Macedonia was beautiful, at least the parts of it that we saw. In this country we would see an awesome monastery, the surprise arrival of Jeff, Macedonians serenading on a bus, a lakeside town reminiscent of Okoboji, and another walled off old town and a castle. Ok so we spent all our time at the little village of Ohrid, but I wouldn’t have changed it for the world. We took a bus through the capital, Skopje, and everyone generally agreed there wasn’t much to see there. Here’s how we made it happen.
Like I was saying in the Albania post, the border crossing was a bit intense. It was like a deserted stretch of highway. Also the no man’s land between the two checkpoints is like half a mile long because these countries really hated each other at one point. We made it across and then we were looking for either a bus to Ohrid or for the monastery that we had been told about. We walked aimlessly down this two lane road until we happened upon a giant sign in 5 langauges that pointed to the monastery. Once we arrived there we found a bus to Ohrid, our destination, leaving in two hours. The monastery was like 500 years old and beautiful. Also there are peacocks guarding it – a bird I had never seen up close before. The monastery also stood overlooking beautiful lake Ohrid. We had lunch here at the monastery’s restaurant which of course was very cheap. We also drank beer with our lunch – is that appropriate?
The whole trip we had been planning to meet up with our friend Jeff along the way. He did Easter with his parents in England and flew down to Sarajevo. Anyway through text messages we kind of figured out where he was and how to meet up. So we’re sitting at this picnic area in southern Macedonia and low and behold Jeff comes pulling up in a taxi. It was quite the random encounter but it worked out. About 15 minutes later we all caught the bus to Ohrid, once again incredibly beautiful. This village stands on this hill between a castle on the hilltop and this lake that is surrounded by snow covered mountains. It stretches on forever though you can see across it at some points. Breath taking.
We arrived at the bus station which is in the boon docks so we had to get a cab ride into town which cost 2 euro per cab. The guy at the bus station told us about a travel agency, but upon arrival they wanted 15 euro per person. We didn’t like that so we just found the water front and sat down to rest. Thinking over what to do, I kid you not, a construction worker at a site across the road walks over and speaks about 5 words of English. That’s enough to communicate to us that he has an apartment available for us for 6 euro each. We thought this was too good to be true so we agreed to take a look. They came and picked us up and dropped us off at the most amazing accommodation. We had this huge apartment with a full kitchen, bathroom, two bedrooms and a balcony overlooking the lake. All for 6 euro, we could barely contain ourselves. This was at about 4 pm so we unloaded our stuff and went for a swim.
By swim I mean jumped in, yelped a bit and got out quickly. This was when we met Christopher Columbus. We were swimming at the “beach” right next to where this guy was painting his boat. He was quite jovial and spoke a fair bit of English. He kind of told us about the lake, and how he took people out in tours and showed them the monastery and different mountains and what not. He was a fun guy to talk to and said we could go out in his boat if we helped him paint a bit. Some of the guys were really looking forward to kayaking a little bit, so we asked Chris about this. He looked into it but the way he made it sound was that Macedonians are more hung up on liability than the Americans. He said no one wanted to rent us boats because what if we drowned and blamed them. Basically they were scared of the repercussions of lending out one of their boats so we had to nix that idea. This is the lake before sunrise.
The first night in Ohrid was pretty fun. We found a nice enough restaurant with very entertaining waiters. I don’t remember what I had, but I think it was pretty good. After dinner we went for some gelato. Andrew drank a whole bottle of wine at dinner and got into an argument about the proper price of gelato. Thinking he had been overcharged by 100% he was demanding 10 scoops of ice cream. This was quite entertaining to the rest of us and to the girl working who didn’t really speak English. She held her ground and didn’t give into the crazy American. Holding no grudges, he went back there at least a couple of times.
Once again we called it an early night to enjoy the next day sightseeing. I woke up at about 6:30 after the schedule we had been keeping. I went out to the balcony to read and wait for Kenric and Jeff to get up at 7. I was extremely glad I did this because I got to see the sun come up over the mountains and across the lake while reading my Atlantic Monthly.
The three of us explored the city a bit, finding the castle, amphitheater, and old church. We headed to the city market and grocery store where we picked up the necessities for breakfast. Back at the apartment we made ourselves a delicious egg, cheese, bacon, onion, fruit and toast breakfast and enjoyed it on our balcony. Now that’s what I call breakfast done right.
The rest of the day we explored the rest of the city which had an old town enclosed by city walls and also had a beautiful pedestrian street that could have been anywhere in Western Europe.
I should also mention that on the day we got into town, our door got locked and no one could open it. It was at this point that we realized we had no way of contacting our landlord and no idea even who the people were. We were kind of wondering about our trust and what we could possibly do. So I walked around the neighborhood a bit and down to the backyard of the building next door. There was a young woman sitting on her balcony. I explained to her the problem and she called our landlord and asked him to come fix it for us. He came and got us squared away. Now we were smart lads and got his phone number in case of any future problems.
Ok so back to Friday, departure day, we swam again and walked around a bit and bought a few souvenirs. We collected ourselves about 4 pm and talked our landlord in to giving us a ride to the bus station. Oh little did we know how that bus ride would go. We were scheduled to get a bus from Ohrid all the way to Belgrade which is a 12 HOUR JOURNEY. This would go through the capital Skopje and then all the way through Serbia, oh what an adventure it would be.
The first bus was fine, albeit the temperature was about 1000 degrees, but we had lots of space so it was fine. Jeff and I emailed my friend Katie to find out where the Chinese Embassy was in Belgrade (I’ll have more later) and then we kind of sat back and relaxed. That quickly ended when we pulled into the Skopje bus/train station. Somebody had decided that a different bus would continue on to Belgrade and ours would be stopping. This same person decided to oversell that bus by about 15 people and make it leave 5 minutes after our bus arrived. Talk about chaos.
Two girls got off the bus to go to the bathroom in the middle of all this. So the other 5 of us scrambled to move all the bags to the other bus and all the purses and other accessories off the bus and onto the newest bus. I can’t forget about Chuckles. I brought him up in the Bosnia section, but hadn’t seen him after Meredith left us for Croatia. Well in her infinite wisdom, Meredith had decided to deflate Chcukles and put him in her bag. Not to let us drown in sorrow, Meredith had put the life back into Chuckles in Macedonia and this time he was to make it the whole way home. Indeed Chuckles did make the switch ok, though I think a little of his heart was left on the previous bus (in the form of glitter off of his neck).
So the 7 of us plus Chuckles made it on to this new bus ok, but it wouldn’t depart with all these people in the aisle. First the driver made this gypsy mom and daughter stand up simply because they were gypsies – Rosa Parks came to mind. We also realized what a chauvinistic country it was when the driver started making women stand up so that Andrew and I could sit down. Meanwhile Jeff and Kenric camped out on the stairs guarding over Chuckles. Finally Andrew and I sat down so that the bus would leave and then immediately gave our seats back to the women.
Destined to stand for awhile we kind of made conversation. Slowly along the way, people drifted off the bus but still not enough seats. Andrew and I split time between a stoop on the floor and the middle of the back bench. Eventually enough people got off the bus and all of us had seats but very uncomfortable ones.
I was sleeping so I only vaguely remember this but at one point like 10 people ran off the bus with all their stuff. Then we kind of shifted and 5 minutes later they all got back on and took their seats back. Then an argument broke out in the front of the bus with the driver yelling at someone else. We also took a nice long break at the border where we got out and just breathed. Eventually I passed out and didn’t wake up until we pulled into Belgrade, but everyone else slept off and on all night. Kenric had an interesting run in with the border guard. I guess he just didn’t feel right about a 21 year old carrying a horse balloon around the Balkans. Little did he know…
When we got off the bus in Belgrade, we were all incredibly relieved. Never had we been so exhausted or tired of being on a bus. What an experience though, no bus will ever seem daunting again. I’ll pick this up on the Serbia post.