Day four in the Balkans

Day four and time to move on to the third country of our tour: North Macedonia. It was 8.45 am when we left our hotel in Tirana and headed east. After a refreshment stop, we crossed the border at Qafe Thane and proceeded into North Macedonia.

Now most people know Macedonia as the birthplace of Alexander the Great but today three countries lay claim to the name Macedonia: Greece, Bulgaria and what is now called North Macedonia.  Like other parts of former Yugoslavia, North Macedonia is ethnically diverse with most of its citizens being Orthodox Christians but almost a third being Muslim.  

At 1.20 pm, we rolled up to the Sky Corner hotel in the town of Ohrid in the south-east of the country. The town is known for once having 365 churches, one for each day of the year, and has been referred to as a “Jerusalem of the Balkans”. The town of Ohrid and Lake Ohrid are respectively UNESCO Cultural and Natural Sites and Ohrid is one of only 28 sites in the world that are Cultural as well as Natural UNESCO sites.

After barely half an hour to unpack or have a drink, we met our guide for North Macedonia Anela for our afternoon walking tour of the town. She told something interesting: in November/December 2018 – a full year before China announced an outbreak of Covid-19 – all her family (and many others in the town) suffered flu-like symptoms including loss of smell and taste. The town had many Chinese tourists, so could this have been an early case of Covid?

When we started on our walking tour, the temperature was 26C and all seemed fine. But, quite soon, we heard rumblings of thunder which became ever louder. By the time we reached the remains of Tsar Samuel’s Fortress, there were repeated strikes of fork lightning on the nearby horizon. 

As we approached the Church of Saints Clement & Panteleimon, it started to crash with rain. Like most of the group, I had left my jacket at the hotel and was just wearing a shirt so I was drenched. No problem: we took shelter in a cafe opposite the church only to find that the lightning had knocked out the electricity. 

It was all part of this adventurous holiday. 

We could not wait for the rain to stop. There were churches to see. So, after a look inside St Clement, we walked on to the most famous church in Ohrid, the Church of St John at Kaneo. This dates back to the 13th century and is so popular partly because of the beautiful design (lots of red roof tiles) and partly because of the dramatic location (the cliff over Kaneo Beach overlooking Lake Ohrid).

Finally we took a short boat trip from below this church across the lake back to the town where we checked out our third Orthodox church of the afternoon: the 10th century Church of St Sophia with 11th century frescoes. 

We had an hour and a half at the hotel before as usual we ate as a group at a local restaurant. Tonight’s speciality was delicious trout and again there was a tasty dessert. 

One Comment

  • Calvin Allen

    Roger, if you want to relive this part of your trip, may I recommend Kapka Kassabova’s ‘To The Lake’: a wonderful work of observation, poetry and history. Also lookout for her ‘Borderlands’, too!


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