After an amazing time in Albania, we cycled through Greece in just a flash. With less than 100 kilometers and only one night, before crossing into Macedonia. We really enjoyed the amazing nature in these both countries. In Macedonia, we had a very good opportunity to test our E-bikes because we chose to cycle over an old mountain road, full of mud, boulders, rocks, and rivers.
Going into Greece
Since we've both never been to Greece, we decided to make a small detour and cycle just around 100 kilometers through the country of Zeus & Hercules. Our plan was to go to Lake Kastoria, about which we heard some good stories.
Greece was the first country where it was very difficult to find a place to pitch up our tent. People didn't wave, smile or honk anymore, it felt just less hospitable to us. After a very long time and being turned down almost 15 times, we found a friendly Apple farmer who allowed us to pitch up our tent under the apple trees. Although we supposed to sleep in our tent, thunderstorms came and we could sleep in the barn. In the night, we had some Rakia and a breakfast with coffee in the morning.
Normally we don’t like cycling on the highway, but in Greece it was different. For almost 50 kilometers, we had a private highway with only 10 cars who passed us in that time. At a sudden moment, we ran into a tollbooth. We were scared we would be fined for cycling on the highway. But luckily they allowed us and we didn't have to pay any toll. After the highway, it was time for us to cycle towards the Macedonian border, the road to there was steep, very steep. We climbed around 1300 meters in 15 kilometers to an altitude of 1800+ meters!
Back in the Balkans
After Greece, we entered the Balkans again and the people started honking, smiling, waving and for our feeling much more hospitable again. The first night, we were invited to sleep at the house of a local. He stopped by with his car, asking if we needed help. He invited us to his house, where we wanted to put up our tent. But they refused and he stood on it that we slept inside. The family changed the children’s sleeping room into a bike touring camp for the night. We had great conversations about the Macedonian culture and learned about the name conflict they had with Greece about ‘’Macedonia’’.
The Macedonian Dispute
Before Yugoslavia disintegrated, it had a republic called Macedonia, which broke away in 1991 and has since been recognized as the "Republic of Macedonia" by more than 140 nations, including the U.S., China and Russia. But it hasn't been able to join NATO or the European Union because Greece opposes its name. Greece has a northern province called Macedonia, also the cradle of ancient Macedonia and its most famous leader, Alexander the Great. Greece considers Macedonia a non-negotiable part of its history. Its neighbor, meanwhile, considers Alexander — who incorporated its land into an empire that extended to India — part of local identity. Macedonia's flag is emblazoned with the Sun of Vergina — a symbol associated with the dynasty of Alexander and his father Philip.
As a result, previous Greek governments have claimed that the Republic of Macedonia — tiny, impoverished and with virtually no military might — also has territorial designs on its province. So Greece calls its neighbor Skopje, after the capital, or Fyrom, the acronym for the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, the provisional name under which it was admitted to the United Nations.
To an outsider, this conflicts looks absurd: two countries fighting over a name and a historical icon who lived 25 centuries ago. But the 26-year-old dispute between two southeastern European neighbors — Greece and Macedonia, over who owns the name "Macedonia" — is seen by both sides as existential and essential to national identity.
We hope above all for both countries that this conflict can be settled for once and for all!
Cycling through Macedonia
Our plan was to cycle to Skopje in the next two days because Gijs had problems with his E-bike. The engine bolts had become loose and we didn't have the tools to fix it. In Skopje, there was a Giant Bikeshop which could help us solve the problem.
It was still 180 kilometers to Skopje, so we planned to do a sleepover in Veles (which was in between the two cities). We had the choice to cycle 13 kilometers more and it was a good road or a shortcut through the mountains on a very rocky road. We wanted to put the E-Bikes to the test and chose the mountain road, with tons of rocks, boulders, and mud, it was something very different than the comfortable roads we used the last few days. In the 50 kilometers, we cycled through the mountains, we've not seen a single person. It didn't surprise us because cars could never survive this road.
After our adventurous route, we arrived in the night at Veles and started looking for a place to sleep. That night we could put up our tent in someone's garden and were happily invited for a late night snack with some beers.
Did you know? In Macedonia, there are many ‘’fake’’ street dogs. Many dog owners let their dogs roam free in the neighborhood. They come running at you and start barking, trying to protect the ''hood''. Not really relaxed cycling with all those barking doggies coming for you.
In Skopje, Gijs managed to fix the E-bike. Unfortunately, the shop didn't maintain E-bikes so they had no idea how to fix the problem. But with some tools and help from the mechanic, Gijs de-assembled almost the complete E-bike. They found out the connection bolt for the engine had been vibrated loose. Luckily, the problem was easy to fix and after some hours of works, we could continue our way to our next destination: Kosovo!
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