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,
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
and the inside with its 11th to 13th century frescoes.
It did seem like whenever you rounded a corner in Ohrid, you’d find another church.
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.
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.
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.
When it really started to rain, instead of diving into the tents, we dove into a bar. That works.
The Roman city of Heraclea Lyncestis is just south of town.
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.
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.
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:
Veles is down and out with few jobs and no nice pedestrian area. It appears though that the church has money.
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,
and the next day the sun came out.
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.
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.
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.
The scenery got better and better as we climbed towards Kosovo.
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. 😉