Thursday, March 19, 2015

The Long and Winding Road

We are now in Greece but have taken quite a few long and winding roads to get here. I suggest you get a glass of something cold and tasty, (Susan - you can have G&T...) while I tell you all about it.

I last left you in Albania, not a great place to be left!! Hope you survived, we did. We went in search of the spit-roast lamb by driving up the hill behind Tirane. Sounds easy – yes? Well, the GPS got us hopelessly lost in a maze of badly paved roads that turned to mud, in the suburbs. At one stage we ended up in the cemetery, which was OK as it is the cleanest, neatest place in Albania. Anyway, we got up there by our wits alone, to find the restaurant was having renovations done. We moved on and had a rabbit lunch instead. We camped the night opposite the restaurant, with views over the smog of the Capital.
Downtown Tirane
From there it seemed sensible (ahem) to drive over the mountains to Macedonia. We seriously wanted avoid going back near Tirane. The well paved road lasted about 3kms and then things started to get interesting. The road deteriorated quickly, then more so until finally it got so bad we had to turn around. It was just too dangerous, too risky even in the go-anywhere Boris-mo-beele.
That Road! (yes, that is bird poo on the windscreen)
Back we went, towards bloody Tirane. After a few bad mistakes, several 5 point turns, avoiding cows, mud, peasants and chickens, we found finally the southern highway heading to Macedonia, with the added bonus of a Carrefour Supermarket and Carwash – fab.

Lawrence put his foot down and we headed to Macedonia and relative sanity. The campsite we headed for was closed and had been for 10 years – apparently. By luck, kismet or commercial savvy we met a guy who owned a small campsite by Lake Ohrid and we followed him as we didn’t have much option! It was a tiny, neat campsite right by the beautiful lake with rustic but serviceable ablutions. It wasn’t officially open, but he was happy for us to stay.
Camping by Lake Ohrid
It was sheer bliss after the hell of Albania. Here’s some advice. If you are thinking of visiting Albania – don’t! Even the wine was terrible.

We went into the local town which was fairly dull but had an eclectic market. One woman was selling lettuce and live chickens, another stall had only socks and olive oil, but really, you could buy almost anything. Great fun.

We also spent a day in Ohrid and did the obligatory ancient orthodox churches and a Macedonian lunch, before moving toward Bitola. We decided again to take the long way – another long and winding road over the mountain pass between the 2 lakes. Once again we were forced to turn around – this time because of snow. We couldn’t be arsed putting the snow-chains on and chugging slowly through it for 20 or more kms. So we had to go the boring way.
Pretty Chapel - Ohrid

Couldn't be arsed with snow chains in Macedonia

We were not inspired by Bitola so just headed for the Greek border looking for somewhere to stay.

This is where it got a little bit interesting. As we approached the Greek border, we saw a side road that we thought might be good for an overnight camping spot. But the road was terrible and there was no likely spots so we turned around only to be confronted by the border guards.

They had seen us turn off and obviously thought we were up to no good. After lots of explanation and serious grovelling they let us move on but of course we were stopped at the border proper, more explanation and forelock tugging required.

And that leads us to Greece.

As we were ahead of schedule – yes, we do have one – we took the advice of our chums Darren and Clare and headed to Meteora. What an extraordinary place this is. Even without the monasteries it is a sight to behold. Great pinnacles of rock stretching sky-high, some with wonderful 15th century monasteries perched precariously on top. 6 of them still operate and you can visit them easily (even if you have to put on a bad taste skirt over your jeans – women only). I’ll let the photos tell you more. Sadly the weather was cold and grey.


So now we are parked by the sea on our way to Thessaloniki. Today we did another long and very winding road past Mount Olympus. I do wish that the Weather Gods and would consult with each other a little more and come up with the often promised sunshine for us. Mt Olympus was shrouded in cloud and mist, so we didn’t see much. The road however was fab and coming down the other side was exciting. 19 hairpin bends in 7 kms with a drop of 500 metres!!!

Next stop Thessaloniki, slated as Greece’s coolest city, so we should fit right in. I just hope they are not talking about the weather. I’ve had enough winter, seriously, enough.

It is now bloody raining, again.

So we are sitting here drinking a fabulous Macedonian Ros̩, made from Vranec and Merlot. We were so impressed with Macedonian wine Рa wonderful mix of strange indigenous varieties and some internationals (which they have been growing for many years). Wonderful!

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