Shine On Liberty Sun

Fly Me to the Moon
12th September 2018

The alarm blurted out at 6:15am. I hit the snooze button and rolled over back asleep. It was too early to start the day. Yes, we were at a hotel near Luton airport, flying to Macedonia today but not until 3pm.  I had forgotten to switch off our regular alarm!

We were staying at the Ibis Budget in a cell of a room. Budget really meant "budget".  We had a bed and a television but that was about it. Of course we had a en-suite bathroom, not just a bucket in the corner to piss in but more importantly it was clean, comfortable and cheap so we couldn't ask for anything more.

It was after 10am by the time we got going. The hotel was too near to the airport to warrant a taxi yet felt quite some distance away wheeling our cases along the pavement. It took us a good twenty minutes to reach the airport. Thankfully it wasn't raining.

We found the Wizz Air check-in desks. They seemed to be one of the main airlines operating out of Luton as a wall of purple greeted us when we walked into the terminal. We dropped off our lugage and headed over to the departures lounge. Unfortunately our print at home boarding passes wouldn't scan so we had to return to the check-in desk to print us another one.

Then at the security gates when they scanned my bag they removed my pot of hummus because it was considered to be a liquid and over 100ml. I asked if I could eat it, right there and then but I wasn't allowed to open it inside the secure area. I would have to go back to the begining if I wanted to eat it, and it wasn't worth it.

Then Julie beeped as she walked through the metal detector. She had to be frisked but they couldn't find anything, even with a handheld device. 

Finally we made it through to the departures lounge. Julie was a little anxious by now after all the different obstacles thrown in our way. It called for a glass of wine to settle the nerves and something to eat now I had my lunch confiscated.

We found an Italian themed champagne bar called DUBL and shared a small plate which conveniently had two crusty mini rolls, one filled with salmon for Julie and burata for me. Perfecto. The sparkling wine wasn't champagne, nor was it Prosecco but a delicious wine from Campania, the region around Naples.

We moved on, drifting from shop to shop. It wasn't possible to sit because all the seating were taken. Well, not taken exactly. I hate those people who spread themselves about a bit, a bag on one seat, a drink on the other, or worse still those who lie down covering three seats, pretending to be asleep. They were all here in attendance today.

There was only one thing for it, and that was to buy another drink at another bar. It was a small price for a seat. The Hawker's didn't have much in the way of food so after we slowly sipped our beverages we moved on to the Frankie and Benny's diner. 

You can't got wrong with a Frankie & Bennys. It's not spectacular food but you know what you're getting and that it's of a certain standard. My pasta & tomato sauce and Julie's half a roast chicken weren't exciting  but tasted just fine.

Half an hour later our gate number came up and we made our way over to gate 28 having stopped to buy our customary good-luck bottle of champagne and a large bar of tolberone.

By the time we got to the gate they were already boarding, or so we thought. After we had our passport and boarding pass checked we walked down stairs to joing the back of the queue where we stood for half an hour waiting. It was tortuous standing on a step next to a loudspeaker blaring out announcements at jet engine decibels.

Of course we did eventually board the plane and settled into our preferred seats. Julie was on the verge of exploding with the tension of it all.

We were half an hour late taking off but the pilot still expected us to arrive on time. How could that even be possible on a three hour flight? 

The further into the fight the more relaxed Julie became, enjoying the stunning views somewhere over the Alps.

There had been no turbulence whatsoever, even over the mountains. It was such a lovely day out there, perfect flying conditions as they say.   As we flew over Macedonia heading South to the lakeside resort of Ohrid the sun was setting. 

By the time we descended over Lake Ohrid it had all but gone, disappearing over the horizon. There was nothing to see below us but the darkness of the water. The plane looped around, now flying North  to the airport a few miles outside of town.

Julie doesn't like landing in the dark as she can't see the runway. Touchdown is sudden and without warning and always shakes her up. She let out a little "woohoo" once we came to a stop.  

It was a small airport. After passport control and baggage reclaim the escalator up a floor was literally the exit. We walked through a ruck of taxi drivers and headed across the car park to the car rental booths. I hadn't noted who I had actually booked with. It was through who were only the agents. We walked past familiar names like Hertz, Europacar, Sixt and came to a local firm called Sharr Express.  We needn't have worried. They were courteous and professional and geniunely pleased to hand over the keys to an Opel Corsa with an automatic transmission.

"Have you driven an automatic before?" he asked. "Yes, yes, of course" I answered not wanting to look stupid but in reality I had only driven one once, many years ago.

We didn't get off to a good start when I had to get out of the car and ask him to show me how to put the lights on! Then as we set off out of the car park we drove down the wrong side of the road!

By the time we got to the main road we had regained our composure. We were being guided to our destination by a SatNav which seemed to have been set to a preference of shortest distance .

As we reached Ohrid we turned off the main road, driving through a residential area before throwing us into the narrow alleys of the old part of town. We missed a turn, not because we didn't see it but because it looked too steep and narrow to be even possible.

After almost driving the wrong way down a one way street we followed the SatNav after it recalibrated only to end up back at the right turn up the impossible alley. There was only one way so we took a deep breath and turned up the ancient cobbled street. Driving an automatic wasn't helping me with being in control but we slowly made our way along. It levelled off briefly but we came to a parked car. "Shit" we both said in unison. We faced being stuck there overnight! There was no chance of reversing back the way we came. The only way was forward.

We literally inched our way through between the car and the stone wall, wing mirrors tucked in, both ours and we tucked in the other car as well for as much clearance as possible! With a huge sigh of relief we squeezed through and continued slowly up hill until we came to a wider tarmac road.

We followed this road all the way up hill until we reached the old city walls. We drove through an archway, known as the Upper Gate, into wide open space and decided to park up. It would have been impossible to have found apartment on our own so we didn't waste any time in phoning the owner.

Within minutes she came down to the square to meet us. She introduced herself as Ivana. We weren't far from Apartmani Sveti Dimitrij, in fact Julie followed Ivana in walking up the hill as I followed in the car. It was only 100m away.

She gave us the guided tour of the apartment. It didn't take long, there were only three rooms, a bedroom, bathroom and a kitchen/living room. It may have been small but it was tidy and homely.

The best feature was a small balcony off the bedroom which for me counted as an extra room. It was the main reason why we booked this apartment. We imagined ourselves having breakfast sat outside or just relaxing, watching the sun set.

But what made us go "wow" was the incredible view of Samuel's Fort from our bedroom window. The 11th century castle stood on top of the hill, brightly illuminated with a huge Macedonian flag fluttering in the breeze.  It was an awesome sight.

Ivana gave us the wi-fi password, took our passports for her records and left.

We weren't too far behind her as we popped out for some supplies from a nearby conveniance store. They were just closing. The floor had already been mopped clean. We felt a litlle awkward being so late but they made us feel most welcomed. We bought a basket of breakfast essentials like bread, butter, yogurt, tomatoes, and water, beer bananas for only 399 Macedonian dinars. That converted to about £6.50.

We hadn't bought anything to eat for this evening. We hoped to find a restaurant nearby that was still open.

One of the nearest ones recommended was called Gladiator, named such because it was overlooking an old roman amphitheatre.  It wasn't far, a few minues walk. We decided to sit outside, looking back across to where we had come, just beneath the Church of St. Demetrius and the Holy Mary Perybelptos no less.

The table and chairs were homemade from plywood and raised on a platform. I could see why as the street was on a steep incline but at least the tables were level. The benches were fixed in position and unfortunately they had miscalculated the space and when they came to the bench at the end there was hardly enough space to sit down. We had to squeeze into place which was a bit uncomfortable.

It was still very pleasant to be sat outside in the warm air, enjoying half a carafe of the surprisingly tasty local wine and much to my delight a "vegetarian platter". A cold salad of griddled vegetables. We had also ordered a side of avjar, a stunning red pepper dip. For Julie, she had pork chop, which for a change was a decent cut and not the usual gnarly boney piece of meat she struggles with when abroad.

We paid our 1498 dinars by card (£22) as we didn't have any cash and made our way back to our apartment for a night cap on the balcony.

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©Copyright 2018 Colin Owen