Greetings From Skopje and Ohrid Macedonia! (2-10 Sep 2017)
I left Bulgaria on a bus feeling fine but once I got to Skopje and had my first night’s rest at the hostel I woke up not feeling very well. I had a sinus cold starting, messing with my respiratory system, and the ear infection was still giving me grief. I ended up not training at Skopje, the post camp flu had finally caught up with me. Instead I tried working online to catch up on some writing as well as plan out the next part of the Odyssey. At this stage I was looking to make my way over to Myanmar and Thailand which gave me the opportunity to make a stopover and possible class along the way, I’ll tell you all about that adventure next article. Although I didn’t get to train in Skopje I did talk to Martin who runs a club there. We spoke a lot about me coming to visit and had planned out when would be best to come for class, when I ended up sick and just decided to rest he told me all the best places or sight seeing. Skopje is a really nice city with a mix of old historic sights with new modern monuments. I really like the statues to various leaders and generals throughout the city to remind everyone of the long history of Macedonia.
I also took a bus from Skopje to Ohrid and it was a very scenic and quiet route, the hillsides and valleys through Macedonia are really beautiful. There was nothing too eventful, I caught the bus at the station which was right next to the hostel I was staying at in Skopje and away we went through the country side to Ohrid. Ohrid is a small town, built in a valley along the shore of Lake Ohrid, which shares the other half of it’s shore with Albania, and up the side of one of the hills where the fortress rests on top. The view is amazing coming in to town as we crested the hills and saw the beauty of the surrounding area. I was very happy to be traveling to see this place and meet Nenad and his gym and looked forward to exploring Ohrid more while I visited.
As I said before Skopje has a cool mix of old historic landmarks with new ones and the best example of that is the town square. There is an old stone bridge linking the modern town square to the old town market. It’s a historic sight, with statues and water fountains at each end and leading up the square that has a giant water fountain and Statue to Alexander the Great in the middle. The roads leading to the square have a series of old monuments and statues, like the arch ‘Port Macedonia’ that covers one of the streets to the square.
The market, or Old Bazaar, and the remains of old Skopje Fortress are also great examples of the history of Skopje and Macedonia. The market has a few main roads lined with stalls selling practically anything but the whole area is a series of catacomb alleys. I could see a growing part of the catacombs was becoming trendy stores and restaurants for tourists. The fortress is just outside of the catacombs on a hillside overlooking the city. From up there you can see the whole town stretch out in front of you with the town square right below. There’s nothing too special about the fortress grounds itself, it’s been knocked down over the years and other than the outer wall facing the city most of it is half crumbled brick walls, pits and piles of rock inside. The important thing isn’t what it is now but rather what is was before and the history it carries.
Ohrid also has a mix of old culture and history with modern tourism. The downtown core has many shops and restaurants, a lot of them lining Lake Ohrid for scenic waterfront views. All this downtown is at the base of the hill that old Ohrid is built upon, walk up the winding roads and you see the houses get older in style and after a while they open up to the Ancient Theater, an old outdoor amphitheater on the hillside overlooking the lake. Tsar Samoil’s Fortress sits up on top of the hill itself, overlooking all of the surrounding land. Again, like Skopje the Ohrid fortress was nothing more than a big brick outer wall, with the inside gutted, but the views but up on top were amazing. From up on the lookout there you could see all the surrounding valleys to the next peaks of the far off mountains. Anyone back in the day marching an army in, or rowing one in from the water front, would be seen from far off.
I also happened to walk by the old UN base in Ohrid. It’s gated and boarded up now so I couldn’t go inside but I managed to take a few pictures from the street. The people of Macedonia aren’t happy with the UN from the events that happened during the split into their own country and the UN’s exit from helping them so they don’t like to talk about this base or that time.
You can see my photos from this visit and all my other stops over on my Flickr Account.
Roots BJJ Ohrid
Nenad trains at the only gym in Ohrid, Roots BJJ Ohrid, a small group of very welcoming people who are genuinely happy to have visitors come to see their beautiful town. Nenad is a really fit guy, training at the gym at least once a day as well as doing Jiu-Jitsu 4 or 5 times a week, he even asked me to come out to the gym with him and although I wouldn’t mind being completely made a fool by someone who looks like they warm up with my max weight I was just getting over the cold and really didn’t want to push it too much. So instead we just met for Jiu-Jitsu. Although I was staying just down the road from the gym Nenad picked me up since it’s a bit tricky to find. The gym has some partitions for changing and a washroom around the corner, with the rest of the space tatami mats. The coach, whose name I forget, is a purple belt we spoke a little and he was very happy to have me come visit telling me I’m welcome any time. I got from the sense that they, being isolated from the bigger cities, are really grateful to have any visitors and take every opportunity to invite people in and make them feel at home with the gym.
The classes are started with a good warm up, which in my first class giving my rank standing at the end I was supposed to lead but I didn’t want to disturb their usual routine and held back for someone else to take the lead instead. Of the things I like to see when visiting different gyms their warm up routine is one of them. I’m not a fan of huge crossfit like exercise class long warm ups but I like to see the different movements that gyms do, often I find a new movement or chain of movements that I think would be great to remember for later. Just like submission techniques everyone has their own little differences in moving the body to warm it up before class. You can tell a lot about the gym and what style of Jiu-Jitsu they have by their warm ups most times as well. The next part of class was drilling takedowns, which Nenad and I worked different entries for Judo throws for gi class and arm drags into single legs and low singles for No-Gi. It was great drilling with Nenad, not just the takedowns but the whole class in general, because he doesn’t just quickly drill over and over, he’s like me where each rep gets dissected and analyzed and improved upon next rep. Together we worked to really get the moves we were drilling down. I’ve been to other gyms where sure we drill a lot but maybe I don’t feel like I got that technique down too well despite all the reps. Maybe Nenad and I just overthink or maybe other people under think and prefer quantity or quality, either way I enjoyed training with him.
Rolling with Nenad wasn’t as fun, his gym routine definitely made a difference when we rolled. Nenad had no problem controlling and submitting me at will. I guess I should’ve taken him up on those gym sessions after all. Seriously though he was a nice guy and even though he firmly controlled me he wasn’t crushing me like I know he could have. All the guys there were no joke in the physical department and could have easily run circles around me, not that they were looking to hurt or humiliate me, they were just a bunch of fit guys with strong Jiu-Jitsu, lucky for me they were also really nice and I was on their good sides. Nenad and Roots BJJ were great hosts I thoroughly enjoyed my time visiting, thanks for having me guys!
I made a video of my time training with Roots BJJ Ohrid that you can watch it, and any of my other videos, over at the Panda’s Odyssey YouTube Channel. Please show some love, like, share, comment or even subscribe, thanks!
My time in Orhid was way too fast and over before I knew it I was on another bus off for another adventure. This time I was bound for my last stop in Eastern Europe before heading for Asia: Tirana Albania.
Until next time,
see you on the mats!
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