Published: April 18th 2011April 18th 2011
From Albania – we headed east towards another Balkan country … Macedonia!
Our journey from Albania was a three-hour bus journey to Elbasan, where we had to walk from the bus station (400 meters down the road, turn left, 150 meters to the post office) which involved two girls with enormous backpacks asking for confirmation by saying ‘Posta?” in our best Albanian accent.
There we put our bags in a large van ‘furgon’ – the faster and slightly more expensive way to travel in Albania. Highlights of the trip include me realizing I left my jacket in the toilet near the furgon station – jumping out of the van to go get it, running back to where the van was and having a mild panic attack for a few minutes before some random whistled at me to point out where Eng and the van had gone.
Our driver took us directly to the border which we walked across easily enough – and caught a cab to the town of Orhid (on Lake Ohrid). Our hostel was in the old town, and our driver took us to the main parking lot and called someone to come grab us. 30
seconds later Jyoko was there to get us. Seriously – the guy has the best accent ever, was like a big friendly giant, but looked like he could have been the bad guy in a bond film. Occasionally he would say ‘great success’ like Borat – which made us laugh but also gave me a shiver down my spine. Sunny Lake Hostel
A double was the same price as a dorm so we had a room to ourselves with an amazing little heater. The 35 bed dorm is full every night in the summer, but there were only 4 people a night when we were there so everyone got their own dorm room anyways.
We walked around the old town – a cute little neighborhood with a citadel, a castle, and of course loads of churches. We walked back along the beach and realized how sweet this place must be in the summer. We – unfortunately were still in jeans and jackets.
That night we went to a restaurant serving authentic Albanian food (apparently George Clooney ate there while filming the Peace Keeper). Food was freaking amazing! We had peppers stuffed with meat, rice
and some secret yummy sauce, a Macedonian version of tzatziki, shish kebabs, and some local white bean dish. With drinks – a whopping 7 dollars each.
The next day we adopted an American – sorry a Texan – to walk around the town with. Eng thought he was hilarious, I thought he was Texan. He spent most of the time offended by everything that came out of my mouth. She thought he was joking, but I didn’t think so. He spent 30 minutes telling Eng about how she needs to go to Chili’s in England – because it is so good, and unlike most English restaurants, you get lots of elbow room away from the next table…. Like in America. The old town
We did a tour of a church with beautiful frescos, mostly from the 11th-14th century. The woman working there looking like an Albanian Cher, and had her PhD in either biblical studies – or that church. She showed us all the awards she has received and gave us a very intense tour and then blessed us all.
We stopped for coffee (seriously, the Balkans are majorly into their café culture) and
I randomly ordered a hot chocolate. I expected a drink – instead it was like a cup full of thick chocolate fondue. Both Eng and Texas were poking their spoons down to see where the liquid was, but there wasn’t any. I’m not a huge chocolate fan but it was amazing. It’s not like it was even on the dessert menu – it was in between tea and coffee options!
That night we went back to the same restaurant and adopted another American – Adam from New Orleans who is doing his MBA in Vienna. I had a feeling we would get along, in the morning when Eng was trying to show him how to make toast in the oven using the broiler she told him – no – you have to put it in further. His response – that’s not the first time a girl has said that to me.
I just about died laughing, whereas Texas almost had a heart attack (sadly he was leaving that morning). (The next three days were filled with… that’s what she said). With our new American in tow, the three of us went down to the lake with intentions of
a boat ride – we skipped the sketchy Balkan man offering us a boat ride and instead went to the polite-non pushy guy named Bobbi.
He took us to see one of the churches hanging on a lake, and stopped to make us Turkish coffee using a little Bunsen burner. So cute. The boat ride was so chilled out, the landscape and lake were beautiful and when we headed back to the Hostel – we found out that Bobbi is famous. CNN did a clip on Ohrid – the churches, the history, the town, etc. Then the guy does a boat ride with Bobbi - and he makes him coffee. Eng as screaming with excitement it was hilarious! Road Trippin around the lake
Jyoko managed to get his brothers car and took us on a quick road trip around the lake. We learned that Lake Ohrid, and the lake on the other side of the mountain are not fed by rivers, instead they are from springs underneath. We drove up into a national park to get a view of both lakes – and saw an abandoned ski lift from a ski resort that is now closed. Oh
– Adam is obsessed with taking videos. In the windy cold of the top of the mountain – I performed a lovely handstand on an incline. If I can add the video I hope you laugh as hard as we did watching it over and over again later.
We went in a random farm where there was spring water canals set up. It was so random – at the base of the hill there was just water pouring out – making a lagoon out of nowhere. On the way out I got out of the car to check out a families herd of sheep. A Baba wearing a head scarf basically threw a little lamb in my arms, and once we got eng out of the child-lock car, we played with the lambs, much to the amusement of the family.
Finally our last stop was a monastery called Svete Naum (which is also a swank resort). We were the only ones there, apart from the 20 peacocks hanging around making honking noises. We went inside the chapel with more beautiful frescos, and put our ear to the grave of Saint Naum to hear his heartbeat. On the way
back Jyoko stopped to show us the private beaches they take people to in the summer – accessible only by boat. Seriously – Ohrid must be amazing in the summertime.
Later that day Jyoko was setting up a propane tank in the common room to a little heater thing. There was a heater in there, but he said this contraption was warmer. I thought it kind of looked like those heating lamp things they have outside of bars for the smokers or on patios when it is a little cold still. Adam thought it looked like a garbage can with a fire in it. Jyoko had to light a flame to start it – and I was freaked. He said he was concerned at first – but the guy at the station where he filled it up said it wouldn’t explode. (Insert amazing Balkan accent and we were pissing ourselves laughing) Our big Macedonian night out
A guy we met in Berat had finally showed up, so we went to the same restaurant for dinner and on the way back we spotted a bar with loud music. We went in for a drink and found everyone super
sporting my Albanian peasant shirt out for dinner at our fave restaurant in Orhid - showcasing stuffed peppers
decked out. I was sporting a turtleneck tunic and Eng was in trainers so we ripped back to put on dresses (even though it was quite cold).
When we got back the bar was packed and we did our best people watching while getting slightly intoxicated – the music was really good. A guy who had just come off a Royal Caribbean cruise ship talked me up and told us about another bar. When we got there the music was like a bad 90s set, which was followed up with two guys doing cover songs. (Jyoko told us later the guitar player came in 5th in a guitar hero contest in London). Adam was so annoyed with his sweet child of mine cover that we left.
British guy was embarrassed to have his coat because it was too backpackerish –so I asked if I could wear it home. My sheer little black dress not providing a whole lot of warmth. Um – ya – we come outside to freezing freaking cold snow falling. Gong show walk back in the snow – and when we got to the common room, Britain and Eng tried to light the propane heater.
I literally hid behind the door while the two of them sat there twisting the bottle and holding a lighter to the burner. Sadly (or thankfully) it wouldn’t light, and instead the room just smelled of propane. Very funny night out in Macedonia.
The next day we were hungover – so we took a bus to a nearby town that is a ‘must’ in the lonely planet. Um – Bitola is what I might call miss able. We went to some ruins (would have been lame if they didn’t have 2 puppies for us to play with) and then walked the streets, laughing at all the super cool hot people sitting el fresco in cafes along the pedestrian street – freezing their asses off. I had another Macedonian hot chocolate pudding thing and we caught the bus back.
In the morning the three of us went to a handmade paper shop where we learned how time intensive it is to make paper. Adam and I bought a postcard style sketch on handmade paper – my one souvenir from Macedonia. I would so go back – I think the summer season must be amazing – totally one
of the places
that will become cool to go to in the coming years.
Jyoko walked us to where we caught a shared taxi. It was so sad to say good-bye to a big friendly giant from Macedonia. He made our stay in Ohrid - the guy is a legend.
We jumped on the bus at noon. It was supposed to be 4 hours to the capital and then 12 hours to Istanbul (a location we decided on the night before at 11 pm). Instead – we got on a random bus that took us through Bulgaria (including a stop at a Bulgarian McDonalds with a McDrive) before a crazy border crossing that took an hour and a half at 2 in the morning. I was tired and had a fit when I had to pay 60 dollars for a Turkish visa. Eng told me I need to calm down or I am going to get kicked out – she had to pay 15 dollars. Brutal.
Anyways – 19 hours later we arrived in Istanbul – tired and slightly unprepared. We didn’t have a turkey guidebook so Jyoko let us photocopy 20 pages from
the Europe Lonely Planet book. We are so unprepared this should be hilarious.
So for now…we are off in search of Turkish delights.
There are more photos below