Days: 515-516 (22 November 2015 – 23 November 2015)
Total distance travelled: 131,629.8 kilometres (81,757.65 miles)
After twenty nine days without rain (and an incredible twenty eight of those being sunny), or luck finally broke two thirds of the way through November.
Unfortunately for us, it just so happened to be a day that found us in transit, making our way out of Albania and into Macedonia a slightly damp experience.
Our luck held long enough until we were just shy of the border, however it did mean that we were happy to pay our furgon driver a few extra Lek to take us the last few kilometres to the border itself, rather than trudge our way slowly uphill (and it would have been all the way uphill).
With no sign of a bus on the opposite side of the frontier, we were happy to entertain the advances of an enterprising taxi driver (I don’t think he’d seen much opportunity earlier in the day), and after a couple of minutes we’d managed to negotiate ourselves a ride all the way to Ohrid.
It’s amazing how a little rain and an empty roadside makes one more amenable to such advances!
The landscape around looked dreary, I’m sure a reflection on the afternoons weather as much as our mood, as ever in the back of our minds sat the thought, “Is this the time when our luck with the weather finally turns, and will this be what the remainder of our time in the Balkans is like?”
Given that it was late autumn (fall), it wasn’t an unreasonable fear.
It wasn’t the longest of journeys and we were dropped at the Ohrid bus station, with time enough to get our bearings before the rain began to increase in volume as we raced (or should that be bounced with our too large packs) towards our hostel.
Our hostel was a homely affair, as in truth, that’s what it was.
A spare room with a couple of bunks in a middle aged woman’s home.
Dripping wet and more than a little cold, we were certainly appreciative of the wood stove that kept the main living area and kitchen heated like a furnace!
As appreciative as us was a black ball of fur, the resident cat, ‘Luna’.
With the weather so sour, we weren’t so eager to explore the supposedly beautiful lake and old town (we were fairly certain it would all look pretty miserable right then), so the only reason we did eventually venture out was for groceries. After all, a kids gotta eat!
Fortunately our path to the hostel had seen us pass a proportionately high number of supermarkets (seriously, three large ones, all pretty much side by side), so it was to here we headed.
The weather was still poor, but the greater danger lay not from the skies (danger in terms of getting a soaking), but rather the large tracts of water that had pooled at various intervals across the road (think mini lakes within the potholed bitumen).
Thankfully the cars were quite courteous, and if they saw us approaching, they’d slow to a crawl so as to not drench us with spray.
We were almost home and hosed, metres away from our street, when one last arsehole decided he didn’t need to/want to be so kind.
Instantly our damp jeans became saturated jeans, and our levels of annoyance had rocketed.
A warm meal and a couple of beers by the fire (with the occasional use of Luna as a lap warmer) did wonders for the mood.
Expecting to be braving the elements for our first full day in Macedonia, it was with some surprise that we woke to bright sunshine and a breakfast of freshly baked pastries on the kitchen dining table.
We washed them down (some of which had been made into cute animal shapes) with some fresh milk, before getting our arses into gear and heading out before the weather decided to turn.
First stop, the waterfront, and our first look at Lake Ohrid showcased perfectly what a difference a day can make.
We wandered out onto the small harbours breakwater, a few boatmen surprised to have the opportunity to spruik their lake cruises to us, but ultimately leaving disappointed as it wasn’t really of interest to us.
Come summer however, I’m sure in and around the lake is bedlam.
Fortunately for us, it was not summer, so we were able to proceed from the waterfront and through the old town relatively unmolested, our destination, a castle on the hill, Fortress Samuel.
Along the way, we were able to pop in at a Roman theatre, aside from a lone souvenir seller (still setting up), our only company being a trio of local dogs.
The theatre was impressive, but our ultimate goal was that fortress overlooking the town, and with our three canine companions in tow, we made our way up the hill.
We’d been to the bank, so had local currency, but suddenly, here at possibly the biggest tourist site in town (true, it was the low season), they had no change.
A brief discussion ensued, our lack of Macedonian and his little English finding a common ground where he’d accept a few of our remaining Lek (Albanian currency).
We probably got stiffed on the price, but we didn’t really care. We’d have lost more trying it exchange it anyway.
He wasn’t however keen on the dogs, and suddenly two of the three had been shooed away (one had already snuck away up the battlements).
To the fortress itself, aside from the outer walls, there wasn’t much to it, but the walls were truly tall, and given we were allowed to climb them, they provided some gorgeous viewing over the town and lake towards the distant mountains, both north and south.
Our vantage point also gave us a great opportunity to assess the weather, and with the cloud already looking thicker than when we’d started our morning outing, we figured it was time to get a wriggle on and see whatever else there was around town.
Back in 1979, UNESCO slapped Lake Ohrid with a World Heritage listing, but this was later revised to include both the lake, and the cultural elements of the region along the lakes shore (some of these elements being its historic churches).
One of these sites sat just below our perch, a short wander down a wooded hillside getting us there.
Here there was the promise of some mosaic, and with mosaic being something of a mini crush for Sarah, this wasn’t something we were going to baulk at.
This was Plaoshnik, a place steeped in history given its relatively unknown to much of the world.
It was here that the first university in all of Europe was established (back in the tenth century), and also the place where the Cyrillic alphabet was created.
Entry allowed us access to the ruined basilica (which is where the mosaics and can be found) as well as the church of St Pantelejmon (formerly the church of St Klement, which had me singing “Oranges and lemons, the bells of St Klements”).
The church was in fact destroyed at some point by the Ottoman Turks, who thought it a great place to build a mosque (which was also eventually left in ruins).
From what we could gather, there is no written record, or depictions of the original church anywhere, so the rebuilt structure that now sits upon the site, is the result of some very good artistic license!
We snapped a few more photos, watched a tourist ride in on a bicycle and not get asked to pay the entrance fee and got on our way.
With our explorations complete, we timed our return to our hostel perfectly, as the afternoon began to turn.
Not in as horrible a manner as the day previous, but with the sky clouding over we were left relieved that we’d had our beautiful morning on the shores of Lake Ohrid.
* A furgon from Berat to Elbasan cost us 400.00 Lek per person.
* From Elbasan to Dogana (the Albania/Macedonia border) cost another 600.00 Lek each.
* Our Taxi from Dogan (the border) to Ohrid cost us 3,000.00 Lek.
* The entrance fee for Fortress Samuel is 30.00 Denar per person (they didn’t have change for our Denar, so instead we paid 200.00 Lek for the two of us).
* Plaosnik Ohrid set us back another 100.00 Denar apiece.