Bicycle touring North Macedonia: Ohrid to Skopje via Bitola

Yikes, I’m falling behind quickly on this blog. My bicycle tour with Jeff is now over, but I’m not even half way through the countries we visited. We left Albania and entered North Macedonia at beautiful Lake Ohrid,

IMG_20220415_151946 by bryandkeith on flickr
IMG_20220415_145603 by bryandkeith on flickr
Trpejca

and that day we pedaled on directly to the UNESCO-listed city of Ohrid where we took a day for sightseeing and a second day for rain and rest. Rain was forecast, but rest was a good enough excuse to stay.

They call Ohrid the “Jerusalem of the Balkans” which made me nervous because I found Jerusalem rather tense. I guess the comparison might be because (they say) Ohrid has 365 churches. However, according to google the moniker more commonly refers to Salonika. Whatever. The most impressive church is St. Sophia, seen here from the outside

20220416_214147 by bryandkeith on flickr

and the inside with its 11th to 13th century frescoes.

IMG_20220416_143802 by bryandkeith on flickr
IMG_20220416_143614 by bryandkeith on flickr

It did seem like whenever you rounded a corner in Ohrid, you’d find another church.

IMG_20220416_160639 by bryandkeith on flickr
St. Clement and Panteleimon Church
IMG_20220416_163214 by bryandkeith on flickr
IMG_20220416_163528 by bryandkeith on flickr
IMG_20220416_165146 by bryandkeith on flickr
20220416_213626 by bryandkeith on flickr
IMG_20220416_153849 by bryandkeith on flickr
Church of St. John at Kaneo

In spite of all the churches, Ohrid felt rather Turkish and looked like restored Ottoman. There’s a large mosque in the center of the shopping district, we went out to Turkish dinners two evenings in a row, and I spoke Turkish with the vendors at the vegetable market.

IMG_20220416_145646 by bryandkeith on flickr
20220416_213919 by bryandkeith on flickr

Our rest day seemed to be pretty rain free, but we had some rain the following day as we pedaled east. We crossed two 1200m passes, and, well, it was snowing. Really? That didn’t seem right to me.

Is it really supposed to be snowing? by bryandkeith on flickr

We nixed our camping plans for the evening, opting instead for friendly Zlako and his Goldy Hostel in Bitola. I enjoyed poking around the small city.

IMG_20220419_085215 by bryandkeith on flickr
IMG_20220419_090023 by bryandkeith on flickr
IMG_20220418_182404 by bryandkeith on flickr
IMG_20220418_181204 by bryandkeith on flickr

When it really started to rain, instead of diving into the tents, we dove into a bar. That works.

IMG_20220418_183147 by bryandkeith on flickr

The Roman city of Heraclea Lyncestis is just south of town.

IMG_20220419_104623 by bryandkeith on flickr
IMG_20220419_104647 by bryandkeith on flickr

Just like in Ohrid and Bitola, we found another nice pedestrian district in Prilep. I felt that North Macedonia does a good job with livable cities.

20220419_145957 by bryandkeith on flickr

Our most remote route in the Balkans ended up being the road from Prilep to Veles. We made it over the pass the first day and camped a bit down the other side.

20220419_161903 by bryandkeith on flickr
20220419_183038 by bryandkeith on flickr

In the morning I was ahead of Jeff on the descent and ended up waiting for him for longer than expected at the end of the dirt road. I started to worry that he had had some bicycle trouble, and then he came coasting down with a huge smile on his face. He had just seen three wolves! Wow.

Our next goal was to visit Veles and find the land where Jeff’s uncle’s ancestors grew watermelons, somewhere near this bridge:

20220420_124013 by bryandkeith on flickr

Veles is down and out with few jobs and no nice pedestrian area. It appears though that the church has money.

IMG_20220420_121401 by bryandkeith on flickr
IMG_20220420_121223 by bryandkeith on flickr

Considering that I wore all my clothes including my down coat during our lunch stop, camp was warmer than I expected that night. We rolled into Skopje just as the rain was starting,

IMG_20220421_104853 by bryandkeith on flickr

and the next day the sun came out.

IMG_20220422_105513 by bryandkeith on flickr

The story of Skopje is the 1963 earthquake. Much of the center has been rebuilt since then and apparently not in the previous style. Along the river Skopje didn’t have the Ottoman feel like the other cities we saw in North Macedonia.

IMG_20220422_135753 by bryandkeith on flickr
IMG_20220422_125144 by bryandkeith on flickr
IMG_20220422_140134 by bryandkeith on flickr

It didn’t work in my opinion.

The Ottoman district is north of the river, and I was able to have some more conversations in Turksh.

IMG_20220422_111145 by bryandkeith on flickr
IMG_20220422_122819 by bryandkeith on flickr
IMG_20220422_125353 by bryandkeith on flickr
IMG_20220422_105709 by bryandkeith on flickr

One of the strangest things that happened in North Macedonia was that almost as soon as we bicycled out of Skopje, we started seeing Albanian flags — no more North Macedonian flags. People were speaking Albanian, road signs were in Albanian, and there were mosques in the villages. The ethnic borders in the Balkans are more dramatic than the international borders.

20220423_140901 by bryandkeith on flickr
Orashje

The scenery got better and better as we climbed towards Kosovo.

IMG_20220423_124745 by bryandkeith on flickr
IMG_20220423_140128 by bryandkeith on flickr

We attempted to spend the last of our denar (North Macedonian money) at a bakery, then at a vegetable stand, but our payment was refused both times. Maybe because it was Ramadan? We hardly noticed Ramadan in Albania. What will Ramadan be like in Kosovo, you wonder? Stay tuned. šŸ˜‰

IMG_20220422_135657 by bryandkeith on flickr
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1 Response to Bicycle touring North Macedonia: Ohrid to Skopje via Bitola

  1. Mike Painter says:

    Fascinating, as always!

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