‘Pearl of the Balkans’ sister city deal warms Queanbeyan Mayor’s heart

THE decision last night at a meeting of Queanbeyan City Council to sign a friendship agreement with the Mayor of Ohrid in Macedonia sees the realisation of the long-held dream for local Mayor Tim Overall.

Ohrid in summer

Ohrid in summer

Mayor Overall will travel to Macedonia in July with local Councillor Vic Trajanoski to formalise a sister city arrangement with Ohrid’s go-ahead mayor, Nikola Bakraceski, who is credited with catapulting the picturesque south-western lakeside city into the 21st century with an impressive set of reforms in business and tourism.

Mayor Overall became close to the hearts of local Macedonians, one of the most significant immigrant populations in Queanbeyan, by learning enough of their language to be able to conduct a speech in it.

He first proposed the sister city relationship (Queanbeyan has one other sister city relationship with Minami Alps in Japan) in 2009, but serious negotiations began late last year.

Ohrid in winter with St Clement centre, photo Helen Musa

Ohrid in winter with St Clement centre, photo Helen Musa

“CityNews” travelled to Ohrid in January this year during the ice-skating season and found that the popular tourist destination, known as “the Pearl of the Balkans” partly because of its pearl-growing industry, was alive with visitors enjoying a cafe lifestyle even in the coldest month of the year.

Ohrid has an ancient history, which includes a ‘visit’ from the conquering Philip the Great, Alexander’s father. It was one of the key cities on the eastern route to Jerusalem and, through the influence of its patron saint, Clement of Ohrid, the home to scholarship in developing the Cyrillic language script. In 1979 and in 1980, Ohrid and Lake Ohrid were accepted as Cultural and Natural World Heritage Sites by UNESCO.

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Since 1960s Ohrid’s population of around 55,000 has been boosted annually by visitors to one of the biggest summer music festivals in the Balkans, staged in its excavated classical amphitheatre.

At the council meeting last night it was decided that Mayor Overall and Councillor Trajanoski would pay their airfares for the trip to Macedonia but that the council would pay their accommodation costs. Mayor Overall told “CityNews” last night that these costs had been inaccurately reported in the daily press.

“My accommodation costs amount to $265 for three nights, not $1500 as reported,” he said, and “CityNews” can confirm that even in high season, a good hotel in Ohrid costs between $40 and $100. No wonder eastern European tourists flock there.

When Mayor Overall arrives in Ohrid (Councillor Trajanoski grew up in the region), they will find a lively, sophisticated city.

We like to speculate that when Ohrid Mayor Bakraceski returns the visit, his impression of Queanbeyan will be the same.

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