Welcome to the blog for our round the world trip.

18 February 2008

Chilly Nights at Lake Ohrid

A quick update, written predominately in case we don’t survive the night. When we came back to the van at 6pm this evening, our thermometer was already registering an external temperature of minus 5 degrees and the sun had only just gone in. So quite what the temperature will be by 5am, I dread to think. All very well if you are in a centrally heated house or an insulated ski chalet, but not quite the same in an un-insulated camper van. Our waste water outlet has frozen, so currently we can’t drain our sink. That will be fun when we start driving again and we have washing up water sloshing all over the van. It is only a matter of time until the water tap freezes as well and we have to start harvesting the ice sheets from the inside of our van windows so that we can melt it for water.

But, on the plus side, we’re saving ourselves a fortune: when we went to the Ice Hotel in Sweden we had to pay an arm and a leg to sleep in a room maintained at minus 5 degrees, whereas now we get to do that every night for free. And if we’re really lucky, the internal temperature might dip below that tonight. If only we could fit ourselves into the fridge to sleep, it would be about 10 degrees warmer….

We are spending a few days at the very beautiful Lake Ohrid in Macedonia, a destination which we would thoroughly recommend should you ever happen to find yourself in F.Y.R.O.M.. The lake is lovely, surrounded on all sides by snow capped peaks which sit in Macedonia on our side of the lake and in Albania on the other side of the water. The town is one of the most pleasant we have been to on our trip, with well maintained, traditional houses; cobbled streets; a restored citadel; and some Orthodox churches in pretty stunning locations. We are camped in the courtyard of a local family’s house, where they are so friendly and hospitable that they have even given us a key to their front door.

Much to our surprise (based on our complete lack of knowledge about F.Y.R.O.M. before we arrived here), there are some very smart bars and cafes around, which are frequented by some very stylish locals. Sadly, we look rather less stylish. We have begun to resemble Michelin men due to the sheer number of layers which we sport each day. Helen tops her look off with a Nordic-patterned hat, complete with fleece ear flaps and a bobble on top, which is attracting some very amused looks from the local girls in their designer gear, high heeled boots and fur coats.

We have decided that we will extend our stay in Ohrid, partly because it is lovely here but partly because we are more than a little apprehensive about moving on into Albania, our “scariest” country since the ‘Stans. Its reputation isn’t great, not least because it has historically been seen as an isolated bastion of heavily gun-toting communism and no-one quite seems to have updated that image yet. Whether that is because it hasn’t really changed much, we shall see. The country was closed to tourists for a long time; communist rule only ended in 1992; and the ten years after that seem to have involved the country lurching from crisis to crisis. Rather ominously, everyone seems to advise against driving there and our guide book says, “Albania has only acquired an official road traffic code in recent years. Most motorists have only learned to drive in the last five or six years. The road infrastructure is poor and the roads badly maintained.” Oh good. On top of all that, it seems to be impossible to buy vehicle insurance for Albania and the borders in and out of the country are reputedly very difficult. None of this is very reassuring.

On second thoughts, maybe we shouldn’t post this until after we have left Albania. Don’t worry Mums, surely Albania can’t be as difficult to travel in as Central Asia? And surely the roads and the driving can’t be as bad as they were in India? Can they? Maybe it is not the cold we have to worry about after all…..

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