It all began on Facebook while reading messages about new air routes from Bratislava to Skopje in Macedonia. It was not long after we convinced our girlfriends we’re smart guys and what could have happened we enthusiastically bought tickets for 33 euros. Even before departure, we managed to organize a briefing where we wanted to agree what, how, where to go while in Macedonia. Briefing was finally more about drinking rather than discussing the route and apart from one hostel booked in Skopje and the rented car we did not have any specific plan.
Again, after a long time I flew out of Bratislava airport, which I consider to be one of the top. After all, where else can you buy a shot for 80 cents and beer for 1.20 Euro? Many young people and the fact that it was Friday night at the moment of boarding the plane meant one big party that lasted for something like an hour and 20 minutes. Our party plane landed at Skopje before 11 pm and we had to look for a taxi. Last bus left at 8:30 pm so the only option was a taxi with a fixed rate of 20 Euro for 4 people. The way to our “Hostel 42” in the city center took approx. 20 minutes during which we found out from a local taxi driver that the Macedonian women are ugly, but ours are very beautiful. Hostel 42 costs 8 Euro per night and person in a room for 4 people and was very close to downtown. After checked in we headed to streets of Skopje, where we almost immediately discovered that on April 1st there is a Carnival and the whole city was wearing masks.
Saturday morning we got up earlier and walked to the hotel Aleksandar Palace, which houses the company Europcar where we picked up our car. We got a brand new Nissan Micra, which cost 101 Euro from Saturday morning to Monday evening. Although we had a new car, but I recommend everyone before taking over the car check and possibly make pictures in order to avoid unnecessary wrangling after the return of the vehicle.
Behind the wheel of our new spaceship sat Marek, called Šošo. As co-pilot, I nominated myself. In the back seats were Matúš called Babčo and Michal called Michalides. We all agreed that the town of Ohrid on the lake with the same name could be our goal, so we had taken the direction of the south. On the way we could see snowcapped mountains of Macedonia, of which the highest peak Mount Korab is only slightly higher than ours in High Tatras and therefore measures 2,764 meters. Approximately 80% of the country consists of hilly terrain. Relatively short highway from Skopje to Gostivar measured just over 50 kilometers and therefore you are forced to stop and pay tolls four times. One way costs approx. 2, 50 Euro. Most of the time the road was very twisty going up and down. Those who scold the quality of our roads, believe me, it still could be worse and in Macedonia it truly was. Our little 1-liter Micra didn’t have the slightest problem with the elevation of Macedonian roads and conveniently transported us to our first stop which was Mavrovo Lake.
Our second stop was at “St. John the Forerunner Bigorski monastery”. This is a very nice orthodox monastery with a stunning view of the surrounding mountains. On the way to Ohrid, we stopped in the town of Debar for lunch, which cost us less than 10 euro for 4 persons including beer. When we arrived to Ohrid there were two reasons for finding a bar with Wi-Fi. First was to find an accommodation and the second main was to take a beer. Sadly, again we didn’t find a draft beer which is more common during summer season. But bottled one didn’t bother us neither. We finally managed to find a great accommodation at Karoski Apartments & Suits where we paid 24 Euro together with coffee for Michalides and a few glasses of Macedonian Rakija for everyone, including the owner Mr. Tome and our neighbor from Croatia with a really interesting surname Kalashnikov. Karoski Suits & Apartments is located just outside the center and I would definitely recommend it for the hospitality of its owners.
Following the recommendations of the restaurant Orfej we decided to dine there. Although the food and service were average, Rakija was according to our expectations. Sunday morning was marked by the residual alcohol and the question of who will go behind the wheel popped out. We made Šošo to drive but his first meters were not exactly from the driving book. Whereas, during breakfast it was not yet clear who will be chosen and will drive us on Sunday. We took advantage of Šošo’s absence on breakfast and all three of us have ordered a beer to insure a passenger seat for the day.
Sunday trip was supposed to be a visit to neighbor country Albania, more precisely in the border town of Pogradec. On the way to the border we stopped in “Bay of Bones”, which is one of the tourist sites of this part of the country. It is a bay where the ancient dwellings are built above the water as a museum. Entrance to the complex was 100 denarii and thus about 1.60 Euro.
Aware of the fact that we do not have a green card, we went straight to the Macedonian border. To enter Albania by land you only need an ID card, but in our case green card was necessary. We have decided to reverse and park the car next to customs. After less than five minutes of walking we reached the Albanian border. After crossing the border there are some taxi drivers waiting for customers to drive them to the town of Pogradec for 5 Euro. Since it was my name day, I decided to invite guys for a lunch. I had no idea what was the exchange rate for Albanian currency Lek. Tirana beer was on the table first followed by domestic fish and wine. Only then we realized that someone should drive back. After few seconds of mutual telepathy we decided that we stay for the night.
The sun was getting stronger, beer getting colder and no concerns regarding accommodation what so ever. It seems that when a man does not solve a problem, the fate takes care of it. During our conversation we got interrupted by a man asking in Slovak language: “Are you Slovak, guys?” What we would never expect was an Albanian who has lived 11 years in Slovakia. His name was Nandi and he volunteered to show us around the city of Pogradec. He also took us for dinner to a local pizzeria. Nandi spent the rest of the day with us talking about Slovakia and drinking Albanian Rakija. He even invited us to spend a night at his new apartment just above the bar for 5 Euro per person.
It was suddenly Monday and also our last day of our trip. We returned back to the border and fortunately our Nissan was still there. This time we took a little different route direction Kichevo. Our goal has been one of the most visited attractions Matka Canyon. There we met another Albanian who had lived in Slovakia and gave us a discount for a motor boat tour around the canyon and entrance to the cave. Matka Canyon is really nice and quiet place. We’ll see how it will look there in high season, but we have chosen to visit the country about the best possible date.
We said goodbye to the Matka Canyon and headed downtown for a late lunch before heading home. Regarding finance, food was fairly cheap, beer prices move somewhere around 1 to 1.50 Euro and Rakija, well we don’t even remember that. Petrol 95 was about 1 Euro and we drove 460 km and used only 25 liters of gasoline. I would like to thank to my crew Šošo, Babčo and Michalides for great fun in 4 days full of adventures and experiences. For those who hesitate whether to go or not I definitely recommend to visit both Macedonia and Albania.