Sometimes on hostel-booking websites you will see that a person has rated a hostel poorly and justified this with such a ludicrous comment as, ‘The people in my dorm were rude/snoring/public fornicators,’ as if this was something the management had any control over. It would, therefore, be equally ridiculous of me to complain that Sunny Lake Hostel in Ohrid had the worst gender ratio of any place I’ve ever stayed. On our first night, there were just two Finnish girls and 30-odd young males swarming around them. I assume this was just an unfortunate anomaly – there’s no particular reason why quaint lakeside getaways should be prone to becoming sausage-fests.
Generally, Sunny Lake is an excellent hostel. On the front door you are greeted with a notice telling you to ‘shut the fuck up after 22:00’. This pleasant disregard for guests’ sensitivities extends to similar notices inside (the shutting up of the fuck doesn’t seem to be fully enforced, though), and to the wifi password being ‘logoutandgoout’.
I wouldn’t like to give off the impression that my gallivanting around the world is motivated entirely by sex, but there comes a time in a trip where you get bored of making small-talk with boring guys, pretending to take an interest in their identikit itineraries and opinions – and it turned out that this moment came for me after a mere six days on this particular occasion. Josh apparently has a much higher tolerance for such things, and could happily have sat on the hostel balcony slowly cock-blocking himself all night. This personality mismatch led to the eruption of one of backpacking’s great traditions: the souring of relations between travel buddies at a not-too-late point in a trip. My frustration at Josh also made it all the more embarrassing when we did finally hit the bars, and the only people we spoke to all night were the parents of the Irish Under-16s basketball team, a retired Dutch soldier, and a bouncer. The last of these only initiated brusque conversation with us after Josh expelled the slab of meat he’d eaten a few hours earlier all over the floor of the Ohrid Jazz and Blues Café.
The floor of a nightclub was probably as good a place as any for such cuisine to end up. Eating in Macedonia is a mixed experience. They even managed to fuck pizza up, the tomato puree coming not on top of the base but in a jar that you can dip the cheesy bread into. And it’s not exactly a sign of great things that you’re eating pizza in a non-Italian country in the first place. The best food we had, by far, was in Café Cubana in Skopje. The worst, by a country mile, was a doner meal in a shopping mall, which may even have been the most disgusting kebab of my life…and I went to uni in Birmingham.
Food aside, Ohrid is splendid. The lake sits in the south-west corner of Macedonia, nestled underneath mountains of the sort of loveliness typical of the whole country. An old town with pebble beaches and clear water; touristy but not overwhelmingly so. It provides respite from capital city-hopping, which any tour of the more fragmented parts of Europe has the potential to become.