Macedonia – Ohrid
Posted on February 2, 2015
Right off, I can tell you that we did manage to get from Albania to Macedonia. It’s not necessarily a given, not the way we went. Here’s our story, and adventure. We left Korce, Albania by intercity bus, paying about $5 total for the 40 km ride. The bus was packed but we were fine. The end of the journey was in Pogradec, on the south end of Lake Ohrid. All the passengers got off except for us. The border was only 8km away, but quite too far to walk. Suzi, in her big smiley way, asked the driver if he would drive the three of us to the border in his big hulking bus. Surprisingly, he said he would, but for the extortionist amount of $7 extra. We had little choice. We offered him $5 in local money, which was all we had, money we were actually glad to get rid of. The driver was pleased with the deal. For him, it was good under the table money.
The road, which followed the coast line, was direct but was not a popular route. It seemed almost abandoned. Google Maps will not route you this way but will stear you way around in other directions. We soon noticed that the narrowing road was lined with pillbox fortifications from recent wars or threats of wars, not a good sign. But it did not take too long before we found ourselves at a sad sack border station. The busman let us off here and headed his big empty bus back to town. We felt like we had been dropped off on some forlorn desert road on the Nevada Utah state boundary. And to add to the drama, the border guards spent an inordinate amount of time deciding to let us leave the country. Once released, we saw nothing in sight beyond the barrier gates except for snowy mountain peaks and a desolate, icy road. We began to walk. Who knows how far we would go, or even where the Macedonian border crossing was. No traffic passed us by.
Fortunately, after a few minutes we caught sight of the Macedonian control station. Our hearts lifted. The place looked pretty decent. The border guard was friendly. We passed through easily. Now what. We had 50 km to go. Suzi shrugged off a taxi driver who was eager to take us, no doubt for a stiff fare. We walked ahead, maybe a km, quite a way. Eventually the taxi drove up and offered us a ride. Suzi negotiated a fantastic deal, less than $4 for the three of us. Now we could relax. The road was plenty icy but the driver was extra cautious. He drove us not just to town but as close as possible to our hotel. We all left with firm handshakes and broad smiles. I calculated that the fare hardly covered the poor guy’s fuel bill.
Now the town of Ohrid is a town worth seeing. It’s quite a resort, nestled near the north end of one of the deepest and oldest and surely clearest lakes in Europe, surrounded in winter by snowy ranges. Relative prosperity reigns here, and it is immediately obvious. But prices, too, are much higher than in Albania.
Here’s a peek of the downtown area, with its small shops, many devoted to the tourist trade. Ohrid pearls made from special local fish scales are especially featured. To my eye, they look like the real thing.
We are able to find lodging in the old Ottoman quarters with a great view over the lake.
Once we settle in, it is time to find some lunch. A totally unassuming mom and pop cafe catches our eye. There are only five tables inside, and three are already occupied. We sit down and are soon offered a menu.
We are soon served the salad course, which includes various pickled things, and a generous amount of fresh bread.
It doesn’t take long until the whole place is participating in our being there. Eva and Suzi get quite caught up in interacting with everyone, even the husband cook and their daughter, home from college.
The next morning is beautiful so we go for a walk. First we pass the striking 11th century Church of St. Sophia on the way to the end of town, which is capped by another notable Middle Age chapel, the Church of St. John at Kaneo. Inside are notable frescos. Unfortunately many of them were stolen a few years ago and have never been found.
Unlike in the Middle East, in the Balkan countries we have visited, there seems to be no particular tension between Christians and Muslims, rather like Protestant and Catholic faiths in the United States. There is much more cultural stress among the ethnic groups that maintain different languages. Continuing unrest remains and only time will tell how stable the situation is, and how permanent national boundaries are. After all, the whole area is decidedly Balkanized.
Above these churches are extensive archaeological sites and various ruins. Unfortunately, huge new construction of a luxury hotel is taking place. The rationale is that the Romans did the same thing here in their time, so this land use has a precedent (2000 years later).
Dang if it isn’t lunch time again. On the way up the hill we had noticed a right attractive restaurant near our flat. It’s time to try it out.
We don’t order a whole lot, just a few local specialties. We are rather overwhelmed.
We walk all this off by visiting another other side of town, where there are lots of ruins from Greek and Roman times. We happen upon a recently discovered Greek amphitheater, now used regularly for various productions.
Tomorrow we will spend the day in a mountain village before leaving Ohrid for good.