Sunday, July 10, 2011

24 hours in Ohrid

With nothing keeping me in Pristina I decided to leave on the first bus at 0630 back to Skopje and connect on to the first bus to Ohrid, the supposedly jewel of Macedonia and self styled Macedonian Riviera. I really was disappointed with Pristina but the sensible thing to do was to move on and make the most of the short time I had left.

The connection in Skopje went well and I arrived in Ohrid 3 hours later. Thanks to a good tip from a lady behind me on the bus I got off a stop earlier which was nearer the town and saved me a taxi ride from the out of town bus station. The heat was searing, I dodged the room touts and walked into town looking for the Sunny lake Hostel, a difficult task which proved very difficult and tiring.

After the drab concrete of Pristina and the disappointment of Skopje I was very impressed with Ohrid as I walked down the sun drenched streets of the Old Town. There was a vibrant laidback atmosphere that you would come to expect of a country’s premier holiday town. The views when I got to the banks of Lake Ohrid on which Ohrid sits took my break away. Crystal blue waters flanked by mountains on all sides with the sun glistening off the waves. Looking away from the water the red roofed houses clinging to the hillside added to the picturesque scene. It was easy to see why the town was made a UNESCO heritage site. I didn’t do much for the rest of the day, just walked around the town and along the lake enjoying the ambience and of being in somewhere that was aesthetically pleasing. I sent off a few postcards and committed the holiday error of buying a hat that I will never probably wear again back at home; it was a large wide brimmed thing, not too dissimilar to Indiana Jones! I wore it around town with surprisingly few odd looks. Personally I thought I pulled it off! I visited the St John Kaneo church which sits high on a cliff top overlooking the town and harbour where the views were spectacular. I actually found it by mistake as I was looking for the fortress but took a wrong turn.

After dinner I walked back through town to the hostel weaving my way through the hordes of tourists and avoided the very pushy restaurant reps lining the streets, loud music was pumping out of bars and clubs and it really wasn’t my scene so I went back to the hostel.

The following morning, my last few hours in Ohrid I was struck by a thought, my opinion of Ohrid had diminished drastically. From my initial impressions I now felt myself looking at a town that has given itself up to mass tourism and lost many of its old charms. Well not lost exactly but struggling to be noticed above the neon signs, countless restaurants and thousands of tourists. Its cheap bars, loud music and endless rows of tacky souvenir stands really detract from the beauty of the old town. It was impossible to walk along the harbour without being harassed for boat tours and I had quickly grown tired of the place. Last night the old town resembled Bar Street in Faliraki.

I decided to walk up to the fortress, the task I had failed the previous night. Except then it was a comfortable 20c at sunset, now it was midday and 32c. I made it, not without some discomfort and took some nice photos.

When I returned to the hostel I got chatting to some English guests who were booked on the same bus back to Skopje as me and also the same flight back to London that evening so we joined up to save taxi costs, both here and to the airport when back in Skopje.

To sum up Ohrid, yes I was disappointed that the town really is just a tourist Mecca and a pretty over stretched one at that, but you have to separate the stunning views from the negative aspects of the town. They are among the best views anywhere in Europe. But in all honestly, I can’t remember my opinion a of town changing so drastically in such a short period of time, I loved it on arrival but within twenty four hours I was tired of the place and glad to be leaving.

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