After hiking up Vodno Mountain in the morning, I boarded a bus to Ohrid, a massive natural lake in the South west of Macedonia, I originally thought I’d only be there for a couple of nights, oh how wrong I was.
I arrived into the hostel at around 8pm and after checking in, I caught up with a guy I met in Skopje and called an early night.
The next day, my first full day in Ohrid, I spent around the lake itself. I walked sling the banks and up to the main church on the peninsula, church of St John. I walked around the gardens, admiring the amazing view in front of me before heading back into the old town. Strolling through the old town I came across another church, St Sophia, an old Basilica (now in ruins but being renovated) and quite a few areas with 3rd century mosaic patterns. I did walk past the fortress but I’d only heard negative things about it so I didn’t spend money to go inside. In the evening I hung out with my hostel mates and we went for a couple of drinks at a local bar.
Looking at my map of Ohrid I found a cave church hidden in the mountain and after suggesting it to a couple other guests, we all decided we’d venture out in search of it. The three of us walked along the side of the river until we came across a map of the area and thought we had the right track. Turns out we were completely lost, but after trekking up the side of a mountain we weren’t deterred and even found another hidden cave church that wasn’t even on my map! Unfortunately the church was closed but we did manage to poke out heads through a windows and get a sneaky peak at the interior. After strolling back down the same road we decided to not continue but to take advantage of the lake, socks and shoes came off and we all had a paddle. We headed back to the hostel, picked up some more guests and set off to catch the sunset from St John’s Church.
That night was our hosts birthday so everyone in the hostel got very drunk and the following day, I suffered the consequences. A day off was well overdue anyway.
After a recovery day I thought I’d spend more time discovering the city and after walking around some more I found another church and some more antiquities. As it was a public holiday weekend, the city centre had some traditional folk music playing in the main square, a friend and I went to have a look and were able to watch a Croatian chorus and then a set by Turkish musicians. Very cultural indeed.
At this point, my original 3 night stay had turned into 6 nights and I was committed to leaving. But before I left, I had one personal objective left to complete. St Stefan’s cave church. I borrowed a pushbike from the hostel and set off on my merry way. As it had been almost a year since riding I thought I’d wait until a minimal amount of people surrounded me so I could get my bearings. Turns out it’s like riding a bike (could swear I’ve used that exact phase last time)! After almost an hour, I found my church and I was not disappointed. It was the tiniest church I’ve ever seen, set into an actual cave, and there was a masonic symbol in the porch way. It ticked all my boxes. I set off back down the same route and made my way back to the hostel to figure out my next move.
I knew I wanted to head to Greece but as there were 3 options to get there, I had to decide which was best. I could either take a bus back to Skopje and go to Thessaloniki from there, go to Bitola and hitchhike, or go over the lake to Albania and catch a bus from that side.
I went for the Albania option as I was able to get more sightseeing done. The early bus, 8.30am, went straight to Sveti Naum (an old monastery on the edge of the lake) so I boarded that bus and walked around the monastery. The compound itself wasn’t too interesting, it’s obvious to see they get a lot of tourism and cater for such. The peacocks were fascinating to watch though as it felt more like a game of “Where’s Wally” (Waldo for those in the wrong). I was hesitant about going into the monastery itself as it cost 100 den and I didn’t know how much my taxi would cost. I bit the bullet and handed the money over. The teller behind the desk, sporting some fantastic facial hair, looked at me and stated “for you, free” and gave me my money back. Beard brothers!
After walking around the monastery, trying to avoid the tour groups, I ventured off and found a map with three other churches displayed. In order to hide from the crowds, I decided to have a look at them. The first was nothing spectacular, small church by the lake. 200m away though was another church, this one actually had some features. There was a well in the centre that had a natural spring flowing through and in the ceiling were about 6 or 7 birds nests. It’s quite understandable as there was no door or windows so the birds could fly freely whenever they wanted. The third wasn’t even accessible so I couldn’t go in.
Round the back of these churches was a path which led to a road. And on this road was my next challenge…
I stayed at Sunny Lake Hostel a fantastic little place sole run by Gyoko, rooms were cheap at €9 a night.