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louis Ohrid - A travel report by Rafal
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Ohrid,  Macedonia - flag Macedonia -  Ohrid
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louis's travel reports

Where the oldest lake in Europe is located

  9 votes
Macedonia is rich in vineyards, forest, old villages and in the great number of Orthodox churches and monasteries. Additionally, the period of Ottoman rule has left in the country some wonderful examples of mosques and shrines. report of the month contest
Jun 2010

Sveti Jovan at Kaneo
Sveti Jovan at Kaneo
Macedonia is a small country in south eastern Europe. In 1991 after collapsing of Yugoslavia, the country became independent and Skopie its capital. The biggest cities are Bitola, Ohrid and Tetovo (where is the biggest Albanian minority). Even if the country is landlocked, it is famous for its Ohrid lake, which is a natural tectonic water basin shared with Albania and one of the oldest in the world (with 294m deep is the deepest in the Balkans). Its currency is the Makedonian denar (1 EUR - 60 MKD). In biggest cities there is no problem to use credits cards.

Macedonia is a young country struggling with some problems. Firstly, its name: Greece raised objections against use of the name "Macedonia", so for the first years of independence, the country was known as FYROM (Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia). Second issue is a problem with the Albanian minority, which even caused a short war in 2001, after the Macedonian goverment agreed to improve political participation of the Albanian minority and officialy recognized Albanian language. Today, the biggest minority lives close to Kosovo border, near the town of Tetovo.

Travelling around the country is generaly safe and easy. Good and inexpensive bus connections, cheap hostels and private rooms. And the most wonderful for me were the people. Everybody I met was very hospitable, friendly and helpful. The only problem was on arrival to Skopie airport. The place is around 25 kilometres from the city and there are no public buses. I took a not marked taxi, which I regreted, because the taxi diver wanted to cheat me. So arrange something with the hotel or try to take an official taxi. Many people speaks English so communication shouldn´t be a problem. Cyrylic alphabet is in use and might cause some problems with understanding.

I think that have chosen one of the best moments for visiting the country. Still not in EU, Macedonia is not yet invaded by masses of tourists and June seems to be perfect time to go.

Favourite spots:
Sveta Sofija
Sveta Sofija
Ohrid and its lake are the only places subscribed to the UNESCO list. Ohrid is notable for once having 365 churches, one for each day of the year and is known as the Macedonian Jerusalem. The city is rich in picturesque houses and monuments. The most well known churches of Ohrid are:

- Sveta Sofija from XI century, originally built as a cathedral. Frescoes are well preserved thanks to having been whitewashed during the church's days as a mosque

- Sveti Jovan at Kaneo - little 13th century church, has the most scenic location on the high cliffs. Inside is a small museum.

- Sveti Kliment - 13th century patterned inside with vividly restored frescoes of biblical scenes.

- Car Samoil castle on the town's highest hill gives a great panoramic view over the town and the lake. There is nothing special inside.

- Huge number of other small churches and monasteries. Some of them are closed but if you are lucky (most of the time I was) to get in, you will see original interior frescoes.

What's really great:
view over the city from Tsar Samoil castle
view over the city from Tsar Samoil castle
During my visit to Ohrid I didn´t have much luck with the weather and it was raining quite often. Because of that, sometimes I had a chance to stop for a while, soak up the atmosphere, talk with very friendly people or just notice those things that normally I would´t have time to notice. As in Sveti Jovan at Kaneo church, where I was trapped for more than 1 hour and I just listened to the religious songs performed by a male chorus. No electricity, only candles and these songs were unforgottable. Another interesting thing I made was a boat trip. Near Sv. Jovan, boat owners wait to offer trips to the tourists (just confirm, because the price is mostly for one way trip). This trip gave me the chance to see how well the city is located. Nestling near the lake shores with some parts on the high rock shores and the huge castle walls on the background. The journey ended close to the main pedestrian street. The view over the city and the lake from Tsar Samuel castle is also worth an effort.

Mosaics in Heraclea Lycentis
Mosaics in Heraclea Lycentis
Only 2 hours bus ride from Ohrid is the city of Bitola. It was an important commercial centre in the late Ottoman era and it still has a substantial Turkish population. The most interesting part of the city is a colourful old bazaar (Stara Carsija) with more than 6000 shops. Other main sights are the old Yeni Mosque and the Isak Mosque. Just 2 kilometres from the city centre are ruins of ancient Heraclea Lyncestis. The city was founded in the 4th century BC by Phillip II Macedonian, then conquered by the Romans and after it was one of the most importants ports on the Via Egnatia. Excavation site is quite small and can be explored in an hour. There are remains of 2 Christian basilica and episcopal palace. Most impressive are gorgeous mosaics from the end of the 6th century. There are birds, trees, bushes, a red dog, which is a symbol of paradise, and animal beasts as a domain of the earth. English speaking guide provides additional information. Also in the complex is interesting museum

Ohrid from the lake
Ohrid from the lake
As the city is one of the biggest tourist attractions nobody will have a problem. Old town and the city centre are filled with hostels (prices starts from 10 EUR per person in dormitory) and private rooms. Hotels are also available with prices starting from 20 EUR.

I arrived at Ohrid by bus and met on the bus station a lovely lady, who proposed to rent me a room. The price was very favourable to me (only 10 EUR per room, per night) so I decided to stay there. It was a great choice. Not far from the centre but in very calm area and with a clean with common bathroom. Katica and her husband Goce (you will find the address and phone numbers on my travel tips) are lovely people. They treated me as more than a normal tourist, they treated me as their guest. I even had a chance to drink rakija with Goce and talk about life. The only problem was that Goce offered me rakija for the breakfast! It was strong and good but at 9 am, I almost got drunk.

Night scene
Night scene
I am not the biggest fan of nightlife but I have some observations. City is fulfilled with restaurants, cafe bars and pubs. Most of them are located on Bulevar Makedonski Prosvetiteli (main promenade leading from the harbour to the centre). It can be a problem if you want to stay in an hotel near this street. Music is loud and most of the discos open their doors to invite the guests in. The area near the lake shores port, Bulevar Makedonski Prosvetiteli and Kej Marsal Tito is the place where the city inhabitants spend their free time. They come with their entire families, books and sometimes alcohol just to seat and meet the friends. The residencial area where I was sleeping didn´t have any ight entertainment.

St. Clement
St. Clement
It is difficult to list all the attractions of Ohrid. The quantity of churches can be overwhelming but I advise you to not give up. Most of them are stunning inside and with different styles. Some of them I listed before but others like St. Clemet church (or also called the church of St. Bogorodica Perivlepta), located near the Upper Gate and built in 1295 with incredibly beautiful frescoes is a must. Churches of St. Bogorodica Bolnicka are located just opposite Church of Nicolai Bonicki (closed for restoration). Even if is marked `no photos´, ask gently and most of the guides will allow you to take pictures without flash. The House of Robevi family represents Ohrid architectural style and is the seat of an Institute now. Also parts of the city from Ottoman empire are worth visiting, like Ohrid Old Bazaar and two Mosques - Ali Pasha and Zyenel Abedin. On the road to the castle we can find an Ancient Theatre of Ohrid from Hellenistic period but in my opinion is little bit overadvertised

Tavce Gravce with Skopsko Beer
Tavce Gravce with Skopsko Beer
Food is one of the greatest memories from Macedonia. Cheap, tasty and fulfilling. Barbecue is the most popular way of preparing food in the country. Whether is pork, chicken or lamb it is almost always barbecued. Most well known national specialities are:

- burek - cheese, spinach, potato or meat in filo pastry together with yogurt, perfect for the breakfast,

- tavce gravce - beans cooked in a skillet,

- polneti piperki - stuffed peppers,

- moussaka - also known in Greece,

- sopska salata - mixed salad with grated white cheese - for me, the best choice in Macedonia,

- kebapci - kebaps

Being in Macedonia it is also worth to try rakija, national firewater, strong distilled spirit made from grapes. Macedonian wines, unknown abroad, are very delicious, as the country has more than 20 000 hectares of wineries. Most popular is T'ga za jug, red dry wine. Skopsko Pivo is the most popular beer across the country, quite cheap and strong.

Other recommendations:
Monatery of Svety Naum
Monatery of Svety Naum
Sveti Naum is an old Eastern Orthodox monastery, named after the medieval Saint Naum. It is situated along Lake Ohrid, 29 km south of the city of Ohrid and close to the Albanian border (there is even an official border crossing there). The monastery gets its name from the saint who founded it and was established in the year 905 by St Naum of Ohrid himself. St Naum was also buried in the church and his grave is in a small chapel inside. The monastery was rebuilt between the XVI and XVII centuries. Interior of the church is rich with frescoes. The charming frescoes of the archangels are mostly from XIX century (made by master Trpo) but there are also some dating back to the 16th and 17th centuries.Very beautiful iconostais was carved in the year 1711 and next to the entrance there are remains of two original columns with inscriptions in glagolica and cyrilic languages from IX century. The monastery is located on the top hill so there is great view over the lake and surrounding mountains.

Published on Friday June 11th, 2010

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Wed, Aug 04 2010 - 12:51 PM rating by hieronyma

You made me very curious, seem to be a country I would feel at home in. It has all the googies: good food, good vine, friendly people, and terrific archtecture. Congratulation for the award.

Tue, Jul 13 2010 - 10:44 PM rating by rangutan

Excellent report, a mini guide! This deserves the award.

Thu, Jul 08 2010 - 01:54 PM rating by eirekay

Rafal, I've wanted to go for so long, but your report seals it! Wonderful in every respect!

Tue, Jun 15 2010 - 03:53 AM rating by jorgesanchez

I like your report. The Tavce Gravce dish made me hungry.

Mon, Jun 14 2010 - 05:29 AM rating by krisek

Very informative and well composed report! Thank you Rafal. This is so timely for me, as I am leaving to the south-west Balkans on Friday - in five days. Your report is very useful, indeed. I am hoping for better weather...

Fri, Jun 11 2010 - 01:30 PM rating by pesu

Very interesting report about a country I haven't known much about! Congratulation, Rafal, on writing this in English - great work! Beautiful pics as well. :)

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