Tour05 Day

Macedonia as seen from halfway down the 4 km hill at the border

I should have realized yesterday, when I was very tired after my three and a half hour ride in the mountains, that I wasn't going to make my planned ride to Veles in one day. This country is simply too hilly for me to do 100 mile days. Tonight I'm in Kocani, Macedonia, roughly half way between Blagoevgrad and Veles. I'm sitting on the patio of a hotel-restaurant that, other than a resort on a hill just before this small city, is the first hotel I came to after realizing I was too tired to do another 50 miles.

The Cardinal Hotel in Blagoevgrad

This morning it was gray in Blagoevgrad, which was good since I had a long climb to the Macedonian border. I checked out about 10 AM, and almost immediately embarrassed myself by falling over in the street when a truck took too long to get started at a light. I waited too long to try to un-clip, and failed. Thanks to my bags, I toppled gently in the middle of the busy street - I was in the left turn lane. Other than my pride, nothing was damaged except my elbow which was slightly skinned. I did have to walk the bike over to the side of the street to reattach my rear Nashbar pannier. My front Ortliebs didn't come loose.

A 10 Lv - 5 Euro - motel on the way to the border

After that, my ride to the border was hard, but uneventful. I rode for two and a half hours to cover the 38 km to the border. I was climbing, at 4 to 5 mph , for much of that time. The climb started a few km from Blagoevgrad and ended about two km before the border. It was pretty, although not as pretty as yesterday's ride, and the traffic wasn't bad. There were more taxis than anything else - I suspect it wouldn't be too expensive to get a taxi to take you and your bike to the border to avoid that hard climb - and only a few TIR trucks. There were large local dump trucks hauling rock and sand from quarries near the border. The descended, loaded, almost as slowly as I ascended, loaded ;-).

A view of the road climbing to the border, with red poppies

Almost to the top of the climb, the first sign for the border

At the border, there was no one at the first - customs - Bulgarian station, so I rode on to the second - passport control. The customs fellow came after me on foot. He was very nice and we ended up using German to establish that I had nothing to declare. The first - police - Macedonian station was no problem. The second - customs - tried, and failed to use German to establish something - probably that I had nothing to declare, then we laughed and they waved me on my way.

Once past the border, I found no place to change money - I still haven't done that. A small restaurant was the only thing open, so I went in and negotiated a great meal, with beer with the meal and Turkish Coffee after, for 5 Euro. The, very nice, fellow running it had been a guest worker in Germany for four years, so we used German. I have very little German, but almost enough to deal with meals, rooms , and border stations ;-). He and I did have good conversation after I ate, but it didn't get too deep.

Interestingly, the German speaking fellow at the border brought up the fatc that, although German is the most useful foreign language here, that is changing. Following Slovenia's lead (?), Bulgaria now starts all students on English in the fourth grade. They also have to take a third language, either German or Russian.

After lunch, I headed down into Macedonia. 4 km at 7% grade for a start. The pavement was excellent for the first two and not so good thereafter. I had to slow down from 40 mph on the good pavement. I also stopped to take some pictures since the view was very nice. Lots of steep ridges covered with trees and, in the distance, a peak with snow on it. That was pretty much the view - add in a river, some beautiful lakes formed by damming that river, a few thatched roofs and a lot of nice looking, friendly people in the towns - all afternoon.

The thing that struck me most forcefully was how different Macedonians look from either Greeks or Bulgarians. On the basis of language groups, Macedonia was once made part of Bulgaria and Macedonians were considered Bulgarians. That was reversed because the western countries were afraid that the combination would be too strong a ally of the Soviet Union in the Balkans. Looking at these people, after spending three days looking at Bulgarians, I cannot see how anyone would consider them part of the same racial/national group. I was struck by the differences between the appearance of Greeks and Bulgarians, and am equally struck by the difference between Bulgarians and Macedonians. They are all three good looking, friendly, people, but they don't look at all alike.

At the bottom of the hill from the border, I rode into Delcevo, my first Macedonian City. It felt pretty much like a Bulgarian City, although the archtecture is different, because the climate and economic conditions are similar. There were lots of people on the street, from school kids to old folks, and all of them looked at me - that's how it felt - and almost all of them looked friendly. When I waved and smiled, people, all kind sof people, waved and smiled back.

The river not far from Delcevo

A small part the lake formed by the big dam

Riding out of Delcevo, the road headed down the river. This was what I expected, and, given how tired my legs were from climbing to the border, what I needed. This continued for maybe 10 km, with the river widening into a beutiful long lake, then the road climbed - long climb - over the ridge and came down - 35 mph down - into another city.

The second city - my memory and my maps disagree on its name

There was a split in the road, so I stopped to check my map. As I was putting my map away, a fellow approached and spoke to me. We didn't have a common language, but he confirmed that I had made the right choice.

That road, marked as to Kocani, also leads to Velles. It started out along the river, then climbed well above the river, which was very wide here and then, a few km later, descended rapidly to a big damn. That part of the road was expressway, but after the dam, as it descended rapidly, alongside the white water of river, into a narrow gorge, the road was narrow and had many patched potholes. The pavement was better once things flattened out in the gorge.

The Gorge

The walls of gorge got lower, and, eventually, the road climbed out of the gorge - marked 10% grade - and came down into the, much broader, valley were Kocani (note that the c in Kocani as well as the c in Delcevo are accented) is located.

The road to Kocani had a sign for a motel (or hotel ) - restaurant, so I headed into town. I'd hoped for a bank where I could exchange money, but it was soon evident that this wasn't that big a town.

The view out my window at the motel

When I reached the motel, I carried my bike up the steps and went into the restaurant. The guy there asked me to wait while he got the owner, and then the owner and I, with a little help from one of his employees, settled on 20 Euro for supper, bed and breakfast. The owner specified the supper to the guy in the restaurant and, after I cleaned up, I had a huge, and very good meal with three kinds of meat, two kinds of salad, and some french fries. I had Turkish beer with supper and Turkish Coffee - it must be popular in Macedonia - after supper.

I ate on the patio - very pleasant and very good people watching - and then worked on this ride report at that table until my tummy told me I better get back to my room. I had this same problem, to a lesser extent, last night and I had no problem during the day today, so hopefully I'll be OK tomorrow. Since I'm losing water, I need to drink a lot, and I'm drinking the local tap water. I don't expect it to add to the problem ;-(.

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