Playing with Peacocks at a Monastery in Macedonia
For a couple of girls who have been around the world more than a few times, Kim and I can be really stupid when planning a trip or just plain traveling. Since we dubbed this month our Balkan Road Trip, our first stop after Thessaloniki was Macedonia, which was also our first country from former Yugoslavia. We had driven through beautiful twisty mountains and some Macedonian countryside when we both suddenly realized that we were very, very hungry. Although it should be pretty simple to get food, we had a few problems: no Macedonian money in a cash-only area, no more Euros, and no idea of the conversion rate. So we kept driving while searching for banks. When we finally found one, I pushed one of the middle buttons and hoped it would be enough and not too much for a night’s stay on Lake Ohrid.
A friend had told us about Ohrid and the lake, so we planned to check it out. After we found a really cool monastery hotel on the lake and made a reservation, we put Ohrid into the GPS. It got us as far as the outskirts of Ohrid, then went to that pesky little arrow on a blank background that essentially gives you no information beyond your cardinal heading. Since the lake wasn’t that big, we reasoned, we’d drive around until we found lunch, or the hotel. An hour later, we were still driving around, and still hungry. We didn’t even realize until the next day, when we hit a border crossing, that the lake is actually shared by two countries, Macedonia and Albania.
We were long past the old town of Ohrid but still on a quest to find our monastery with little more information that its name when we found a national park map that confirmed two things: Lake Ohrid is really big and we weren’t there yet. Luckily there was only one real road, so at least we we still headed in the right direction. Maybe another thirty minutes after our the map eased our nerves we reached the St. Neum monastery and hotel.
Then we had to pay 50 dinar to enter the street that our hotel anchored. Since we still had no idea how much that actually was, we forked it over in order to get change. When we did finally reach our hotel, we went though the now familiar post-communist procedure of trying to find the right piece of paper. We mentioned that we had a booking, which prompted the clerk to look through her stack of booking.com reservations. She didn’t understand when we explained that we had booked directly with the hotel, through email, and continued to shuffle through her papers. Finally, she gave up on finding our reservation and told us the rate for a twin room, which turned out to be per person, was not as cheap as we thought. There is a big difference between 38 euros and 76 euros, but since we had already driven out there, well past the rest of civilization, we decided to stay. Really, we just wanted to drop our bags and get some lunch already.
Although the St. Neum Monastery is really beautiful, and the food at the restaurant is decent and well-priced, I recommend you stay somewhere else if you’ve ever seen the Shining. Since we were the only guests, we had to turn on lights in corridors on our way to the room and around the hotel. I seriously expected to see twins riding tricycles as we turned every corner.
After we got some lunch, Kim and I walked around the monastery and gardens. It’s all very impressive, but it’s hard to pay attention to the history, legends and architecture because there are scene-stealing peacocks all over the place!
St. Neum is the most beloved saint in Macedonia, and the chapel is said to have withstood several fires that destroyed most of its surroundings, furthering his legend. St. Neum was a doctor who travelled the Lake Ohrid area providing care, and who built the original church which has since been rebuilt several times over.
When we could finally tear ourselves away from the peacocks, Kim and I headed down the little street to shop, bought some Ohrid pearls, and then took a guy up on an offer of a boat ride though the Springs of the Black Drim, which is a beautiful creek with clean, clear water fed from thousands of springs and pores in the limestone mountains of the area. I have never seen water so clear or so many springs in one place.
We spent the rest of the day walking the shore and playing with our cameras. Even though we were stuck, by our own lack of planning, in a small area, it was beautiful.