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Posts Tagged ‘Ohrid’

FYROM; trips of the tongue, doesn’t it? ‘But where is it’ I hear you ask! Well, it’s the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia which is currently lumbered with this acronym as the Greeks (when they’re not paying themselves too much, dodging taxes and upsetting Germans) don’t want it to be confused with their own province of Macedonia which once upon a time would have been joined with FYROM to constitute the home of Alexander the Great who went on to rule as far as India.
 
It’s one of seven new republics emerging from the break up of the big Y (as I have decided to rename it lest it offends any Yugos or Slavs who might have designs on the name). Like most of the others (though not Serbia) there is a sense of a new beginning – NATO and EU candidacy, inward investment, the emergence of local entrepreneurs, the return of exiles, and complicated coalitions (or is that somewhere else…..). Like all ‘new nations’, they’ve rediscovered ‘old heros’ like Mother Teresa and Alexander whilst they unceremoniously dump more recent ones like Tito. A land-locked nation of two million people bordered by TGPOM (the Greek Province of Macedonia), Albania, Bulgaria, and three other FYRO’s (Kosovo and Serbia) – mountainous, very green and welcoming.
 
We started out trip in the capital Skopje where a quarter of the population live. It’s not a particularly nice city, though it does have an old town which benefits from not (yet) having been gentrified. There’s a lot of re-building (some tasteful and some positively dreadful), some quirky modern architecture & street sculpture and some fine Ottoman inns and baths now used as galleries, university art faculties and museums. The more interesting old town is reached from the characterless new town by a pedestrian stone bridge, which was originally built some 1400 years ago.
 
The nearby ruins of Skupi (old Skopje) would need a lot of imagination and an archaeology degree to appreciate, though the Roman necropolis with tombstones in situ was rather special. The trip started to come alive at the monastery of St Panteleimon where the church frescos, with a palate of blue green and yellow, were simply gorgeous. This was followed by an introduction to Islamic kitsch at the painted mosque in Tetovo – a riot of colour inside and out which was more of a pleasure because it was so over-the-top rather than for its artistic merit – and a lovely walk in the Marka gorge to the church of St Andrew.
 
En route to our second base at Lake Ohrid, we made a long stop at the archaeological site of Stobi. It was vast and there was much to see, but the highlight to me was seeing c.500 people continue to excavate; their latest a complex site with nine civilisations one upon another. We got to see them piece together statuary heads and draw plans of the mosaics. It was thrilling to be at such an active dig.
 
Ohrid is a beautiful town on the shores of the lake of the same name that is almost 2000 feet above sea level and separates Macedonia from Albania. It is fed via a spring from Lake Prespa, which is 500 feet higher, and borders Albania plus Greece and in turn stars a new river that flows into the Adriatic. The town is set on three hills overlooking the lake and has city walls, a fortress, cobbled streets, Ottoman houses, an ancient theatre and lots of painted Byzantine churches. I loved it.
 
Our side trips included St George’s church at Kurbinovo, another painted Byzantine church, and the ruins at Heraklea where there were some truly terrific and possibly unique mosaics. Heraklea was in modern Bitola where we wandered through the town and had one of our very best meals. Along the lakeshore we visited the cave church at Kalista monastery and St Naum monastery, again with superb frescos. Here we were rowed along a lake that covers the spring that feeds Lake Ohrid. The colours were gorgeous and the water so clear you could see the bubbles of the spring on the bed.
 
Our final day saw us travel from Ohrid on a scenic overland journey through river gorges and alongside lakes and dams back to Skopje for our flight home.  The third day of rainy weather and anticipation of the likely cancellation of our flights due to volcanic dust (and therefore becoming stranded for even longer by the intended BA cabin crew strike beginning the following day) marred it a little, but spirits remained high and our stop at St John Bigorski to see the monastery, and in particular it’s carved iconostasis, lifted them even more. Despite the fact it wasn’t as old as all the others we’d visited, this seemed like a ‘proper’ working monastery and the iconostasis was truly spectacular.
 
To our surprise and delight we arrived home only 35 minutes late, the ash cloud having moved and the strike cancelled. (though my fallback plan of a second holiday revisiting Budapest had becom rather appealing!).
 
It was a very good trip, well organised with decent hotels and excellent (and largely healthy) food and wine. Lake Ohrid was my highlight and if it wasn’t three flights (or two and a 4-hour drive) away from London, I’d be recommending you go there for a long weekend PDQ. Watch this space for reports on the next FYR visit in less than four weeks time (volcanic ash and BA cabin crew permitting, of course). In the meantime, here are some photos from this trip:

You are invited to view Gareth’s photo album: Macedonia 2010
Macedonia 2010
May 10, 2010
by Gareth
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