As I begin writing this on Saturday from Librazhd, I know that folks right across Canada are facing a weekend of very nasty weather. Stay safe, and please don't hate me for whining about the conditions I'm facing here.
For the first time in the three months I've been on the road, I'm finally above the snow line. Granted, I went over the Great St Bernard Pass in mid-October, and I saw snow on the peaks of the Appenines from the dome of St Peter's in Rome, but today was the first day I could reach down and make a snowball. (Two days ago in Elbasan, I caught the last hour of Frozen on TV. What a wonderful movie!)
I got a very late start this morning. I was up at 6:00, but then I spent a fair bit of time online before and during breakfast. Then I prepared a few photos for uploading, and sent those to Flickr. Since I only had 26 kms to cover, it was easy to find "one last thing" to do before striking out. (And perhaps the extended break from walking had something to do with my procrastination.) It was 10:00 before I finally stepped into the warm sunshine of a fine January morning. The ferocious wind I described yesterday was nothing but a memory.
On my way through Elbasan, I stopped to exchange some Albanian currency for some Macedonian. I expect to be crossing the border the day after tomorrow, and Elbasan is the last large-ish city I'll be passing through until I reach Struga on the other side of the border. I lost 8% on the exchange, but at least I'll have some walking around money without desperately searching for a bank machine to make a withdrawal in the local currency. (It took me several hours of hunting when I first arrived in Albania - the issue is that my card doesn't work on the Cirrus network, which is what all but the last ATM I tried operated on.)
It remained clear and sunny the whole day, but I spent quite a bit of time in the shade as my path wound between peaks. It would have been great to take the Via Egnatia trail, but watching the mountain range unfold and reveal itself as I walked was fascinating. The higher up I went, the narrower the valley got (which also meant the wind picked up). For three of the final four kilometres, it wasn't a valley so much as a defile. There was the two lane road with an almost sheer mountain face on one side, and an equally perpendicular drop to the river which rushed past the cliffs on the other side. What made this stretch of road particularly "interesting" was hearing the hollow clatter of stones bouncing down the cliff face towards the pavement, and seeing the impressive piles of debris which had been cleared from previous rock slides.
On leaving that fiercely beautiful and rather terrifying section behind, I finally saw the town of Librazhd ahead of me in the valley. This is also where I finally had snow underfoot. I suspect this is the remnant of the pounding rainstorm we had last week, since once I took refuge from that storm, I saw footage of snowplows at work farther inland.
And speaking of the weather, tomorrow's forecast calls for -- wait for it -- RAIN!! Total accumulation of 5 mm, but if there's a strong wind pushing it ("if" -- hah!) that can get very miserable when the thermometer is hovering a few degrees above freezing. (I really hope that any precipitation I see tomorrow will be of the white and fluffy variety! It's so much less wet than rain.)
I am eager to keep moving, though, so it'll have to be quite bad for me to hole up for a day. Depending on how much ground I cover in the next few days, I could arrive in Ohrid by Christmas Eve. Yes, I know I posted Christmas photos from the Orthodox cathedral in Durrës a little over a week ago, but the Orthodox Churches in the Slavic tradition usually follow the Julian calendar for the liturgical year.
When I walked the Camino de Santiago in 2010, I left for the airport shortly after attending Liturgy for the Feast of Theophany. Thirteen days later, my misplaced luggage was finally delivered to me at the Institut de théologie orthodoxe Saint-Serge, on the day the community there was celebrating Theophany. This year I'll miss this great feast of the church year entirely, but celebrate the Nativity of our Lord twice. I'm hoping for a white, rather than a wet, Christmas. Although come to think of it, warm and sunny wouldn't be bad.
It's 30 kms to Përrenjas, and from there 37 kms to Ohrid. If my determination holds tomorrow and I reach Përrenjas, I'll likely spend the next night in Struga, which will leave an easy 14 km lakeside walk to Ohrid. This, incidentally, is the lake which St Nikolaj Velimirović referred to in the title of one of his books, Prayers by the Lake. This volume of prayers can be read online at http://www.sv-luka.org/praylake/index.htm
I'm actually very excited about visiting Ohrid. Not only is it full of ancient and beautiful churches, but it was St Nikolaj's home from 1920 until he was arrested by the Nazis in 1941. Eventually he was transferred to Dachau, and after the war ended he moved to the USA. He was the Rector of St Tikhon's Orthodox Theological Seminary until his repose on March 18, 1956. I don't know why I felt so drawn to him while I was a seminarian at St Tikhon's, but there you have it. (One of these days I should photograph the icon of St Nikolaj that I commissioned and share it with the online Orthodox world.) If I'd had to choose between visiting Rome or visiting Ohrid, I'd never have seen St Peter's. Read more about his life at OrthodoxWiki.
And now, good night.