I have to say that today was one of those days that I will remember for a very long time. It’s not so much the things we did today, but rather just the shear beauty of the day: the weather, the scenery and the food made it really unforgettable.
Today was all about Lake Ohrid, which as I mentioned previously, is one of the largest fresh water lakes in Europe. Jane had arranged with his friend, Irak, to take me on a boat trip from Ohrid to the opposite end of the lake. Sure there were going to be a couple stops along the way, but the day really was about experiencing the lake.
So after breakfast, I walked through the old town to the waterfront to meet Jane and Dean for the boat trip. As I waited by the enormous Macedonian flag pole, I was approached by a number of fellows trying to sell me a tour of the lake. Uh no thanks gentlemen, but I have my own boat today.
I eventually saw Jane walking towards me (he is VERY tall and stands out in a crowd). He and Dean had been at a café so while Jane left to pay the bill and retrieve Dean, I was greeted by our boat captain, Irak, who was pulling the boat up to the dock. The three of us piled into the boat and we were off.
The morning was a perfect temperature with a mixture of sun and clouds. The game plan was to follow the coastline to the other end of the lake with stops at the Bay of Bones and St. Naum Monestary.
Now the boat could not have been more comfortable. Lovely leather seats. Lots of space. And oh yea … food and wine. Gesh. These folks never stop feeding me.
Anyway, the trip took us along limestone hillsides and rocky beaches, past hotels and the former summer home of Tito (now used by the President of Macedonia). There were a few swimmers in the lake, a few fishermen out for the morning catch and the occasional kayaker.
Now the most significant aspect of Lake Ohrid is its biodersity. In fact, Lake Ohrid is one of the most biodiverse regions in the world. The lake runs the gamut from plankton and algae to fish, crustaceans, molluscs and other such water species. Then there is the incredible array of birds nesting among the marshes and dive bombing for fish. In fact, we saw cormorants, ducks and swans and the occasional eagle. In addition, there are apparently pelicans that nest in the area, although we did not see any of those birds. The lake is so important that the Macedonian side (the west side of the lake is in Albania) has been granted UNESCO World Heritage status. (I don’t understand why the whole lake isn’t a world heritage site, but apparently that is in the works.)
Anyway, the boat trip was really something else as we motored along in the sunshine watching nature do its thing. About an hour into the trip, we turned around a point and headed to the “Bay of Bones” also known by its proper name as the Museum on Water.
Apparently during the Neolithic period, Lake Ohrid was home to a settlement built on top of a platform on the water, which was supported by up to 10,000 wooden piles anchored to the lake bed. The remains of the settlement were discovered in the late 1990s and excavated over a period of time. The museum was an attempt to reconstruct the settlement as archaeologists think it would have looked between 1200 and 600 BC. And the nickname, “Bay of Bones” is apparently a reference to the animal remains and fragmented vessels that have been found there.
So Irak docked our boat and Jane and I climbed ashore to visit the little museum housing the remains discovered under the water as well as to visit the re-creation of the village. After a quick visit to the little one room museum, Jane and I walked around the little straw and mud village. The buildings were simple one room structures with a fire pit for cooking, and a separate area for sleeping (complete with bear skin blanket for warmth).
After the visit, it was back to the boat for our continued trip across the lake with our next stop scheduled for the Monastery of St. Naum. The trip took us past more lakeside villages and beautiful green hillsides. At one point, some clouds rolled in and the winds picked up and we actually thought it my rain. However, by the time we reached the dock outside the monastery, the sky had started to clear.
Now the Monastery of St. Naum is a pilgrimage destination of sorts for Orthodox Christians. The monastery was established in the 10th century during the Bulgarian Empire by St Naum of Ohrid. St. Naum was a disciple of Saints Cyril and Methodius (credited with creating the Cyrillic alphabet). Because St. Naum is associated with the creation of Cyrillic scrip, St. Naum holds great import to those of Slavic decent. As a result, many come to pay homage to St Naum, who is also buried in the church. (Legend has it that if you rest your ear on the casket you can hear St. Naum’s heart beating.)
Anyway, once the boat docked, Jane and I walked up the hill (yep, another hill) to the monastery entrance. The grounds of the monastery were beautiful with lush gardens, ponds and waterfalls throughout the grounds. Once we entered through the monastery gate we took a walk around the church (which was packed with people). Eventually there was bit of a break and we took a look inside the church. It was incredibly humid inside, which did not bode well for the 18th century frescos inside the church. And while the frescos were nice, I had seen better in Ohrid. The apparent main attraction was the little room to the left of the nave where St. Naum is buried. The line to get in to pay respects was huge, but I did manage to take a quick peak inside. However, I left the real “visit” to the believers. As a result, I did not rest my ear on the red velvet covered casket to determine whether the legend was true.
After the quick visit to the church, Jane and I walked back down towards the dock and opted to take a boat ride on the springs of St. Naum. The area surrounding Lake Ohrid is filled with fresh water springs, which are the main source of water for Lake Ohrid. The springs of St. Naum are set in wetlands adjacent to the monastery and the springs are one of the primary sources of water for Lake Ohrid.
So Jane tracked down yet another friend, Nikola, who owned the first boat ever used for tours on the springs, and hired him to take us around the wetlands. Now this fellow was quite the character. Not only had he been rowing boats around the springs for decades, but he was a writer and poet (he wrote a song).
Anyway, we boarded Nikola’s boat which was parked right beside a little hill near a walking path, took a seat and then Nikola began to row the boat through the clearest waters I have ever seen. There was no sediment, no colour, no nothing except crystal clear water that allowed you to see all the way to the bottom where beautiful green plants were growing. It was really exquisite.
The ride was also incredibly peaceful with only the sound of Nikola’s paddles hitting the water and the occasional bird chirping. We passed lush green areas that reminded me of the bayous in Louisiana, saw turtles and a variety of ducks. The ride was half hour long, but it seemed over in mere minutes. And as if the ride could not get any better, Nikola gave me a signed copy of his book and serenaded us with a song he wrote about a young British woman who “got away”. It was quite the little ride.
So with the ride over, Jane and I walked around the little park surrounding the springs, crossed over a bridge and watched the water flow from the springs into the lake and then tracked down Irak to let him know we were ready to leave. It was time for lunch, which Jane promised would be the best lunche of the trip. Now considering all the great meals to date, that was saying something.
Anyway, Irak started up the boat in the beautiful sunshine and we began our trip to the little lakeside village of Trpejca. The trip took barely 30 minutes, but in the interim Jane opened a bottle of white wine and we proceeded to drink a couple glasses as we motored along the coastline in beautiful weather.
When we arrived at the little seaside restaurant apparently known as “Fisherman Restaurant”, we were greeted like family. Jane is was apparently a good friend of the owners and so they rolled out the red carpet. We were given a lovely table overlooking the lake. White wine was opened and served. And then the parade of food began. Out came the meze with a salad of tomatoes, cucumber and cheeses, toasted bread, a garlic spread, baked cheese and two kinds of grilled peppers. Then we were presented with the trout that would be grilled in their outdoor oven just to make sure we approved. It was something else.
And the meze that was served was fresh and full of flavour. I particularly loved the garlic spread on the toasted bread and the spicy peppers. Yum. But the star of the show turned out to be the trout. The fish was cooked to perfection: moist with a hint of smokey flavour. Jane was right. It was, by far, the best meal of the trip. And not just because of the food. The atmosphere. The location. The company. It was a really wonderful lunch.
We ended up spending almost two hours at the restaurant, but eventually we had to say our goodbyes. We climbed back on board the boat. Waived goodbye and motored back towards Ohrid arriving back at the same dock where it all began with the clock reading 3:45.
By now all I wanted to do was sleep, but Jane insisted that he take me to a couple local artisan shops around 7 and then we would head up into the mountains to the little village of Kurividsa for dinner at the small little restaurant run by some friends. (Jane has friends everywhere!)
At this point, I couldn’t possibly think of eating, but I also didn’t want to be rude and refuse. So after a brief rest I met Jane at 7 for some shopping and then Dean drove us about a half hour outside of Ohrid into the little mountain village of Kurivdsa.
The meal turned out to be far more than I could ever eat. We started out with cheese with olive oil and spices followed by snails (yes you read that right), a tomato sauce, cheese pie, and a salad of cucumbers and tomatoes followed by two main courses of beef with vegetables and pork with mushrooms. Then there was a desert of ice cream with honey sauce and blackberries. And of course there was wine and rakija.
And perhaps the most impressive part of the meal is that all the food was locally sourced. Unfortunately, I was still so full from lunch that I only ate a little bit of each dish. However, the food and the company were once again amazing.
We finally drove back to Ohrid just after 10:30. I was really done in. Ohrid had been simply wonderful, but now it was time to move on to other parts of Macedonia.