The detour via St. Naum Monastery to Tirana

When we were in Ohrid, we were advised to visit St. Naum Monastery. It is situated in the south end of the lake, close to the Albanian border.

The monastery and the area around in itself was quite nice, but they were in the process of building many small tourist shops just outside, so it is only a matter of time before it loses its nice atmosphere.

Entrance to Monastery St. Naum

Monastery St. Naum

Monastery St. Naum

Monastery St. Naum 2

Peacock at  Monastery St. Naum.

One of many peacock at Monastery St. Naum.

Backyard of Monastery St. Naum.

Backyard of Monastery St. Naum.

Surrounding of Monastery St. Naum
Taking the long way all around the lake from Ohrid via Elshani, St. Naum Monastery and Pogradec, took much more time than expected. The road on the Macedonian side were in quite good shape, but more or less the moment we entered Albania, that certainly changed. Most of the way we had to drive very slowly to prevent the car to get damaged by all the holes. By all means, not all the roads in Albania are that bad. We have driven many streaks of decent standard, and some even great highways. But in general; expect to use much longer time than you think!

Another sign we had entered Albania.

Another sign we had entered Albania.

View on our detour around the lake from Ohrid to Tirana.

View on our detour around the lake from Ohrid to Tirana.

Both of us had been to Tirana before, but I had not been up to mount Dajti by the cable car.

We decided to take a taxi to the cable car station for the Dajti Ekspres, and it turned out to be money well spent. The road condition up there is really, really bad, so the chance of damaging your own car is quite big.

The cable car journey is 4670 m long, and took us up to 1420 masl, an elevation of 812 m. The area is quite green, with a few small villages and farms along the way. On the top there is a park, a restaurant with panoramic view, and even a hotel, if you want to spend a calm night surrounded by the nature.

Dajti Ekspres in in Tirana.

Dajti Ekspres in in Tirana.

Dajti Expres in Tirana 2

View of Tirana from Mt. Dajti.

View of Tirana from Mt. Dajti.

Back in town, we walked around in the areas around Skanderbeg Square, trying to explore by getting ourselves a bit lost in the streets.

Skanderbeg Square in Tirana.

Skanderbeg Square in Tirana.

Skanderbeg Square in Tirana 2

Colorful houses.

Colorful houses.

Colorful houses in Tirana 3

Apartment buildings in Tirana

Apartment buildings in Tirana

The orthodox cathedral.

The orthodox cathedral.

As I have a few friends living in Tirana, I was just hanging out with them in the evening. It is always nice to know someone when you visit a place!

Friends visiting Kopi at work

Friends visiting Kopi at work

My previous visit to Tirana.
More post from Albania.
More posts from the Balkan road trip.

 

Ohrid – a beautiful pearl!

Ohrid view

Ohrid view

We have not exactly been lucky with the weather along the way, but our luck seem to have changed when we arrived in Ohrid, a beautiful pearl of a city.

We had booked a room in the old part of town, at Vila Mesokastro. It was greatly located, in a charming narrow cobblestone street. My room had a good-sized terrace with magnificent view of the city, looking over the red roofed houses and the green but snow topped mountains surrounding the harbour by the Ohrid lake.

Room #13 at Vila Mesokastro in Ohrid.

Room #13 at Vila Mesokastro in Ohrid.

Fantastic view from the room terrace.

Fantastic view from the room terrace.

Many red roofed houses.

Many red roofed houses.

Red roof in Ohrid

Walking around in the charming city made me want to use the camera repeatedly. Along the lakeside there are several nice restaurants, some where you could almost dip your toes in the water.

Ohrid lakeside

Ohrid lakeside

Ohrid 4
Ohrid 3
Ohrid 1
Ohrid 2
Charming street in Ohrid
Charming street in Ohrid 4
Charming street in Ohrid 3
Charming street in Ohrid 2
Ohrid 6
Ohrid 5

Main street in the old town of Ohrid.

Main street in the old town of Ohrid.

Continuing around the headland, you will reach the Church of St. John. This is an Orthodox church situated on the cliff over the old fishing village Kaneo. The year of construction is unknown, but it is believed to date back to the 13th century.

Walk around the headland

Walk around the headland towards the orthodox church of St. John.

Orthodox Church of St. John

Orthodox Church of St. John.

Orthodox Church of St. John 2

Other sights of interest are the Samuil’s Fortress, the Ancient theater and some other sights both in town and just outside. And off course, just walking around, soaking in the atmosphere of this beautiful ancient town by the lake.

Samuil’s Fortress and the Ancient theater of Ohrid.

Samuil’s Fortress and the Ancient theater of Ohrid.

Ohrid harbour by night

Ohrid harbour by night

Ohrid harbour by night2

Find more details about Ohrid on Macedonia’s official tourism website.

Mavrovo

Driving through the national park of Mavrovo is a scenic drive through roads narrowed by trees, mountains, rivers and lakes.

Narrow roads.

Narrow roads.

Since we were in Mavrovo national park, we felt we had to take the small detour to Mavrovo village as well. Driving off the main road, over the dam, we followed the croocked road.

We very fast noticed that this was a popular skiing destination after passing by a fence made by used skis. But the way to the end of the road also lead us through beautiful green landscape, to a fabulous old run down church by the lake, cows eating gras and minding their own business and idyllic houses spread all around.

Fence in Mavrovo made by skis.

Fence in Mavrovo made by skis.

Faboulus old run down church by the lake.

Faboulus old run down church by the lake.

At the end of the road we found a few hotels and a ski lift. It was no snow (but could easily have been…), so the place did not show itself from the best side. But it still showed potential. It could off course not match the bigger places in the Alps, but offers a different experience.

Mavrovo village.

Mavrovo village.

Heading onwards through the national park, we passed many charming, small mountain villages.

Heading onwards through the national park, we passed many charming, small mountain villages.

Lake Matka – a great getaway

Only about half an hour from Skopje, you will find Lake Matka. The river Treska that run through the Matka Canyon was dammed up sometime before World War 2, to serve the electrical power plant.

The power plant by Lake Matka.

The power plant by Lake Matka.

Beautiful nature and fantastic scenery is not exactly what I imagine when I hear the word power plant, but that is what we found. Once you just pass the dam and it is out of sight, it really quickly gets out of mind as well.

Lake Matka, with boats and kayak rental, as well as a hotel, restaurant and the Church of St. Andrew.

Lake Matka, with boats and kayak rental, as well as a hotel, restaurant and the Church of St. Andrew.

The steep green clad cliffs rises high above the lake, and a pedestrian path all along the lakeside gives the opportunity for an easy hike. If you prefer watching the scenery pass by from a boat or kayak instead, that is also possible.
Steep green clad cliffs
Cliffs rising from Lake Matka
At the beginning of the path you will find a hotel, a restaurant with a large terrace, and the Church of St. Andrew built in 1389.

Church of St. Andrew built in 1389.

Church of St. Andrew built in 1389.

Iconography inside the church.

Iconography inside the church.

If you do not have your own car, there are regular buses from Skopje to Matka.

Read also:
Skopje, the city of sculptures
Skopje by night

Find more details about Skopje on Macedonia’s official tourism website.

Skopje, the city of sculptures

I did not really know what to expect from Skopje, but I was pleasantly surprised. The area around the main square has grand buildings all around, and especially along the river.

Statue of a diving woman by the river.

Statue of a diving woman by the river.

The Vardar River divides the city in two, the old part and the newer part. The latter has a nice pedestrian street from the Macedonia Square to the old train station.  Skopje is the birth place of Mother Teresa, and there is a nice memorial house in her honour and off course a sculpture of her.

Mother Teresa's memorial house.

Mother Teresa’s memorial house.

Sculpture of Mother Teresa.

Sculpture of Mother Teresa.

And there are many sculptures. Everywhere! Many of great and famous men and women, but also everyday Joe. Quite literally.

The earthquake in 1963 destroyed almost 2/3 of the city. Many new and modern buildings were built, but many of the old were also restored.

These can be seen several places around the city, in remembrance of the earthquake in 1963.

These can be seen several places around the city, in remembrance of the earthquake in 1963.

The Old Bazaar is one of the best preserved Oriental bazaars in the East Mediterranean. Even though it can give the impression to be quite touristic, it still has a lot of charm with the paved streets and low-built stone houses. There are many sights, such as the Oriental covered market, and the old Daut Pasha Hamam, now housing the Macedonian National Gallery.

Street in the Old Bazaar in Skopje.

Street in the Old Bazaar in Skopje.

Old Daut Pasha Hamam, now housing the Macedonian National Gallery.

Old Daut Pasha Hamam, now housing the Macedonian National Gallery.

Another gem is the church of the Holy Savour. It is built under ground, as the Turks did not allow churches to be taller than the mosques. Inside there are beautiful wood carvings telling different stories from the bible, and impressive painted icons.

Church of the Holy Saviour.

Church of the Holy Saviour.

The beautiful inside of the Church of the Holy Saviour.

The beautiful inside of the Church of the Holy Saviour.

Impressive painted icons

Impressive painted icons

Some of the carvings from the story of Adam and Eve.

Some of the carvings from the story of Adam and Eve.

I simply love views! But honestly, I was a bit disappointed about the view from the castle. And from Mt. Vodno as well, for that matter. I should however mention that the cable car was closed when we got there, so we did not get all the way to the top. So I will be very careful saying that the view from there is not great. I will definitely try to reach the top the next time I am in Skopje. I have already decided to come back. Hopefully in the summer. But not on a Monday, as the cable car will be closed…

The castle with Mt. Vodno and the Holy Cross in the background.

The castle with Mt. Vodno and the Millennium Cross in the background.

View of Skopje from the road up to Mt. Vodno.

View of Skopje from the road up to Mt. Vodno.

Read also Skopje by night.

Find more details about Skopje on Macedonia’s official tourism website.

Skopje by night

The beautiful lit buildings and bridges along the river is a reason in itself for visiting Skopje. And combining with the nightlife, you have a winner.

On the new side of town the bars and restaurants are lined up along the riverside with both live music and discos and night clubs.

Sculptures and the old stone bridge

Sculptures and the old stone bridge

Skopje by night 1
Skopje by night 3

One of the beautiful lit bridges in Skopje.

One of the beautiful lit bridges in Skopje.

The sculpture of Alexander the Great on Macedonia Square.

The sculpture of Alexander the Great on Macedonia Square.

Macedonia square by night

Macedonia Gate

Macedonia Gate

Read also Skopje, the city of sculptures.

Find more details about Skopje on Macedonia’s official tourism website.

Get your bearings – rental car in the Balkans

It was certainly not an easy task to find a rental company that would allow us to cross the borders of all the Balkan countries we planned to visit. Most of the big car rental companies like Avis and Hertz would exclude one or more of the countries. After trying several of the smaller companies as well, I finally found Milenium Car Rental.

As our plan was to go to Montenegro, Albania, Kosovo and Macedonia, we needed to find a company that would allow us to enter those countries without charging expensive extras. Milenium Car Rental had green card to all the countries we planned to visit. The only extra we had to pay was an additional insurance at the border to enter Kosovo, as they are not a part of the Green Card System.

We picked up the car at the Milenium Car Rental office in downtown Dubrovnik, and agreed to deliver it at the airport when we returned.

Since we are off to explore, and plan to try different small roads, we figured it would be wise to rent a GPS as well. We also bought some more detailed “old fashioned” road maps, just to be on the safe side…

Off we go!