Wednesday – Around Ohrid and a small ride to Durres
After a night of really heavy rainfall, and a lot of deliberation whether the weather would allow us to continue our trip we woke up to clear blue skies. The visibility was perfect and we could see across the lake, into the FYROM side. So after big breakfast, we moved toward the border. This time I would make it across. All of the car’s papers where in order. So where our papers. We started out and within fifteen minutes of driving on a non-descript narrow road, we reached the border. We cleared both immigration control and customs with great ease. The difference between the roads in Albania and the roads in FYROM became obvious. Though the roads in both countries where equally narrow, roads in FYROM where better maintained. We spotted about two potholes in 60 kilometres. After 20 kilometres on mountainous but lakeside terrain we reached Ohrid. Ohrid is a city of roughly 100,000 inhabitants. It is home to one of the best preserved medieval towns in the balkans, and some of the most beautiful Byzantine churches in the area. It is also a popular tourist attraction for German, Austrian, Yugoslav and Russian tourists. On a clear day one can see as far as the Albanian mountains on the other side of the lake. And, guess what, there’s machine gun nests here too. Seems like Tito was afraid of his neighbours too. Thinking of all this, we where approaching the city. Within a few hours we where passing by large hotels . We where in the outskirts.of the city. After a lot of rounds around holiday apartment blocks, we finally reached the centre of the city. Ohrid, in the summer months is a busy lakeside tourist port. Small boats do daily cruises that start from here, and move along the scenic shoreline. But the real beauty of the town is its historic centre. Its old town is one of the best preserved ones in the whole region, and a lot buildings with a design owing to Turkish, neo-classical and medieval influences are scattered in it, lying between it’s paved roads . There are a lot of Byzantine churches here. Most of the are basyllikas and they are decorated in a manner that is very common around the whole region. They follow the principles of the “Macedonian school”, a group of painters that where working in Northern Greece, Southern Bulgaria, Albania, FYROM and Serbia, the whole of the historic byzantine region of Macedonia. That means that there are more bright colours in the paintings inside the church, and even some characteristics of the bodies of the people depicted are visible, contrary to typical shapeless and dimly painted pictures of the era. Notable churches aside, the city is ideal for walks and maybe late night serenades. There is a lot to see in the old town, and one can get a beautiful sunset/sunrise, if one wants to climb on higher ground around the old town. After about five hours that seemed like ten minutes we decided to resume our circle around the lake and start the return journey. We left the shoreline a few miles before the city of Struga. We then started climbing a very scenic road, that looked as if it was climbing but, in the middle of a ravine. We finally crossed the border about an hour later. But by the time we had reached Elbasan, we decided that it was still early and we could still visit Durres for some lunch before we returned to Tirana. So we avoided the curvy road going straight ahead, and decided do move south-east to Kavaje, and then straight to Durres. After leaving Elbasan the quality of the road became much worse. And to make things even more difficult, there was an endless string of lorries on the road, that where moving to Durres, in order to get to the boat to Italy. It took us a few hours to reach what looked like a real highway (in the map). But when we reached it things did not really change. Although there was some sort of barrier in the middle dividing the upward with the downward lanes, there where again the usual holes on the road, accompanied with parts where the tarmac was non existent, or where works where in progress. But even there we could not see anybody working there. As it seems they where waiting for money to come in via some sort of a relief programme, so that they could complete the highway, or even repair it. We reached Durres at around four’o’clock. The outskirts are full of high-rises, expensive-looking apartment buildings for holiday lofts and expensive hotels. Clearly there was too much money pouring into the real-estate business there. Just enough to create a real-estate bubble. The rest of the city looks like a crossover between a port city and an expensive seaside resort-neighbourhood. The seaside is full of cosy restaurants and café’s. We decided not to inform Sollace of our whereabouts, for fear of him footing the bill for us again. But my stepfather wanted to take me to a tavern where he had eaten with my sister and friends, and could not remember its name. So we called another friend, the chief anesthysiologist, a man called Djodjas. He did not remember either but offered to ask around and call us back. The next call came from Sollace telling us that we should not go to that tavern, but a restaurant lying next to it. Nothing remains a secret in Albania, for no reason whatsoever. This is a small society of a little more than two million souls. So secrets tend to leak… Gossip on relationships, dates even corruption can be heard almost anywhere. It looks like everyone knows everybody here.
Anyway a huge meal of fish and tons of laughter later we left and took the only well paved highway in the country. The one that leads to the airport and Tirana. We would have an early night because the next day we would hit the north for a day trip.