Into Macedonia! Sandanski to Strumica Macedonia (85/16,023k, 580m)

(written by Nancy)

Today we entered our 13th country – Macedonia.  Or, as some would have it called, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.  We will just call it Macedonia, which is what the locals like to call it.  So far it seems like a great country with lots of friendly folks and beautiful countryside.

We left Sandanski about 8 this morning and headed for the border.  We had to continue on the main highway for a bit but could see on our maps that there was a cut-off that would take us off the highway and west toward the border crossing.  We found the turn-off but could see a big pile of dirt in the road ahead that looked like it was supposed to be a barrier but we could see a couple of cars going past it.  We rode on a bit to see if we could figure out what the problem was and if we could ride around it.  Well, turns out the bridge that we had to go over was washed away – not something we could ride around…

We returned to the main highway to continue south a bit before heading west through Petrich, the last town of any size in Bulgaria.  From there the road got very quiet as we made our way through the Kluch gorge to the border crossing.  It was a beautiful area, with people out working in the fields using horse-drawn plows and lots of wildflowers on the sides of the road.  We could see several villages high up on the side of the gorge amongst the trees.  The road to the border had brand new asphalt for the last 15k.  I think the Bulgaria tourism board may have sponsored the road, to leave a good last impression.

The border crossing was very simple, just a stamp out and then a stamp in when we hit the Macedonia side.  The border guard was friendly and we got several waves from the locals as we made our way through several small villages.  The look of the villages was quite different to the places we had ridden through in Bulgaria – more colourful houses and many with well-kept gardens.  And, the sun was out – things were looking up!

Just before we got to Strumica Dave spotted a loaded bike at a gas station so we quickly pulled over and sat down to have a chat with Lukas Picozzi, a young Swiss fellow who was on his way from Switzerland to Iran.  We had a really nice chat with him, exchanging info and tips about the road.  He is headed toward Bansko to stay with the Warmshowers host that we met the other day.  We bought the rest of his Macedonian dinars from him with some of our Bulgarian lev – a good way to get rid of some of our extra lev.

We made our way into Strumica and after stopping at an ATM to get some money and then another stop to change the rest of our Bulgarian lev we eventually made our way into the centre of town and pulled into a pedestrian area with some cafes.  We had the names of a few hotels and Dave spotted one just up the street from where we were sitting having an iced coffee.  So, off I went to check it out as today was my turn.  The Hotel 404 turned out to be a nice hotel at a very good price so that is where we have ended up.  The folks at the front desk are all very friendly, helping us store the bikes and lug all the baggage up three flights of stairs.

Next on the agenda was to get a new SIM for the phone.  We decided to divide and conquer on the tasks today so I stayed back in the room to wash out our water bottles, which were getting a bit slimy inside, while Dave headed out to get the phone sorted.  One of the guys from the hotel actually went with him, taking him to several different stores before ending up at a T-Mobile store where he helped Dave get the phone all sorted.  So far the people in Macedonia seems great and very welcoming to tourists.

We got some dinner at a local restaurant – more spare ribs and a great salad, enough food to fill us up, that’s for sure!

A bit about Macedonia – this is new country created when Soviet-backed Yugoslavia split up in the late 1980s. Macedonia declared independence in 1991. It became a member of the United Nations in 1993 but, as a result of a dispute with Greece over its name, it was admitted under the provisional reference of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, sometimes abbreviated as FYROM.  The Greeks have a northern state named Macedonia and they feared confusion at best, or territorial land grabs at worse, when Greeks living in Macedonia decided that they were closer aligned with the country Macedonia.  This is all pretty confusing to us so we’ll be staying clear of any political discussions while here and in will be calling the country Macedonia, not FYROM.  Not because we are picking side, more because FYROM is hard to say and holding the shift key down while typing five letters is harder.

Macedonia is an hour behind Bulgaria so we have gained an extra hour today.  I doubt we’ll be able to take full advantage of it and stay up later as we are both pretty tired!  We only have a rough route plan to get us through this country and we may change it once we get going.  Tomorrow we head toward the town of Negotino and the Macedonian wine region known as the Tikveš wine region.  We may have to take a day there to make sure we have a chance to taste some of Macedonia’s finest wines….

And, the weather forecast for the next several days looks very warm and sunny – temps up to 31C!  So, it should be a few good days cycling.  We may even break out the tent.

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6 thoughts on “Into Macedonia! Sandanski to Strumica Macedonia (85/16,023k, 580m)

  1. I’ve had occasion recently to read several blogs… which has really made me appreciate what a good job you do at this blog.

  2. Welcome to FYROM! That is hard to type with just the shift key! Enjoy the new people, food, countryside, travelers, and culture.

  3. It already looks brighter and more friendly! Could be just the sun but the fact that you have hotel staff willing to take Dave to different sim shops feels like a much more open and friendly culture. Looking forward to learning more about Macedonia aka FYROM (easier on an IPad:)!)

  4. I know you are burning a massive number of calories but the dinner looks like it could stress even your appetite. How much of it did you get through?

    Just wondering on your bikes – over 10k miles and 13 countries. At some point do you schedule a couple of days downtime and get your bikes overhauled?

    • We ate everything, pretty much do every meal. Eat to ride, ride to eat!

      I clean the bikes every 7-10 days of riding. We’ve had the hobs overhauled once. BB probably needs some work now as well. We’ve not cleaned them since Istanbul and they really need it. Nice rest day chore, maybe day after tomorrow.


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