Thursday, January 20, 2011

Lake Ohrid, Macedonia

We took a long weekend trip down to Lake Ohrid in Macedonia. This is a huge inland lake with beautiful clear blue water surrounded by mountains. I felt like I had found Shangri-la when we began our entry into the lake area. We left Pristina in cold, rainy, nasty weather and drove four hours in the same. But when we drove down into Lake Ohrid the sky suddenly cleared to reveal a clear, beautiful, warm day. It was amazing. The natives assured us that the weather there is always mild and beautiful. It was a welcome relief from Pristina - especially the fresh, clean, sweet smelling air.  (Pristina had a serious air pollution problem.)

We stayed in a small hotel right on the promenade with a view of the old town on the point.
We had a rather surreal moment when we registered at the hotel The woman at the reception desk was busy speaking Macedonian as we arrived but when we got to the desk to register she immediately switched to Australian accented English! It was weird to hear that accent in the middle of Macedonia. As it turned out, her family owns the hotel and they all spent many years as immigrants to Australia before returning to Lake Ohrid three years ago to buy the hotel.

From the hotel it was a  pleasant five minute walk to the main shopping/tourist area. There were some interesting shops and lots of people.

We arrived on the eve of the orthodox Christmas so there were decorations all around. The tree was up in the square and at night there were lights everywhere. Since I love Christmas, I was delighted to see it all since we had very few decorations in Pristina which is majority Muslim.

On Christmas Day our hotel served a special traditional Macedonian Christmas dinner. We had roast pork with vegetables which was delicious, a salad of chopped onions which wasn't, and a nice dessert.

The owner of the hotel makes wine and is a bee keeper. We brought some of both his wine and honey back with us. The honey is dark, dark brown and has a very distinctive taste - reminds me a bit of molasses.

We took a guided walking tour of the city. Archaeologists have found evidence of human habitation on the lake since 6000 years ago. I guess we humans have always liked a nice climate! The city itself has a long history, too.

This is a typical street with stone paving. Our guide said that the original paved street is several feet below this one.

This is a very typical house of the area with a stone foundation and stucco-like upper walls. The upper stories lean over the street. The government is aggressively restoring the town and has set in place regulations governing reconstruction.

The Romans occupied Macedonia for quite a while. They had an important garrison at Ohrid with a significant presence. This is the old amphitheater where Romans watched games and gladiators and now townspeople watch concerts.

Legend has it that there are 365 churches in Ohrid. We didn't see them all but we did see quite  a few. This is one that somehow escaped the Turkish occupation without being turned into a mosque.It is quite small but did have some interesting frescos and icons. We weren't allowed to take any photos in the churches. They are all still used for worship.

The construction of the churches was pretty amazing. The Ottomans did their best to destroy the beautiful mosaics and frescos but we were able to see some pretty impressive remains. Our guide said that they used paint with crushed lapis lazuli for the blue in the frescos and, of course, gold leaf. They spared no expense.

The old city is surrounded by a wall. This is one of its two gates.

If you look closely at this photo you can see the interesting metalwork (scales) on the gate's door. 

As we walked up the hill towards St Clement's church we happened upon this musician playing a traditional Macedonian instrument. When he saw us he knew immediately we were American (can't imagine how) and began to play Jingle Bells. It was quite a moment.

One of the most important churches in Ohrid is the Church of St Clement. He is the patron saint of the city. Next to the church they are excavating an area where he founded a university in the 800's. According to our guide, the Cyrillic alphabet was developed at this university. Interestingly enough, this location was originally a pagan worship site.

Here is a closeup of the outside of the church with its interesting architecture and beautiful stonework.

A restored mosaic of St Clement. The church does indeed have a relic of Clement. At one point his entire body was housed there but now all they have is his arm...or so the story goes.

Ruins with a view.

Another important church is the Church of St. John the Baptist. They picked a beautiful site overlooking the lake.

Here we are after a long climb up the hill.

The city is built right down to the lake. There is a fishing industry here, too. There is even a trout specific to the lake, the Ohrid trout. It is an endangered species so Macedonia forbids any fishing for it. However the lake borders Albania on the western side and they have no such protection there and actively fish for it. Poor fish!

It is a beautiful place. In the summer is it full of tourists from all over the area and as far away as Germany and Russia.

There is an ongoing debate between Macedonia and Greece regarding the country's name. There is a Greek province called Macedonia so the Greeks refuse to acknowledge this country's name.

Macedonia is a big wine producer and has been for a long time. It was one of the major wine producers for the Roman Empire. Charlie visited a beautiful winery in Macedonia last spring. The wine is quite good, too. We still have lots to see in Macedonia.

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