• Adam

Driving back to Macedonia and a really cheap massage

Updated: Dec 10, 2020

My last day in Albania began early as my camping gear was soaking wet from a stormy night in the mountains outside the town of Leskovik. Around 7am I threw the gear into the car, not being able to put it away properly since I needed to figure out where to dry it first. A shepherd and his flock passed by my camping area in the rain and then blocked the road as started driving. It took a minute for the sheep to move over so I could pass.

The shepherd keeping dry, with his flock 7am traffic jam on the narrow road

Then I was on my way. The only road wasn't quite wide enough for 2 cars to pass, so when a car came, one of us would have to pull over and wait for the other. Fortunately the road was mostly empty. I did pass an old man looking to hitch a ride in the rain, and felt badly I couldn't pick him up with my passenger seat was full of wet camping gear. The language barrier would probably have been an issue, too.

With all the hiking I did, I decided a few days earlier that I wanted a massage. And since everything in this part of the world is cheap compared to the US, I reasoned that I could find a cheap massage. I found a couple resorts along the coast that would do one for $40, but this is essentially what a US massage costs on Groupon. But on my last full day in Europe I had planned to visit the Macedonian town of Bitola - and it was there that I found a place online where a 1 hour Swedish massage cost $16. Sign. Me. Up. I had a 4pm appointment and had to make sure I was ready at the appointed time. But more on that later.

A pretty, winding road in late September between Leskovik and Korca. If you think that the road looks too narrow for a car to fit without always crossing over the median, you would be correct.

Like other roads in rural Albania, I passed through some pretty countryside on the narrow winding road where I was lucky if I hit 30mph (50kph). So, it took 2 hours to drive the 52 miles to Korca, a pleasant city not far from the border. I could have spent time exploring, but I had places to be so I only stopped in the city to swap out my remaining Albanian lek currency for some Macedonian denars. I passed by the pretty Prespa lake where I could again see Greece (and Albania) in the distance before getting held up at the border for 15 minutes (see post on Exit border controls) and crossing back into Macedonia.

I traveled to Bitola, which Macedonians are very proud of for its architecture. I didn't think it was that stunning but it reminded me of old French/Portuguese colonial style. There was also a protest underway against police brutality. I guess the US isn't the only country dealing with the issue.

The town center of Bitola A protest against police brutality in Bitola

After lunch I had some time before my massage so I checked out Bitola's main attraction - the Roman ruins of Heraklea Lynkestis. The site was smaller than I expected - about the size of a football field. It had the requisite amphitheatre, but also some in-ground plumbing and, for me the most impressive, a serious of tiled floors that were original from over 1,400 years ago!

Amphitheater 5th century plumbing

Original tile from the Byzantine period

I hung out at the site for awhile because it started raining, before making my way to my 4pm massage. It was a place called Holistika Zlatni Race, which I was able to book online via Facebook and I communicated with the masseur on WhatsApp. I don't remember his name but he told me that he normally works on cruise ships, but because of the pandemic there are no cruises so he returned home to Macedonia to practice massage until the cruises resume. It was an excellent massage in a soothing environment, just what my sore muscles needed!

I drove north to Prilep, where my guidebook hyped a unique independence monument in a park. I don't think it was worth going out of the way for, but while in the town I did drive up to the Treskavec Monastery, a 12th century institution on a mountain that stands over 2,000 feet above the valley floor. Apart from a few people leaving as I arrived, I didn't see anyone else there. The church was very dark but with my camera flash I was able to see some beautiful bright frescoes, and some faded ones. The faded frescoes are up to 500 years old, while the brighter ones have been restored. There were also a bunch of cats wandering inside the dark church!

Driving up to the monastery at the top of the mountain The view from the top

Church frescoes

How the empty church looked before and after I used my camera flash

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