expectations or imagine things that would happen. This was a trip that was agreed a year in advance, but in reality we had no plan. In fact, we chose Macedonia over Turkey just the week before.
There was a woman sitting next to me and when the plane landed (and I took my headphones off) we started talking. She was doing her medical practice in London to get a full license. She asked me where I was from, me “Bulgaria”, her reply “Why don’t we speak Bulgarian then?”. And she continued in impeccable Bulgarian explaining that she did her first degree in Plovdiv.
That was a very nice first welcome to the country and made me more comfortable talking straight in Bulgarian to people (the two languages have an estimated 90% similarity).
Off the plane, security – no problem, the bike box came out shortly after and the assembly began.
Then I had to deal with the box (the thing you never think about). It’s a massive cardboard giant that you cannot just leave in the airport. So I folded it similar to the day before and walked around the airport asking staff what I could do with it. None seemed to know, so I found a little paper recycling bin and left it neatly next to it (hoping not to cause anyone too much headaches).
I was out of the airport and had to cycle to the centre of Skopje (about 20km) to find the AirBnb we had booked with my friend Alex (a.k.a. Sasho). He was supposed to arrive with the train if that was possible (as no website could tell us) or alternatively do part of the journey on his bike.
Using the airport WiFi I set the route on Google maps and headed out, but took a few wrong turns and got lost or ended up in dead-ends that were still not completed. Finally, I set the app to think as if I am a car (not a cyclist/pedestrian) and to simply avoid motorways and main roads. That worked a charm and soon I was on an empty road, parallel to the main road enjoying the sunshine and warmth (about 23 degrees – total contrast to the rain and jacket-y weather I left in Luton).
I quickly got into a rhythm, getting used to the bike, the roads and the mindset that I am in this and I need to soak in the experience. Not long and I was in Skopje’s outskirts and then the block buildings started. I was on a long straight main road and head down, I was just pushing ahead knowing that I had about one or two kilometres to the AirBnb when suddenly I heard “Eiiiii, ARABIIIIIN!!!”. That translates to “Yo, ARAB!”, which was the nickname Sasho gave me in high-school due to my skin colour :). Speaking of, he was standing on the side of the road, next to one of the block buildings and waving at me. I made a sharp turn and met with him.
I would have totally missed the block if he hadn’t seen me. Alex had made a connection with a local shop owner who was super friendly and had giving him her phone to call the AirBnb host to let him know we were there. Soon he arrived and took us to the flat, which turned out to be a massive apartment that we got all to ourselves for just £13.
Well, it had been a long set of 36 hours and I was hungry. Luckily I had the most advanced local-food-spotting machine on my disposal – Sasho. He notices the small, underground local food “taverns” like no one else. There was one about 300m from the flat, so naturally we headed there.
The atmosphere in that local pub was unmatched. Time had stopped there. The people were probably the same that you would see any day of the week for the past two decades. Friends, neighbours, you couldn’t be in a more “local” place than that.
We also made a few little friends:
The little black cutie inspired my dreams for an equally comfortable bed for myself.