Old town of Ohrid and Galicica
We came back to Ohrid in 2014 – this is one of the cities where you can spend months walking around, climbing on each of the hills just to see the city from a different perspective and never get enough. We hired our guide from last time and rented a room in a small family hotel. We had some pre-organization, but I must say that there was no need for that, because there are hundreds of small hotels and even people who stop you on the street and offer a room in their home at a good price.
On the Balkans life goes in a totally different way than in Northern Europe – the more you go to the South, the more the strict schedules don’t matter, the people are more smiling, warm-hearted and passionate. And in a typical for the south way, on the first day our guide was 30 minutes late.
In my other post I forgot to tell you about the Macedonian cuisine. My first advice to anyone who visits Ohrid is: go for the local specialties: All restaurants offer most typical European dishes too, but the local cuisine is so tasty! Everything they cook here has the typical for the Balkan taste combinations of spices, wonderful salads with locally grown vegetables – I think that I ate the most aromatic tomato I have ever tried here. I loved the Tarator, which is a cold soup made of cucumbers and yogurt.
The old part of the town is situated on the hill just under Samuel’s fortress. Most of the important medieval cities on the Balkans have a similar structure – the top of the hill where the royal family resides is well protected by high walls and the ordinary people used to live under the fortress.
The streets in cities that are as old as Ohrid are not in a designed framework of blocks like back home – they just go up and down, left and right and you never know where you are going to end up – at another beautiful church, restaurant or a dead end. As we walked around, I felt as if these streets are in the shapes they had a thousand years ago.
Our Guide, Riste came with a car to take us around on the second day. His car was something like a Yugo – its a really small and funny old car, but quite efficient. I had seen those on TV but had never been in one and couldn’t resist it and kept calling it our “Limo” throughout the trip.
Riste liked to give us tons of facts about the places we visit, I guess this was they he understands his job as a tour guide. In the 10th century when the Byzantine empire had taken over Bulgaria in the East, the power over the remaining lands with Slavs and Bulgarians was left in the hands of the Cometopuli dynasty.
They made Ohrid their Capital and resisted the Byzantine invasion as long as they could. The most important and loved people king of this dynasty was Samuel, having fought some of the hardest battles during his reign.
I was also to Bulgaria and my friends there told me that what I learned in Macedonia about history was all wrong. The funny thing here was that they just told same story but in a Bulgarian version. I don’t understand why is it so hard for these two nations to just admit that they share some history.
Today not much of Samuel’s fortress is preserved; we took a stroll on the wall walkway from where we enjoyed wonderful views to the city and the lake. The fortress was quite small and it seemed that it was intended strictly for the royals. Riste continued telling his history lectures as we left the fortress and went on to St. Pantaleymon monastery which was nearby. While from the fortress there were only ruins left, here we had the opportunity to visit a monastery which was built in the 9th century. It is also known as Plaoshnik monastery, which was requested by the Bulgarian Tsar Boris I and founded by St. Clement.
In one of the following days, our guide took us with the Yugo “Limo” to Galicica national park, because I really wanted to go there again. We took a dirt road which led us to one of the peaks from from where we could see both Lake Ohrid and Lake Prespa. It was a bumpy ride but sure was worth it. Riste knew the park really well and took us to one of the nicest picnic places. We stopped at a small tourist hut and lunch there.
There was also a natural spring nearby from which flowed cold water – I was annoyed of the conversations of my husband and the guide and decided to walk around and drink some water from the spring – the water was so pure and soft. These kinds of natural springs, which are called Cheshma here, are typical for the Balkans and can be found in every city, village and even in the mountains. We went afterwards on with our “Limo” to Prespa lake.
The evening before we left there was an event at the Roman amphitheater. As you know, Ohrid is a really old city and has ruins that are more than 2000 years old – this amphitheater was probably built in the times of the empire of Alexander the Great (maybe that is why the locals don’t call it “Roman”) and there used to be performed classical tragedies and comedies.
Today it is still used for concerts and plays in summer and Riste took us there to listen to some nice music. The theater is actually quite small, but as you can see from my photo on the left, it had a wonderful view to the lake. The concert had just started when I started to feel sick. We had to leave and go home…
My evening was ruined and the opportunity go anywhere in the following days was, because I had to go to the bathroom all the time. I was wondering what caused this – the only thing I could think of was drinking the water from that spring and I remembered there was some sign in Macedonian on it, so I asked Riste did he read it when we were there and I just knew it! He said that the sign said “Don’t drink the water”.
There irony here was that this sign was the only thing I didn’t ask about. Anyway, when looking on bright side of things, the Macedonians had a special way of treating this condition – Riste suggested that I eat some Cornelian cherries and they truly helped. On the Balkans homeopathic remedies are very popular and have been used for centuries.
A visit to Ohrid, the Balkan Jerusalem, is every time an extraordinary experience. I fell in love with the picturesque streets, the old Orthodox churches and the wonderful nature that surrounds you here.