The Potato Chick
Travelling, eating and my other favourite things...
Ohrid & Bitola, Macedonia
In a sentence...a great few days exploring Macedonia’s natural beauty.
Food we loved...freshly picked apples that we bought from roadside stalls. Crispy, juicy and delicious.
We had just arrived at Ohrid and the owner of our hostel was giving us some directions. “So there’s the town square and there’s the statue” he said, pointing to landmarks on the map. He must have seen our ears prick up at the mention of the word statue. “Don’t worry” he muttered, shaking his head in disgust, “we’re not like f$%king Skopje!”
Ohrid was certainly a whole world away from Macedonia’s quirky capital city. Located on the shores of Lake Ohrid not far from the Albanian border, it is absolutely beautiful. And especially so in Autumn.
We spent our first day exploring on foot. We walked along the shore until we reached the famous church of Jovan Kaneo. With about 270 degree views of the lake, it’s a pretty spectacular spot. After that, we wandered up the hill to another church and the fortress. But I almost forgot to mention the absolute highlight of the day – visiting the paper making museum! Surprisingly, we were the only visitors.
We had a hire car which allowed us to really explore the surrounding area. Our first stop was Matka Canyon shortly after we set off from Skopje. The canyon was really pretty and much nicer with a little bit of sunshine than it would have been in the fog and rain of the day before.
We also drove to what is supposed to be Ohrid’s best beach to watch the sunset one afternoon. We had the beach to ourselves. Well, just us and about 12 stray dogs.
Another day we took a gorgeous winding mountain road, parked the car and then hiked up to a viewpoint where we were supposed to be able to see both Lake Ohrid and nearby Lake Prespa. Again, the fog interfered with our plans. Once at the top Lake Ohrid was perfectly clear but Lake Prespa was completely hidden by the fog. Still, it was strangely beautiful and a lovely spot for our well deserved picnic lunch. We took a different route back to town through the very picturesque apple-growing region.
In the evenings we cooked our own meals at the hostel, washed down with surprisingly good Macedonian wine. Who would have thought that we would find nicer wine here than in Bordeaux...
After a relaxing few days in Ohrid we headed to the cute little town of Bitola for the final night of our road trip. We visited the ancient city of Heraclea which had the most enormous mosaic we have ever seen. It was truly impressive and remarkably intact. We also strolled through the old bazaar and, most importantly, we discovered the most delicious burek we had tasted in Macedonia.
We returned the hire car to Skopje the next day, stopping along the way to see a very impressive aqueduct. Before we knew it, our time in Macedonia was over – what a fabulous, interesting and beautiful country. Another winner in the Balkans.
Next stop...Saarbrucken, Germany.
In a sentence...town planning on crack.
Food we loved...chicken roll – a chicken breast fillet filled with cheese and wrapped in bacon.
Skopje is certainly one of the most unique cities we have visited so far. The motto of Skopje’s town planners seems to have been “let’s try to emulate all of Europe’s oldest and most famous cities at once”. Everywhere you look, there are new buildings which have been built to look “old” and statues, statues, statues. It’s like a slightly old school Las Vegas; an absolute visual assault.
The piece de resistance is this bad boy, standing at over 20 metres tall.
We started our time in Skopje with a free walking tour with probably the craziest guide we’ve ever met. I’ve written before about marathon walking tours which seem like they will never end (Hello Lisbon). With this one, I actually felt like we had been taken hostage and that we might not be released until we agreed to join our guide for a night out on the town. His fascination with the architecture of Japanese architect Kenzo Tange was probably my favourite part of the tour. He showed us one hideous grey apartment building after another noting that we would never see buildings like them anywhere else. In fact he was wrong, I’m pretty sure Tange’s next project was Melbourne’s housing commission flats.
Luckily, the joint suffering helped us bond with the others on the tour and afterwards we stuck together to wander the fortress and have a few beers.
The next day the weather was not kind to us. We rode the cable car up Vodno mountain to see the Millennium Cross. The cross was constructed as a memorial of 2000 years of Christianity in Macedonia and the world. At 66 metres high, it is the world’s largest cross. You can see it from anywhere in the city and we imagined it would be pretty impressive up close. As we got higher, however, the fog rolled in. Here is what we could see from the top...
We left Skopje with the distinct feeling that we’ll be back some day, if only to see if they have succeeded in “creating” the classic European city.
Next stop...Ohrid, Macedonia.