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Published: February 13th 2018
We left Probistip early the following morning, the boys are struggling with the cold but I am enjoying not being hot for once. The journey south was on excellent roads through pretty countryside, I had no idea that Macedonia had such beautiful snow covered peaks which we followed all the way south to the city of Bitola. Bitola is the home of the country's most important ancient archeological site Heraclea Lyncestis. This ancient Macedonian was founded in the middle of 4th century B.C. by Philip the Macedon, Heraclea existed for over a millennium as an important strategic point. We arrived around midday to find the site empty of people with a single caretaker in residence who seemed happy to take us to the gift shop and delivered a long but interesting discourse about the history of the city and its beautiful mosaics. My companions found it all boring and I must admit the man's breath was putrid and even a tragic like myself was relieved when he finished. To preserve the mosaics they cover them in gravel during the colder months so we didn't get to see them, but we did spend more than an hour wandering around the site in
the winter chill checking out the theatre, temples, churches and homes, one street in particular had a sewage system.
From Bitola we wound our way through the snow covered mountain peaks of the Pelister National Park finally arriving in a pretty lakeside town dominated by the forbidding 10th century Car Samoil's (Tsar Samuel) fortress. We headed straight for the gated castle town stopping briefly to visit St Demetrius, Holy Mary Peryblebtos and the Saints Constantine and Helen churches before making our way up to the fortress which apart from the fantastic views over the town was probably not worth the entrance fee. From here we followed the path down to the ruins of the early christian (5th century) basilica with its intricate flora and fauna mosaics and the multi domed 9th century Church of Sveti Kliment i Pantelejmon sitting high above the lake.
We then headed down into the old parking the car and walking to the mall that runs along the base of the fortress hill stopping in a very good restaurant for lunch, after eating we checked into an old town guesthouse. As the sun sets so early during this time of year we were soon
sitting in a cafe watching the sun go down, before striking off in to the very atmospheric streets of the old town, I love old towns with their narrow alleyways and cobbled streets and Ohrid was certainly no disappointment. We found a number of pretty churches the museum and some lovely restored houses and shops.
With the dawn we loaded up the car and headed south along the Unesco listed lake shore stopping briefly at the Museum on Water at Bay of Bones a recreation of a pile dweller village (circa 1200 - 600 BC) that was discovered here and excavated between 1997 and 2005, the place wasn't open yet so we continued on to the Saint Athanasius Orthodox church which we thought was the Sveti Naum Monastery. We decided to follow a walking trail that pointed towards another church, we followed Black Drim's spring through forrest and fields to the small Sveti Mother of God church, which interestingly had a font in the floor of the church.
After walking back to the car we continued on and just a few kilometres later came upon the impressively large Sveti Naum complex sitting in the shadow of the Galicica
mountains, which has been here since at least the mid 9th century. There was no one here so we wandered around at leisure we didn't have pay to park or to get in as we wandered the grounds taking striking photos of the springs, lake and the complex without interruption from other tourists. We passed the pretty St Petka church as we approached the entrance to the monastery proper perched dramatically above the 3 million year old lake. Greeted by a menagerie of Peacocks we entered the courtyard and the circled the church on the way back to the car we stopped at the Restaurant Ostrovo which was just opening for the day and had a top notch breakfast in one of the floating pontoon dining rooms on the lake.
A few kilometres later we crossed the Albanian border and were greeted by socioeconomic decline, poor roads and a very ugly town, still the country was closed to the outside world for so long it is to be expected, European Union membership will certainly assist regarding infrastructure. There is very little good to say about Albania although we were driving straight through and didn’t stop, so we may have
missed the few places that may have changed our minds. The people are unattractive especially the males with their fake leather jackets and tracky pants and the cities, towns and villages we passed through had very little to offer. The capital Tirana was particularly ugly and we were happy to pass through quickly, there was one old fortress in the north of the country that was dramatic on it’s mountain top but that was about it.
The crossing into Montenegro was a definite relief, this small country that we crossed in just a few hours had some stunning coast line and pretty towns, we stopped in the port town of Bar for lunch before continuing on through many pretty little towns including Budva before darkness set in. We crossed the bay of Kotor by car ferry before entering Croatia at the town of Sutorina.
I have very positive feeling regarding Montenegro and would like to return one day.
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