Macedonian Trails

When Macedonia comes into my ears I’m always thinking about sculpted and painted stones representing great warriors on their mighty horses, cutting down everything in their path with their shiny swords and strong arms. The name Alexander also comes into my mind and think that the only related thing with the great Macedonian King is just the name.
And now, after more than 2000 years, another Alexander come to claim this lands and to describe the feeling that Macedonia has to offer.
Well, just like the Greeks, a lot has changed since then. A much lot. Must’ve been the fault of those Christians who came and killed the evolution of human spirit. I mean, think about all those great minds that lived in Greece and that a lot of today’s society’s are still based on their conceptions. Even Megas Alexandros had as tutor the great Aristotle. Now, everything is gone and maybe just some old painted stones can tell us the stories of those times. Don’t think for a moment that you’ll go South today and you’ll find a philosopher in a market that will make you smile dumb because you never thought about what he’s talking about.

My visit to Macedonia was limited to the small town of Ohrid which is one of the best holiday destinations. But you don’t need to travel a lot through Macedonia to make yourself a general opinion about the place. It is called the place of mountains and lakes and indeed it is. The moment you cross the border you travel between the mountains and the scenery is spectacular. Although is not breathtaking is a lot better than driving through endless fields the whole day. The vegetation is a bit dry and the colors are pale but the road is somehow impressive.

Speaking of the roads, they do have those as well, but they are in a pretty bad shape. The ride is bumpy and a bit stressful. Even the highways are terrifying. You cannot go with more than 100 km/hour without cursing everyone. And you won’t be able to reach 100 because there are pay tolls every god damn 15 minutes. In the middle of the highway! and not on the exits. But what matters the most is that they do have roads and highways, not like other countries that come to my mind right now. We have to take in consideration that a lot of those roads cross the mountains and they are the most difficult to build.

First stop Skopje! Actually we didn’t stop. There was no point in doing that. On the contrary, when I see something that looks like home or worse I try to speed up. The outskirts of Skopje looks desolated and nothing attracts you to it’s center, unless previous information has been provided to prove the opposite.

You know, the minute you enter a country you can realize if you’ve ended up in the right place or not. The boarders really matter. How much time do you spend there, if they have all the bulbs in the right place, the uniforms of the customs officers, all these details makes the difference between countries. I guess there should be a rule. If you spend a lot of time at the customs this can only mean that you clearly are dealing with imbeciles and wrong laws. One more thing, try not to go to the toilet near the customs. No further comments.

Even on the road to Ohrid I could notice details that make the difference. Unfinished houses, only brick facades, unattended landscapes, poor farms and so on. It’s way far from the houses in Austria for example. The tip of civilization lies in the obsession of cutting the grass perfectly. If one leaf of grass touches the side road, than we have a problem.

Finally, arrived at Ohrid, felt like home again. Ugly as hell. No architectural understanding whatsoever. Just basic roofs with cheap markets on the ground floor. Very nice I said. Coming all the way up here to end up in a place that resemblance the worst holiday destination, Romanian seaside.

But when I’ve reached the lake, the light began to change. And although there are no luxurious hotels like in Monte Carlo, the lake offers a splendid view of the region. Another thing that struck me was the silence on the streets. No cocks in BMW’s racing in the resort, no loud music from the bars, just a sunny day by the side of the lake.

Suddenly, everything changes! You realize that even if you didn’t end up in the most luxurious resort you might feel very well here too. I am a huge fan of silent afternoons, just laying there in the sun and only hear the sound of the lake. Actually, there was one day when I simply took my blanket and slept under a tree next to the lake. Felt soooo good!

The city of Ohrids lies next to the Ohrid lake and it’s an incredible settlement. Especially when you discover the old town. All the little houses crowded on the cliff, waiting from one moment to another to fall into the water. And the hill is dominated by the Fortress of Samuel build in the reign of the Bulgarian Empire. It is said that it was constructed on the foundation of another fortress built in the time of King Philip, father of Alexander the Great.

But this is not how Ohrid makes it’s publicity. Mostly you will hear about it’s (long gone) 365 churches, one for each day of the year. I’m not even trying to imagine how that would look like. A pile of never ending bricks. Still to this day you will find enough churches to satisfy your religious appetite. But trust me, the city is too attractive to waste your time in churches that looks the same all over the orthodox world.

First of all, you’ve got the lake. And it will call you to bathe in it. The water is quite warm and you will see that everybody enjoys to swim in it. The water is crystal clear and you can easily see the bottom of the lake without special glasses or anything. The lake is very clean, I mean there is no human filth or if it is, they do sure clean the place up. Watch out though if you want to jump in the lake. You will see a lot of people doing that but be careful. Painful stones waits for you at the bottom to break your bottom. Or your head perhaps.

You can let yourself lost on the small streets of the old town. Just climb to the Samuel Fortress and from there continue the road through the peaceful woods until you reach the city again. Don’t rush your walk and try to catch a glimpse of everything that surrounds you. And if you’re with a girl, watch out! The road is paved with temptations! Merchants with jewelry make your descent feel like crawling to the ground. They will make you stop. If tired, there are two options. Leave the girl or take her to the nearby monastery and throw her off the cliff.

When you’ve reached the city again try to reach the water. You’ll quickly find a wooden path that walks you over the lake and next to the cliff offering you a splendid view. You’ll feel pretty amazed by what the place has to offer. In the end you’ll end up at some sort of beach, if you can call it like that. It looks good, intimate, but I don’t think it’s really comfortable too. But it’s a place to spend a day and also if you didn’t throw your girl by now from the cliff you can throw yourself in.

You don’t want to miss taking a boat cab back home. There are a lot of boats there and if you don’t know what to do or see anyone just scream for Captain Cook or something like that. Everybody is a captain there and they are probably under the water. Try Captain Nemo also. The ride with the boat is not expensive at all and if you travel with a group it will be a bargain. And it will worth it too. It’s simply nice to cross the lake in a hot sunny day and freeze your hand in the lake’s water. And the boat sailors are very nice too. They like to socialize and they are indeed very friendly.

I haven’t tried the local cuisine because I had no time to do that. You can try it for me and share the experience. I’ve only ran like hell towards the McDonald’s sign and cried “Civilization!”. Well, not quite. Can you believe it? The bastards don’t serve fries. Not at all!!! That reminds me to make a global complain to McDonald’s.

But you can relax at a terrace drinking a cold one. There are enough terraces for everyone and you can enjoy them during the daytime or evening time. In the evening things get interesting and quite funny. Some of these terraces offer live music concerts. Don’t expect jazz or classical music. It’s somehow the same old crappy Greek music. All the time somebody crying after another. But what’s so funny is that most of the terraces that offer live music are next to each other. And this way it all turns into a competition. Who can scream louder. It’s quite chaotic and people never seem to bother that. I know I could not enjoy any minute in that noise.

And then you start walking the streets at night. People walk until every store is closed. And they are opened till late. You will not find brand stores but they will attract you with their low prices. I’ve told you. It’s a very affordable holiday destination and you can go crazy shopping. Just to make an idea, a packs of cigarettes is about 1.70 euro. In western Europe I’ve heard it can reach 6 euro. How messed up this world can get?

People in Ohrid don’t stand out in particular. They are normal people who greet you with comfort. You would probably expect to see some negative examples considering the overall level of economy but actually is quite different. I don’t know how they behave between each other but with tourists they are very careful. They don’t stand out and I’ve only seen an BMW 5 series the whole time. They’re not very pretty or interesting. The guys and the girls are quite normal. Well, maybe in the night clubs things change but watch out for those girls. They’re not quite so happy to see you unless you are willing to … how should I say this, donate more than your love.

Speaking of night clubs there are quite a few in Ohrid. Some are even on the beach and they attract a lot of people. The music is very good and don’t expect to get annoyed by the never ending house music although we have ended up in a place like that one night. And like I said before, you will notice the rivers of girls that come to exploit the gentleman’s wallets. But don’t worry. Do not think for a second that is dangerous or something else. Nobody cares what you do and you can dance and have fun ’till you drop.

You will also notice that they promote their own brands. For instance it will be quite hard to get your hands on some cold branded beer like Heineken or Carlsberg. You will find more local beer than in any other place. And although it tastes like piss you have to admire the desire to commercialize the local products. The same thing happens with cigarettes also and many other products. Thank God Coca-Cola has no match for it.

If you’re tired to walk in the same place all day long you can try to do some trips outside the city. One of the destinations is the monastery of Saint Naum. It’s close to the Albanian border so don’t wonder unless you want them to make a movie after you. The site of the monastery includes a large beach and many many attractions that have nothing to do with religion. Or does it?

The moment you reach the place you will be greeted by the same merchants. If you didn’t previously pushed your girl of the cliff you will be sorry now. There are to many witnesses here my brother. Just hang in there. To reach divinity one must endure temptation and be full of serenity. But your prayers will be answered shortly because stacks of foods await you my friend. All the barbecue meat you can think is here waiting for you, sizzling. You’re in the place they call in Latin, Lychnidos.

So, after you’ve bought all the unnecessary souvenirs and filled your belly with “healthy” food you might want to reach your targeted destination, the monastery. Riiiight, the place where you want your sins to be forgiven. But you will have another surprise instead.

You will end up in a restaurant. Yes, there is actually a god damn restaurant attached to the holy monastery. And they organize events like weddings and stuff. Music can be heard while you try to pray. Quite some spectacle. Very orthodox I’d might say. In the monastery you can do the following things: harass the peacocks with your photo camera, enjoy the splendid view over the Ohrid lake and that’s about it. Oh yes, and visit the church built in the 16th century.

I haven’t warned you if you travel by car. I have been with a tour bus there but I could not notice some of the “driving” situations. People can get stuck in awkward places and get out of them quite difficult. And that’s because you will not meet the greatest drivers in the world. On the contrary. But what’s to admire is that even if they get stuck they don’t start horning up and down like crazies. They calmly maneuver the cars so that they can get out of there. But calmly and slowly. So, be patient!

But do choose this place for your next holiday. With all the good and the bad things it’s a place to visit and re-visit. I have to admit that even if the place seems poor they do offer you the best treatment they can offer. The Macedonians are proud of their country although nothing of the great warriors spirit lies anymore in them. I do believe they struggle to promote their country and I will gladly spend my holidays there than in my own country even if there are some resemblances.

And if you look at the details you know that actually it has it’s own unique spirit now. And that is proof that a nation is trying to make a stand out there. And they have with what. Endless mountains and one of the best lake resorts I’ve ever seen.

And what could be more peaceful than having a view of the lake at the sunset that will make you sigh in pleasure. Macedonia is great and I’m looking forward to my next visit. This time, to make the ride even more bumpy I’ll have to rent a Daewoo Tico. It’s madness out there. If you ever had a Tico and sold it you can definitely found it there, brother. It’s like their national car or something. In the end I don’t understand what made Alexander conquer all in it’s path. His country was enough to spend a lifetime. Greed…. or Greek.

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