Mini-road-trip through Balcans

Easter holidays in Germany are pretty long: four days. “Why not to add another two days off and make a full-value trip through some of the Balcan countries?”, we thought and booked a round trip Berlin-Skopje-Berlin. 

With WizzAir it cost us less than 100 Euro. Usually it costs even less, but prices over Easter are always higher. Anyway, you have to keep in mind that you fly only with a tiny backpack if you don’t want to pay extra for the luggage.

Less than 2,5 hours and you are in Skopje! We booked a car (15-20 Euro a day, 5 people suit perfectly in a mid-sized Skoda) and started the trip. Six days, six cities, 1000 km driven. Our route looked like that: Skopje -> Canyon Matka -> Ohrid (1 night) -> Tirana (1 night) -> Dürres -> Shkodra (1 night) -> Gostivar (1 night) -> Mavrovo National Park -> Skopje (1 night).

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Canyon Matka was the first sightseeing point of our trip – it’s nice and worth a visit even more if you have couple of hours to hike around. By the way, the restaurant on the river is not recommended.

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Ohrid is indeed a gem of Eastern Europe. The lake itself is crystal clear and looks more like a sea.

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Beautiful church on a cliff, small paper production, Samuil fortress, St. Sophia church, there is indeed a lot to see and to explore.

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In Ohrid we had a dinner at a friend’s place. Incredibly tasty food: a lot of meat and vegetables – the best combination for me. Red wine and Rakia accompany the meal. Main dish was selsko meso – roast beef, pork and lamb with mushrooms, white wine and yellow cheese on top, made in clay pot. There are several very nice bars as well: Cuba Libre and Liquid enchant with the sea view and pleasant atmosphere.

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We cross the border to Albania in a place called Kjafasan border crossing quickly and without any problem. By the way, you pay extra 40 Euro for each extra country you want to go by car. As for Tirana, we didn’t like it so much: we arrived in the darkness and it seemed that only men are allowed on the streets at this time of a day. At first, we were embarrassed when we tried to find our hostel – in one area four (!) hotels were called “Fredi’s”. Obviously, a very popular name in Albania. But we did another thing exactly right: chose a place to have a dinner. A small restaurant serving traditional Albanian cuisine called “Oda” (Rr. Luigj Gurakuqi, Tirana, Albania +355-4-224-95-41) is highly and definitely recommended. Stuffed eggplants, cooked home cottage cheese with paprika, veal, freshest possible salad and of course delicious home-made wine. We even bought another liter with us (costs about 6 Euro).

Another tip – drink a coffee in the Sky Tower – a 360 ͦ rotating panoramic café and a restaurant with a great view to the city (http://www.skyhotel-al.com/index-6.html).

Unfortunately, the one of the top sightseeing places in Tirana – Dajti express (cable car) – was closed for maintenance works. If you plan to visit Tirana, go to http://dajtiekspres.com/new/index.php/en/ and check the timetable in advance.

Instead, we received another entertainment from an enterprising Albanian boy: shooting air balloons with an air-gun (1 Euro for 2 shots).

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New destination was the beach in Dürres that was not fascinating at all. May be, in summer it looks different. In March it looked simply sad.

After having a quick coffee we headed to Shkoder, a city on a famous Skadarsko Jezero. As we arrived in the evening, all sightseeing was shifted to the next day and our only mission was to find a nice seafood place and a cozy bar. We managed it with excellence and can recommend two places: Rozafa Sea Food restaurant (https://www.facebook.com/rozafa.petronini) where you can order different sorts of fresh fish and sea food from directly the counter.

Black sheep (Rruga Komiteti i Kosovës, Shkodër, Albanien) – a very stylish, modern bar with great choice of drinks and clever phrases on the walls and the ceiling. Actually, we were searching for the Captain Mo bar, but it was ultimately closed. So we found Black sheep next door and weren’t a bit disappointed.

Next morning we started our „places of interest around Skoder“ tour.

Mes bridge, built in the 18th century, quite beautiful old stony bridge.

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Rozafa castle, which history goes back to the 167 BC. We had great luck and could enjoy blossoming yellow flowers all over the area. Some of us even sun bathed a little.

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The road back to Macedonia took about 4-5 hours and laid through a national park with endless serpentines (that was very exhausting) and breathtaking canyons.

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We crossed the border next to Blato and again unproblematically.

Next night was spent in Gostivar in a 4-star (Macedonian 4-star) Hilton hotel. To have a dinner you can drop by in Te Sharri (Braqa Gjinoski Gostivar 1230). Be carefuel, Te Sharri is one of the most popular restaurant names in Gostivar, we counted about three in the same area. Afterwards we were hard and diligently searching for a non-smoking bar where you can drink wine – fruitlessly. Either smoke-filled or serving only coffee. Finally we settled down in Hilton that has a roof terrace restaurant as well.

Next day we drove to National park Mavrovo. Before, we read about a nice waterfall called “Duf”. You can imagine, that we couldn’t miss a pointer to a village “Duf”. “The waterfall is definitely somewhere there nearby”, we thought and started descending by a serpentine road. When we finally reached the village (the road basically broke off), there was no sign of a waterfall. Even locals didn’t know about it (we talked to them using body language and finally by drawing a waterfall). Pity, but that’s life. A little climbing up the hill, capturing the village from above, and resuming our trip followed.

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In Mavrovi Anovi, a settlement on the shore of the lake Mavrovo we dropped by in a tourist office and asked for the directions. And, Evrika, there is a waterfall called “Duf”, just in the opposite direction… We just had to follow the main road till the village “Rostusha”, take a turn, find a sign with the depiction of the waterfall and the arrow (showing to the left but you have to go a bit up to the left behind the sign) and walk about one km to the waterfall. The hiking trail was very simple but beautiful, full of stone steps and small bridges. You definitely have to try and enjoy it! Warning: don’t run over the bridges, walk slowly and carefully! (you know, what i mean…)

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By the way, if you visit Mavrovi Anovi in July or August, take some time check out a church that is standing half in water. In March, unfortunately, it was completely out.

After appreciating fresh air and wonderful nature, we headed to Skopje. I have to admit it, this city impressed us! I have never seen so many monuments standing next to each other in the city center.

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The city grows and is being built and renovated extremely quickly. Nevertheless, there is a big old city that has an Osman fleur and taste:  many shisha cafes and Turkish tea places all around.

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Doubtless, you have to make a pause in one of the tea shops and enjoy delicious black tea out of transparent glasses with a little piece of baklava. For a main meal, stop in the local restaurant – you find plenty of them as well- and try traditional cuisine: chevapcici, pljeskavica (both – fresh juicy minced meat), tavche gravche (big beans baked in a pot), shopska salad…

On the last day of our trip we visited the house of Mother Teresa (she comes from Skopje), Bazaar in the old city and the Skopje Fortress Kale.

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We also drove to the Millenium Cross (about 20 minus by car), but couldn’t use the cable car as it was closed again for maintenance (we certainly have luck with the cable cars on this trip). Maintenance is performed every last Monday and Tuesday of the month.

Nevertheless, we used our time pleasantly: there are several hiking and jogging trails starting from this hill, so we have chosen one and walked an hour in a pine forest.

Funny, interesting, active trip! A lot to see and to do. Best advice: take your hiking shoes with you and spend more time in the nature. And enjoy the local cuisine. The end.

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