Day 56 Wednesday July 19 2017
Popova to Ohrid / 213 KM
- The new Popova to Skopje road will be amazing & very scenic when it is completed. It's not easy terrain to carve out a 4 or 6 lane motorway. Significant civil engineering expertise is being harnessed.
- Its good to know EU money is being put to good use.
- En route from Popva to Prilep there are several other vineyards advertised, notably the Stobi Winery, where there are also Roman ruins and Tikves Winery. It may be worth googling further info if you are interested in visiting this area.
- Apart from agricturally rich valleys, this region of Macedonia consists of rolling wooded hills and mini mountains that stretch for miles all around.
- In this part of the world, sheep are accompanied by herdsmen and small groups of cattle seem to walk the roads at leisure. We pass through a couple of villages where it's market day - farmers are driving their produce to market in trailers towed by tractor. Not many middlemen in this chain of supply!
- Today we are heading to Macedonia's Lake District, to a waterside town called Ohrid - site of some of the oldest human settlements in this region of Europe. Across the lake is Albania. Indeed the lake itself has the international national border drawn straight through it. If ever Macedonia becomes a full member of the EU or God forbid the Schengen Zone, it would only be a hop, skip and a jump for Albanians to cross the border.
- En route to Ohrid we are seeing mosques as well as Orthodox Christian churches. Around 30% of Macedonia's 2.1 million people are Sunni Muslim, many of them of Albanian Muslim heritage. Ethnicity is a confusing issue in this part of the world. Turkish influence from Ottoman Empire days is also very noticeable - the domestic architecture, the food & the language. Macedonian uses Cyrillic script and is a continuum of Bulgarian. But many Turkish words have been incorporated into Macedonian and after spending 3 weeks in Turkey, even we can recognise the simplest examples.
- Lake Ohrid is a delight. Beautiful, clean and deep water, and plenty of empty spaces lakeside where you can still find a peaceful spot to relax, picnic, swim etc. It is however more commercialised than say Lake Egirdir in Turkey and the holiday season is in full swing. It appears that urbanisation is being confined & controlled. At least for the moment. And so it should be. Lake Ohrid & town have Unesco World Heritage status.
- SG knows from experience that it is better to get sightseeing out of the way before settling down at our hotel. Once parked up AG is very reluctant to get back in the truck & drive anywhere.
- So we pass directly through Ohrid and continue along the East shore towards Albania.
- Apart from in Ohrid town itself there are many accommodation options around the lake - camping, pensions and near to Ohrid itself some larger hotels boasting pool & spa facilities. SG reckons that by installing a spa, no matter how mediocre, hotels can claim extra star rating. On Lake Ohrid they all seem to have one.
- We stop just short of the Albanian land border at the St Naum Monastery complex. The crowds, the restaurants, the souvenir shops are a shock to our senses. This is meant to be a holy place and yet it has been turned into a kind of entertainment zone. It's not clear whether the monastery is still active. It looks very much as if former living quarters have been converted into an upmarket hotel with glorious lake views.
- Within the hotel complex is a courtyard & the small chapel of St Archangel. The original church was built here in 10C by St Naum but was destroyed by the Ottomans. It was rebuilt in 16 & 17C and the internal frescoes date from this period. Subsequent restorations have been done with tourist appeal in mind rather than archaeological discipline. We wonder what our Oxford friends @ Afrodisias would say.
- St Naum is buried here. To come and place your ear on his tombstone & hopefully hear his heartbeat is a pilgrimage that many Macedonians are keen to do. We respectfully observe their ritual.
- There is no doubt that Ohrid and its lakeside churches, monasteries and Byzantine ruins are best seen from the water. It is probably well worth paying for a boat trip. Sadly we do not have time.
- On leaving the St Naum complex, a right turn will take us to the Albanian border within minutes. Turn left and we retrace our route lakeside to the Bay of Bones where there is an old Roman fortress, museum and cafe with pleasant views. Again the visuals of this place will be better appreciated from a boat.
- Adjacent to the small and very average museum is a dive centre. It was here that underwater archaeological research was conducted between 1995- 2005. At a depth of 2.5-5 m, more than 6000 wooden piles were discovered, as well as fragments and whole pieces of household containers, tools & weapons. Ruins of a village built on stilts & dating back to 1200-600B.C. had been discovered.
- The reconstruction of the village houses is also not the best - but it gives you a rough idea of the domestic architecture of prehistoric times in this area. Interesting is the fact that homes and utility buildings were square or rectangular, made from wood, covered with plaster, and often topped with thatch or twig weave. They had an internal trap door that allowed rapid escape into the water or direct access to their main source of food - fish. Buildings used for cult & ritual purposes were differentiated by their round shape.
- Macedonian newly weds seek out scenic places such as the Bay of Bones and the St Naum Monastery complex for that special photo opportunity. Why professional photographers do the session at mid day in the harshest of light is a mystery. It is also uncomfortably hot to be dressed up in wedding gear. Maybe the rate is cheaper. Anyway it is all a bit ridiculous really and so contrived - but that is the inevitable impact of our social media age and the pressure to compile a personal portfolio for public consumption.
- Its time to find our pension - Villa Kale. And then take a stroll into Ohrid in search of a light lunch.
- Satnavs get us in a real mess. The pension is located near the upper city gate, close to the remains of the ancient Hellenistic theatre. The winding narrow residential streets are not easy to navigate with the Toyota Landcruiser.
- Temperatures rise and so does AG's blood pressure. It is a major source of displeasure for him drive in endless circles. After all that's why he has a navigator. Despite SG's best efforts, or perhaps because of them, the truck 'grazes' its side on a stone wall. A slight blemish in the scheme of things but it means we have to go forwards - there is no way to reverse through the same narrow space without sustaining more damage. SG walks ahead and crosses every part of her body that the road widens. Phew! It does and more or less immediately we find Villa Kale. If there was a naught step SG would be there. Get over it AG!
- Villa Kale is very conveniently located - away from the lakeside crowds & noise but accessible by a flight of stone steps to the centre of town within 5 minutes. Walk uphill from Villa Kale and you access:
- the ancient theatre ( check schedule for concerts if you are planning to come )
- the Icon Gallery ( one of the best collections of old Icons in Europe )
- the fortress ( that dates to 4C B.C. when Ohrid was capital of first Bulgarian Empire - did we know there was one?)
- a footpath that leads back down along the coast into the town centre via a few more churches ( notably the gorgeous Saint Jovan at Kaneo & St Sophia )
- Old Byzantine & Eastern Orthodox Churches, ( as we can testify from our travels,) tend to be built in the most beautiful of locations. It is no surprise therefore that around Lake Ohrid there are meant to be at least 365 different places of worship, one for every day.
- Lunch and liquid refreshment soon put things into perspective and restore energy levels - for a walk around town and the trail up the hill back to Villa Kale. SG has it all planned - as ever.
- The city map does not however indicate the detour around a massive & deserted building site - a new hotel complex is being constructed high up on the promontory. It will have the most fantastic views. But it has also engulfed the old church of Sveti Klementi & Pantelejmon (10C origins & restored in a rather contemporary way in 2002 ) & Byzantine ruins of an old Basilica. Eventually it will probably resemble the St Naum complex we saw earlier in the day.
- We ask the lovely owner of Villa Kale how this has been allowed to happen in an historic town with Unesco Heritage status. He rolls his eyes, shakes his head and utters familiar words: politics & money.
- We have a pleasant & reasonably priced supper in Damar restaurant just opposite St Sophia church. SG is once again tempted by smoked trout - from the lake & a signature dish in this & many other Ohrid restaurants. Fortunately this time neither taste nor size disappoints. And AG enjoys his slow cooked lamb, accompanied as always, by local wine. Served at the correct temperature.
- Ohrid - Don't be put off, it is definitely worth a visit, for perhaps 3 nights 2 days but not in high season. Few British tourists have discovered this part of Europe. And that has to be another plus point!
Albania is Very Close to Ohrid
Lake Ohrid - More Sightseeing?!
Local Car, National Colours
The Church within the St Naum Monastery Complex
Internal 16C Frescoes of Chapel of St Naum Monastery
Even the Stone Pillars Are a Work of Art (16C )
Listening For St Naum's Heart Beat at his Tomb in Monastery of St Naum
Romantic Setting for that Special Wedding Photograph
Bay of Bones Museum & Gorgeous Lake Ohrid Ohrid
Museum at Bay of Bones, Lake Ohrid
St Jovan Kaneo Church - Classic Ohrid Vista
Another Perspective of St Jovan Kaneo Church
The Old Basilica Ruins Are Being Engulfed Within a New Hotel Complex
Sveti Klementi Church, Also a now Engulfed Within a New Hotel Complex
Ancient Theatre @ Ohrid