Sunday, 1 September 2013

un coin de France

We cross the border back into Albania along the shore of Lake Prespa.  The crossing is quiet and quick - not a lot happening here it seems, except for some frenzied activity around an overloaded Bulgarian van parked about two hundred metres before the border post.  Three men are hustling around the back door which is open as we pass.  The van looks packed to the rafters with grain sacks and the front of the van is rearing its head up with the strain.  The new road is blissfully quiet and so is the landscape.  A couple of small villages beside the lake and then a sharp climb up and up through dry scrubland before we finally emerge out of the mountains with a great view over a long flat valley.  The road from Greece enters on the left.  Straight ahead is the town of Korce at the far end of the valley.  Behind us are fast approaching storm clouds and right below us are fields and fields of green.  Lightning flashes around and the skies turn dark.  It might actually be trying to rain.  We hurtle down the hairpin bends and across the valley full of apple orchards.  The apples look picture perfect on the trees.  

In the end we arrive in Korce fairly dry - the rain clouds having split and gone in opposite directions as we passed between them.  Riding into the town along the main road I remind Gayle that this little corner of Albania became a French protectorate between the wars, like my birthplace Poulton-le-Fylde.  We put up at a small guesthouse hidden behind a new orthodox cathedral.  We'd noticed how in this part of the country we've seen lots of crosses and no minarets.  After a wonderful hot shower we go off to wander the town. 

First stop is the kebab shop for lunch and then a mooch down the cobbled backstreets of the old town.  It's noticeably litter-free here.  There are lots of lovely old French villas built in the 1930's in various states of (dis)repair.  Now and again there's also an old Ottoman-era house standing out amongst the new brash concrete houses that seem to be taking over.  The town feels wealthier than those we passed through in the north of the country.  To reinforce the French influence there's a creperie. We feel obliged to do a taste test.  

The next day we check out the old bazaar - an open street market that sprawls higgledy-piggledy through another part of the old town that is quite run down.  Most of the old buildings here look forlorn, on the verge of collapse - a real shame because they were once grand. One has been converted into a glitzy shopping arcade.  Along the pavement opposite the bus station is a line of perhaps twenty vendors each with a box of bananas, each 

advertising the same price (7 for 250 lek), apart from the one smart guy who is offloading his 7 for 200 lek. We are undecided about the quality of the crepes at the creperie so we make a return visit to try them again.  Whilst we're munching some Americans walk in - Mormon missionaries. Close to the guesthouse we notice a few small shacks put up in the courtyard of an abandoned building.  There are Roma kids playing outside.  The town looks relatively wealthy, possibly because of remittances sent home by Albanians working abroad.  The old town streets have been repaved with new cobbles and the main roads are lined with trees.  It's such a contrast to Bajram Curry in the north.

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