Day 10 – Sharr National Park & Into FYR Macedonia

29 Sep

Managed a late breakfast of yellow flakes and stale cake, before departing on the happy bus.

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Leaving Prizren we meandered through a very narrow gorge and across a narrow iron bridge that would have been safer to walk over than drive over. Tzar Stefan Dusan IV’s monastery and castle was a pile of stones now – some probably removed to build the mosque in Prizren. The sole monk obviously ran retreats as there was a huge modern complex beside the old stones. The castle walls ran up the steep hill, and a stone bridge crossed the river – very scenic.

After an hour and a half drive, and accidentally driving too far, we arrived at the start of our forest walk. The cloud was low and although we were only climbing 200m, we ended up in a forest cloaked in a spookily silent cloud, dripping onto our backs as we walked through. As self nominated back marker, I had time to absorb the wonderful scenery – missing only the scent of a Scottish pine forest. Just as I commented to Tom that all the thistles were dead, a purple one popped up.

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We met some locals who were intriguingly photogenic. We also saw our first highland refuse bin. Unused. But much better than the previous walk.

Made friends with a little dachshund who then followed me constantly until we reached the top end of a village used as a ski resort. Plenty houses under construction and some lived in. Most were for rent. One looked like a caravan gone wrong.

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At the local restaurant we ate our packed lunches, after fending off more amorous dogs. There is nothing that can’t be fixed by the addition of the rather generous sugar sachets. Half milk, half yoghurt drinks being an exception.

After a 60 minute drive, where most of us were severely affected by the fresh air, we reached the Macedonian border. Goodbye Kosovo. Nice country. I hope I can return. Faleminderit.

Our driver and the border police in Macedonia had a bit of a shouting match. The rules for crossing borders here as not as lax as Albania/Kosovo. The rather burly man climbed on board the bus to brusquely collect our passports. Unfortunately he returned them without a stamp.

We were delayed further crossing the next barrier – customs. Fati earned his wage to present all the correct paperwork. 30 minutes after starting, we were through. Welcome to FYR Macedonia! The flag may be bright, but the weather is the same.

First stop was of course to the petrol station to exchange money. Spent £2.50 on a box of pringles, but took away the pain of that by also purchasing 2 white lion bars for 35p each.

Driving on to our hotel in Skopje, we arrived at a derelict, graffiti covered high rise. The prospects were not looking great. However, after climbing two flights of stairs we stepped into the most modern hotel yet. Each room is named after a city and has a mural appropriate to the city covering a whole wall. I had Barcelona and Gaudi’s Park Güell.

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After a quick freshen up we met Endrit who gave a few brief blah blahs regarding our stay in Macedonia. Showed us a map and let us get on with it. The center was over 3km away from the hotel but most of us walked in.

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We passed lots of big statues – mostly men on horses with guns or swords. Some fantastic sights greeted us on the centre with imposing columns for Alexander the Great and Philip II. Multicoloured fountains danced pleasingly and children tried to avoid getting wet. Hint – don’t go near the water.

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We wandered across the Stone Bridge – aptly named. Picked up a few stray dogs again. Can’t resist a pet, even if they are a bit the worse for wear.
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Found loads of tat shops in the Old Bazaar. It wasn’t so old – very modern shops, bars, cafes and restaurants – but a nice area to stroll around. Although Orthodox is the main religion in this country, they did manage a mosque or two in the middle.

We ate a large shared meal of mixed meat which was beautifully prepared. Tom (not sharing) had a bit of confusion regarding his order and ended up with a paltry amount of meat. We shared.

Wandering back, the Alexander the Great column was now lit up spectacularly with water cascading straight down from the top and lions squirting water at the base.

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Avoiding a taxi, four of us walked back safely to the hotel with the bright lights of the Millenium Cross guiding us from its hilltop prominence.

Tomorrow a local guide will hopefully explain everything to us properly. Until then, Google is my friend.

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