Jonathan Lee

Worldly Images

Macedonia September 2014

This is an extract from a multi-country report to read the full report use the following link:

Multi Trip (Bulgaria – Serbia – Montenegro – Macedonia – Greece – Turkey – Bulgaria – Romania) September 2014

This trip took a fair bit of putting together and was based around doing two days of the PTG Bulgaria Track Bash tour, when it was in Greece with OSE MLW’s. However when the dates for the PTG Bulgaria Track Bash tour were changed and the tour was ultimately turned into a Greek Track Bash tour the planning was turned upside down and we basically went back to starting from scratch.

In the end a decent plan was hatched to start in Bulgaria, mainly due to it being the cheapest place to fly to, then head into Serbia, dash into Montenegro and back, and then into Macedonia before returning to Bulgaria to do the PTG Greek Tour. After the tour I’d head on from Bulgaria to finish in Romania. Originally we’d planned to head into Kosovo as well but as the trip now warranted more time in Greece something had to give.

Having had literally no clue about the geography of Eastern Europe before starting this plan it was certainly an eye-opener but the hard work paid off and time spent at home planning the trip allowed for the rewards to be reaped when out doing the trip.

Booked through Easy Jet & British Airways direct

EZY8973 0530 Gatwick – Sofia £36.71
BA885 0830 Bucharest – Heathrow £60.92

Booked through


Hotel Centar (Skopje) – St.Istarska Str., 1000 Skopje, Macedonia (£103 for a twin room for two nights) – is about a 10 minute walk from Skopje station. The nice clean room was a very welcoming sight and everything was spotless. The AC worked fine and the water was piping hot, toiletries were provided in the bathroom and a decent sized flat screen TV was attached to the wall. WiFi was free and a decent signal too, yet full strength was only achievable in the corridor. There was absolutely no noise at all making its way into the room. Breakfast was included in our rate and started at 0700.

Train Tickets
Booked through EU Rail

Inter Rail one country pass Bulgaria (6 Days) – £93

Bought at Sofia Railway Station from Rila International ticket office

Balkan Flexi Pass (10 Days) – Lev 302

Booked through Wasteels at Belgrade via e-mail (reservations only); these were given to us in person at Belgrade station by the owner himself

12432 1805 Belgrade – Bar (2 berth sleeper)
12433 1700 Bar – Velika Plana (2 berth sleeper)
337 0931 Velika Plana – Skopje (seat reservation)

Wednesday 10th September 2014 (Who’s idea was the day train from Serbia to Macedonia?)

Having got off the Bar – Belgrade overnight at Velika Plana, the next main shack north of Lapovo, we had over an hour to kill; and then some in the end. I managed to find a few shops up the road from the station, turn right, one of which provided fresh pastries for breakfast and different ones for lunch, the other provided crisps and bananas. We’d been a little concerned that we’d struggle for food all day as we were heading through to Skopje in Macedonia and on board train 337 0750 Belgrade – Skopje for at least 8 hours; thankfully that issue had gone away.

There was quite a bit of freight through Velika Plana, unfortunately the morning sun was all wrong on the northbound trains. Just as we were thinking of giving up on our spin move back to Lapovo on 6731 0735 Mala Krsna – Lapovo it turned up 27 late, 444006 with just one coach; we’d seen the same engine on the same turn two days previous. It wasn’t wedged and dropped us back into Lapovo with about 25 minutes to kill before our long journey to Skopje should begin.

Of course we didn’t depart Lapovo on time and at least had a few freights to photograph in the meantime; 461106 with a container train and 661155 with a general freight being amongst them, the sun being prefect from the offside of the station for trains heading south. 441749 ultimately arrived with the two coach train that was 337 0750 Belgrade – Skopje about 30 late. The train wasn’t wedged but people had spread themselves around the compartments. We’d already got reservations, courtesy of Mr Popovich at Wasteels, which only cost €3 each and once the guy dossed across them got himself upright we were seated and ready for the journey.

Other than being a very hot journey and being shot blasted with pollen all the way it was pleasant enough and we eventually ended up with the compo to ourselves. We didn’t pass much en-route but did spot the following: 444011 sat with load 1 in Nis station, 444029 with 4902 0815 Presevo – Nis and 441321 with 336 0820 Skopje – Belgrade. I was ready for something a little different by the time we reached the Serbian Border post at Presevo; lunch had brightened up the day at one point during the day and a bit of interaction with the border police, or at least a little intrigue on our behalf as to what was going on, did so at Presevo.

Thankfully the passport checks at Presevo were inoffensive and I barely even showed the guy mine after he’d seen Aidy’s was a British one. After the train had been taken to bits to prevent any smuggling taking place we were sent on our merry way to Tabanovci in Macedonia; where things were a little more interesting.

The Macedonian border police took all passports off everyone on the train and went to process them in their office. I’d asked the guy taking them not to stamp my empty two pages beforehand and thankfully he didn’t and stamped the entry stamp to Macedonia on a different page. While the passports were being processed ZS’s 441749 was replaced by MZ’s 441755 for the run to Skopje. On all the postings I’ve seen regarding this train it’s always been the same engine, 441755, so we weren’t treated to anything out of the ordinary.

What we were treated to on the way into Skopje was some speed at last; having staggered virtually all the way through Serbia and been 40 late almost throughout 441755 gave us quite a good run to Skopje and delivered us there only 15 minutes late.

With all the afternoon departures having gone when we arrived we went straight to find the Hotel Centar, which is about a 10 minute walk from the station. The nice clean room was a very welcoming sight, having not had a hotel for the previous 4 nights, and everything was spotless. The AC worked fine and the water was piping hot, toiletries were provided in the bathroom and a decent sized flat screen TV was attached to the wall. WiFi was free and a decent signal too, yet full strength was only achievable in the corridor. There was absolutely no noise at all making its way into the room; which was a massive bonus. Breakfast was included in our rate and started at 0700; which was just the job for the 0805 departure to Kicevo.

Having dumped our bags we went straight over to the nearby shopping centre to get some cash, which enabled us to pay for a meal at the very good Lezet Restaurant, which is on the road by the side of the shopping centre as you walk down from Skopje station; turn left when you get to the shopping centre and it’s on your left about 50m up the road. The food was fresh, good quality and cheap and there were a few beers to choose from as well; all at about £1 per bottle. The exchange rate is roughly MKD75 to the pound.

We were hedging our bets when we went to the station to view the 1938 Skopje – Bitola, but it had been hauled the previous week. Of course it wasn’t on this occasion and DMU 712105/6 was left at the station idling to itself while we went to rid the supermarket in the shopping centre; where a 1.5L bottle of Skopsko Beer cost a massive MKD112, that’s a bloody bargain at £1.50. Compare that to a 2L bottle of Coke which was MKD73.

Back at the hotel that night the shower was shown who was boss and we managed to get all the clothes we’d worn thus far on the trip handed in to reception for washing; we were told it would be ready by the morning and it was ready and waiting for us, nicely ironed and folded, the following evening when we returned, the whole lot costing just €14.

There was no coaxing needed to get to sleep in a non-moving bed and I even managed to charge things without shorting out the circuits in the bedroom that night!

The Moves

661155 Kraljevo Lapovo 1700 (09/09) Bar – Belgrade 12432 ZS 661155 to Lapovo for ZS 444027 forward
444027 Lapovo Velika Plana
444006 Velika Plana Lapovo 0735 Mala Krsna – Lapovo 6731 ZS 444 – Load 1
441749 Lapovo Tabanovci 0750 Belgrade – Skopje 337 ZS 441749 to Tabanovci for MZ 441755 forward
441755 Tabanovci Skopje


Gen for Wednesday 10th September 2014
(Other than in the moves above)

MZ (Macedonia)

712105/6 (DMU) 645 1938 Skopje – Bitola


Thursday 11th September 2014 (A nice relaxing day)

An 0600 alarm call was needless in the end but the reason for it was so I could nip to the station before breakfast and see what did the 0648 Skopje – Bitola as if we made the 1430 Skopje – Bitola in the afternoon we could do that out for the return working if both were hauled. It wasn’t though and I didn’t hand around to watch DMU 712101/2 depart; I had an appointment with breakfast back at the hotel. It was a decent breakfast too including fried & hard boiled eggs, plenty of meats, cheeses and bread and with that much on offer it would have been very rude of us not to make up a little something for lunch.

Back at the station for the second time that morning we were just in time to find 661223 seemingly running round a set of stock in platform 1, it was actually sat in platform 2 at the time waiting the arrival of 661 0533 Kicevo – Skopje, which 661236 rolled in with and then promptly departed ecs for shed. 661223 then dropped onto the stock in platform 1 to form 660 0805 Skopje – Kicevo and that was us sorted for the morning.

Before 661223 departed with 660, bang on time at 0805, 441755 had brought the stock in to form 336 0820 Skopje – Belgrade. 61223 was the first one of the class that we’d actually been able to listen to during the trip but the load two train it was towing didn’t really test it, yet the driver did give it bit of hammering. From what I’ve heard myself, for a 661 it was quite good but as with the rest of the GM’s I’ve had recently it joined the club of having no meat on the bones and ultimately droning away once onto full power

The line to Kicevo climbs for the duration and from about half way into the journey the scenery changes and is actually quite decent. There are quite a lot of tunnels, one being a good 4km long, and a decent looking viaduct at the top end of the line but all the station building are quite derelict apart from the bigger stations of Tetovo and Gostivar; which are actually manned for the four trains a day that pass through! Kicevo itself is a shadow of its former self but does at least have a booking office, even if it doesn’t have a departure screen anywhere at all that I could see; it does have one for Skopje thought so you can in theory work out the departure times from that.

We’d arrived on time after a very good run to Kicevo but the timings for the train leave a little to be desired as we were 4 early at one point and then 2 late shortly afterwards where the timings clearly need a bit of tweaking. Thanks to our on time arrival we had plenty of time to discover what Kicevo had to offer.

We managed to discover the JZ steam engine, Henschel & Sohn 15079, 99-4-025, mounted with a couple of wagons just outside the station and the next thing we discovered was the inside of a local bar for local people at the bottom of the hill; where a Skopsko was a mere MKD60. Having got had a piece of cake from the place just outside the station, on the left, we were back on the train by 1130 to claim our compartment for the return journey and consume our pre-stolen lunch before departing for Skopje.

As with the outward timings there is room for improvement and we found ourselves 7 late en-route at one point only to end up 2 late at the next stop. Our quest for making the plus 8 onto the 1430 Skopje – Bitola hadn’t looked good t a couple of points during the journey and I’m sure our 3 late departure from Kicevo hadn’t helped that; yet we rolled in only 2 minutes late and with an extra crank on board.

Now joined by Orpington, who’d boarded 663 1218 Kicevo – Skopje at Skopje Sever after doing a taxi out that cost him MKD300, we all watched the 1430 Bitola depart with DMU 712105/6 and with no other option we then festered around to see what did the 1522 Skopje – Kocani, which had been hauled a couple of times recently and when that rolled in with DMU 712107/8 we went for a walk to the bus station to see if there was any gen on which buses we could potentially do back from Skopje Sever or Dorce Petrov if we ended up there on either the 1620 Skopje – Pristina or 1650 Skopje – Kicevo. While there might well have been some gen on the posters we looked at the only thing on them that we could read were the bus numbers, all the text was in Cyrillic!

Skopje station comes alive between 1500 & 1710 with trains departing for everywhere on the MZ network; the only three of interest being 2020 1620 Skopje – Tabanovci which was 441108 vice EMU on load 2, 892 1620 Skopje – Pristina which was 661236 on load 1 and 662 1650 Skopje – Kicevo on load 2. The latter two were actually both in platform 1 at the same time, parked behind one another, which meant we didn’t need to wait around at Sever having done 661236 out on the Pristina as we’d already had 661223 that morning of course.

On the approach road to Skopje Sever station, which doesn’t even resemble a station when you look at it from outside, there were a few buses parked up, one of which had just had its engines started by its driver. Mark managed to accost him before he pulled away and we were on board moments later paying MKD25 each for the single journey back to Skopje; the bus actually dropping us right outside the Hotel Centar, having turned off the main road towards the station just before the bus station. The journey back took about 15 minutes and we literally had just enough time to walk back to the station to watch the roof of a DMU depart with the 1710 Skopje – Bitola; it was then off to the Lezet Restaurant for a good evening meal.

As Aidy and I had decided to do the 1900 Skopje – Tabanovci out and back we parted ways with Mark for the evening, who went in search of his own hotel while we went in search of 441108. We found it soon enough as it arrived back into Skopje with 2021 1740 Tabanovci – Skopje and then headed straight off to shed, where we assumed it would be run round and sent back judging by the fact the guard had put the tail bracket on the opposite end upon arrival and waited on the platform himself for it to return; we never saw it again that night!

Having waited until nearly 2000 Aidy eventually managed to get the gen from the guard, still waiting on the platform himself, that the 1900 to Tabanovci had been cancelled and that 334 1452 Thessalonica – Belgrade would be stopping additionally at all stations to Tabanovci. 442002 arrived with it at 1950, on time, and departed at 2010, on time, but without us on board as there was no option at all to get back to Skopje that night. God only knows what anyone wanting to travel on 2023 2011 Tabanovci – Skopje was going to do? What we were going to do though was head back to the hotel and to add insult to our needless fester a thunder storm had just passed over and it was still raining!

It was a relaxing evening at the hotel and our washing was presented to us the moment we asked for our room keys; by the time we went to bed we were all packed ready for departing the hotel the following morning.

The Moves

661223 Skopje Kicevo 0805 Skopje – Kicevo 660 MZ 661
661223 Kicevo Skopje 1218 Kicevo – Skopje 663 MZ 661
661236 Skopje Skopje Sever 1620 Skopje – Pristina IC892 MZ 661 – Load 1
Bus Skopje Sever Skopje Hotel Centar No. 9 Bus – 25 Dinar, 15 minutes Bus


Gen for Thursday 11th September 2014


661223 660 0805 Skopje – Kicevo, 663 1218 Kicevo – Skopje, 662 1650 Skopje – Kicevo
661236 661 0533 Kicevo – Skopje, 892 1620 Skopje – Pristina

441108 2020 1620 Skopje – Tabanovci, 2021 1740 Tabanovci – Skopje
441755 336 0820 Skopje – Belgrade (to Tabanovci)
442002 334 1452 Thessalonica – Belgrade (Gevgelija – Tabanovci)


712101/2 641 0648 Skopje – Bitola, 642 1245 Bitola – Skopje, 645 1938 Skopje – Bitola
712105/6 643 1430 Skopje – Bitola
712107/8 651 1522 Skopje – Kocani


412053/4 2082 1423 Veles – Skopje, 631 1650 Skopje – Gevgelija

2022 1900 Skopje – Tabanovci & 2023 2011 Tabanovci both cancelled throughout after 441108 took the stock off 2021 to shed and never returned.

The Photos


Friday 12th September 2014

After a decent doss and breakfast we left the hotel, set for the long day ahead. Mark was already at the station when we arrived and unfortunately so was 661223 having arrived from Kicevo with 661 0533 Kicevo – Skopje; unlike the previous morning where 661236 went empty to shed though, 661223 ran round to form 660 0805 Skopje – Kicevo and that was our morning set.

At Dorce Petrov the whole train was shunted across the way to attach two empty log wagons to the rear of the train; the result of which being us departing 30 late for Kicevo. This of course wasn’t much of a problem on the way out but would make a difference on the return in terms of making the plus 8 onto the 1430 Bitola at Skopje.

It was a good run to Kicevo, the lateness probably helping, and the little 661 was given quite a hammering. Upon arrival we attempted some photting at the station while 661223 shunted the stock round the wagons, before placing them with a third, already at Kicevo, for loading. The miserable shunter at Kicevo had other ideas though and ultimately stopped us photting. What he didn’t see didn’t hurt him though, the miserable fucker, and when he was out of sight nobody else bothered us, let alone the guy that had been on the platform photting all along….

Having discovered Kicevo the previous day we didn’t venture far and made it as far as the shacks outside the station where some decent grilled chicken was rustled together for dinner. Back on the station afterwards the train had been left on the loading dock just off the platform end, where logs were still being loaded. Mr Miserable didn’t draw the train into the platform until 5 minutes before departure and stopped anyone boarding that walk down beforehand. Thankfully we managed to board first and bag a compo. It was invaded by some old bert shortly before departure who wasn’t content with the fact we’d moved our bags to sort him a seat in a corner near the door, no, he moved the bags himself to create himself a seat in the middle! Bert seemed to only speak one word of English which he repeated continuously when an attractive girl ended up stood in the aisle outside our compo; this word was sex! It was quite comical watching bert, who must have been about 65, gesturing about the girls shape and repeating “sex, sex, sex” on and on, thankfully though he gave it up and piped down and even more thankfully got off en-route as he was insistent on the windows being closed; which only happened through the very long tunnel near Kicevo, much to his annoyance.

We were bang on time at Dorce Petrov but the 3 wagons on the rear put pay to us making the 1430 Bitola. 661223 was shunted off and ran round to the rear to shunt the wagons into the same sidings we’d collected the two from earlier. The shunting cost us about 20 minutes and we only missed the 1430 Bitola by 11 minutes in the end. We later found out from Daffy, who we found arriving back at Skopje of an EMU, that it had been 661236, which they’d done out for the EMU back. Once we’d viewed the DMU for the 1522 Kocani a decent meal followed at the Lezet Restaurant before we returned to view and chew the late afternoon departures.

Skopje station is quite busy between 1600 and 1700 with usually 4 trains in. On this occasion though one was delayed, which was of course the one we were effectively waiting for; the 1620 Skopje – Pristina. In the meantime 441754 arrived to form 2020 1620 Skopje – Tabanovci, vice EMU again, and the EMU that had arrived on 2083 1423 Veles – Skopje earlier formed 631 1650 Skopje – Gevgelija. The sign that the 1620 Pristina was going to be late came when 661223 rolled into platform 1 to form the 1650 Skopje – Kicevo; both trains usually being booked out of platform 1 and had been sat one behind the other prior to departure of the Pristina the previous day.

After every other train had departed we were left at an empty Skopje station with only 6 other people waiting for the Pristina. Whether they actually knew what was going on wasn’t evident but just over an hour after the train should have departed 661146 dropped into the station with the usual load 1 to form the train. We departed just the 69 late and the possible reason for the late start became immediately evident, 661146 was not well at all; it stank and sounded absolutely shocking. If this was all MZ had to offer then either they were on the floor for power as everything was knackered or they were using the remainder of the summer months to batter some engines before the winter?

The journey to Skopje Sever was enough off 661146, the photos there in the late evening were quite good though. It took us no time at all to find a No.9 bus on the drag outside the station and we were back in Skopje with plenty of time for a beer before Aidy & I left Mark to it and went to have a second attempt at doing the 1900 Skopje – Tabanovci; after our failed attempt the night before. Sure enough though 441754 was just arriving from shed with the ecs as we got onto the platform, we can only assume that 441108 had had some major issue the previous night?

Even though we could have done 441754 to Tabanovci and back to Kumanovo on its return we opted to get off at Kumanovo on the way out and wait for our overnight there; just in case there were any issues, which of course there weren’t and we watched 441754 return to Skopje right time.

442002 collected us from Kumanovo, also right time, with 334 1452 Thessalonica – Belgrade. We had reservations on the train in the seats, which had been done in the UK via DB at Surbiton. The sleeper berths were apparently full but as we got on at Kumanovo anyway we decided against even trying for a berth; especially as the compo our seats were booked in was empty, with the exception of Orpington already occupying it!

Passport checks at Tabanovci and Presevo went without a hitch and I managed to explain easily enough that I didn’t want a stamp on my black pages; the Serb’s insisting I would be getting a stamp! Upon arrival at Tabanovci though some guy was straight off the train, on the non-platform side, and he dumped a few black bags of stuff underneath the wagons stabled alongside He was last seen walking down the tracks between our train and the adjacent freight with his bags so whether he was actually trying to smuggle something into Serbia I don’t really know as it didn’t seem like he was actually going any further…..!

Having checked outside I thought ZS 461024 was going to replace MZ 442002, until ZS 441708 was split off from the 461 and shunted onto the front of our train. ZS 461024 was likely going to replace MZ 461120, which arrived with a northbound freight while we were waiting.

Our compo remained empty to Nis but unfortunately the coach inherited a group of squaddies en-route, who’d obviously been out on the piss. Their evening sign-a-long seemed to be abuse hurled towards Kosovo, not that we could understand any of it but being sung by Serbians and the only word we could make out was Kosovo we could do nothing but surmise! Either way we were all glad to be getting off at Nis where the 24 hour station buffet beckoned as we waited for the Belgrade – Sofia overnight.

The Moves

661223 Skopje Kicevo 0805 Skopje – Kicevo 660 MZ 661 – Mixed train ex Dorce Petrov
661223 Kicevo Skopje 1218 Kicevo – Skopje 663 MZ 661 – Mixed train to Dorce Petrov
661146 Skopje Skopje Sever 1620 Skopje – Pristina IC892 MZ 661 – Load 1
Bus Skopje Sever Skopje Hotel Centar No. 9 Bus – 25 Dinar, 15 minutes Bus
441754 Skopje Kumanovo 1900 Skopje – Tabanovci 2022 MZ 441 vice EMU
442002 Kumanovo Tabanovci 1700 (09/09) Bar – Belgrade 12432 MZ 442002 to Tabanovci for SZ 441708 forward
441708 Tabanovci Nis


Gen for Friday 12th September 2014


661146 892 1620 Skopje – Pristina
661223 661 0533 Kicevo – Skopje, 660 0805 Skopje – Kicevo, 663 1218 Kicevo – Skopje, 662 1650 Skopje – Kicevo
661236 643 1430 Skopje – Bitola

441754 2020 1620 Skopje – Tabanovci, 2021 1740 Tabanovci – Skopje, 2022 1900 Skopje – Tabanovci, 2023 2011 Tabanovci – Skopje
441755 336 0820 Skopje – Belgrade (to Tabanovci)
442002 334 1452 Thessalonica – Belgrade (Gevgelija – Tabanovci)


712103/4 541 1710 Skopje – Bitola
712105/6 641 0648 Skopje – Bitola, 642 1245 Bitola – Skopje
712107/8 651 1522 Skopje – Kocani


412053/4 2082 1423 Veles – Skopje, 631 1650 Skopje – Gevgelija

MZ 441044/107 light through Skopje at approx. 1600
MZ 461120 arrived into Tabanovci with a freight at approx. 2130 would have been replaced by ZS 461024

The Photos


From here we headed back into Bulgaria, via Nis in Serbia, to get for the PTG Greek Track Bash tour.

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