June 23, 2013
Distance: 27.7 miles Climbing: 813.6 ft
We slept in and lingered on the internet updating the blog and researching the route for the next couple days.
First, we went to the town of Ohrid for breakfast. We were banking on finding a simple café in the old part of town that was supposed to very beautiful. We quickly found out that the old town must have been built before the invention of the bicycle as we bumped along on huge angular cobble stones, constantly corralled by streets with steps. The small part of the town we were able to ride through was lined with a bunch of kitschy souvenir shops, hip bars and restaurants. Not a humble al fresco café to be found. Frustrated and hungry, we got a little grumpy with each other. We found a grocery store and Chandler grabbed us greasy cheese pies for a quick eat. We were feeling much better, but as it seems to happen, early frustration can set the tone for the day.
Ohrid was incredibly touristy and confusing to navigate on a bike, so we headed out of town the moment we were done eating. Searching for a way to get off the main road, we followed a small secondary road along the lake. The water looked very inviting, but there were people almost everywhere. The people watching was entertaining at first, but it was just a bunch of people who shouldn’t probably be wearing bikinis and speedos so it got boring quickly. Things got a little more interesting when we reached a town with a deep river running under a bridge with lots of people jumping off it. We stopped to watch a little bit of the action before Chandler decided to join the fun. The water was running swiftly and the bridge was a little high, so when the sun slipped behind some clouds, I chickened out.
While in town, we resupplied our food stock before leaving town. The traffic and roads weren’t bad, and the scenery was fine, but nothing was making an impression on us. The lake was nice, but was popular to the point of being overdeveloped and lined with the trappings of a generic beach experience: bars with lounge chairs, cheap sunglasses stands, inflatable plastic things stores, ice cream stands and tiny beaches crammed with people, over and over. We both love the beach, but this was a little too claustrophobic for us.
Rather abruptly we were back in farmland having veered away from the lake following a river valley back toward Albania. The valley slowly closed on us and soon we were in a gorge, but there was a lot of vegetation in the way of the view, so we just kept rolling, hoping things would improve. At this point, we were kind of worn out and began to look for a spot to camp.
Chandler noticed a road leading to the water and a pasture, so we parked the bikes for Chan to investigate. The river must have been dammed as the water level was way down, exposing an expansive mud flat covered with an unbelievable amount of plastic trash and lots of flies. We opted to keep going. Soon enough, Chandler noticed an old road winding up out of the valley. Someone clearly wanted to keep people from following it and had totally torn up the tie-in to the main road with an excavator. Luckily, there was a small footpath that we were able to ferry our panniers and then bikes up. The road provided a nice flat place to pitch the tent.
The place ended up being swarmed with these little flies that were striped like bees and then also some real bees. While the bugs don’t bother Chandler, I spent the remainder of the night hiding in the safety of the tent.
It had been an odd day. Even though we are tourists everywhere we go, when faced with a place that “caters” to tourists or is a “must see place” we feel awkward and everything seems so difficult. We have a pretty tight budget so that is certainly part of it. We have discovered that there is a major difference between being on a travel budget in Europe versus on a holiday or vacation budget. Mobility is the other big factor I think: most tourists here seem to arrive in a car and explore with the car or on foot, so naturally the local infrastructure is geared towards that model- heavy touring bicycles end up clashing with everyone else in that environment and we often feel intrusive especially in pedestrian friendly places.
We’ve been discussing our travel strategy and have realized that we have a lot more fun staying off the beaten path and hoping to stumble into interesting experiences. Sometimes that works, sometimes it just results in an unremarkable ramble, which can be fine too. We need to figure out how to balance the rambling with also “seeing the sights” so we don’t feel like we missed out on things just because the touristy places are unpleasant on a bike.