Last updated: 11:00 PM ET, Mon April 25 2016

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  • Nick and Dariece | April 25, 2016 11:00 PM ET

    An Epiphany at Lake Ohrid, Macedonia's Natural Gem

    An Epiphany at Lake Ohrid, Macedonia's Natural Gem

    "When you stay with us, you can come to the owner's penthouse for some local foods and celebration." This is what the manager of Mal Sveti Kliment told us when we emailed to book our room at Lake Ohrid. We weren't exactly sure which celebration she was talking about, or whether or not the owner would actually be inviting strangers to his private home, but the hotel looked nice, so we booked it for three nights.

    where to stay lake ohrid mal sveti kliment

    Arriving at Lake Ohrid was magical. We drove from Skopje, and as soon as we were over the mountain pass and started descending down toward "lake level," we knew choosing to come here was a good decision — even though it was the winter off-season. As we pulled up to the lakeshore and into the town of Ohrid, we were in awe of what we saw. Surrounding the lake were beautiful mountains, and the sun was shimmering on the water. There was a long pedestrian-only promenade that ran along the water's edge, which was filled with locals enjoying the sunny afternoon.

    READ MORE: 3 Reasons to Visit Macedonia Now

    Walking out on one of the docks and looking back at the town, we could see little white homes and buildings with brown tiled roofs climbing up the mountainside, and a cathedral clinging to the cliff side!

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    After having been in Ohrid for just a few moments, we knew this place was magical. The following morning, we were given more information about the festival. Epiphany is celebrated by both Western and Eastern Christians, with those in the east commemorating the baptism of Jesus. To honor and remember the baptism, brave men jump in the freezing cold water of nearby lakes, rivers or seas, to essentially baptize themselves as well. People even drink the water, which they consider to be blessed.

    epiphany on lake ohrid

    There is also feasting and celebrating afterwards! The manager of the hotel told us to meet near the lake at around 10 a.m. for the festival, and then come back to the hotel to meet at the owner's penthouse. So, we did as instructed and made our way down to the water. There were swarms of people there, Christian chanting was blaring on the speakers, and many men were wearing bathrobes.

    epiphany on lake ohrid macedonia

    From what we saw, it appeared that we were the only tourists there, and because of this, we were treated like honored guests and were invited to come and watch the festival from the "VIP" area — which was out on a dock.

    Pushing through the crowds to reach the end of the dock was a priest and his entourage. People were kissing his cross and reaching out to touch him. After a few moments, he threw a cross into the lake and all of the men who were lining the shore ran into the freezing cold water and started swimming towards the cross, which had now sunk to the rocky bottom. He who collects the cross is given good luck for the year, and goes from house to house in the town to receive money and blessings!

    There were rescue divers on site in case anything went wrong. How these brave (crazy?) men were able to swim in the cold water is beyond me — the temperature of the water was 7 degrees (44 F), while the temperature of the air was -8 degrees (17 F).

    Once the cross was retrieved, everyone cheered and proceeded to wrap their loved ones in blankets and towels. Drinking hot rakia (homemade brandy) also helps to stay warm after a freezing cold swim. When the celebrations were over, we made our way back to Mal Sveti Kliment and to the penthouse suite. We met the owner, Budimir, who invited us in to eat and drink with him and his close friends and family members.

    epiphany lake ohrid

    The homemade rakia and red wine were flowing, and it was barely even noon. Traditional foods such as meats, cheeses, cornbread, sweets and beef gelatin were eaten, and everyone was in good spirits. Having not even known what Epiphany was, we feel pretty lucky to have booked our trip to Lake Ohrid for the dates we did!

    READ MORE: 3 Things to Consider When Planning a Trip to Eastern Europe

    It was totally random that we arrived during the celebrations and we're so honored that we were invited into Budimir's home and that we were able to learn about the celebrations from the local people.

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Nick and Dariece Notes from the Goats

Nick and Dariece Nick and Dariece are the couple behind Goats On The Road, a website designed to inspire others to live a financially sustainable, location independent lifestyle. Masters at making money abroad and turning their travels into a way of life, they've been on the road since 2008 and have explored some of the least visited places on earth, finding adventure wherever they go. They are also full time contributors at Credit Walk where they share their expertise of making money and travelling forever. Check them out at Goats On The and follow them on Twitter, Facebook and Google+.
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