It’s very weird being back in Europe and speeding through countries quickly, instead of having a month or longer in each country. Last week we were in Macedonia, enjoying the mountains and hills but not enjoying the colder and wetter weather.
It was an easy ride to the border, we could see lots of snowy mountains but we stayed in the valley, with a medium amount of hills instead of loads. It was a bit warmer when we camped by a river, and Jim found another four leaf clover.
Macedonia immediately felt different from Greece, the roads smaller but busier, and pretty rough and pot-holey. But the people were friendly, the shops well stocked, and we soon headed up a shallow climb to our first pass (1164 m).
We dropped down to Lake Prespa and cycled round the lake to a very nice hotel for a treat. The views of the mountains around the lake and the breakfast buffet were both incredible.
The next day we climbed up Galicica pass (1604 m). This climb was spectacular, it started with hairpins winding through the forest, before levelling out to big rolling fields and rock formations. We got stunning views of the lake and other mountains. A driver stopped us halfway up to tell us the road was blocked by snow, but we fancied our chances so pressed onwards.
At the top we admired the view into Albania, and found the snow drifts that blocked the road. The road which also had a very steep drop off to the side. But where the cars had failed, we succeeded, and it was only a few quick clambers over the snow before we could start the descent. Many hairpins later we were cycling around Lake Ohrid to our campsite for the night.
The next morning we woke to the dreaded pitter patter of rain on the tent. It was also freezing cold. We kept to our plan and cycled north, taking tiny backroads till we hit the A2. A boring slog of a day on the main road, through what may have been beautiful hills obscured by the clouds, staying cold and wet till we reached Kicevo. After a hot chocolate we decided to treat ourselves to a hotel and avoid a wet night in the tent.
The next day was spent climbing up to Lake Mavrovo, in Mavrovo National Park. We climbed though the park, up foresty hills, to just over 1400m. The lake and park were both beautiful, and our descent towards the Albanian border followed a pretty cool gorge.
We said goodbye to Macedonia and followed the valley into Albania. The mountains edging the valley got bigger, the road became very rolling, and the climbs got steeper. When we stopped in the first town we came to to change money and buy food we immediately got accosted by children begging for money and trying to knick stuff of the bikes. Not a great start. We continued through the hills to Arras, where we stayed on a farm and enjoyed some traditional Albanian food and drink. The family were distilling Rakia, which Jim did not enjoy trying.
Today we woke to rain again, but had an amazing day cycling through the mountains. We climbed up to 1200m, but with alot of extra climbs and descents, up and over some beautiful hills and mountains. Everything just looked huge and epic. The road was incredibly steep in places, but the views were really special. It was a tough day but we made it to Kukes for some baklava.
Jim’s words – Border, Macedonia, Snow, Brrrr, Tortoise, Albania and Climbing.