Skopje to Sarande

This was probably the nicest part of the journey so far. There was hardly any traffic, plenty of lakes to swim in and we found the best wild camping spots so far. A few times we camped right at the edge of the lake and due to the 800m altitude no mosquitos!

The second night we were just about to go to sleep and two playful stray dogs came bounding up, they stayed outside the tent all night and the next day one of them followed us for 40km into Struga. The dog easily managed 14kph but struggled if we went faster so the journey took a while. On the way we found three more tiny stray puppies at a bus stop. It’s a shame you can’t help them all.

Ohrid town was really nice and well worth a visit if you go to Macedonia.

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Flooded church in Mavrovo lake.

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National park Mavrovo

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Kits

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Debar lake

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Camping by the lake

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Our dogs

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our dogs accompanying us to struga

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The centre of Ohrid

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Ohrid town

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Trying some tricks with the trailer.

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Our best camping spot so far.

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Morning swim in the lake.

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Monastery and springs at the south of lake Ohrid.

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Albanian transportation

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Bikes on the bus

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Albanian countryside.

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WOW Skopje

If you were to ask me where to spend a quiet weekend, Skopje could quite well be it. We’d heard about the crazy building spree that had been going on lately with statues everywhere but honestly we we’re blown away by this. It’s like they are trying to build a historic town in the modern day and to be honest, it looks great.

We spoke to some locals who said that Macedonia didn’t have the money for it, which is true but I really don’t know what to think. I feel that if you give people pride then they will try to achieve more. An example was one of the local waiters in town who in between customers was repainting the lamp posts that had graffiti on them, he didn’t need to do that and if the city looked like a dump he wouldn’t have.

Generally the people we met were very friendly and offered to help wherever they could. There isn’t even a remote air of danger about Skopje, we always felt very safe.

Spot the statue…..

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The old stone bridge with the fortress in the background.

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Well if you are going to build a man on a horse why not make him 30m high and on top of a fountain. Words can not describe how big this actually is when you’re stood in front of it.

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We had “breakfast” around 5 pm in a local restaurant where the waiter talked us through the entire menu and recommended the steak, which he said is the best quality as the restaurant pays 70+ euro for a kilo of it. There wasn’t even any fat on it. It was amazing.

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He even put together a mix of the deserts they did at the place which looked like this and was a plate with ice cream (home-made), tiramisu (home-made) and a chocolate cake with runny chocolate inside (home-made 20 minutes before we had it).

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When we walked back to the hostel from the restaurant we spotted a litter of four stray puppies (there are a few pictures of them further down) and spent while there playing with them, when all of a sudden two German girls, who were in Macedonia building a playground in a gypsy slum area, showed up with this puppy. They said they had found it in a hole in the ground, next to a dead puppy and it was being kicked by some kids so they rescued it and thought it might be a good idea to try and integrate it with the other four puppies. Unfortunately, that didn’t seem to work, and not because of the other puppies but because the new puppy was too shy to stay and play with them.

We went back to the hostel anyway, and chatted to a lovely couple from Los Angeles, and then Mike and J.C. decided to go tks the shop and get more wine and when they got back, mike had the new puppy on his arm. We spent the next few hours playing with it, giving it cream cheese and water, and when it was time to go out, Mike and I decided to take it back, find it a bed for the night and take it to a vet the next morning so it could get a flea-bath, all its ticks removed, and so we could get some advice on what to do with it next. Who knows, if it had been there when we got back, we might have even taken it with us for a bit. But it wasn’t. Poor thing.

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We had lunch the next day in a brewery garden, this was the view from our table onto the old town.

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The fortress was smaller from inside than it looked from the outside.

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The view on Skopje from the fortress.

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The old town.

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Double decker busses made us feel like we were in London.

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The litter of four puppies that we found. It seems like people here don’t own dogs but they feed the ones they want to feed and kick or ignore the rest. In return, the puppies are extremely cute.

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Me playing with the runt of the litter.

All in all, we were both absolutely blown away by the city and we can only say: Skopje, we’ll definitely see you again soon!

Kosovo and the rules on cheating part two

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After checking out late of the poshest most expensive hotel in Gnjilane (40€) we thought we had an easy 50km to Pristine. We couldn’t have been more wrong. The 400m climb out if town was easy and we thought we would roll down the rest of the way but were instead confronted by a headwind so strong we had to peddle hard while going downhill. Then the were the drivers. With about average age of 26 you would expect Kosovan drivers to be bad, but not this bad! Finally getting to Pristine we were left feeling lucky to have made it and made a promise to get the bus to Skopje instead.
Second rule of cheating: cheating death = not cheating.

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Road signs for tanks.

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Central Pristine was a bit chaotic but otherwise nice. People seemed friendly and relaxed but most of the buildings are new. Everything from the smallest store upwards has a security guard but you wonder why, it’s very safe.  A relic of the war perhaps.
The picture above is one of Pristine’s most famous monuments, the Newborn sculpture. Each year it’s repainted with a different design, this year it’s flags if countries that recognise Kosovo.

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Early evening we bumped into Andreas, who’s cycled 100,000km around Europe and agreed to meet later in the only Irish bar in town to swap stories. He has a FB page and website called cycleguide, check it out, especially if you can read German.
Later on in the night we met some freelance soldiers and went to a couple of bars with them, a few were decent but others quite twisted. It’s a strange world they live in. I just hope the Kosovo situation clears up quickly so they can move on.
On our way home we found a club packed full of Kosovans drinking and dancing, the music was great, it was good to see how much fun Pristine can be.

I chatted to several people about the situation with Kosovo and Serbia and to me it seems crazy that people fight over territory. I’m lucky enough to be from the UK, live in Austria and work in Italy for a Swedish company and I don’t want or need a country, Europe is my home. It seems inevitable that when these countries join the EU and people can move freely then fear will disappear and tensions will cease. All of these countries will join the EU within the next 10 to 15 years and for me it can’t happen soon enough. There are still disputed regions with Serbian majority in the north of Kosovo, I hope these can be given to Serbia, who cares about history, it’s what the population of those regions wants.

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The bus into Macedonia was interesting with snow covered mountains and a not so friendly border guard. Kathi had a nice sleep as usual.