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Macedonia & Bulgaria

MACEDONIA | Thursday, 21 July 2011 | Views [348]

After all the chaos in Albania, Macedonia was a nice quiet reprieve. Chris and I were both getting over colds so we needed a few relaxing days.   Macedonia is almost as cheap as Albania but without the hassle...you can drink the water out of the tap, there are proper bus stations...everything is just a little bit more orderly.  Our first stop in Macedonia was Lake Ohrid, described as the “jewel in Macedonia’s crown”,  the lake and Ohrid township are very scenic. On arrival with our Albanian taxi driver (from the border) we promptly got lost in the old town trying to find our hostel.  Luckily for us some waiters from a nearby restaurant rang up the hostel owner and got him to meet us ...I doubt we would have found the hostel otherwise as the old town is a bit of a maze.

The next day we set off on a bit of a walking tour of the old town as described in our guidebook.  It has been a bit of a love/hate affair with our lonely planet guidebooks on this trip.  At times they have been completely wrong, bad recommendations, locations marked wrong on the map, completely out of date (especially in Albania) but this time they pulled through and suggested a good route to follow of all the main sights.  We started at the top of the castle at the top of the hill, not much is remaining but they do seem to be excavating  and restoring parts of it (between smoko breaks).  The views of the lake are good though. From there we headed down the hill checking out ruins of churches, reconstructed churches, mosaics, and just plain old churches....all very photogenic with the blue lake and blue sky as backdrop.

The next day we thought about hiring a car and exploring the area surrounding the lake, but with us both lacking energy and feeling a bit sick with our colds neither of us could be bothered with the hassle.  Instead we decided to go on one of the boat tours heading up the lake.  We had checked the departure time the night before, but when we got down to the dock we discovered that the boat had already left.  As it was too late in the day to do plan b (hire a car) we ended up doing not much.  A lot of relaxing, reading our books and eating extremely cheap tasty baklava.

From Ohrid we headed to Sofia in Bulgaria, but due to the bus schedules we had a few hours to kill in Macedonia’s capital Skopje.  At the moment Skopje looks like one big building site, with several new buildings being constructed, earthworks along the river banks, road works etc.  If they do a good job it could be very nice city in a few years....but at the moment it’s just one big mess.  We spent a few hours walking around in the heat, having lunch and trying to use up the last of our Macedonian dinars as it is basically impossible to exchange the currency overseas.

Bulgaria wasn’t on our original plan, after Albania we had planned to go to Greece then island hop our way across to Turkey.  However, we had to cut our trip short by a couple of weeks and due to the lack of time as well as all the strikes and riots happening in Greece we decided to  skip Greece and go to Bulgaria instead.  Our main reason for going to Bulgaria was to catch the overnight train to Istanbul, but since we were there we decided to spend a couple of days checking out Sofia (the capital) and surrounding areas.  On our first morning we joined another “free” walking tour around Sofia. Sofia is unusual for a major city as it is not located near any significant waterways.  Instead Sofia has hundreds of groundwater springs ensuring a great water supply for the city.  We wandered around the city checking out churches, government buildings and ugly communist era buildings and sculptures. 

The next day we joined a tour heading to Rila Monastery, a couple of hours south of Sofia.  Our tour turned out to be just a couple of taxis with drivers but it was still a good day.  Our trip took us up into the Rila Mountains where the taxi drivers showed us a cave and small church in the forest.  Next we checked out the Monastery itself, it is one of the of the biggest tourist attractions in Bulgaria and deservedly so.  The exterior of the church is decorated with numerous paintings depicting scenes from the bible, inside the church there are also plenty of frescos.  We had a good look around, had lunch then headed back to Sofia. That evening we caught the sleeper train to Istanbul.  It was my first time on a sleeper train.  We had a small room with two bunk beds and slept pretty well apart from having to get up twice during the night to get our passport stamped. 


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