Strange Albanian town, called Pogradec

Albania for me was both funny and a little bit uncomfortable. My journey there started with hugs and kisses with a stranger and ended with a serious control and the Macedonian border. On the whole, I liked this small trip, but till now I am surprised, how such a short distance can make such a significant difference between two countries. After passing by those five kilometres from Macedonia deeper to Albania, you’d absolutely never say that you still may be in the same country…

A couple who I met on the Macedonian – Albanian border, gave me a comfortable lift to Progradec and kindly agreed to bring me back to Ohrid later. While they were doing their business I had time on my own to explore this Albanian town, located just right there on the shores of Lake Ohrid. “Around one forth of it belongs to Albania”, explained me a stranger, day before met in Ohrid.

I didn’t have any map and I absolutely wasn’t sure where I should be looking for the town centre. Then, in the horizon, in between of high number of local elderly people, appeared a silhouette of a young policewoman. With presumption that we may find a common language, I started moving straight towards her. We nearly didn’t find, but the woman felt responsibility to help me anyway. A young officer left her duty location, shouted a colleague, who at the end joined us too, that she must guide “a Lithuanian”, then repeated the same story about “being a guide for Lithuanian” for someone on the phone, accompanied me to the main square, with her broken broken English tried to explain a bit about places around and at the end – hugged me strongly and kissed on both cheeks. I could never expect such warmness.  Seems that somebody found the new best friend!

After such funny acquaintance, I continued my short journey within Albanian borders alone and started walking around and observing things, which were falling into my scope. Seemed like life in Pogradec was actually happening in a slow motion and at least a decade back from now. Everywhere around I could see mainly the old people, who were gathering around lottery kiosks or in the arbors along the Lake Ohrid, waiting in huge lines at the post office or simply walking in the streets without any reasons. Young souls there were more seen close to the notary and advocate offices, by the way, of which this small town has really a countless number on every corner.

Since India, Pogradec town in Albania was the first place where I again appeared in the strong limelight, where I was really always noticed by locals and observed as a stranger. That day I didn’t see any other traveler around, so attention towards newcomers couldn’t be shared and the full dose went on me…

With every step I was followed not only by locals, but by the black double-headed eagles, staring from red flags hanged everywhere around, too. Let’s not forget dull gazes from cold bronze statues, perching along the lake. You can’t hide even if you want so. And, I’ve never seen before so many unused outdoor advertising spaces…

Is Pogradec worth visiting? I won’t stop repeating that everything on our amazing Planet Earth is worth visiting. Even if you didn’t like it, you always can have your reasoned opinion afterwards, why. Did I like Pogradec? This town was very strange. I heard that once it was attracting crowds of people willing to have perfect holidays at this resort of Lake Ohrid. After communism Pogradec went to decline, and… seems stayed unchanged there till now. I heard as well that local government is making some kind of reforms, but if it is so, unfortunately, there are no possible signs of stepping to the modern tourism… I do not know how Pogradec looked like yesterday, I didn’t know how it will look tomorrow, but what I saw today was just a grey sad place, wistfully looking at the scenery of Lake Ohrid and snowy mountains, and dreaming grey dreams about bright colours of the past which one day may appear there again… In my opinion Pogradec may be an example, where high potential of tourism is not used. However, local people, even if they are always staring at you, are really nice and helpful.

So, to sum up, if I liked Pogradec? The general atmosphere in the air wasn’t actually breathing the sense of lightness, but probably I liked it more than I didn’t like. However, at the end that was definitely interesting to see. Now I am curious to travel more in Albania, because you couldn’t make solid opinion about the whole country by visiting just a small town on the border.

***

Notion. In Macedonia I’ve received a lot of “whys” about my short visit to Albania. All started at the border from Albania to Macedonia and finished at the airport. “So, you’ve been to Albania. Why did you go there? What did you do there? Do you have friends in Albania?”, – I was truly interviewed in Skopje airport after they found Albanian stamps in my passport. Short, not detailed, simple answers and smile always help to solve such situations, which, I must admit, are not the most pleasant ones. I am always somehow stressed when I have a bigger encounter with Border Force officers than the regular passport check…

By Gintarė Adamonytė

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