Skopje and Ohrid, Macedonia

Just as soon as I start getting used to common words and phrases in the various Slavic languages, I get into Serbia and now Macedonia, which decide to switch everything into Cyrillic just to mess me up. Seriously, they do it just to be different.. at least Serbia does. Serbian is basically identical to Bosnian (like the difference between English English and American English). The main difference is that Serbian is written in Cyrillic and Bosnian in Roman characters, which is mainly done for political, nationalistic reasons. To me Cyrillic looks like someone took all the Roman and Greek letters, chopped them up into pieces, then put them back together wrong. Somehow the number 3 got mixed up in it as well. It’s kind of fun though, like everything is written in a secret code (which, when decoded, gives you some random word in Macedonian, which usually isnt too helpful). I want a secret Cyrillic decoder ring. It’s not so bad really, since every roman character has a cyrillic equivalent, just about. You just need to know that stuff like ‘Restoran’ becomes ‘Ресторан’, because R=Р, S=С, and N=Н. There are also fun letters like И(i), П(p), Ф(f), Д(d), Ж(zh), and З(z). I dont know if any of that’s going to show up on American computers, but they’re fun.

I learned that St. Cyril actually didn’t invent Cyrillic, it was created by his disciples (probably St. Kliment of Ohrid, whose church I just visited). St. Cyril, along with St. Methodius, actually invented an earlier alphabet called Glagolitic. I think this region would be way cooler if they’d kept using Glagolitic (look at:

I spent the night in Skopje (Скопје), the capital of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) — that’s the official name, because Greece has a Macedonia too, and wouldn’t let FYROM use the name. I call it Macedonia though. Skopje is a dirty, nasty city with lots of smog and garbage everywhere. At least the part I saw. There’s an old turkish bath which is now a museum, and a bazaar, and some ruins of a fortress up on the hill, but mostly it’s just gross modern apartment blocks. 90% of the city was destroyed by an earthquake in the 60s, so it was totally rebuilt in 60s communist architectural (read: ugly) style. Anyway, Skopje isn’t a city I’d recommend visting, unless you’re on the way to Ohrid, which is much nicer.

Ohrid (Охрид), is this little town on Ohrid Lake, in the mountains on the border between Macedonia and Albania. The lake is really pretty, with great snow-capped mountains surrounding it. It’s supposed to be one of the oldest lakes in the world (like 4 million years, I think). Unfortunately it’s been raining and foggy so I didn’t get the great views I think I’d get if the weather were better. The main attraction here is all these little orthodox monasteries they have scattered around the lake. Some are in really impressive locations, on cliffs overlooking the lake, and most of them have tons of old frescoes inside, usually from the 11th-14th century, when the archbisopric of Ohrid was a major center of learning. They’re very cool. There’s an old fortress up on top of the hill overlooking the town, and an old 2000 year-old ampitheater complete with the names of ancient season-ticket holders still engraved on the seats. Ohrid is a beautiful little town, well worth the trip to Macedonia to see.

I had been thinking that from Ohrid I’d head into Albania, which intrigues me since it was a closed country for so long, still has really strict medieval social codes, and has a language that isn’t related to any other modern language (the only decendant of ancient Illyrian). I thought I might be daring and go there, but I’ve heard too many bad things about it now… rampant street crime and car theft, no medical facilities or transportation infrastructure, no ATMs in the entire country, the poorest country in Europe after Moldova. Fun stuff like that. So I’m wussing out, turning around, and heading to Bulgaria instead, which has its share of problems as well. But at least there are ATMs. I’ll have to settle for seeing Albania from across Ohrid Lake. Because of the rain and fog it just looks like murky mountains shrouded in dark mysterious clouds. That’s actually just how I imagined Albania would look, so I’m satisfied for now.

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  1. MarkD
    May 26th, 2005at4:55 pm

    Hi Taylor, I’m reading your blog while waiting for late night Cpt Foom renders to finish. Glagolitic is very cool. Sounds like you’re having a cool trip!



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