Shine On Liberty Sun

Ohrid not Horrid
18th September 2018

We were up and awake well before the alarm this morning. Plenty of time for breakfast on the balcony before heading down to the port. This morning I made myself a delicious yet bizzare combination of chopped boiled egg and ajvar as a toast topper. It worked so well I'm thinking of giving the dish a name. Although the working title of "Ohrid Spread" may need some more work!

We had picked up a leaflet the other day about a boat trip to the monastery of St. Naum. We hadn't pre-booked anything. The guy handing out the leaflet suggested we could just turn up.  When we got there we saw this man in a stripey t-shirt and a child's sailors hat. "God, I hope he's not the captain of our boat!" said Julie. He didn't instil confidence in his fancy-dress costume.

At the harbour there was only one boat moored up. We walked over and spoke to its pilot.  He was dressed normally but was probably more pirate than anyone else with a full naval beard and a limp which made him look like he could have had a wooden leg.

He was doing the trip we wanted, to the Bay of Bones and the Monastery of Saint Naum. Plus a bonus stopover to see a 14th century church. "Not many trips stop here but we can" he explained "because we're in a small boat." 

It was a small boat. It was not much more than two leather sofas strapped onto a pair of canoes.  Although it was a proper boat not actually two sofas. Thrown into the deal was free soft drinks and maybe we could try some of his homemade raiki.

We agreed to use his services and paid the 2500 MKD for the two of us.  (about £38).

The boat wasn't setting off until 10am so we had an hour to wait. With time to kill we returned to the city square and paid far too much for really awful coffee. I think if we had asked for two coffees then it would have been fine but we asked for two americanos and got what looked more like muddy water scooped out of the lake.

We returned to the boat early, and were the first to step onboard the "Beercuda"  (What a daft name!)

A couple more boats had turned up and were also toutting for business, although I suspect they all worked for the same company.

Our departure time came and went. The capacity of our luxury tub was 12 and we were slow in filling up.

We looked over towards the jetty to a boat filled to the rafters. It was just setting off. There must have been over a hundred people on board and it looked like it was standing room only. Now they may have paid a third of the price and had a head start on us but we were very glad we were sat on our spacious luxury sofas. 

Gradually our numbers reached 10 as we borrowed a couple from another boat and two more who were literally just passing were persuaded to come on board. That was enough for the trip to be worthwhile so we finally set off.  

Our skipper, Kliment,  turned on some awful 80s jazz music as we skirted the shoreline. It was the sort of copyright-free background music you would hear whilst doing your shopping in a department store and a peculiar soundtrack to admire the stunning scenery of the Galichica National Park.

Not far from Ohrid he pointed out this large house built on a rock jutting out into the lake. "That was the summer palace of President Tito" he explained. Tito had several summer palaces all over  Yugoslavia. Villa Biljana was his official Macedonian summer retreat and is apparently still used today by the government. 

Just beyond the fishing village of Pestani we came to the Bay of Bones. It had taken us an hour to reach.

The dramatic name is reference to a collection of animal bones found on the lake bed by local divers in 1997. There were other fragments found, such as pottery, enough to interest archaelogist which then led to the discovery of the remains of a pre-historic settlement. It's believed that it was a pile-dwellng village from the Late Bronze to early Iron Age. Also, because they found 6000 wooden posts, it probably existed above the water and not on land. Historians believe that a tribe known as the Bryges would have been the most likely inhabitants.

In 2008 they completed this reconstruction of what archaelogists believed existed here thousands of years ago. There was a small entrance fee (100 MKD) which wasn't extortionate and it allowed us access to walk amongst the mud houses.

We walked over a wooden bridge. It was a very solid structure but the uneven boards gave Julie the impression that it was rickety and she struggled to stride across with confidence.

The houses were fascinating. You could see how they were constructed from a wooden frame, with panels of latticed branches forming the walls, which were then plastered with clay mud to seal. Then it was all topped with a thatched reed roof.

All in all there were 24 houses and I think we popped our heads inside all of them.

 Most were empty but every now and then they  recreated a sleeping area or living area. One even had a bearskin rug on a straw bed lifted up off the floor on a wooden platform.

Some were round others were square, the significance of which I do not know. I wondered which one was the most desirable? Did they covet a sea view? Or was a property in the centre, sheltered from the elements, more popular?

We left the village and visited the small museum. It was only one room with a few artefacts from the discovery, like a pile of animal bones in a glass cabinet. In the centre of the room they had a trough filled water and pebbles, reconstructing the lake bed. In the water were pieces of wood. Whether these were also recreated or actual pre-historic was unclear.

Anyway, it occupied us for a few minutes.

There was plenty of time still left before we had to leave. We could have walked over to have a look at a reconstructed fort but we decided instead to sit outside, have a drink and look over across the water towards the village on stilts. 

It didn't take me long to decided to return to the village for another look around which was a great idea because I now had the place to myself. I could finally take some photos without people in the way. 

I whizzed around visiting all 24 houses again making sure I hadn't missed anything interesting. I did come across a couple of skulls placed like ornaments on window sills or hung on walls like trophies. I'm sure prehistoric interior design didn't have a fashion for skulls but for our 21st century tastes they certainly brought the expected level of macarbe to the Bay of Bones.

It was time to leave, our half hour was up, so we made our way back to the boat. After a head count and with us all present and correct we set off.

A little further down the coast we came to a the village of Trpejca cascading down to the lake. We slowed down and Kliment asked the group if we would like to stop for lunch now or after the visit to the monastery. We were starving but the group majority went with later. So we moved on.

It didn't take us long to reach the small 14th century church promised as the bonus for the trip.  We pulled up to a small jetty then walked a short distance across the pebbly shoreline to a gateway in a newly built wall. 

The Church Mother of God Zahumska wasn't much to look at from the outside. The top half was wrapped in a protective wooden shield and the bottom half in scaffolding. The renovation was clearly a work in progress. Apparently there was an inscription above the entrance suggesting the church was built in 1361 but we couldn't see it. 

We donated a 100 denars each to enter. At first it was a little disappointing as the scaffolding continued on the inside. There was a confessional box (I think that's what it was) in the centre decorated with several iconography which was nice enough. As we looked around we noticed some frescoes high up on the wall behind us. They  were in poor condition but that only added to their allure.

The only way to get a closer look was to climb up the scaffolding, up a wooden ladder. So I did.

I heard a "Be careful" from Julie followed by "are you supposed to do that?"

The images were faded, ghostly, untouched since the day they were painted. I felt so privileged to be this close to them. 

There were other frescoes higher up but I decided against scrambing any further up the scaffolding. I heard a little voice call "Don't go any higher. Come down." So I carefully made my way back down to earth and rejoined Julie.

We were alone inside the church. No one else from our party wanted to pay the entrance fee it seemed. They were just walking around the very well mancured grounds of a large house next to the church. It appeared to be a private residence but there were no signs to say we couldn't walk around.

Back in the boat we headed further South. In the distance across the lake we could see the Albanian city of Pogradec, a sprawling concrete carbunkle nestled between to mountain ranges. I had thought of crossing into Albania on this trip, soleley for ticking another country off the list but I hadn't got the car insured to take it out of the country. So we'll have to leave Albania for another day.

We finally arrived at our destination, the Monastery of St. Naum. We could have driven here. It was only 18 miles away from Ohrid but we had thoroughly enjoyed the boat ride down. As we approached from the lake we could see the church at the heart of the complex surrounded by a large accomodation block. The excitement was building. 

We pulled up alongside the strangest jetty we had seen. It was a floating platform, constructed from connected plastic cubes. It was more rigid than I expected, nevertheless it still moved with each step you took.

It also rocked with each step someone else took. Fortunately we were the first off the boat and were ahead of the ripple, we only had our own wobbliness to contend with. Julie was shuffling along quite nicely whilst at the same time holding on to my arm for dear life.

The funny thing was she continued to feel the wobbliness even after stepping onto dry land!

We had and hour and a half to explore the church and its surroundings. Whilst everyone rushed towards the monastery we took some time-out. By now we were starving and decided to have lunch at a restaurant in the woods directly opposite the jetty.

To reach Restaurant Ostrovo we had to walk over a wagon wheel lined bridge over a narrow stretch of water. It was a lovely peaceful spot, on an island. We sat by the water, in some shade and took our time to study the extensive menu.

 I went for a traditional Macedonian pie called Komat, made with pastry, egg, cheese and leeks. It was from their appetisers so not too large to ruin a late lunch in Trpejca . Although, after last night's discovery of makalo, I couldn't resist trying it again, with some fries to dip. 

Julie on the other hand went for a full plate of roast chicken with garlic and rosemary and we both had some excellent quality Macedonian wine. It was a thoroughly pleasurable lunch.

In addition to the food we were entertained by a trio of trobadours singing folk songs with great gusto. One had a small bongo drum on a strap around his shoulder. Another played the harpsichord, whilst the unfortunate third had to lug a massive double bass around. They were very entertaining.

We couldn't help noticing that the guy paying the squeezy-box was the doppleganger of Bob Mortimer, one part of British comedy duo Reeves & Mortimer.

After lunch we walked up to the monastery. The path led uphill, through an arch into the gardens. The signs said beware of the peacocks but we saw none. We saw a small half opened door in the wall. The door itself looked incredbly ancient, made of wood and studded with hundreds of small iron discs. We walked up for a closer look only to to reaslise it was the main entrance.

We entered a courtyard, where the Church of the Holy Archangels was revealed. A monastery was established here in 950AD during the latter stages of St. Naum's life. He was aged 75.  Five years later he died and his body laid to rest here.

In the corner of the courtyard there was a bench where we sat down to admire the pretty church. It was nice and peaceful. There were people miling around but everyone were respectful of their surroundings. We even caught ourselves talking in whispers as not to disturb the peace.

After a while we decided it was time to go inside the church. There was a small queue to get in, so we waited our turn and slowly followed the flow into an entrance hall.

We were being watched from the patchy frescoes by the eyes of the saints, although a few had their eyes gauged out. I don't know if that was intentional vandalism or coincidental decay but it felt eerie. 

In a room to the right was the tomb of St. Naum, draped in a red fabric and a couple of true believers. Legend has it if you place your ear to the tomb you can hear his heartbeat. A few tourists took it in turn to press their ears to the stone, and then looked at each other disappointedly when yhey heard nothing; but there was also an old lady dressed in black, almost holding the tomb in her arms. She  wasn't listening out for anything, but was instead deep in prayer. We decided to give her privacy.

We continued with the procession towards the heart of the church. With very little natural light and a chandelier with lightbulbs as bright as candles our eyes took their time to adjust. We seemed to be caught in a flow of people and no sooner had we shuffled in, the slow-motion conga was taking us back out again. So we stepped to one side and stood in the corner to take a good look.

I'm glad we did. It gave us time to study the intricately carved iconostasis, which was absolutely exqusite.    

We looked up to the small dome which was entirely decorated in fresco, with a dark blue background for all the heavenly saints to shine. Thin windows let in little light. 

There certainly was an aura about the place. The smell of incence and musty corners filled the air.

On the way out we noticed a sign for a 100 denars entrance fee. We hadn't paid so we looked around for someone or a donations box but found neither.

Outside, but still within the portico, we lit a candle in an alcove. If this was a house it would have been the outdoor kitchen / barbecue area. In fact it looked like it may have been an oven at one time.

As we placed the candles into the sand we both asked the image of a ginger haired saint to watch over our flame-red haired daughter and our troop of grandchildren.  Not that we believe in that sort of thing.  

We left the monastery grounds and walked towards another church, called St.Petka. It was a very small and modern interpretation of a 16th century Byzantine church. We didn't pay it much attention really. In fact I didn''t even bother taking its photograph!

Half a mile away further up the road was the Albanian town of Tushemisht. The border was within tantalising reach but I had purposely not brought our passports with me to stop me from foolishly  popping over the border literally just for the entry stamp, and ticking off the "countries visited" list. One day we'll return to this corner of Europe and properly visit Albania.

A curious fact is that the Monastery of St. Naum was briefly in Albania. Following the break-up of the Ottoman empire after the First World War the border with the newly formed Yugoslavia was a few miles North. A few years later the two countries same to an agreement to have the border moved to where it is today.


So, instead of walking over an imaginary line on a map we returned towards the floating disposable harbour and sat down on some comfy chairs to wait for our departure.  We only had some15 minutes spare but we were pretty relaxed that we wouldn't miss the boat because our skipper Kliment was chilling on some incredibly comfy looking beanbags, right in front of us. When he got up we followed him down to the lake.

Back in the boat with our fellow passengers we sailed back up the coast in awe of the rugged  landscape of the Galichica National Park. If we had more time we would have liked to have explored this area more. 

We pulled into the bay of Trpejca and moored the boat to a small wooden jetty directly opposite a restaurant with which Kliment probably had a commission deal going on, but to be fair there was no coertion or hard sell. We weren't forced to eat anywhere but of course we would never turn down an invitation to scrunch!

There were other restaurants along the pebble beach and we went for a stroll to have a look. They all looked the same so we returned to the original one, Restaurante Terrace Mermaide

I ordered another "traditional" dish they called tauche-grauche, a bean casserole served in a clay pot. For a simple dish it really was quite tasty and it was much larger than I expected. There was enough there for two people. I galliantly ate the whole lot. Julie also found room for another main course and went for pork this time.

Every one, with the exception of the young couple, ended up having lunch in one form or another at the Mermaide.

Whilst we were there, discreetly tucked away in a corner, a business meeting was taking place. It looked like it was the restaurant owner and a "business partner". It all seemed very convivial. A deal was done, they shook hands, in fact all the staff came over one by one to shake his hand. As he left, his armed bodyguard followed him, pistol in its holster in plain sight.   

We still had some time left before our boat was due to leave so we went for a walk down the beach again. There were a few other jetties available to use. One, outside an empty restaurant, had been stripped of its planks. I suppose they had yet to come to an agreement over the "maintenance contract".

All in all we spent as long in Trpejca as we did at St. Naum's Monastery. Eventually we left, full and tired and ready for home.

It took us over an hour before we began to see Ohrid appearing in the distance, its two hills with Samuel's Fort on top of one and all the houses of the Old Town on the other was a welcome sight.

The closer we got to Ohrid the view from the lake was becoming increasingly superb, we could really appreciate the scale of the city and our place in it. The bell tower near to the Holy Mary Perybleptos church and the large villa next door was a clear marker for our apartment of Sveti Dimitrij.

Then, as we came to the harbour, we looked West towards the setting sun and the stunning St. John in Kaneo, sitting pretty on the rocky promontory. 

Finally, the boat returned to where we left this morning. We thanked skipper Kliment for a great day and walke towards the City Square.  

Feeling rather tired our plans for the evening was to stay in, so we called in at the Ramstore supermarket for some supplies before trudging wearliy up the hill.  We'd hardly walked much today but it was a case of "all that fresh air" as we really struggled and even had to stop a few times to take a breather.

We returned to our balcony to catch the last embers of the sunset. Tonight was our last in Ohrid and instead of going out with a bang we were fizzling out with a nicely chilled and relaxed vibe, ending in a 9pm curtain call.

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©Copyright 2018 Colin Owen