Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), Bulgaria, and Serbia

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Sad to leave Greece, but now we must head north. We are on a deadline to get to Venice for our June 29 th flight to Vancouver for Ben and Tedi’s wedding. We are planning to go to Ohrid Macedonia today.

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“Macedonia, officially the Republic of Macedonia. It is one of the successor states of the former Yugoslavia. It became a member of the United Nations in 1993, but, as a result of an ongoing dispute with Greece over the use of the name Macedonia, was admitted under the provisional description the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (abbreviated as FYROM). After the breakup of Yugoslavia in 1991, the name of Macedonia became the object of a dispute as the Republic of Macedonia borders the region of Greek Macedonia. Citing historical and territorial concerns resulting from the ambiguity between the Republic of Macedonia, the adjacent Greek region of Macedonia and the ancient kingdom of Macedon which falls within Greek Macedonia, Greece opposes the use of the name “Macedonia” by the Republic of Macedonia without a geographical qualifier, supporting a compound name (such as “Northern Macedonia”). As millions of ethnic Greeks identify themselves as Macedonians, unrelated to the Slavic people who are associated with the Republic of Macedonia, Greece further objects to the use of the term “Macedonian” for the neighboring country’s largest ethnic group. The Republic of Macedonia is accused of appropriating symbols and figures that are historically considered parts of Greece’s culture (such as Vergina Sun, a symbol associated with the ancient kingdom of Macedon, and Alexander the Great).”

We set out in the sun shine and only had about 15 min of showers today.

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Arriving to the Greek border we received out EU exit stamp.

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We then drove the short distance to  the “Macedonian” border. Here we reported to the Police for the passport check.

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The main issue most people have here is they  do not want to pay the outrageous price for the insurance. It is 50 euros  plus 5 for processing for 15 days (in a country where you might spend 2 days). We really have no choice as the police will not let you in with your EU Green card insurance. Dan was told by the police that the price is too high, but one of the truckers made a few calls to several agencies in Bitola 16 km away and they all quoted the same price. So  no shake down just crazy high insurance prices for foreigners. We are not going to Kosovo since it is also 50 Euros for insurance, you can not drive thru Kosovo to Serbia, and you may not get into Serbia from Bulgaria if you have a Kosovo stamp in your passport. Serbia does not recognize Kosovo as an independent entity. Why can people not just get along! That said the Macedonia’s themselves were very nice and after this short delay we were on our way.

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Ohrid is in a lake and is full of hotels, narrow cobble streets,  and pedestrian walking zones. They have several Byzantine churches, an castle,  and an ancient theater.

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1000 Lek is about 8 USD!

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We are headed to the capital Skopje (scope- ia) and will take the small roads that follow the lakes and rivers and also traverse the Mavrovo National park.

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I would recommend a visit to the St. John the Forerunner Bigorski Monastery. It is a lovely tranquil spot. The church itself is quite spectacular with the icons, gold and silver, and a massive chandelier. The road there alone is worth it.

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After leaving the park we again stayed on the very small roads thru many villages all of which had several mosques with their rocket like minarets.

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We arrived to the capital, which is actually quite a strange place. The city center is full of massive statues, many of which we are not sure how they are connected to “Macedonia”. The place is either falling apart or half finished. It is a bit like Disney on acid. They have created this grandiose city center when there is not money for this. Many of these “iconic” buildings were not here a few years ago.

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The politicians caught in a huge scandal were let off several weeks ago and there was a pain ball rebellion 2 weeks ago where the demonstrators peppered all the government buildings with paint.

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Today we are headed to Sofia the capital of Bulgaria in 243 km and the location of the manufacturer of our awesome Bumot luggage.

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Leaving the city center we saw a lot of police checks and machine guns…time to leave. It is a short trip on the toll road out of town to the secondary highway to Bulgaria. We stopped to visit the Saint Joachim Osogovski monastery that is about 15 km from the border. The small church there has stunning Byzantine decorations.

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The exit from Macedonia took a lot longer than the entry. They wanted our passports, title, and green card insurance (not valid in Macedonia), but interestingly not our Macedonian insurance that had cost us 55 Euros. The official was quite gruff as well and he could not figure out why if we had Canadian passports our bike were from Colombia (ie British Columbia)…..

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Then it is a short ride to the Bulgarian border, where you give your passport and green card to the border police.  They made copies and sent us thru to customs. They were searching all the vehicles ahead of us. When we pulled up the official pointed to the passports in the top of the tank bag and said “Are you from Canada?”  Dan answered yes and he slapped Dan on the back and said “ good for you” and waved us thru.

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We then had a direct route to the capital Sofia. Here were are staying at a hostel right next door to the Bumot factory. Arriving at Bumot we were met by the owner Assen, who gave us a tour of the production facilities. We have been using his prototype luggage since we arrived to Madrid May 1, 2015. We will be getting the final production models this summer. We are proud to featured on the Bumot website.

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He spent some time to try to adjust Daniel’s rack that was damaged in the “fuel truck” incident. He put it on the jig to see just how far off the geometry was and then made adjustments to almost like new. That said the pannier that was badly damaged and repaired still is water tight. Just to be safe Assen had the seal replaced on the lid.

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We will be back to tour the rest of Bulgaria on our way south to Turkey next year and so now we are headed west again. But we had time for a walking tour of the city center.

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We decided to book it the 425 km across Serbia to set us up to spend more time touring Montenegro, southern Boznia, and Croatia in the next 10 days before we have to go to Vancouver for Sara’s brothers wedding. Serbia is HOT and there is terrible traffic as you can see by how close the SPOT dots are it was slow going.

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It started with an easy 60 km to the border. The Serbian -Bulgarian  border is notorious for it’s inefficiency and long line ups. We were not disappointed there were 3 lines of almost 20 cars each. When you pull up to the Bulgarian police border check they exit stamp your passport. They asked to see the title  for the bikes and to see our Bulgarian green cards and then we were on our way after 30 min in the hot hot sun.

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The drive to the  Serbian border station was a few hundred meters. Here they stamped our passport and briefly looked at the title. She did not ask or seem to care if we had insurance. It is a bit confusing since Serbia is clearly “crossed” off on the front of the green card, but there is an * and on line it says that the green card is now valid in Serbia.

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The 425 km took over 7 hours. The riding was mostly on the secondary roads and flat and straight and much of it was full of traffic until about 50 km form Zlatibor. This is a small ski town in the mountains.

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We did not go into the large city of Nis, but stopped for a photo op

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