Stopping off in NORTH Macedonia at the best hostel in the Balkans

I’ve sent Izzy out to find her way around the city centre on a walking tour with just Boris for companionship. Hopefully, she will be able to find some accomplices to hold the bunting so that she can get a photograph of our Prime Minister in the shadow (both physically and historically) of Alexander the Great. Yesterday we arrived in Thessaloniki just before six after a troubled night on one of the few extant train services in Greece. They don’t turn off the lights even in the early hours and some of our travelling companions seemed to be drinking “Monster” caffeine drinks just so that they could keep up their conversations throughout the night. Enough said.

All is as confusing at Thessi Station as it was last time I passed through but fortunately a very kindly Albanian coach operator had already opened his kiosk and told us where to wait for the 0830h bus to Macedonia’s capital city. He also suggested that we wait in a nearby cafe where Izzy could sample a selection of Greek delicacies but we drew the line at what appeared to be full-sized loaves of bread slathered in chocolate sauce. Having a bus that got us into Skopje before midday was an absolute godsend to me because I’d been pretty concerned about introducing my niece to traditional Balkan travel with hours spent in filthy bus stations dodging the touts while not being able find anything suitable in the form of onward transport. It was she who suggested that we book our next trip before heading to the hostel so she’s obviously picking up the idea fast.

Thus I’m relaxing today at the “Get Inn”, the best hostel in the Balkans. It’s long after check-out time and I’m sharing the lounge with a convivial group of Polish travellers who are enjoying a leisurely breakfast of whiskey and chocolate. I’m showered, pilled, sorted and packed; I’ve been able to use the hair-dryer to dry out the last of yesterday’s damp clothing and I’ve swapped over the insoles to make my boots more comfortable. That’s all the essentials checked off; another coffee and I’ll feel a bit more comfortable about keeping up with a 22 year old. After all, tonight we have another overnighter to Podgorica, capital of Montenegro and famous for being the most boring city in Europe: all the same, it was  the best available choice of transit to Dubrovnik without having to go through Belgrade.

So what did we do with our wet afternoon in Skopje after we’d dumped our luggage yesterday? Well, we headed down to Macedonia Avenue and found my friends at the gem shop of course. Deko hadn’t arrived with my special orders yet so I took Izzy back out to meet the legendary conqueror, commemorated as he is with largest equestrian bronze statue in the world (it was in 2017, anyway). The “was Alexander actually a Greek?” dispute between these neighbouring countries has continued to simmer, in fact it got so bad earlier this year that Macedonia has had to change its name to North Macedonia in order to surmount the Greek objections to their full membership of the EU and NATO. We also visited the Archaeological Museum but, alas, the room containing the mysterious and magisterial remains of the Paeonian priestess was closed for restoration.

After traversing several of the city’s opulent marble bridges and marvelling that they even remain standing given the sheer quantity of bronze statues adorning their balustrades, we stopped at a cafe (German, Italian or Irish themed? I can’t remember) and sampled a hot chocolate drink that actually more resembled some sort thick custard. Then it was back to the gem shop for some serious shopping. I had come specifically looking for a couple of raw specimens that I could take on to Germany for carving but of course I could not leave without some more Macedonian rubies in one or two pieces of made-up jewellery. Isobel was just so taken with everything she could not make up her mind, in fact she’s going back today to pick up a piece which is being specially made for her in a silver filigree rendering of the symbolic Macedonian sun.

Talking of the sun, it’s a bit brighter today so when I’m all coffee-ed out I’ll head down the the National Museum and hopefully we can meet up later before heading back to the bus station.

Categories: Europe

Leave a Reply