It seemed simple enough. Just take a flight from Skopje to Amsterdam via Zagreb, departing at 05:50 on Thursday. I had to be at the airport super early so instead of booking a hostel I decided to stay the night at the airport or bus terminal. So on Wednesday afternoon I boarded a bus from Ohrid to the capital (3.5 hours, 500 denars). The ride went smoothly and I arrived at the relatively modern bus terminal at the stated arrival time. Exotic places like Istanbul, Pristina, and Belgrade flashed between English and Macedonian on the departures board. But for now, I was after a relatively mundane destination: the airport. After asking around, I found the office of Vardar Express which sells the airport shuttle tickets (30 min, 150 denars). The staff there told me that the airport had more dining options than the bus terminal so I decided to go straight to the airport rather than linger at one of the cafes in the bus terminal.
In hindsight, that was a mistake. When I arrived at the airport I couldn’t check in, which was not surprising since I was about 10 hours early for my flight. But the aforementioned dining options are INSIDE the departures area, which I couldn’t enter yet. The check-in area only has one overpriced cafe which was thankfully open 24/7 and has electric ports for charging. But they don’t have any hot food, only sandwiches and assorted pastries. Oh and there’s no free wifi either. I asked the airport staff if they could get me some food from inside the secure area but they said that food couldn’t be brought out from there. And then I found out the restaurants only operate from 08h till 20h. Totally should’ve stayed at the bus terminal.
After countless hours of reading, writing, watching movies, and sipping cappuccinos it was finally time to board. By this point, I had been awake for nearly 24 hours straight so as soon as my seat-belt was fastened I drifted off to sleep. The short flight to Zagreb came and went like a dream. In fact, it was a dream. When I opened my eyes I saw that we hadn’t left the gate yet. The aircraft door wouldn’t close properly and soon we were all forced to return to the terminal. I held out hope that I would still be able catch my connecting flight to Amsterdam, but as the delay went from minutes to hours that hope faded. But I was lucky enough to meet a Croatian business person who got me into the airport lounge to indulge on some free food and coffee as we waited for word on when we would be departing.
3 hours after the scheduled departure time, we were up in the air. But upon landing in Zagreb, confusion ensued. Our bags were routed to a holding area instead of going onto the luggage belt. That was quickly sorted but the bigger question remained, how do I get to Amsterdam?
The airline staff at the Croatia Airlines window in Zagreb knew of our situation and did a great job re-routing us onto different flights. I was promptly put onto a flight to Zurich to catch a flight to Amsterdam at 14:15. But the Zurich flight was almost ready to take off after its own delay so I very quickly checked in, went through security, and dashed across the terminal to the gate. The plane was held for me and another passenger from the delayed Skopje flight; that was a relief.
An unexpected delay turned into a million dollar view of the Swiss Alps.
Within minutes I was in the air again, getting ready to doze off with my head against the wall. But as I started maneuvering into position a family of small peaks poked their pointed tops through the clouds. The Alps! Soon the grey rocky peaks transformed into snow capped giants, each one more magnificent than the last.
Upon landing at Zurich, it was a short wait in the very well equipped modern airport for my flight to Amsterdam. And even though I landed about 5.5 hours behind schedule, I was treated to an incredible look at the Alps which I’ll never forget. That was the bright side.