Welcome to Macedonia!
Macedonia is one of the old parts of Yugoslavia. In order for Macedonia to join the European Union, Greece has insisted they change their name to the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM). Greece feels there is confusion between its own province/state of Macedonia and the neighboring country. Some people take this very seriously. I think it is dumb and say boo for politics. Perhaps, they can call themselves Macedonia, the Second Coming, and birth a new Philip or Alexander. Though, that might get Greece up in arms too.
St. Naum Monestary.
My original plan was to hug the coast line of Greece, but there weren't too many spots there that interested me. My new plan was to pass through Macedonia, using it as a short cut. By cutting through FYROM, it would let me check out Lake Ohrid and see Meteora, Greece while saving me a lot of miles.
Central church at St. Naum's Monestary.
My visit to Macedonia started at Lake Ohrid. My hope was to visit the St. Naum monestary, Galicica national park, and the actual town of Lake Ohrid before heading east to Bitola, and then south to Greece. I took the St. Naum border crossing right by the lake. I think I even saw St. Naum as I crossed the border. However, I had to bike another few kilometers passed it to the driveway that then wrapped all the way back towards the border before I was allowed to check it out.
The ornate rooftop of the church.
Near the start of the driveway, a man asked me to get off my bike. He said it was because it was a monastery. The monastery was at least a kilometer down the road. The driveway was just fifty tents of people selling their tourist crap. At the end of it was peace and quiet. It was wonderful. The front grounds were fountains, sculpted plants, peacocks, and two girls taking photos of themselves in sexy poses in front of everything, including a non-sporty red car. They might have trying to out do the peacocks. As far as I know, these sexy poses are a recent trend. I never noticed them before when I was traveling. Someone told me it is a Eastern European thing. It makes me laugh. I need to start doing that, but I have no idea what my sexy pose would be. Maybe, I'll borrow Blue Steel.
Peacocks on the grounds of St. Naums.
The monastery was much smaller than it looked. The largest building was occupied by a hotel. Another one was a restaurant. Another one was quarters for people who lived there. We were only allowed to stroll the grounds and, for a fee, to visit the church. I don't if it was the lake or the juxtaposition of people trying to sell their crap, but it was beautiful and serene. While I was there, I met a guy on a bike tour. He had come all the way from Bulgaria, just to visit this monestary. I wish I had taken a picture of him and his gear. His gear was made out of the material they use for 'hippy' bags. He also had two extra tires.
Looking out over Lake Ohrid.
After soaking up the scenery, it was time to move. I biked all the way, passed the guy who had told me to get off the bike, and towards the main road. On the way, I thought I was going to have my first major run in with dogs. A pack of four or five came running out of the woods. I saw a fence between them and me and was not too worried until I realized there was a hole in the fence right where we were going to meet. Crap. I biked faster. My legs complained, but I out paced them and then took a long breather.
I needed that breather to get ready for my big climb of the day. I was heading uphill 1100m into Galicica National Park. On the way, I'd get better and better views of Lake Ohrid. At the top, I'd continue back down to the town of Lake Ohrid, or at least I would have if I did not miss the turn. I saw the road. I just didn't realize that the road I would be taking would be a dirt one so I ignored it. By the time that I realized I had made a mistake, I was already three-quarters into my descent to Lake Prespa. I started back up the hill, but I was completely unmotivated to climb the mountain again. Also, some gnats were pestering me so I just said screw it. I had heard good things about the town of Lake Ohrid, but it will have to wait. I'm adding it to the next time list. That list is getting bigger and bigger.
The road I was supposed to take is somewhere up there.
Lake Prespa treated me well. The roads were great and there wasn't litter everywhere, but that might just be comparing it to Albania. On its own, it was beautiful, not well trafficked, and led me through apple orchards. Everything about that day felt like fall in Pennsylvania. The leaves were starting to change colors. The apples were ready to be picked (which I did). The temperature was right. The smell was right. I started seeking out apple cider, but didn't find any. The whole scene definitely made me a little homesick.
Eventually, I made it to Bitola, the capital of southern Macedonia. It straddles the Dragor River. I rode in on one side of the river and back out on the other. In town, I found the main street pretty quickly. It was a pedestrian thoroughfare which made biking a challenge. I had intended to just stay there for dinner, but ended up staying the night. It had a great feel about it. I can't really explain what it was. The two distinct things that I do remember were all the 20-something cool kids were in the two adjacent bars. Most of the other bars were empty. Also, when I got lost looking for lodging, a woman responded to my request with 'What's that?' which led me to believe I was just saying a Macedonian word wrong, but she did speak Engligh. It turned out that it was her only response to anything I said. I eventually just biked away. I said goodbye. She asked what's that. Oh, one last thing, almost all of my Internet access in Albania and Macedonia came at Playstation 3 centers. They have one or two computers and then a ton of PS3's for online play.
Central square in Bitola, Macedonia.
The slowly changing colors of fall in Bitola
The next morning after a beautiful 10 hour sleep, I was up way too early and waiting for breakfast. To pass the time, I turned on the television. I think overhalf of the stations were in English which mirrored the way it was in the rest of the old Yugoslav Republics that I visited where I saw TV (Slovenia and Croatia). It may teach their youth English, but seems a little weird to me. Anyway, breakfast was going to be too late, so I skipped it and had a quiet ride to the Greek border.
I love that gummy snacks are marked as Halal (safe for Muslims).