Destination number 3 of our Balkans tour is upon us!
Battling sleepiness, we somehow made it from our ‘luxury’ apartment to Skopje Bus Station in time for the 07:00 to Ohrid – a lakeside town in South West Macedonia which we’d heard great things about. There were some fairly terrifying drops from bridges and mountain roads along the way, but Delfina Tours got us there safely – would definitely recommend to a friend.
We had a few hours in Ohrid before we could check in to the hotel, so we made for a local supermarket to get some much needed comfort food and drinks which we had down at the lake front. 10p fizzy orange juice has never tasted so good! Lake Ohrid itself was gorgeous, surrounded by mountains and incredibly relaxing – especially compared to the cities we’d been to before.
The lakefront near the town centre is bustling with local boatmen who will take you on a quick tour around the lake for a few euros – it was here that we first encountered Ricardo, a retirement age captain who spent 30 minutes chatting to us enthusiastically about England. More on him later.
After leaving Ricardo, we went for breakfast at a pretty nice hotel on the lakefront – lots of food, nice cappuccino, and a final price of £3.72 for both of us. We are slightly in love with Macedonia.
With breakfast absolutely demolished with record speed, it was finally time to check into our hotel – Villa Veron, where we’d been given a top floor room with a rather nice balcony (could get used to this!). Shortly afterwards, we tried to go back to out for an explore without rucksacks. Unfortunately, just as we’d left the front door, thunderstorm number two of the trip struck with a vengeance. We were absolutely soaked within ten steps, so decided to run back inside – much to the amusement on the Dutch couple watching the storm from their balcony.
We waited until it got less stormy, then walked along the front to a restaurant to have dinner. Unfortunately, we couldn’t out-walk the second wave of the storm, and ended up trudging through the restaurant doors looking like we’d been for a swim in the Lake. We sat with our food and Macedonian wine (probably the most decadent meal of the trip so far) and watched the storm across the lake. That was the last action of the day, as we wandered back along the front (via the jetty for some photos) and headed back to the hotel. Clothes were washed unceremoniously in the sink, followed by sleep.
Day 2 in Ohrid brought much excitement, because it was our first full day of the trip without buses. However, in the midst of the excitement, a bathroom mishap which has been nicknamed “The Chincident” occurred. Matt was sat on the balcony when he heard a loud thud, followed a few seconds later by sobs. The thud, it transpired, was Lucy slipping over and smashing her chin on the floor. She described the Chincident as “genuinely quite traumatic”, and now finds herself “terrified” of showers. The bruise on the chin would seem to justify this fear. Chin aside, Lucy was actually fine – no need for anyone to rush across on a rescue mission.
Despite all this excitement, we still had exploring to do – so we headed off to find some breakfast which we could eat in the grounds of St Joan, a clifftop church which is in all the Ohrid postcards. For breakfast we ended up buying Burek, which is basically filopastry stuffed with ground meat or a feta-like cheese. At the time, we didn’t realise how momentous this moment would be – Burek became easily the staple diet of our trip. It’s amazing stuff. So greasy, but so delicious. Armed with our breakfast Burek, we wound our way through the old town and along some cute wooden walkways over the water before arriving at the church. It’s a small, beautiful building, and the view was, as expected, spectacular.
After breakfast on the cliffs, we continued walking up the hill towards the fortress. On the way, we passed a massive building site – we were disappointed that it looked like they were building a hotel so close to all the famous old buildings, but later research showed that it’s actually going to be an archaeological research centre. Not so bad then. The fortress was worth the trek – cheap entry and more great views.
We made our way back down to the town via an amphitheatre, attempting to find an old famous church en route. We stumbled across plenty of other churches, but the church remained elusive.
The afternoon was spent in the very quaint Old Bazaar, before we headed to a local restaurant near our hotel for dinner. It was ranked as #1 on TripAdvisor (Matt follows that sort of thing religiously), and it was a brilliant if slightly bizarre experience. The menu had vague, amusing English translations, but it was still a risk as none of the dishes were described. Still full of Burek (which we’d also had for lunch), Lucy went for a “Macedonian Salad”, whilst Matt opted for “Meet (sic) in Pottery”. The waiter didn’t speak much English, so asking for more details on the dishes would have been pointless – we just had to wait and see what we’d end up with.
When reading the following, bear in mind that the entire meal cost £7 for two of us. The first thing to be brought out was an entire loaf of sliced bread with spices and salsa sauce. This was followed swiftly by a bowl of sliced tomato, onion and olives which Lucy (a passionate hater of tomatoes) hoped wasn’t her Macedonian salad. Thankfully, the actual salad arrived shortly after and was much more to her taste…i.e. didn’t contain tomatoes. Matt’s Meet Pottery arrived next, in a massive clay bowl – accompanied with another giant plate of salad which we assumed came with the meal. We thanked the waiter, who said he’d be back soon with our “pomme frites” – we didn’t think we’d ordered any, and we started thinking that the food would never stop coming.
The chips were, however, the final offering – bar some ketchup which was in a teddy bear shaped container. It was a ridiculous, hilarious experience – which we shared with “skinny cat”. Sadly, being a stray, skinny cat kept getting chased away by the waiter, but always returned to our table to beg for food.
With the meal done, we headed back into town to take some photos of Ohrid at night. On the way, we followed what we thought was the sound of very loud ducks, but which actually turned out to be noisy frogs. To this day, I’m still amazed at how loud they were. We were trying to get a glimpse of the frogs when our old friend Ricardo recognised us from the day before. This time, we spent 45 minutes (seriously) listening to Ricardo’s life story – specifically his love for rock and roll, which he insisted on demonstrating through the medium of dance. It turns out Ricardo is an Elvis fan and impersonator, who is “95% the same as Elvis”, with musical inspiration sent from above. His talents had apparently made him the “number one man” in the town, and possibly Macedonia – although he did moan slightly that his fame meant that everyone stops him on the street, and he’d even had a Canadian film crew follow his life for six weeks.
Delighted to have been lucky enough to meet one of Ohrid’s local legends and see him perform his dances exclusively for us, we left for the hotel with a spring in our step that Elvis, and Ricardo, would have been proud of.
We knew we’d definitely miss Ohrid – it’s such a pretty town and the surroundings are equally as beautiful. We feel very lucky to have seen it before it becomes more popular – a couple of budget airlines have opened up routes to the local airport, and apparently there are controversial plans to create a tourism complex on the lake. From our point of view, the beauty of Ohrid is its remoteness and peacefulness – it wouldn’t be quite the same if it was just another lake full of tourists (English people – think Lake Windermere). We hope the place doesn’t change too much.
On that slightly gloomy note, we still had time for one final sleep in Macedonia before catching the early bus back to Skopje and on to Pristina, the capital of Kosovo!