Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Macedonia – Lake Ohrid: not at all horrid

July 13-14

Hello everyone!

Macedonia has what I would describe as a dormant tourist industry. Not many people visit because they can’t locate it on a map, let alone know much about it. When the country starts advertising itself as an amazing destination, it will lead with one place of stunning natural beauty: Lake Ohrid. Pronounced OCH-rid, rather than ‘horrid’ in a Cockney accent.

Lake Ohrid, Macedonia

 The lake is a three-and-a-half hour bus ride from the capital, Skopje. It is a world away from the statue-laden concrete jungle of the north. That’s not to say that statues don’t exist…there just aren’t hundreds of them on every street.

Not close to as many statues as in Skopje...
The lake is one of the oldest tectonic lakes in the world and has been an important location for centuries. It is also rumoured to be where the Cyrillic alphabet – the one used across much of Eastern Europe and the old USSR, even Mongolia – was formulated. That particular part of history happened in one of the many churches dotted around the lake.

St. Sophia church

St. John Kaneo church
Of course, some people will visit to see the pretty churches. There are many of them. Most, however, come for the natural attraction: the shimmering lake. The lake is vast, covering 358 km2. It hosts a marathon of sorts; people/nutters (delete as applicable) swim 30 KILOMETRES in a summer race. In winter, when temperatures can drop to -10˚C, a cross is thrown into the lake and young lads try their very best to retrieve it without freezing.

Lake Ohrid, with the mountains rising on its eastern side

A poster showing the brave swimmers

It is breathtaking when the sun shines onto the water of this lake, which sits on the border of Macedonia and Albania. You are treated to a light show, with stars twinkling intermittently on the surface of the aqua blue.

Lake Ohrid

Lake Ohrid

Being a lake formed from volcanic and tectonic activity, sandy beaches are few and far between. Flatter areas of rock have instead been identified as sunning spots and places in which to dip your toes into the surprisingly chilly water.

A 'beach' at Lake Ohrid

Our sunbathing spot
One morning we decided to venture into deeper waters by hiring a kayak. We were able to see the clifftop church and lakeside cafes from an entirely new perspective. If only we’d remembered to put the battery into the waterproof camera…

Our kayak

The lake is home to many types of fish, amphibian…and water snake. We saw one of these when swimming one morning. It’s safe to assume that we didn’t stay in the water much longer as it slithered and bobbed towards us.

Spot the snake? It wasn't in this shot. As if I would stop to take a photo of a snake bearing down on us!

We were surprised by how few people were around, particularly in the mornings. We almost had our ‘beach’ spot to ourselves at that time. Very few boats were moving through the water. Though this situation transformed in the afternoon, when it became a challenge to find a place to lie on the rocks, it struck me as odd that there were seemingly so few people around in the peak tourist destination during their peak tourist season.

A Macedonian flag-waving show by a Belgian troupe during the Ohrid Summer Festival

The sign was in the grounds of a church...

 The flipside of this is that everything is relatively cheap here. Macedonia uses the dinar, 55 of which equal a euro and 84 equate to £1. Lavish servings of Ice-cream on the shore were available for 25 dinars. We put a lot of money into their ice-cream industry over the 48 hours we spent in Ohrid. We also sampled one of their staple foods: burek. Think of a pasty from Greggs and you’ll know exactly what it is.

Blueberry ice-cream: our favourite from the dozen or so flavours we sampled

Enjoying our breakfast burek
We thoroughly enjoyed our time at Lake Ohrid. We loved spending time by the lake, strolling the cobbled streets and chatting with our host, Maria. She told me very entertaining stories about Macedonian men going to Prague to work, meeting a Czech lady whilst there and then keeping silent about it to their wives upon their return…only for the Czech women to follow them south.

St. Sophia church in Ohrid

Maria - a kind and fascinating lady
Lake Ohrid: not at all horrid. The place is ready for a tourism influx – as soon as the government here become active in promoting it as a must-see destination – so be sure to visit soon whilst it still retains its calm and charm.

The view of Lake Ohrid from our apartment

Love you all


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