Photo Essay by Brenna Ransden, Personal Travel

I took my first solo trip by necessity. Desperate to skip town but with nobody to go with, I took the plunge and hopped on a plane alone. Never looking back, in the year and a half since that first solo trip, the majority of my travelling has been alone. In fact, I have come to prefer it over travelling with friends. The freedom to wander without a plan and to spend time alone with my thoughts – or force myself to meet new people – is unparalleled by any other experience. Embodying the spirit of solitude yet friendliness is the small lake town of Ohrid in North Macedonia, where I ventured alone for spring break this year. 

Centered around Lake Ohrid, which straddles the border between North Macedonia and Albania, the city of Ohrid is known for its religious and historical sites and is often referred to as the Jerusalem of the Balkans. It is one of only 28 sites named by UNESCO as both a Cultural and Natural World Heritage Site. 

I visited in April, before the flock of summer tourists arrived, but while it was still warm and dry enough to spend the days exploring. Each morning, I set out from my hostel in the heart of the Old Town and wandered into the surrounding hills with just my camera and a water bottle. I spent all day exploring in solitude, without any interruptions from strangers. Strangely though, I never felt alone in Ohrid. The rich history of the town and its surroundings and the remarkable natural landscape along the lake were better company than any travel companion could be. The occasional chirp of a bird and the constant shutter of my camera were the only sounds for hours on end. It was truly a refreshing experience to be alone yet feel at home.

According to the oldest available historical data, Samuel’s Fortress was built in 209 BC. Throughout its history under Roman, Byzantine, Slavic, and Ottoman rule, the fortress was destroyed, rebuilt, and upgraded numerous times. It overlooks the Old City and Lake Ohrid to the southeast and the suburb of Koshishta to the north.

Enclosed by the remains of ancient fortifications, the Old City is literally cut off from the rest of Ohrid. The cobbled streets of the Old City are narrow and often only one car can pass at a time, if at all. 

The Church of Sveti Jovan at Kaneo is a Macedonian Orthodox church, likely constructed in the 13th century. Nestled atop a cliff overlooking Kaneo Beach, the church is only accessible by a winding staircase carved into the cliff.

Vines with small purple buds envelop the columns outside a new addition to the Holy Mary Perybleptos Church in the old city. The church was originally built by Progon Zgur, son-in-law of the Byzantine Emperor Andronicus II Palaiologus some time before 1295.

The Old City of Ohrid was encircled with walls built as early as the 5th century BC and reinforced as recently as the 10th century BC. Only locals that live within its walls and visitors staying at a hotel or hostel within the Old City are allowed to enter through the gates, according to signs along the wall.

The Old City Park runs from the cliff of the Church of Sveti Jovan to the top of the Plaosnik hill and Samuel’s Fortress and is brimming with pine trees. However, there are a few lightly trodden footpaths through the pine trees that open up

A single boat crosses Lake Ohrid on the North Macedonian side during sunset. Lake Ohrid, a haven for tourists during the summer, is situated between the mountains of North Macedonia and Albania and has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1979. 

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