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LIVE from the Camino Via Egnatia (towards Jerusalem)

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timr

Active Member
Camino(s) past & future
Several and counting...
Wednesday 24 April 2019
Day 0
I walked the Via Francigena (VF) from Canterbury to Rome in the spring of 2018 and later I walked onward from Rome to Brindisi. Some people call this the VF del Sud but some object to this term. I am neutral on this issue.
If I had stopped in Rome that might have been it. Going beyond Rome, for me, means sort of continuing to Jerusalem. There is no other satisfactory end point. I blogged the first part of my VF (walkingtim.com) but the blog became increasingly arduous for various reasons, technical and social. I continued on Facebook (FB) although I don't really like it. I may one day return to the blog. One reason I dislike FB is that I find it difficult to retrieve information I have seen there, whether from myself or others. Blogs and this forum are better for that I think.
I don't find any great enjoyment in discussing, for instance, whether the road to Brindisi from Rome should be called 'del Sud' or not, and several other contentious issues. But I do find it helpful and interesting to read of others' experience and I have a lot of patience for answering specific questions, as I have benefitted enormously from the generous advice of others. I avoid discussions of bedbugs, blisters, snoring and packing lists (and many other things) but would defend vigorously the right of others to discuss them.
I am a completist, but a non-evangelizing and, I hope, non-judgmental one. I walked every centimetre from Canterbury to Brindisi except the English Channel and the Po ferry. And I cannot bring myself to omit the 'boring' or dangerous(?) bits. Which is why I came to Brindisi when it would have been so much easier to fly to Tirana.
But I need to be practical too. There is no ferry from Brindisi to Durrës at this time of year. It goes to Vlorë, which is too far south. So I flew to Brindisi from Stansted then took bus and train to Bari. (€1.50 + €8.50). Having traveled since before midnight I did nothing in Bari except have lunch.
I walked across the road to the smart looking ferry port with big boats a-plenty only to discover you can not buy your ticket there. You need to go back out on to the road and walk about 3km west to 'the Port' at Marisabella. I'm sure you could get a bus if you wished but I was enjoying the sun. Like most ferryports it is a bit bleak. But you can get a ticket - there appear to be three different companies all sailing a boat at 10pm. There are two small cafés and toilets but quite basic. There were over a hundred bikers heading for Albania tonight all parked there.
At 8pm a little shuttle bus came and brought all the pedestrians back to the ferry port in town. And here you join a noisy queue for immigration (or strictly emigration!) There were hundreds, but when the officials came it was apparent that only a handful were EU citizens and the rest I guess were Albanians.
NOTE: If you had bought your ticket online, or perhaps at a travel agent in town(?), you could, *I presume*, avoid going out to Marisabella and just come straight to main ferryport in town at 8pm as there are no formalities at the other place. The ferry terminal is only a few hundred yards from the church of St Nicolas (of Bari) and the cathedral - a much nicer area to pass the time. And further to the east along the coast road but still in town there is fantastic market on quay of seafood direct from the boats. In October I had half a dozen oysters for €2 or 3 at
I chose Adria Ferries for no particular reason. You get another shuttle to it after you complete immigration whereas you can just walk direct on to Ventouris Ferries. But that's not really an issue. For €41 you get an unassigned 'poltrone' (armchair) in a dim lounge. Berths are available but another €40 or so. There's a bar and cafeteria. It's my second consecutive night without a physical bed. Not ideal but OK.
The Via Egnatia is the old Roman Road from Durrës port to Istanbul. It passes through Albania, the newly named North Macedonia, Greece, and Turkey.
 
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VNwalking

Wandering in big circles
Camino(s) past & future
Francés ('14/'15)
San Olav/CF ('16)
Baztanés/CF ('17)
Ingles ('18)
Vasco/CF/Invierno ('19)
The Via Egnatia is the old Roman Road from Durrës port to Istanbul. It passes through Albania, the newly named North Macedonia, Greece, and Turkey.
Wow, Tim. How far are you going?
I am in awe.
 

jungleboy

Nick
Camino(s) past & future
Francés (Spring '17)
Primitivo (Spring '18)
Madrid (April '19)
Can’t wait to follow your journey. Best of luck!

I’ve made the Adriatic ferry crossing before in the other direction and slightly further north - from Bar (Montenegro) to Bari.

The main Brindisium-Dyrrachium crossing is steeped in history, especially at the fall of the Roman Republic. Julius Caesar once had half his army stranded on one side due to the Republican blockade during his winter crossing chasing Pompey, and a few years later, Mark Antony and Octavian ferried 19 legions (~95,000 men) across to hunt down Caesar’s assassins. Centuries later, the Norman Robert Guiscard used the route to invade Byzantium, though the eastern port was called Durazzo by that point.

Hopefully there will be fewer casualties during your crossing than there were in the past! ;)
 

timr

Active Member
Camino(s) past & future
Several and counting...
Can’t wait to follow your journey. Best of luck!

I’ve made the Adriatic ferry crossing before in the other direction and slightly further north - from Bar (Montenegro) to Bari.

The main Brindisium-Dyrrachium crossing is steeped in history, especially at the fall of the Roman Republic. Julius Caesar once had half his army stranded on one side due to the Republican blockade during his winter crossing chasing Pompey, and a few years later, Mark Antony and Octavian ferried 19 legions (~95,000 men) across to hunt down Caesar’s assassins. Centuries later, the Norman Robert Guiscard used the route to invade Byzantium, though the eastern port was called Durazzo by that point.

Hopefully there will be fewer casualties during your crossing than there were in the past! ;)
Thanks Nick,that is very interesting. I must read more. I was a bit disappointed not to be able to cross from Brindisi. I think it is possible in high season.
The multitude of names for a single location here abouts is a great reminder of history. Today I will just walk to Golem.
 

Harington

Active Member
Camino(s) past & future
Vézelay/Francés 2011, Primitivo 2012, VdlP 2013, Via Domitia 2014, Inglés 2015, Francigena 2016
Wednesday 24 April 2019
Day 0
I walked the Via Francigena (VF) from Canterbury to Rome in the spring of 2018 and later I walked onward from Rome to Brindisi. Some people call this the VF del Sud but some object to this term. I am neutral on this issue.
If I had stopped in Rome that might have been it. Going beyond Rome, for me, means sort of continuing to Jerusalem. There is no other satisfactory end point. I blogged the first part of my VF (walkingtim.com) but the blog became increasingly arduous for various reasons, technical and social. I continued on Facebook (FB) although I don't really like it. I may one day return to the blog. One reason I dislike FB is that I find it difficult to retrieve information I have seen there, whether from myself or others. Blogs and this forum are better for that I think.
I don't find any great enjoyment in discussing, for instance, whether the road to Brindisi from Rome should be called 'del Sud' or not, and several other contentious issues. But I do find it helpful and interesting to read of others' experience and I have a lot of patience for answering specific questions, as I have benefitted enormously from the generous advice of others. I avoid discussions of bedbugs, blisters, snoring and packing lists (and many other things) but would defend vigorously the right of others to discuss them.
I am a completist, but a non-evangelizing and, I hope, non-judgmental one. I walked every centimetre from Canterbury to Brindisi except the English Channel and the Po ferry. And I cannot bring myself to omit the 'boring' or dangerous(?) bits. Which is why I came to Brindisi when it would have been so much easier to fly to Tirana.
But I need to be practical too. There is no ferry from Brindisi to Durrës at this time of year. It goes to Vlorë, which is too far south. So I flew to Brindisi from Stansted then took bus and train to Bari. (€1.50 + €8.50). Having traveled since before midnight I did nothing in Bari except have lunch.
I walked across the road to the smart looking ferry port with big boats a-plenty only to discover you can not buy your ticket there. You need to go back out on to the road and walk about 3km west to 'the Port' at Marisabella. I'm sure you could get a bus if you wished but I was enjoying the sun. Like most ferryports it is a bit bleak. But you can get a ticket - there appear to be three different companies all sailing a boat at 10pm. There are two small cafés and toilets but quite basic. There were over a hundred bikers heading for Albania tonight all parked there.
At 8pm a little shuttle bus came and brought all the pedestrians back to the ferry port in town. And here you join a noisy queue for immigration (or strictly emigration!) There were hundreds, but when the officials came it was apparent that only a handful were EU citizens and the rest I guess were Albanians.
NOTE: If you had bought your ticket online, or perhaps at a travel agent in town(?), you could, *I presume*, avoid going out to Marisabella and just come straight to main ferryport in town at 8pm as there are no formalities at the other place. The ferry terminal is only a few hundred yards from the church of St Nicolas (of Bari) and the cathedral - a much nicer area to pass the time. And further to the east along the coast road but still in town there is fantastic market on quay of seafood direct from the boats. In October I had half a dozen oysters for €2 or 3 at
I chose Adria Ferries for no particular reason. You get another shuttle to it after you complete immigration whereas you can just walk direct on to Ventouris Ferries. But that's not really an issue. For €41 you get an unassigned 'poltrone' (armchair) in a dim lounge. Berths are available but another €40 or so. There's a bar and cafeteria. It's my second consecutive night without a physical bed. Not ideal but OK.
The Via Egnatia is the old Roman Road from Durrës port to Istanbul. It passes through Albania, the newly named North Macedonia, Greece, and Turkey.
God speed and buon cammino plus whatever that is in Albanian.
 

timr

Active Member
Camino(s) past & future
Several and counting...
Thursday 25th April 2019
Day 1
Durrës to Golem 16km
The boat was the Adria and we boarded about 8pm. Several hundred people standing in line, which divided into EU and non-EU. Only about 20 EU members. The remainder I presume were Albanians.

The boat was large and looked seaworthy as much as one can tell. We entered through the car entrance and then up several flights of stairs to find my 'poltrone' or armchair. They were in a dimly lot low-roofed lounge. I bagged two seats in a rear corner. The boat was due to leave at 10pm but was still more at midnight - an announcement in English, Albanian and Italian seemed to mention 'apologies' and 'customs' but was equally incomprehensible in all three languages.

There was a bar - full of jollity, and a self-service restaurant, with rather unappealing looking food.
The poltrone lounge was extremely cold on account of air conditioning and although I snoozed a little I was woken up when we set sail as the engines were really very noisy. I got out my sleeping bag and lay on the floor and slept soundly for about five hours. People were reasonably quiet, and I always sleep easily. There was good coffee and croissants in the bar.

By 10am we docked in Durrës and after minimal formalities I was in the old port centre. On reflection, the boat was fine and good value for €41. Not the luxury end of the market though! There were cabins available if you wished.

Durrës port bussles, and bristles with history but I was tired and hungry and needed to get on the road. I got lekë from an ATM at the second bank I tried and got a local SIM from Vodafone very easily very cheaply. As Albania is not in EU roaming would be prohibitively expensive.

The road out was easy to find - basically head to beach and then turn left and head south. I walked on beach at times and moved into road at others. The beach was nice, the growing mass of ugly hotels was not. Plenty of bars and shops. I was endlessly encouraged to take a taxi!

I had lunch in a cheap bar where the owner spoke Italian. There is some English spoken but seems more Italian and German. You need cash to buy anything. Cards rarely accepted.

The last bit into Golem was on a sort of slip road parallel to a railway and motorway. I could see where my BnB was on the far side. Suddenly a voice with a Welsh lilt said behind me "Are you Tim?" That was surprising! It was Rosh my host for the night. He had lived in Cardiff for 12 years. He said he was working on a building nearby (he is a property developer) and saw me and thought I must be his guest. He insisted on driving me the remaining 1km and I agreed. He had built a huge guesthouse about 500m from the beach. Perfect for my needs. His mother and a nephew were there.
I explored the little village of Golem in the evening and had a pizza and slept well.

Over breakfast Rosh was very interesting on Wales and Albania in equal measure. I had found the place on booking.com and my criterion was simply it was the cheapest (€13). Well worth it.

At 9am I hit the road for Memzote.
 
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VNwalking

Wandering in big circles
Camino(s) past & future
Francés ('14/'15)
San Olav/CF ('16)
Baztanés/CF ('17)
Ingles ('18)
Vasco/CF/Invierno ('19)
This is way more adventure than many of us are up for, so thanks for sharing it with us, Tim.
Buen Camino!...and whatever that it in Albanian (Google Translate says "rrugë të mirë," which is probably gibberish).
 

VNwalking

Wandering in big circles
Camino(s) past & future
Francés ('14/'15)
San Olav/CF ('16)
Baztanés/CF ('17)
Ingles ('18)
Vasco/CF/Invierno ('19)
I just looked out of curiosity...
'Udhëtim i mirë' means 'good journey,' which under the circumstances may be more intelligible.
May you have a very good one!
 

lettinggo

Active Member
Hola timr

Thank you for sharing your experiences on this walk.
I am reminded about my InterRail travels by train in the 80' all over Europe and the adventurous and open mind of the youth.
To leave home and go explore the world.
Of course back then everything was new so it was a learning proces and to experience that one could handle matters and find a way through problems, made one self grow as a person.
I sense that what you are undertaking can have a similar notion, but still there is one major difference.
Age.

As a young person you meet other young experiencing the same things and together you help each other.
As a middel age (I hope this is a fair assesment :)) person I think it can be far more difficult to make contact with strangers. Especially with language and cultural barriers.
But of course it doesn't have to be so. It is all in our way of seeing things and our own self perception.

On our Caminos we form groups, ties, families with fellow pilgrims - gain experiences that theere is a kindness in most people.
On your travel you seem of the grid - who do you meet and form ties with? How do you gain a feeling of safety and connectivity?
I find it inspiring to reflect on these qustions and will look forward to hear more about your experiences.

All the very best and I hope that you will be meet with curiosity and kindness.
Lettinggo
 

kazrobbo

Tassie Kaz
Camino(s) past & future
CF(2012)
CP(2015)
St Olavs Way Norway(2016)
88 Temples Japan(2017)
PWC & VF(2019)
Israel (2020)
Thursday 25th April 2019
Day 1
Durrës to Golem 16km
The boat was the Adria and we boarded about 8pm. Several hundred people standing in line, which divided into EU and non-EU. Only about 20 EU members. The remainder I presume were Albanians.

The boat was large and looked seaworthy as much as one can tell. We entered through the car entrance and then up several flights of stairs to find my 'poltrone' or armchair. They were in a dimly lot low-roofed lounge. I bagged two seats in a rear corner. The boat was due to leave at 10pm but was still more at midnight - an announcement in English, Albanian and Italian seemed to mention 'apologies' and 'customs' but was equally incomprehensible in all three languages.

There was a bar - full of jollity, and a self-service restaurant, with rather unappealing looking food.
The poltrone lounge was extremely cold on account of air conditioning and although I snoozed a little I was woken up when we set sail as the engines were really very noisy. I got out my sleeping bag and lay on the floor and slept soundly for about five hours. People were reasonably quiet, and I also easily. There was good coffee and croissants in the bar.

By 10am we docked in Durrës and after minimal formalities I was in the old port centre. On reflection, the boat was fine and good value for €41. Not the luxury end of the market though! There were cabins available if you wished.

Durrës port bussles, and bristles with history but I was tired and hungry and needed to get on the road. I got lekë from an ATM at the second bank I tried and got a local SIM from Vodafone very easily very cheaply. As Albania is not in EU roaming would be prohibitively expensive.

The road out was easy to find - basically head to beach and then turn left and head south. I walked on beach at times and moved into road at others. The beach was nice, the growing mass of ugly hotels was not. Plenty of bars and shops. I was endlessly encouraged to take a taxi!

I had lunch in a cheap bar where the owner spoke Italian. There is some English spoken but seems more Italian and German. You need cash to buy anything. Cards rarely accepted.

The last bit into Golem was on a sort of slip road parallel to a railway and motorway. I could see where my BnB was on the far side. Suddenly a voice with a Welsh lilt said behind me "Are you Tim?" That was surprising! It was Rosh my host for the night. He had lived in Cardiff for 12 years. He said he was working on a building nearby (he is a property developer) and saw me and thought I must be his guest. He insisted on driving me the remaining 1km and I agreed. He had built a huge guesthouse about 500m from the beach. Perfect for my needs. His mother and a nephew were there.
I explored the little village of Golem in the evening and had a pizza and slept well.

Over breakfast Rosh was very interesting on Wales and Albania in equal measure. I had found the place on booking.com and my criterion was simply it was the cheapest (€13). Well worth it.

At 9am I hit the road for Memzote.
Wow Tim...what an extraordinary experience & undertaking. Enthralling reading. My head is spinning just thinking of the complexity involved. I & many others will be hanging on every word & behind you every step.
Safe walking & thanks for sharing a journey that fires the imagination.
Take care.
👣 🌏
 

timr

Active Member
Camino(s) past & future
Several and counting...
Hola timr

Thank you for sharing your experiences on this walk.
I am reminded about my InterRail travels by train in the 80' all over Europe and the adventurous and open mind of the youth.
To leave home and go explore the world.
Of course back then everything was new so it was a learning proces and to experience that one could handle matters and find a way through problems, made one self grow as a person.
I sense that what you are undertaking can have a similar notion, but still there is one major difference.
Age.

As a young person you meet other young experiencing the same things and together you help each other.
As a middel age (I hope this is a fair assesment :)) person I think it can be far more difficult to make contact with strangers. Especially with language and cultural barriers.
But of course it doesn't have to be so. It is all in our way of seeing things and our own self perception.

On our Caminos we form groups, ties, families with fellow pilgrims - gain experiences that theere is a kindness in most people.
On your travel you seem of the grid - who do you meet and form ties with? How do you gain a feeling of safety and connectivity?
I find it inspiring to reflect on these qustions and will look forward to hear more about your experiences.

All the very best and I hope that you will be meet with curiosity and kindness.
Lettinggo
Thanks very much.😀😀 Yes I agree with much of what you say, except that 'middle aged' is a bit over generous, unless I live to be 110 maybe😀. I enjoy being alone and off the grid. Perhaps specifically I try to overcome this by learning languages, even a bit. I don't mind 'Camino families' but I never look for one. And I have no problem with traveling companions if they appear. After a few Caminos I learned Spanish so I was not dependent on fellow pilgrims but could enjoy chatting to local people. I usually walk in low season. I used French and Italian throughout my VF last year, and I met plenty of local people to talk with. I don't want to know only how to order a beer and find the toilet. It is hard work but rewarding. I am not a super-linguist but I'm willing to try.
Here in Albania I can manage with Italian. I stayed, at their invitation, with a Muslim family last night. I met most of the village and we talked long about religion and politics (I am a Catholic priest) and many lighter topics. I'm not sure how I will manage in Macedonia!
I've been learning Greek since Christmas and will plan to learn Turkish before I continue beyond Istanbul, later in the year.
There were easier aspects of inter rail long ago, but I'm not sure I'd go back in time if I had the chance! 😀😀😀
 

timr

Active Member
Camino(s) past & future
Several and counting...
Friday 26th April
Day 2
From Golem to Memzote. 21km
NOTE I am also writing on FB but this is more expanded version. Take your pick! 😀

Within 10 minutes you have left the 'city' behind and are heading out on an open road. It is a tarred road, in the beginning but there is really no traffic! I'm using GPS trails on my phone. And I have a Dutch book linked to these trails. It is 'Via Egnatia on foot' by Marietta van Attekum and Holger de Bruin. It's in English. Obtainable from www.viaegnatiafoundation.eu They supply the gpx files on condition you do not share them, which is reasonable I think, given they are a charitable foundation working to promote and develop the route, working with local partners. Having said that, my own trace is recorded daily (including getting lost) on Strava under my name.

Being very dependent on GPS brings added difficulties I will come back to.
Navigation otherwise very difficult....tiny villages have no names and I haven't seen any kind of signpost anywhere.

I took the shorter 'dry weather' route which soon headed into the hills. Would be difficult if wet. There is a fair bit of fording of streams!

I can say 'good day' and 'good morning' and people in the fields are happy to respond. No one much has English but quite a good bit of Italian spoken.

I met two old men riding donkeys. A donkey could set you back €1000 I was told. I wonder could that possibly be true? But certainly it would give you some status. I saw ponies and traps as well. And occasionally funny little tractors that looked like they were powered by a lawnmower engine.

I found a little bar in a place which is called Helmas and had a coffee - Turkish style with lots of sugar. The host refused to accept payment. I got talking to a young man in Italian. He is a nurse in a government clinic and is paid €200/month. It is a poor country, though costs are quite low. But petrol is €1.40 a litre!

After Helmas I took the wet weather route avoiding another ford. My feet were slightly wet from previous episodes. I came upon three men planting trees and one called me and said I could stay the night in the next village. He called his wife and said I was on the way. Up to then I had no plans for the night. There was a hotel further ahead which wpuld have involved crossing a motorway and climbing over the central reservation!

In Memzote (which Google does not know) I met Lindita, Saku's wife and sat in the shop. Italian works well - there's usually someone who can translate into Albanian. Lots of people interviewed me. Everyone was Muslim and interested in why I was here. A young boy took me on a tour of the village including the cemetery. We didn't have one word in common but somehow we both managed to pray for his Granny, to the same God, by slightly different routes.

In the evening we had a barbecue and many visitors came. All male, apart from Lindita! Women stay at home in Albania. One shop and a mosque - that's Memzote. A place of great old fashioned hospitality of the road.

A few thoughts:
  1. It's a very poor country. Infrastructure, like roads, is very basic. I lived in Kenya for many years. Could Albania be poorer? I guess not but certainly the poorest country I've been to in Europe.
  2. I'm thinking it's a hard country for women. They are out in the fields doing manual work and herding castle and goats but otherwise not much to be seen. I don't think that necessarily means they are unhappy.
  3. In Memzote there were lots of cheerful boys in the street playing football. No girls to be seen. My host told me his own primary school girls go to school in Tirana. But not everyone could afford this surely.
  4. It sounds a cliché, but the people are lovely and welcoming.
  5. Bunkers- Enver Hoxha had 700,000 built. Everyone in the country could fit into them! They are everywhere, like a parody of the trulli of Puglia. It's not clear what they were really for our who they would repel! I was told women had to give up there wedding rings to pay for their construction.
  6. There is a new mosque in every village and the muezzin can be heard calling throughout the day. But I've not seen anyone going to a mosque! All religions were banned completely in the Communist era. There are Catholics and Orthodox, but where I am at present is particularly Muslim. The people I've spoken to are very tolerant. All the cemeteries I've seen have Islamic symbolism, though none a very old.
 

kazrobbo

Tassie Kaz
Camino(s) past & future
CF(2012)
CP(2015)
St Olavs Way Norway(2016)
88 Temples Japan(2017)
PWC & VF(2019)
Israel (2020)
Friday 26th April
Day 2
From Golem to Memzote. 21km
NOTE I am also writing on FB but this is more expanded version. Take your pick! 😀

Within 10 minutes you have left the 'city' behind and are heading out on an open road. It is a tarred road, in the beginning but there is really no traffic! I'm using GPS trails on my phone. And I have a Dutch book linked to these trails. It is 'Via Egnatia on foot' by Marietta van Attekum and Holger de Bruin. It's in English. Obtainable from www.viaegnatiafoundation.eu They supply the gpx files on condition you do not share them, which is reasonable I think, given they are a charitable foundation working to promote and develop the route, working with local partners. Having said that, my own trace is recorded daily (including getting lost) on Strava under my name.

Being very dependent on GPS brings added difficulties I will come back to.
Navigation otherwise very difficult....tiny villages have no names and I haven't seen any kind of signpost anywhere.

I took the shorter 'dry weather' route which soon headed into the hills. Would be difficult if wet. There is a fair bit of fording of streams!

I can say 'good day' and 'good morning' and people in the fields are happy to respond. No one much has English but quite a good bit of Italian spoken.

I met two old men riding donkeys. A donkey could set you back €1000 I was told. I wonder could that possibly be true? But certainly it would give you some status. I saw ponies and traps as well. And occasionally funny little tractors that looked like they were powered by a lawnmower engine.

I found a little bar in a place which is called Helmas and had a coffee - Turkish style with lots of sugar. The host refused to accept payment. I got talking to a young man in Italian. He is a nurse in a government clinic and is paid €200/month. It is a poor country, though costs are quite low. But petrol is €1.40 a litre!

After Helmas I took the wet weather route avoiding another ford. My feet were slightly wet from previous episodes. I came upon three men planting trees and one called me and said I could stay the night in the next village. He called his wife and said I was on the way. Up to then I had no plans for the night. There was a hotel further ahead which wpuld have involved crossing a motorway and climbing over the central reservation!

In Memzote (which Google does not know) I met Lindita, Saku's wife and sat in the shop. Italian works well - there's usually someone who can translate into Albanian. Lots of people interviewed me. Everyone was Muslim and interested in why I was here. A young boy took me on a tour of the village including the cemetery. We didn't have one word in common but somehow we both managed to pray for his Granny, to the same God, by slightly different routes.

In the evening we had a barbecue and many visitors came. All male, apart from Lindita! Women stay at home in Albania. One shop and a mosque - that's Memzote. A place of great old fashioned hospitality of the road.

A few thoughts:
  1. It's a very poor country. Infrastructure, like roads, is very basic. I lived in Kenya for many years. Could Albania be poorer? I guess not but certainly the poorest country I've been to in Europe.
  2. I'm thinking it's a hard country for women. They are out in the fields doing manual work and herding castle and goats but otherwise not much to be seen. I don't think that necessarily means they are unhappy.
  3. In Memzote there were lots of cheerful boys in the street playing football. No girls to be seen. My host told me his own primary school girls go to school in Tirana. But not everyone could afford this surely.
  4. It sounds a cliché, but the people are lovely and welcoming.
  5. Bunkers- Enver Hoxha had 700,000 built. Everyone in the country could fit into them! They are everywhere, like a parody of the trulli of Puglia. It's not clear what they were really for our who they would repel! I was told women had to give up there wedding rings to pay for their construction.
  6. There is a new mosque in every village and the muezzin can be heard calling throughout the day. But I've not seen anyone going to a mosque! All religions were banned completely in the Communist era. There are Catholics and Orthodox, but where I am at present is particularly Muslim. The people I've spoken to are very tolerant. All the cemeteries I've seen have Islamic symbolism, though none a very old.
You paint a vivid picture as always Tim. As women are obviously there but not seen, how do you think a female traveller would be viewed/received?
Safe & happy continued travels.
👣 🌏
 

VNwalking

Wandering in big circles
Camino(s) past & future
Francés ('14/'15)
San Olav/CF ('16)
Baztanés/CF ('17)
Ingles ('18)
Vasco/CF/Invierno ('19)
Take your pick!
Here, definitely.:)

As women are obviously there but not seen, how do you think a female traveller would be viewed/received?
My immediate question. Especially a solo female walker...

We didn't have one word in common but somehow we both managed to pray for his Granny, to the same God, by slightly different routes.
Gorgeous. This has made my evening, Tim. Thank you this, and for the vivid post.
 

timr

Active Member
Camino(s) past & future
Several and counting...
@kazrobbo @VNwalking Yes indeed a very pertinent question and I will keep it under review. My book, half written by a woman, says definitely there is no problem (more than anywhere) for a lone female. I'll post a quote tomorrow.
It's very difficult for me to realise what it is like to be a lone female but there are potentially problems with being a lone older man too. I could be vulnerable, and I'm never going to fight! But I have not felt threatened in 3000km from Canterbury. But I know it is deeply different for women.
Women in the fields - there are many - are happy to say hello. Towns and larger villages are very different to the country. Children will come there and say hello and want to touch your watch, your camera, your phone. You are a bit like a visitor from another planet. They want a photo or a selfie. But in a gentle and innocent way - so far.
Occasionally you hear "money, money" but I have never felt threatened. I've lived a lot in Africa and it is similar in very rural areas there.
I spent today in the town - although it's Sunday I guess it is a weekday here. No sign of any work being done! Lots of men sitting in bars drinking coffee, playing cards or chess. Women selling in the market. Men often speak Italian or German. They can easily go to work there without "papers". The women don't, so very few I can speak do.
I DID see a group of young women (twenties, thirties) together in one bar sipping sodas and would have loved to chat with them, but didn't feel I could, easily.
Genuinely I don't get the impression that the women are oppressed - but that may be presumptuous. Cultures are strong. Saku whom I stayed with in Memzote seemed "traditional" but his wife, who runs the shop, well able to speak for herself. But equally he told me not to clean my shoes or make up the bed, as that was her job. He did do the BBQ. Is it a cultural universal that men do BBQs???😉
I will keep thinking about this....
 
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Camino(s) past & future
Frances(2006) Portugues(2013)
San Salvador (2017) Ingles (2019)
@kazrobbo @VNwalking Yes indeed a very pertinent question and I will keep it under review. My book, half written by a woman, says definitely there is no problem (more than anywhere) for a lone female. I'll post a quote tomorrow.
It's very difficult for me to realise what it is like to be a lone female but there are potentially problems with being a lone older man too. I could be vulnerable, and I'm never going to fight! But I have not felt threatened in 3000km from Canterbury. But I know it is deeply different for women.
Women in the fields - there are many - are happy to say hello. Towns and larger villages are very different to the country. Children will come there and say hello and want to touch your watch, your camera, your phone. You are a bit like a visitor from another planet. They want a photo or a selfie. But in a gentle and innocent way - so far.
Occasionally you hear "money, money" but I have never felt threatened. I've lived a lot in Africa and it is similar in very rural areas there.
I spent today in the town - although it's Sunday I guess it is a weekday here. No sign of any work being done! Lots of men sitting in bars drinking coffee, playing cards or chess. Women selling in the market. Men often speak Italian or German. They can easily go to work there without "papers". The women don't, so very few I can speak do.
I DID see a group of young women (twenties, thirties) together in one bar sipping sodas and would have loved to chat with them, but didn't feel I could, easily.
Genuinely I don't get the impression that the women are oppressed - but that may be presumptuous. Cultures are strong. Saku whom I stayed with in Memzote seemed "traditional" but his wife, who runs the shop, well able to speak for herself. But equally he told me not to clean my shoes or make up the bed, as that was her job. He did do the BBQ. Is it a cultural universal that men do BBQs???😉
I will keep thinking about this....
Thanks. I know zilch about Albanians, bar one who came to a class I had. A gentle man. Buen Camino, time. Keep safe.
 

VNwalking

Wandering in big circles
Camino(s) past & future
Francés ('14/'15)
San Olav/CF ('16)
Baztanés/CF ('17)
Ingles ('18)
Vasco/CF/Invierno ('19)
Got it, thanks, Tim.
Some Dutch friends walked in Albania last year and really loved it. But they are a couple, and so I wondered...
One line in there sums it up "they are still expected to behave demurely and stay at home."
This is one edge I would not consider pushing against. And fortunately there are enough caminos in Spain to last the rest of my life.
Buen camino, and good walking today, Tim!
 

timr

Active Member
Camino(s) past & future
Several and counting...
Got it, thanks, Tim.
Some Dutch friends walked in Albania last year and really loved it. But they are a couple, and so I wondered...
One line in there sums it up "they are still expected to behave demurely and stay at home."
This is one edge I would not consider pushing against. And fortunately there are enough caminos in Spain to last the rest of my life.
Buen camino, and good walking today, Tim!
Yes I know what you mean. This article suggests situation is difficult but maybe not hopeless. http://eca.unwomen.org/en/where-we-are/albania
 

kazrobbo

Tassie Kaz
Camino(s) past & future
CF(2012)
CP(2015)
St Olavs Way Norway(2016)
88 Temples Japan(2017)
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Israel (2020)

timr

Active Member
Camino(s) past & future
Several and counting...
@VNwalking @kazrobbo I was in Elbasan yesterday - a university city. A nice cosmopolitan feel and looked like many European cities although being 2000 years old and walled within a castle unique too!
Women looked very 'normal' - smart clothes, ripped jeans, phones, sunglasses etc.
By chance on the path today on a rural track I bumped into three young women and walked about 40 mins with them. All studying nursing in Elbasan. All planning to head off to Germany when they have qualified. Pleasant, cheerful, articulate and forward looking and pleasant company.
 

kazrobbo

Tassie Kaz
Camino(s) past & future
CF(2012)
CP(2015)
St Olavs Way Norway(2016)
88 Temples Japan(2017)
PWC & VF(2019)
Israel (2020)
@VNwalking @kazrobbo I was in Elbasan yesterday - a university city. A nice cosmopolitan feel and looked like many European cities although being 2000 years old and walled within a castle unique too!
Women looked very 'normal' - smart clothes, ripped jeans, phones, sunglasses etc.
By chance on the path today on a rural track I bumped into three young women and walked about 40 mins with them. All studying nursing in Elbasan. All planning to head off to Germany when they have qualified. Pleasant, cheerful, articulate and forward looking and pleasant company.
Thanks for the update Tim...great to know women are enjoying more freedom & choices. I'm interested as to the perspective of a solo female traveller rather than a female citizen. Obviously we would 'stick out' due to clothing, carrying gear & a general 'non-local' look; do you think we would be able to move around freely (& I don't mean 'officially') without undue (& unwanted) attention or additional personal safety risk? I know this is a virtually impossible question for you to even surmise, but just after your gut feeling. As you've already acknowledged, men travel with a completely different mindset to women but you are the best current info source we've got! 😁
Thanks & continued Happy Trails!
👣 🌏
 

timr

Active Member
Camino(s) past & future
Several and counting...
Thanks for the update Tim...great to know women are enjoying more freedom & choices. I'm interested as to the perspective of a solo female traveller rather than a female citizen. Obviously we would 'stick out' due to clothing, carrying gear & a general 'non-local' look; do you think we would be able to move around freely (& I don't mean 'officially') without undue (& unwanted) attention or additional personal safety risk? I know this is a virtually impossible question for you to even surmise, but just after your gut feeling. As you've already acknowledged, men travel with a completely different mindset to women but you are the best current info source we've got! 😁
Thanks & continued Happy Trails!
👣🌏
Everywhere I have been so far, that would be my intuition. Prefectly safe. If you were ever really considering it, it would be worth discussing with Via Egnatia Foundation people (who produce the book).
 

kazrobbo

Tassie Kaz
Camino(s) past & future
CF(2012)
CP(2015)
St Olavs Way Norway(2016)
88 Temples Japan(2017)
PWC & VF(2019)
Israel (2020)
Everywhere I have been so far, that would be my intuition. Prefectly safe. If you were ever really considering it, it would be worth discussing with Via Egnatia Foundation people (who produce the book).
Thanks Tim. Of course the way women are treated within their own society is a fair indicator of how foreign women may be viewed so your input is invaluable. I am considering Rome to Jerusalem (like you, it seems a natural next step) but its just which route to take & safety is the prime concern even though there are never any guarantees.
👣 🌏
 

VNwalking

Wandering in big circles
Camino(s) past & future
Francés ('14/'15)
San Olav/CF ('16)
Baztanés/CF ('17)
Ingles ('18)
Vasco/CF/Invierno ('19)
May your walking today be a joy, Tim.
Thanks for the observations - I'm so enjoying seeing a place that I likely never go through your eyes.
 

timr

Active Member
Camino(s) past & future
Several and counting...
Via Egnatia Day 3
Saturday 27th April
Memzote to Pequin 26km
Again this is my FB post but expanded at the end.
Oh dear! A very hard day. The first 5 km took an hour. The remainjng 21km took another 9 hours. Because of rain!

The day began with coffee and farewell to my hosts. It was cool and dull with rumbling thunder a long way off. The route for the day along a high ridge to the side of a valley. A significant amount of climbing up and down.

The route sticks to footpaths which *often* today were difficult, or even very difficult, to identify as often overgrown. Sometimes very narrow indeed. It would be very difficult to find them without GPS, although you would find the right direction.
The first hour or so, with a significant climb was fine and the ominous rumbles and occasional lightning seemed always behind me and I was moving "into the light" not inappropriately as it is Easter weekend here.

But eventually the rain came. Not torrential, but steady and almost immediately the path was transformed into thick soft mud. This happened astonishingly quickly. I was quite high up and it also became very misty. Not enough to cause confusion but enough to obliterate the main "selling point" of today, the stupendous views in all directions including right back to the coast.

Progress forward was really difficult. The mud very claggy, sticking to shoes and almost pulling then off. And removing all traction. It was rather like skiing - though I have never skied. Or like being in an escalator - you could stand still and slide downhill. Quite steep in parts and very hard to climb.

Add to this the occasional obstruction to the path from a new fenced field and the need to improvise. I had to slither under a barbed wire fence and then climb over one. Fording of streams became wetter! Occasionally road blocked by rain gullies - climb down and find a way out on far side.

I met a few wet people with their animals who were sympathetic. I met a rather drunk young man who asked me for money and shouted a lot but he was harmless. He spoke two more English words!!!

Twice I met loud free dogs but both times kind ladies came and dealt with then.
I was aiming for a railway which I was to walk down but the climb on to the viaduct was impossible so I took the road and finally after 9 and a half hours found a bar with lovely Turkish coffee which as ever I could not persuade him to accept payment for!

Final couple of km to hotel Maçi along road were fine. I passed a Christian church but it looked disused. No signs of any activity for Easter. I asked some children but all they could tell me was that it was a church! It must have been Orthodox I think but disused. Peqin a modest sized town on main road and railway.
I "fell" four or five times not to dramatically - more of a slide backwards or sideways. I was fairly covered in mud by the end.
Really the path not passable in mud! But I was well into my stride when the mud came.
Thoughts
  1. GPS track following is essential. This raises problems. I use my iPhone which works perfectly. But battery life a problem, so I have a back up battery pack for second half of day. OK. BUT rain and iPhones don't go together. I found this in Italy. The power connector when wet corrodes until contact fails. Equally a problem with Poundland version (£1) or Apple original (£15 ?) Though the original lasts longer. I got through about five last year. One had failed already on this trip.
  2. Wet touchscreen very difficult to use. I had to keep doing it to make it register a finger press until eventually I had nothing dry left. Then very hard to use software.
  3. Ah! I have a spare call Android for such eventualities and I used it.
  4. Good thing - GPS works fine in airplane mode so data not an issue.
  5. I occasionally wonder about a dedicated satnav but they are very expensive I think and mono functional.
  6. Hotel Maçi was great. Erion the young owner/manager spoke perfect Italian which helps. Most helpful.
  7. I decided to take a day off and recover from being wet and tired. Never the wrong thing to do. I explored Peqin which didn't take long (!). And had lunch in a tiny Ma and Pa café and several coffees.
  8. Another problem with GPS : you need to be looking at it quite often or even very often which is not good for stability or using poles. I 'kind of' fell four or five times in the mud. Always fairly gently. But it is an issue. If I was setting out again on that path on a rainy I wouldn't do it- I'd go on road. But looking back now, it was enjoyable. Sadly the rain and mist meant the stupendous views didn't materialise.
  9. Does lightning pick out day-glo wet weather gear???🤔 I met quite a few shepherds along the way. They recommend an umbrella and Wellington boots!
 
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KinkyOne

Veteran Member
Camino(s) past & future
I'am not perfect, but I'm always myself!!!
Hi, Tim :)

Only this evening I came over your thread. New adventure for you and I'm happy for it.

I know quite a lot Albanians from Kosovo and (now Northern) Macedonia that live here in Ljubljana and they are all extremely hospitable people. I also know some Macedonians and once entering NM you won't have any problem regarding that. Social/financial situation there might be just a little bit better than in Albania so would the prices be a wee higher. But we're talking 5/10 cents here for a coffee maybe.

Overall in Albania many people speak Italian while in Macedonia it might be more German apart from other Slavic languages from former Yugoslavia (Serbian, Croatian, Slovenian). That's the decades long legacy of men working abroad and sending money home for their families.

But people in Balkans are extremely friendly and I know you'll experience many more nice encounters on your route.

Wish you nice walk and hope to see you again someday!
 

Stripey Socks

Active Member
Camino(s) past & future
Camino Frances- 2013,Via de la Plata-2014, Portuguese - 2016, Via Francigena - Italy 2018
This sounds like an amazing and interesting journey. I look forward to following your steps - virtually for now... Take care, Mel
 

timr

Active Member
Camino(s) past & future
Several and counting...
Hi, Tim :)

Only this evening I came over your thread. New adventure for you and I'm happy for it.

I know quite a lot Albanians from Kosovo and (now Northern) Macedonia that live here in Ljubljana and they are all extremely hospitable people. I also know some Macedonians and once entering NM you won't have any problem regarding that. Social/financial situation there might be just a little bit better than in Albania so would the prices be a wee higher. But we're talking 5/10 cents here for a coffee maybe.

Overall in Albania many people speak Italian while in Macedonia it might be more German apart from other Slavic languages from former Yugoslavia (Serbian, Croatian, Slovenian). That's the decades long legacy of men working abroad and sending money home for their families.

But people in Balkans are extremely friendly and I know you'll experience many more nice encounters on your route.

Wish you nice walk and hope to see you again someday!
Boštjan
Lovely to hear from you. Little wifi but I'll write later today from Macedonia.
Tim
 

timr

Active Member
Camino(s) past & future
Several and counting...
Boštjan
Lovely to hear from you. Little wifi but I'll write later today from Macedonia.
Tim
@KinkyOne Hello again Boštjan
Wifi problematic!
I'm more in Ohrid on eastern side of Lake Ohrid which sits between Albania and Macedonia. It is at about 700m and it is very cold up here. - colder than normal apparently. But as always once you get walking it is OK although rain had been quite a problem. And mud😩
Very mountainous terrain from Elbasan onwards. No waymarking of any kind anywhere😢 but the paths are identifiable and follow the old Via Egnatia where possible.
As you said very obvious difference between Macedonia and Albania. Macedonia much more developed but hardly any more expensive. The walk today is to Resen and follows "overgrown paths". Hmmm.
It's increasingly different to CdS and indeed quite different from VF. I've met just one other walker, from Australia, whose field is ancient history.
Food exclent!
Tim
 

VNwalking

Wandering in big circles
Camino(s) past & future
Francés ('14/'15)
San Olav/CF ('16)
Baztanés/CF ('17)
Ingles ('18)
Vasco/CF/Invierno ('19)
A very hard day. The first 5 km took an hour. The remainjng 21km took another 9 hours. Because of rain! ... The mud very claggy, sticking to shoes and almost pulling then off.
Ai yi yi. And...
The walk today is to Resen and follows "overgrown paths". Hmmm.
Meaning brambles and nettles, Tim? For your sake, I certainly hope not.
What an adventure.
Vaya con dios, peregrino.
 

timr

Active Member
Camino(s) past & future
Several and counting...
Ai yi yi. And...
Meaning brambles and nettles, Tim? For your sake, I certainly hope not.
What an adventure.
Vaya con dios, peregrino.
Yes exactly but......an advantage of a chilly spring is that nettles are only inches high and brambles not active yet. I've arrived in Resen. Tough day but it's done. Here's what I just said on FB. (Wifi is a real challenge here so I'm way behind here on the forum.)
I'm in Ресен which we would write as Resen. My 12th walking day. This is the only day the book describes as "difficult" - though it was shy about saying anything derogatory about the life-threatening and truly dangerous day after Mirakë!
Ohrid to Resen
Two genuine problems. The distance - 29km. And the climb to 5,213 ft. (Nairobi is 5,800 for comparison). It was very steep up - which for me is the easier bit. Coming down felt like a plane coming down from 35,000 feet. It took forever, and hard on knees and ankles. Stunning views of first Lake Ohrid and then Lake Prespa. The walk was mostly through a National Park, so a bit of helpful signage and waymarking for the first time since leaving Italy.
Resen is now famous for apples - huge orchards as far as the eye can see as you finally get near. And actually in blossom which was nice to see.
Macedonia is a very Christian country - about 80% Orthodox, 10% Catholic and 10% Muslim. The Pope is here today as it happens, in Skopje where Mother Teresa was born. The countryside is dotted with shrines and churches and tiny monasteries which is rather nice.
It's a busy little town. I found the hotel after a while. It is also a hostel for migrant apple pickers, so you might rightly imagine it has no pretensions to be the Ritz! There are tourist hotels down at the lake as many told me. "Haven't you got car?" Walkers are a bit of novelty here!
The book spoke of "scrambling downhill" following the sound of a bubbling stream. I think I found a better path than that myself, different to the one described. I have something of a sense of achievement today.
Only dampener.....my left shoe is not in great shape. They are the ones I bought in Pavia, over 2000km back. I can't imagine where I can buy any before Thessaloniki. May need duct tape. 😢
 

KinkyOne

Veteran Member
Camino(s) past & future
I'am not perfect, but I'm always myself!!!
Yes exactly but......an advantage of a chilly spring is that nettles are only inches high and brambles not active yet. I've arrived in Resen. Tough day but it's done. Here's what I just said on FB. (Wifi is a real challenge here so I'm way behind here on the forum.)
I'm in Ресен which we would write as Resen. My 12th walking day. This is the only day the book describes as "difficult" - though it was shy about saying anything derogatory about the life-threatening and truly dangerous day after Mirakë!
Ohrid to Resen
Two genuine problems. The distance - 29km. And the climb to 5,213 ft. (Nairobi is 5,800 for comparison). It was very steep up - which for me is the easier bit. Coming down felt like a plane coming down from 35,000 feet. It took forever, and hard on knees and ankles. Stunning views of first Lake Ohrid and then Lake Prespa. The walk was mostly through a National Park, so a bit of helpful signage and waymarking for the first time since leaving Italy.
Resen is now famous for apples - huge orchards as far as the eye can see as you finally get near. And actually in blossom which was nice to see.
Macedonia is a very Christian country - about 80% Orthodox, 10% Catholic and 10% Muslim. The Pope is here today as it happens, in Skopje where Mother Teresa was born. The countryside is dotted with shrines and churches and tiny monasteries which is rather nice.
It's a busy little town. I found the hotel after a while. It is also a hostel for migrant apple pickers, so you might rightly imagine it has no pretensions to be the Ritz! There are tourist hotels down at the lake as many told me. "Haven't you got car?" Walkers are a bit of novelty here!
The book spoke of "scrambling downhill" following the sound of a bubbling stream. I think I found a better path than that myself, different to the one described. I have something of a sense of achievement today.
Only dampener.....my left shoe is not in great shape. They are the ones I bought in Pavia, over 2000km back. I can't imagine where I can buy any before Thessaloniki. May need duct tape. 😢
Hi, Tim,

Although this stage was demanding it must also be spectacular because of the views over the lakes.
Don't worry about the shoes. Ask about a village open air market or a shoe maker. Pople that don't have much are very good in improvisation and they will no doubt help you. With duct tape at least.

Enjoy the food, the hospitality and pristine nature!
(BTW - I know you won't walk through it although it's close but Kosovo's capital is Pristina. Nothing pristine there though :) )
 

timr

Active Member
Camino(s) past & future
Several and counting...
OK I am long back in UK at this stage but will update this thread for the benefit of anyone who may follow. My own GPS tracks should be readily visible on Strava.com under my own name.
Via Egnatia Day 4
Monday 29th April
Pequin to Broshkë 20.9km

Again this is my FB post but expanded at the end.

A very much easier day of walking. You start at the big mosque in Peqin and cross the railway line and walk parallel to it and you are (apparently) for the first time on a stretch of original Via Egnatia. This was paved by the Romans but here it is a repaving from the Ottoman empire (1480-1912). But anyway old. There was a cemetery on the left and I always visit them which distracted me from seeing a Roman bridge away from the road - but there will be plenty more!
The first 15 or so kilometres you can walk on side road or directly on the track, which the book recommends. No train passed - but they do. I passed a couple of stations neither of which had a name and still I've never seen a village with a name. If you don't walk on tracks you will have trouble occasionally crossing a stream. Villages are rather random and elongated each with a small modern mosque at the centre.
All along the railway are chickens and turkeys and grazing donkeys. Definite signs of life due I guess to being along the railway. Not the poorest of houses. And children playing.
After 15km the path crosses the river (on a bridge apparently made out of giant Meccano!) away from the railway to continue onto Broshkë. I passed a big wedding venue hall and looked in to see if there was coffee on offer. No. But they showed me around. There were plenty of bars as I crossed the main road. The path continues through fields and into Broshkë a medium sized village with children playing. I had coffee in a chatty bar.
Strangely from there on, there is a completely new road and a bridge back over river to highway (although away from my path for tomorrow). This is not on Google maps. Google doesnt know everything! At the end of it, back across the river, was the nameless Autogrill and 'hotel' where I spent the night!
A gentle walk.
---------
The path quite straightforward. No real opportunities for getting lost, though I did find I needed to check things out with the GPS a good bit. The new road is quite unexpected. Retrace your steps from little bar on right and then you will turn left, or else just turn right in Broshke and you will come to new road to your left in a few hundred metres and this will bring you across the river and you will see autogrill slightly to the left ahead of you. It is the SH7, the main road from Pequin to Elbasan.

The nameless autogrill was a unique experience. Here is what I wrote:

OK! The spooky motel in Broshkë. 😱 I explained already that you reach it by taking a road and bridge of which Google has not yet learned. I went into the bar, behind filling station "and autogrill" and asking for accommodation. A middle aged women and a much older man agreed that I needed the hotel which was through a glass door. But part of the same building. And they were the hotel staff, No word of English or Italian and I still have not learned Shqipte - which is what they can Albanian here. The two were very friendly. He had a novel approach to making me understand Albanian which was to whisper it - the opposite to the way UK subdued an empire!😉Ultimately each approach doomed to failure.
He took me upstairs to smartish room and showed I could lock it from inside but not from outside. Good shower and a TV with BBC 24 news and Sky News. I asked him about food (using hand signals) and he suggested he would sort it out down the road.
At 7pm I went down ready to eat. I asked if I could lock my room. They seemed willing to accept this eccentricity on my part with a big show of spare parts and tools and he headed up to the room. 20 mins went by and he came back and proudly handed me a key. He had in fact replaced the lock mechanism completely so it now locked. OK.
Then out to his car which had seen better days and he beckoned me to enter. He kept in his hand a huge industrial screwdriver. I don't know why. I put on seat belt which I don't think impressed him much. He took off down the highway to a restaurant which was actually within sight and we stopped there. I have walked about 3,100km to get this hotel and I would have liked to explain to him I didn't really need a lift!
Very friendly place and he knew them all there. The menu came - highlights were "sheep's head" and "meat". I opted for "meat" and chips and Turkish pickle salad. "Meat" was goat I think but was OK. He meanwhile started on the beer, ignoring my suggestion he should head home and I would walk back. He still clutched the screwdriver. I ate quickly to stop his beer intake and after paying about €5 we headed back. The lady was now ready for home but graciously gave me a coffee. Off they went locking up the gas station saying that they would be back at 0630.
I was alone. I had an entrance to stairs from the filing station and there was an external door too. I headed up. My key worked and I unlocked the door. There were a number of Hitchcockian wild birds in the staircase, flapping around noisily and making a mess but I couldn't see how to help them out.
The light was on in the bathroom and went on and off randomly but I couldn't find a switch. There was a second annexe to my room - all glass with a glass door - see picture. Impossible to know what it was for. Outside was a petrol sign which came on and off randomly through the night. OK.
About an hour later - 11pm - I heard footsteps outside and someone tried the door of my room. I was sure I was locked in an otherwise empty hotel. With, in fact, no possibility of getting out, had I wanted to. I thought a little bit about the uselessness of shouting out in a foreign language. What would I shout? What good would it do? As Nana used to say in "The Royle Family", "you know me Barbara, I said nothing." After a few more rattles, the footsteps went away.
I slept fitfully as the random lights from the bathroom and outside the glass room went on and off through the night. And eventually morning came and I was all in one piece. Which ultimately is all that matters.
After coffee without the suggested Raki (like grappa) I headed off. I wouldn't be rushing back 😉😉. Autogrill had a meaning - there was an electric frying pan on the counter in the morning and my genial hosts were tucking into fried eggs and raki. The screwdriver was close by.
 

timr

Active Member
Camino(s) past & future
Several and counting...
Again to be clear, I am putting this here some time after for the benefit of walkers.
Via Egnatia Day 5
Tuesday 30th April
Broshkë to Elbasan 20.23km
This was a very straightforward walk and no difficulty finding the route.
I didn't cross back to rejoin yesterday's path directly but carried on down the fairly quiet main road in the Elbasan direction and crossed at a later bridge. From here on you are following the Shkumblin river which is impressive in parts and at other times seems to almost disappear. The path proceeds in almost a straight line parallel and to the south of the river through 'drained marshland' with lots and lots and lots of ducks! Across the river you pass an enormous old Chinese factory complex, now completely abandoned. The book will tell you how to visit it tomorrow if you wish, but I resisted that temptation, not least because Elbasan is such a fine city.
You will eventually turn left over a large bridge and begin to walk into Elbasan through the industrial area and then through a very busy shopping area with lots of small stores selling clothes, and carpets and agricultural items and sunglasses and mobile phone accessories.
And then Elbasan. I stayed in the Vila Imperial hotel (booking.com) as I felt I deserved a little pampering after the 'Bate's Motel' last night. It was not expensive, (€38) and was very luxurious - the largest hotel room I think i have ever been in. There is no shortage of accommodation in the city, including a lovely hotel within the walls of the walled city in the centre.
Elbasan is fabulous. An ancient walled city with thick walls and entrance through a number of gates. The Via Egnatia passes straight through the middle of it. The thick walls evidently prevented the destruction of the mosque and orthodox church during the Hoxha days. The mosque dates from 1492 and was very welcoming. Sadly I was not able to get into the Orthodox church - see the very sad story about the father of the present priest in the guidebook. But it was open earlier in the day. There is also a modern Catholic church about 15 minutes walk away - in the modern town near to Park Rinia. It is to the right when you are looking at the city walls from main road. I went to morning Mass and had breakfast with the Italian priest (Don Emilio) and met a few parishioners. (He was sorry I had not stayed the night.)
 

kazrobbo

Tassie Kaz
Camino(s) past & future
CF(2012)
CP(2015)
St Olavs Way Norway(2016)
88 Temples Japan(2017)
PWC & VF(2019)
Israel (2020)
Great to read updates 4 & 5 Tim...what an adventure. The joys of travel! Don't ever lose your sense of humour...or that ability to adapt no matter what. Thanks for posting; I know it's not easy & sometimes the last thing you want to do but you have a very appreciative audience.
Enjoy planning your next leg.
👣
 

timr

Active Member
Camino(s) past & future
Several and counting...
Again to be clear, these are retrospective notes supplementing the information in the guidebook Via Egnatia on Foot, from www.viaegnatiafoundation.eu
Via Egnatia Day 6
Wednesday 1st May
Elbasan to Mirakë 22.92km

Again a fairly straightforward day's walk with no great difficulties though quite a high climb up and along a mountain ridge. Whenever you feel the road is a bit tough an octogenarian tends to pop out of the undergrowth cheerfully encouraging some wayward sheep. The book tells you about pillars of a Roman bridge in the river but I didn't see them. Possibly because I was distracted talking to two young ladies who were nursing students at Elbasan. They were on their way home to Mirake and were walking on the path. They told me they enjoyed the city life of Elbasan and were looking forward to qualifying as nurses and heading quickly to Germany to work. Salaries in Albania are extremely low.

The book tells you that there are five villages in the area called Polis but the girls told me there are in fact seven or possibly nine! The fact that no single village I have seen has any kind of signboard may make this paradoxically not as confusing as it might otherwise be. They welcomed me to their village, Mirakë, across the river (twice) but I had decided to head on to a hotel to the right along the main road, about 1km further on.

Hotel Ballkan (that is how it is spelled). A strange place, a kind of a spa hotel with swimming pool, right on the river. Rather large, with a restaurant and snack bar. Full of school children on a coach stop on a school trip when I arrived. Price very negotiable I would think - you can pay in Euros cash if you wish. Over-priced, but not a huge amount of choice for accommodation. I imagine, though I cannot be sure, there might have been somewhere to stay in Mirake, possibly with a family, but I have no evidence of this. Food in the hotel not exciting, but nice staff. But something strange about it. The shower was one of those which have more controls than a helicopter and a phone and radio - but hugely difficult to persuade hot water to emerge from.

Here I had the good fortune to meet up with an Australian man, a retired teacher of ancient history who was touring ancient Greek sites, including walking part of the Via Egnatia. We agreed that we would meet up at the end of the next day, he being an early riser, and I being a late riser. This may have been a mistake.....
 

timr

Active Member
Camino(s) past & future
Several and counting...
Via Egnatia Day 7 (but I am adding this here in July 2019)
Thursday 2nd May
Mirakë to Dardhë 20.43km

Here is what I wrote on Strava: VE Day 7 Mirakë to Dardhë. High climbing. Beautiful scenery. Heart stopping scrambles along eroded paths. Goats can do it, and a man older than me I met smoking a pipe with a few goats. Not for the faint hearted!

As I said yesterday, I had the option of a walking partner but we walked separately. It was the one day of this route when a walking partner would have been a major advantage. As in the previous days, the difficulties in this walk are not due to the length of the walks, which are relatively modest, so far, but due to the difficulty of the terrain and quite often the difficulty of identifying the path. Again I would say that it is not feasible to follow the path without using GPS and the tracks from viaegnatiafoundation.eu. My own tracks are online, complete with getting-lost-episodes. In fact I don't think I ever got lost, but did have to plot alternative routes on occasion because of natural hurdles (like water) and unnatural hurdles (like barbed wire).

And here is what I wrote half way along the path at a place called Babje - where i was the first person ever to check in from on FB! Facebook says 0 check-ins here (ever!) so I couldn't resist. Babje. It is remote in the mountains. Stunningly beautiful scenery, old, old path, but terrible erosion. I was picking my way along precipices for nearly 2km hanging on to thorn bushes. Nerve-wracking. You will forgive me for not managing to photograph the beautiful snake I met! The book says not to look down and if you are frightened to go back.....back 7km! I think I'm past the worst. In an unexpected bar.

My assumption is if you are reading this and have any serious intent to walk this walk that you have or will acquire the book 'Via Egnatia on Foot' from viaegnatiafoundation.eu

So on page 98, the short preview of the walk says: Rating - moderate, muddy sections in wet weather conditions

This I think is really quite an underestimate. When I walked it was not raining, though it had been raining earlier in the week earlier along the path. Mud was not the problem but erosion of the GPS path.

The book accurately comments on the beauty of the views from the path. You can see my trace on Strava and I think I followed the route in the book very closely.

It is the first section from Mirakë to Babje which is the difficult bit. I guess I didn't pay much heed in advance to the comment on page 98: 'Although potentially dangerous depending on the season...' Finding the path not difficult, if you follow the description in the book, and there is a clearly visible stony path for the first few km. It gets narrower and narrower, and there is evidence that it is used regularly by animals.

But on page 99 it says - the path becomes very narrow for about 150m. This is a gross underestimate of the present condition (May 2019). For several km the road is exceptionally narrow, only the width of one shoe - you canot put your feet down next to each other. And it is quite overgrown with thornbushes, though these are very useful to hang on to. And the path is sometimes angled downwards at about 45 degrees. I don't want to suggest it is like climbing the Himalayas but it is an order off magnitude more difficult that most regular Camino-like mountain experiences. There are two or three tiny modern concrete bridges over narrow gorges, often difficult to navigate over logs that have been washed over them.

Ane eventually you will reach Babje. And no problems after that. There is an unusual bunker built into hillside over to your left at one point, with two arched doorways. You will doubtless be tempted to visit - you can walk through it. Be aware that it is taking you a few hundred metres from the (by now easy) path and you should retrace your paths afterward.

I met a snake while walking on the first part of the path, but was not in a position to take a picture!

The book (page 99) says 'People with vertigo or fear of heights may prefer to go back to the main road at Mirakë take a taxi or minibus and pick up the route again from 'upper' Babje.' The problem with this, I think, is that if you get to a point where you are uneasy about going forward any further - and check the trace as you walk, when you get to Babje there are no more problems - you will need to retrace your steps which will NOT be an inviting prospect if you are now feeling queasy.

It is hard to advise other people. I am 65 and not super fit, but probably fitter than average. I am not generally comfortable with heights and would not ever go somewhere high just for recreation. But I can plod on when I have to. I did have to hang on to bushes several times in order to feel comfortable. I did have to stop and think quite a few times. And I occasionally sought to climb higher to find a safer route, but the area is quite overgrown. I would NOT go again if it was raining. I am not sure I would go again in the dry, unless I really had to.

Looking now at Google maps, and the map on page 99 (which is cut off) the alternative would be to go to Librazhd on the main road from Mirakë either by taxi or by foot. (It is about 7km.) Librazhd is a town with facilities and you could certainly get advice there. There is a path up the mountain again to Babje, if you are keen to return to 'official'(?) path. But note that Google Maps says this is 10km.

I would love to hear how other people tackled this stretch. After my return, I contacted the foundation and said I thought the path was not really safe and they (they are very friendly and responsive) said they have a note to that effect on the website. I found it after a bit of digging, but I cannot find it again today!

EDIT: I have found the errata page and here is what it says. After WP7: we are advised to issue an extra warning for this passage. Please be very careful or avoid this part as described in the guide.
I should say that this is NOT in response to my report, but my report concurs with that.

Errata here: https://www.viaegnatiafoundation.eu/index.php/guide-book/addenda-and-errata


I mentioned that there had been the possibility of a walking companion for this day. In retrospect it would have made things much easier.

The walk on to Dardhë from Babje was fine and I took the 'steep alternative shortcut' towards the end and soon found myself in Dardhë and was reunited with my companion who had received a very warm welcome from the children at the school as mentioned in the guide book. The second bar, next to the school, will sort out the link with the school for (very basic) accommodation. It is quite high up - almost 2000 feet and was very very cold at night in May.
 
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VNwalking

Wandering in big circles
Camino(s) past & future
Francés ('14/'15)
San Olav/CF ('16)
Baztanés/CF ('17)
Ingles ('18)
Vasco/CF/Invierno ('19)
I was picking my way along precipices for nearly 2km hanging on to thorn bushes. Nerve-wracking.
For several km the road is exceptionally narrow, only the width of one shoe - you canot put your feet down next to each other. And it is quite overgrown with thornbushes, though these are very useful to hang on to.
Whenever you feel the road is a bit tough an octogenarian tends to pop out of the undergrowth cheerfully encouraging some wayward sheep.
Maybe one of those octogenarians wrote the guide.

Well, done, Tim - and thank you for sharing the journey.
And you say you're not super-fit?
OK, maybe tomorrow you won't be doing an Ironman Triathlon...but I would bet that you're a whole lot fitter than many if not most of us. So if it's a challenge for you, the rest of us are fairly warned.;)
 

timr

Active Member
Camino(s) past & future
Several and counting...
Via Egnatia Day 8 (but I am adding this here in July 2019)
Friday 3rd May
Dardhë to Berzeshta 16.7km
So here is what I said on Facebook: A really exceptionally beautiful walk today. Down from the mountains, though still at 450m. To a welcoming family in a farm. Oh and I've met up with Jamie from Australia with whom to walk! Albania ends tomorrow. I'm going to stay tomorrow night at Lin and cross into North Macedonia on Sunday morning.
The book, (without which, as I keep emphasising, this walk would not be feasible for me) says of today: "One of the most wonderful sections of VE following the original road with wide views over lush pastures on one side and high mountains on the other. The road crosses a waterfall with the remains of a Roman bridge. You will meet mostly goats, horses and herdsmen...."(page 101)

And I think that is quite a fair description, although I did not see any horses. And the remains of the Roman bridge form the rather unconvincing base of a more recent wooden bridge. It did not look terribly strong, but we both got across! I was walking with my new Australian companion. There is still a fair bit of climbing today although the general direction is down, towards the village(s) of Qukës. Never very easy to tell where you are exactly as there is never a sign giving any small hamlet a name. We did not take the diversion to Xhyrë (page 102).

Towards the end of the walk we met a man in a big lorry who greeted us warmly and said we should stay with him and meet him for a drink in the evening. In fact we were planning to stay in an AirBnB which my companion had booked long before, and which was a bit further on near to Berzeshte.

A strange thing happened: we both had GPS traces from the same source on our phones, but although they were both supplied this year, they seemed subtly different and took a different route over the last couple of kilometres though they both would finish at the bridge at Berzeshte. As we had plenty of time on this short stage we split up and went our separate ways, arranging to meet at the bridge and proceed to Air BnB. My companions route was very similar but slightly to the north a few hundred metres nearet to the river and both routes parallel to the river.

I came to a confusing point where the very obvious road seemed blocked by a gate into a private residence. I began to walk around it on an impossibly overgrown path behind, when I heard a call summoning me to the gate. In I went, to a large yard with a number of vehicles and farm machinery and then a large house. The path I had been following took me right through the compound. If I had paid more attention to the book this would not have been so surprising as it is described clearly: (page 103) ....you'll reach the fence of a farmyard. Open it and keep L. A dog on a chain is on the R side. Close the fence behind you. This is the farmhouse of Sabri Kocali and his hospitable family."

I was welcomed to the verandah by the senior family members, Mr & Mrs Kocali. Communication was a bit difficult, but they were very friendly and brought cold drinks, which were welcome. They wanted me to stay, but I explained as best I could that I was going on to meet a friend. So after 20 minutes I continued. The road continues on through the compound to another gate, past a very big house on the right and then the bridge is ahead and there was my companion. Across the bridge is a small clearing with a shop and a bar and a place where taxis and buses stop I think. Just before the bridge, on the farm side, was a man with a tractor and trailer full of sheep whom he was ritually slaughtering, halal style. Albania is, officially, 80% Muslim, even though it appeared that external practice was not at this level.

We went for coffee and with the help of some local young men, contacted the AirBnB which turned out not to exist! So plan B. We went back to the Kocali family and were welcomed again. We received more cold beers, and snacks, and were shown to comfortable room with two settee beds, and there was a warm shower. Family members and grandchildren arrived in the evening and we were given a hearty meal, though we didn't eat WITH the family, we rather ate while they looked at us, but you get used to that! One of the daughters-in-law was a teacher and we had a bit more conversation. And the lorry driver whom we had met earlier in the day was indeed the son of the family and turned up later and we drank a beer with him!

Earlier in the afternoon we had asked them if they wanted payment and we paid €20 each sort of at their suggestion. To me this seemed a perfectly reasonable transaction. We had plenty to eat and drink including cooked breakfast the next morning and comfortable beds (in which, otherwise, I guess the grandchildren would have slept. They were curled up in the dining room asleep when we had our breakfast.).

We had no other immediate option of anywhere to stay, and they had given me refreshments gratis earlier in the day when I had apparently just stopped in passing.

I am saying this because I had a short conversation with some people behind me who seemed unhappy about this arrangement. And I am not sure why the GPX track which my companion I had, from the same source, brought him past the home of the Kocalis (ie bypassing them. It appears to have been changed. But I don't wish to make a big issue of this.)

If I were going again, I would stay with them again, and have no problem giving them €20. It is a poor country and I am happy to support people who are offering what appeared to me gracious and generous hospitality. They are still listed on the webpage.

I have now re-found the errata page on the website and see this: The family mentioned in the book tries to charge € 20 p.p. Yes it is true but as I say, not a problem for me.

If your GPX trace brings you to the bridge without going through the Kocali farm, no problem. Turn around and walk back veering left on path away from river. It's only about 10 mins. You'll pass big gates on your left and then gates in front of you blocking path. Go in!
 
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timr

Active Member
Camino(s) past & future
Several and counting...
Via Egnatia Day 9 (but I am adding this here in July 2019)
Saturday 4th May
Berzeshta to Lin 20.8km

OK here is what I wrote on Strava: V È Day 9 Berzeshta to Lin. More climbing - it never ends. But repaid by great views of Lake Ohrid. Preceded by fearsome encounter with six dogs and an axe-wielding shepherd. And that's the end of Albania. Macedonia tomorrow.

And here is what I wrote on Facebook:
Check out the view of the lake across my beer and chips. This is Lin on Lake Ohrid. A fearsome climb to get here but worth it. Just a few km from the Macedonian border - I'll cross over tomorrow. I'm in the shadow of an Orthodox church which I'll visit later. I was beset by six dogs high in the mountains on the way. Possibly a cross between Maremma (Italian) and er a wolf! I'm not making this up. Six came at me and surrounded me barking furiously but NOT attacking me. The shepherd was near and came running, leaving his flock of goats, He was carrying a sizeable axe. I don't know what he might be planning to do with it. He was a bit cross with me for a moment. Why? But he called off the dogs and then we chatted. Once you tell people you are walking to Istanbul they are favorably impressed! He sent the dogs and goats and sheep away ahead using dog and sheep language and said we could walk together - he could bring me into Macedonia. I told him I wanted one more night in Albania and he was sad but we parted friends.
Lin is a beautiful tiny village on a peninsula in Lake Ohrid which is at about 2,000 feet. It has a unique fish, the koran, and is a world heritage lake, the most biodiverse for its size, with 200 species.
Tiny - 600 people. It should be better known but rather nice that it is not! I will be trying the fish later. Although it is protected, this is not illegal.

And
I can't explain how lovely this tiny town is. Just a long single street along the lakeside. Every one says hello (mirë dita) and wants to chat. I met Fathers Nestor and Petro at the Orthodox church and will return in the morning before heading to Macedonia. There is total religious freedom here and people are very interested in you.
It's just a bit cold!! But we are high high in the mountains.
Check out Nicola and his wife Mirlank, aged 85 and very content. He has been in Toronto and Paris where his sons live. He's seen such lot of changes in this country.


So. Not a difficult walk really, although, as seemingly every day, a good deal of climbing, up to 700m and down again and then again up and over at 1000m. The road not difficult to find using GPX. I was walking, most of the day, with my new found Australian companion, though we amicably separated for differing routes over the last few kilometres and were reunited in Lin. Around the middle of the walk after going over the hills the first time you come to the railway. My companion was tempted to walk through the tunnel. I was not. Anyway, it is blocked, so you don't need to investigate it.

We took a slight diversion into the town of Prenjas which was buzzing with gentle activity on Saturday morning and lots of shops, cafés and banks. And as always extraordinarily friendly people. You can carry on through Prenjas and pick up the path again.

The description of the routes in the book on page 107 is hopelessly confused, as the website errata confirms. The A route and the B route are swapped in the description.

If you are looking at the map in the book, I would say we went to the left and on to marked waypoint 6 and then I went to marked waypoint 7 and took the dotted route back down to Lin. The actual waypoints, as detailed in the book, I never used, and don't know how to!

It was a nice route. A bit of gentle scrambling through thorn bushes and nettles at times, but if you have got this far you will be used to this by now. And a glorious point comes when you find yourself looking down into Lake Ohrid, which is quite splendid.

I strongly, strongly recommend going to Lin and staying a night there. It is a quite lovely little village with hugely friendly people. It is a sort of holiday village, but it was not busy in May. It is quite a long way off any beaten track.

So the dotted path (on page 107) brings you to a sort of plateau and up ahead on the skyline you will begin to see lorries passing as this is the main highway to the border. You will cross this to head down to Lin. Take note of the route as you will essentially be retracing your steps the next day. My companion by the way diverted to the right on a path noted on his GPS phone app as original VE and he got to Lin safely too.
Just before the road was where I had my most striking (up to that point) sheep dog experience. The path each day, once you are past Golem, passes through high pastures and you will meet sheep and goats several times every day.

You need to be slightly wary, or at least aware, of them. It is their country, the animals and the shepherds. And they have a way of doing things. The dogs are well trained and their job is to protect the sheep from any threat, especially I guess wolves. I didn't ever see one, but people on the website say they did.

Here on the plateau below the main road, I saw a large flock of sheep over to the left. I thought I was keeping a good way from them, but suddenly found myself literally surrounded by six large dogs. They were about the size of small shetland ponies. All the same, large and white, long haired, a bit like Maremma in Italy. Two in front of me, two to the side and two behind. They were barking loudly, but were NOT physically threatening me. I can be fairly sanguine in such circumstances. I see nothing to be gained by going on the offensive. The noise was very great and I looked up and with the sheep probably 200m away, I saw a wiry fit man running towards me with a small bag over one shoulder and a sizeable axe in his hand - the kind you might use to chop down a very large tree. I thought that perhaps either I or the dogs were in trouble. He looked rather angry, and I am not really clear why. He shouted something at me, and then said something quietly to the dogs, who immediately stopped barking and went back to the sheep.

We got to talk then and he became friendly. He spoke a little Italian. He was from (what I still incautiously then referred to as) North Macedonia and was taking his sheep back that way. He was interested to hear of my past and future walking and said I should come with him and he would see me over the border, but I told him I wanted to go to Lin. We parted friends. There is something very very hospitable about shepherds. I prefer not to imagine what the purpose of the axe was, though I did get to wonder how you feed six very large dogs every day!

The way down to the lake thereafter, over the main road, is rather steep and goes through a sort of dry gorge, but it is always easy to know you are going in the right direction. You will eventually come to a railway line and can then walk along the lakeside path to Lin. You will eventually come to a tarred road and a kind of market square and a mosque, and a hotel. Keep going down towards the (rare) old Orthodox church and opposite the gate is Rosa's BandB. Rosa has excellent English and is charming, as is her husband Roland and their house is beautiful, and runs right down to the lake. We spent a very pleasant overnight there.

If you choose to stay for a day, as my companion did there is plenty to see - well a bit anyway. There is a shrine up over the town and there are mosaics. Or just relax - there is a lot to be said for that.

On Saturday evening I went across to the Orthodox church and met two priests, Nestor and Petro and the elderly Naum, who looks after the church. The church somehow survived the wholesale bulldozing of religious institutes during the Enver Hoxha years and it is charming.


I walked up and down the town and everyone I met wanted to say hello.

I returned to the church on Sunday morning for liturgy, just one of the priests and Naum, and myself present at the start. 'Liturgy' on Sunday in an orthodox church takes between one and a half and two hours and combines morning prayer with eucharist. It was sung throughout in a mixture of Albanian and Greek (which I could pick out a bit). Naum and Fr Nestor chanted back and forth to one another, barely taking a breath. After a while an elderly lady (in widow's black) came, accompanied by her granddaughter (in ripped jeans and an Adidas top) and took their seats at the back. They were accompanied by the lady's son whom I daresay was the girl's father. He was dressed for the fields. He had a bottle of water with him and greeted everyone (ie all three of us). He came up to me and offered me a drink of water. It felt churlish to decline so I took a sip, only to discover it was raki! Raki is rather like Italian grappa, usually home-made. He was happy I had tried it! He then offered the bottle to his elderly mother who took a very encouraging swig, and I am sure was not at all surprised to find what it was. He left, and we all continued. There was much incense, and the thurible (the implement for incensing) had many tinkling bells on its chains. It would be hard to dislike an event like this, and it also felt very spiritual. I was not invited to receive communion (though the priest knew I was a priest) . but in fact no one else but the priest did. We all shared 'blessed bread' (not sacramental) at the end of the liturgy and this seems very normal in orthodox churches.

It may be worth contacting Rosa in advance if you are going at a busy time. You can find her on Facebook
https://www.facebook.com/Rosasbedandbreakfast/ I didn't phone, but I add these details from Anita Raftery's website (edit: but I have changed the phone number to that on the FB page)

Rosa’s B&B (+355 69 653 6487, English spoken) €25 a night with breakfast
bedandbreakfastlin@gmail.com
Anita's website I should say is a treasure trove of information and very entertaining. http://anitasviaegnatia.blogspot.com/

You COULD continue on to the left and cross the border into NM. From the point where you cross the highway it is only a couple of km at most from there. But you have a long walk after that to the next place to stop.
 
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timr

Active Member
Camino(s) past & future
Several and counting...
Via Egnatia Day 10 (but I am adding this here in July 2019)
Sunday 5th May
Lin to Struga 21.35km

"He marched them up to the top of the hill and he marched them down again..."

As I explained above I began the day with breakfast and then a very leisurely long eucharist at the orthodox parish at my gate. Then I set out for North Macedonia (as I was still merrily calling it - it is only when you get to Greece that the name becomes problematic). My Australian companion was staying an extra day to pay a visit to some Illyrian tombs near(-ish) by. It didn't go well for him, because of the rain. It didn't go to well for me either....

So the route out of Lin is to exactly retrace the steps of yesterday which means a very steep climb back up to the main road. It is only about 300m but it is VERY steep and the road rather overgrown, though no problem finding the right direction. You just go up and up and up until you hit the main road. I had to come close to the site of my encounter with the six big dogs of yesterday, but they were nowhere to be seen. As I climbed over a crash barrier to get on to the main road it started to rain. It started to rain very heavily indeed. So heavily indeed that within just a few minutes I was extremely wet and could barely see where I was going. Visibility was down to less than 20 feet. I took shelter in a small cafe near the border and had to stay there for an hour.

There is something strange about the border. Obviously there is a border on the lake and you could walk around the lake all the way to Struga - but there is not path, and it would be illegal entry. So you have to climb up 1000 feet from the lake shore and then on the far side of the border you go right back to the lake shore where the road begins again.

When the rain abated I went to the border and very sadly left Albania and carried on over to North Macedonia. New language, new alphabet, new money and new name. It has been called many things in its time, but most recently it was called the Socialist Republic of Macedonia (within Yugoslavia) after WWII. Then with the end of Yugoslavia, it became the Republic of Macedonia, and sometimes FYROM (the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia). There was an ongoing dispute with Greece over the name which was only resolved within the past 12 months and finally agreed with a referendum in each country. So since February 12 2019 it has formally been called the Republic of North Macedonia or simply North Macedonia. This complexity is a small taster for the immensely complicated (and fascinating) history of all of the Balkans.

Entry took a minute and the border guards were welcoming. The most immediate thing to notice is that the alphabet is Cyrillic, although some signs are also in the Latin alphabet. I can at least read the letters, although they are not quite the same as in Russian which uses almost the same alphabet.

Shortly after the border crossing there is a sharp turn to the right, well signposted. I waited here to allow an enormous flock of sheep and goats to pass. The road is quite well marked, and is in fact a cycle path for mountain bikes, though I did not see any. Very few people around in fact. You need to use the GPS to find a fairly sharp turn into a narrow road to the left at one point, just about when the path has brought you very nearly back into Albania. This brings you to a gentle decline down the side of the mountain and to the small town of Radozhda. If you miss the turn, I don't think there is a problem you will get down to the lake side more quickly and more steeply but not so far on around the lake. There was little sign of life in Radozhda, apart from a few people having Sunday lunch in their houses. Macedonia is a poor country but it is immediately clear it is not so poor as Albania. The road when you reach it is better and there are quite a lot of signs about the place, including some signage about the Via Egnatia.

I climbed up a lot of wet steps to a cave church along the way after Radozhda, but was not overly surprised to find it was locked. The most immediate change in the wayside scenery is the appearance of little orthodox shrines - dozens and dozens of them. Albania is 80% Muslim, though pretty secular. NM is 80% orthodox. The road continues all around the lake, sometimes along the lakeshore sometimes coming inland a little bit. Always obviously completely level.

After a while you come to a monastery right on the lakeside at Kalishta and you simply walk through the grounds. I had a quick look into the church and was welcomed by a young man who was keeping an eye on it. I did not see any monks - apparently they are a dying breed.

The path is rather unexciting but I was not complaining about its flatness and soon I reached Struga. By the time I reached Struga I was very cold, very wet, very hungry and very tired. Struga (Струга) has the appearance of a holiday resort town. I saw a monumentally huge hotel on the lake shore. I decided to stay there, whatever it cost. I can't remember what it cost but it was not very much, possibly because it was out of season. It seemed to have hundreds of rooms, but most of the things like lakeside bars and restauarants and swimming pools were not open yet. I received a great welcome from a kind lady who told me that he name was Снежана (Snežana) which means Snow White! I thought that was nice. The room was very comfortable. The bathroom had an ominous note which said in several languages: "This is technical water. Please do not drink it." I didn't.

The town itself is fascinating. Lake Ohrid is unusual. It is very deep and very old and is fed by aquifers underground rather than by rivers. The only river attached flows out from the apex of the lake here in Struga. And it is channelled then through the centre of a very wide street with fashionable shops and bars, including the Princess Diana Bar, along its length. A very nice cosmopolitan feel with lots of bars and eateries and all very cheap.

Fun reading the menus: You just 'sound out the letters' as I was taught sixty years ago. I can manage that. помфрит Got it? pomphrit....yes chips. OK for those at the back 'pommes frites.'

I had a very nice supper in a very cheap restaurant recommended by Tripadvisor. And i slept very well indeed.
 
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timr

Active Member
Camino(s) past & future
Several and counting...
Via Egnatia Day 11 (but I am adding this here in July 2019)
Monday 6th May
Struga to Ohrid 14.2km

Here is what I wrote on FB before I left Struga.
It's all go here. Election yesterday and the Pope arrives tomorrow. It is much more prosperous looking than Albania but no more expensive. I'm in a monster convention hotel on the lakeside. World Food Programme are here for conference. I'm in restaurant with undoubtedly the biggest and most diverse breakfast buffet I've ever seen. And it's cheap.
Why did I feel I needed this pampering? Because when I trudged in last evening I was cold, wet through, hungry and tired. All of which can be cured with a shower and a snack. I told already about the rain at the border - the border 1000 feet above the lake. Coming down was easier. I met maybe 100 sheep and goats at one point and had a kind of standoff with a couple of dogs. I'm getting good at this, I think. Basically you just need to wait until the shepherd (average age 75) sees you and he quickly restores peace. Sheep dogs (even though they are NOT like Lassie here and can be huge) are nothing like the problem which stray feral dogs can be, because they are disciplined.
I'll head around the lake a short way to Ohrid today. According to the book it is not horrid in Ohrid. I'll meet up with my recent traveling companion, Jamie from Australia there. He has been off investigating Illyrian tombs. In the rain.


Rather little to say about today's walk. Dead level around the lake on a largely quite road, sometimes on a track parallel to the road. At one point the road passes the end of the runway of the local airport. Planes land and take off over the lake. Plenty of nice views of the lake and of birds. Nothing very exciting..... But a gentle day's walk.

After less than three hours I reached Ohrid, which you climb up to a bit and then down again to the old walled city down again on the lake. A very impressive ancient walled city with a fort and a large Orthodox church and lots of small shops and restaurants. A touristy kind of place. Very nice.

I stayed in Apartmani Marija (booking.com), a little BnB right down near the old harbour. Very nice and a bargain at £15.

I wrote this after I arrived and had some lunch: I'm having Тавче гравче (Tavče gravče) or "beans in a pot". Mmmmmm. I'm at the harbour of ancient walled city of Ohrid. But I'm inside as its bitterly cold.😩 The lake is at 700m and is "one of the oldest in the world ". I don't know how they know that! I'll visit St Sophia church later.

The only drawback was that it was really very cold! Far too cold to sit out. And the friendly host in the BnB, which was modern and clean, knocked on the door to bring me an electric radiator, which was appreciated. St Sophia was very impressive, although there is a certain sameness about all orthodox churches. That is not meant as a criticism, but they are not as 'characterful' or individual as many Catholic cathedrals are. I think. But they are beautiful and edifying and have an air of holiness nonetheless. In the evening I met up with my Australian companion, and we sheltered from a heavy shower of rain and had some supper. He had obtained a map of the national park through which tomorrow's walk will pass. It didn't seem to add a lot of information, although it implied there were plenty of paths. My friend, being more historically minded, is staying for an extra night in Ohrid, to view the monuments.

The guide book is rather alarming about tomorrow's walk and implies it will be difficult. Do I lose any sleep? No!
 

timr

Active Member
Camino(s) past & future
Several and counting...
Via Egnatia Day 12 (but I am adding this here in July 2019)
Tuesday 7th May
Ohrid to Resen 28.68km

"You'll never walk alone" (from the musical, Carousel, by Rodgers and Hammerstein, as recorded by Gerry and the Pacemakers in 1963 and now the iconic song of Liverpool FC.

But I did walk alone. But read to the end......

So this day incorporates two stages in the book. The book gives Stage 5, Section 1 Ohrid to Velgosti (4.5km, 'easy') and then Stage 5 Section 2 Velgosti to Resen (22km 'difiicult').

Mmm. Difficult is expanded a bit: navigation skills needed, not if snow.

Well it did make me slightly anxious, but my attitude is really that I am going to go, somehow, and I am going to walk, somehow or other, so as long as it is not impossible, I am not too bothered. I don't spend hours poring over elevation profiles, because really it is not going to make a huge difference to me. I plod on.

It was a nice day and I had some breakfast and didn't start too early. It has been cold. I largely followed the GPS track that I had, at least until I got to the top of the 'hill' - which was an ascent of about 900m. It was easy enough to find the path and to get to Velgosti, where the book had suggested camping for the night, to shorten the day. I of course had not done this. I arrived at a little orthodox church and went in for a few minutes. There were signboards, bleached clean, which may have given directions to the St Petka Monastery but I could not be sure and as the day was going to be long I didn't investigate further. It was at the monastery one might have camped.

The book then gets rather serious, telling you to climb another 700m to the high plateau, and says the use of waypoints and a compass is mandatory. Mmmm. Well I have not used waymarks at all and do not possess a compass, although my Garmin running watch has an app which will tell me what direction I am going in which can be helpful. Another attempt at a scaring note is this. "Donkeys will have trouble on overgrown paths so the use of them is not recommended." (p124)Another piece of advice which didn't require any change in my plans.

Then on p 125: "Mountain Rescue.....call them only in the case of a real emergency. Rescue will cost hundreds of euros."

I was not sure at this stage whether the undertaking was dangerously foolish, but I felt I had got a long way from Canterbury and my intent was to continue. So off I went up from Velgosti. I don't think you could find the road without GPS, but really with it there was not problem. If you are going up you are going in the right direction. It is a long way up but not impossibly steep, and eventually you come to a high plateau, very lush and green and full of wild flowers and loud with birdsong. Really very beautiful. This I guess was round about waypoint 4 in the guide. There is a kind of a footpath but it is not always convicing. but the GPS keeps you in the right direction. Yes it is fairly overgrown in parts, but again not impossibly so. The plateau part is quite wide and quite flat.

This area is the Galiçiça Natural Reserve, and there is some signage, though it is a bit erratic and not always clear. After a while I came to a place where paths seem to cross and there was a big signboard, but very little information on it. But there was a sigh pointing to Resen which was where I wanted to go. I followed the signs, and NOT the complicated narrative directions in the book. I followed a marked cycle path to Resen. This is clearly not the path through the deserted village of Petrino, but is further to the south. I did find red and white GR markings along the way (with no additional explanations) and very occasionally a signboard pointing to Resen. At times this was a broken signpost lying flat on the floor, which is less than helpful.

There are no facilities of any kind along the way so you need some water and food if you wish - I rarely bother. with food. The trip downwards is very very very long and slow. You feel like a plane coming down from 35000 feet. Sometimes through fields, sometimes through woodland. At this stage, as long as you are going downward you cannot be toing too far wrong. It is certainly a LONG way, but eventually I hit a a road among apple orchards and another few km brought me to the town of Resen, which is famous for apples.

The book keep talking about 'logging roads' but I didn't see any. There were certainly very rutted roads in parts, but the kind which a Toyota Landcruiser could negotiate rather than a logging lorry. There was a little clearing of trees in parts, but no large scale logging.

So a day which I enjoyed, and I have to say I was a little relieved to arrive at Resen. The view of Ohrid,behind me at the beginning was wonderful. Looking back, it is not at day which would appeal to everyone. I met no one, not a soul, between the outskirts of Ohrid, before Velgosti and my arrival in Resen. I didn't even meet any shepherds - I must have been too high for sheep. And I certainly didn't meet any mountain bikers or tourists in the national park. I was walking for a long time., seven hours.

I wrote this on Facebook
It is in Ресен which we would write as Resen. My 12th walking day. This is the only day the book describes as "difficult" - though it was shy about saying anything derogatory about the life-threatening and truly dangerous day after Mirakë!
Ohrid to Resen
Two genuine problems. The distance - 29km. And the climb to 5,213 ft. (Nairobi is 5800 for comparison). It was very steep up - which for me is the easier bit. Coming down felt like a plane coming down from 35,000 feet. It took forever, and hard on knees and ankles. Stunning views of first Lake Ohrid and then Lake Prespa. The walk was mostly through a National Park, so a bit of helpful signage and waymarking for the first time since leaving Italy.
Resen is now famous for apples - huge orchards as far as the eye can see as you finally get near. And actually in blossom which was nice to see.
Macedonia is a very Christian country - about 80% Orthodox, 10% Catholic and 10% Muslim. The Pope is here today as it happens, in Skopje where Mother Teresa was born. The countryside is dotted with shrines and churches and tiny monasteries which is rather nice.
It's a busy little town. I found the hotel after a while. It is also a hostel for migrant apple pickers, so you might rightly imagine it has no pretensions to be the Ritz! There are tourist hotels down at the lake as many told me. "Haven't you got car?" Walkers are a bit of novelty here!
The book spoke of "scrambling downhill" following the sound of a bubbling stream. I think I found a better path than that myself, different to the one described. I have something of a sense of achievement today.
Only dampener.....my left shoe is not in great shape. They are the ones I bought in Pavia, over 2000km back. I can't imagine where I can buy any before Thessaloniki. May need duct tape. 😢


Resen is an unpretentious little market town. Yes there are tourist hotels on the lake apparently - a new lake, not lake Ohrid. But I found a hotel over the Roma Pizzeria in the main square. I don't think it had a name. It is the hostel for apple pickers in season and as I said above devoid of pretensions. I don't think it has a name, but if you ask for directions to Western Union you will find it. There was a rather nice coffee bar across the square. There was nice pizza in the friendly bar underneath the hotel. The men of the town where watching TV. Liverpool (where I come from) where playing in the second leg of the European Champions League semifinal. They had a seemingly impossible task to overcome a 3-0 deficit in the first leg. And up to half time the score was 1-0 to Liverpool and it looked like the dream was over. But the scored three more times in the second half to give them a place in the final. The men were happy to know I was from Liverpool. In fact I am not a fervid football fan, and would always pick Everton, the other team from Liverpool. But still I was happy! You'll never walk alone......

So my advice would be to take water, take your time and use the GPS. If you don't like walking alone.....well if you don't like walking alone I don't think you would be walking in Albania and North Macedonia anyway. This day was not orders of magnitude more difficult than other days, whatever the book says - it is the only stage classified as 'difficult'. Having said that, I imagine nettles, grass, thistles and bushes would be more troublesome later in the season.
 
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malingerer

Active Member
Friday 26th April
Day 2
From Golem to Memzote. 21km
NOTE I am also writing on FB but this is more expanded version. Take your pick! 😀

Within 10 minutes you have left the 'city' behind and are heading out on an open road. It is a tarred road, in the beginning but there is really no traffic! I'm using GPS trails on my phone. And I have a Dutch book linked to these trails. It is 'Via Egnatia on foot' by Marietta van Attekum and Holger de Bruin. It's in English. Obtainable from www.viaegnatiafoundation.eu They supply the gpx files on condition you do not share them, which is reasonable I think, given they are a charitable foundation working to promote and develop the route, working with local partners. Having said that, my own trace is recorded daily (including getting lost) on Strava under my name.

Being very dependent on GPS brings added difficulties I will come back to.
Navigation otherwise very difficult....tiny villages have no names and I haven't seen any kind of signpost anywhere.

I took the shorter 'dry weather' route which soon headed into the hills. Would be difficult if wet. There is a fair bit of fording of streams!

I can say 'good day' and 'good morning' and people in the fields are happy to respond. No one much has English but quite a good bit of Italian spoken.

I met two old men riding donkeys. A donkey could set you back €1000 I was told. I wonder could that possibly be true? But certainly it would give you some status. I saw ponies and traps as well. And occasionally funny little tractors that looked like they were powered by a lawnmower engine.

I found a little bar in a place which is called Helmas and had a coffee - Turkish style with lots of sugar. The host refused to accept payment. I got talking to a young man in Italian. He is a nurse in a government clinic and is paid €200/month. It is a poor country, though costs are quite low. But petrol is €1.40 a litre!

After Helmas I took the wet weather route avoiding another ford. My feet were slightly wet from previous episodes. I came upon three men planting trees and one called me and said I could stay the night in the next village. He called his wife and said I was on the way. Up to then I had no plans for the night. There was a hotel further ahead which wpuld have involved crossing a motorway and climbing over the central reservation!

In Memzote (which Google does not know) I met Lindita, Saku's wife and sat in the shop. Italian works well - there's usually someone who can translate into Albanian. Lots of people interviewed me. Everyone was Muslim and interested in why I was here. A young boy took me on a tour of the village including the cemetery. We didn't have one word in common but somehow we both managed to pray for his Granny, to the same God, by slightly different routes.

In the evening we had a barbecue and many visitors came. All male, apart from Lindita! Women stay at home in Albania. One shop and a mosque - that's Memzote. A place of great old fashioned hospitality of the road.

A few thoughts:
  1. It's a very poor country. Infrastructure, like roads, is very basic. I lived in Kenya for many years. Could Albania be poorer? I guess not but certainly the poorest country I've been to in Europe.
  2. I'm thinking it's a hard country for women. They are out in the fields doing manual work and herding castle and goats but otherwise not much to be seen. I don't think that necessarily means they are unhappy.
  3. In Memzote there were lots of cheerful boys in the street playing football. No girls to be seen. My host told me his own primary school girls go to school in Tirana. But not everyone could afford this surely.
  4. It sounds a cliché, but the people are lovely and welcoming.
  5. Bunkers- Enver Hoxha had 700,000 built. Everyone in the country could fit into them! They are everywhere, like a parody of the trulli of Puglia. It's not clear what they were really for our who they would repel! I was told women had to give up there wedding rings to pay for their construction.
  6. There is a new mosque in every village and the muezzin can be heard calling throughout the day. But I've not seen anyone going to a mosque! All religions were banned completely in the Communist era. There are Catholics and Orthodox, but where I am at present is particularly Muslim. The people I've spoken to are very tolerant. All the cemeteries I've seen have Islamic symbolism, though none a very old.
I worked in Albania for a year and your writings bring back many memories! buen viaje and safe home too!

The malingerer.
 

timr

Active Member
Camino(s) past & future
Several and counting...
I worked in Albania for a year and your writings bring back many memories! buen viaje and safe home too!

The malingerer.
Thanks very much! I am back in London now. The notes are behind and not 'live from' any more. I got as far as Thessaloniki this time and it was a wonderful experience. I am following someone online who is walking there right now and already I am very nostalgic. It must have been fascinating to live there. Tim
 

timr

Active Member
Camino(s) past & future
Several and counting...
Via Egnatia Day 13 (but I am adding this here in July 2019)
Wednesday 8th May
Resen to Trbono 30.77km

Somewhat (characteristically) unplanned.....

I am not much of a planner-aheader. I hardly ever have a return plane ticket when I set out on a walk. I have only the vaguest idea of when I will finish. And I generally do not book accommodation ahead or at least, not more than one or at the most two days ahead. Who knows what will turn up? Clearly this attitude and lifestyle are much more appropriate for someone travelling alone than for someone taking someone else's point of view into consideration.

I felt a sense of achievement after yesterday's walk and thought I was entitled to a gentler day and perhaps even a lie in. An advantage of walking in spring is that you don't have the high temperatures of later in the year to contend with and there is no need to rise early to beat the heat. So I got up around eight and went across the road for a light breakfast and headed off. I planned to stay in Capari in a monastery, though I had made no contact with them.

The walk was gentle enough and the first surprising thing was a large French-style chateau on the side of the road. A pleasing diversion. Here is what I said on Facebook.
Have I gone to France overnight? Well no! But this is the "French House" in Resen, a Chateau built by a Turkish chieftain in the 19th Century. It is like a Chateau on the Loire! I passed it as I left the city and went in. Slightly showing its age but it houses an amazing and very unexpected collection of contemporary ceramics. Well worth the €1 to get in.

The path continues past an industrial area with an old Soviet factory and then you proceed through many acres of orchards, (and a little bit of getting lost) bit a friendly ancient beldam put me on the right path.
I reached Sopotsko. This is a very rural area. Old road, old tumbledown buildings. a bit of fording of rivers and lots of apples. Sopotsko was fast asleep. The shop was not open. No one seemed to be around. The 'old communist cultural centre building' was there and was open, but no sign of life inside.
The book recommends an local English-speaking guide for the following section. "Ditar is a hunter and knows the deserted woods between Sopotsko and Djabato well. If you are concerned about safety, take him with you." It sounds a bit alarming doesn't it? I was not concerned about my safety, even in 'deserted woods' so did not look for him.

The notes at the bottom of p129 - p130 are useful at a confusing junction of paths. Strangely the road shortly after is a partly tarred road, parallel to a main road, and rises up (quite gently) to the Djavato pass, with a church (closed) at the top. No traffic, not a single wheel to be seen for many kilometres along the path, though the road was busy below.


The book proposes 'three sides of a square' through Dolenci (which sounded attractive: 'a Muslim village where time seems to have come to a standstill centuries ago.') It would bring you to see cobbles and the remains of a castle. Meh! I thought about it, as the day got hotter, and decided against it.
So I continued straight on and soon got to the turn for Capari, hopeful that this was the end of my journey.
Capari had a huge church and huge cemetery, but not a lot else. I went looking for a shop where I hoped to by something to bring to the monastery. There was a sign to the monastery, to the right, before you get to the village, but I decided to go into the village first.

I will put my Facebook notes here.
Day 13 walking. Resen to Trnovo. 31km
I'm in a place called Трново or Trnovo. Difficult to pronounce. I'm picking up a bit of Macedonian now and I can read the alphabet easily...but...tomorrow I'll be in Greece! I planned for a short day as my legs a bit tired from previous days big climb.
So I planned on Capari where I think I might have had a Campari & soda. Well probably not as the plan was to stay in nearby female Orthodox Monastery - "no food supplied." The walk was lovely through apple orchards and grassy tracks. Unfortunately a lot of streams to be 'forded' which is a posh word for walking through water over your ankles. My feet were wet all day. But it was sunny and warm.
After a while I reached mud- building village of Sopotsko. No sign of life. Then to the Pelister National Park and a quiet road up through an ancient pass at Djavato. Not a soul to be seen though I could hear motorway near by. "If you are concerned about safety take Ditar the hunter with you" says my book, without specifying why you might be concerned. I wasn't. I did come upon the bones of a large cow at one point.
The book recommends a significant diversion to visit Roman remains and cobblestones. By this stage I'm pretty well done with cobbles so I kept on and reached Capari. I found a man who came to retrieve his snappy dog. Yes he knew the monastery. No I couldn't stay there - it's closed. No one there. He then confirmed there were bars and shops in the village - but all closed down..


This was disappointing. I had no reason to disbelieve him, and so I didn't go to the monastery, even though it looks very convincing on the website. I am not able to confirm whether or not it is open. (May 2019) I would be interested to hear from others.


I needed a bit more fording of streams (not!) so I continued to Rotino, which made Capari look positively metropolitan. Less than nothing there.
I asked a weedy looking (fact not criticism) scrap metal collector how long it would take to walk to Trnovo. '3 hours' he said. (This is a bit speculative as it was conducted in about 50% English, 30% Macedonian and 20% Albanian. His Albanian was weak but better than his English!) But he and his dad entered into the spirit of the moment and brought me alont to see another strapping fellow about 6'8" tall. He should be playing professional basketball but he was doing something important with apples. '1 hour' he said.

Well it took me an hour and a half through nice deserted country and so after 31 unexpected km I reached a beautiful upmarket hotel. "I've only got the deluxe suite left said the manager but I'll give you a discount." Deal done. It's FULL of young European tourists here for the mountain - it's over 8,000 feet. They are mostly Finnish. I suppose they won't mind the snow on top.


So that was my unplanned day. Not the ideal follow up for the exertions of the previous day, but not too strenuous, apart from the distance. If I were a planner I might have done things differently. I learned Biblical Greek from an American in Rome many years ago and he was big into conditional sentences, for which there are strict rules in Greek. He would have analysed that sentence like this: "If I were a planner [but I am not] I might have done things differently [but I didn't]. This would have helped us to pick the right tenses in Greek!

As ever I met some nice and friendly people who were encouraging and kind, even if somewhat bemused about what I was doing. And as is proving very common I had wet feet (in my dying shoes) for much of the day. But did I enjoy it? Yes.


Afterthought
I thought I was still 16 or more km from Bitola when I stopped in Trnovo - that is what the book says, but in fact I was only half that distance - the route in the book takes a huge diversion. My walk from Trnovo to Bitola the next day, straight along the road only 7km So on a well-planned day(!) (whatever that is) it would be feasible to get to Bitola (a fabulous city) in one (long) day from Resen, taking lunch and plenty of water and perhaps having a rest along the way. But probably not in the heat of high summer.

I look forward to hearing how others solved the logistic difficulties of this stage.
 
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kazrobbo

Tassie Kaz
Camino(s) past & future
CF(2012)
CP(2015)
St Olavs Way Norway(2016)
88 Temples Japan(2017)
PWC & VF(2019)
Israel (2020)
Via Egnatia Day 13 (but I am adding this here in July 2019)
Wednesday 8th May
Resen to Trbono 30.77km

Somewhat (characteristically) unplanned.....

I am not much of a planner-aheader. I hardly ever have a return plane ticket when I set out on a walk. I have only the vaguest idea of when I will finish. And I generally do not book accommodation ahead or at least, not more than one or at the most two days ahead. Who knows what will turn up? Clearly this attitude and lifestyle are much more appropriate for someone travelling alone than for someone taking someone else's point of view into consideration.

I felt a sense of achievement after yesterday's walk and thought I was entitled to a gentler day and perhaps even a lie in. An advantage of walking in spring is that you don't have the high temperatures of later in the year to contend with and there is no need to rise early to beat the heat. So I got up around eight and went across the road for a light breakfast and headed off. I planned to stay in Capari in a monastery, though I had made no contact with them.

The walk was gentle enough and the first surprising thing was a large French-style chateau on the side of the road. A pleasing diversion. Here is what I said on Facebook.
Have I gone to France overnight? Well no! But this is the "French House" in Resen, a Chateau built by a Turkish chieftain in the 19th Century. It is like a Chateau on the Loire! I passed it as I left the city and went in. Slightly showing its age but it houses an amazing and very unexpected collection of contemporary ceramics. Well worth the €1 to get in.

The path continues past an industrial area with an old Soviet factory and then you proceed through many acres of orchards, (and a little bit of getting lost) bit a friendly ancient beldam put me on the right path.
I reached Sopotsko. This is a very rural area. Old road, old tumbledown buildings. a bit of fording of rivers and lots of apples. Sopotsko was fast asleep. The shop was not open. No one seemed to be around. The 'old communist cultural centre building' was there and was open, but no sign of life inside.
The book recommends an local English-speaking guide for the following section. "Ditar is a hunter and knows the deserted woods between Sopotsko and Djabato well. If you are concerned about safety, take him with you." It sounds a bit alarming doesn't it? I was not concerned about my safety, even in 'deserted woods' so did not look for him.

The notes at the bottom of p129 - p130 are useful at a confusing junction of paths. Strangely the road shortly after is a partly tarred road, parallel to a main road, and rises up (quite gently) to the Djavato pass, with a church (closed) at the top. No traffic, not a single wheel to be seen for many kilometres along the path, though the road was busy below.


The book proposes 'three sides of a square' through Dolenci (which sounded attractive: 'a Muslim village where time seems to have come to a standstill centuries ago.') It would bring you to see cobbles and the remains of a castle. Meh! I thought about it, as the day got hotter, and decided against it.
So I continued straight on and soon got to the turn for Capari, hopeful that this was the end of my journey.
Capari had a huge church and huge cemetery, but not a lot else. I went looking for a shop where I hoped to by something to bring to the monastery. There was a sign to the monastery, to the right, before you get to the village, but I decided to go into the village first.

I will put my Facebook notes here.
Day 13 walking. Resen to Trnovo. 31km
I'm in a place called Трново or Trnovo. Difficult to pronounce. I'm picking up a bit of Macedonian now and I can read the alphabet easily...but...tomorrow I'll be in Greece! I planned for a short day as my legs a bit tired from previous days big climb.
So I planned on Capari where I think I might have had a Campari & soda. Well probably not as the plan was to stay in nearby female Orthodox Monastery - "no food supplied." The walk was lovely through apple orchards and grassy tracks. Unfortunately a lot of streams to be 'forded' which is a posh word for walking through water over your ankles. My feet were wet all day. But it was sunny and warm.
After a while I reached mud- building village of Sopotsko. No sign of life. Then to the Pelister National Park and a quiet road up through an ancient pass at Djavato. Not a soul to be seen though I could hear motorway near by. "If you are concerned about safety take Ditar the hunter with you" says my book, without specifying why you might be concerned. I wasn't. I did come upon the bones of a large cow at one point.
The book recommends a significant diversion to visit Roman remains and cobblestones. By this stage I'm pretty well done with cobbles so I kept on and reached Capari. I found a man who came to retrieve his snappy dog. Yes he knew the monastery. No I couldn't stay there - it's closed. No one there. He then confirmed there were bars and shops in the village - but all closed down..


This was disappointing. I had no reason to disbelieve him, and so I didn't go to the monastery, even though it looks very convincing on the website. I am not able to confirm whether or not it is open. (May 2019) I would be interested to hear from others.


I needed a bit more fording of streams (not!) so I continued to Rotino, which made Capari look positively metropolitan. Less than nothing there.
I asked a weedy looking (fact not criticism) scrap metal collector how long it would take to walk to Trnovo. '3 hours' he said. (This is a bit speculative as it was conducted in about 50% English, 30% Macedonian and 20% Albanian. His Albanian was weak but better than his English!) But he and his dad entered into the spirit of the moment and brought me alont to see another strapping fellow about 6'8" tall. He should be playing professional basketball but he was doing something important with apples. '1 hour' he said.

Well it took me an hour and a half through nice deserted country and so after 31 unexpected km I reached a beautiful upmarket hotel. "I've only got the deluxe suite left said the manager but I'll give you a discount." Deal done. It's FULL of young European tourists here for the mountain - it's over 8,000 feet. They are mostly Finnish. I suppose they won't mind the snow on top.


So that was my unplanned day. Not the ideal follow up for the exertions of the previous day, but not too strenuous, apart from the distance. If I were a planner I might have done things differently. I learned Biblical Greek from an American in Rome many years ago and he was big into conditional sentences, for which there are strict rules in Greek. He would have analysed that sentence like this: "If I were a planner [but I am not] I might have done things differently [but I didn't]. This would have helped us to pick the right tenses in Greek!

As ever I met some nice and friendly people who were encouraging and kind, even if somewhat bemused about what I was doing. And as is proving very common I had wet feet (in my dying shoes) for much of the day. But did I enjoy it? Yes.


Afterthought
I thought I was still 16 or more km from Bitola when I stopped in Trnovo - that is what the book says, but in fact I was only half that distance - the route in the book takes a huge diversion. My walk from Trnovo to Bitola the next day, straight along the road only 7km So on a well-planned day(!) (whatever that is) it would be feasible to get to Bitola (a fabulous city) in one day, taking lunch and plenty of water and perhaps having a rest along the way. But probably not in the heat of high summer.

I look forward to hearing how others solved the logistic difficulties of this stage.
Wow...these posts & your entire journey are just amazing Tim. Thanks for your dedication & commitment to adding them here for our benefit. I'm sure the posts will be 'discovered' by Forum members for a long time to come especially as people seek out greater challenges on less trodden paths. Apart from being a wealth of information, they are a cracking read too! 😊
👣 🌏
 

timr

Active Member
Camino(s) past & future
Several and counting...
Via Egnatia Day 14 (but I am adding this here in July 2019)
Thursday 9th May
Trbono to Bitola 7.36km

Well this turned out to be a very short day. The book (Via Egnatia on Foot) gives 14km from Trnovo to Bitola, but takes a very contorted route to the south. I walked along the road and it was 7km. That is a huge difference. What did I miss on my way? I'm not sure. See maps on pages 133,138. I just went straight down the road from Trnovo to Bitola. It was not at all busy. And it cuts the distance by half.

It depends really what you have come to see. If, like my intermittent companion, you want to see Illyrian graves, or particular mosaics, or Roman bridges, you may need to make diversions now and then. If on the other hand, like me, your evolving plan is to walk to Jerusalem, you are always grateful of a little shortening of the way. So I was in Bitola by mid-morning.

I had never heard of Bitola. Bitola is also known as Monastir, meaning monastery, as you will have guessed. The present city is a couple of km from the ancient (and excavated) city of Herakleia, which was founded by Philip II, the father of Alexander the Great (who is increasingly significant as the path nears modern Greece). It is apparently the second largest city in the country, although it is not large, 75,000 people.

I stayed in a very nice backpackers hostel in Bitola, called Goldy, right in the centre which I would highly recommend. Very economical. I booked on booking.com the first night and then stayed a second night and paid less ('because booking.com were not taking a cut'). Very economical. Very friendly. Excellent English spoken by Slavko. It is close to the clock tower. Single rooms available.
Address: Slavko Lumbarko, Bitola 7000, North Macedonia
Phone: +389 47 552 034
tel: 00389 47 55 20 34
mob: 00389 75 555 911
email: goldyhostel@gmail.com


There are plenty of hotels in the town too. It is an extraordinary city. Full of life. I liked it so much I stayed an extra day, partly to look around and partly to rest. This also gave me a chance to meet my occasional companion who was a day behind me at this stage.

The city has a central boulevard. pedestrianised, with dozens of coffee shops. It is called Sirok Sokak and I guess is the local Champs Elysées. It used to be called Marshal Tito Street. A great place for people watching. The street is full of shops too. Lots of high-end branded fashionware, though I doubt it was genuine. I looked in a sports shop to see about buying new walking shoes, but didn't find anything suitable. But great fun looking. A couple of bookshops too. And there is the old market area, where you could spend a day! There is an impressive clock tower, and large mosques and several orthodox churches.

The day I arrived was the anniversary of the liberation during WW2 of Macedonia by the Russians, and there was a deputation from the embassy parading through the street and laying wreaths. There are military cemeteries around the town, and a sad commemoration of the old Jewish community. Bad things have happened in Bitola of over the centuries, as in most of the Balkans.

I went out to Herakleia to see the ruins. There is quite a lot of excavation and doubtless much more could be done. There was a man to collect payment and a few interpretative signs. The ruins included a couple of orthodox chuches and a bishop's palace, so they were relatively more modern than the older buildings. It seems the city was abandoned after an earthquake early in the 6th century. There are a lot of mosaic floors readily visible and an amphitheatre. The sign at the turn into the site is completely obscured by plants, so I had a little trouble finding it. There is an enormous modern (working) orthodox cemetery on the road just next to the ancient site.

In the city centre, right in the main street with shops on either side of the fascia is the Catholic Cathedral of the Sacred Heart. This is the co-Cathedral of Skopje. There are no longer many Catholics in NM, which is 80% orthodox. The church is not that old, a little over a hundred years, replacing one that was destroyed by fire. It was in the care of the VIncentian Fathers, though they do not appear to be there any longer.

When I went into the cathedral I saw a religious sister cleaning a statue. There was another statue near by which I recognised as that of St Vincent de Paul. The statue the Sister was cleaning was of St Louise de Marillac, a French sister who along with St Vincent founded the Daughters of Charity a well known group of relgious Sisters. She was Croatian, but we managed to converse in Italian. Her reason for cleaning the statue was that it was the feast day of St Louise and there was a festive Mass at 6pm, so I agreed to come.

It was a very cheerful event. I didn't quite get to the bottom of the story about the parish, but the priest was not around at the present. Possibly he had gone up to see the Pope in Skopje the previous day and was not yet back, I am not sure. But present for the Mass were three Sisters, half a dozen local people, an elderly priest from Honduras (visiting) an young family from Honduras (working as lay missionaries in Albania), a young priest form Bolivia, working elsewhere in Albania I think and a seminarian from USA also working currently in Albania. Mass was said in Spanish and Latin and I preached in English, and translation was provided by a Croatian man. There followed some celebratory refreshments afterwards.

I was able to celebrate a very much quieter Mass for the Sisters the following evening.

There was also a big museum with all sorts of interesting things in it - military, religious, cultural. It was previously a military academy and its most celebrated former pupil was Kemal Atatürk, the founder of modern Turkey. Bitola used to be known as The City of the Consuls because so many foreign states had a consulate there.

Wonderful food on every corner. The restaurant/coffee shop of the Hotel Epinal in the main street highly recommended by me.

Bitola a truly special place. I liked it so much I stayed an extra day. By the end of this I had recovered fully from the exertions of the two days journeying from Ohrid.
 
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timr

Active Member
Camino(s) past & future
Several and counting...
Via Egnatia Day 15 (but I am adding this here in July 2019)
Saturday 11th May
Bitola to Florina 20.59km

So my last day in Bitola dawned and I got up very early (for me, about 6am) as it was going to be a long day. Although the book (Via Egnatia on Foot) has been my constant companion, I and it are about to part company for a few days. The problem is not the route as such, but the need to find accommodation along the way, bearing in mind that I am NOT camping. Google maps is extremely useful, particularly if you don't have paper maps. Sometimes the traces of other people on sharing sites such as wikiloc are useful too. There is in fact an immense amount of information out there, but it is sometimes hard to get a handle on.

I chose not to take the route in the book, a scenic route, moving back into the fringes of the Pelister National Park I think, through rustic villages. Because of the distance I was to cover, I walked straight down the 'main' road, which was pleasingly empty of traffic. It brought me back out past the ruins of Herakleia, next to which is a modern cemetery. Here is what I wrote on FB.


My last few hours in Macedonia were devoted to the language - who knows, I may come back? I was on the road at 0630 and was following that old lady in the photo. Dressed in black and walking towards a large cemetery I had seen the previous day I guessed she was going to pay her respects. Possibly widowed.

"Dabar Den" (good day) I said as we fell in step. She gave me a quizzical look and raised her free hand to the sun. She had no English - why ever should she? Clearly what she said meant something like this "No, no, no! How can you be wishing me dabar den at this time? It is morning! It is early. Look at the sun! Dobro utro, Dobro utro!" (Good morning)

The first chapter of every language book is always about saying hello, and you often feel eager to get on to *real* language - but that is always a mistake. Nothing is more real than greetings. I told her I was going to Istanbul and she told me she was going to the cemetery to put flowers on her mother's grave. I'm grateful to Maria for her lesson.


The road thereafter was uneventful, very flat, and in a relatively short time I found myself at the border. The border was negotiated with great ease. Minimal formalities on both Macedonian and Greek side. No queues, no traffic, a minimum of personnel.

Alas Hellas! A new alphabet again. Ελλάς Well I have New Testament Greek and I have been studying Modern Greek (not the same thing, anymore than Latin and Italian are the same) and I am optimistic.

Niki or Νίκη is the border town on the Greek side. No that is a wild exaggeration. It is the border village. Niki means victory. But the glory days have clearly passed. Here is what wikipedia has to say:

The village was first mentioned in an Ottoman tax register of 1468, where it is listed under the name of Negočani and described as having 203 households. In 1481, the number had declined to 112 households. The village produced vines, flax, hemp, honey, and swine; and possessed mills and a market.
The population of the village in 2011 was 273.

It had a very deserted feel to it. Almost no sign of life. You can imagine being assigned to the border post here as an immigration or customs officer would not be seen as a plum posting. And yet I suppose that the people who do live there have deep affection for it. I eventually found a little bar-ish kind of place where some rather wary looking men where playing cards. After a little negotiation I managed to obtain a cup of Nescafe instant coffee. I was surprised at this and it would be many days before I discovered the curious history of Nescafe in Greece. Keep reading.... Maybe the place was not a bar at all. Maybe it was someone's house?? I don't know. I didn't think the welcome was overwhelming. But it was very early on Saturday morning.

I chose to take a minor road all the way to Florina, rather than the signposted main road, not because the road was going to be busy - it clearly wasn't, but because if I have to walk on a road, a rural one is alway more interesting.

A few people said hello along the way. A few people didn't. Dogs barked at times. Very mellow walking conditions, until the rain began, about half way from the border to Florina. It actually began in the village of Polyplatano where I stopped for a coffee.

The next landmark was an orthodox church, just before a village, and I called in for a break, although the rain had stopped at this point and it had become very hot and sunny. A big church, obviously well cared for. I wrote this on FB

The search [for images of St Stephen] continues! I've crossed into Greece to a very rural non-touristy bit and in the middle of nowhere, after two semi-deserted villages a nice big church appeared. I went in I have to admit, partly to get out of the heat. For such a tiny and poor place amazingly elaborate. The door was locked - but the key was in the door!
I did a quick scout for Stephen but couldn't see him. There were probably over a hundred large icons and many smaller ones. I was a bit disappointed. A "lady of the parish" popped in and I told her I was looking for Stephen. She took me under her wing and we checked out every inch. She was getting disappointed....😢 "Wait," she said and went to the end of the iconostasis which divides the church and curtains off the altar except during the liturgy. You wouldn't normally go in there (though I don't think it's a matter of life of death). She peered in gingerly without actually stepping in. "Stephanos!" she exclaimed, very happy and excited. So he's completely hidden in this church, and only ever seen by the priest 😢😢😢


A few minutes down the road brings you to the village of Kato Kleino (various spellings) where there was a war memorial in the main square, at one end and a most wonderful bar/cafe at the other end with a most lovely and enhtusiastic English-speaking hostess who produced a wonderful meal. A very welcome and I dare to say well-earned break.

From there to Florina is a sort or a hop and a skip. I wrote this on FB:


I'm in a sleepy town, Florina, far from the tourist trail. The town motto is "Where Greece begins" which seems slightly aggrandising but hey, go for it!

I had booked an unpretentious hotel, Hellinis, on booking.com. Some rather unkind comments about its lack of modernity and drabness on the websites. Forget that - the man at the desk was friendly and welcoming. And the later man at the desk was equally friendly and welcoming. A small family-run hotel. All you need.

A bustling little town, with no evidence really of tourist industry which is nice. It is in the part of Greece which had record low temperatures of -23 last winter. You wouldn't believe it looking at it now. It must have made a big impact, because several people told me of this claim to fame.

Lots of places to eat and drink on and off the main street.

One word of caution.

When in Albania, I had got myself a local SIM card for next to nothing, and I paid an extra €5 to get an add on so I could use the data in North Macedonia. Crossing into Greece, I was cheered by the fact that I was going back into the EU and that my UK phone would now roam, with no additional cost. In my unorganized way, I had not downloaded the Google map for the stage from Niki to Florina, but no harm, I thought, I could go online with no problem. I did have some difficulty finding a signal in Nikik but didn't think much of it.

Later that day I got notification that I had spent £50 on data. What? My monthly plan is only £15 and it comes with a very generous data allowance which I don't think I have ever managed to exhaust. I got on to my provider, by text, and a very very long conversation ensued. I explained my travels, and confirmed that I could roam in Greece for no additional charge.

The problem was that there was no Greek phone signal in Niki. But there was a strong Macedonian signal. I had swapped out my Albanian SIM for my UK one after the border. And my SIM had latched on to Macedonian signal, which was out of contract for me.

I wept and wailed electronically, and said I would have to leave the company to join another well known supplier. I was told that the problem was probably that I had used my phone while on a ferry, getting into Greece. I explained patiently that I had been on three ferries, from Dover to Calais, across the River Po and from Bari to Dürres, but none since, and I had certainly not come into Greece by ferry, and had not been using maritime satellites. This was met with a bit of disbelief - it must happen a lot I guess with people who sail into Greece.

I pressed my case and wept and wailed electronically a bit more. I was offered a gratuitous rebate of £25. I declined this generous offer and said I would have to contact another provider for a new contract. Then I was escalated to someone whose job it was, evidently, to beg me to stay. Would I perhaps accept an offer of £50 rebate, given that I was a 'faithful and much respected customer'? I would. And I did.

I slept peacefully.
 
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timr

Active Member
Camino(s) past & future
Several and counting...
Via Egnatia Day 16 (but I am adding this here in July 2019)
Sunday 12th May
Florina to Vevi 33.25km

As i said yesterday, I am currently off piste, away from the 'recommended' way in the book, but only because of the need to find accommodation. This is a very rural part of Greece and there is not much accommodation to be found.

I found my route with Google Maps which is the traveller's friend, though you still have to use common sense. If possible, I like to take a quieter road, rather than a main road. But I have no dogmatic objection to walking on a road when it is the most practical thing to do.

So I left Florina, not too early, and took the very quiet roads into Vevi. In Greek it is written as Βεύη, which seems a long way from Vevi, although that is exactly how those letters are pronounced in modern Greek. Not a whole lot to say, and plenty of time for thinking along the way.

In the liturgical year of the Church it is called Good Shepherd Sunday.

Here is what I wrote on FB
Today is Good Shepherd Sunday in the liturgical year, the fourth after Easter. Why? Because of the prescribed Gospel reading. It's short so I'll give you all of it.
Jesus said:
‘The sheep that belong to me listen to my voice;
I know them and they follow me.
I give them eternal life;
they will never be lost
and no one will ever steal them from me.
The Father who gave them to me is greater than anyone,
and no one can steal from the Father.
The Father and I are one.’
John 10:27-30
Is not difficult to understand is it? In the ancient near east the image of a shepherd was an everyday thing. And it has been a frequent theme of Pope Francis. He said this six years ago: “The priest who seldom goes out of himself … misses out on the best of our people, on what can stir the depths of his priestly heart. … This is precisely the reason why some priests grow dissatisfied, lose heart and become in a sense collectors of antiquities or novelties — instead of being shepherds living with ‘the smell of the sheep.’ This is what I am asking you — be shepherds with the smell of sheep.”
I wasn’t often far from sheep and shepherds today. I’m following a book, but for two days there are no accommodation possibilities on the route other than camping so I’ve branched of to visit Florina and Vevi, a long way from the tourist trail. I’m quite high up, 700m. It is the bit of Greece that had minus 23 in February this year. Very little English spoken, but I have a little Greek. I have very good New Testament Greek, though I say it myself, but it is not what they speak any more than Italians today speak Latin.
So Google gave me a path. Google is not frightened of narrow obscure footpaths or farm tracks. So off I headed. And I met many, many flocks of sheep and goats. Lovely. But. Always that means dogs. The scourge of the pilgrim. I don’t live in fear and I have never been bitten, but I’ve come close – I was surrounded literally by six big dogs in the mountains a week ago. But I don’t want to live in fear.
When you travel by yourself you notice things. A dog will see you at about 300m and bark. If you keep your eyes open, the shepherd will instantly react, even if he’s asleep which seems a common occupation of Greek shepherds. The dogs are NOT barking all the time. So I use my sticks to wave at the shepherd. And he waves back. And then all is well. He knows why you’re waving. The dogs listen to him. He calls me forward. And every time today, six or seven times, he came to greet me. These are hardy men. Men of the road. Men with life engraved deep on their faces. They have a warm embrace beyond the limitations of language. You’d feel safe with them looking out for you. And as we chat, each almost dumb, half a dozen dogs look on quietly. “Istanbul?” They say and point to my legs. “Ισχυρός”, (ischuros, strong!)
A special moment was meeting an Albanian shepherd, so far from home. I could greet him in Shqip. His brother was near by with his little son. Goodness, a hard life for a little lad. Mum was there too. I can’t imagine what it would be like to live like this. But the life produces affectionate and open people whose simplicity and welcome is quite humbling. And surely a model for a priest on Good Shepherd Sunday.
“This is what I am asking you — be shepherds with the smell of sheep.”


By the time I reached Vevi, it was raining. I am getting used to that. I found the unprepossesingly named 'Small Hotel' before I got to the village. It had a smart look about it but also looked very closed. But an old lady appeared from a nearby door and let me in and showed me to my room and said her son, I think, would be in later. The room had quite spectacular views out over the plain and mountains, and of course plenty of sheep to be seen. The son arrived - a cheerful and friendly man with good English. He said, simply, that they had built the hotel here because there was no other nearby. And he had heard of people walking the Via Egnatia and was encouraging about my onward journey tomorrow.

I went up into the small village which had a smart looking modern bar on the right and a very traditional small taberna on the left. A place where the men congregated to drink coffee and beer, play cards and watch TV. I was served a monster meal of grilled meats, cooked by the barman. Little communication possible, but much bonhomie. It was raining when I headed home for bed. And still raining in the morning.
 
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timr

Active Member
Camino(s) past & future
Several and counting...
Via Egnatia Day 17 (but I am adding this here in July 2019)
Monday 13th May
Vevi to Arnissa 27.6km

I woke up to a very wet day. But this is the lot of the pilgrim. You cannot stay at home just because of a bit of rain. And anyway, you are a long way from home.

I am still using Google Maps to guide me, and because of the rain today I stook to minor roads. Any track that I saw was very wet indeed. I have had a bit of a respite from the 'fording of streams' and that suits me fine.

I stopped in a place called Kelli and said this:
Somewhat hard going today. I'm in Kelli. Cold, wet and windy - like high summer in Connemara. (I'm allowed to say that because I'm a native, twice removed.) Countryside not dissimilar to there though more trees. And this pack of dogs rushed across about 500m of boggy field, to greet me. I am aiming for Arnissa.
The nice thing in Kelli was that there was a rather unexpected bar. I said I would have toast with my coffee and remembered, only when it came, that 'toast' often means a toasted sandwich. So I had cheese and ham. All the more enjoyable for being unexpected.

Not much else to say about Kelli, except that it brought me finally back to the route of the guide. From there on I could pick up the described route. But still the rain fell and I decided to stick to the road, which was quiet anyway. It was misty and cool. The first half of the day was a bit of a climb, up and over, but nothing taxing. And there were views in the middle distance of two placid lakes.


A very quiet days walking, and that is what I enjoy. I stayed in Guesthouse 4 Seasons (booking.com) which was a modern house, a bit separate from the village, which had shops, a church, a pharmacy, and bars. I was recommended a restaurant where I had find fish. The lady of the BnB took a dim view of all the dogs loose in Greece. She said she worried about letting her children out. But really the dogs here seemed as sleepy as their surroundings.

Being back on the track of the book removes one level of decision making for the morning.
 

timr

Active Member
Camino(s) past & future
Several and counting...
Via Egnatia Day 18 (but I am adding this here in July 2019)
Tuesday 14th May
Arnissa to Edessa 22.5km

An opportunity missed

Here is what I wrote on Strava
VE Day 18 Arnissa to Edessa. Another rainy day so again I walked along a quiet main road often on a slip road next to cherry orchards. Very wet by the time I reached Edessa - 'City of Waters'!

The book would have taken me along country tracks, but really the rain was significant so I decided to stick to the road once more. And part was along a fairly busy stretch. As I walked a big car pulled up on the far side of the road (ie going in my direction) and asked (in English) if I wanted a lift. Tempted as I was, for a few seconds, I said no, I had walked here from Canterbury, and I would carry on, but thanks. Best of luck, don't get lost, said a cheery Irish voice and he took off. Only as he went did I see that his car had a registration plate from Galway, in Ireland, where my forebears came from. I was sorry to miss the chance of a chat and to find out what brought him here. But I didn't regret not taking the lift.

On FaceBook I said.
I don't like to be negative. I have met very little unkindness since I left Canterbury. Though I met offensive unkindness within the precinct of Canterbury Cathedral. It happens.
Today has been a slog in the rain towards Edessa. I'm not quite there yet. Mostly on the main road which is quite hard work,but avoids mud and the fording of streams on the scenic route. I came upon this cafe next to a small lake with swans. It's called appropriately The Swans. The host told me to stay outside because I was wet. I can't in conscience wish that his business should fail. But if his takings are down this year compared to last he may wish to look in the mirror. If you are ever passing, I suggest you do just that.😢


I got wetter and wetter as the day went on, but the actual walking was not difficult and I soon enough reached the small city of Edessa, which means, in some ancient dialect, city of waters. I stayed in Hotel Alfa, in the middle of the town, with a room which looked down on a large statue of Alexander the Great. Not the cheapest place, but a little rest in nice surroundings is good too. The next day's stage was to be very long, but I had a plan for that!
 
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timr

Active Member
Camino(s) past & future
Several and counting...
Via Egnatia Day 19 (but I am adding this here in July 2019)
Wednesday 15th May
Edessa to Profitis Ilias 17.3km

There’s more than one way to skin a cat...

So the next stage in the book (Via Egnatia on Foot) to find somewhere to stay is 45 km. I have done 45 km before on more than one occasion, but I am not looking to do it again. So, as I said yesterday, I had a plan after carefully searching the route, and booking.com and Google maps.

It continued to rain all through the evening yesterday. I made a cursory and sodden tour of the city centre and came upon a sort of illuminated waterfall almost in the street. I was relatively unimpressed, particularly when I read in the book that Edessa is famed for its waterfall, the highest in Greece and one that people come from far and wide to see. This didn't seem right.

But I have not come to investigate waterfalls. People do, and in the nineteenth century they were, for a while, called cataractists. Not to be confused with cataractologists, who attend to shadowed eyes. William Wordsworth was very fond indeed of waterfalls and often wrote about them, not only in the Lake District, but also for example in the Simplon Pass which links Switzerland and Italy. A taster:

"Begone, thou fond presumptuous Elf,"
Exclaimed a thundering Voice,
"Nor dare to thrust thy foolish self
Between me and my choice!"
A falling Water swoln with snows
Thus spake to a poor Briar-rose,
That, all bespattered with his foam,
And dancing high, and dancing low,
Was living, as a child might know,
In an unhappy home.

It is called The Waterfall and the Elgantine. It is quite long. Spoiler alert, the Eglantine comes off worse.

That evening I met a lovely Dutch couple in a restaurant. They were sort of looking at me, and eventually the man was persuaded by his wife to ask me if I was walking. They had just arrived in Edessa and were going to walk part of the VE, "in a leisurely way". They were veterans of the Camino de Santiago and we had much to talk about. I am not sure how the conversation got around to Henri Nouwen (a Dutch Catholic spiritual writer, who died a few years ago) but they wife told me that she worked with his brother. I was able to tell them the sad news that Jean Vanier, a French Catholic writer, and founder of the L'Arche movement Read about it here. I met Jean Vanier in Nairobi and he was the most impressive person I believe I have ever been in the presesnce of. But that is for another day. Anyway, Henri Nouwen had been an associate of Jean Vanier and Birgitte was happy but sad to know, so that she could contact her friend and sympathise.

So my plan was to divide the day into two, walk part of the way and spend the night again in Edessa. I decided on a place called Profitis Ilias (The Prophet Elijah). It is a small village about 15km from Edessa. I decided to go there by taxi and walk back to Edessa, on the grounds that it would be a lot easier to get a taxi in Edessa than in the village. The hotel arranged it for me and I set off at 8am the next morning, true to my practise of not starting too early. The rain had, rather wonderfully, cleared during the night and it was a fresh clear morning.

The taxi brought me out on the main road and then in to the village of Profitis Ilias, There were a couple of bars. I paid €15 I think. And then used the GPS trace from the book to make may way backwards. It is hard to follow yellow arrows on the Camino backwards, but happily it is not more difficult to follow a GPS track backwards as it is forwards.

What followed was a truly beautiful short day's walk. Mostly on grassy tracks, up a gentle hill and on to a plateau and then, rather surprisingly, for a good way parallel to a single track railway (though no sign of any train). The countryside was splendid. Meadow of wild flowers. hundreds of beehives, often in long rows along the path, high circling birds of prey and a lot of birdsong.

On FB I said this
Things which were given to me along the road today by kind people. Quite humbling! This area is fruit producing. Cherries just ripe. Apricots or nectarines too. Thanks to Vassilios, to the cherry pickers and to the Albanian waiter in a coffee shop who told me not to bother adding the few coins I was lacking AND gave me a bottle of water for the road. They make up a hundredfold for the "swan man" yesterday!

A few sheep and shepherds and of course dogs, but no problems. The end of the walk back into Edessa, passing through orchards was where I met my friends from the night before, heading out to stay in a hotel off the road somewhere near to Profitis Ilias.

After that the road rose steeply up towards the town again, past a huge church sadly closed, and past the ancient city of Edessa, excavated, but closed, and finally back to base in time for lunch.

In the afternoon I did the tourist thing and found that what I had seen the previous night had been a little taster waterfall. The true Edessa waterfall(s) were just on the edge of town and pretty monumental. They thunder from a great height.
Here is what I said on FB

I was very wet on arrival in Edessa. For what is Edessa famous? Water. The name in an old dialect means 'tower in the water'. It is on the river Edessaios, which is narrow like a canal and flows through the city. What else is Edessa famous for, apart from just being an ancient city? Well it has a museum. It has a museum of WATER. Be still my beating heart - no I did NOT go there. (In my hotel room in Ohrid in North Macedonia was a sign in the bathroom saying 'This is technical water - do not drink it.' Perhaps the museum could have explained that.)

So when I had dried out a little I went out again into the town. It was raining heavily, but I had a mooch and a Hendricks and tonic. For what else is Edessa famous? It has a waterfall. People evidently come from afar to see it. I found it, in the now driving rain. I was unimpressed and if I had walked 3000km across Europe to see it I would have been a tad disappointed. After supper (at which I met some fellow walkers of whom I will say more elsewhere) I went home and looked at a city map. What I had seen was in fact the mikró katarrákti or micro cataract. (You see you know more Greek than you thought.😁)

For tactical reasons I stayed two nights in Edessa and after a fifteen km stroll the following morning I explored further and found the megálo katarrákti. Ah ha! Now I understood. It is the biggest waterfall in Greece.

And here is where my phobia kicked in. Watching it made me feel really queasy and dizzy. It wasn't dangerous but I found myself very reluctant to let go of handrails. There are several sort of branch waterfalls as well. Lots of visitors and a school trip. No one seemed to share my affliction.

Then there were caves - "unique in the world". I have a touch of claustrophobia at the best of times but having come this far, and as it was only €0.50, I went in. It seemed a bit dangerous to me, behind the waterfall, but there were two old ladies in there too, so I put on a dishonest brave face. There were stalactites and stalagmites the size of tree trunks.

There were little stalls selling handicrafts on the way out. A friendly lady wanted me to buy some soap. I don't think this was intended as a comment on my slightly disheveled appearance. She had made it herself from the milk of her donkey. I suppose Cleopatra would have appreciated it. I had an ice cream instead. Not made with asses' milk. I hope.


I feel I have done my bit for waterfalls, and have not become a converted cataractist, but really I wouldn't have missed it all. But a really most pleasant day.

And in one respect it was unique in my entire journey from Canterbury to this place. It was the first and only day that I have walked without my rucksack!
 
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timr

Active Member
Camino(s) past & future
Several and counting...
Via Egnatia Day 19 (but I am adding this here in July 2019)
Thursday 16th May
Profitis Ilias to Giannitsa 25.3km

So for the second consecutive morning I took a taxi out to Profitis Ilias, and began my onward journey to Giannitsa. The book was recommending 31km, which I shortened a bit by a bit of road walking. The road was along the side of irrigation canals for part of the way.

I am afraid I did not take notes and cannot describe my route well. It is available on Strava, under my own name. https://www.strava.com/activities/2372097509

Giannitsa is a very nice town. I stayed in the Pella Hotel, up a hill from the town centre, not far. Very friendly and quite smart family-run hotel. All of the family members wanted to chat and the matriarch treated me to coffee and a cake and a lot or words! But interestingly when she heard what I was at she told me that there was a Catholic church over the road. This seemed unlikely but was, of course, quite true. I went to see and found it locked. But.....a young man taking groceries into the house next door asked in absolutely perfect English if I would like to meet the priest. Yes, I said, Wait a moment, he said. He came down with an older man, Meet my father, he said.

Indeed his father was the Catholic priest, of the Byzantine rite. He and his son were both called Szabolcs and they are Hungarian. The father is a missionary to Greece from Hungary - his wife and family are still at home in Hungary and the son had come to keep him company. They took me to see the very interesting church, and told me about his ministry. Szabolcs senior spoke Italian and the son spoke English with an accent reminiscent of Jacob Rees Mogg! He told me that at his Benedictine school in Hungary they had a man who came out from Hampshire every year to help them with their English.

In the nature of things, I know more than average about the Catholic Church. But I don't know much about the various different so-called Eastern Rites. I must study them a bit. But I was fascinated hear that there are only a handful of Byzantine Catholic parishes in Greece, and therefore I was very fortunate to pitch up in the shadow of one of them. And I was more than interested the Byzantine Catholic Bishop for and in Greece is Manuel Nin, who is Catalan, born and bred. Again I must find out more.....

After that I went into town to eat at a student-type taverna called Loksandra. There were a group of six young men who were chatting over beers. One came over and helped me with the menu. He told me to have my meal in peace, but to then come over and say hello and have a drink.
They were a very interesting group to talk to. One was called Pericles. I had never met anyone called Pericles before and scarcely thought I ever would.

Talking to them, I tried to get to the bottom of something which has been an issue ever since I crossed the border into Greece. The region of Greece I am in is Macedonia. The country I was in last week is North Macedonia. Nearly everyone I met in Greece, when I said I was in Macedonia last week has given me a sort of a look, though never unkindly. I learned that it is not polite to say you were in Macedonia. You should say you were in Skopje. (Skopje is the capital of North Macedonia. I was never within 100 miles of Skopje).

There remains a problem over the name of Macedonia. It is hard to get to the bottom of it, but it seems clear that the Greeks, in Greek Macedonia, do not in any way seek to claim the territory of North Macedonia. It is simply the use of the name which inflames them. It is quite serious I think, though they do make allowances for tourists using the wrong word. People want to know how you found 'Skopje' and what you did there, but they do not want to hear you calling it Macedonia. Obviously at one stage the two territories were united. Bitola, in NM was founded by Philip II of Macedonia, the father of Alexander the Great.

After enthusiastic discussion, we parted friends.
 
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VNwalking

Wandering in big circles
Camino(s) past & future
Francés ('14/'15)
San Olav/CF ('16)
Baztanés/CF ('17)
Ingles ('18)
Vasco/CF/Invierno ('19)
Honestly? Getting hot under the collar over an ancient name and who should be able to use it? It seems an absurd thing to argue about, from a distance. But obviously not for those doing the arguing. Glad you survived the discussion, Tim, as well as all that water.
I'll never walk this way, and so very much aporeciate your beautifully written account of it. Thank you!
 

timr

Active Member
Camino(s) past & future
Several and counting...
Honestly? Getting hot under the collar over an ancient name and who should be able to use it? It seems an absurd thing to argue about, from a distance. But obviously not for those doing the arguing. Glad you survived the discussion, Tim, as well as all that water.
I'll never walk this way, and so very much aporeciate your beautifully written account of it. Thank you!
Yes I found it hard to be sure how serious people were. But it is a genuine concern of people and it does seem strange. As I said it really does seem that it is just the name. But it is not 'just' a name I guess. It is a problem that has gone on for a long time and was, ostensibly, settled by referendums in both Greece and Macedonia earlier this year.
 

Galloglaigh

Active Member
Camino(s) past & future
Member of the Lycra tribe.
CF (2017/8), VF (2018/9), CP (2020)
@timr Not all of us can or want to use Strava. Is there any problem with putting the gpx/kml information on a publically available site.

As an aside, this is the Lions Gate at the entrance to the Via Dolorosa from May this year.
 

Attachments

timr

Active Member
Camino(s) past & future
Several and counting...
@Galloglaigh There is no problem except I don't know how to. I record my track on my Garmin running watch and it goes up to Strava automatically - I don't do anything, which is a bonus. One less thing to attend to. I think Strava may have changed - I thought it was possible to see traces without having an account, but it is a long time ago that I checked it.
What publicly available sites do you use? In fact I think all my traces are on wikiloc, but I find that very difficult to get around (because I don't do it every day). I used to annotate my traces there but stopped a while ago. I think. I am very open to suggestions and guidance. My traces are not a secret - even though they set all my episodes of getting lost in stone!!! :);):p
It is very hard to find out what is available to people who are NOT signed up......
 

timr

Active Member
Camino(s) past & future
Several and counting...
@Galloglaigh I just checked and they are all on wikiloc under tim.redmond. Does that help? I am not sure if you can search wikiloc without signing up/in. I warn you there are >390 traces of mine there. Again it happens automatically.
If I get a minute(?!?) I might try and at least put VE and a stage number on them. But it does put the beginning and end town automatically.
 
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timr

Active Member
Camino(s) past & future
Several and counting...
@Galloglaigh I have labelled all my VE traces on wikiloc with 'Day number'. See if you can locate them. I don't do it as I go along as I find wikiloc difficult to manipulate for editing, although, strangely, I usually use wikiloc to read a GPS trace I am following, as although it is a bit clunky and not the most beautiful I do find it pretty foolproof.
 

Galloglaigh

Active Member
Camino(s) past & future
Member of the Lycra tribe.
CF (2017/8), VF (2018/9), CP (2020)
@timr

Found them on Wikiloc and have run a couple through RWGPS so I can stitch them together. Here is VE 19 and VE 20 as one. Includes the taxi ride


I'll stitch them all together if you think it will help others. Should be able to identify each day by the location.
 

timr

Active Member
Camino(s) past & future
Several and counting...
@timr

Found them on Wikiloc and have run a couple through RWGPS so I can stitch them together. Here is VE 19 and VE 20 as one. Includes the taxi ride


I'll stitch them all together if you think it will help others. Should be able to identify each day by the location.
Yes no problem. Use as you wish. I should say that, although I did walk along roads a fair bit, because of weather, the majority of the walking path described in the book would be unfeasible for cycling (though I am not a cyclist). When I say unfeasible I mean impossible. But obviously it must be possible to cycle from Durres to Thessaloniki on roads. Three very beautiful countries.
 

timr

Active Member
Camino(s) past & future
Several and counting...
@Galloglaigh
I am attaching a paragraph from the book Via Egnatia on Foot. I think I would agree with what they say. The railway would make a nice cycling path.......but they still have a few trains!
The comment 'it can be done on a mountain bike' sounds optimistic: certainly NOT on a good proportion of the walking paths I took: TOTALLY impossible.
When the book speaks of 'motorway', here and elsewhere, it generally means a dual carriageway, not what we (in UK or Ireland) would understand as a motorway. It confusingly talks about 'logging tracks' sometimes and here it means 4WD tracks, definitely not suitable for logging. But I guess this is a language thing.....the book, which is truly excellent, is from Netherlands. viaegnatiafoundation.eu
I should say too, to be fair to them, that they supply GPS when you purchase the book from them. I used their tracks most of the time. My own tracks (which is what are on wikiloc) reflect the times, for accommodation purposes usually, that I deviated from their route, and of course also when I got lost! ;)
 

Attachments

Galloglaigh

Active Member
Camino(s) past & future
Member of the Lycra tribe.
CF (2017/8), VF (2018/9), CP (2020)
@timr

Here it is in all its glory (and sidetracks). Put it up as a walking track as MTB's are only as good as the riders.

https://ridewithgps.com/routes/30627703

The section just before Resen goes to 5000ft which is the same a the Route Napoleon on the CF but at least there is a tarmac road to the summit with that one.

Much appreciate your donating the tracks as it at least gives myself and others a working model of a potential route. And some walkers may adjust to their own needs too.

I'll do a bit of editing to smooth the track without rewriting your adventure.
 

timr

Active Member
Camino(s) past & future
Several and counting...
@Galloglaigh
That is brilliant! I have wanted to do that for some time with my VF and VFS traces. Can you point me to the software you used to connect the traces? I have done it before a long time ago (For Camino Baztan I think) but I cannot remember how!

I feel it is only fair to once again say that my own traces, which are very definitely my own, would not have been possible without the work and guidance of the Via Egnatia Foundation who produced the book and who promote the way.

That day from Ohrid to Resen is marked up in the book as 'Difficult' - the only day they designate in that way. But in fact it wasn't really - it is a very stiff climb up to the top, but then a kind of plateau. The difficulty is in finding the way across the plateau and down to Resen - I didn't follow their track, but found a mountain bike track, waymarked, a little bit more to the south. That day is in a national park. But the waymarking is a bit random at times.

There is another formal signposted mountain bike track from the Macedonian border, back down to Lake Ohrid, going towards Struga. I didn't meet any cyclist on either track.

Yes that bit between Ohrid and Resen is a high point in several ways. Rather more difficult than Route Napoleon - extremely solitary and a much greater feasibility of getting lost!

The first part of the walk from Mirakë - Dardhë, as far as Babje, is positively dangerous underfoot. Although always the sudden appearance of an octogenarian shepherd and his flock makes you feel a bit of a wimp. But I think most people on foot or wheels should take the Librazhd road. You can I think climb up to Babje along the way and rejoin the track.

Best wishes, Tim

Just noticed it is 299.9 miles. Like a true GPS runner, I would have walked 'round and round the garden' at the end to get it up to 300 if I had known! :) But I don't think I would have walked up and down an additional 2000 feet to get the cumulative total to the height of Everest! 😱
 
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Galloglaigh

Active Member
Camino(s) past & future
Member of the Lycra tribe.
CF (2017/8), VF (2018/9), CP (2020)
Just noticed it is 299.9 miles.
You've done slightly more than 300. It's just that I was smoothing out some of your wanderings. I've put them back in again - so 301.1 .... Software is RidewithGPS (£5/month version) which allows stitching of tracks (and editing). I use it for its offline maps for an iphone as you can't always get a signal.

I'll stop adjusting your route now and leave as is.
 

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