Leaving Prizren meant a long ascent to the Kaçanik Pass and from there a long descent to the Skopje Valley. Because it was beautiful weather I decided to wild camp along the way. At some point I steered my bicycle into a dirt track leading down to the river where I found a grassy spot under some trees which shielded my camp from the road. When I had put up my tent, I saw a small pile of wet clothes and my vivid imagination turned it into the contents of a rucksack of some backpacker who had gone missing years ago. On the other hand, so I reasoned, it seemed to be evidence of some recent human activitiy making it less likely that I had inadvertently made my camp in a forgotten minefield from the Kosovo conflict. During the night I heard many voices and everytime I had to tell myself it was only the mumbling of the nearby stream that played tricks on my ears.
The next morning I opened my tent and reached for one of my panniers only to grab into the slimy texture of a slug. To my horror I found out that my tent and bags were covered with these disgusting animals. After packing my tent I pushed my bike back to the road and drank coffee at a petrol station close to the border.
Skopje was a nice city and I decided to stay for a while. During one of these days I did a walking tour which took forever and was more exhausting than many a day on my bicycle.
On first arrival in Skopje, one cannot help to be amazed by the sheer number of statues and fountains that embellish the city. They are part of the megalomanic project Skopje 2014, which includes bridges and even entire ministries and is estimated to cost up to 500 million euro and has obviously drawn a lot of criticism. On the central square stands a huge statue of a warrior on a horse which I thought was Alexander the Great and which is often referred to as such, but is formally, and aptly, I must say, named Warrior on a Horse. Due to the strained relationship with neighbouring Greece, many allusions to ancient Macedonian history are highly controversial. The statue cost 7.5 million euro, but that includes some nice foutains that play music.
The photos above were taken during a cycling trip to the nearby Matka Canyon.
Leaving Skopje I had to climb out of the valley in which it lies and I was slowly making my way upwards as I was suddenly attacked by a pack of four big dogs. With surprise I saw them coming down the small hill on the left of the road. There must be some kind of fence, it ran through my head, but there was no fence and the dogs came straight through the imaginary fence. The dogs were dodging cars that had to slow down, but they were still after me. I shouted with all my might and for some reason, be it the cars or my shouting, they gave up the attack. Trembling with adrenaline I continued, but not a few kilometres further I cycled along heaps of smouldering garbage and there I saw more dogs. One of those mongrels was barking and I was about to turn around my bicycle and give up, but then it occurred to me that it was only one dog that barked and it was actually walking away from me, so I rode on trying to ignore the other mutts as best as I could.
After these misadventures I decided not to camp that day, but to find a hotel in Kriva Palanka. Unfortunately the only hotel in that village had ceased to exist. After asking around, I was told that I could find a bed at the Monastery of Sv. Joakim Osogovski, a few kilometres further away. It happened to be up a very steep little road and I toiled away, cursing myself and my bad luck, but when I finally arrived I was given a room with kitchen and bathroom and my own little terrace. The view was astonishing:
All this was mine for a mere 15 euro and to top things off, I discovered a bottle of beer in the fridge, presumably left by the last occupant of the room. When I stood there, taking in the view and with a cold beer in my hand, I decided to stay another day.
Bulgaria could wait.