Travel from Santorini and Skopje

Trip Start May 15, 2006
Trip End Sep 29, 2006

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Flag of Macedonia  ,
Tuesday, August 15, 2006

The trip from Santorini to Skopje, Macedonia was hell. We had to take an all night boat which arrived in Athens at 5am. We then had to take a 6 hour train up to Thessyloniki. Did I mention that it wasn't air conditioned? We then had to wait in the blazing heat of Thessyloniki for 6 hours while we waited for the only train up to Skopje. It was the holiday of Santa Maria in Greece that day so NOTHING, I mean NOTHING was open. The tourist information office was closed, that pretty much sums it up. We ended up just sitting in one of the only open cafes and drinking some coffee waiting out the heat. We then took the train up to the border of Macedonia and were given the third degree by border guards with machine guns. We finally made it up to Skopje after about 30 straight hours of travel. This is when the real fun begins.

As soon as we step off the train, we are greeted with gunfire. It is almost 12 at night, it is dark in Macedonia and the first thing we hear is gunfire? What a nice start. We then leave the train station and are approached by a taxi driver who wants to take us to his hotel. We talk to him for a couple of minutes and are about to go with him but when we get to his car, he doesn't have a taxi sign on it. We then back away to rethink things and two goons come out of the shadows and tell us that everything is safe and we should go with the sketch taxi driver. Well, we all bolt back into the train station and then take a little side hatch exit and find a different taxi driver to take us to a hotel. Right as we are leaving, the two goons come out of the side hatch we just exited from and stare us down as we drive away. I wonder what would have happened had we gone with the first taxi driver?

Well, we finally end up at a reasonably priced hotel and pretty much all just pass out from exhaustion. We wake the next morning to a great free breakfast from the hotel and feel we have had enough already of Skopje. We take a taxi to the bus station and take the first bus out leaving for Lake Ohrid, supposedly the most beautiful place in all of Macedonia.

With all this said about Skopje, it really is unfair to judge it without experiencing more of it than we did. On the ride out of town, we saw some parts that looked really pretty nice. It was really interesting to see the difference between the communist architecture of buildings from the 80's compared to the more modern buildings that are spread throughout the town. It was also pretty cool to see new bmws, parked next to old Yugos, which are then parked next to a horse and cart. This is a supposedly modern city and yet there are still horses roaming around town? When is the last time you saw a horse and buggy in a modern town, outside of those that carry tourists around?

It is also fun to barter for everything. Our first night there, we just wanted to get away and ended up paying the taxi driver 5 euros for a 5 minute ride. On the way out of Skopje, we bartered it down to 1 euro to get back to the train/bus station. We also go to buy water but we don't have Macedonian Donar, so we have to haggle with the shop owner for how much a water should be. He starts out at one Euro and we eventually get him down to 30 cents. I am not used to bartering at a store but it is evidently commonplace here.

Again, something about the computers I am on won't let me upload pictures so I will upload tons when I actually get to a place that allows it.
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agtraveler on

I am an exchange scholar now (May 2007) in Skopje and happended upon Eric's blog. I sympathize with Eric's hellish experience travelling to and around Skopje and I know from experience that it could happen to any unwary visitor. The Republic of Macedonia is not a tourist destination, for good reason: the tourist accommodations are -- to put it mildly -- under development. Basically you have to do a lot of research before travelling in the Balkan region. And it makes a world of differce to have some local contacts. For example, there are different trains traveling between Thassaloniki and Athens - a friend and I took one at the end of April and it was pleasant, but the trick is you take an Intercity (IC) train during the day instead of the others to avoid the hellish experience Eric described. Skopje is not all glamour but once you find your ways around it is not all bad. For example, money exchange outlets are plentiful but Eric apparently arrived at a time when they were not open. The Skopje bus station is a rugged place but so are the bus stations in Athens. Skopje has some nice restaurants and great cultural events. But it certainly has its seemy side as well.

alan3 on

Best route to Skopje?
I need to travel to Skopje from Dublin in July 2007. Flights appear to be very expensive. I am thinking of flying to a destination near Skopje and then travelling on - either by Plane or Train. Any suggestions - Maybe Athens?

ericrg on

Best Route to Skopje
I would suggest either Athens or Belgrade. Whatever is cheaper because either of those train trips into Skopje is a long and arduous journey.

I thought Skopje was nice but Ohrid was way better. If you are travelling all the way over there, I would highly suggest taking the bus/taxi across the country to give that a look.

If you have any other questions, feel free to ask. I am always up to help a fellow traveller.

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