SWMBO reveals that we opted for Route #1 Variation: Montenegro, Albania, Macedonia, Greece. Yesterday we drove from Montenegro to Ohrid, Macedonia.
When we got to the Albanian border, we were told that our “green card” was in order so we did not need any extra car insurance. I had been expressly told that we were not insured to drive in Albania and was given a map that showed that we could drive in every country except Albania. We decided to buy insurance and I went into the office to get it. The minimum coverage was 15 days for 49 euros ($75). When I showed the guy our car registration, he claimed that everything was okay and it would be a waste of money to buy insurance. Then he refused to sell it to me to save me money. So we leerily set off without insurance. I joked that rather than a “baby on board” sticker we should have gotten a warning triangle that read “keep well back – no insurance on board”!
We wanted to spend as little time as possible in Albania given the risks but we did make a brief stop for a coffee and the waiter was lovely. Albania – LOVED all four hours of it! Excellent, excellent roads. Crazy drivers – some driving as fast as possible but many driving 30 kilometres/hour. Lots of cyclists not following any rules. Driving in the cities was chaotic but the actual roads were so safe with wide shoulders, guard rails, well lit tunnels. Couldn’t ask for anything better. We were SO glad that we opted for this route. We drove through Skoder, Tirane, and Elbasan before heading inland to Lake Ohrid. We crossed the border into Macedonia (excellent, quick border crossing) and wished we could have spent a week in Albania. Then we drove 20 kilometres around the lake to the town of Ohrid.
During this drive, we reached an altitude of 1010 metres – the highest point of our trip so far! Higher than the Pyrenees in Spain or the Alps in Austria. Lake Ohrid itself is located at an altitude of 700 metres above sea level and it is so serene to have such a massive lake nestled in the mountain peaks. The lake is partially in Albania and partially in Macedonia and a road runs right around the lake. The lake shore in Ohrid town is genteel with old-style European hotels, ice cream vendors and people strolling.
Ohrid has 365 churches – one for every day of the year. Their construction spans thousands of years. Ohrid is one of the oldest settlements in Europe with evidence of inhabitation from neolithic, hellenic, roman and early Christian times. It was taken over by Philip of Macedonia in the mid-4th century BC and then came under roman rule. It was a main city on the Roman road from Durres (Albania) to Thessaloniki (Greece) and on to Constantinople (Turkey). With the rise of Christianity, churches began to be built here in the 3rd century.
Saint Clement came to live here in the late 800s and founded a monastic school. Ohrid developed into a major Christian learning centre and was mainly built between the 8th-19th centuries. Over hundreds of years, many churches and monasteries were built. From 1395 to 1912, Ohrid was under Ottoman Turk rule and this period saw the construction of mosques in the area. Ohrid has the second most important collection of icons in the world. It has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1979.
We took a water taxi for 10 euros and had a nice 1/2 hour tour of the lake. Then we got out and took a few hours to wend our way back to our hotel. We strolled and within about 3 kilometres we visited:
A shrine from the 4th century containing a well of “holy water” that people can drink or take to wash with. The shrine is held within a 17th century chapel restored about 25 years ago. It contained beautiful wood carvings and icons.
The famous Church of St. John at Kaneo – late 13th century. Beautiful. Unfortunately nine icons were stolen from it in the 1980s.
Church of St. Clement at Plaosnik. This is where St. Clement built his monastery school in the late 800s and is an important holy site. Clement was a disciple of Cyrill and Clement is crediting with developing Cyrill’s new alphabet and helping to spread the Cyrillic alphabet in this part of the world. He dug his own tomb and is interred here. At one point, it was converted to a mosque. This is an archeological site with a church newly restored in 2002.
Fascinating excavation work being carried out all over the town.
A two thousand year old amphitheatre still being used for outdoor concerts and shows.
We enjoyed great ice cream (25 dinar/60 cents per scoop) and had a wonderful lunch of grilled meat, salad and freshly made, wood-fired pita bread.
We learned that the Macedonian language is yet another variation of Serbian, Slovenian, Montenegrin, Serbian, and Bosnian. We are lost with the Cyrillic alphabet they use here but at least we can count, buy fruit and be polite. Onlyboy, not one for languages, still gets mixed-up between hvala (thank-you) and Avada Kedavra (killing curse in Harry Potter). He usually mumbles something like “hvadara” or “hkedavara”. “I kill you! Oops I mean thank-you!” I tease him by saying that he is killing them with kindness. He just rolls his eyes. Mothers.