Day 16 – Mountain Climbing

Slept like a baby through the night and ended up waking up about 11:00. I was surprised to see all the guys I’d been drinking with on the night before were all still there, which was good because we’d arranged to all go to lake Matka together.

The hostel provided free breakfast, which was the usual French toast and Oatmeal that seems to be served in every hostel that provides breakfast.

After breakfast Kata, Pablo (Chile), Pablo (German) and I all went to find the bus we needed to take to the lake. We used our best Macedonian sign language to try and ask the locals which bus we were getting and when it was. We found out we had to get the number 60 which was supposedly in about 5 minutes, it was about 20 minutes late in the end. However the bus ride itself was a good way to see the sights of Skopje, we saw the multitude of statues all around the city, most of which had been paint bombed by the locals in protest against the fact that they spend more on statues of the poor than actually helping them. About half way into the bus ride the heavens opened, leaving us with a decision on whether or not this trip was a good idea. Undeterred we decided we weren’t going to let the weather ruin our trip and despite none of us bringing anything remotely waterproof we soldiered on.

On arrival we were dropped off next to the river and we saw a kayak run that would’ve been great fun if we’d come prepared for it. In the bottom of the Rapids we spotted a water snake, sadly don’t have photos as my iPhone seemed incapable of focusing on it. We scrambled across the river by walking across a thin piece of concrete that was used to flow the water into the manmade kayak run. 

The ‘pathway’ on the other side led up the mountain, we aimed to make it to the top where there was a crucifix and we’d heard there were stunning views over the city. It turned out our path of choice went up the wrong mountain, a beginning of many fails of the day. On realisation that we were going completely the wrong way we decided to continue on and try and find a way back towards the river further along our path. Eventually we came to a path which led down towards the river, we followed it to a rather rusty unloved bridge clinging to a cliff. 

We edged across it one by one onto  a path skirting the edge of the cliff, once round the corner we realised why the bridge was so unloved, the pathway was completely gone leaving a 50ft drop ahead of us into the river.

 

Funnily enough instead of swimming we decided to turn back in search of a more suitable pathway. We skirted back up the mountain for about 10 minutes before finding the other pathway. The other pathway lead us to a gate, which was open so we simply went straight through not realising that this gate was actually leading us on top of the dam itself till we reached the edge. Once we realised, we had the choice of either turn back despite being soaked to the bone or to simply go across and jump over the gate at the opposite side. We chose the simpler option of going across the dam, we reached about halfway across before we we’re approached by a security guard who didn’t speak much English. The guard told us to delete all our photos from atop the dam, we deleted one each, then basically escorted us off the property.

Once we’d been taken away from the dam and the lake where we actually wanted to go in the first place, we decided we had to find a place to dry off and warm up. Only problem being the only restaurant/bar within walking distance happened to be back by the lake. We walked back up where we’d just been escorted off of sneaking past the security desk trying to be as inconspicuous as possible. We got by without problem and made it to the lakeside restaurant. The restaurant itself, although looking very posh and way over our budget we were quite happy to discover it wasn’t, due to the face that Macedonia in general is a very cheap country to visit.

We initially went in with the idea of simply grabbing a few hot drinks and warming up, however whilst we were inside the rain began to get heavier and heavier so we decided very quickly to grab a few beers, some Raki and to chill there for an hour or so. We quickly noticed a trend in the music being played in the bar. It seemed to be coming from a playlist that can only be called ‘Now that’s what I call depressed’. After a while we could no longer stand the mood kill of the music, there’s only so long you can joke about the depressing music before it actually begins to shit on your mood, so we left as soon as the rain ‘died down’. We were aiming to make it to a cave that we were going to shelter in and take some pictures. We walked along the lakeside for about an hour before realising we were going to have to turn back if we were going to stand any chance of catching the last bus back into Skopje. Along our walk we spotted a Salamander in the pathway, which was awesome to see as I’ve never seen one before and this one seemed quite docile and simply slowly walked to  the side of the path as we approached, meaning we could get plenty of photos.

Towards the end of our return trip we realised we weren’t quite going to make it back in time if we didn’t up the pace, me and Pablo (German) ran ahead with the intention of making the bus wait for Pablo and Kata who were lagging behind slightly. This was all in vain however as the bus proved to be once again unreliable, being 50 minutes late we spent 50 minutes stood waiting at the bus stop getting wetter by the minute as the heavens seemed to truly open from the moment we reached the bus stop. 

A positive we found here was that absolutely noone pays for the bus services here and absolutely noone seems to care about it at all. We followed suit with all the locals and just got on the bus, would’ve been way too much effort to try to translate ourselves to the bus driver anyway.

Once we arrived back in the centre we went to the supermarket and grabbed some cheap pasta, sauce and a few vegetables to fill it out slightly. Kata cooked for us all back at the hostel and we once again bought plenty beer for the evening so we had a few drinks whilst we cooked and joked around in the hostel common room for a few hours. Everyone seemed to find it rather funny how much currency I was carrying in my wallet because after a few countries you get left with a lot of useless notes that are near worthless to exchange. Hence this photo was made.

 At midnight Pablo and Kata left to try and get a bus to Sofia left in order to go to Sofia in Bulgaria, thanks for a great day guys and I hope the rest of your trip goes smoothly. Shortly after this Pablo and I discussed our travel plans for the following day, he told me that he was going down to lake Ohrid and asked me to come along, being drunk, I ofcourse accepted straight away without hesitation or thought of my initial plan to head up to Belgrade and move away from the Balkans. We booked a hostel and all was set, I was going to Ohrid tomorrow.

 

Day 15 Hitchhiking to Macedonia

 Woke up at 9:50am feeling rather lazy and not wanting to move. However I grabbed my phone and checked the train times for the day. I saw that the only way I wouldn’t have to spend another night in Thessaloniki train station was if I got the train which was in 20 minutes, and it was 1.5km to the station. Hurriedly I packed all my stuff, grabbed my board and rode as fast as I could towards the train station. Once again I made it on with seconds to spare, I’m getting good at this. 

  Once again the ticket attendant asked me for money saying I had to reserve, initally I thought maybe they actually were supposed to fine me because both the attendants had now asked, however he then asked for a completely different price to the other attendant, which just seemed to confirm it was going straight in his back pocket. I didn’t pay and didn’t get kicked off again. 

  When I arrived in Thessaloniki I sat down in my trusty café that I previously slept in on the way down to Athens to take advantage of the free wifi. I checked my train times and all seemed well, the train appeared on the arrivals board so I assumed all was right. Little did I know that on that exact day they decided to cancel the train running from Thessaloniki to Skopje, until the migrant crisis has died down. This left me with a few options; get the train to the border then pay for a coach from there with no idea on coach times from there, get a bus the whole way and fork out €50 and still have to wait till 8:30am the next morning to leave or to try my hand at hitchhiking and see if I could get there for free. 

 Hitchhiking seemed to be the only reasonable option at this point, I rode my board along the road towards the motorway which would lead towards Skopje and the Macedonian border. On the way I managed to find some cardboard off the back of a lorry on which I wrote ‘Skopje’ as large as I could, tied it to my back and continued riding. 

  After about 10km of riding, eventually a guy pulled over. Really nice bloke, told me about how he did this when he was my age. He gave me a lift upto the motorway junction and dropped me off there. From there I was picked up by an old Serbian couple heading for Belgrade, who agreed to drop me off at a petrol station about 20km outside of Skopje. However, the old car they were driving, which I can only describe as the worst Peugeot I’ve seen since my sisters, had no air con, meaning that the poor old guy driving it stopped at literally every service station for the entire 200 mile trip in order to splash his face with water to cool down. It was a long trip, and by the time I made it to the petrol station it was pitch black.


   I was at this petrol station for about 2 hours with my sign and as the rain began to fall I was just considering calling it a day, pitching the tent and trying again in the morning. When a minibus rolled up which was giving people a lift from this petrol station, to there homes in Skopje. Luckily they had one spare seat and were willing to take me. I explained to them I was looking for a hostel and they were nice enough to drop me right outside a hostel in the centre of Skopje. I was tired, cold and wet but I’d made it. 

  Once in the hostel I checked in, got changed and went and sat with the few people outside drinking. They offered me a beer and after that day, I gladly accepted, I chilled and chatted with Pablo, Kata and other Pablo for the evening before getting an early night, once again forgetting to write a blog before bed as I was knackered.

Day 14 – Cliff Diving!!

Up early in order to try to take advantage of the free breakfast at the hotel, although mouldy eggs weren’t exactly what I had in mind. We agreed on the previous night that we were all gonna go to the beach at about 2pm. Firstly however I had to see if I could book another night in the hotel as Id only booked in for 2 nights initially. I managed to get another night although I’d have to change rooms which was a massive pain in the arse cause I’d done my usual empty my bag everywhere routine, as I’m sure many of you know, I’m not a tidy person.

  Besides that I spent the rest of the morning finding some food to substitute the sub par breakfast the hotel offered. Therefore it was Gyros for breakfast once again. 

 After that I went to meet Chris at Syntagma square once again, from there we went to Elliniko (the end of the metro line) to meet Nina and Ioanna. From there Nina gave us a lift to the beach, on the way we spotted a point where we initially stopped just to take photos, however me and Nina spotted the cliffs and both wanted to jump so we stopped for a bit longer. 

In the beginning we were all very tentative. Chris, Nina and I jumped, only from about 10 feet or so, which was fun but left us with the need to go higher. Gradually we gained confidence getting higher and higher and before we knew it we were just a few feet from the top platform. Me and Nina jumped together first followed by Chris who did a grade A seat drop on to the water which must’ve been rather painful. After this Nina and I went up to the top platform, I must admit I was absolutely shitting myself, it was huge. There was only space for one at a time on the highest platform, we both tentatively looked over the edge at the sea below. I backed off from the edge giving it a moments thought, before I could even get my camera to hand Nina jumped hitting the water in a bad position she hit the water ass first which although funny at the time must’ve hurt quite a lot as this maimed her for the rest of the day. 

In a bid to scrape some pride out of my ladies first approach I knew I now had to jump or I’d look like an absolute pussy, I jumped making the pretty short sighted mistake of looking down at the water as I went, the water hit me in the face like a brick wall, however despite feeling slightly bewildered by the slap in the face Id just received I was in one piece and we both began to laugh off our pain and head for the rocks. Ioanna, then seeing that we were enjoying the jumps finally decided she was going to give it a try if we all jumped at once from one of the lower platforms. We all jumped together, got some go pro photos and videos before we went back on our way to the beach.


  The beach was just a short drive further round the coast, luckily for Nina as she could no longer sit. We went for a swim in the sea and played a few games. Once back on dry land we ordered some beers from the beach bar and chilled out as the sun started to go behind the surrounding hills. After a while chilling and chatting we threw an American football around that Chris had brought for an hour or so before we set off back towards the town for food. Nina didn’t join us due to the injuries gained from jumping off the cliffs earlier in the day so she dropped us off at kfc. 

 From there we went back on the metro and I got my first early night in Athens after a brilliant day. Back to the usual travelling on my own tomorrow, feels strange, I’ve been way too comfortable over the last few days.

Day 13 – Clubs Again

Woke up at 17:00, therefore this will be a short one, felt like being back at uni having slept the whole day. I messaged Chris and asked what we were doing with the evening, himself having only woken at 16:00. We decided to go into town once again and meet up with Magda and Nina. We went out for a meal (gyros once again) not complaining it seems to be the only cheap thing in Athens. 

After this we went to Gazi, I’m probably murdering the spelling, I have no internet to check. We ended up going to a bar which was offering a second round free if you ordered drinks this took the price from extortionate to marginally reasonable so we thought we’d have a couple beers here. We then moved onto a roof bar which played rock music which I thoroughly enjoyed. We didn’t drink much, partly due to the fact we drank the previous night but more due to the fact Nina had to drive and it wouldn’t of been fair to all drink when she had to drive. Although not drinking much we were out till around midnight before Nina took us all back, if she’s reading this thanks for all the lifts and everything for all the time in Athens. 

Day 12 – Athens is awesome

Woke up in a sense of panic knowing from how many times I’ve overslept in the past that I’d probably missed my train,  whincing as I checked the time on my phone. 5:12am. My train left at 5:13, I sprinted as fast as I could to the platform and made it on with seconds to spare. 

  Once on board I found a seat, something which has been quite difficult with me never wanting to pay for a reservation. The ticket guy came over and checked my ticket, said my ticket was fine, then said I needed to pay €10, that’s a days worth of money, there was no way I was going to pay that. He then threatened to kick me off if I refused to pay. Something which didn’t faze me in the slightest as I knew there was another train in the next few hours, however I figured this was a simple try and get money off the foreigner trick so I called his bluff and played the dumb foreigner. ‘I don’t understand you, no I’m not giving you anything’ which seemed to work, he didn’t kick me off in the end.

  With getting on the first train of the day and managing to catch plenty of sleep after the robbing cunt left me alone, I was in Athens by 10am. With spending so much time sat in a café on the previous night I’d had plenty time to actually download the map of Athens which made life easier. It was a short 1.5km walk to the hostel, which actually turned out to be a rather nice hotel, for hostel prices you can’t complain. 

  I checked in and spoke to a few people who were also travelling, usually at this point I’d tag along with them however I turned them down for the first time this trip, which felt odd like I was betraying my usual routine.

 After checking in and briefly doing some internet browsing I went to meet Chris and his friend in Syntagma square. Once there I was introduced to Magda one of Chris’ friends and we all went off to find somewhere cheap to eat.

  I tried Gyros for the first which I thoroughly enjoyed especially as it’s cheaper than McDonalds to buy and much more filling. Might become my new food to live off for my time in Greece. 

 Once we’d all had our fill we took the metro over to the Acropolis, the whole place is a sight to behold, even without the buildings the views of Athens below were utterly spectacular.


We spent a few hours pushing our way through tourists and taking pictures then sat atop on of the rocks overlooking the city whilst we decided our next move. 

  Eventually we came to the decision to find somewhere with a nice view in order to relax and have a few drinks before we all had to go get changed ready for the foam party in the evening. 


 We found a roof bar from which you could see the Acropolis which was really nice however the drink prices were extortionate so we only stayed for one.  

 On return to the hostel I changed into something more suitable for a night out partying and packed the go pro as Id been told there was a pool in the club. We had agreed to all meet at Syntagma square at 9pm and we’d all go from there to the club. Once there I was introduced to all of Chris’ friends and they agreed that every time someone spoke Greek they had to take a drink, a rule I found rather easy to abide by. Most of them were unfamiliar with the idea of predrinks as apparently that isn’t a thing here, I assumed it would be more prevalent here due to the fact that drink prices in bars and clubs seemed to rival that of central London. 

  From the end of the metro Nina gave us a lift in her car, 7 people in a 5 person car was rather cosy. Luckily the journey was a short one. Once we arrived at the club we parked up, then decided to go to the beach in order to introduce these Greeks to pre drinks. 

  We got into the club at about 23:30 and had a great time, as usual there was some friendship drama but there always is on nights out. 


  We left the club at about 5am all of us absolutely knackered and got the first tram of the day back to the centre and made it to bed about 7am. Overall a brilliant day but I really need sleep. 

Day Eleven- Sleeping in a Café

 Woken up by a security guard at 5am whose only English seemed to be ‘Get out foreigner!. Great way to start the day.

  We left the station for about 5 minutes then came back to try and go back to sleep, however this was a pointless affair with the station now beginning to return to its usual hustle and bustle. A hangover was slowly creeping in so we went to a nearby shop in order to get some water. After this I attempted to find some info on the train I needed to take to Thessaloniki, Greece, however the international office was closed so it was back to the usual plan of trying to find internet. 

  Me and Gabriella went our separate ways at this point as she was going to find a hostel for the following night, you’d almost think sleeping on a bench wasn’t pleasant or something. 

 I finally found internet sat outside a hotel in the centre of Sofia and found there was a coach to Thessaloniki however the train wasn’t showing up online. So off I went to the bus station in order to try to get a ticket for that coach, however when I got there the bus was fully booked. Although I figured now it was a bit later the international office at the train station may be open so I went and asked about the train to Thessalaoniki. Finally I got given the train time of 15:20 so I knew I had a few hours to kill in Sofia.

 After finding out how much time I had left to explore in Sofia I jumped on my longboard and figured I’d do a spot of sightseeing through Sofia. To be honest I was rather disappointed with the capital of Bulgaria. Very little to see and I was done within a couple hours. 


   So I returned to the station with an hour and a half to spare, drank lots of tea in a nearby café and took advantage of the free wifi.

 When the time for my train finally came around I went to the station and met a few other people travelling to Thessaloniki in order to get to Athens, everyone seemed to be of the same mindset of get out of Thessaloniki ASAP due to how expensive it was per night there. None were quite willing to go to the extreme of staying in the station however. 

 The train was delayed for 2 hours as it crossed the border and we had to change trains along the way which really just made it all the more sense not to have paid for a hostel. 

    

  After a long while of going back and forward the power cut from the train for half an hour and we were plunged into darkness which felt kinda weird talking to strangers I’m the dark. 

  Eventually we got rolling again and after what seemed like an eternity we arrived in Thessaloniki. I went off to find something cheap to eat settling for a kebab as it seemed to be the only place open. After this I returned to the station to pick myself a place I could rest till the 5:13am train in the morning. I first tried staying in the station, and I found a Belgian guy who was doing the same as me. He’d managed to hitchhike 3x farther than I had managed to get taking the train today, and the journey took him the same amount of time as my train ride, gotta love public transport. However we got moved out the station as it closed at about 1am. Finally we found a 24 hour coffee shop so we each bought a drink each and chilled for the evening.

  

Day Ten- Sleeping Rough

Woke up after only 2 hours sleep by people leaving the hostel at 7am and couldn’t get back to sleep because I felt hungover. I quickly decided I would just sleep on the train as there was little to no chance of me getting back to sleep and not sleeping through the 12:50 train.

  I went to reception to get water and see if anyone was awake, surprisingly I wasn’t the only one awake from the night before. Seems someone got lucky in one of the other dorms which I guess would wake you up a lot easier than people going to work. 

  I sat around the hostel talking to people till about 12:00 before setting off on my longboard to get to the train station in time, said my goodbyes then off I went, back on my own again. Would’ve loved to have stayed in Bucharest longer because I had an absolute blast there in just a single day there, it’s odd making friends for such a short period of time. 

 It took me about half an hour to ride to the station, the fresh air helped me shift my hangover a little. When I got to the station I had probably my 6th or 7th McDonalds of this trip, seems like every train station seems to have it as it’s only food option.

 The 9 and a half hour ride from Bucharest to Sofia, seemed to take an absolute eternity due to the amount of times we stopped and the amount of time taken at the border, however I got there in the end.


  It was late arriving into Sofia and once again I had no hostel booked, nor Internet to find one. I asked a girl who was carrying a backpack if she knew if there was a nearby hostel, she told me that she did but it was too late to check in now so she was going to sleep at the station. Even when it was dark the temperature remained moderately warm so I had no problem in tagging along with this. We went to a local supermarket grabbed some beers and then explored the city a little by night before it got too late. 


 We returned to the station at about 00:30 where we found 2 benches that seemed ‘reasonable’ for sleeping. She told me how she had stolen 90% of all her travel gear from decathlon. Wasn’t sure what to say to that. Needless to say, I locked everything to the bench that night. 

Day Nine- Bucharest Night out

TL:DR Day Eight- Spent most of the day relaxing in the hostel then got on the 21:30 bus to Bucharest and sat next to some guy who wouldn’t shut up the whole way no matter how much I ignored him and tried to sleep, was great fun, would recommend.

Arrived in Bucharest at 6am. Having no clue where in Bucharest I was, I went in search of a McDonalds to get some internet, to get my bearings and find a hostel to catch up on some sleep. Found out that McDonald’s doesn’t actually open until 7am so I decided to go for a quick explore around the area where the bus dropped me off, didn’t find much, turns out I was quite a distance from anything worth seeing. 


  Once McDonalds opened I found out that the hostel that had been recommended to me was about 3km away and it had a skate shop nearby. Took me about 40 minutes to drag myself to the hostel trying not to fall asleep the whole way. On arrival I was told I couldn’t check in till 11 so simply locked my stuff up and went for breakfast with some people in the hostel, becoming a grade A tag along this holiday. The area around the hostel was great, situated in the middle of the Old town, surrounded by loads of places to eat, drink and a short walk to the parliament building. Little Bucharest hostel, great recommendation from the guys I met in Chisinau.

 After breakfast we went for a walk to the parliament building to see if we could get in, unfortunately you couldn’t get in without a tour guide on this particular day so we decided to skip because we didn’t want to pay an arm and a leg just to get talked at for 2 hours so we took some pictures then went to find some ice cream.


  We returned to the hostel at about 11am as they had to go to the airport because they were going home today. I checked into my room, however now I’d eaten I no longer really felt the need for a nap, I found the local skate shop and finally got back on four wheels again, finally! This made exploring central Bucharest much less time consuming. 

  When I came back from the shop I joined Laure and Sara, two French people I spoke to when I checked in, for a trip to the park and to see the statue of Vlad the impaler. I would’ve tried out my incredibly rusty French yet they both spoke English so that made my life a lot easier. With the hostel being surrounded by so many bars it was impossible to refuse to go out in the evening, however due to the large number of tourists we realised that the bars would be quite expensive so we chose the classy option of swigging cheap supermarket vodka in the hostel as pre drinks, meeting up with two other guys that were staying in the hostel, by this point I was definitely beyond the remembering names phase. We went out to a few bars/clubs which all seemed to be playing the same pretty shit charts playlist but all in all was still a pretty good night. We were out till about 4am before we came back to the hostel with a kebab. Laure lived up to the French stereotype by slating the kebab due to their being no salad and wrote them a bad review on trip advisor. 

  Once back at the hostel we chilled on the balcony for about half an hour before caving in and finally going to sleep, by this point I’d been up for about 28 hours. Gotta get a 12:50 train to Sofia tomorrow, gonna be a fun morning.