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Weekend in Macedonia

décember 7th to 11th 2000

Getting there

A street of Tirana, with a Ferris wheel
Near the river, in Tirana, not the horse with a car, in the back

I had a few days off left to take before the end of year so I decided to use them to go back in ALbania see Elona.The problem is that the space is limited at her place so she told me about a friend who knows a nice place in Macedonia. Why not, I will discover a new country.

I left thrusday morning. The flight was ok except a it was late a little, and when we landed, the painful customs procedure began. Once again, the old TCL (Transports of Lyon) buses, and, worst of all, the waiting for the customs. This time I was not the first in line and the line of foreigners was not advancing very fast. Albanian all passed very fast but we could not use their counters. After half an hour it was my turn. The guy entered my name in his computer, passport number, etc... all of this typing with only one finger.

I paid the super 50$ of welcome and I went out. Elona was waiting for me and we took the road to Tirana. After eating, we walked in town and we went ot see a movie (What lies beneath). The teather was far better than the one I saw in Prague.

Going to Macedonia

The village where we stopped
Goats in the valley

We left to Macedonia next morning. We woke up pretty early to take the minibus. First we went to Silva, Elona's friend who told her about Macedonia and set up a rendez-vous there. Then we began to look for minibuses. The problem of minibuses is thqt it's not exactly official, or legal, so there is no minibus stop. YOu have tob e told where they are because they go somewhere to wait for clients and police chase them so they keep moving.

After asking many people, we found the one going to Pogradec. The guy had 2 free places so we enter the bus, then there was still 2 free places, that he eventually filled. We were probably 10 in it, ELona and me sitting next to the driver. The minibus is an old wanagon, yellow. The speedometer don't work and there is no mirror or seatbelts. We were first stuck in a traffic jam but we manage to exit Tirana and after half an hour, we were stopped by a police check. The policeman seemed very interested by my passport but he gave it back to me (his life must be soooooo boring) One of the other passenger had no Id so he had to exit the car, he talk to the policement for 5 minutes and cae back. The driver told ELona that he used to take policemen in the even when they wanted to come back home but they are such a pain in the ass that he now let them on the side of the road.

The road began to climb. We were soon in amountain road, turning all the time and with a cliff on on side and a stone wall (another cliff) on the other side. From time to time, there was a plate in memory of someone who killed himself on that road. The trip was difficult, the road was bad and the bus was shaking. But the scenery was great. Mountains, some with snow, and superbs valleys.

We ended up in Elbassan, on the other side of the mountain. It's a mine town in which there is a huge metallurgic plant. When I say huge, it's that the plant is asd bg as the city. In the middle of the town, there is a mineray conveyor over the houses. It's stopped, rusting on place but there is still mineray in the cars. Apparently the plant pollute a lot and there is many sick or handicapped children in Elbassan. The town itself is not very nice, looking sad.

After Elbassan we stoppd in a village, to drink something (the driver had a beer) and piss. Feels good. IT was a turkish toilet and a hose was used as a flush, but it feels good anyway.

From this point we were following a river in avalley and the road changed. Before it was always bad. Now, some places it was incredibly good, and incredibly bad on  othe rplaces. It was being renovated but they destroyed everything on 30km before begining to build. But the result is great and the road can compare to the best American or French ones. And can make the Quebec roads blush of shame. A Macedonian company have the contract. Apparently, the Macedonian government wants Albanian tourists.


After 3 hours of minibus, the driver left us at the crossroads with another dirt road, in the middle of hills covered by bunkers. We took a taxi to the border. It took 5 minus and the driver left us.

We first got out of Albania. Stamp, little card, no taxes (wow). Then we walked the 200m of No Man's Land separating us from the Macedonian customs, like refugees. There, I gave my passport to the guy, who gave me a piece of paper I had to change it for another paper after giving 14US$. I got my passport back with a nice visa in it.

A little bit farther, there was taxis waiting so we took one to Struga, 15Km farther. The road was wonderful, and the taxi, a new Peugoet 206... that's a change with the 30 years old taxis.


We stopped in front of the big hotel and walked in the streets. There was a man in front of his house and Elona asked him if he had a room to rent. He had one, heated with a bathroom (luxury....) for 30DM a night for the 2 of us. We found out very fast that the heater was not working very well. An electric resistor working 30 seconds and stopping 2 minutes. Not enough to heat an humid room.

We walked in town for the rest of the evening. It's a nice town, next to a lake (Ohrid lake). There is a small river crossing the town and the small downtown is sympatetic. Everything is written in cyrillic characters and I was glad to have learned them (well, most of them, it was enough to understand that PECTOPAH is Restaurant).

Since it was Ramadan, the restaurants were empty, people eat with their families. We had a not very god pizza. The waitress understood that we ordered 2, hum....

Visiting the area

A guard peacock
The monastery guarded by peacocks
stopping at the lake

We had planned to meet Silva and her boyfriend next day at noon. We went to the south in car, to a small monastry next to the other Albanian border, at the other side of the lake. The striking feature of that place is the guard peococks on the roofs. I didn't know these big birds can fly.

The lake is great, with the mountains around, and we crossed a lot of small villages. The shore is rocky but there is also beaches from time to time. We can also rent small boats but we were not feeling like rowing in the cold. We spent the rest of the day in Ohrid. THE touristic town in Macedonia. We first had pasta at Don Vito then we walked and visited. We did some window shopping, stopped from time to time to have a coffee because it was cold. Well, I drink tea, but in that country, the tea seems to be unknown, they just have stupid herbal tea, and not even good one. Hurray for Albania at least they have good tea.
The happy couple near the lake
Elona, Silva and Ilir

Then we wet to another restaurant. After Don Vito, there was a row of restaurants L Cosa Nostra, La piovra... the seem to have a fascination for the mafia. We returned to Struga to enjoy another cold night.

On est repartis vers Struga pour apprécier une autre nuit glaciale.

On the way back

It was already time to come back and Silva's boyfriend drove us to the border. He had 850Km to drive to go back in Greece. On the way to the border, we saw police doing radar, that was kindda weird ina way.

On our side, the adventure started again. First, the border. To exit Macedonia we've been controlled 3 times. First : a guy guarding the entrence of the customs. Second : the customs. Thirst, the police... separation of powers I guess.

The was a Red Cross convoy and Silva met someone she knows that works for them. They were going the other way, to Bulgaria I think. 30 seconds later, Elona met a couple she knew... The world is small in macedonian borders. We walked to the Albanian border with them, but there was a bus before us so I left to look for toilets. Workers who were doing (needed) repairs showed me a door... behing there was a nice restaurant with 4 or 5 people talking... The waiter told me to leave, he didn't looked happy... I wonder who are these people...

I continued to look for the toilets but ELona was calling me, it was my turn, the others had already passed.

The custom guy took my passport
He looked at it
He put it down
Talked to someone
Take it again
Someone talk to him
He left
He came back
Put his hand on it
Looked at it
Someone talked to him
he opened it
found the page with the picture
someone disturb him
lose the page
open it
browse the pages
find the page with the pic again
Take his pen
leave his pen
stand up
sit down
find the page
write my family name in his board
stand up
sit down
write my first name
someone talk to him
look at my passport
take his pen
write my passport number
leave his pen
take it
leave it
take it
write something else
find a free page
lose it
find it again
take a visa, losing the page
find the page where my name is written
begin to fill the visa
lose the page
don't remember my name, look for it
write the name
stand up
sit down
finish the visa
find the page ot put the visa
find it
lose it
find another
stick the visa
take is receipts pad
write on it
ask me 50US$
I give it
He give me my passport back, the receipt and a piece of paper to exit the country
We left, it must have taken half an hour.

The othere were dying of laugh, for once, I was the one having trouble at a border, not Albanians. It's probasbly the reason why the customs guys are so slow in Albanian : to make foreigner pay back all the time they have troubles in other countries.
Holes in the streets in Tirana
Near Elona's place

We took a a taxi with the others... 5 in a taxi, even if it's a Mercedes, it's small. After 5 minutes he left us at the crossroads and we began to wait for a minibus. There was one passing every 2 minutes but they were all full. I used the occasion to pee (remember I didn't do it at the border) and take a pictures of bunkers which I don't show her because I don't want to be arrested for spying, never too careful.

After 15 minutes, the guy who had taken us the firs ttime was passing in the other way. Elona talked to him and he told us that it's hard to find a minibus because it's sunday and they are all filled in Pogradec. But we didn't feel like going to Pogradec so we continued to wait. Finally, one of them hade places.

We did the same road again. Elona had almost been sick and I was not feeling too good either because we were on the back. We passed byt he same places and tok the same crazy mountain road. But this time, there was fog, but the driver did not stop HIII HAAAA
The reservoir in  Tirana

Back to Tirana, traffic jam again. We got home earlier than planned. We went to the restaurant to eat, last evening together before january. I was leavign at 3pm so we spent a big part of the day together. Elona had to go to university where she learn she won new groups at the auctions and the she probably won't be back in Paris before mid-february, bummer. But I'll go to ALbania more often, that's all.

The weather was great so we went near a lake, played bumping cars and come back to eat. The taxi was there at 1h30 but we were stucked in a traffic jam, again. I got to the airport at 2h30, just befor ethey close the check in and I went bakc to Holland. No problems except the taxi stuck in a traffic jam caused by bad weather, welcome to Holland.

Flags courtesy of ITA's Flags of All Countries used with permission.

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