Ohrid: “City Of Light” / The Jewel Of The Balkans

Ohrid: “City Of Light” / The Jewel Of The Balkans


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Not all fails are permanent. Last night in Skopje Alfred and Ted was kind enough to go back and check if my card was still in the ATM machine, and a passer-by informed them of a safety feature where the ATM automatically eats up the card for safekeeping if it is not withdrawn within 40 seconds of the end of session.

None of us knew about that with ATMs, even though nearly all of us had the same experience of leaving our cards behind while traveling or back home.

So this morning I gave this a shot, waking up early to retrieve my ATM card from the bank it was attached to and … successthe staff was able to open up the machine for me and give me back my card. I only showed them my passport as proof of identity. Huzzah!

But that damn kayaking place at Matka Lake still has my GoPro.

On even more of a downer, our body count in these Game of Thrones has risen to 7 with Taylan and Mihaela now getting sick after drinking from a public water fountain earlier yesterday afternoon. They join Alfred, Sidian, Anthony, Maria, Beverly in the infirmary. Who will be next?

After I returned with my ATM card at 11am, we all took quick short cab rides back to the bus station from our hostel to board the 12pm (520 denars each) 3.5 hour bus ride to Ohrid. Bus seats are assigned at purchase, much to our surprise after traveling through the Balkans the past 2 weeks on buses, which led to a game of chess so that we could sit close to one another without getting too close to the sick folk.

This resulted in meeting other friendly American travelers and breaking in an already broken bus seat: aka “this seat won’t lean back” to “yeah OK we just turned it into a flat bed.”

We arrived in Ohrid at 4pm.



Ohrid is one of the oldest human settlements in all of Europe with a 3 million year old lake and a mention by the Greeks in 353 BC, when it was known as Lychnidos (“the city of light”). It then became a significant economic and cultural center during the Byzantine Empire, the site of the first Slavic universities in the 9th century, and briefly the capital of the Bulgarian Empire under the rule of Car Samuil.

Unfortunately in Ohrid, the bus station is quite far away from the old town, so we took cabs to our hostel (Sunny Lake Hostel) and dropped off our stuff.

We then walked up Clement’s Univeristy street which is a steady, easily climb up to where everyone should start their walking tour of Old Town: Upper Gate, built as early as the 3rd century BC.



Curve southeast to visit Holy Mary Perybleptos for the frescoes inside (100 denar entry) and views of the lake.



Return to Upper Gate and then curve south along Ilindenska street to visit the ancient theater, the only remnant of ancient times in Ohrid. The upper part has been removed, but it was likely an arena for gladiator fighting. Entry is free.



Again, return to Upper Gate and this time head directly northwest along Kuzman Kapidian street for a steady climb to Samuil’s Fortress30 denars to enter.



You can climb up the fortifications to the very top for these insane views of the lake and city:



From the fortress, we turned right and headed into Old Town Park, walking downhill.



Within the park is the Saint Pantelejmon-Plaoshnik Archaeological Site, arguably the oldest university in Europe when it opened in the 10th century and where the Cyrillic alphabet was created. 100 denars to enter (30 for students).



Head further downhill to the edge of the lake and you’ll reach the Kaneo settlement and Church of St. John the Theologian, where you can get the classic views that define Ohrid.



Don’t forget to pose.



And definitely come here for the sunset. I think we timed this walking tour pretty well.



After sunset we headed down to the beach where we had dinner at Kaneo Restaurant.



We ate an aquarium.



After a leisurely dinner, we decided to amble along the beach at night and its medieval-like boardwalk, which becomes so frustratingly and beautifully atmospheric that it makes you want to linger forever and stay . . . even though you know you have way more of the city to explore.



But alas we must press further, curving up Ilendenska street to reach Saint Sophia Church.



From there, walk along Car Samoil Street to take a look at traditional Ohrid architecture exemplified by the Robev Family House and The House of Urania.



Continue onwards along this path and you’ll reach Lower Gate.



You’re now by the docks, where the city comes alive at night.



Walk to the very edge of the Port of Ohrid to look at Ohrid from the lake:



The lively pedestrian mall of Ohrid is along Boulevard of Macedonian Educators where you can do your obligatory shopping and ice cream/gelato tasting.



At the end of it will be the City Center Roundabout, which officially separates Ohrid’s Old Town from the rest of the city.



And with a job well done of exploring all of Old Town in 5 hours, we headed back to our hostel along the winding alleyways and kicked back with shisha and music on our balcony until 2am.

I recommend listening to Antonymes’ “A Feeling Of Being Closer” if you happen to be doing the same thing we’re doing.



The next morning some of us had breakfast back at the docks by the Port. . .




- At time of posting in Ohrid, Macedonia, it was 18 °C - Humidity: 35% | Wind Speed: 6km/hr | Cloud Cover: clear with periodic clouds


Scoping Out Skopje

Scoping Out Skopje


Photo Credit: Mihaela Kracun


After a quick stop at Gracanica yesterday, we got our 10 tickets (for 5 euros each) at the Pristina Bus Station for the 2 hour bus ride to Skopje.



We got on a 3pm bus, which reached the Kosovo/Macedonian border at around 4:30pm.

A Kosovo border guard comes onboard to collect your passports, stamp you out and then the process repeats itself with a Macedonian border guard to stamp you in.



We arrived into Skopje Bus Station at 5pm.



After getting our stuff settled in at nearby Shanti Hostel, we decided to take it easy with a wonderful riverside dinner at Kej Restaurant.



Then we sauntered along the Vardar River as night fell, becoming allured and pleasantly surprised at the unfolding magical lights of Skopje.



With speakers on every Victorian style streetlight playing atmospheric orchestral music from Hollywood movies and larger than life statues placed every 5 feet, it felt like we were strolling through a Balkan version of Las Vegas.



Once we reached Stone Bridge — the symbol of the city and built in the 6th century by the Byzantine emperor Justinian — we reached the center of the city.



To the north is Old Bazaar which welcomes you with The Monument to Olimpija, The Mother of Aleksandar Makedonski and Monument to Philip of Macedonia behind it:



If you keep going further into Old Bazaar, you’ll have at your fingertips the city’s unlimited café nightlife on a Wednesday night.



The most happening place were the hookah bars along Jorgandziska, where we chose Café Harem to chill out.



We stayed here until midnight, after which we walked back to Macedonia Square to check out the humongous 26m high Alexander The Great Memorial.



The official name of the statue is Warrior On A Horse so to not piss off the Greeks; Greece still claims Macedonia (and Alexander The Great) as part of their own land, which is why in turn the official name of Macedonia is also FYROM: The Former Yugoslav Republic Of Macedonia.

We were reminded of this a lot when Sidian, who’s Greek, was traveling with us during Week 1. This paragraph’s for you man.



And a short walk away is the Macedonia Gate, resembling the Arc de Triomphe and dedicated to 20 years of Macedonian independence:



And after that, we headed back at 1am to catch a late night viewing of the latest Game of Thrones episode before heading to bed.

The next morning we woke up at around 10am and headed out to explore the city by day, the first stop being the Assembly Of The Republic Of Macedonia:



Nearby is the Memorial House To Mother Teresa, as she was born here in Skopje. It is free to enter.



Upstairs is a humble glass chapel that has views over some new construction in the area.



Behind the memorial house stands a Feudal Tower. Nobody knows why it was built just that it was built a long time ago. Fittingly, or ironically, it was a souvenir shop now turned abandoned building. 



After a quick lunch in this area, we then had to say goodbye to Anthony as he had to catch a 3:30pm flight home. We’ll miss ya and your snarkiness!

We then walked along the pedestrian mall further towards Warrior On a House, crossing Stone Bridge, and into Old Bazaar.



Our first stop in Old Bazaar was to see the Church of the Ascension Of Jesus, which costs 120 denars to enter.



Around the corner, we checked out Chifte Hamam, a 15th century hamam that was built by a Bosnian general and is now a modern art gallery.



Next to the hamam is Suli An, a former 15th century caravansarai that has been turned into an Academy of Fine Arts and history museum.



A few paces northwest from Suli An is renovated 15th century Mustafa Pasha’s Mosque.



Then we crossed the street and hiked 5 minutes up the small hill of Skopje Fortress to get city views of Skopje. The city’s museum of contemporary art is also here, although it was closed when we visited.



We then snaked around the north side to Kurshumli An, another 15th century Ottoman caravanserai that was formerly both an inn and a prison.



Finally, we exited Old Bazaar and wandered through a covered market. . .



. . . before crossing the main boulevard on an elevated walkway . . .



. . . to try to check out Sultan Murat Mosque. However, this one was under renovations and we couldn’t go inside. Therefore, we headed back south to the hostel and took a 30 minute cab ride for 500 denars to Matka Lake.



About a 10 minute hike up the road you can either kick back at any of its numerous restaurants or pay a couple hundred denars to kayak down the lake to see some caves.


Photo Credit: Mihaela Kracun
Photo Credit: Mihaela Kracun
Photo Credit: Mihaela Kracun


The kayak ride takes about 30-40 minutes each way.


Photo Credit: Mihaela Kracun


We then haggled return cabs for 450 denars per cab back to Skopje city center, returning by 8pm, where we showered up and then headed back out for a late dinner and salsa at one of the party boats.

And somehow it would be today where I would stupidly leave my GoPro behind while being distracted paying for the kayaks, AND THEN my damn’ ATM card while taking out cash an hour later. Total freaking brain farts. I deserve it.

. . . and alas, I must remind myself these are still first world problems and such tragic losses may be the necessary sacrifices for a good trip . . .either way thank goodness I had transferred the photos from the GoPro right before losing it!


Photo Credit: Mihaela Kracun. Farewell to my GoPro...


- At time of posting in Skopje, Macedonia, it was 13 °C - Humidity: 65% | Wind Speed: 5km/hr | Cloud Cover: clear


Escape From Snake Island

Escape From Snake Island


Screen Shot 2013-11-07 at 9.01.55 AMThe following is a guest post by Brandon Green of Brandon is Still Alive, who graciously asked if he could contribute to the Monsoon Diaries adventures.

Brandon Green and I had taken the same Calculus III Honors class 9 years ago during my freshman year at Columbia University. Since then we haven’t really caught up with each other until only recently, when he approached me a few weeks ago about publishing his experience about getting lost on Snake Island on The Monsoon Diaries. Here is his story.


After a great deal of increasingly desperate searching and a long drive on a perilous cliffside road, we found a fisherman who agreed to take us to Snake Island, a tiny, uninhabited island in the middle of a lake at the border between Macedonia (FYROM), Albania, and Greece.


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In the little motorboat watching Snake Island grow closer, we realized it was larger than we had thought. As we got within a few hundred yards, we saw that the trees surrounding the island were absolutely covered in birds. Birds stood on every rocky outcropping and viable perch.


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When within shouting distance of the island, our guide made loud whooping noises to scare the birds from rest, and they filled the sky, almost intimidating in their numbers.




We circled the island, getting a nice view of the ruins of a church that had once jutted out of the cliff face. Since we had no way to communicate with our boatman without the aid, via cell phone, of his English-speaking 8-year-old daughter, I was worried for a minute that we were only getting a tour around the island, but finally, after the circuit was complete, he pulled up to a small beach and helped us off the boat.

We set foot on the beach and instantly saw a trail blaze. I remember thinking this was kind of funny – why would you bother marking the trail on such a tiny island? Where could you get lost?


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Some ten yards up the trail we came to a full map of the island marking the many structures that had been built there, from 4th century Roman ruins to a 14th century chapel we later saw was still in use. Cheerfully taking photos, we hiked along the path and admired the ruins. It was amazing to see how many people had built on this tiny island in the middle of a lake, especially since the vast majority of the structures were religious.

After passing two or three of the ruins, taking in the forest scenery, we pretended we were “Lord of the Rings” characters as a nod to the Island’s name “Golem Grad”, then took a few shots of a particularly malicious looking tree.


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- At time of posting in Skopje-Petrovec, it was 14 °C - Humidity: 87% | Wind Speed: 2km/hr | Cloud Cover: scattered clouds