[Arrival in Skopje and impressive Matka Canyon = photo album.]
It was rather annoying that I didn’t know I needed to pay one extra leva for luggage until I was about to board the bus! This is really very ridiculous. (Why didn’t anyone say anything when I purchased the ticket yesterday?) I had no levas left and turned to one of the three other fellow passengers for help. This gentle middle-age man kindly gave me one leva and told me not to worry about it.
The drive from Sofia to Skopje lasts five hours, and I slept through a big part of it. I first woke up after two hours when we stopped for a break; at the toilet was a fat old woman with a persistently stretched arm asking for money. I had three Serbian cents and eight Bulgarian cents left, and I showed her some of these coins. She took them away and kept asking for more. I decided not to use the toilet, but she refused to let me take back the few tiny pennies. Eventually I walked in for the (of course not exactly clean) toilet, and when I came out she still persisted in her language to ask for whatever money she could possibly get.
I didn’t sleep much before we reached the border control, which wasn’t very far away. The Bulgarian side detained me for almost an hour and actually took me to a small room to ask me a bunch of silly questions: do you have a driver’s license? Do you have any other documents? Where have you been in Bulgaria? Where are you going to? I remembered how I entered Bulgaria and showed them the Serbian entrance permit, and a whole dozen of customs officials gathered to see my passport and that entrance permit, which obviously they haven’t seen often. I noticed that they have a bunch of papers showing the anti-fraudulence marks on documents like Taiwanese national health insurance card, but no matter what I explained to them, it didn’t seem to make a difference. They also asked me whether I had trouble when first entering Bulgaria, and even though I told them that as soon as I presented that Serbian entrance permit as “another document” I was good to go, these people still didn’t do anything. Come on, I’m leaving the country instead of entering!
They were clinging to the fact that the plastic cover part of the passport “isn’t perfect,” and although I told them a phone call to Taipei/ Taiwan’s office in Warsaw would clear up everything, they of course didn’t care to take any of such actions. In the end my luggage was carried into the office: they told me the bus driver would wait for another hour.
Eventually they let me go. At least these not exactly intelligent people were polite enough to bid me to have a nice trip.
On the Macedonian side, the official simply checked the list of requirements for various passports, and in the last paragraph of the last page was a sentence about the “temporary” no-visa-needed treatment for Taiwanese citizens from April 2012 to March 2013, and I got the stamp right away.
Some guy from GR was to meet me at the bus station, but I didn’t see anyone upon arriving in Skopje’s shabby bus station. No matter. I turned down various taxi offers and quickly found my hostel. A guy in the garden saw me and went in to get the English-speaking clerk; upon hearing his reference of “a Japanese” (in Macedonian language, of course), I (secretly turned my eyes and) said I am not Japanese. The young lady was very nice though: she volunteered to explain that the handy man hasn’t seen many Asians, and she offered an ice bar and coffee. She was so jolly and welcoming that she could have lit up a very cloudy day. Well, today the sun shines in an authentic Balkan manner, but still.
This morning I was keenly aware that my cold had “kicked in,” and no matter how much I slept on the bus, I still felt tired. Besides, the air conditioning on the bus works too well, even though the bus driver rolled down the window a couple of times to smoke, which caused some agony to me. Still, upon seeing the posters of beautiful Matka Canyon on the hostel wall, I gathered myself to ask for related info. She checked the bus schedule for me (despite the fact that the internet was down at the moment) and told me I could definitely do it for today. She told me that they have a free walking tour; the one for today had departed, but I could join the one tomorrow.
I went to the city bus station looking for Bus No.60. A taxi driver came up and tried to dissuade me, telling that there wouldn’t be a bus until 3pm, which was of course untrue. And when I proceeded to look for the bus, several bus drivers and related employees came up one after another; although they are mostly unable to speak English, they just led me and made sure they could help me find the right place and make me understand the info. Such nice people!
The next bus should set off at 13.50, but when my watch showed 2pm the bus was still nowhere to be seen. Then I thought about something and went to ask some drivers standing nearby: my speculation was correct – there’s one hour difference between Bulgaria and Macedonia!
Well, then I still had about 50 minutes. I went back to the restaurant recommended by the hostel young lady and ate some traditional stuff.
The bus ride should take 40 minutes, but in effect it took longer. I dozed off on the bus, made fatigue by the cold. The driver was very nice, telling me in English how to take the bus back to the city and showed me the schedule.
Some young men and boys were playing in the river. This is indeed the best weather for such activities. But I’m by myself and don’t have the chance to enjoy the water. Besides, buses between central Skopje and Matka aren’t very frequent, so I have to watch the time.
There’s a boat tour taking people to a cave. On the boat the employee offered to explain a couple of things to me in English. The cave itself is far from impressive, but the canyon is a very lovely sight. The whole tour lasts one hour, and upon getting back on the shore, I ran for the bus setting off at 4.20. At the bus stop an old man kept asking me “Kina? Kina?”, and I think I have traveled for too long to have patience for such questions.
On the bus some young boys tried to circle around me to see if this weird-looking monster would react, and when they got off the bus, knowing that there’s the bus wall between us, they pounded heavily on the window glass right beside me.
Back in the hostel it was still early enough for a phone call to Tz. After that I gathered the strength to get some not so great dinner in the nearby “Vero” shopping center, got some waffle cookies, and went to bed sometime around 9pm. (Something very considerate about this hostel is that each bunk bed has drapes.) It was pretty hot and airless in the room, so air-conditioning is necessary, which nevertheless is the biggest enemy imaginable when I have a cold. I know that even though I turn it off, someone will eventually turn it back on, so I had no choice but to let it stay on, and I wrap myself in a light jacket and kept my daytime shorts on.
8/21記帳：1 Bulgarian Lev (BGN) = 18.99TWD; 1EUR = 1.96BGN
1EUR= 61.75MKD; 1BGN= 31.57MKD; 1TWD= 1.666MKD
Sofia – Skopje公車：32BGN
午餐：35+ 180 = 215 MKD
Skopje – Makta市公車：35*2= 70
總計：32BGN+ 1370MKD= 約1430TWD