Church of the day

Trip Start Oct 21, 2006
Trip End Mar 21, 2008

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Flag of Macedonia  ,
Thursday, August 16, 2007

Here's a trivia question for you: Which town is not only situated on the banks of Europe's deepest lake but is also the site of Europe's oldest university? Answer: Ohrid, Macedonia.

These two facts should be reason enough to visit but Ohrid also happens to be a scenic and historical town close to the Albanian border. Sold! But wait, there's more. Did you know that there are precisely 365 churches in Ohrid? That's one for every day of the year if you don't have a calendar handy. (I'm not sure what they do on leap years; maybe temporarily convert a mosque or inflate a bouncy castle and stick a castle up top . . .)

Half a dozen men are waiting for us as we get off the bus, reminding us of those crazy days in India or Tanzania. Each of them has a private room they would like us to rent and each has a unique niche in the market, which they shout to us while jostling to be in our line of vision.

"My place is closest to the beach!" says Man #1.

"My place is closest to the town - only three hundred metres from the vegetable market!" counters Man #2.

"My place is the cheapest - only six euros a night!"

"My place has colour TV!"

"I lived in Australia for fourteen years!"

And so on. It's a good show and we let them fight over us for a few minutes and then choose Man #1. His real name is Sashko, not Man #1.

"Ah, short for Alexander", I say, showing off my knowledge of European names. "Are you named after Alexander the Great?"

"Actually, I am just Sashko, or Sasha." So that I don't feel bad he adds, "but you are correct that Sasha can be Alexander."

Sashko usually lives in the US but comes back to Macedonia for July and August to hustle for his family's Pension. He proudly tells us that he lives in New Jersey and works in - wait for it - one of Donald Trump's hotels. He is clearly expecting us to be wildly impressed by this connection with America's favourite tycoon.

"Trump's a bit of a dick," I announce, unintentionally bursting his balloon. Sorry, but he is.

The lake setting is beautiful but of course it is packed solid with vacationing Macedonians. Reason #1 is that the country has no access to the sea, just a couple of lakes. Reason #2 is that everyone in Europe, and I mean everyone, has their holidays in July and August, and today is August 14. You do the maths. Or don't, if you don't like maths or you didn't bring your calculator. There's not really any maths involved, let's just say that it is really busy.

Europeans certainly go in for the whole two weeks by the beach thing. They will happily rent a tiny little apartment and spend all day every day just lying on the same beach, then go home again. It's not much different from Canadians taking two weeks in Cuba or Poms heading to Palma de Mallorca for a fortnight but I don't think we could handle it. We like a couple of hours at the beach as much as the next couple but doing it eight hours a day for a whole week would drive us nuts. And it's not like you have the whole beach to yourself either. Half the country plus all sorts of random, big-bellied Europeans are squeezed up next to you on the sand, packed into their one-size-fits-none budgie-smugglers (Speedos to the uninitiated) with bratty kids in tow.

I'm such a cynic. Ohrid is, as far as these places go, not entirely unenjoyable. And, hey, it's the deepest lake in Europe, that's got to count for something.
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