Shine On Liberty Sun

What's in a name?
13th September 2018

I woke up early this morning as the sunrise streamed in through a gap in the curtains. Curiosity got the better of me and I got up to have a look at the view in the daylight.

We were near the top of the hill looking over the red tiled rooftops of the old town, A lake view was promised and I could just see the blue waters of Lake Ohrid in the distance.

It was such a peaceful location.   Traffic was infrequent but any who did drive down the narrow cobbled alleys rolled slowly and carefully downhll. 

It was too early to start the day but as I always wake up hungry I had to have a yogurt and a cup of tea before I could get back to sleep. We had brought some emergency English breakfast tea with us from home so I was fine but the set yougurt was an acquired taste which eluded me.

A few hours later we properly woke up and had breakfast on the balcony.

Cooking it was challenging. especially making toast. There was no toaster nor a grill so I improvised and used a dry frying pan to heat and colour the bread. The toast was topped with (also dry-fried) thick slices of fresh tomato. I could have done with a little oil but at least I found some salt in the cupboards.

It may not have been haute cuisine but eating breakfast out on the balcony felt wonderful.

We began our day at the large church nearest our apartment, the peculiarly named Church of Holy Mary Perybleptos. At first glance it seemed a very simple austere church until we noticed the amazing brickwork on the dome.

I had read that inside it had some impressive frescoes so we walked in through the front door only to find that there was an entrance fee and as we hadn't been to an ATM yet we couldn't go any further. They ony took cash. 

First things first, we needed to find a bank. So with Google maps in hand we walked downhill past our apartment along the cobbled streets until the route took us down a steep path between the houses, a much more direct shortcut to the bottom of the hill.

The houses were a mix of old dilapidated buildings, and new builds but all were similar in their design keeping the old town character. Bunches of red peppers hung from balconies  drying in the sun, which I'm guessing was to make homemade ajvar. A strange blend of Euro pop and Eastern influenced music played loudly from a crackly radio adding to the atmosphere.  

We eventually ended up in a square of the Church of Saint Sophia.  It was a very pleasant square so we decided to stop at a cafe called Via Sacra for a coffee. Before ordering we checked if they took cards (which they did) and also if they had a minimum payment (which we got a puzzled look and no answer).

Soley for the purpose of increasing our bill to a worthwhile amount we decided to have cake with our coffees. Julie ordered pancake with honey and chopped walnuts. It was paper thin and unfortunately tasted like paper whilst I had what they called an Ohrid cake. It was the opposite of horrid with layers of light sponge cake, chocolate cream and chopped hazlenuts. They gave me a little spade to eat it with and it was delicious!

Despite our attempts to increase our spend the bill came to less than £6. We couldn't stop thinking how great value it was here.

Macedonia hasn't joined the EU yet, but when that happens prices will inevitably go up, I'm sure.

Greece are opposed to it. They have issues with the country's name because it also has a region in the North of the country known as Macedonia. In fact the country is officially recognised as the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia just to keep Greece happy. Their fear (rational or not) is that Macedonia the country may stir up a Macedonian seperatist movement in the Greek region and seek to unify.

There has been a referendum here in Macedonia recently to agree to a compromise with Greece and move forward with their EU application, but the turn out was so low they're having to have another one in a couple of weeks.

We moved on, continually walking downhill until we reached the bottom. We were effectively lakeside now but couldn't see it. Old town houses lined the shore, several were now trendy bars. We peered in making a mental note for later.  They all opened out onto the lake for a beautiful view.

Traffic was a constant nuisance here, despite being all narrow lanes. We had to step into doorways to allow cars enough space to pass safely. Thankfully the alley eventually opened out when we came to the harbour.

Walking along the promenade we were drawn to a statue of Sveti Kliment (St. Clement), a disciple of Saints Cyril & Methodius, the famous Byzantine missionary doube act and founders of the Cyrillic alphabet. As such St. Clement is also closely associated with the creation of the Balkan script. 

He was  holding a scale model of some buidlings which was to celebrate his founding of a literary school or university here in Ohrid during the 9th century.

There was a large open space by the port known as the city square. Here the old town ended and the new began, wider avenues and characterless buildings. A floral arch brightened up an otherwise dour functional space but at least we found an ATM nearby.

We continued walking along the promenade, past the boats offering lake trips, stopping for a drink at a bar called Bar Zhigolo that had tables right on the front.  It was far too early for a beer so it was diet coke all round.

Whilst Julie took the weight off her feet I went for a stroll along a jetty jutting out into the lake. It reached a man made island which was a popular spot for sunbathing  and swimming. An elderly man wearing nothing but a thong was a disturbing sight so I quickly turned around. 

Looking back to shore I could see Samuel's Fortress, the castle on the hill, crowning the red tiled old town. The Macedonian flag fluttered in the foreground. "What a great flag" I thought to myself. It's certainly quite unique, bright red and yellow in colour with what appears to be rays of sunshine spreading out from its centre.  It's inpiration is appreatnly found in a line from a poem about the "new sun of liberty"

We continued our stroll along the promenade, leaving behind the harbour front to where the shore became filled with tall grasses. Here we walked through a park of shady trees to reach a small marina. Our march wasn't a just random stroll, following our noses. We were on a mission to find a bar called Cuba Libre. We knew it was a little further, over a canteleiver bridge, at the end of the road.

It was further than we thought but were rewarded with comfy seats and a lovely view across the lake. We weren't that hungry so we just ordered a shopska salad to share. It was a fairly basic chopped cucumber and tomato topped with grated white cheese but it was fresh and tasty enough.

I also had a beer with a similar sounding name to the salad. After decyphering from cyrillic I think it was called Skopsko.

There was no rush to leave as we had no particular place to go, so we chilled out for a while. It was so peaceful here. They had loungers to rent for the day and we planned our return later in the week.

Walking back towards the town we could see in the distance a church built on a spectacular position overlooking the lake. It was known as the "Church of St. John at Kaneo" and the main reason that drew me to Ohrid.  We planned visiting it tomorrow.

Retracing our steps back to the City Square, we came across another statue. I don't know how we hadn't noticed it before. This was of St. Naum another disciple of the brothers St. Cyril and St. Methodius and as a result is also closely linked with the Cyrillic alphabet. He founded a monastery on the shores of Lake Ohrid, some 18 miles to the South, at the border with Albania, a day trip boat ride away.

At the top of the city square there was a supermarket called Ramstore where we stocked up on essentials for a night-in, such as beer, wine, cheese, ajvar, crisps. Laden with two carrier bags of supplies we made our way back towards the appartment.

But first we stopped for lunch.

Back into the narrow alleyways of the Old town we came across Taverna Momir. It looked inviting as we peered in from the street. It opened out onto a wonderful area over the water. It really was a lovely spot for lunch.

When we arrived the waiter was stood at the edge with a fishing rod trying to catch fresh fish for the menu. This certainly influenced Julie as she went for the Ohrid trout.

My main dish was "country style" eggs, scrambled eggs with red and green peppers, pieces of ripe tomatoes and chunks of soft cheese. It looked awful in the bowl ("like something the cat threw up" was Julie's exact words) but it tasted amazing.

We also shared a grilled vegetable platter and a fresh Macedonian salad of peppers, tomatoes and plenty of parsley. The standard of the food was excellent, although Julie struggled a little with the bones from her fillet of local fish. There weren't many but enough to put her off.

After lunch we returned to the square of St. Sophia and decided to go inside the church to have a look. Ohrid is often called the city of a thousand churches, although numerically incorrect, (it only has 362), it's certainly the most I've ever seen in one place!

Many of which were built during the golden age of the First Bulgarian Empire, around the 9th and 10th century. For a brief moment Ohrid even became the capital of the empire.  

We paid our 100 dinars each to enter.

Inside the church was spectacular with ancient frescoes adorning the walls. Most dated back almost a thousand years to the 11th century, which was just mind boggling. We walked around the various rooms, looking closely at the images of saints and biblical scenes.

There was an musty historical smell, a dampness in the air. It must be a challenge preserving these paintings.

We whispered to each other as to not distrub the peace, eventhough we had the place to ourselves.

In the main church, we took a pew, and sat down briefly to admire it all. It was awe inspiring enough today but imagine walking into this church a thousand years ago, when the world was much smaller.

Tired and ladened with groceries the climb back up to the apartment was hard work. It wasn't far and it didn't take us long, but we were knackered by the time we reached the top.

For the remainder of the day we sat out on our balcony relaxing. Julie knitted, I watched The Dark Tourist on Netflix.

We grazed, drank, watched the sunset. The evening came to an early end around 9pm. We had walked a few miles today and were absolutely shattered, but in a good rewarding way.

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©Copyright 2018 Colin Owen