A Travellerspoint blog

Woofing in Umbria and Tuscany

After a few days of much needed rest at "Casa Ware" in Rome including a compulsory trip to 2 of our favourite eating establishments (Gioia Mia and Belle Epoque) we were off to Località il Piano, a small and very remote organic farm near Spoleto in Umbria. The farm is run by an American/Italian couple; Darcy and Adolfo who have 2 small children Ben and Fafa (Filippo). The cycling to get to their farm was magnificent, taking us through incredibly well preserved medieval towns and villages before climbing into the Umbrian Appennines along winding forested roads into the hills where the farm was nestled.
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Despite having to push our bikes for an hour to reach the farm (there is no road for the last 2 km) it was absolutely worth it to reach the secluded piece of paradise where their farm is located. Out of all the Woofing placements that we have done on this trip this has probably been our favourite one. Darcy and Adolfo were really keen to teach us anything we were interested in learning and as they each have a Phd in agriculture they had quite a lot of knowledge to impart! One of the key things we were interested in learning about was cheese making – so Darcy and Adolfo started us at the beginning by teaching us to milk the goats! It was incredibly satisfying participating in the whole process from extracting milk from an animal to having goats milk mozzarella with dinner less than two hours later.
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Other strings added to our farming bows are pruning olive trees, building a stone wall, grafting apricots and lots and lots of watering ( Darcy and Adolfo have over 1000 fruit trees apparently the largest variety in Italy!)

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They also have a pizza oven so we had a chance to try out the coveted pizza dough recipe from Belle Epoque (see Rob's previous blog post). Happily it was a triumph, not to ‘bready’ but still crispy– it seems the secret really is letting the dough rise twice!

After 10 days at idyllic località il piano it was time to move on to our next (and last) woofing placement at Podere Il Casale in Pienza, Tuscany. Cycling from Umbria into Tuscany was like crossing into a different country. Wild woodland and forests were replaced with swanky convertible cars and trendy tourists wearing oversized sunglasses daintily eating gelatos clutching their guidebooks. Where Umbria is wild and dramatic Tuscany is undisputably beautiful but in a more postcard perfect way. Podere Il Casale was perched on a hill with a stunning classically Tuscan panorama of rolling honey-yellow coloured hills with picturesque villas with Cyprus tree lined driveways.
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This farm was much bigger than Localita Il Piano, mainly selling cheese but also a thriving agri-campeggio (agriturismo is a scheme enabling farmers to supplement their income through tourism). Keen to further my cheesemaking journey I was tasked with being the afternoon ‘pastore’ (shepherd) for 80 sheep and 1 goat. The goat, called Baptista, was my favourite. She had been raised with sheep instead of goats and bleated incessantly when separated from them so they grazed together. Every afternoon when the oppressive heat finally waned at about 5pm I herded the sheep and goat out into the fields for a 2 hour dinner of grass and blackberries.
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Meanwhile Rob was turning his hand at a whole host of things, mainly culinary wizardry perfecting his baking and tiramisu making, but also fashioning a new chicken coup for the chicks.
After a week of Woofing here (and almost 3 weeks off the bikes) it was time to set off again as we had left ourselves a fairly tight window of 10 days to get up to St. Moritz for our friend Astrid’s wedding.

Posted by mrs lewis 13.09.2011 15:07 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

favourite recipes from across the globe

We have travelled the globe to bring you, our beloved audience, some of the finest recipes know to mankind. You lucky things...

1. A wonderful fresh pasta dish from Gioia Mia, a great restaurant in Rome. Would probably work with dried pasta if you dont want to make fresh.
La Ricetta di Gioia Mia
Pappardelle all Granduca

Ingredients:
500 grams of fresh pasta
80 grams of prosciutto crudo
200 grams of mushrooms
50 grams of butter
1/2 litre of cream
cognac
fresh tomato sauce

Method:
Cook the mushrooms (sliced) for a couple of minutes till they are partly cooked, then add the thinly sliced prosciutto, butter, cream, a spoonful of tomato sauce and a splash of cognac. Simmer for a few minutes. Add the (cooked) pasta to the pan and add a dusting of parmigiano.

2. The secret to the best italian pizza dough.
When we were in Rome we attempted to make pizza in Pat and Bob Ware's pizza oven. A moderate success since it was our first attempt at making the dough from scratch but it wasn't as crispy as our favourite Italian pizza restaurant in Rome which, according to Mariana's grandad, makes the best pizzas in the world. The next day we went down there to ask for the secret for good pizza dough which they kindly shared with us:

Ingredients:

1kg of OO flour "grana dura"
1/2 litre of water
10 grams of yeast (fresh not dried)
2 fistfuls of salt (equates to roughly 20 grams)
a shotglass of sunflower oil (roughly 15 centilitres)
a shotglass of extravirgin oliveoil (roughly 15 centilitres)

Method:

1. Dissolve the yeast in the water (NB water should be cold ideally, tepid is ok but never hot!)
2. Add the flour to the water very slowly, stiring constantly (not the water to the flour)
3. Once the water has been added then add the sunflower and olive oil
4. Last of all add the salt. It is very important to add the salt at the end as otherwise you risk a chemical reaction between the salt and the yeast which stops the dough from rising
5. Cover with a damp cloth and leave until it has risen about 1 1/2 times (this can take between one and three hours depending on the temperature)
6. Once risen, divide the dough into small balls (100-200 grams each). The dough will go down again once you have divided them into balls
Leave again to rise as before (up to 3 hours)

NB when rolling out the dough it needs to be done on a floured surface to prevent it from sticking. However before adding the 'passata' make sure you dust excess flour off the top of the pizza (the experts do this by throwing and spinning the pizza!) as otherwise the flour mixes with the tomato sauce and it goes soggy.

3. Perde Pilav from Ciya - a pilaf "veiled" in a pastry crust (in Kadikoy, Istanbul)

This recipe is from the best restaurant in Istanbul (in our humble opinion!) Contains meat so only Rob was able to eat it and it absolutely melted him. Apparently it is a wedding dish with the crust symbolising the couple's new home, the nuts the couple themselves and the raisins the future babies.

Ingredients:

For the dough
5 cups of high protein flour
2 eggs
2/3 cup milk
1/2 cup of yoghurt
6 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp salt

For the filling
One whole chicken cut into 8-10 pieces
1 onion (chopped)
1 medium carrot (chopped)
2 ribs of celery (chopped)
3 tbsp fresh lemon
5 cups baldo rice
12 tbsp butter
2 cups of sliced almonds
1 cup pine nuts
1 1/2 cups dried currants
4 tsp oregano
2-4 tsp ground allspice
1 1/2 tsp black pepper
2 tsp chopped dill
20 mint leaves (chopped)
6 Scallions - white part only, minced
10 tbsp butter (softened)
1/2 cup blanched almond halves

Method:
For the dough
Mix all ingredients in a large bowl using your hands. Turn out onto a floured surface and knead until dough comes together in a small ball (3-4 minutes) Cover and rest for 1 hour

For the filling
Put chicken, onions, carrots, celery and lemon juice into a large pot. Add 6 cups of water. Season to taste. Cover and bring to the boil over medium heat. Reduce heat and simmer for 25 mins. Remove chicken, discard skin and bones, strain and set aside. Strain and degrease the broth. Set aside five cups for later use.

Wash rice and soak in salted water for 20 minutes. Drain rice. Melt butter in large pot over medium heat. Add nuts and cook, stirring often, till golden. Add rice and toast it for 10-12 mins. Stir in chicken, stock and currants. Season to taste. Cover and cook till liquid has absorben and rice has softened but is not fully cooked (roughly 20 mins). Remove from heat to rest for 10 mins. Then add oregano, dill, mint and scallions.

To assemble
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease bottom and sides of ovenproof pot with butter. Arrange almonds round the bottom and along the sides in vertical straight lines. Roll out dough and press firmly into the pot, pressing it into the almonds leaving a 2 inch overhang. Pour filling into the pot and gently pull the edges of the dough over the filling. Bake for 30 minutes covered and 30 mins uncovered till golden. Let rest for 20 minutes before inverting onto a plate and serving.

Posted by roblewis 03:38 Archived in Italy Comments (2)

back home to Rome

sunny

The traghetto to Italy from Croatia took eight hours, depositing us in Bari just as the sun was starting to set. We were both ridiculously excited about arriving in Italy - the country that I grew up in - because of the food, the warm blooded people and the fact that finally we would be able to communicate in the native language. However in our enthusiasm we had overlooked the fact that prices would be considerably higher once we reached mainland Europe which was a rude awakening when we tried to find somewhere to stay on our first night.

Initially we had thought we would need to stay in Bari for two nights at least to get Rob's bike fixed. This was becoming urgent as by this stage he had cycled for close to 300 km with three spokes missing. When were directed to the street that runs paralell to the station for the cheapest hotels it turned out that they were all 70 Euros a night. Oh dear. After about half an hour we found a hotel on via dei Rossi for 60 Euros where we were told politely (but firmly) that we would not be able to find anything cheaper in the city of Bari. We told him if that was true then we would be back. We spent the next 2 hours circling the city by bike. We stumbled across "Santa Claus" hostel which we were excited about. Good old St Nick was clearly not feeling benevolent towards cyclists as we were brusquely told that to stay in a mixed dorm would be 40 Euros a night (it said 37 on the notice above the door but apparently that is only if you book over the internet!) and that we could not take our bikes inside, although he did say if you leave them outside they won't be there tomorrow. So he clearly recognised our predicament but despite pleading (it was 9.30 at night by now) and promises to leave early in the morning he would not budge on the bikes. This is the first time in almost 10 months through all the countries we have travelled in that a hostel or hotel has refused to let us take the bikes inside. Slightly ironic as on the door they boasted their environmental credentials asking guests to knock rather than ring the bell but happy to be distinctly unhelpful to potential guests arriving on petrol free transport.

So tail between our legs we returned to the hotel on Via dei Rossi where taking pity on us he agreed to give us the room for 50 Euros. Never the less if this is the going rate in Italy then it looks like it is going to be camping all the way back to London. Happily the next day we found a bike repair shop that managed to replace the spokes so we wouldn't need to stay in Bari another night - not that we didn't like the city, quite the opposite, it was a really refreshing change after Dubrovnik as it was tourist free so we felt like we were in a 'lived in' city rather than one that was buckling under the strain of tourists. We escaped the heat through the labyrinthine cobbled streets of the old town discovering salumerias and gelaterias on most corners and, to Rob's delight, old women in the street making orrecchiete pasta by hand.
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Once the heat of the day had passed we decided to head up the coast about 30 km to stay at a campsite that was marked on our map close to Bisceglie. For most of the way we took the coastal road which was quiet but the beaches were not - so we enjoyed some comedy scenery of italians huddled together like penguins on craggy rocks to soak up the sun.

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Eventually when we made it to the campsite we were told that it would cost 30 Euros to camp (3 time what we were paying in Turkey and Greece and over double what we paid in Croatia). To our indignation we discovered that 4 Euros of the charge is the cost of the bikes - the same cost as a car. When we queried whether all the caravans that had bikes strapped on the back were paying for their bikes too we were told it was only the form of transport that you arrived on that you had to pay for. Hmmm, the second establishment in a row that did not seem to be overly enamoured with cyclists. Purely on principle, despite the fact that it was 7.30pm and there were no other campsites for about 30 km we decided to leave in search of other options. Happily these presented themselves within half an hour of cycling in the form of a large vineyard where our expedition tent fitted snugly beneath the canopy.

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Up with the sun we were on our bikes before 6.20am, before the sprinklers started and started cycling through the arid rural countryside in Puglia. The cycling was less picturesque than we were expecting - lots of farmland with very few villages scattered in between. In contrast to most of the countries we have cycled through - the towns and villages were the highlights. The temperature was soaring in the mid thirties so we frequently stopped at bars to get our caffe and cornetto fix standing 'al banco' where the barman and the regulars would take an enthusiastic interest in where we were cycling and proceed to argue vociferously with each other in Barese, which was so thick it might as well have been another language, about which was the best way for us to cycle. A barista in Cerignola, our first stop of the day, was absolutely insistent that we should visit Bovino, a historic village up on a hill. It was such a small diversion to the route that we decided to follow his advice. This turned out to be one of the biggest mistakes of the trip so far as not only was the climb punishing (over 350 metres in sweltering heat) and the villagers there were some of the least friendly we have met but my GPS got stolen off our table at lunch so the rest of our afternoon there was spent waiting for the police office to reopen after a 4 hour siesta so that I could make a 'denuncia' to an extremely bored and unhelpful police officer. To add insult to injury the only way out of Bovino was to retrace our steps back down the hill we had just struggled up. Morosely we searched for a wild camping spot along the river with the light fading fast but all the land was fenced off. We reached a hotel in the middle of nowhere where mercifully the owner took pity on us when we said we couldn't afford the hefty price tag of 50 Euros for a room and he let us camp in the woodland he owned next door. His wife seemed to be none to pleased by this and when we asked if we could have a shower she agreed and then charged us 15 Euros. Hrrumph.

We left the next morning feeling a little bit downtrodden as although the scenery was spectacular and Italy was already proving to be a cyclists paradise a lot of our encounters were lacking the warmth we had experienced through Turkey, Greece and the Balkans. The emerging rule that we have discovered seems to be that the more people have or the wealthier they are, the less they are willing to give. In Albania for instance we found that however little people have they are happy to share it with you - if they have a loaf of bread they will give you half. But in a couple of places in Italy just asking to use the toilet in bars where we hadn't bought a drink elicited funny looks or they made it clear that they were doing you a real favour.

Happily in the next couple of days things improved as we left Puglia and arrived in Campagna, home to buffalo mozzarella. Finally we started experiencing the warmth and generosity of italians that we had been expecting and hoping for with people coming up to us asking about a journey or giving us free coffees in a restaurant in Benevento for extra energy to send us on our way.

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We camped at a beautiful little spot near Lake Telese where a family let us camp on their land and brought us pasta carefully wrapped up in foil.

We had decided that we were going to try and get to Rome on 20th July - my dad's birthday - as a surprise, so the next 2 days we were cycling at full tilt and managed to cover about 280km (an estimate as we were now without the GPS - sob!). Cycling to Rome was not the traffic nightmare we had anticipated as we stuck to the small coast roads the whole way, experiencing the strange sensation of approaching my old home by bicycle for the first time (and the first time I had been back to Rome at all for 4 years). We wobbled up to the front door of "Casa Ware" where my surprised father opened the door to sweaty sticky and exhausted cyclists delighted to have arrived at my old home in Rome.

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Posted by mrs lewis 09.08.2011 03:23 Archived in Italy Comments (2)

Things Fall Apart

sunny 29 °C

Does anyone actually live in Montenegro? Is the Balkans the best place in the world for cycle touring? How did we end up staying on a boat along side super-yachts with Jeffrey Sweetbaum, an New York born, Moscow based entreprenuer? And what happens when things fall apart with a 1,100m descent over the horizon? Will this blog post actually ever say anything or will it just be a series of meandering convoluted questions? Perhaps...

We stood at the top of an 1,100 metre pass and looked down all the way to Kotor, a beautifully preserved historic town, nestled at the foot of a sunken canyon in Montenegro. We were all set for one of the most spectacular descents of the entire trip, except for one problem. Three spokes on my back wheel had broken and the the wheel was in perilous danger of falling apart. It had been an eventful week to say the least. Cycling through the lakes of Macedonia before crossing into Albania had offered spectacular views and fascinating encounters. Albania has only been open to tourists for a few years now and arriving there was like entering another world. There is a feeling of the wild west here, soaked with adventure and lawlessness. The roads ranged from perfect newly laid tarmac to dirt tracks (on the same road!) indicating that money is now beginning to be spent on infrastructure. A booming tourist industry will no doubt follow due to the incredible mountains and beaches but for now this place is still untainted by mass tourism and provides an awesome experience for travellers looking for something different. bizzarely almost everyone drives around in clapped out old Mercedes, apparently the only cars which can endure the awful roads. IMG_6234.jpg
On our second day there, we began looking for somewhere to camp and spotted a lake on our map. However, when we arrived we were unable to access the lake except via someones property. We wheeled our bikes down their driveway where we were greeted by a squat Albanian man by the name of Nico. No we could not camp down at the lake he said in Italian. We must stay with him and his family in their house. This was typical of the amazing hospitality we received here and at dinner time we were constantly told to eat more food and drink more of their home made grappa.
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The next day we set off descending down through deep canyons and gorges until we reached the main coastal road which took us through to Shkoder, the centre of which contained very pretty streets and houses which bustled with life as day turned to night and people spilled out from their homes and offices. We stayed in a former communist hotel, a big brutish concrete structure that was the cheapest place in town. However, our stay became slightly more expensive when 2 days later i realised i had left half my cycling clothes in the room, never to be seen again. All the way through Albania we were greeted with toots from cars and enthusiastic greetings by people genuinely happy that we were visitng their country and we were sad to leave but know we will return.
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We crossed the border into Montenegro, a country we had greatly been looking forward to visiting after hearing of its spectacular natural beauty. Without doubt this was another wonderful country for cycling with very quiet roads and stunning landscapes. However, we hardly encoutered any Montenegrans other than those working in the tourism industry and the place laked the exciting vibe of Albania. The ride along Lake Shkoder was truly breathtaking and we camped that evening at a small beach on the lake shore after enjoying fish caught from the lake (actually Mariana had a tomato salad). Our decision to camp at the lake meant we started the next day with a 250m steep ascent back to the road. Already soaked in sweat we continued on to Virpazar another beautiful town located where the river meets lake Schkoder, surrounded by a lush green nature reserve. The next day we cycled on to the former capital of Montenegro, Cetijne, a beautiful old city though sadly lacking in the buzz of a thriving city.
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The following days cycle to Kotor was all set to be one of our most spectacular yet; a wonderful climb through pine forest and craggy mountains up to 1200m before traversing across a high plateau and then a descent to sea level involving 25 hairpin turns. As we set off my bike was making a strange sound and I looked down to see one of my spokes broken. Further examination revealed that actually 3 had broken. Usually this would not be too difficult to fix but 2 things prevented this. First, the broken spokes were all on the rear wheel cassette (the gears) side meaning i would have to remove the cassette to replace them, and secondly, the spare spokes seemed to have dissappeared from Mariana's bag. We managed to find the cities only bike mechanic, an eccentric old Montenegran who ranted at us for several minutes before indicating we could return at 2pm. When we did return the wheel was still in a sorry state and the mechanic seemed angry - he was unable to remove the cassette. We asked if he thought it was safe to continue to Kotor. He shrugged his shoulders. What choice did we have. So on we went.

What a ride. Even going slow so as to ensure i got down in one piece the cycling was one of the highlights of the trip so far. So breathtaking that i kept having to stop to take in the view in an attempt to imprint it on my mind.
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When we finally reached sea level and the old town of Kotor we phoned our couch surfing contact; Jeffrey Sweetbaum. Now Jeffrey is definitely not your average couch surf host. First of all he owns a large boat which he spends most of his summers on, sailing around various parts of the world. He is also an eccentric New Yorker who decided to go to Moscow after the fall of the Communist regime, in his words "to see what was going on". It turns out plywood was going on so he set up a business in it. Anyway, we spend a lovely couple of days hanging out on his boat, riding his dingy around the lake, and swimming in various coves.
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Feeling refreshed after some rest, we cycled the last leg of our Balkans adventure, an 90km ride to Dubrovnik (still with 3 spokes missing). After 80km we decided to stop at a lovely beach just outside Dubrovnik, a place Mariana had stayed 10 years earlier, with a lovely campsite and beach. The next morning we rose early and arrived in the city for breakfast. Although Dubrovnik is undoubtedly beautiful and incredibly preserved, the place has become a tourst circus, heaving with English and Americans following guides holding colourful sticks so that they dont get lost. No Croats actually live in the old city and after 1 day we had definitely had enough. "Lets get out of Croatia" i said "the place is heaving. Lets go to Italy!"

Posted by roblewis 22.07.2011 07:13 Archived in Albania Tagged mountains lakes bicycle croatia cycling montenegro albania couchsurfing mercedes Comments (1)

Into the Balkans

semi-overcast 20 °C

The scenery on our last day cycling in Greece was beautiful, a fitting end to our time here. Our last stop in Greece was Florina - 12km from the border with Macedonia. There is little tourism here in the summer but apparently in the winter it is full with winter sports enthusiasts. As my kidney was still trying to work free its stone we decided to 'splash out' on accomodation by staying in a pokey room on the main street rather than attempting to find an illicit camping spot in a park somewhere.

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Were it not in on the frontpage of every newspaper here you would never know that Greece was in the clutches of an economic crisis as restaurants and bars are booming, packed with cavorting men and women who are all immaculately groomed and throwing back cocktails and coffees like water. We wandered into one of them and ordered a couple of green teas. We nearly choked on them when the bill came for 6 Euros. Convinced this was a typo on the receipt Rob queried this with the waitress. It was correct. Rob felt this exemplified why Greece was in such dire straits financially and thought it would be an opportune moment to discuss this with the waitress.

'Greece is bankrupt and many people do not have a job How is it possible that this bar is charging 3 Euros for a cup of tea?'
'This is the price' She responded simply
Rob ploughed on 'Do you mind if I ask you how much you earn?'
'4 Euros per hour'
'So you have to pay 3/4 of your hourly wage on a teabag and hot water?'
'Yes'

That was the end of that discussion so we paid and left.

We left early the next morning excited about cycling in Macedonia (or Skopje as the Greeks refer to it due to a political dispute over the name Macedonia). Out of all the cycling we have done I don't think we have ever seen so stark a contrast in architecture and people when crossing a border. We hit the first town, Bitola, about 15km after the border. It was very dark, very concrete and very ugly. As we came into the city we overtook a local cyclist and tried to strike up conversation. Despite the fact that he spoke English we managed to elicit very little information from him other than his name (Vladimir) and that he lived in Bitola. We told him excitedly that he was the first Macedonian we have ever met. He nodded solomnly and said nothing. We cycled for a couple of minutes in silence before getting the hint and carrying on along the road alone.

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We had contemplated staying in Bitola but decided to carry on to Lake Prespa. Our friend Evangelos in Edessa had been very enthusiastic about it 'It is a very unique place' he said. It must be better than Bitola so we pushed on. The road out of Bitola was glorious, smooth and practically free of cars. We gradually climbed up to 1,100 metres at Bukovo after which we had a glorious descent to 850 metres. Despite its natural beauty we quickly realised that Macedonia is a food and drink desert. Stupidly not stocking up at Bitola we arrived in a little village called Kozjak on the way to Otesevo which we had lined up as a possible wild camping spot on our map. We cycled into the village which contained a smattering of houses, a church and from what we could see nothing else. We chanced upon a man who spoke decent English.

'Is there somewhere we can get something to eat?' we asked, miming eating at the same time
The man shook his head gravely
'Ok, where is there a shop where we can buy some food?'
He shook his head again
'Nowhere? not even to buy bread'
'There is nothing here'
'Is there a shop in Otesevo?' (17 km away)
He shook his head again. 'You need to go to Resen' (a town 5 km the wrong way) 'Only there can you buy food'

Resen has two restaurants (using that term loosely) that serve food. One of them only served fried food in oil that was so black it resembled tar and the other one did frozen pizza. We went for the second one. When we pulled up we gave a cheery 'ciao' to the group of men huddled outside on round tables smoking. They muttered 'ciao' in response. So far it seems that the contrast in outlook and culture could not be more different than Greece. Whereas the Greeks have this carefree joie de vivre the Macedonians have an air of stoicism, getting on with life inspite of its hardships. We were feeling quite tired and up at 850 metres it was not warm so briefly flirted with the idea of staying in Resen despite the fact that, like Bitola, it is very grey and very ugly. It was clear from this point that the highlights of cycling in Macedonia are probably not going to include the towns. Amazingly when Rob enquired at the only hotel in town they said they were full! (Who is staying here??) so that made our decision for us and we pushed on to Prespa. And we were glad we did.

About 2 km before the village there is a dirt track that leads off the main road towards the lake to a totally secluded spot hidden from the road by a line of trees where we were undisturbed by anyone - except one curious goat. Probably one of our best wild camps of the entire trip.

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Up early with the sun (the clocks went back after leaving Greece so it is now light before 6am) we were on the road by 7am. Just as well as we had some serious climbing to do, up to 1,600 metres to get into the next valley to Lake Ohrid - Macedonia's main (only) tourist destination, described as the "pearl of the Balkans". The climb was long but steady and not to go overboard with superlatives, it was possibly one of the most spectacular cycling days we have had in terms of scenery as the road hugged the side of the mountain overlooking lake Prespa on the way up and then switched over to Lake Ohrid at 1,500 metres. From the high point of the road we could see the entire lake, half of which is Albanian with its rugged mountains in the distance.

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glorious cycling

glorious cycling

Ohrid is beautiful, a bit touristy, but beautiful and like another world from the rest of Macedonia that we have travelled through so far. It is one of the oldest towns in the country and was reputed to have 365 churches - one for every day of the year (only a fraction of these are still intact). Prices in Macedonia are incredibly cheap (especially compared to 3 Euro cups of tea) so we treated ourselves to lunch - including Macedonian wine which is surprisingly good and cost less than 2 Euros. We found a campsite just outside the city - which was almost full, but not with tents. It seems that camping in Macedonia doesn't mean camping as we know it - more 'caravanning'. We were turned away from the first campsite we found quite confusingly as they were insistent that they were a campsite ('Yes - camping camping!') but when we gestured at our tent "no no not possible!" so we went to the next one where it was 'possible' but we were the only ones.

Our final day of cycling in Macedonia again was a contender for best cycling of the trip, along the river from Struga up to Debar cycling through a gorge the whole way.

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We had arranged to stay with a couchsurfer in the border town of Debar which we were particularly pleased about as although we were enjoying the cycling immensely we hadn't really managed to get a sense of what the people here are like and what it is like to live here as our interactions with people have been limited. We had expected to get to Debar before lunch but despite clear skies when we left Ohrid the heavens opened when we were passing through a village called Dzepiste, about 15 km from Debar. We saw a little shop open with 3 men outside smoking. Brilliant we'll stop here and get a coffee while we wait out the rain. We wandered in. The shelves were virtually bare apart from a few packets of biscuits that looked like they passed their sell by date in the 90s and some toilet roll.

"Do you sell coffee or tea?" we ventured
"no" was the reply.
"Where can we get a hot drink?"
"Debar (15 km away) or Struga (50 km back the way we came)"

There is definitely a gap in the market here.

Eventually the rain stopped and we made it the rest of the way to Debar which has an amazing setting overlooking the lake backed by mountains. Entering Debar was like stepping back into another time. It is absolutely untouched by tourism and the only sign of anything remotely western is the ubiquitous coca cola but that is all. The town still has horses and carts delivering vegetables. The rain started again so we sought refuge and lunch in one of the three restaurants in town which served up a decent dish of beans, salad and drinks for less than 150 Denar (about 3 Euros). Just as we were finishing up our Caj (tea) ChaCha (our host) approached us having spotted us from across the square.

He took us back to his house that he shares with him mum where we would be spending the night. He explained that they don't have any electricity (apart from a cable that runs from the neighbours to which they are able to connect the computer) and the only running water in the house is through one hose that is used both to flush the toilet and to shower with. Anything water for cooking or washing up also needs to be taken from the hose. ChaCha is an artist and makes some of his money through selling the jewellery he makes using plasticine and a pasta machine. I offered to show him how to make pasta but he didn't seem particularly interested.

Chacha was enthusiastic about taking us round Debar to see spectacular views that we would never otherwise have found. He also took us to a sulphur spa (again ridiculously cheap at 70 Denar each to get in) where we soaked our aching legs in a hot sulphur bath. The forecast tomorrow is for storms so we may be here for another day. If not it is goodbye Macedonia, Hello Albania!
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Posted by mrs lewis 11.07.2011 03:48 Archived in Macedonia Comments (1)

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