Skopje and on to Gostivar, Macedonia

27 Apr

In Skopje I was hosted by serial couchsurfer Zlatko. Lewk Wilmshurst’s older, angrier, womanising Macedonian doppelganger. He met me at late notice and was busy and distracted by bigger problems than me being around, but still, he found the energy to have me along on and I was grateful to him. We walked my bike around Skopje for a few hours with Zlatko’s shepherd friend, Dragan. I nodded along as Zlatko scorned Skopje’s institutions with the ease of a professional tour guide.

He told me that 330 million euros went into building the capital’s new central monuments. I agreed that 330 million euros is a ridiculously large amount of money for such a small and poor country to spend on fancy facades. And the result is ridiculous too – Skopje’s City Square, with it’s Alexander the Great Fountain, makes Disney’s Magic Kingdom look like The Buttercross in Witney. A gigantic Alexander-on-horse-with-sword-aloft tops a pillar with ‘underglow’ neons, around which water is squirted up and down to match loud classical music. Find it on Youtube and underneath you’re bound to find petty, furious insults between Greeks and Macedonians.

Zlatko was recently forced to leave his flat and move temporarily into student digs. We took the bike there. It was manky, by any standards. I had to shower, so I did so with a fixed cringe on tiptoes and we were all glad to get out of the cramped concrete skyfart and back out into the streets sharpish.

We went to a busy local restaurant for sausage, salads, bread and potatoes with raki and wine. Big, quiet Dragan couldn’t speak english so we communicated with the help of my drawings while Zlatko hit on a girl sat with her brother at the table behind us.

Afterwards we visited some of Zlatko’s friends, who were drinking raki and betting on football on a laptop. Z soon got comfy and fell asleep, and I drank raki, played chess and was taught Macedonian history late into the night with a man of endless energy who would whack Dragan when he started snoring loudly next to us.

I was glad we didn’t stay in that tiny student flat. It would have been a 3 sausage sandwich, which is exactly what the guys bought me for breakfast at 8am. We visited the old town for a glass of tea before collecting my bike and I left Z and Dragan and cycled 80km towards Mavrovo NP with a pretty heavy head, recovering from a raki and Skopje overload.


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