From here to God knows where.

Goodbye old friend hello Skopje

It is with great regret I say goodbye to one of my closest friends. For the past 4 years, we have lived and travelled together.  He was always there for me especially when the going got hot.  I will never forget what you did for me.

Yes, it is time to put out to pasture my Panama hat.  I have known for a while but I did not want to accept it.  I could hear the sniggering at it but I did not care.  I now know I have been selfish and I should have let it retire a while back with the dignity it deserved.  The hat was given to me by my London friend Ted as a thank you for being his go-to guy for I.T issues.  These included how to turn on a phone.  Connect to wifi and turning back on data roaming after he had mistakingly turned it off again.  Ted is 75.  I will be 75 someday and hope to buy a Panama hat for my 56-year-old I.T guy.


I am grey and proud to be grey

The hat has protected my head from the sun for a while now.  I still have a full head of hair but in my early years, my hair was a big issue for me.  In my early 20s, I started to go grey. I had a lot of issues back then so I really did not need another one.  I decided I was not going grey without a fight.

I went into town to buy some hair dye.  I actually felt like I was buying drugs.  I went home and straight into the bath.  There was a lot of us in a small house back then.  I did not have the comfort of doing this professionally.  I read it takes 30 minutes and then to wash it out.  The bath was the only place in the house I could get 30 minutes free.  After the 30 minutes, I washed it out as sitting in the bath.  By the time I was finished, it looked like I was sitting in a swamp.  It took at least another 30 minutes washing to make my hands white again.

It actually went quite well.  People did ask me if I had dyed my hair which I denied.  I think they were more confused then I was.  Then the day I knew would come came.  I used to play rugby back then.  I had done a dye the night before.  I was getting confident so I did not give it due respect.  During the game, one of the biggest downpours of rain ever fell on my head.  The dam broke and the dye flowed.   One guy on the sideline shouted that my hair was running faster then I was.  The referee stopped the game to ask who I was.  There was still 60 minutes to play.  A day I will never forget.  On the plus side, I could never fool anyone about my hair again so it was grey all the way from then on.  I must have saved a fortune on just for men since then.

Sofia bus station

Sofia bus station

Matpu bus Sofia Skopje

So I have departed Sofia Bulgaria for now and travelled to Skopje Macedonia.

Just in case you find yourself going to Sofia Bulgaria to Skopje Macedonia by bus here is how the journey went for me.

I arrived at Sofia central bus station for my 930am bus.  There are 2 bus stations.  Sofia central station is the large building but is only for domestic buses.  International is just across the road.  The Matpu Sofia to Skopje bus was ok but had no wifi.  Its stops around 10 minutes from the border on the Bulgarian side for a bathroom break.  There is a small shop here.  10 minutes later is the border.  It takes about an hour to complate the crossing.  You need to take your luggage out and a guy half looks at your passport before you put your luggage in again.  Then a stop at Bulgarian customs where they take your passport and return it after they are done.  Same again happens a few meters away on the Macedonian customs side. The bus then stopped again for another bathroom break at the border before leaving for Skopje.  This is useful for anyone wanting to change any leftover currency as there was a small currency exchange here.  The 230km took 5.5 hours and cost 31 Lev which is 16 euro.


Bulgaria Macedonia border crossing

Bulgarian Macedonian Border

Skopje apartments for rent

When arrived at the Skopje main bus station I was met as arranged by Marco whom I booked my apartment for one month on AIRBNB. He had offered to pick me up free of charge but I was happy to pay him for meeting me at the bus station.  As I have said before bus stations seem to attract the worse kind of taxi driver. I hope people don’t think I am anti taxi drivers.  I am not but in my travels, it is the one constant area where I meet dodgy people.  Yesterday as I left Sofia I asked 2 taxis to take me the 3km to the bus station.  Both said no so I jumped on a tram for 0.85 cents.  In the 4 times I asked taxis in Sofia to take me somewhere I had issues 4 times. Either overcharging or refusing the fare.  Because of this I very rarely use taxis when travelling.  Only if I have to.  I have met many people saying the same.  In the end, all taxi drivers suffer as people don’t want the hassle of wondering if the taxi will say yes or no and end up using public transport.

My apartment in Skopje

Apartment in Skopje

Anyway, Marco drove me from the bus station to the apartment.  Seems to be a nice guy in his mid-20s.   He told me his sister is living in Athlone Ireland and working there. He is mostly based in Prague where he works as a tour guide.   Macedonia has candidate status for the E.U since 2005.  Currently, Greece is blocking full membership due to a dispute over the country calling itself Macedonia.  More of that below.

I am very happy with the apartment.  It is in a great area full of cafes shops and bars.  Also, it is a lot brighter than the apartment in Sofia and is 350 euro for 4 weeks.  That is 12.50 euro a day.  It also has a nice balcony that I might use should the temperature drop below 35c.  A big plus is the windows have mosquito protection.  I had a few tough nights in Sofia with mosquitos.

View of Skopje from my apartment

View of Skopje from the apartment

Some Macedonian Facts

Macedonian people are made up of 64% Macedonians of which most are Orthodox and 25% Albanians.  33% of the population is Muslin.  The good thing about going to a country with a sizable Muslin population is I will be able to eat something else other than pork.  Bulgaria has a lot of pork.

Macedonia and Greece. 

Macedonia and Greece have been arguing about the fact that Macedonia has called itself Macedonia.  This is because of historical reasons.  The ancient region of Greek Macedonia which is mostly in northern Greece and a bit of today’s southern Macedonia.  In June 2018 an agreement was reached by both countries that the country should be called the Republic of North Macedonia.  This has to go to a referendum to the Macedonian people for approval.

Macedonia Alexander the Great.  He actually was born in Greek Macedonia in what would be today’s Northern Greece.


From Beer to eternity and G.U.B.U

I arrived in Skopje.  Settled into the apartment.  Watched the All Ireland Football semi-final online.  After watching that I need a beer. What has happened to Gaelic football?  It was like Subbuteo.  Give me hurling any day.  I needed some Macedonian currency so I look for an ATM. After about 5 minutes I find one which is good as it is 35c.  Next, I need a bar.  I see a sign for a sex shop and there is a bar next to it.  Ok that’s, my kind of bar.  Cheap.

I order a large beer.  140 denar.  2.27 Euro. G.U.B.U .  Those of a certain age in Ireland would know what G.U.B.U is.   The former Irish Prime Minister Charles Haughey when asked a question about the capture of a wanted murderer in the home of the of the attorney general replied.  Grotesque. Unbelievable. Bizzare and Unprecedented. This became known as the G.U.B.U period in Ireland.  After a 0.65 cent beer in Bulgaria and where 1.50 euro is the norm as I paid my 2.27 euro I though G.U.B.U

Macedonia is said to be cheaper then Bulgaria.  Ok accommodation. Transport. Food and clothing may be cheaper but I have not come here to buy a coat.  80% of my travelling is based on the price of a beer.  My only hope is despite that is was located next to a sex shop the bar was of a very high standard and actually a nice place to have a beer.  I am hoping to find bars of lower standards for cheaper beer. I checked my beer time machine calculator and I have gone forward from February 1980 to June 1982. Between 1980  and 1982 the price of a beer went up 12 times.  I now remember why I emigrated to London.

This week exciting video is a quick look around my apartment in Skopje.  To check it out click here.

Join me on my journey. 

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Comments (9):

  1. Richard O'Keeffe

    August 14, 2018 at 10:41 am

    Mother Teresa, and now Pat’s Hat… Skopje is full of famous people…have a blast looking forward to hearing about Macedonia

  2. Dave kelly

    August 14, 2018 at 4:58 pm

    Looks like a grand place to visit thats a good price for the Apartment Pat pity about the price of beer I’ve no doubt that you will improve on that I’m enjoying the trip Pat keep up the good work and enjoy and i think you are as am i

    • PATRICK O Neill

      August 14, 2018 at 5:06 pm

      Thanks, Dave. Good news on the beer front. I had a beer for 1.30 today in a somewhat shady bar.

  3. Miriam

    August 15, 2018 at 12:38 pm

    Loved the part about the hair dye and especially the part when it started to run.
    I remember the window sill in the bathroom had constant dye stains and even though you used to deny it we all knew you were dying your hair ( you were never that dark )

  4. prasant bhatt

    August 18, 2018 at 1:48 pm

    Hello Patrick o Neil, thanks for the beautiful blog about the trip to Skopje
    Its really beautiful trip to Skopje. Macedonia is on my next trip. But some people are suggesting me hiring a tour guide with me . IS it possible going without a guide in Skopje? seriouly asked please reply

  5. Gina

    August 20, 2018 at 10:47 pm

    Enjoying your blog Pat — interested to know if people on your travels talk to you in bus queues like I recall Yorkshire folk do (and many others)?

    • PATRICK O Neill

      August 21, 2018 at 6:53 am

      Thanks, Jean. Bus journeys are something else here for sure. 100km journey this weekend took me almost 4 hours. The roads not the best in this region but that what makes it different. I am sure if you came here in another 15/20 years it will look like anywhere else in Europe. Say hi to all in Beautiful Las Palmas.


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