Happy to leave Durrës bound for a new country, we hopped in the deplorable rental and crossed yet another border without issue. Much like Shkodër, we entered the outskirts of yet another large lake town. However, we were far more fond of Ohrid and it’s nearby hiking. Ohrid has a whopping 365 churches scattered throughout it, one for each day of the year. Much like the other Balkan states, it was ruled by many people over the centuries, and then captured by a bunch of others. The city is made up of mostly Orthodox Christians, and the name in several languages equates to, “a precious stone that emits light,” or some other version of the name meaning something to do with light. Beer Flu impacted Macedonia the most of the countries we traveled. Not only did we have to wear masks indoors, but they had a requirement that we also had to wear them outside while walking around……….. moronic. I even got lectured by a cop in one of the squares for not having one on while walking outdoors. Plus, all restaurants were take-away only, we were not able to sit in a cafe and people watch. However, once you got outside the main areas, the masking became relaxed, at least outside. This many restrictions for a country that had ZERO requirements for entry. Something is backwards there.
For the first time on this excursion, we were provided an actual address for the AirBnB! Shocking. The problem we encountered this time was locating the numbers on the non-standard buildings. We eventually we were able to narrow it down to a particular building. Win! Free, on site parking, a nice apartment with a balcony, and a friendly host are what greeted us. While the space was on the smaller side, especially being a studio, it was renovated and well appointed. Biggest downside, the bed was really hard, and made sleeping less-than-ideal. The owners created two units out of one, a studio and a one bedroom. The one bedroom is definitely the better option, as our studio was just that tiny. I had to scoot off the end of the bed in order to get out of it. There was no extra space on that side of the bed. For one person, it would have been fine, but two made it a challenge. Now on to the wonderful hiking!
Our first hike was a bit of a fail. Thanks, weather. We started the hike in Galicica National Park with sunny skies, but partway up, the clouds descended, and we basically ended up running uphill on the detour version of the original hike as a means of beating the rain. We still ended up with an okay hike, even though it wasn’t the views we had planned and we did get a bit damp. The path was a gravel road that began with some threatening looking stone steps, along with a normal roadway. The path brings you through Ramne, a small town on the mountain, and then we ambled down the road, walking through some switchbacks, and into Ohrid proper. That’s when something unnerving occurred. We heard a loud speaker from afar, but couldn’t quite make out what it was. As the sound drew closer, so did a white, beat up sedan with a loud speaker mounted to the front. A haphazard trailer was being pulled behind it with a bike, a bunch of tools, and other electronic odds and ends in the back. No big deal, right? Two ferocious looking fellows were in the vehicle, and the megaphone was spewing Arabic chants. The driver was creeping at an extremely slow pace through the suburbs, eyeing all of the people they passed in a manner that made the little hairs on the back of my neck stand up. Not only did the pair appear to cause us anxiety, but all of the residents were inspecting the automobile with uneasiness as they watched it lurk through the streets multiple times.
The second hike involved visiting the Church of St. John at Kaneo, which is perched on a finger jutting slightly out into Lake Ohrid. The church was likely constructed in the 13th century, and has fantastic views of the area. Google gave us what it thought was the most challenging, but accessible route out there. Alas, ruins that were located under a newly constructed building kind of hindered our access to the church. The path that Google alleged was there, was actually not, and it was blocked by fencing and buildings. So we meandered back a short ways, and sauntered down to the church a different way. While you can’t enter the structure, it’s just pretty to look at… especially with the view beyond it over the expanse of water and towering mountains. We also strolled along the river, as there’s a wide pathway following the water. We even continued passed our accommodation to follow the path along the river for awhile. It was so calming!
While wandering through the city and surrounding towns, it was obvious there was some money in Ohrid, but in many places some hardship was also evident. I can relate with this gentleman’s roofing struggles. Just 5 days before we left for the Balkans, our roof decided to spring a very annoying leak, pouring rainwater from a pod light onto the kitchen floor. We thought it was derail the voyage, but thanks to emergency tarping, and a lot of slate tiles to hold it down, we THINK of roof will remain protected whilst we traipse around Europe! Even now, writing this 3.5 months later, our damned roof STILL isn’t fixed. Stupid COVID.
Hike number three… meandering stroll along the mid to lower half of the mountain, long, but easy altitude and incline. Lies. This was just the beginning….. unbeknownst to either of us, what we thought would be a route winding through the lower portions of the mountains in the park actually involved ridge walking and climbing over the top of the mountains. Once in Galicica National Park, follow the T-3. My legs were not pleased with me, nor was I pleased with the first several HOURS of up. Mainly, because of how unexpected it was. Anyway, this 17 mile round trip hike provided some astounding views of Ohrid and the lake. We set out from the apartment tackling the stairs yet again, but this time we continued up to Velestovo, a small town perched up in the mountain. While trekking through the town, we were greeted with a multitude of farm sounds… chickens clucking about, bovines mooing, horses neighing, flocks of sheep baying. Exactly what one would expect from a small agriculture reliant village. Now I shall finally explain the odd title of this post… the time I accidentally larcened (yup, that’s what I’m going with!) a dog!
I have a habit of calling to dogs, approaching people who are walking them around, and hell, I even keep a tactical dog treat on my ballistic vest at work just for the purpose of luring puppies to me, so that I can pet them! Whelp, I learned during this trip, that most stray dogs (and there are a lot) are not particularly friendly, and generally will not go near you. So I see the cute, shaggy little pup down a driveway, and I made a half-hearted attempt at calling him to me, since he looked like a curious little guy. He stayed put, I started hiking again. Insert Hubs… This dog actually did start marching up the road, and the other half, called to notifying me of his actions. Of course I strutted back down to see him! The fluffy, slightly damp little mongrel was excited and intrigued by us. We played with him a bit, gave him a small snack, and jetted off up the hilly road, armed with the expectation that the dog would wander back where he came from. Little fucker sure proved us wrong. The little guy stuck with us up and over a mountain, back over the ridge, and all the way down. He’d be a great hiking buddy… if only we could get him back to the States.
Once the pup, who we decided to name Macedonia for obvious reasons, continued following us up the trail miles from where we’d accidentally thieved him, I made the command decision to ensure he kept with us. Poor little mutt would surely die if left on the top of a damned snow capped mountain. We even tossed around the idea of figuring out how we could smuggle him back to the States if he followed us back to our apartment. Our other initial option was to try to find a vet or animal shelter, especially since we’d seen more leashed pups while in this country. Finally, we opted to return to the scene of the crime. We wandered into the center of Velestovo, allowed Macedonia to explore into a nearby yard with other people around, and we made our escape! Or so we thought… Macedonia spotted us trying to leave him, and came running up. This canine was tough to shake. We then walked farther into the town, and tried to lose him again, which ended in another failed attempt. Finally, we happened upon a house with some sort of food cooking in the back yard. The pooch’s curiosity got the best of him, and he climbed down into the yard to investigate. Sadly, this was a successful vanishing. With heavy hearts, we left him in the village where we pilfered him.
Some fun facts about Macedonia… the walking order had to be me first, Hubs second, and the pup running either between us or in front of me. At one point, after I used a panoramic toilet, the Husband was in the lead, and Macedonia had a shit fit. He circled Hubs, jumping up and biting at his arms and hands. The minute we switched back to our proper positions, he chilled out! Macedonia surely was not used to people treating him with love and affection. I went to pet his little head, and he kinda ducked out of the way, confused. Once he let me pet him, though, he seemed to realize it was pleasurable, and started allowing it. He also had a chain around his neck, which lead us to believe he was owned by someone. However, we also knew we would be much better caretakers of Macedonia, and really wished we could have brought him home with us. If we had purloined him somewhere in the US, we totally would have kept him! Guinness needs a brother, after all.
So back to the hike… the trail was STEEP up for the first several hours, and the trail was very identifiable. Trail markers were present, and I was getting much better at spotting them before Hubs did! Yes, we made a wager of it. It snaked through the woods for miles, until you finally hit the ridge line. That’s when they suddenly decided to completely STOP placing any trail markers anywhere! What foolishness!!! We ended up going over the mountain several times just trying to locate the route on the rocky mountain top. We did not in a million years think the right way was over the deadly looking peak at the end. Damn you Macedonia (not the dog) for not marking where it was needed! Eventually, after wandering over both sides of the ridge, we spotted the trail up ahead… accessed by the mean peak. Insert slumping shoulders. Alas, we successfully made it over, with Macedonia (the dog) happily leaping from rock to rock along with us! Where we then came across… mountain cows? Macedonia was not a fan! Hubs, with the assistance of the dog, scared the horned beasts away as the pup ran after them with gusto, nipping at their heels. Phew, back to a clearly visible trail! And down we go at a MUCH LESS steep grade than the insane upward portion. That bitch was STEEP and arduous. But worth it in the end. Good hike!
Random Ohrid factoid: RamStore can also be referred to as EweMart. That’s a Hubs special. You’re welcome. And handstand!
I know this post was on the longer side, but if you’re still with me, thanks for reading! Now back to Albania in it’s capital, Tirana. And redemption for the country. Goodbye… or in Macedonian збогум? Your guess is as good as mine.