At approximately 1am on Friday morning I started to panic. I was in my hotel room in Vienna, with an agreement to meet Aaron at 4:30am in the lobby to get a taxi to the airport, as we seemed to be the only two in the hotel with flights at stupid o’clock. On my flight from Tallinn I had been prepared for excess luggage charges, as I was taking a laptop, an external harddrive, books, papers, and other miscellany to offload onto Marty and Karen. I had estimated that I would have about 20kg of my own stuff and 5-10kg of extras for them. I was a little surprised to actually weigh in at 39kg. And this was after leaving some more books in my apartment at the last minute. (RED Group, who are one of the best rental agencies I’ve ever dealt with, and whom I recommend wholeheartedly for short term stays in Tallinn, were super nice about this and agreed to mail a couple of them on. If I’d been more organised I’d have done this myself, but, as I was leaving very early on a Monday morning, by the time I worked out I’d have too much luggage it was Sunday evening and I had no option but to just abandon them).

So, still stuck with probably 30kg or more of luggage, flying an airline who are known to be sticklers for weight limits, Karen, Marty, and I went through my luggage piece by piece trying to work out what was contributing. A few things were quickly jettisoned, but I was still going to be way over limit. 20kg really isn’t very much, particularly when, as Karen pointed out (and verified online), my bag alone weighs about 5kg.

In a moment of insanity I began to consider other options. My plan was to get to Скопје, but the only direct flight had been ludicrously expensive so I booked a flight to Софиа instead. Even if I had to get a taxi between them it would still work out several hundred euros cheaper. I had an arrangement to meet with a letting agency on arrival to look at an apartment I had provisionally booked, but other than the flight to Софиа, which was a sunk cost, nothing was firm. Maybe I could get the train via Belgrade instead, where I wouldn’t have these ludicrous weight restrictions. Or, if I were considering that, maybe I should just go somewhere else entirely, and skip Macedonia for now?

After about 45 minutes of frantic online searching, I gave up, and returned to the most sensible option – throwing out half my clothes. I’d already discarded two large bin-bags full of clothes in Tallinn, and now I continued to trim back. (On the theory that I’m hemisphere switching to chase the light (and thus also avoid winter), I really don’t need many heavy clothes, and can always buy more if mistaken.)

I was still a little worried that I hadn’t been ruthless enough, particularly when each of the two people in front of me in the checkin queue were sent off to the airline desk to pay their excess charges. Unfortunately I didn’t get to see the weight, so don’t know if I was under, or within an acceptable margin, but fortunately I wasn’t charged anything (and even more fortunately they didn’t suspect just how overlimit my hand-luggage probably was…)

With phase one of my relocation successful I now had the small matter of finding my way from Bulgaria to Macedonia. It had been more difficult than expected to find information online about getting a bus, but the little I had read implied there was a reasonable likelihood that I would get a taxi from the airport to the bus station only to discover that the next bus wouldn’t be for another four hours, and would get me to Скопје too late to actually arrange my apartment, and I’d end up needing to get a hotel for the weekend. And with forecasts for 40ºC I didn’t want to risk getting a bus with no air-conditioning.

So, armed with a Wikitravel note that a taxi should cost less than €100, and would take a couple of hours less than the bus, I braced myself for haggling with drivers who undoubtedly would have very poor English (or at least pretend to, for the benefits of their negotiation). I was pleasantly surprised, therefore, to see that by the door of the airport there was actually a Taxi desk that offered to arrange travel to wherever I desired. I was a little taken aback when I was quoted €160, but it was still within my allowable range, and with less than two hours sleep I didn’t feel up to trying to haggle a lower price with the drivers downstairs.

Having arranged an ‘official’ taxi, I was rather surprised, on arriving several hours later at the border, to discover that the driver I had been allocated had managed to forget to bring her passport, and wasn’t allowed to cross into Macedonia. Thankfully this wasn’t a complete disaster (for me, at least), as, not wanting to make the long drive back to Софиа on her own, she had asked me earlier if it would be OK to pick up her husband to make the trip with us. I had already been pleased with that arrangement as, even though it delayed us by at least an hour, it meant I got to travel through lots of interesting districts of Софиа en route to pick him up that I would otherwise have never seen. But now it was a major bonus as he was able to take over the taxi and drive me the rest of the way on his own, whilst presumably his wife stood aimlessly around the no-man’s land between the Bulgarian checkpoint (which we had cleared just fine), and the Macedonian one (where the problem was discovered) awaiting his return 5 hours or so later.

Bizarrely, having taken over the in car MP3 player shortly after his wife had picked him up, and inflicting far too much Tina Turner, Phil Collins, and Elton John on us throughout the first half of the journey (with occasional forays into Kansas and Billy Idle [sic]), shortly after crossing the border, he switched the CD to a rather disturbing collection of early 90s pop (2 Unlimited! Ace of Base! Haddaway! Whigfield!) Maybe it was the change of scenery, or just a change of mood, but I suspect I’m destined to now forever associate “Funky Town” with entering Скопје.

Actually getting to my chosen destination in the city was quite fun. The driver spoke almost no English, but he didn’t allow that, nor the fact that he doesn’t know his way around Скопје at all, to get in the way. As we got nearer he started hailing pedestrians, truck drivers, taxi drivers, cyclists, or anyone who just happened to be nearby (or unlucky enough to get stopped at traffic lights) to ask for directions based on the address I had written down for him. He only seemed to have about a 50% success rate (my suspicion is that he didn’t speak Macedonian well either), but we eventually managed to arrive at the letting agents.

Of course there was no way that the whole day would go according to plan. The agent I’d been dealing with was on holiday (despite having agreed several days beforehand to meet with me), the apartment I thought I had booked had already been let to someone else, and there were no other apartments available at all.

But that’s a story for another post…

I love it when a plan comes together…

2 Responses to “I love it when a plan comes together…”