Our road trip continues as we discover and fall in love with Albania.
Next stop: a cool hipster bar in Tirana. 🙂
Our road trip continues as we discover and fall in love with Albania.
Next stop: a cool hipster bar in Tirana. 🙂
We left for Albania, leaving the peaceful Lake Ohrid behind, and heading towards the busy, noisy, colourful and lively Tirana, the capital of Albania.
When we got to the border between Macedonia and Albania, I was a bit worried about my passing, as I was the only one without a passport, just with and ID card, and Albania is not in the EU. But everything was ok, and I got over this stressful moment and enjoyed the trip afterwards.
The mountain scenery of Albania is beautiful: rocky, green, wild, majestic. It made me think about the Carpathian mountains, actually and got me a bit homesick for a moment.
Upon reaching Tirana, we were taken by surprise by all the traffic and the noise. Ana, who was driving, found it quite tiring, and slightly annoying at times. Apparently, being a woman driver, made her a very interesting traffic participant, and all the male drivers on the street would lean over their steering wheels or their windows to stare at her. it was funny in the beginning, but a bit disturbing after a while.
Eventually, we found a place to park the car (quite difficult to find a spot), and, while the guys went looking for accommodation, we had a really good coffee and rested a bit in the shade on some random terrace.
The hostel we were looking for no longer existed, but the new owner still rented rooms, at a higher price than the offered quality, and he didn’t have the best manners, either. But we were tired, Ana didn’t want to look for another parking spot and we didn’t know where else to look in the area, either. So we decided to stay, unpack and go see the actual city a bit.
We ended up visiting the National Museum of History, which was very interesting. And we passed by the former residence of Enver Hoxha, a well-known historic building in Tirana. And then we walked a bit more on the streets, staring at all the buildings.
Towards the end of our trip, when I was in Dubrovnik (Croatia), I met a girl in a hostel. She was an artist and told me that Tirana used to be a grey city, and got repainted like this in order to lower the criminal rate. And guess what: it worked!
National Museum of History in Tirana
Sheshi Skënderbej 1, Tirana 1000, Albania
Open from 10.00 to 18.00 Tue-Sat, and from 09.00 to 14.00 Sun
Entry 200 lekë for adults, 80 lekë reduced
Tel. +355 4 222 3446 | Website
Former residence of Enver Hoxha
Rruga Ismail Qemali, Tirana 1000, Albania
The next day, while Ana and Tim were visiting Ohrid Town, Simon and I went to a larger bus station, where we waited quite a while for one that would take us to Bitola, in Pelagonia Valley.
It was a rainy day, but we took our chances. The road was pleasant and the scenery was nice, though once it started raining, we couldn’t see that much out the windows. Luckily, when we arrived in town, the rain had stopped and we could wander a bit on the streets. Bitola is a nice, small, old town, but I wasn’t too impressed with it.
When it started pouring again, we took cover in the old bazaar. Simon was mesmerized by it: so much variety, so many colours, with such an old, traditional feeling! I, on the other hand, was quite amused: their bazaar looks almost the same as the market I have next to my home, but, for a German guy, that meant exotic.
We took the bus back to Lagadin and fell asleep on the way back. We needed the rest, as this was our last day and night at lake Ohrid, and in Macedonia, as a matter of fact.
In the morning, Simon and I had a quick breakfast, then went to take the bus to Ohrid Town, while Ana and Tim decided to spend a lazy day by the lake, in Lagadin.
The buses come quite frequently and on time, you pay the fare with the driver so it’s all very simple and easy, should you decide to travel this way.
In Ohrid, we mostly wandered through the old, narrow, cobble-stoned streets, then took a walk on the docks and visited the Byzantium Church of St. Sophia.
The latter is supposed to be one of Macedonia’s most important monuments, and it’s really worth the visit. The interior is stunning, with beautiful frescoes. The feeling of the passing of time can become quite overwhelming as you try to take everything in, but you can come back to your senses in the church’s green courtyard.
We finished our trip in Ohrid Town with some shopping: Simon needed swimming trunks. While he was checking stuff out, I acquired some water goggles, and chatted with the shop assistant. She said that we were very lucky to stay in Lagadin, as it is one of the nicest and most peaceful places by Lake Ohrid, and that it’s not your go-to tourist location.
When we returned in Lagadin, we spent the rest of the day on the beach, went swimming in the lake and did a bit of snorkeling, as it’s quite populated with fish.
PS. I met the tortoise from the featured image on the lawn of St. Sophia. 🙂
Byzantium Church of St. Sophia
Tsar Samoil 88, Ohrid 6000, Macedonia
Tel. +389 46 267 403
When we arrived at Lake Ohrid, we took in the sights and looked for some accommodation. We had nothing planned, we just looked for signs posted by people outside their homes or yards. And we eventually found something in Lagadin, a very small village, where people come only during the warm months, according to some locals.
Our hosts offered us two double rooms. Ana was staying with Tim, so had to share with Simon. We had separate entries, but we shared a long balcony on the first floor. We also had a shaded parking spot and access to the kitchen.
The owners of the place were really friendly. They invited us to have some rakia, followed by some snacks with coffee. And we talked to an old lady who was visiting them, she told us all about how she met her husband and moved to Ohrid for him. She was really entertaining and reminded me of one of my grandmother’s sisters.
We took an afternoon nap, because we had an early morning with Matka Canyon and all. When we woke up, we saw a lovely sunset and joined Ana and Tim for a walk on the beach.
In the end, we walked all the way to the next village, Peshtani. It was already dark outside when we found a nice place to have dinner. Kaj Mestono is a restaurant right on the lake shore, quiet, and with lovely food.
I remember being able to see fish in the shallow waters near our table and, a few metres away, a beautiful white swan. The sky was clear and the moon was rising slowly.
We returned home quite late that night, by taxi.
Early in the morning (yes, somehow it’s always early in the morning), we had breakfast, said goodbye to the local cat, and met up with Simon. We were all heading to Tirana, so he joined our little party. And it’s a good thing he did, because he gave us some nice suggestions on the way! One of them was stopping in Matka Canyon.
The road there wasn’t very pleasant (I was sharing the backseat with him and one of the backpacks, as there wasn’t enough room in the trunk) and we also got a bit lost, because we took a wrong turn. However, it was worth it: the sights were beautiful.
We waited a while to get on a motor boat which took us to a small cave in the canyon and back. On the way, one can see rustic homes, nice rocky landscapes and lots and lots of butterflies.
It wasn’t a long trip, but it was really hot and we needed to rest a bit afterwards. So we looked for a spot to get our feet in the cold mountain river water. Those of us who weren’t driving also enjoyed some cold beer. (My doing, I put the cans in the thermal isolation bag with some ice.)
The locals and perhaps better informed tourists came to the river as one would go to the swimming pool. They even had some areas which were used as water-slides. And, being so hot outside, it became quite crowded.
It was an adventure to get the car out and head for Tirana: there were cars parked randomly, cars wanting to go both ways in spaces which allowed only one car at a time, people who had just abandoned and parked their cars in the middle of the commotion… and nobody to direct traffic. At one point an older guy got out of the car and started doing this and got helped by others, including Tim. They were all running around and hectically moving their hands while yelling haidi, haidi!
But we did it! And, sometime around lunchtime, we were at Ohrid Lake, a lovely stop on our way to Tirana.
As mentioned in the previous post, we stopped for lunch in the Old Bazaar, joined by Simon, one of the Germans met during the walking tour. We ate some delicious food: Tim and I went for Kebapchinya, Ana decided to get some of the ubiquitous Shopska salad and some potatoes, while Simon chose the baked beans.
We talked a lot and discovered that Tim and Simon had actually gone to the same university, though they finished in slightly different years. Simon is a Political Science teacher, and my background is in the same field. And like this, we discovered we all had lots of things in common, so the conversations were really interesting and long.
Since we were getting along quite well and we had finished eating and drinking, we decided to keep at it and climb to the Millennium Cross, on Mount Vodno. When we reached the cable car, I chose to grab this opportunity (I have some knee problems and I decided I wanted to enjoy the trip instead of worrying about possible accidents or actually getting injured). They, however, went for the climb with the shortest and hardest route out of the three possible ones.
The plan was to go by foot to the village of Gorno Nerezi on a different way down, so I got a one-way ticket. I was surprised by its low price in comparison to the cable car service we have in Sinaia (Romania), for a similar trip.
On top of Vodno, I went to a small shop and asked about the path leading to Gorno Nerezi. The clerk quickly put me in touch with a friend of his, who was just about to go back to Skopje, by foot. He lead and I followed on the plateau, then in the forest. It was quite a walk from the shop and there was nobody else around so at one point I was a bit worried about walking with a stranger. So I started to make some conversation and it turned out he was one of the owners of Kantina. Very small world, but filled with nice people.
We made our way back to the shop, and I waited around for my friends, hoping to remember the signs the guy showed me, as the mountain paths are unmarked. I found a rock on which I sat and admired the view, until the nearby ants got the best of me.
After the other three arrived, we stayed to have a drink, and they then followed my lead to the correct path. The trip down was a lot smoother than expected and, by sunset, we ended up in Gorno Nerezi.
We were hoping to get to visit the Church of Saint Panteleimon, but it was already closed at that hour. It was quite late and we were starving again, so we stopped for dinner at Ethno Complex Macedonian Village. When it was almost dark outside, a band came on the terrace and started singing some covers of Leonard Cohen.
Listening to a Civil Wars-ish Dance me to the end of love while eating a delicious desert on a warm summer night, in the company of one of my best friends and other interesting people.
What more could one ask for to feel happy? Our last day in Skopje was perfect.
Milllenium Cross Cable Car
Closed on Monday and every last Tuesday of the month
Ticket around 1 euro (120 dinars for round-trip)
Early in the morning, we woke up and had a quick breakfast at Urban Hostel & Apartments. We then went to Skopje’s center and split up: Ana and I went to the Memorial House of Mother Teresa, which was the walking tour starting point, while Tim went to walk around in the city on his own.
It was the first walking tour I had ever went on. It was interesting that we had a diverse group with Americans, Australians, Germans, plus us two Romanians, among others. However, don’t worry: the group won’t be too large, so that everybody can gather round at certain objectives and be able to hear the guide.
Speaking of the guide, we found him next to a roll-up banner, with the TripAdvisor logo on it. Mika was all smiles, very tanned and dressed all in white. He was friendly and chatty, but he made sure we all left on time, at 10.00, and, as the sun was rising on the sky, he took care to keep us in the shade for as long as possible.
The walking tour takes you on Skopje’s colourful streets, to the main square, inside the Memorial House of Mother Teresa, the old railway station, across the Vadar and back, to the Mustafa Pasha Mosque, to what used to be an inn in the past, then to the Old Bazaar and Kale (Skopje’s fortress), and ends in front of Sveti Spas (Church of the Ascension of Jesus).
By the way, in the Old Bazaar, we stopped at one of the small restaurants and got served free rakia or juice. The rakia was quite strong on an almost empty stomach, after several hours of walking, but somehow, we couldn’t turn it down in favour of the regular juice.
At the end, if you enjoyed the tour, there is a recommended tip of 5 euros for the guide. It is not mandatory, like a fee, but it is expected. And it’s earned, as Mika provides very useful and interesting information, at a fast pace, even though he does not manage to stay impartial at times and becomes a tad too critical to Skopje’s architecture and City Hall representatives.
All in all, it was a nice way to spend the morning and we made a new German friend, Simon, who joined us for lunch, at the place which served us rakia earlier, in the Old Bazaar. After lunch, he also joined us on a hike to the Millennium Cross and, as we all seemed to get along and had quite a similar route in mind, we continued our journey together for a while.
Mustafa Pasha Mosque
Fort Kale, Skopje 1000, Macedonia
Tel. +389 2 329 7204
Sveti Spas Church
Samoilova, Skopje 1000, Macedonia
Tel. +389 2 323 0780
Skopje 1000, Macedonia
Open from 09.00 to 15.00. Closed on Sunday
Tel. +389 70 935 873