Happily this last few weeks we’ve fallen into a pattern of crossing borders on a Sunday, we’re spending a week in each of these fabulous Balkan states and making the most of the rich culture, the glorious weather and the traveller-friendly prices. This week we have been mostly enjoying Macedonia; the food and people we have met along the way have been of high calibre. I’ve also after more than sixty days on the road begun to keep my journal up to date and in some meaningful order – this is of great use when now I am writing for you an account of what we have seen and done and experienced.
We entered Macedonia from Greece in a place called Star Dorjan, a lively, touristy town overlooking a lake. We rode past a wedding with full brass band and energetic dancing, looked on for a short while hoping to be invited to join in, it was not to be on this occasion. We withdrew some cash from the wall, next to the tourist information centre and continued on. Desperate for a wash, having not showered in a few days, having had the luxury of the Aegean Sea and even another quick natural spring in Greece, tonight we were slightly less glamorous and had to take the cycle tourist and wild campers favourite; the river by the side of the road wash. Nothing is so refreshing.
At this stage in our journey we have become more confident in our ability to make things happen to our advantage. By this I mean that we know how to make an entrance and to work things to our best interest, this is a natural learning curve of life on the road. Arriving in Negotino was just such an example. To the untrained eye – those of the intrigued but unsuspecting locals – we were wandering aimlessly, almost lost some might say, seeking something as yet unknown to anyone. This process of ‘appearing’ to be completely lost is our greatest asset; before long a group of maybe half a dozen locals have assembled to assistus in our quest- to find accommodation, good food and a beer. Among this particular crowd is a university professor, one of their students and owner of a nearby restaurant – we are given direction to a monastery, offered dinner at the chaps restaurant and pointed in the direction of the nearest bar – result. The chap is Nicoli, he is a the owner of the best restaurant in Macedonia (we were shown photographs of Nic with the Premier, many top politicians and former Presidents), he speaks excellent English and treats us like royalty. After a fantastic meal, a bottle of local wine, brandy, beers and getting change from a tenner; we make our way to the monastery of St George and a hot shower. At the top of a steep hill, next to a winery and overlooking the town, the monastery occupies the best location and had been recently refurbished for guests. A very nice place indeed, and only a fiver each! After a shower and a short nap, literally forty winks, we are taken by taxi back into town and yet more food; this time a pizza joint, Nic and a group of his friends are unwinding after spending the evening making wine with Nic’s father. We order a few beers and eat til we nearly burst at the seams, we go for a walk around the town – a mini tour with Nic showing to us the best of the town, then we are suddenly in a taxi in a fit of giggles and are back at the monastery and almost immediately fall into a deep sleep.
We are by now as you could perhaps imagine in pretty decent shape so busting out 100k+ days three or four days on the bounce is no great shakes. Heck, we’re young chaps and even through the mountains we can do this, so we make good progress each day we are in Macedonia and climb many mountains and make rapid, racing descents into small towns with ease. We pass rock of graphite, shiny black like slate, now chalk white marble, now sandstone of terracotta orange – the mountain ahead has a single white eyebrow of the right side cut into it – a marble mine high up. The hills to the left are veiled in misty sunshine, silhouetted against the bright blue sky, the mountains to the right rise up like pyramids with rocky crowns at their peak. We camp on this mountainside and on waking early to set off to Ohrid we encounter a local man smoking a cigarette, with no English we manage to understand that the crop he has been picking and placing on a line to dry is in fact tobacco – a mystery that had puzzled us for days as we saw it first growing, then being picked and now dried at the side of the road and in front of most houses.
Ohrid is a welcome break and excellent reward at the end of a superb week in yet another stunning and delightful country. We celebrate our early arrival – early starts have this advantage – with a delicious lunch and a couple of beers. Our ‘trip advisor’ Richard (the radio is still doing a sterling job by the way – thank you!) has recommended Sunny Lake Hostel so we check in; only after a few skirmishes with the many touts offering private apartments for 7 Euro a night – we kindly decline and flirt up the steepest road in the country, narrow and cobbled to the digs next to the University with the split view of half lake, half city. A quick round of hellos and we are showering and snoozing. Next day we meet some excellent Polish girls, Asia and Paulina, who we take out to dinner to a very beautiful restaurant on Lake Ohrid, with some embarrassment we realise we have less than a fiver in the kitty and turn to Joanne and Paulina to explain our situation – thank you girls for picking up the bill! To repay the girls we visit a Jazz bar on the promenade to sample some Macedonian stand up comedy but leave before it begins and end up back at the hostel where many guests are drinking and watching football – after a few bottles and just a few minutes of a tedious draw with Montenegro, our next destination; thanks Wayne Rooney for making such an introduction for us, we step out again to the Jazz Inn, a proper jazz club in the back streets of Ohrid. This den of iniquity is dark, filled with smoke and classic trad jazz, I recognise The Shape of Jazz to Come, an excellent piece by Ornette Coleman, and we settle into a table and order some drinks, its early in the morning when we leave and a long walk home, lost among the winding cobbled streets of this beautiful city.
So again it is Sunday and we must leave this place for Albania and Tirane – the hottest city on the planet right now! Ciao ciao!
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For the route see MAP 10