Guide to SKOPJE

Travelling by car from Skopje to Athens in seven hours

“Be careful, when you get to the city the GPS may not work properly” – my cousin warned me before leaving for Athens, and my cousin is an experienced driver who has tried using GPS while driving in the Greek capital.lycabetus

Athens has a population of more than 4 million and parts of Plaka, the old city, are so densely populated that cars can barely go by in the narrow alleys. It is understandable because the old town was settled around the Acropolis much earlier than the invention of the automobile.



Alright now, I got a little worried because I knew we would reach Athens during the night and our hotel is right in the heart of the above mentioned crowded quart, but I thought I would carefully insert the street name and number of our destination, check everything several times thus reducing the probability of error to a minimum.

Although it was winter we had a nice sunny day for departure, and later our friends in Athens told us that in mid-January they traditionally have warm, sunny weather.

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It is rather easy to get from Skopje to Athens. The roads are fine, and you drive most of the 700-kilometre journey on a motorway. It’s great for people who enjoy travelling, like us for example. It is better to go by car because there are no direct flights between the two cities, Skopje and Athens, two capitals of neighboring countries. You could opt for a train journey, but I recommend it only for young adventurers who are able to see a good adventure opportunity in waiting at the border, delays, train conditions, etc. I can immediately write off travelling by bus because of the same reasons.on the road

You get rather fast to the border crossing with Greece (160 km) because there is a motorway for the larger part of the journey, except for some twenty miles through Demir Kapija canyon (this section of the motorway is now under construction and is soon to be finished). After a two-hour drive you are already at Bogorodica border crossing or Evzoni as it is called on the Greek side. Motorway toll costs 180 denars (about €3) in one direction. Since it was just an ordinary day in mid-January when all religious holidays associated with Christ’s birth, baptism etc. were behind us on both sides of the border, also it wasn’t a weekend when Macedonians crowd the border heading for Thessaloniki to do some shopping, there were no queues at the border passport control. We passed through to Greece in a European manner so to speak. Easy, fast, politely exchanging a few friendly words with the border authorities about the nice weather and good timing for our visit to Athens.

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The timing was excellent because during the summer it is a real miracle if you manage to pass border control quickly and easily. Why? – I hear you say. Because the majority of Macedonians spend their holiday on Chalkidiki peninsula. Why? – you say again. Because the sea is wonderful, prices are affordable, resorts are family friendly and if you add the proximity (only 360 km from Skopje or 200 km of motorway journey from the border) then you completely understand why.

For the same reasons there has been an overflow of tourists from Serbia and Bulgaria in recent years. Macedonians know every stone and every corner of the peninsula. They know where to go, which restaurant to dine in, where to find the cheapest sunbeds or the best coffee in Chalkidiki, but rarely do they travel to Athens.

As I said, you cannot miss the road to Athens, just drive straight ahead. Shortly after the border you pass by Thessaloniki (the capital’s fierce rival city) and then there are Leptokaria and Platamonas, and a few more towns favoured amongst Macedonians, places which I mustn’t forget to mention because so many fellow citizens and family members cherish wonderful memories of their holidays spent there. balkon3 leptokarya Ñ

During the winter these two places look like those abandoned little towns we see in films, but in the summer it is almost impossible to find accommodation. People remember the times before mobile phones, when those who could not find a free room had to spend a few nights sleeping in their car hoping to find accommodation the next day.

olimp2This is also where you pass by the mythical Mount Olympus, looking magnificent with its top shrouded in fog. When I tried to explain to my young children that gods lived here I was not actually aware that it would be their main interest during our week’s stay in Greece and Athens. I had forgotten that I felt just like they did, when as a child I held in my hands the books of Iliad and Odyssey. So, I began to recall and check on my memories of Zeus almighty, his wife Hera, and Athena who was born fully armed from the head of Zeus, than his rival Poseidon the god of the sea, beautiful Aphrodite and many more. I resorted to my fantasy and films for help, though I consciously invented answers to the questions of why and how Athena emerged from Zeus’s head and how the others were born. Where are the gods now? Why aren’t they here now? Are there gods only in Greece? Don’t we have any? Oh, we’ve got plenty of them too. – I said and began mentioning several from the Slavic mythology, although I do not know many stories about them, just names – Perun, Vesna, Svarog, Veles…

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The lively conversation made our journey so pleasant that we didn’t notice we had already passed by Larissa, Lamia and arrived at the gates of Athens, one of the oldest cities in the world with a history of more than five thousand years.

Actually, it was not that unnoticeable. There are a dozen pay tolls along the motorway with an average toll of €2.5 euros which amounts to €25-30 in one direction. Until a few years ago there weren’t any pay tolls, well maybe one or two, and I guess this is due to the difficult times of financial crisis.

Anyway, we were happy to arrive in the city and I was looking forward to seeing my dear friends Sofia and Tomas and introducing them to my family. I hadn’t seen them for a very long time. I met Sofia in the mid-90s when I attended a student program that she was organizing in Vari, a suburb of Athens, and I met Thomas in 2008 in the U.S.A.

darko meri sofija darko i tomas2

Athens is in a different time zone and it is one hour later than Skopje CET, so it is normal that the sun sets later there (not quite sure if this is true, but that’s probably my problem with physics classes).

We entered the city and all my fears began to come true. The GPS went crazy, although I stopped quite a few times to put in the right destination, 2 Kodrou Street, Plaka, and obviously began leading us to another direction.

After several failed attempts and an hour of circling round the streets with heavy traffic, we thought of trying out the old way. We decided to rely on the distant predecessor of GPS and followed the principle of word of mouth. We have a saying for that – Those who ask do not wander. After seven of eight directions from the locals, and after driving through incredibly narrow alleys in this part of Athens we got to a wider boulevard, stopped and asked for directions to Syntagma, the main square of Athens where the Parliament building is located). A polite, smiling young couple said: Syntagma? Well you are in Syntagma!


We were outside the Grand Bretagne Hotel, one of the oldest, most striking and luxurious hotels also known as the “Royal Box” of Athens which has been standing opposite the Greek Parliament and the National Gardens for 140 years now. Then we went through the usual “I told you so.” and “You never listen to me.” routine, turned left and stopped.



We were at the entrance of Plaka, the old part of Athens with a dense forest of narrow streets.

We didn’t even think of entering without logistics. I found a taxi driver and asked him for help. He was really nice, even refused to take the money I offered, and finally led us to our hotel. He also had problems finding the location immediately, but it is easier for the locals, he asked a few people on the way and in 2-3 minutes we were in front of our hotel.


The hotel was a bit old-fashioned, but warm and cozy with lots of photographs in the lobby and a receptionist you only see in the old movies. He gave us our key and as soon as we started looking around the room the phone rang. That’s weird. – I thought – Someone wants to talk to us. The news was brilliant. The hotel offered to give us a bigger room with a lovely balcony for almost the same price, but with a priceless, breathtaking view of the Acropolis, or as Greeks love to call it – The Rock.

acropol nokeWhen night falls you can see the Acropolis standing tall, bright and beautiful, willing to tell the secrets of the Parthenon, the union under the legendary Athenian King Theseus, the attacks of the Persians, Venetians, TurksItalians say that things which took place in the last three or four centuries are considered as new and modern. In Athens all things which happened after the birth of Christ are considered as new and modern. But that’s another story.  

Darko Chekerovski