Fortress of Tsar Samuil

Having kept at least one day ahead of the rain all the way to North Macedonia, it had to catch-up with me sooner or later. And didn’t it just.

The weather forecast in Tirana the evening before we left was for rain from 08:00am until 18:00pm for the next day. After all the good-byes (I had got to know the staff at the hotel in Tirana very well in just 48 hours) it was almost 10:00am when Bridget pulled away and we headed towards Macedonia in brilliant sunshine, again. The journey was abnormally smooth and easy from the driving point of view, even finding the correct road out of the city, which is so often fraught with wrong turns, etc. The route was through beautiful mountains (Parku Kombëtar Shebenik – National Park) to the Albanian/North Macedonian border.

So far so good, then the Macedonian border official demanded that I buy a Green Card (an international insurance). I said “No, my UK insurance covers the Green Card requirement”. He was insistent and called his senior officer. Unfortunately, he agreed that I had to pay and added “We often get English people saying their insurance covers them, but since Brexit that is no longer the case.” So I paid-up and moved on. I will need to take it up with the insurance company when I get back.

Then we arrived in Struga, found a hotel and checked in. I garaged Bridget and walked into town to use an ATM machine for local currency and then find somewhere to eat. Just as I settled into the restaurant seat there was a brilliant flash of light closely followed by a loud bang, and the heavens opened. It continued for a couple of hours and I had little choice but to brave it and walk back to the hotel. Somewhat cooler than I had been for three weeks, I sat in the hotel bar and had a consolation glass.

Monastery of St Kliment

Saturday and I have decided to take a short drive to Ohrid, about 25 minutes away. Ohrid appears to be Macedonia’s Dubrovnik. Classic new town/old town, with a fascinating history to the old town, whilst the new town offers the whole restaurant/café culture, boat trip around the lake, funfairs, etc.

I decided to walk up to the castle which for tactical reasons, rather than bad planning, is at the top of a very steep hill. Half way up I discover an ancient theatre, for myself of course; others already knew it was there. This one is quite unique in Macedonia in that it is the oldest, dating back to around 300BC, so Hellenic times. Most people would have understandably assumed it to be Roman as they did take it over after the Greeks and adapted it for gladiatorial events, according to local historians. I don’t know if there were Roman references to that fact or if it is an assumption, as most of the Gladiatorial theatres I have seen were circular to ensure they had the maximum seating as they were after all commercial enterprises. This one is shaped like the auditoriums, designed for efficient audio projection of the participants.

On up the hill and I am faced with the Monastery of St Kliment and Panteleimon, the original structure being founded in 1295. And finally, at least for me today, was the citadel called the Fortress of Tsar Samuil. The Tsar was not a Russian, but a Bulgarian Tsar. Most of the Balkan countries have at one time or another been ruled by each of the individual countries, almost as if they were taken turns. External rulers were also common being mainly the Romans and the Turks.

The weather has been dull and breezy all day but the sun should be back tomorrow and, Bridget and I should be back on the road.

Bright, sunny and breezy, the air is clearer and the heat far less humid. Bridget started on the button and felt anxious to get back on the road, or maybe that was just me. Anyway, we left Struga at 10:00am and headed for the Macedonian border with Greece. For the most part the roads were in reasonable condition and the traffic was light. I switched on the GoPro as I was expecting some scenic mountains along the way, although not as dramatic as some we have seen previously. Funnily enough I had assumed until last night that all the mountains we have passed through were part of the Balkan range, but on checking last night it transpires we haven’t touched the Balkans! They run through Bulgaria and give their name to the whole region. What’s more I have crossed the Balkan Mountains on the original Round the World tour. The mountains I have been driving through this week are the Eponymous Mountain Range.

There were lots of shouting, honking of car horns and waving as we travelled through the remaining Macedonian villages and this time it wasn’t me doing it. Our departure from Macedonia through Customs was quicker and smoother than the entry and then we were welcomed back into the EU by Greek customs.

Tirana to Chalkidona

The change in the road surface conditions was surprising, largely because travelling from the top of Croatia, then down through all the other Balkan countries, you become used to the conditions which, although largely acceptable, do have their uncomfortable sections. However, I was very nearly caught out when having become rather blasé, I only noticed at the last moment the warning signs and had to brake very hard to avoid crunching over warning humps and very uneven rail crossing lines. I do not recall this being a feature of the roads in Greece, although it clearly is as I stumbled across three more, but was a common problem in Pakistan. There however, were rarely any warning signs.

The rest of the drive was very relaxed and the traffic on Greece’s wide, smooth roads almost zero. I arrived in Chalkidona at 2:00pm and found a good hotel off the beaten track. I have decided to spend at least the whole of tomorrow here as there are a number of historic sites around. I shall visit them in the morning and drop into the swimming pool in the afternoon. All in all, a busy day.

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