Friday, June 29, 2007

FYROM Part Two: Ohrid

As soon as we arrived in Ohrid, we immediately understood why so many people had urged us to come here. This charming town of 50,000 sits near the northern end of Lake Ohrid, one of the oldest lakes in the world. Because of its rich history and unique flora and fauna, the lake was declared a UNESCO World Cultural and Natural Heritage site in 1980. The town could be a UNESCO site too, with its winding cobble streets and beautiful old churches.

We ended up staying two nights. The first night was spent at the Riviera hotel on the lakefront. However we had to move since it was one of many booked for the 5000 plus attendees at a NATO Security Forum which started the next day. It was quite a sight seeing all the police and black suited security around town. Sally surmised that every police car in Macedonia was in town.

Ohrid’s living history as a town goes back 2400 years. There are so many churches scattered around the region, locals say there is one for every day of the year. We visited a church at the monastery of St. Naum that dated back to the late 9th century. To get to it, we took a boat cruise around the lake. It was a last minute thing, but turned out to be a very good outing. As we rushed onto the boat, a grinning Balkan in a Macedonian hat congratulated us in accented English on making it aboard. I soon realized he wasn’t Macedonian; but couldn’t decipher his nationality. It turned out he was from Pitea, in Northern Sweden. He was in Macedonia with his wife and a dozen young musicians to perform, as he put it, Swedish-Macedonian music!

For a while, we had the boat to ourselves. But we were soon joined by over a hundred noisy Belgradians. So it was the Canadians and the Swedes quietly discussing the Sedin twins playing hockey in Vancouver and the origin of the names of IKEA products, while all around us, gregarious tattooed Serbs drank beer and smoked cigarettes incessantly.

We very much enjoyed cruising around with the Swedes; however, we enjoyed even more hearing them perform that evening in the town square. Once again, I thought about Tom Friedman’s book ‘The World is Flat’. Here we were; 12 musicians from Northern Sweden and two misplaced Canadians feeling we had so much in common while meeting up in an obscure Macedonian town!

After the concert we set off for a waterfront restaurant where we previously had had a very good lunch. We ordered a local specialty, grilled Ohrid trout, which is quite different than the trout we get in Canada. While we were waiting for our food, I started to chat to a very attractive young lady dining alone at the table beside us. “Where are you from?” I asked. Russia” she replied. It turned out that she had studied Macedonia at university in Moscow, and had developed a real fascination with the country. It was the very first place she had visited outside of Russia, and had returned regularly. We spent the rest of the evening talking about life in Russia, Belarus, Kosovo and Canada. As we were leaving, we urged her to come and visit us in Vancouver. “I can’t”, she said. “Your country will never give me a visitor’s visa”. It was a message we heard over and over again while in Macedonia. While we think it is difficult arranging a visa for Russia, it seems that it is almost impossible for many people to get a visa to visit Canada. It doesn’t seem right. We should try and change this.

Early the next morning, we set off for the fortress that overlooks the town. It was a magnificent climb and we were awed by the beautiful vistas as we climbed to the top.

But just before noon we set off in a cab for the bus station in a nearby town. We had decided we couldn’t go back to Skopje. Instead, we would try to get into Albania. Since we didn’t have visas, we picked up some Euros at a local bank. Just in case. Although we’re told it’s now easier to get into Albania than Canada.


Hernandez said...

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