MACEDONIA – DAY 5 – Struga – Ohrid and a rest day

Macedonia (F.Y.R.O.M.), Stories, Travel

Reluctantly we woke up, it definitely wasn’t early, around 9am. Sluggishly we packed and eventually dragged ourselves (and the bikes) out of the “villa” apartment.

Slowly rolling around the city in the vague direction of the coastline and the exit towards Ohrid, of course, Sasho spotted one of the most uninspiring (for the untrained eye) and average looking cafes. It had a queue of people lining up out of the front door, which is always a good sign. We parked the bikes and I went to reserve a table in the sun while he went to order.

Soon, Sasho came out with a huge portion of our now favourite biureks and yogurt drinks (keep in mind, this whole breakfast was about £2-3… in total).

The place didn’t sell coffee in general, but naturally, Sasho managed to weave himself through to the woman’s heart and convinced her to make us some. She made us two big mugs of Turkish style coffee. It was simply one of the best coffees I’ve had, definitely much better than any big-name street brand in the UK.

Thick, creamy and mega strong coffee, what more can two cyclists want!

Struga was beautiful, the coast had restaurants and cafes near the water, promenades to walk on and with the sun and 23 degrees C it was idilic.

The water was so clear you could see the bottom of the lake

While strolling near the beach we encountered these two gentlemen shown in the picture below. The one on the left, seemingly in his 60s started talking to us and where we are from. When he heard that we’re coming from Bulgaria he told us that in fact he grew up there and escaped into Yugoslavia during the communist years. He had never been back, for the past 30 years, but was planning to make a trip back (as he was due a pension for his working years in the country).

The whole aura that he had was one of a very strong character, a man who has lived all his life with a complete conviction, dedication and hard work. He said that he was Macedonian and even had a tattoo (that he showed us) across his chest to make his argument. He seemed very content with his life, with the daily work he had to do and generally living near the lake. He had been imprisoned in Bulgaria for claiming to be Macedonian. Mistreated, living in poverty, war ridden times, possibly losing friends and family, chased and imprisoned, he truly seemed happy to me. Much more so than many people around that I see daily, who have probably many times more than this man had. What he had though was the complete clarity that he had lived his life according to his heart’s calling and no one had managed to change it, no matter what.

Whether one agrees with his views and convictions is irrelevant, the man was a testament to his own life and for that he has my respect (also, because he seemed capable to snap me like a branch if I disagreed… potentially).

We rode on on the street following the coast and in the direction of Ohrid.

It was a peaceful, relaxed and totally enjoyable ride. We stopped, looked around and soaked the views, which were postcard worthy to say the least.

Eventually, we made it to Ohrid and the AirBnb address of our host which we had booked earlier in the morning before living the “villa” in Struga.

The place was exceptionally maintained and we had a separate building for the night. Notably, there were no high walls, no duvars or CCTV cameras. Anyone could have simply walked in and taken anything they wanted, but that seemed to be of no concern for our hosts.

Our host was half Bulgarian, he introduced us to his mother who was Bulgarian and had lived in Macedonia for over 40 years. They both spoke very good Bulgarian and were really happy and excited to meet us. The mother called us “our boys”.

We settled in, thanked them and headed out to explore Ohrid city itself.

It was very quiet, nothing sickeningly-touristic was happening. It felt like the smallest of towns even though it wasn’t. We continued to follow the path near the lake and to enjoy the mountains in the distance (spotting the ones we would have to climb the day after) and to soak up the sun. We walked to the end of the street and sat down for a beer in one of the Sasho-only-can-find-special places. Next two us there was an elderly couple from Denmark (which we naturally thought were German).

We started talking and shared our experience of Macedonia so far, which was simply surprising and very positive. They said people would always consider them German and funnily enough, one of the waitresses replied to them saying they were Dannish with “No, you are German!”… haha, so their experience was a little different, but they still loved the place and were considering to come back again.

With Sasho we were getting a bit hungry, so we finished our beers and headed back to explore Ohrid’s old town.

On the way Sasho spotted a massive fig three in the middle of the old town, so we naturally jumped on the opportunity to get some fresh fruits. They were one of the tastiest figs I’ve ever had, very comparable to Greece and Southern Bulgaria. The things tasted as if they had been infused in honey for a week!

The old town was very well kept, clean, tidy and with preserved old architecture (strangely similar to that of towns such as Koprivshtitsa back in Bulgaria).

Slowly moving through the streets we headed to the Samuil’s fortress at the top of the hill in the middle of the old town. It was a historical place where many deaths had been witnessed over the centuries. Also a place of beauty and incredible views. We managed to just catch the sunset from the top, here are some shots with the Samsung S8:

We encountered a Chinese guy, potentially a student (didn’t ask). He had travelled through Croatia, Montenegro, Albania and was now in Macedonia. Moreover, he was headed over to Bulgaria and impressively was not just dashing through those countries but was interested in the culture and history. He knew a fair bit about the fortress and the fact that Macedonian’s (from the country we were standing in) were a mix of Albanians and what used to be called Bulgarians.

As soon as the sun was behind the horizon we left the fortress and headed back into the town to find some food. Our place of choice was restaurant Gladiator, right next to the Ancient Theatre with a view of the lake and the mountains across. The food was naturally delicious and the place had a near five star rating on TripAdvisor, but most importantly the prices were good and the staff extremely friendly. We chatted with the waiter every time he came to bring something more to the table. He seemed to love his country and the city, in fact he had chosen to return after working abroad for a few years.

On leaving the restaurant we met the owner (not knowing it was him) and asked him “Who is the owner of this great establishment, is it you?”, he replied “No, no, it’s not me”, “Who is it then, where are they?” , “The boss is over there…” pointing to his wife. And he added, “Remember this, in marriage there are only two important words that you need to know – ‘Yes dear!'”… 

Finally, we went back to the AirBnb and prepared for sleep. There was a slight issue though, I discovered that I had forgotten my charger (for all devices) back in the “villa” in Struga. I called the owner and he confirmed that it was there. The problem was that I had nothing to charge anything with, including lights for the bike, external batteries or the phone for navigation. That meant that I would have to get up extra early and go back to Struga to take the charger and then come back to Ohrid before setting off. it was going to be a long, long day.

You can see the trip on Relive here:

Relive ‘A chilled roll from Struga to Ohrid with plenty of stops to enjoy the views’

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