Gilman Kosovo to Skopje, Macedonia, 83km
To Strazha 77km
It's snowing as I cross the border into Macedonia. I've sifted past about 50 cars, and the Kosovo border guard is very chatty. I'm not sure those I've past are impressed, but I am. He asks me questions about my adventure, wishes me a Happy New Year, a safe journey, and invites me to return soon. The Macedonian guard is not quite as talkative, but the whole process takes less than ten minutes. For the next 10km, I recognise cars I sifted past in the queue. Cycling, in this part of the world, is great for crossing borders.
I head into Skopje. I've got a hostel ear marked, close to the city centre. I didn't know beforehand, but Skopje is the birth place of Mother Teresa, hence the name of the Motorway, and the park, and the museum. The hostel is small, and very cozy. The hot shower..... amazing. I head out for an explore before it gets dark. I want to check out what's on and where, for tonight.... New Years Eve....... I make some enquiries...... nothing is happening...... because tonight is not New Years Eve.... it's tomorrow.... bother. But I see a market, lots of crazy looking fireworks being sold, and I'm told not to photograph them. Someone sets a few off in the central market, which gives me a big fright....idiots. I also see heaps of statues, to Macedonian warriors, Poets, Artists, Musicians and Writers, and lots of impressive buildings..... and a stage for tomorrow nights celebrations. I eat pizza at an Irish Pub. Unlike Bulgaria, where there is a McDonalds, KFC or Burger King, on every corner, Macedonia has no such shops. On corners here are Casinos, and Slot Machine places. It's 6pm, -8°C, and it's been dark for almost two hours. I head back to the hostel and warmth.
The real New Years Eve, and I'm out wandering about 3pm. The bars and resturants are packed. I sit in the "Square", and watch the world go by. Four Santa's, with their helpers, Mickey Mouse, some Raggity Anne Doll, and others I couldn't identify, are doing a roaring trade in photos..... it's a week since Xmas. Xmas hats, flashing lights, balloons, candy floss.. it's all happening. The band turns up at dusk, 4pm, for a sound check. They're pretty good.... but aren't playing until 10pm..... that's a long time after dark.... don't know whether I will make it.
The temperature has dropped. It must be -10°C. Most people are pretty well rugged up, but quite a few "young things" are pretty much '"dolled up", ready for the big night. They look pretty "hot" in their skimpy gear, but I hope they're heading for a warm bar, because it's bleeding cold. I don't see the band perform. It's too cold, and I'm asleep before 9pm. I do get woken at midnight by incredibly loud fireworks.
New Years Day. I'm heading out of the city on the Mother Teresa Motorway. There's no other choice. It's very very cold, but the sky is blue, and the mountains have fresh snow on them. I pass three sets of Toll Booths. I keep getting waved on through. I bought some new gloves and socks at the market. The gloves are fantastic. The socks not so great, but I'm climbing a hill, and sweating. I'm just worried about the downhill, because that's when you get cold. A sign at a garage tells me it's -12°C. Just over the summit, I get a little wobble on. Bother. A puncture. I strip the tube out, but my hands are so cold, I can't find the cause of the puncture in the tyre. I decide to replace the tyre with one of my spares, as the current one has done close to 19,000km, and has a few gouges, while the spare has only done 12,000km. I get slime all over my hands. My hands freeze. Getting the tyre back on is rather difficult. I'm cursing, and laughing. This is ridiculous, and now I'm really cold.... and I've got downhill. Oh oh. Finally, I get it all together..yeha, but, I'm shaking with cold..... Luckily less than 3km downhill, I find a Cafe. Hot soup, hot chocolate..... wow I needed them. I thaw out.
Back on the road, and it's 2pm, and I'm starting a climb. You have to remember, it's dark at 4pm. It's slow, and the sun has dropped below the hills. There's snow on the ground, and I'm tired. I start looking for campsites, but there's not much choice. I'm starting to get a bit worried. I stop for some food intake. My water has froze solid. My juice is like a thick slushy. My Snickers is frozen hard, and I can't feel my lips, they're numb with cold, so don't know whether I've got it in my mouth. I'm a little more worried. Then I see a flag, a beacon. It's either the summit, or a Petrol Station. I'm saved. In fact, it's both, plus a couple of resturants. I pitch my tent in an unused beer garden, and go into the cheaper restaurant and dry my soaked clothes in front of a fire. Damn, I'm cold. Two hours, lots of food, several hot drinks, and the clothes are reasonably dry. I'm knackered, and am happy to crawl into my sleeping bag. At least it's downhill tomorrow. I'll be rugging up with everything I've got...... if I survive the night.