Skopje and Ohrid to Durres, Albania
I’ve completed my first biking mission of the trip by biking from Skopje to Ohrid. I had previously bike from Bulgaria to Skopje and Ohrid to Durres, Albania on the Adriatic Sea, so this ride linked those two together. It took a lot of hard work and some blind luck, but worked out well in the end. I biked from Skopje to Gostivar on the first day, 84 km(52 mi). The GPS showed four hotels there but only one was still in operation. I got a room and planned the trip to Ohrid. I thought the main highway was the only option, but I stopped for brunch the next morning about 10 km out of town and noticed there was a road through a national park nearby. I asked the people at the restaurant about it and they said it a lovely route with much less traffic the the main road and only a bit longer. The only drawback was that it climbed steeply for the next 10 km. I walked almost all of that and got to an elevation of 1325 meters after starting around 515 m. At the top, the village of Mavrovo, also the name of the park was on a pretty lake with an earthen dam at the end. The road went almost continually down hill to Lake Ohrid about 120 km. As I started the descent through a beautiful valley with a swift stream it started to rain. I put on my poncho and rode until I found a building with an overhanging roof where I waited it out. It didn’t last long. It began to flatten out as I approached the town of Debar, the only significant city before Struga on Lake Ohrid. I saw billboards for a couple of hotels and had one in my GPS. I never did find either of those on the billboards, and the one on the GPS was full. They told me of another in town so I went to it. The city was build up from the river so I had another climb and walk to deal with, but much easier. I found the hotel, but they were full also. It was after eight and dark by then, so I had dinner at the hotel, turned on all my lights and continued riding. After leaving Debar, traffic was very light. I still had 50 km to go, but it was easy riding near the river. I took my time and stopped a couple of times to lie down when I saw a good spot off the road. After the second time daylight began to show and I got in to Struga around seven in the morning. The was a highly recommended Hotel and campground about three km out of town, so I went there and got an early check-in and breakfast. I slept from noon to four and recovered a bit from the night. I saw a Hungarian family from Vac on the Danube which I passed on my first ride through Hungary. I chatted with them easily with my Hungarian recently refreshed. The Hotel and camp were run by an Albanian family, and they did most of their business in English as they didn’t speak Macedonian well. The biggest groups of campers were from Poland, but I also met an Australian couple. I biked back into town in the late afternoon and bought a Macedonian – English phrasebook. I discovered that it is much closer to Bulgarian than Serbian, and it’s my best Slavic language so knowing that has made communicating easier for me. The second day there I biked around the end of the lake to Ohrid city where I stayed on my trip two years ago. I bought a souvenir magnet of sailboats on the lake from a lady at the ancient theater. I found she was from Shumen, BG the same city as the only Bulgarian student at the Hungarian language school.
This morning I checked out early and biked to the bus station. I got a seat on a bus with about 20 seats and not too crowded. It took three and a half hours with road construction and some mountain roads where the motorway hasn’t been built yet. I would never have completed the trip if I had tried to bike the main road from Gostiver. After Gostivar it was all freeway and we made good time to Skopje.
I biked about seven km out of the city on the road toward Greece, as the hotel was cheaper and it will make tomorrow ride shorter, around 90 km, again mostly downhill. I should be in Greece the next day and in Athens in a week or less.