Our time in Macedonia was short – a quick jaunt across its western frontier before crossing into Kosovo. Macedonia is probably best known as the homeland of Alexander the Great. It was also the birthplace of Mother Theresa.
Unlike neighbouring Albania it was part of Yugoslavia; the entire area making up a southern region of this vast republic. The country gained a peaceful Independance in 1991 and wasn’t effected by the Yugoslav wars during the 1990s. It’s part of the UN but due to an ongoing dispute with Greece regarding the nation’s use of the term ‘Macdeonia’ it has to be known internationally by the verbose title of ‘The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia’.
It was part of the Ottoman Empire but after the Balkan Wars in 1912-13 was left under the control of the Serbs which is why it was later incorporated into Yugoslavia. However, it has a dominant Albanian diaspora who make up 25% of the population. The part we are cycling through is heavily dominated by Albanian communities. A 2001 conflict between the government and Albanian rebels ended with the help of NATO intervention and led to more political and cultural representation for this Albanian, predominantly Muslim, minority.
Macedonia has a fun flag which wouldn’t look out of place at a festival and also a very cool national motto: ‘Freedom or Death’.
It feels more developed than Albania but the cost of food and drinks remains decently low. The people seem very nice but perhaps a little more reserved than in Albania. It has been the first country where we have been told we can’t camp somewhere by a passer by…
Our first day was spent resting in Ohrid where we managed to bargain an apartment for 11 euros. Ohrid is a nice town, it’s a UNESCO heritage site but Paddy and I are not really sure why… We’ve come to realise that the UNESCO labelling system can be very random and that its use is just as much a political tool as a means of protecting heritage sites…
After our stop in Ohrid we continue to head north staying close to the Albanian border. Unsurprising we see lots of Albanian flags and lots of the signs are multilingual. We haven’t seen much sun here and it’s been pretty chilli with even some snow falling at the top of the Mavrovo nature reserve. We can still appreciate the beauty though.
We’ve shared coffee with some lovely people too including two sheep farmers (father and son) who were stopped at the local garage where we had camped the night before. We have also met our first fellow cycle tourers of 2017 – Galen and Benedict from London who were on their way to Athens having started a few weeks back in Venice.
We also got invited to drink tea by guy called Sulejman. Sulejman was nice but he had a lot of opinions which he was very keen to share with us very quickly. He didn’t seem too interested in hearing what we had to say (in fact he didn’t interact with me at all) and we spent the half an hour just listening to his various unconnected thoughts – interesting nevertheless. He then took us on a tour of the local mosque which was just across the road – a very beautiful building built by two sisters and decorated in an unusual neoclassical western style paintings.
One of the funniest things we’ve seen here has been an 11 year old boy driving a land rover on his own. Apparently this is quite normal… That’s it really I towards Kosovo before heading west to Montenegro.