Lake Ohrid lies between Albania and North Macedonia and is one of the oldest and deepest lakes in Europe. The annoying thing about the change in border crossing is that we were now on the lakes’ western side rather than its eastern shore, which we had intended to follow through the Galichitsa National Park stopping along the way to camp for the night. Okay suck it up, things change, we will drive up the west side and into the main city of Ohrid, it was after dark anyway.
We drove to recommended camping park, a large restaurant carpark, very close to the city, where a unfriendly waitress curtly informed me that there was no parking during winter, weird! We drove to another spot but it had a ‘bad vibe’ and Pete’s gut instinct was to move on. We drove back into town to buy a local SIM and do some further research. It is amazing how reassuring it feels when you have internet again, such 21st century problems!! When we first travelled through Europe all we had was a thick Lonely Planet, a dodgy map and a public phone box to find your accommodation! How easy has life become?
There was a 24 hour car park right in the centre, guarded, expensive, but really convenient. We would head there later but first dinner, at an Irish pub! The day had been a little stressful, we were cold and we deserved a good comforting pub meal! We returned to the van to find a flyer under the windscreen for a Campsite only 4kms away, it appeared to be pretty good. We drove to the campsite and were met by the friendly owner who had ridden down to open the gates for us. It was way cheaper than the 24 hr car park and had toilets, showers, electricity and wifi. SCORE! We parked up and hit the sack. We woke to find we were in a lovely setting right by the lake, amongst the beautiful autumn trees. A nice find. (It turned out that the parking guard in town was the owners mate and rang him saying there was a van looking for somewhere to camp so he came in and dropped the flyer on our windshield, now that is direct, proactive marketing, he is now on Park4nights!)
We visited a beautiful old church, the Svetja Sofja (St Sofia), I was a little disappointed that they didn’t allow photos as the interior was covered with amazing old frescoes they were only half restored so they didn’t feel reproduced.
We walked to Plaosnik an old archeological site and to the Amphitheater, built in 200 BC and the only Hellenistic-type theatre in the country. It too was quite impressive and still in use today, it would be delightful to see a live concert or production there. We also hiked up to Samuel’s Fortress but its nothing special... just the outer wall was still in tact, good view of the city though.
That afternoon we bumped and shook our way along the potholed and patched ‘highway’ north before turning off onto a smoother, albeit single lane, road that climbed steadily through the autumn forests into the fog of the Mavrovo National Park.I do love autumn but I prefer it when I can see! 3.30pm, dusk and thick fog - not nice!
Eventually we descended, out of the fog, to Mavrovo Lake and Mavrovo town (known for its ski area) where we bought provisions for a hearty casserole dinner before turning down a small track to the lake edge. There was one camper van already there and another small van followed us down the track. Time to settle in for the night.
Our next destination was Matka Canyon. Road closures and detours along the way sent us through narrow village streets - making the drive more interesting. We were initially surprised to see how busy the Canyon was, especially in the off season however being less than hour from Skopje it made a nice Saturday out for the locals. It was a beautiful area, grey jagged mountains, blanketed in autumn trees, dropped dramatically to the river.
We had intended to stay the night in the canyon yet it was still so early so we decided to head into Skopje, the capital, only about 45 minutes away.
Driving the through the outskirts of Skopje, it wasn’t charming either of us, it wasn’t doing much for me at all. We found a car park close to the river, where we intended to stay the night and then headed into the city area to explore a bit more.
Heading out of the square toward the old bazaar, the city started to get more interesting, a city that had evolved through time reflecting the needs and desires of its population. Never judge too soon, right?
We found their only micro brewery and had an afternoon beer which I have to admit were pretty good. The sun was setting, it was getting bloody cold quickly, so we hoofed it back to the van for dinner, via the fresh market to buy ingredients for a veggie curry. There were a few more vans parked for the night, including the small van that had followed us down the track at the lake.
We wandered back into the city to continue our sightseeing and buy provisions at the markets, however we bumped into Adam, a young Australian / Iranian / Italian guy (a long and colourful story about his ethnicity, but no time here) that we had met a few weeks back in Kotor - it is so freaky how that happens. He is a super friendly, vivacious, guy who set out on a two week trip and nine months later is still travelling. The three of us ended up hanging out for a few hours, catching up over morning coffee, a market trip and an early lunch. Parting ways we headed back to the van minus half the provisions we meant to buy and hit the road.
We had intended on camping the night but given we had seen everything there was to see we decided to head for the border. Bulgaria here we come!