An afternoon in Ohrid

Sunday, June 12, 2011


Arriving at Sv. Jovan Bigorski
One of the wonderful things about the Peace Corps is the new friends you make.  I was used to be the single woman among a lovely group of married folks wherever I was in the US.  In the Peace Corps, most of us are single.  We also have similar likes - most are liberal, adventurous and love to travel.  Living in a country where, at least at the beginning, everything is new and strange forges strong bonds. Besides my Peace Corps friends, I've also have the good fortune to develop a number of friendships with Macedonians and Albanians.  Without this opportunity, I certainly would have maintained a lot of good friendships back home, but I would never have had the chance to develop so many new and good friends.

Last weekend a group of us went to the small mountain village of Jance to stay stay in the hotel owned by my friend Tefik Tefikovski and see some of the marvels of far western Macedonia.  I've written a bit about Jance before, which is located in one of the main national parks, Mavrovo.  The scenery there takes my breathe away every time, but this visit was special.  Tefik had planned to go to Belgrade to the wedding of a cousin, but instead he stayed home in order to make our visit special.  We stopped on the way in to tour the most famous monastery in Macedonia, Sv. Jovan Bigorsky, roughly translated as St. John of the lava rock!  It is gorgeous and contains the most famous woodcarvings in all of Macedonia.  Two brothers and their apprentices carved over 500 figures in a variety of Bible stories that span the front of the church.  They took whole tree trunks and carved the middle out while leaving the figures on the outside.  The Church also has some of the most famous relics in Macedonia, including a piece of the rib of John the Baptist.  It was founded in the 9th century and many people credit it with healing their illnesses.

Toasting with rakija

My friends Linda and Tefik

Some of the wonderful food
Then on to the hotel!  Tefik was waiting for us and we sat on an outside terrace overlooking the Radika valley and mountains.  His staff brought us all rakija, local grape whiskey, and we sat and celebrated out good fortune.   Tefik founded the Slow Food Convivium in Macedonia, and the food his kitchen prepared for us was extraordinary.  Much of the herbs he uses as well as the mushrooms and teas he harvests from the mountains surrounding the hotel.  We enjoyed a feast and no one held back!  After eating the main courses, we walked along a path in the village and harvested some mint, thyme, dill, chamomile, and other goodies.  We returned to the hotel for dessert, nuts, wine, relaxation and good talk.

Ducking through the entrance of the min

Kerry in her hard hat
Meredith talked with Blake in front of a Crystal wall
In the morning Tefik took us to the outskirts of Debar to see the Crystal mountain.  He had arranged for an engineer who works for the German Company Knauf to give us a tour.  Our tour guide was fabulous - even though he spoke Macedonian, he was able to make his talk simple enough to understand.  The mountain was a gypsum mine.  Gypsum is used for all kinds of things, including plaster of paris and sheet rock.  The crystal was one form of the gypsum.  We donned our hard hats and ducked out way through the entrance tunnel.  The sights once we arrived in the main chambers of the mine were amazing.  Beneath our feet everywhere were shards of crystal.  The walls glowed with crystal.  The mine itself wasn't a narrow passage way, but huge chambers with walls of crystal.  It was quite spectacular.  After the tour, the engineer gave us all pieces of crystal set in plaster of paris.  Have I mentioned before that people her are the sweetest and most generous I have ever met? 

The grounds of the monastery

The view
We traveled down the road to one of the female monasteries in Macedonia, Sv. Georgi.  It sat on the side of Lake Debar looking over the lake to the mountains on the other side.  The gardens in the monastery were the prettiest I have seen - roses and other flowers everywhere cascading down from the monastery on top of the hill.  We were again given a tour and invited in for tea.  The nuns pick wild mint, make a mint liquor and sell it in beautify tall triangular bottles.  I just couldn't pass it up.

Finally we went to a natural hot spring spa and we were invited in by some locals who were already enjoying the healing warm waters.  A couple of the group took them up on the invitation while the rest of us had lunch.  After lunch, back to Gostivar so everyone could catch a bus to their particular home.  It was a wonderful weekend with good friends, good food, gorgeous scenery, and interesting times.

No comments:

Post a Comment