Macedonia 20/07 - 26/07

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July 20th 2018
Published: August 7th 2018
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Friday 20th

It was a beautiful morning which goes hand in hand with the car heating up like a tin can so by 7am we were swimming in the lake to cool off. There were some early morning fisherman wading around in the shallows and a few other campers had set some tents up on the beach but apart from that it was a very quiet peaceful morning. We got dressed and walked around the coast and up to the old fortress. From the outside and looking up at its strategic position on the hill it looked pretty impressive but the outside walls were actually all that was left of the building. We walked down through the pine trees past a beautiful monastery and along the waters edge to a cafe. The water was sparking and many of the locals were kayaking and diving off a pontoon in the water. We sipped some delicious iced coffees and watched all the goings on before following the waters edge along a board walk around the old town.

We returned to Dobby and drove on towards Pelister National Park. We stopped for kebabs in a town on the border of the park called Bitola. It was truly a local town and we didn’t see another tourist the whole time we were there. It had a fantastic Turkish Bizzare with one of the cheapest food markets we’ve found so far. Laden with fresh goodies from the old lady’s in the bizzare we headed into the park. Pelister National Park is the oldest National Park in Montenegro and on arriving it looked like it hadn’t had any work done on the signs and roads since it first opened. The visitors centre had closed 3pm so we couldn’t get any maps or advice from them but by the look of things we weren’t missing out on too much anyway! There were old barriers and ticket booths but everything was broken and falling apart. The signs, when there were some were covered in vines and algae and we only found one sign with a short paragraph in English. Still we motored on into the park and up the winding road to the top where there was a hotel. Jack asked if we were able to camp in the park outside the hotel and was told “no problem” so we parked up Dobby and went exploring. We wandered through the pine forest and found a lovely spot by a freezing cold rushing river. We sat and relaxed for a while not wanting to walk to far today as we had big plans for the following day. We went back, cooked dinner and prepared sandwiches for the next morning and hit the sack.

Sat 21st

We woke up nice and early, used the hotel for the morning ablutions and headed for the peak of Mount Pelister some 2500m ish above sea level. It was also the first hike we had attempted without the use of any gps as our phones were long gone. We weren’t completely unprepared though, we still had an iPad with a very mediocre map downloaded. We set off on the “rocky trail”as it was called and pretty much got lost from the start! The trails were well marked BUT there were many different trails for different destinations with all identical markings - damn Balkans. We got some advice from an older French couple who didn’t speak English (School French came in handy) and proceeded to hike up a steep trail with the logic that up is better than down! The start of the hike was a tough one but thankfully shaded by dense tall pine trees as far as the eye could see with the odd cool stream running through it. After a few hours we were starting to see some small clearings with glimpses of a really cool view of the surrounding rolling mountains and lakes. We made it (with the odd wrong turn here and there) to a wooden platform that reassured us we were on the right track. We sat and had some grub with a pretty awesome view of the now clearly defined mountain tops and the pine forests on their hill sides that looked like vast moss fields clinging to the cliff faces. We had been walking for around 4 hours and were pretty pleased with ourself as we had been told at least 6 hours to the top and back. “Last little push” we told ourselves, little did we know we were in for quite a big chunk of mountain to get up. It was by far the most enjoyable part. The “rocky trail”was true to its name as the pine forest track turned into huge boulder fields and was a proper hands and feet job to negotiate the jagged edges and wobbly rocks. Another hour or so and we reached the peak! Wrong..... there was a peak alright but ahead of us was an even higher one - we hate false peaks! The view by this point was nothing short of spectacular however. We were clearly one of the highest things around and to look back on what we had climbed was pretty special. So the official “last push” started. We continued onto the mountain pass in between the two peaks, yet another spectacular place to be, and continued to ascend more boulder fields to the peak. Once we arrived we found truck loads of school kids sunning themselves at the top, “how have they got here?” we thought, then we saw the land rovers and the road on the other side of the mountain - cheats!

We sat down and enjoyed the sunshine with 360 views of Albania, Greece and Macedonia with all of there mountains glistening in the sun! We were also buzzing as at some stages during the trek we thought we would get lost and not even make it up! After fuelling up and getting our waters filled, luckily we spoke to a local lad who advised another trail back down that was a little quicker and easier on the knees! Armed with the new knowledge we trotted off back down on another route. The landscape had changed again. This time the mountain plain was a big meadow of grass, wild flowers, huge boulders scattered everywhere with a cool (and tasty) mountain stream running through it. We meandered down the path and again we found ourselves in an amongst the pine forest. At this point we were eyeing up a beer or 2 back at the hotel. We were hot and thirsty! GPS would have made this a lot easier but as we had none and the map we had downloaded had no knowledge of the track we were on, we cracked on with the hope the advice from the local lad was correct. There were signs but were all written in Macedonian so they were no use either.... another couple of hours (and a few wrong turns) later we found a road. Turn left or right?? We went left for 20 mins and started ascending again - wrong! Turned around and about 30mins later we recognised a few places and knew we were on the right track! Few! By this point we were gasping for a cold one so even jogged! We eventually arrived back at the hotel and headed straight to the bar and found out the biggest, most high percentage alcohol we could find and sat our smelly bodies down. We worked out we had walked for a solid 9 hours up and down. With this new found knowledge we proceeded to order 2 more beers each, dinner and a bottle of Macedonian red wine before heading to Dobby before bed - why not!? We’d earned it!

Sun 22nd

After yesterday’s long hike (made even longer by our lack of gps) we decided not to do the other trek up to the lakes near the peak and instead drove to Mavrovo National Park. When we arrived we headed for the tourist information centre and got a map with the hiking trails on. We then went in search for a camping spot. The area we had driven to was made up of beautiful alpine style housing surrounding a huge lake in the centre. During the winter season this is Macedonia’s most famous ski destination and the pictures and posters around the villages were all snowy scenes with the houses under feet of snow. Happily though, it was a beautiful sunny day when we arrived. We saw a track leading down to the waters edge and followed it down to find more camper vans and tents. It was a tricky road for Dobby and once again a 4x4 would have been much easier but we made it down. We searched around for a spot but were very disappointed with what we found. Despite this being a national park people had thrown their rubbish everywhere and the whole place looked more like a gypsy camp come local dump. It was horrid so we made dobby scale back up the track and we continued round the lake in search of something cleaner. Before long Dobby was testing his skills on another dirt road down to the waters edge. As we were creating our way down the track we got a bit stuck in one of the grooves and had to reverse slightly in order to continue. Little did we know we were being tailed in very close proximity by some young lads and promptly bumped straight back into them. Shit! Jack jumped out to see if there was any damage, luckily there was nothing major and their car was already covered in scrapes and dints so they didn’t care at all. Maybe it was because we were tourists but the lads driving and another family who saw what happened were more interested in helping us down than any potential problems. “Enjoy your stay in Macedonia”, “you can drive down, you’ll be ok, keep going”, “where are you from?!”. We made it down and found a beautiful spot right by the water and this time it was really clean and the water was perfect. We wasted no time going swimming and then sprint the rest of the day sunbathing with the locals. It was a Sunday and so there were lots of families and friends out bbq ing and enjoying the lake but by 8.30 we were totally alone in this beautiful place. We had a very lovely night alone in anatue.

Mon 23rd

We awoke to mist in the mountains and grey clouds that looked awesome but wasn’t great for our plans of hiking! Predicting some rain ahead we quickly navigated the steep dusty road before it turned into a bog to a higher spot for morning coffee with a view. We changed plans and headed for Bigorski Monastery. This was a monastery high in the mountains where Orthodox Christians worshipped and according to our research you could even have a cuppa and a chat with them. On the way up, sure enough the heavens opened and as we arrived we could see the lightening forks and hear the rolling thunder echoing around the mountain tops. As we arrived the place itself was in impeccable shape. Most monasteries we have visited have always been old and worn but this was very modern, fresh paint on the walls and even had a gift shop! We strolled around admiring the courtyard and the views. We entered a church and the room was lavishly decorated with random silver and gold ornaments with paintings that were bold and bright with all of the saints and angels doing their thing. There were other visitors around with one monk showing them around and speaking to them about various bits and bobs so we were keen to find one of our own. It soon became obvious that this wasn’t going to happen. We walked around trying to make eye contact and say hello to somebody but we were pretty much ignored. The only time we were spoken to by one of the monks was to tell us off for going up some stairs. We thought whilst we were here though we’d just have a tea or coffee in the cafe they had. Even this was forbidden! “Only guests of monks are allowed here” and with that the ‘devout, pious and good Christian’ walked off! We couldn’t help but compare other faiths, churches, monasteries and monks we’d been involved in and visited and this one was by far the most egotistical and infuriating one yet. It was a shame that a great modern place that could educate novices like us on their faith appeared to only favour and educate people involved in their faith. We left the place disappointed and were even more disappointed that the weather had turned into a monsoon! We had to park Dobby up and whilst we waited for the weather to improve we killed time by painting and reading. With it still raining we decided there was only one thing for it - pub! We found a bar by one of the ski resorts (built in 1964 and still going!) and apart from the family that owned the place, we were the only ones there. After a few were sunk we made our way back to the morning coffee spot overlooking the lake and had a

Tuesday 24th

We got cracking in the morning and headed out of the National Park. No sooner had we got onto the highway that we were being pulled over by the police. As we slowed and stopped Char noticed he was looking at our headlights and so we quickly made a plan to say we were on our way to get it fixed if that’s what he wanted to say. Char was driving and went to get out but he only wanted to speak to Jack, first sign he was going to be an arse. Sure enough we had a bulb out and jack recited the story of the garage. The copper didn’t seem to care “it’s €100 for a bulb out”, jack laughed, “well because you’re a tourist I can half that for you, €50”. Jack began walking back to the car to explain and the policeman walked around to see Char. Char also told him the same story about the garage and laughed even harder at his pathetic attempt to fleece us of money. We had a polite but sincere argument with him about how we can’t be fined for driving to a garage. He obviously knew he wouldn’t get anywhere and waved us off. We thought it best to stop at the first petrol station and we soon sorted the bulb and were back on our way to Skopje. We called in at a Fiat garage to see if they had the part we needed replacing but they said it would be a 3 week wait so we continued on into the city and looked for somewhere to park. We headed into a industrial estate come council garden centre and had no sooner parked up that we heard someone calling to us through the fence. He had noticed the hook up point on our car and wanted to know what it was. The guys name was Mickey and he was an auto electrician working for the council. Before we knew if we were round the other side of the fence having coffee with him and his colleagues, none of whom appeared to have a busy schedule that day! We chatted with them for almost an hour and they said they want us to camp the night there and have coffee again in the morning because it was Mickeys birthday tomorrow. He then gave us each 100???????what is the currency?????? To spend on beer, as hard as we tried to refuse he wouldn’t take the money back so we decided to invest it In some biscuits for tomorrow mornings coffee. We set out to find the old quarter and found a birthday shop that just happened to have a huge Mickey Mouse party hat which we bought. We then went browsing around the old quarter. This was a really well looked after old quarter and it had a big Turkish influence. The main bulk of the shops were fold and silver shops, tourist shops, fancy dress shops, suit shops and kebab restaurants. Jack was still in need of a suit for the wedding and so we visited a load of them but the majority only had plain Jacket and trouser sets or if they were patterned jackets (which is what Jack wanted) there were no matching trousers. In the end we decided to stop for a drink and replenish our sugar stores. It did the trick and with renewed energy it only took us 2 more shops before jack was standing in a light blue suit and trouser combo looking a million dollars. They tailored the trousers to fit to perfection and we left very happy customers. We went straight to the suit guys recommended kebab place. It was a bustling crowded kebab restaurant and as soon as we sat down piles of kebabs, bread, peppers and a cheese, tomato and cucumber salad had arrived at our table. Wow! It was absolutely delicious, we gobbled everything down and packed away what we couldn’t finish for a snack later. We needed some WiFi to update our maps and ended up at a really friendly place with a lovely waiter who spoke brilliant English. We drank a few beers with him whilst our iPad charged and downloaded maps and he told us lots about the city and his life and future plans to work in the USA. After this it was getting dark and so we decided to buy some biscuits for morning coffee and head home.

Wednesday 25th

After our sleep on the road we heard a knock on the windows 7am..... “jooohhnnn, cooofffeeeeeee”. It was Mickey. It had been a while since we had had a wake up call! We sat for around an hour or so having coffee, sharing biscuits and trying to have a conversation. He also LOVED his hat we got him. After a lovely morning we drove onto a place called Matka we got recommended by a man we met on our way home the previous day - thank goodness he did! There was THE perfect Dobby spot right by a crystal clear fast running river and it was surrounded by forest with a small amount of restaurants and bars. We chilled there all morning and set off on an expedition up river and found another PERFECT spot - a small island in the middle of the river, we had to wade out and consequently had a crystal clear moat all around us. The rest of the day we lounged around dipping in the river and having some delicious grub before bedding down.

Thursday 26th

After the previous days early start we were sure to have a lay in! The morning was another rainy one but as the day brightened up there was a mist all along the rivers surface which looked kind of eerie. There were boat trips you could take to a cave that was upriver a few kms from where we were staying. There was also a hiking trail along the banks so us being us, we refused to pay for a boat and hiked. The walk was steady away and followed up and down the cliff faces with the river below. About an hour later we found ourselves at the cave but it was only accessible by boat. We weren’t that gutted though, we’d seen plenty of caves! As we were strolling back a man on his boat started calling us from the river asking if we wanted a lift back, naturally we said no but when he said it was free we jumped straight on! Again Balkaners seem like a lovely lot. We treated ourselves to a meal in a restaurant right on the river and what a treat! There were quite “well to do” people around and so thought it would be a bit out of our price range but this being Macedonia it was pretty cheap! As well as the price the place was beautiful. A white table cloth with sets of cutlery laid out and attentive staff - this was rare. The food was Devine and we washed it down with the obligatory beer. After our expedition we returned to our spot and chilled there until we fell asleep.


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