Skopje and the taxi race to Ohrid

Skopje Travel Blog

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Zvonka grabs a seat during the night, I lay on the packs, here still in the now empty hall with the luggage bins full

Night Train

It was a really long night. The train creaked and groaned over mountains, and after several hours of trying to sleep standing up in the entry stairs, packed in with drunk, chain smoking Serbians and Greeks (never trust "reserved seats" in the Balkans on a Saturday night : ) )eventually people started getting off at various stations.  A conductor found Zvonka a seat before sunrise, crawling through the tangle of people in the hallway of the unlit train with a little flashlight. By morning, I was able to get enough room to lay down on the packs in the hall, and eventually migrate into the compartment. We ended up in a compartment with two Serbians heading to Ohrid like us, and an Argentinian. Everyone spoke a tiny bit of English, enough English to relate about soccer (futbal) "hey, Argentina.

as morning comes, I snag a seat too, looking a little worse for the wear - we left for the train early yesterday morning, and we're still half a day away...
.. uuhhhh.... futbal!" "yeah, and Serbia.... World Cup.... (name of player))" (lots of high-fiving)... Argentina guy was backpacking across Europe and taking the train all the way to Greece.

When we rolled into Skopje in the morning, we were about done. We really wished we had time to just go get a place to stay and sleep a little, but we were already so far behind we had to press on to our destination, Ohrid Lake. The down side was that we were in the north of the country and it was still about a hundred miles away from Ohrid, across a mountain range, at the southern tip. As we would find out, it's a hard hundred miles too, all on narrow mountain roads through some spectacular countryside.

Skopje is in a valley, ringed by tall peaks in all directions.
Our new cabin mates, the Serbian Guys and Argentina Guy.
After passing from agriculture to the heavy industry of the suburbs, the skyline of the capital comes into view with communist high-rise housing, minarets, and modern buildings sharing the skyline. that's all we got to see of the city, the train station was on the edge of town and we didn't get a chance to go in.

We were mobbed by the usual taxi drivers and purveyors of rooms on the train platform. We usually ignore them, but our new Serbian friends, a couple buddies from Serbia on their annual trip to the beach at Ohrid, knew the going rate for busses and car rides. They quickly shot down the inflated offers, and it turned out to be cheaper to share a car than ride the bus. Plus, without all the stops, it would take near half the time.

With our only goal in life to wash off at the beach and get some sleep, that sounded really good so we all piled into the car, with some of the luggage going into a second car, which seemed a little sketchy.

Bureaucratic paperwork to get into Macedonia - they passed these out, people got their first and sometimes last names down, then the collected them blank or mostly blank, then lots of stamping and filing
.. and off we went.

The Race

The ride started off typical enough, across agricultural fields and through little villages. Like all drivers here, they have only two modes, full, pedal to the floor acceleration and full, break pedal to the floor braking. The poor 1984 Jetta groaned under the strain. Soon enough we were heading into the mountains, the two drivers passing the time racing each other to Ohrid.


We got there really fast, but ...barely... I mean, I'm used to crazy taxies, but these guys were even scaring the Serbians!  It's hard to scare a Serbian!!  Our poor driver was cross-eyed with no depth perception. He had the advantage with no apparent restrictions on passing things. He'd pull out on the blind curve into the path of the approaching bus, unable to judge the distance except by the closing speed.

Coming into Skopje
As it would suddenly grow disturbingly large -therefore it must be close- he'd jam the brakes and duck back in line, the car swaying from the bus's wake. We slid through another red light and intersection, Worlds Greatest Police Chase Videos style, after swerving around a line of unnoticed stopped cars at the light at full throttle, somehow missing the cross traffic. Everyone turned a little white, but we were at that point of exhaustion from the trip that sailing off a cliff was about as palatable as staying awake for the remaining hours...

Finally in Ohrid (thanks to the red light incident and various other lucky passes, our car won by about 5 minutes... ), we hooked up with a lady with a house with a room, and headed into the city. We humped our packs into the house as she shooed chickens and teenagers renting the other room out of the way.

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Zvonka grabs a seat during the nig…
Zvonka grabs a seat during the ni…
as morning comes, I snag a seat to…
as morning comes, I snag a seat t…
Our new cabin mates, the Serbian G…
Our new cabin mates, the Serbian …
Bureaucratic paperwork to get into…
Bureaucratic paperwork to get int…
Coming into Skopje
Coming into Skopje
Our new Serbian friends from the t…
Our new Serbian friends from the …
Negotiating cars and drivers... 5 …
Negotiating cars and drivers... 5…
All manner of home-made wheeled tr…
All manner of home-made wheeled t…
Minerets, many under construction,…
Minerets, many under construction…
Passing all sorts of half-tractor/…
Passing all sorts of half-tractor…
Nice improved highway from Skopje …
Nice improved highway from Skopje…
Almost there, taking a break as we…
Almost there, taking a break as w…
Ohrid, at last!
Ohrid, at last!
Skopje
photo by: dieforu