Ohrid, and to Korce

5 May

I arrived late at night in Ohrid, just before the Orthodox Easter celebrations began. Between 11pm and midnight it seemed like the whole town (except one Turk down by the main road who kept his shop open and still sold beer) traversed the steep cobbled alleys, navigated with their phones between trees and over routes up some well worn shortcuts and lit candles and congregated around on-high uplit churches. A group of us from (excellent) Sunny Lake Hostel joined in the climb and turned around to join the pilgrimage back down below to the heaving bars and clubs by the lake. I was with a couple of Frenchies, a South Korean and an American Peace Corp who was cycling off in a slightly different direction than me. As a yoga teaching ex-marine American, he got jumped by Macedonian girls as soon as he sat down.

Lake Ohrid is beautifully, even strangely clear. Melted snow or spring water streams that drop into muddy tributaries cut blue streaks into the rushing brown. The touristy high street houses shops of glitzy, international, souvenir and mixed nut variety. Candle-covered Catholic shrines pop up in boxes and on stalls and lines of broad cafes hold audiences facing into the statue filled squares. It was buzzing. And from what I could tell it had been buzzing on Easter weekend for centuries.

The ride around the lake to Albania was hilly and quiet, with occasional places of historical interest such as museums, ruins, ancient churches. I stopped near an old monastery for a lakeside lunch sat out the rains for a while with a 100ml glass of raki. Eventually, warm and dry, full and with brandy breath, I kept on skirting the lake into Albania a little later.

I hadn’t heard back from a couchsurfer I was relying on, so I decided to ride an extra stretch to bigger Korce. Had I left earlier and gone through the rains I wouldn’t have had such a battle to get to Korce that evening. The winds were strong and blowing entirely the wrong way. The rain seemed to know I was avoiding it earlier and endeavoured to poke my eyes out on cliff corners. Dark chocolate bars got me there. Helpful staff in the Regency Hotel helped me find a room nearby for 300leke (additional 300leke for use of grim cold shower facilities, opted to talc), which I locked my bike in before treating body to multiple kebabs, brain to multiple beers and legs to multiple hours in bed.

Immediate impression of language barriers, but friendliness. Was given a coffee in a faux-castle just inside Albania. Played a personal-besting total of 20 mins of charades and pictionary to ascertain price of hotel room, and that shower is cold and I must pay to use it. Instead of joining in the game my opposite number always talking in perfect Albanian in answer to my mime of inquisitive showering.

The next day I visited the Regency Hoteliers, who assured me that I should change my route. Google had mapped me a route into Greece that had no border crossing. This added 100km onto my route. To make sure I was in Corfu for when Axelle, French cycling partner, was meeting me, I took a very scenic bus to Saranda.

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