After a peaceful nights sleep, we decided to venture out for breakfast. The sun was shining, the sky was blue and the lake was the most startling shade of translucent silver and green. As we walked along the promenade, fishermen tended to their yellow and green boats, and a team of locals swept all of the debris from the golden sand. A crisp 5 degrees but warm in the sun, it was the most perfect weather.
After stopping at Hymeti’s Palace for an omelette and fresh orange juice (a very nice place by the way), we got in the car and started driving towards Tushemisht. As you drive along the shoreline you can enjoy stunning views of the enormous mountain, capped in snow as they rise out of the ground before you. I always have this feeling in Albania, that the sky is so big and wide and it makes me feel tiny, more so than anywhere else. This part of the world is no exception.
We drove past the old summer residence of Enver Hoxha- typical communist architecture with large iron gates and signs warning you to keep out. There are several of these waterfront villas sprawled along the shore, all displaying wealth and privilege, whereas on the opposite side of the road lie derelict hotels and citizens farming sheep by the road. This area is peppered with bunkers- remnants from the paranoid delusions of Hoxha that the country was under imminent attack. I spotted one which someone had painted to look like a ladybird and I couldn’t help but think, why can’t all of them be repurposed in this way?!
We drove through Tushemisht- a very quaint and pretty town with houses perched on the edge of canal-like rivers. I imagine it is a beautiful place to spend the summer but unfortunately for us, not much was open for business.
We then started to climb up the mountains along a winding road that offered the most stunning view of the lake below. Trees with branches laden with blossom lined the route and as we passe through customs and turned the corner, we were greeted with an incredible view of the Galicia Mountain 2,225m above us. Surrounded by the Galicia National Park, it creates a natural border between Lake Ohrid and Lake Prespa and inhabits an area of 227 sq km. The park is home to over 1000 species of flora including 11 endems that are specific just to Galicica.
Meeting with my boyfriend’s cousin on the other side, we drove first to The Monastery of St Naum which is an Eastern Orthodox monastery dating from the time of the Bulgarian Empire in 905. Most of it was closed up for the winter but the area around the St Naum springs and the beautiful weeping willows that lined the shore gave a nice welcome to Macedonia.
In desperate need of coffee, we hopped back in the car and headed towards Ohrid City. This part of Macedonia is still claimed to belong to the Albanians (depending on who you speak to) and in fact, Albanian is (recently) an official language and there is a significant portion of the population who consider themselves as Ethnic Albanians. That said, for me, this part of Macedonia just feels different. As we entered Ohrid City, past the empty hotels, and along the graffiti-covered streets, I have to say it just didn’t give me the same feeling that Albania has. To me, Albania is so completely unique and as I have written many times, I find it wild and spirited with a feeling of vibrancy about it. It excites me and interests me but I appeared to have left that feeling at border control.
The City of Ohrid is home to over 42,000 inhabitants made up of Macedonians, Albanians and some other minorities such as Turkish and Roma people. A UNESCO World Heritage Site both culturally and naturally, it has been inhabited by the Illyrians, Greeks, Phoenicians, Byzantines, South Slavs, Bulgarians, Serbs, Normans, Ottomans, and Albanians. I wanted to visit the Church of St John at Kaneo to take an iconic picture like the one below, but due to heavy rainfall the day before, the road was closed and we were unable to get there.
After having a coffee in a smokey and crowded cafe, we drove onwards to Struga. A popular tourist destination, Struga has been a part of the Ottoman Empire and the Kingdom of Yugoslavia. The Black Drin river splits the city in two and starts from the lake, flowing through to the valley beyond. Struga has a certain charm- with nice cafes and restaurants along the river and a pleasant shopping centre. Just off the pedestrianised main streets are smaller, older alleys with cobbled pavements and old buildings that are full of intrigue and charm.
By this point I was exhausted and no amount of coffee could provide me with the energy and enthusiasm I needed to look at anything else so we headed back to Albania and back to the comfort of heating and the sofa.Follow The Balkanista!