Getting from Plovdiv, Bulgaria to Skopje, Macedonia was not as easy as we thought it would be. There are no flights between the two cities. Taking the bus would have involve changing buses one or two times and taken up a full day. Taking the train would have involve four different trains and taken even longer. We initially though we would do this and maybe stop for a night in Niš, Serbia, the halfway point along the train route. Unfortunately we couldn’t take the time off. Despite working over the last couple weekends, we had too much to do and approaching deadlines. We needed to get set up in our new location as quickly as possible and get back to work, so we hired a car service.
We used True Drivers, the same service we used to get from the Sofia airport to Plovdiv after our six day airport ordeal. They are fantastic! This is the only way I want to travel from now on. Well, for fairly short distances at least. During the drive we finally got to see some of the Bulgarian countryside. The highway took us north through Sofia then west up into the mountains. The road grew smaller and wound through the trees. We passed through tunnel after tunnel. The entire trip, including a couple stops took less than five hours.
Our driver was great and we chatted most of the way. As we approached the border crossing, he told us the last time he was there he was delayed for four hours. His passenger, a girl from the US, had over-stayed her 90 day automatic visa in Bulgaria and got detained. She ended up having to pay a fine and fill out a ton of paperwork. She probably can’t go back to Bulgaria for a couple years now too.
To top that off, when they got to Skopje he brought her to the address of her Airbnb. She wasn’t sure if it was right and was going to go check, then come back to the car for her luggage. She didn’t come back though. It was the middle of summer and 35 C out (95 F) and the driver was sitting in a hot car waiting. Eventually he locked up the car and went to look for her. He found her 45 min later just wandering around. They were at the right address for her apartment, but she just thought she would go for a walk and check out the neighborhood.
I can not understand how some people can be so inconsiderate. People like that are giving a bad name to American travelers!
We passed through the border checkpoints with no problem. It was interesting to see the EU flag on all the signage at the border even though Macedonia is not part of the EU yet. They want to be though and have started enforcing some of the EU rules, like nonsmoking sections in restaurants and banning plastic straws. I guess they just wanted to get a jump on things with the signs at the border.
The driver apologized several times about the roads in Macedonia. They were bumpy and needed to be repaved, but nothing we weren’t used to. Some roads in New Hampshire can be much worse, especially after a harsh winter. As we made our way down the mountainside we entered into wine country. Little villages surrounded with vineyards lined the road. Eventually the road turned back into a highway and we entered Skopje.
Skopje is a much larger city that Plovdiv and it has that big city feel. It’s still fairly easy to walk to most places though. There are the soviet block style buildings here, but they have a bit more decoration and uniqueness to them. There are some really funky buildings too, and statues everywhere. Best of all, there is a good size grocery store just a few blocks from our apartment. It’s actually the largest grocery store we have come across in our recent travels.
Our apartment is interesting. Sometimes the photos on Airbnb can be a bit deceiving. That’s not really the case here but I didn’t expect everything to be so big. The furniture is big and sturdy, instead of an “Apartment by Ikea” that we usually rent. The rooms are enormous, the ceiling must be 14 feet high. I feel like a little tiny person inside a giant’s house. Other than that we have good internet, a comfortable bed, and we are settled in for the month, excited to explore a new city.