Water Snakes and Ancient Lakes

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May 28th 2010
Published: May 28th 2010
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After the hellish journey we managed to catch a bus to Ohrid with only an hours wait. The bus driver was a very laid back kind of guy and took his time but J and I didn't mind as we managed to enjoy the scenery and have a few more vital minutes of sleep. Macedonian landscape is very similar to the last few countries very hilly/mountainous and lush and green. We went through some small pretty villages and even got to catch a glimpse of the national dogs (60cm sheepdog that will fight bears and wolves) they were actually fighting each other. Not sure I would be keen to meet them on a dark night they were quite scary looking. We arrived in Ohrid and had some very pushy woman fighting for our custom and to fill their empty rooms. To be honest they looked a bit dirty and had no pictures of their rooms so we opted for a weird looking guy who reminded me of Bryn from Gavin and Stacey. He had a plush leaflet and the apartment looked decent for the 7 Euro he wanted each a night, the cheapest accommodation so far. It seemed too good to be true even with a balcony and a view of the lake. We later discovered when we woke to banging and sawing right above our heads at 7.30am that this was true, it seems that the apartment block was having an extra level built and we were on the top floor so got to enjoy every crash and bang that they made. It certainly was an early wake up call when you thought they were going to come through your ceiling as it was so loud.
We managed to have a tepid shower as the hot water wasn't turned on, this helped to wake us up after our 27 hour trip to get here. The lonely planet talked about a decent and cheap fish restaurant right on the lake with its own dock so we thought we would give it a go as we were famished. We tried to follow the map but we got confused and followed the coast along through the pine forest to the next big beach as we thought it was there. We climbed down the side of the hill and on to the beach. It was all really quiet and seemed deserted but we kept walking, we went past many old resorts and caravan parks and it got even more desolate. We decided to give up after cussing Lonely Planet for sending us on another wild goose chase. When we were walking back we had our first encounter with one of the lakes many inhabitants, a big water snake. It freaked me out quite a bit and I swore not to swim, even though the water looked so inviting and wasn't that cold. I had seen loads of pictures though of the lake in summer when it is packed with tourists from Eastern Europe swimming and not worrying about the snakes but it didn't reassure me. Lake Ohrid is three million years old and is 300m deep and is also shared with Albania. It is surrounded by huge snow capped mountains and is certainly worth visiting. If we had our own transport and more time we would love to take a trip around the lake as it is surrounded by masses of camping sites in the National Parks. We got back to the church and went down to the water and chose somewhere to have lunch only to discover it was the restaurant we were looking for all along, we really need to brush up on our map reading skills!! We thought we would get the local fried fish caught from the lake, they were like the tiny white bait you have in Spain and you can eat them whole. That afternoon we crashed out and relaxed still recovering after the long arse journey.
Our second day in Ohrid we went to check out the old town and castle. It is quite a steep walk as all these fortresses and castles seem to be up the hill but again very worth while. We entered at the upper gate and paid the very small fee to walk around its turreted walls (not like extortionate Dubrovnik). You got an amazing view of the old castle, lake and surrounding mountains. We then walked down the the Sveti Kliment i Pantelejmon church which has been rebuilt using the original stone. Just across from the church they are excavating and rebuilding the 4th century church and ruins. We walked back down the hill via all the other churches and an old amphitheatre to the new town and shops. We ended up in the Turkish quarter and stopped for a very cheap and filling lunch of the similar kebab type sausages that we had in Bosnia. It is crazy how cheap and good the food is again, but that is a bonus for us. After our big lunch we decided that we should make use of the extremely cheap internet, after 4 pounds an hour for internet in Croatia we couldn't believe it when the girl said it was only 60p an hour. We caught up with the blog and then went to watch the sunset with a bottle of red wine and olives at the Church of Sveti Jovan. This church is so beautiful it is on the edge of a cliff over the lake and looks like it is in the water from some angles. The sunset was really good and we got lots of pictures for you to see. We had seen a restuarant in the old town that looked really nice and offered traditional Macedonian fair so we thought we would have dinner there. The waiter was a nice Pavarotti looking guy but when we asked him to explain what was in the Grandmothers pan and the Country pan he just said meat. We decided just to go for it and they were both delicious sort of goulash style dishes, mine was very smokey and had huge chunks of dried paprikas in it.
The next day we went to catch the local bus to Sveti Naum, a Monastery 29km south of Ohrid and before the border of Albania. We were waiting for the bus when a taxi rocked up and he said he would take us for the equivalent of two pound fifty so we couldn't refuse as it would have been better and much quicker than the bus. He took a couple more people to fill the cab and dropped them off on our way. It took us a good half an hour to reach Sveti Naum, the ride took us through the Galicica National Park with peaks of up to 200m. The lake is even more beautiful from this angle without all the houses and buildings of Ohrid. We went past lots of beaches and a couple of villages and reached Sveti Naum. The Monastery is another gorgeous byzantine building situated right on the edge of the lake. The inside of the monastery is all hand painted and very old, the fresco's were starting to fade from age but makes it look even more impressive. The monastery is surrounded by a huge flock of peacocks which kept giving us a good show with their feathers and making great loud calls. I got a little bit close to one and it started to run my way so I moved pretty fast. We walked down to the pier to have lunch, J leaned over the wall to discover a huge pack of snakes all enjoying the sun. This just cemented my decision not to swim, they really creeped me out but I had to get some pictures to prove I wasn't a wimp!! The taxi guy waited an hour for us and took us back to the city. We went for a walk to a nice part of the lake where there is a small beach, jetty and a couple of bars. The sun was so hot and the water was really clear. People were swimming and for the hour or so we had been sat there we hadn't seen a snake so J and I decided to man up and take the plunge. The water was surprisingly really warm and it was awesome having a swim in this giant lake. That night we went back to our favourite cheap restaurant in the Turkish quarter and J tried the local Ohrid trout which was really really good and so very cheap. It is crazy you can get a whole fish, chips and salad for 4 quid.
Today we woke to rain which wasn't good as we are catching the only bus to Bulgaria tonight at 7pm. Another big problem is that we had to check out at 10am and no where in this city do they have a left luggage facility. So we are stuck with our big back packs and in the rain so we thought we would come back to the cheap internet cafe and catch up with the blog. Our bus to Bulgaria should get us into Sofia at 3am or 4am and then we are going to see if we can get another bus to Veliko Tarnovo.

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