Fondue instead of turkey for the New Year


Christmas came with a very nice gift from my parents-in-law: A Cheese Fondue Set. Since one of my favorite Fondue restaurants in Hamburg, Schweizweit, is sadly permanently closed down, I thought it is about time to start experimenting with the Fondue at home.   Why not try this delicious dish for New Year’s Eve.

A Cheese Fondue in Albanian context is very exotic or in other words insignificant, unknown. In order to survive the XXL Albanian New Year’s Eve dinner more in Thanksgiving style, with huge turkey and numerous salads, you have to fulfill a couple of criteria:

1. You have to have a strong stomach in the literal meaning. Even if your stomach is strong enough, you still have to consider that you might feel sick for the next couple of days. The menu is enormous, delicious and heavy to digest.

2. You have to be a skilled and an excellent cook to impress the circle of family or friends invited to celebrate with you. Which means no matter how much you try there’s no way you can compete with your mom’s or your in laws cooking skills. You are and still remain an amateur.

3. There is no option as such as screwing up the New’s Years Eve dinner. You better be good at cooking and there’s absolutely no place for experimenting a new recipe.

 

Knowing I’m usually blessed with beginner’s luck, I took the risk and decided to try Fondue this New Year’s Eve. Just in case it didn’t work out, I had a back up plan, a ready make Fondue from REWE. Before starting with the Cheese Fondue I prepared the dipping ingredients, such as cubes of white bread, champignons, boiled patatoes, dill pickle, grapes, etc.  So I finally start stirring on medium heat the grinded cheese of Emmenthaler and aged Gruyère with white whine and 40% alcohol Kirschwasser. A strange chemical reaction to me appeared. I freaked out at first as the cheese appeared sticky and not melting down, but I kept stirring the sauce. In the end it turned to be just fine, smooth and creamy. But while cooking it, I felt already tipsy from the alcohol and strong smell of Gruyère.

My husband was very impressed with the results and did enjoy it. I proudly couldn’t resist sharing my little Fondue success story, so I start sending photos to my family and friends. The reactions were from – nice, looks good, you’re brave experimenting with it, to” A  soup!!! That’s all what you cooked for the New Year? If my wife cooked this “Cheese Soup” for this sacred day to the tummies,  I would have seriously considered breaking up with her…” Well, different countries different customs. Cheese Fondue was great for a change. As for the next time guests are welcome 🙂

 

South Albania: Mountains, Sea and Sharp Contrasts


One of the best get away places in Albania is the south costal area. Not just because of its beatific and spectacular coastal area, but especially because of its highly contrasting forms and ubiquitous heritage. Driving through the mountains along the seaside is a special feeling. For me as a native, it’s a bit like „some things never change“ – type of feeling, and for nostalgic purposes, it’s good that way.

The mountains, deep blue sea, and curvy roads often occupied by a little army of goats or cute sheeps are still there. So are the beekeepers harvesting bio honey and selling it along the road. The further you advance along the coastal line, leaving behind little villages nowadays hipped as cool places to spend the summer, the more you realize that time has stood still here. That’s what I felt when I visited the castle of Ali Pasha in Porto Palermo.

The fortress of Ali Pasha, built in the 1820, is important not only for its historic value as it used to be first the centerpiece of bloody conflicts with burgeoning Ottoman empire, but also for its transformation during the centuries. There’s something spooky about it. It starts with being the fortress of a controversial personality such as Ali Pasha.  And furthermore its transformation from the legendary residence of Ali Pasha to the Albanian Alcatraz in the late communist year.

I refer to it as the Albanian Alcatraz for two reasons. First, its location a castle in a triangle shape and round towers built by the sea.  The second reason is that many political opponents of the former Zog monarchy and the Hoxha communist regime were imprisoned in this castle. Many of their names have been written in the walls of the castle.

There is hardly no other place in Albania where history was so overlapped and left such scars like here. Around the Ali Pasha Castle and the church build from an Italian architect as his gift for his beloved christian wife Vassilikia, are ruins of communist army depot holding still communist slogans such as „ Viti 1972 vit i fitoreve të reja” „1972 is the year of new victories“.

This mixture of history traces together with the lack of restoration of its surroundings and  a certain negligence in preserving the past historical values give this place a special authentic touch – but also these photos urge a restoration need.

Ignorance or Arrogance? How German Sport Anchors Commented on the Albanian Team at Euro 2016


Three brainies were gathered at the Europapark Rust to analyze the game Rumania vs Albanian (#RUMALB) for SAT.1. Indeed Frank Buschmann, sports anchor for SAT.1, Marcel Reif commentator legend for decades, and the brother of German national defender Mats Hummels, Jonas.

The match prediction given by the ‘sport experts’ were 3:2 (Hummels), 1:0 (Reif) and even 3:0 (Buschmann) … all in favor to Romania. No brainy mentioned what, if, in one in a million, what if the Albanian National Team would win tonight. No, this possibility was simply not there. Strange, especially after the excellent performance of the Albanian Team against France, in Marseille last week.

What was there instead was a laughter, a touch of sarcasm underlying their commentaries. On top of that „A Social Media Genius’’ analyzing the web started ironizing the birthday party of the Albanian coach Gianni De Biasi. The Albanian team has prepared a birthday cake for their beloved coach. De Biasi gave a thank you speech in Italian which was more of a motivating speech of how proud he was for his team’s success. Captain Cana translated shortly the substance of the speech.

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The laughter of the brainies questioned the communication between De Biasi and Albanian team with such short translation. In other words: Imagine how do they work together if they don’t understand each other. What they failed to mention – or to know –, though, is that almost every young Albanian speaks or at least understands very well the Italian language.

Maybe with a little research they could have found out that the young generation of Albanians is raised watching Italian TV shows, Italian movies, songs, etc.  Speaking Italian is for most Albanians of my age not an achievement, but a natural know-how.  Not to mention here that many Albanian football players play or have played for Italian clubs.

That implies also for the De Biasi team. The language barrier between the trainer might be there only for few players. Not to mention that De Biasi speaks impressively well Albanian, holds a double citizenship Albanian and Italian, and takes active part in the Albanian life, like at this local comedy show, Portokalli.

Ok, back to Euro 2016. Sorry brainies for the disappointment. But you got it all wrong. Albanians not only dominated the game against Rumania, but also scored 1:0. And now still have a chance to qualify for the round of 16. Uppppsssss!

The generally known arrogance of Marcel Reif when asked after the victory of Albanians referred to it as nothing else, but as football romance – in other words, people want that losers win, here you have your football romance. But he couldn’t stop there; „The Albanians have won their European championship today, they should celebrate it, we should celebrate it with them, but that’s it“ – in other words let’s not talk about them anymore. As a long-time TV Journalist (Sky) Mr. Reif should have know better and, holding the Swiss citizenship, should be a bit more thankful to Albanians, especially since 2/3 of the Swiss Team in Euro 2016 consists of Albanian players (Shaqiri, Xhaka, Behrami, Mehmeti, Xhemali, Kasami, Tarashaj).

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But it didn’t stop there. Aaaaaalbanien!!! Like in constant disbelieve commentator Hansi Küpper emphasized Albania’s name all over the match. First how could they make it to Euro 2016, since they only scored 7 goals, one of which was an auto-goal. Original-Ton: “Die Albaner haben eine bekloppte Qualifikation gespielt, sechs Tore in sieben Spielen – it was actually eight –, davon ein Eigentor durch Armenien. Der armenische Eigentorschütze kann sich also als albanischer Rekordtorschütze fühlen, da kein Albaner mehr als ein Tor geschossen hat .”

Translation: Albania has played a barmy qualification, scoring only six goals in eight games – and one was even an auto-goal by an Armenian player that now can claim to be the record-scorer in the Albanian qualifier since no Albanian scored more than one goal.” It’s hard to image to be more ridiculed in prime-time television than that.

And now that they made it here, they have to score, but how, hm…? The irony continues with the next sentence: „Unvorstellbar, wenn dieses Albanien das Achtelfinale erreichen sollte’’ –  “Unimaginable that THIS Albania will be perhaps in the round of the 16“.

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Well, unbelievable THIS Arrogance of Hansi Küpper. From a Euro 2016 commentator, where values such as encouraging teams new to this competition, acknowledging their effort such as tying the former world champions France for 89 minutes, no matter if they will make it or not in the next round should be a standard language. Unfortunately what I felt throughout the whole match was a language of arrogance, lack of positivity, looking forward to the next goal with Schadenfreude.

I support my team, though I am not a football fanatic. This event should be more about inclusion, about fairness, about acknowledging and crediting players and teams  for their effort and performance instead of undermining them. Go Shqipëri!

IMG_4159Albanian and French Fans cheering together in Marseille 🙂 

Time Travel at Hitler’s Eagles Nest


Having seen a few World War II documentaries, an image of „The Führer“ with his Nazi commanders at a little house on the top of a mountain, it’s probably familiar to many. It’s known as Kehlsteinhaus or the Eagle’s Nest in Obersalzburg, Germany. The grandiose view of rocky mountains fosters a sensation of eternal power and immortality. That’s my thought as I made it to the Eagle’s Nest – once a teahouse offered as present to Adolf Hitler for his 50th birthday, today a historical landmark/restaurant open to the public for visit.

On the way to reaching the former Hitler’s summer residence – Kehlsteinhaus, we considered visiting firstly the Dokumentation in Obersalzberg, about 1,000 meters below Kehlsteinhaus. It is now a historic site offering visitors from all around the world the opportunity to learn and reflect on the history of National Socialism (Nazism). After getting out the inhabitants and closing down the former health resort, the Nazis converted the village in Hitler’s off limit area. Settling in the Alps was a strategic move, as they established here their second seat of power alongside Berlin. The last weeks of the WWII, these settlement was bombed almost entirely by the Allied Forces. Interesting is the fact that the Eagle’s Nest or Kehlsteinhaus remained from the bombing unscathed.

The region of Berchtesgaden where the little Alpine village of Obersalzberg is located, is known as the gate to the Alps. It has always attracted tourists and nature lovers. At Obersalzberg, the Nazis would not only take the most important political decisions about the war and Holocaust, but also broadcast their propaganda, which utilized effectively the mountain landscapes to portray Hitler as a man of vision, a friend of children and nature who remained close to simple people. Ironically, Hitler did not visit the Eagle’s Nest many times, as reported to be both claustrophobic and have fear from heights.

The view from the top of Kehlsteinhaus is indeed spectacular. The eagles are floating through the clouds just few meters above my head. So is the panorama view of Königssee and Berchtesgaden valleys together with some rays of sunshine, which minutes later were overshadowed by heavy fog and snow. Sometimes it snows even in May.

One Day in Pompeii


Once in Napoli you have to visit Pompeii. Amazingly enough, even after 2000 years, it’s still there. Having seen the documentary Pompeii: The Last Day (BBC)  lately and the movie “The Last Days of Pompeii” at a very young age, the only images I had in my mind were those of the tragic destiny of inhabitants of Pompeii after the deadly eruption of Vesuvius. Taking the train for 30 minutes in order to visit the archaeological city of Pompeii was an adventure itself. It felt like a trip back a century ago. The train was so old, giving wrongfully the impression of going into peaces at any moment by driving at such a high speed. But that was nothing compared to the sensation of going through the roads of Pompeii, once completely buried for more than 15 centuries under 4 millions tonnes of rock, purnice stones and ash spilled over from now sleeping mountain of Vesuvius.

After centuries of neglect, excavations have returned in full swing in the second most visited archeological site in Europe, after Colosseum in Rome. And that’s for a good reason. Pompeii is simply too fascinating and important to the world heritage to leave it buried under the ashes of neglect. A grant from EU in 2012 amounting 100 million Euros and an additional 30 million Euro appropriated from Italian government are revolutionizing the site. About 3 million visitors from all over the world come to grasp the enchantment of the antic city.

It’s impressive to see how well organized and structured Pompeii was. The size of the houses shows to the status of the inhabitants in that society. From the small surfaced room of the tragic poet, the middle-sized houses of gladiators, to the opulent temples of wealthy masters. In the end the civilization hasn’t change much in the last 20 centuries in terms of wealth preservation and classification.

For a team of more than 200 archeologists, anthropologists and technicians working in this ambitious project has been an ongoing emotional process discovering the bodies of victims encased in solidified ash. These discoveries together with the objects and their belongings replay not only the last moments of Pompeians, but also provide clues to their social-economic class and the lifestyle. It is believed that Pompeii ethnic diversity due to trade compares to London or New York nowadays.

Spending one day in Pompeii was for me not only an unique experience – grandiose in size, but also an emotional revival of the overwhelming tragedy in the history of civilization.

 

How to Plan my Vintage Albanian Wedding…


To plan a retro wedding you have to desire it and be in a vintage mood while planning it. I always loved looking at old family pictures, going through happy moments of my loved ones or reanimating the spirit of the good old days. In the end celebrating a wedding itself is an act of reviving the past lovely moments while imagining a bright future ahead.

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“The devil lies in the detail” – is one of the most fitting phrases I can think of while planning a wedding.  Despite the fact that you might have carefully thought every single detail – there is always something. Starting from the invitations, wedding dress, cake and wedding menu, to the first dance, song selection, video, photos and so on. The list gets longer like a complicated usage manual of some product you just purchased.

In contrast to what I initially thought, planning every detail of my wedding was great fun. As I did not want to be lectured about something so personal and special, I decided not to hire any wedding planners. They can be very useful, but in the end weddings are personal, and so is our taste…

So we split the duties. My husband was in charge of song selection, DJ briefing, keynote for our guest, photos and video arrangements while I took care of the rest. Picking the location was easy. It had to be a place filled with beautiful summer memories. And since wedding parties are pretty formal in Germany we decided instead to do it in my home town Tirana.

The first thought that crossed our minds was Chateau Rexhekri, a beautiful resort between valleys and hills in the outskirts of Tirana. We spent there in utter amazement of escaping the heat and noise of Tirana many summer days. Since weddings in Albania tend to be big, with a minimum of 120 guests, it was unusual in this small resort to celebrate a wedding. When I told to my younger cousin that I would only have 50 guests, he started laughing and in typical “dark” Albanian humor said : “…but that’s a birthday party…lol”.

Decor was important to reflect my personal taste. I spend hours surfing at Etsy online store or Pinterest as I wished for a vintage touch to my wedding. And it was all worth it! It certainly was a nostalgic mental journey in connecting the past dots while looking forward to the future. A glass of wine surely helped us writing down the invitations, wedding menus, preparing a keynote presentation for our guests, selecting the songs and so on. The retro sounds during cocktail hours featuring Sinatra, Tony Bennett and Barry White followed by Lana Del Ray  “Young and Beautiful” created a sizzling atmosphere, perfect for the photo shooting session with our guest. While the first glasses of champagne start kicking in, so busted our mood…

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The opening dance could not be retro enough. We both loved  At Last – Etta James. The decision felt naturally without further thoughts. A pretty tight wedding dress looks undoubtably classy and gorgeous, but it’s does not allow too much room for the extensive long Albanian dances or Rock and Roll. Great that our guests were eager to keep the dancing floor busy or to leave surprise video messages for us.

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While planning our wedding turned out to be a pretty inspiring and fun process, executing it was quite demanding. It’s like we were the key actors casting a movie. We both agreed in advance that it doesn’t have to be everything perfect. Important is to enjoy our special day. So we did. As for the next time, we wish we could be guests in our own wedding 🙂

 

Autumn: Love it or loathe it


Call me a sentimental or ludicrous, but I adore autumn. Certainly it is connected to the magic of its sensational colors, breathtaking landscapes, falling leaves and summer-fade melancholia.

What I love the most is its smooth transition from the restless, hectic and hot summer days, filled with fear of missing out, summer is too short kinda of thoughts to the comfortable zone of acceptance. Yes, acceptance that the chilling winter is ahead and I’m ok with it. I can’t wait to spend more quality time in the warm sofa, in front of the fireplace and  in company of good red wine.

Don’t you agree? Just think for a moment how odd and peculiar is living in a place without autumn or winter. I still have a vivid memory of Christmas in Kuala Lumpur. Malaysian muslim women cheerfully standing in front of a Christmas tree. Their joy of taking pictures with the sweaty Santa at 30+ degrees was striking. I couldn’t stop imagining their faces looking at the first  flakes of snow. I kinda felt bad for them, being alienated from the wonders of other seasons like autumn. It makes me feel thankful. Therefore, I use every possible encounter to enjoy in-depth the beauty of the indian summer.

Like today. Walking around in little streets of Hamburg and capturing the beauty of autumn. For more wonderful images have a look at Hamburg Highlight on Instagram and at the Blog.

How about you? Do you like fall and if yes what’s your favorite hide away place or city in fall?

A Short Story about my Bike.


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This is my Bike. It’s a Raleigh, a mountain bike. It’s the oldest item in my life that I still use on a regular basis, it’s older than my oldest Mac – and I bought 6 Macs over the last 20 years. I got my Raleigh in 1995 for approximately 1500 DM. There’s still a sticker on the Bike: Zweiradhaus Ehrig. It dates back to the days of double digit postal codes: 2000 Hamburg 67.

I rode 10,000s of kilometers all over Germany and it still makes me tremendously happy to feel the warm breeze through my hair when riding on rare, real summer days like these lately. I feel alive. Precisely, there are few things in life that bring me so much joy. It’s a pure kind of joy you know from your childhood days.

I tend to forget about the joy that riding my Bike brings, though, in the cold winters and autumn…

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Germany as Summer Destination?


Germany as summer destination? Oh really!!! That was exactly my reaction when I first learned about the North or East Sea islands’ destination. And believe it or not though the weather is never a guarantee (meaning peak season 22 degrees and often rain showers,) everything is booked out six months ahead. Sylt is certainly one of these posh islands characterized by modest weather, beautiful nature, breathtaking landscape, ostentatious people and Côte d’Azur prices. It’s absolutely beautiful for hiking or being in touch with nature, but a two week summer vacation there will make me depressed for the rest of the year.

Therefore my husband and I consider often long weekends instead of long vacations in the northern Germany. It’s pretty amazing how everything is so well connected and very well accessed. There are about 3200 hiking and biking paths throughout forests that connect little towns in the northern area. But on that I’ll go more in depth another time.

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Today we’re in Malente, a beautiful quite spot where five lakes connect and are surrounded by forestal area. The little town of Malente is mainly a spa and watering place, but not only. It’s also a place where the national football team trained for the word championship for decades (from 1970 to 1994, resulting in two world cup titles in 1974 and 1990, to be precise) or recently HSV (the bigger Hamburg club) gathered in emergency training as seriously risking of being downgraded to the second league. Looks like the magic spirit of Malente brought some much needed luck to the Hamburg team, as result DINO (dinosaur) remained in the first league.

Being blessed with breathtaking nature and first class infrastructure makes the local businesses in the area less assertive and inviting. They’re booked out so they can play by their own set of squared rules, something you forget when you come from a big and liberal city like Hamburg. Meaning the restaurants close at 9:30 pm and waiters get a mean satisfaction (Schadenfreude) ”punishing” you with an empty stomach for your three minutes of delay. You might wonder and think that first you’re the customer who’s always right and second it’s vacation time with long polar nights, so no need for being super punctual for dinner. Wrong. Germans in Malente seems to enjoy punctuality even while in vacation and they’re ready to throw a book at you.

Last night while enjoying a large ”Spagetti con Frutti di Mare” at Villa Kolonial and the reflective sunset in the background I couldn’t stop overhearing two conversations with late guests:

9:33 pm – Guest 1: Good evening! Could we still eat something?

Waitress: Sehr ungern! Die Küche sollte zu sein. (Not with pleasure, the kitchen should be closed)

9:34 pm – Guest 2: Could we order something?

Waitress: Well no, the kitchen is closed since 9:30 pm (implying the 4 minutes guest’s delay)

Guest 2: But we are quite hungry, may be a salad or something without too much effort.

Waitress: We have only cold drinks…

Welcome to Malente! Come to enjoy our modest summer, breathtaking scenery, but make sure to be punctual 😉

Eurovision 2015: Which Fan Club will win this Time?


I don’t remember a time in which I followed Eurovision Song Contest like now. I’m not a big fan of Eurovision for reasons that many might relate to. I generally view it as highly subjective, political and on top crowned by questionable voting methodology – good neighbors support each other – vote trading – as if trading CO2 emissions within European Union.

This year’s Eurovision is an exception to my general rule of not following it. But my favorite Albanian singer, Elhaida Dani represents Albania in this year’s contest. I had no other choice, but to support her journey. I have to admit, I loved her song ”I’m Alive”, her incredible voice, humbleness, passion and youthful energy from the start. I found it incredibly catchy and I guess I wasn’t the only one. I hope her talent will be recognized and valued also at this Eurovision.

I got curious and started looking at odds and polls. Not that surprisingly the results of the official Eurovision’s polls at Wiwiblogs are not reflected in analysts’ predictions. Why should they? Readers’ opinion anyway doesn’t count…

Poll: Who should win the Eurovision song contest 2015? 

Who should win Eurovision

Poll: Who is the best female vocalist at Eurovision this year?

Analysts say: Men dominate the odds this year, plus Russia’s Polina and Serbia’s Bojana.

But take the Wiwiblog’s readers poll here to see by yourself: I did and those were the results:

The best female vocalist Eurovision 15

I know, I know what Eurovision is mostly about when it comes to selecting the winner. Does the best vocal, the best performance or song always win? I am not sure. It’s all about daring of being different from ’’metal monsters’’ to transgender acceptance in our societies. It’s about embracing it, going around and screaming out loud ”Hey I’m different” – ”I should be the winner”.

Eurovision – this artistic event of broadly conveying politically-correct messages within the EU frame of values, such as fight homophobia and stereotypes on marginalized groups, being different is cool, it’s ok to be obese, world peace and so on. But the inattention toward merit-based criteria and voting of your neighbor just because it’s your good neighbor, doesn’t necessary makes Eurovision my cup of tea. It’s like watching the Champions League final between the two teams with the biggest fan clubs…

20 Places that will change your Mind about Albania


Colorful landscapes, lakes, high mountains, rivers and valleys. Natural beauties that blend in cultural and historical heritage, inherited from our forefathers. All blended in the hospitable Albanian traditions that will follow you through your journey in Albania. So guys are you ready?

1. You didn’t know there are so many canyons and waterfalls? Well, I have good news, there actually are and I wouldn’t miss this one, Valbona Canyon.

Valbona Canyon

© My Albania “Nature Explorers” – Valbona Canyon, North Albania

2. How about beaches – not bitches… Just head south and the crystal clear Ionian waters of Gjiri i Granës will certainly not disappoint you.

Gjiri i Gramës

© Arton Krasniqi – Gjiri i Granës, Dhërmi, – South Albania

3. Welcome to Thethi! The gate to the Albanian Alps, waterfalls and canyons. Simply an amazing place for explorers and nature lovers to visit.

Stone Towers of Thethi

© My Albania “Nature Explorers” – Kullat e Thethit, North Albania

4. Is hiking too much for you? You’re in the right place. There’s a touch of melancholia every time I spend a night or two in the vicinity of Ohrid lake. Inspired from the changing moods of these waters was the Albanian poet Lasgush Poradeci. He observed the mountains casting their shadows over the depths of its sparkling waters and blended those landscapes in his poetry.

Lake of Ohrid, Pogradec

© My Albania “Nature Explorers” – Ohrid Lake, Pogradec, South East Albania

5. The surrounding sea waters form the only marine park in Albania – Karaburun-Sazan National Marine Park.

Karaburun Peninsula

© Nëntor Oseku, Gjiri i Bristanit, Karaburun Peninsula

6. Another unique gem in Theth – Ujvara e Grunasit. So rare that it is considered a natural monument.

Wasserfall of Grunas, Theth

© My Albania “Nature Explorers” – Ujvara e Grunasit, Theth – Grunas Waterfall, North Albania

7. Time for history. Apollonia, the ruins of an ancient city in Illyria. It was founded in 588 BCE by Greek colonists from Corfu and Corinth, on a site initially occupied by Illyrian tribes.

Apollonia

© My Albania “Nature Explorers” – Apollonia, Fier

8. Ksamil Beach – A hideaway for many local and foreign tourists.

Ksamil Beach

© My Albania “Nature Explorers” – Ksamil Beach, South Albania

9. And many other valleys…

Valbona

© My Albania “Nature Explorers” – Lugina e Valbonës, North Albania

10. Dea – the Godness of Butrint, was discovered from the Italian archeologist Ugolini in1928. The Guardian recently listed the national park of Butrint as part of the top 10 national parks in Europe.

Dea

© Robert Hagen – Dea e Butrintit 

11. Kruja, the first capital of today’s Albania in the Middle Ages. It’s identified with our national hero, Skanderbeg.

Kruja

© Arton Krasniqi – Kruja, Albania

12. Mrizi i Zanave – Well known for its culinary delights and agritourism in the northern Albania. A lovely place to visit.

Fishtë

© Armela Bega – Mrizi i Zanave, Fishtë

13. More cliffs and rocky seaside…

The Pirates' Cave

© Armela Bega – Caves, South Albania

14. Too sunny and need some fresh air? Take the water motor bikes and head towards the Pirates’ cave. Afterwards, a stop at some of those hidden beaches is not a bad idea.

The Pirates' Cave

© Armela Bega – Shpella e piratëve – Pirates’ Cave, South Albania

15. Ok, let’s put it this way: If I were to retire today and I had to live somewhere in Albania, I would happily live in Dardha.

Dardha Village

© Armela Bega – Dardhë, Korca, South East Albania

16. Back to the 15th century there were no smartphones. During Skanderbeg’s fight against the Ottomans, the Petrela Castle, which was under control of Skanderbeg’s sister Mamica, signaled to Kruja Castle the coming of Ottoman troops using means of fire. Nowadays, it’s a pleasant bar/restaurant near Tirana.

Fortress of Petrela, Tirana

© Armela Bega – Kalaja e Petrelës – Petrela Fortress, Petrelë, Albania

17. Berat is known as the city of two thousand stairs or thousand windows, a castle on top, medieval museum and a beautiful river. Worth visiting this UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Berat

© Sarah Tzinieris – Berat, Albania

18. The Blue Eye is one of the most natural phenomenas in Albania. Crystal clear water bubbling in the surface from more than 50 meter deep karst hole (literally looks like a blue eye) and it’s surrounded by shades of green water. Here is a great video.

Blue Eye Saranda

© Sarah Tzinieris – Syri i Kaltër, Sarandë, South Albania

19. I can tell you that canoeing through Osumi River Canyon was a sensational experience. This spectacular landscape resembles a miniature Grand Canyon.

Canyons Skrapar

© Fadion Dashi – Osumi Canyons, Skrapar

20. Last, but definitely not least: This stop is the ultimate spot for your next Facebook poser shot. What a divine view and a deep sense of freedom! This daring traveller took the chance cruising through the steep and curvy Pass of Llogara…

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© Armela Bega – Llogara National Park, South Albania

Breathtaking Icelandic Sightseeings


Looking at the sunrise 12:00 in a cold snowy morning at þingvellir national park is a natural wonder. The spectacular landscape is smoothed by Lake Þingvallavatn.

Iceland is trapped between two continents as it is largely positions between two tectonic plates of Eurasia and North America. When these plates move apart, volcanic material rises naturally. The island is a hotspot with all the bubbling hot water and volcanic activity. Two severe earthquakes in 2000 were a result of movement of the Eurasian and North-American tectonic plates. We found ourselves suddenly in Europa just driving a couple of meters from the North-America tectonic plate to the Eurasian one. The picture below shows this geographic boundary between two tectonic plates.

“So now me are leaving America, and that’s kind of neat”- to put it in guide’s own words.

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Gullfoss (Golden Falls) is one of the most popular waterfalls in Iceland part of the Golden Circle tour. No wonder Gullfoss is in World’s Top 10 Waterfalls list. It’s scenery with a drop of 32 m high is breathtaking. Absolute in the Must-see list. Also a very interesting saga behind the history of the waterfall, which would have not been here without the fighting of Sigríður Tómasdottir. She was the daughter of the landowner who was about to sell the land to parties with an interest in developing hydroelectricity in the area.  She threatened her father that she would jump into the falls if he did’t withdraw from the deal.  Here is a fantastic Video of the Waterfall 🙂

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The landscape at the Geyser area in south west Iceland looked like from another planet. Steamy holes in a dark earthy ground with running thermal water up 120 grad celsius.  In addition to enduring the freezing cold while trying to filming the eruption of one Geyser, which erupted every 8-10 minutes, I learned some interesting facts related to it. The research shows that Geyser has been active for approximately 10,000 years and that changes in the Geyser activity are strongly affected by the earthquake activity. For example, due to the earthquake in 2000 the geyser reached 122 meters for two day while this year it has erupted 43 – 54 m high.  To have a clear idea how that looks like, here are a couple of photos and a Video.

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Iceland: Photos From Another Planet


The Sun Voyager – an impressive sculpture of a Viking ship by the ocean close to Reykjavík center. The ship symbolizes the Viking’s past of the Icelanders, when the first settlers came sailing to Iceland. The artist Jón Gunnar Árnason created the dream boat as a promise to undiscovered territory, the dream of brighter future. The landscape after snowing left us speechless. Definitely the photos of the day.

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The Flavor of Reykjavík


Three things will strike you immediately once landing in Reykjavík. The strong wind (Hamburger should stop complaining about the wind), colorful roof-tops and the artfully designed streets. The city itself is small and looks like a charming little alpine town with 5 hours of daylight now in wintertime. It is dark when you wake up at 11 am, and gets dark again at 4 pm. So maximize your day-light schedule.

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Luckily enough I’m staying in between a designer street, so I can pleasantly drink my morning coffee at a new location, and further explore the Icelander hipster culture. Nicely designed coffee shops and bars often empowers health & well-being. An exotic sandwich and cafe latte at the Lemon coffee shop will give you that feeling of harmony. Worth giving a try.
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One might attempt to figure out what an Icelander can do for living if not involved in the tourism, geothermal power or fishing industry? The answer is clear. Be a poet, painter, or designer.
Designated as a UNESCO City of Literature, it treasures the works of many talented poets and writers. No wonder that even at the cheapest supermarket in town, you’ll not be able to find wine, but definitely a book-stand.
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If one fails being a writer, the next chance is lining up as alternative rock musician, following the foot-steps of the legendary Björk. And if also this attempt turns unsuccessful, one will definitely make it as a street-artist while every little corner or facade is gracefully painted.

Here are a couple of street-art impressions:

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Walk in Cézanne’s Footsteps…


What can small cities do to keep up with the multi-facet attractions that metropolis offer to tourists? “Walk in Cézanne footsteps” is the answer that Aixois, the inhabitants of Aix-en-Provence in south France have found. I realized, it’s quite a genius idea though overblown by the Aixois as every second hotel, restaurant, cinema, design studio, furniture shop or you name it, has incorporated Cézanne as name. Appears like everyone rushed to grab this piece of heritage to portray the proud identity of a Aixois. Like Cézanne itself summed up his love for Provence “When you’re born there, it’s hopeless, nothing else is good enough”. But that not quite new. It has occurred to me several times walking through various cities to notice a Hemingway signs hanging on top of trashy Casinos or 80’s style discos. The only words rushing out of the mouth in disbelieve were :”Poor Hemingway”

Btw, who was Cézanne? “The father of us all” said both Picasso and Matisse. In his painting the Carrières de Bibémus took Cubism its first step. As post-impressionist painter is seen to have formed a bridge between late 19-th century Impressionism and the early 20 century Cubism.

So I took the walking tour at the tourist office and started to walk through the city as Cézanne experienced it. I followed the “C” marks on the ground, which initiate with the Statue of Cézanne. It’s quite demanding to go through all 32 steps or highlights in painter’s life in such a short time. The list got long, from the art school, family home, faculty of law, father’s bank, the hat shop, his studio, the church, the last atelier and cemetery. So I decided to pick a couple of them. Walking at the charming Cours Mirabeau avenue, it’s impossible not to enjoy a coffee at the “Café des Deux Garçons” where Cézanne often gathered with his friends. It feels like a trip back a century ago at Cézanne’s last apartment/atelier which now serves as museum. A minimalistic room filled with his objects, furnitures, cloths and painting, untouched from the day of his death in 1906. Surrounded by the wonderful nature and landscape, it was easy to imagine the source of delight in artist’s paintings. To summarize my thoughts after my visit in Aix-en-Provence, making artists the centerpiece is the right model especially in small cities. I would love one day to walk in “Onufri” footsteps in Berat, or in craftsman’s footsteps like Murtezan Makriu who spends his life shaping the stones of Gjirokastra. I’m sure that in many cities in Albania we find a large list of contributors, whose work played a significant role in shaping our cultural identity. May be it’s about time to wipe up the dust and revitalize our cultural heritage. Let’s walk on “…” Steps.

Jazz from 5 Continents: Herbie & Shorter


The Festival of Jazz from 5 Continents holds now in Marseille (17-26 July, 2014). As such every corner of the multi-cultural city breaths the jazz rhythms oft blended with ethnic elements from Africa. The legends of Jazz Herbie Hancock (74) and Wayne Shorter (83) are performing live at the impressive “Jardins du Palais Longchamp”. Hancock an American pianist and composer helped to redefine the role of a jazz rhythms, whose music embraces elements of funk and soul together with the other legend Shorter – generally considered the biggest jazz living compositor ( NYTimes) performed a unique blend of jazz and blues.


This chic event was not to be missed, especially tonight. But what you do when tickets are sold out? You get a little creative. With some extra luck there’s always a guy willing to sell. The warmth of Marseille summer evenings over Palais Longchamp added a magical tone to the concert which was followed in the second half by Cuban jazz pianist Roberto Fonseca and the African singer Fatoumata Diawara in a combined Afro-Cuban repertoire.

Why Danes are so awfully happy?


The mega-commercial of Carlsberg appears in a stylish apple-like-design airport: “Welcome to the world’s happiest nation”, as proven recently. That triggered my curiosity further. It actually started earlier on board of Easy Jet. A group of bachelors were dragging the soon to be groom with pink eye-shades and headphones on, to a surprise party destination. Now I know why. The Danes definitely know how to party hard and in style. Since a glass of wine starts from 13 euros, the drinking starts earlier. By 1 am, folks are running around pretty loaded, chicks in bare feet and silky summerish dresses, happily bumping into each other. That’s great entertainment and tells part of the story. In addition I came up with funky impressions during my 48 hours stay in Copenhagen, that help understand why Danes are the so awfully happy.

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Taking the metro at the airport toward Copenhagen felt like being brought in a fast-forward time tunnel. A sensational ride, not to be missed. The underground world of Copenhagen shines not only in simplicity and smart taste, but also in timing.

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Once you leave the underground world, you get your eco-ride along water channels.

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Ahhhhh the water channels. That’s where people originally moved to the Freeport of Copenhagen as a free-taxation area. Nowadays is the new-old hot shit area, no chance for any tax exemption.

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A nice boat-trip in cold waters refreshing the city is not the worst idea either. Just make sure you have enough bread to feed the white swans and friendly seagulls along the ride.

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In the mean time enjoy the medieval footprints meeting the amazing nowadays architecture.

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If that’s a bit too romantic for your taste, no worries, there’s space for everyone. Go and get your ecological electronic Tesla that’s just finished charging. Or simply a taxi-bike.

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Make sure not to drive it in this unfinished bridge. It is designed only for bikes and pedestrians only.

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And watch out from the little mermaids. They are in every corner, here, here and here 😉

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Kids. Might be great to be a Danish kid, go to magical Tivoli every other day and read the original Andersen’s fairy tales while he proudly faces Tivoli entertainment park. Of course, I was a great fan of Andersen as a child, as his works were translated in 125 languages worldwide.

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Enough jogging around. It’s time for some serious shopping. Let’s see what these nice gentlemen have to offer.

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Still not convinced. Then go at the Happy Wall and write a wish or greet someone.

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“One glass of read wine, please!”, I asked the waitress at BioMio. “What kind of wine would you like? Really good one or an affordable one?” Good, there are nice people out there to save you the embarrassment…

Embarrassment! Does that mean anything? Obviously not for everyone. Rumors circulate that this body-jumping crane goes a bit further. Free of change jumping for those who wanna do that naked.

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The white nordic nights let the magic roll on the morning of the longest day of the year. 21st of June: It’s midsommar! Good morning! Or better: Good night…

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The Drowned Oldie Turns 825


It’s time to celebrate and blow the candles! The oldie turns 825! Moin, Moin! The Hamburg Port or “der Hafen” celebrates its birthday at Landungsbrücke, founded on 7 May 1189 by Kaiser Frederich I.

Who have already visited Hamburg knows the great pride a Hamburger takes about its “Hafen”, as it is Hamburg’s signature and soul. Being in Hamburg, I couldn’t miss the main attraction of the Hafenfest, the Schlepperballett (ships-ballet). Though it was raining heavily during the whole day, the place was so overcrowded that reminded me this mega events like 4th of July in Chicago Pier or New Year in Singapore. What a sensational feeling to circumambulate the harbour that is almost as old as Hamburg itself, and yet a major player in the trading of goods old economy.
Here are some photos I took today and some interesting facts about the oldie, Hamburger Hafen:
…about 10.000 ships per year, 9.3 million container got traded in 2013,156.000 people are working in the Hafen…

The Magic of the Black Forest


Whether you’re seeking to escape the work routine for a couple of days or you’re keened on hiking or mountain walking, the Black Forest (Schwarzwald) in Baden Württemberg, Southwest Germany, is the location to be. I was in Schwarzwald region last weekend. Funny enough, the trip started with landing to Basel airport in Switzerland, going through the French territory in direction of Freiburg which is the gate to Schwarzwald.

Abstractly enough, in only 40 minutes we went through 3 countries-borders which of course are no visible border-lines. Quite exceptional was handing a train ticket in the unusual overcrowed Deutsche Bahn because of Easter Holidays and the local heros, SC Freiburg, were having their home match against Mönchengladbach, which secured them  the stay in the first League (quite unlike Hamburg, as I’m observing from week to week to my surprise.)

It’s a rare event to be squeezed in German trains – due to this unusual event people’s interaction looked closer. Yeah, people looked definitely more relaxed, friendly and happy in this region of Germany.

Wandering around Schwarzwald was refreshing! It’s a huge rectangular region in the length of 160 km and breadth up to 60 km. Train stopped in Hinterzarten, a very beautiful area with neat farmers’ houses, green valleys and wooded hill-tops, a landscape that is nothing but a sweet reminiscence of “Heidi, Girl of the Alps” animation series. (And yes, I learned the German intro jingle: “Heidi, Heidi,  Deine Welt sind die Berge”.)

Hiking through the woods for about 10 km lead to next highlight, Titisee lake, southeast of the next beautiful spot, Schluchsee lake. And so the journey continued the next day, going to Schauinsland, Feldberg, etc. Therefore if you like hiking, Nordic walking, skiing or just want to be in touch with the nature in search inner-you balance, Scharzwarld might be the next place the be!

Lagerfeld: From Runaway-Catshow to Eden Models


He is in town! This time with his gorgeous models coming straight from Eden’s garden. Definitely interesting to check the expo “Feuerbachs Musen – Lagerfelds Models” in the Galerie der Gegenwart, Hamburg. Being Lagerfeld and originally a Hamburg city boy, this expo certainly created a media and advertising buzz in Hamburg. To some degrees also justified except for being relatively a small expo.

As you may notice in the photo collage, the human beauté meets the Greek mythology setting (where eros and sinful beauty go along ) through the artistic lenses of Lagerfeld who’s known not only for his fashionista and designer taste, but also for his eye of photography. What I found exceptionally catchy about Lagerfeld expo? The unusual overwhelming overtake of male models, definitely more appealing to a female and gay audience. One of this rare moments where female models seems to be overpassed by their male counterparts…

From Samurai House to Moroccan Roof Terrace-all possible in today’s Shared Economy


There are many creative ways to tailor your vacation nowadays. The yellow phone book or travel booklet are just a sweet reminder of the squared little world that earlier generations were living in. Search engines or hundreds of websites like booking.com, Expedia, etc can offer instantly countless hotel options sorted by price, availability, or you name it. While mainstream search options provide fast and safe response to someone’s holiday getaway, millions of internet users are turning their heads to alternative solution like Airbnb, or Couchsurfing.

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Are you young, broke and AWESOME willing to explore the world while in need of a couch to crash at night? Or you’re a lonely settled man with a home and couple of dogs willing to explore the world from the comfort of your own living room? Then you go and join Couchsurfing community – a mega network of 100,000 cities that connects travelers and hosts worldwide. It’s there for you, the options are countless either if you choose to be an open-minded host or a passionate traveller. And if couchsurfing is too much driving in the fast lane for you then try to rent a room or an apartment at Airbnb. All choices available from filthy cheap holes to royal apartments with luxury toiletry.

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Surfing through Airbnb rental options from most common cities to exotic ones worldwide reminded me that proverb: “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure” – some place that one person considers worthless may be valuable to someone else. But that’s not important here. What’s quite striking to me is that worldwide booking of so-called sharing economy has broken not only the national borders, but literally has opened the doors to someone else living space.

Through couple of clicks in my i-Pad, at the comfort of my own couch, I made it to traditional Moroccan-styled living room, Brazilian love labeled-bedroom, charming pine room in New Delhi, India, and ended up the virtual evening trip at Samurai’s house in Hokkaido-Japan. How small and connected can the world suddenly come into sight? That’s just a great feeling. Options like Airbnb that defines itself as “a social website that connects people who have space to spare with those who are looking for a place to stay” are more than just an uprise trend. With over 50,000 renters per night and over 4 million bookings worldwide, Airbnb apparently works for many people out there. In addition to offering choices to travelers on budget and hosts willing to make an extra income, this business model is radically transforming the hotel market scene toward a peer to peer approach. How about you? Have you considered Airbnb or Couchsurfing as vacationing option?

 

 

Spring in Prince’s Paradise


It’s 12 degrees and sunny. Warm enough for a pair of northern Europeans bare foot to walk along sandy beaches and touch the crown that only spring can wear. The minimalistic, low-profiled and weather betrayed folks in northern Germany shake their heads in denial while whispering softly “one more time, it is not over yet as it can snow even in April”.

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It actually can, but today it’s nothing but spring. Birdies are tweeting, skies have cleared, and if you follow sun-rays in the wilderness no one can actually take away that crown from you.
So it felt today in Plön, walking along the largest and deepest lake in the state of Schleswig-Holstein emblemed by the Castle of Plön up in the hill. The crystal cold waters of the lake, the preserved nature of the Holstein Switzerland Nature Park crowed by Plön Castle which is the largest one in the northern state of Schleswig Holstein offered a warm welcoming to spring tasting. The sons of the last German Emperor William II used to live in early 1900 here in Prinzeninsel. Also the last German Empress, Augusta Victoria of Schleswig-Holstein favorited the southern tip of the island, from which the actual name Prinzeninsel derives from. Here’s a photo collage of Spring in Prince’s paradise.

In What Color Do You Dream?


I thought about colors lately. You might ask how on earth can someone has such funky thoughts unless is a painter, psychologist, or on heavy drugs. Well none of these triggered this sudden interest, but an expo of a Dutch painter I attended recently at Bucerius art forum: The Mondrian Colors. Oh I loved it! Good such paintings are not for sale though…

I love colors, but not specific ones. I love them all. That’s where the gift becomes a curse, immense joy turns into anxiety, desire into frustration, and instead to color picking settle for some conformist easy choices. Let’s take an example. I enter into a shop with latest spring collection and I get blowed away by its colors. I want most of them, I can’t resist. But then I know that’s not the smartest idea to blow on things that after one season will be outdated anyway.

So I wisely choose to resist my temptation and optimize my purchase. Good girl! That’s where the real sufferance starts though. What colors do I choose? I mentally visualize my wardrobe. I’m not sure the color of any of these skirts will match the existing shirts I have. And I need new shoes too, but it gets pricy. If I only get the skirt it will stay pinned into some closet’s corner waiting for the right match. Poof stress. With men it’s a different story. For instance, when it comes to clothes my boyfriend prefers mainly three colors; white, gray and blue. Not to mention here that the only accessory needed is perhaps a scarf or a belt. That way men are really blessed. They don’t quite notice all the colors.

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But there is one place where colors’ temptation doesn’t hunt me; in my dreams. That’s the only place where I feel safe to dream in what color I want and I can have them all. But then again I am not 100% sure in what color I dream the most. I am not even sure if I always dream in colors. In fact, researches suggest that about 83% of our dreams are in color

. This leaves us with a terrifying 17% of dreams in black and white. That triggered my curiosity further. I start asking friends in what color they dream, and one mentioned dreaming in black and white with subtitles 😉 A 2008 study published in the journal Consciousness and Cognition found “that people who grew up watching black-and-white TV are more likely to dream in black and white, but people who grew up with color TV are more likely to dream in color”

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Of course that painters, interior designers, or visual artists might recall better the colors from their dreams. Or people who are keen in understanding their dreams through the meaning of the colors they dream in.

How about you, in what color do you dream?

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Gängeviertel: Where Politics and Art go Head to Head


I often enjoy to circumnavigate and explore parts of the city which are new to me. While I walk through wet-paved alleys in Hamburg city center, I run into this historic quarter looking all depressed in one side and glowing fancy on the other. I can barely recall such a sharp distinction in a well established and developed city. The run-down facades soaked in historic memories are all wrapped up in funky artistic street charm. The other side of the street makes the contrast sharper as it features the expensive newly build Scandinavian hotel, glass facades and shopping malls. I got curious, and I asked my boyfriend about this area and researched it later.

Gängeviertel or the Alleys’ Quarter, a small ensemble of historic houses dating back since 1780 which has certainly created attention and political debate in the city senate. In a nutshell, the story of Gängeviertel is this:

The city of Hamburg sold the run down historic Gängeviertel to Hanzevast Holding to build highly polished office buildings and shopping malls like the ones laying just across the street. But in 2009 the Gängeviertel was occupied by about 200 squatters, artists, free-lance graphic designers, painters and so on. They occupied the historic buildings that was put for sale. Not only the squatting of the Gängeviertel was tolerated by the authorities, but the squatters turned this movement “Komm in die Gänge” into what is featured by some leading newspapers in Germany like “The Miracle of Hamburg”. They even succeeded to get the Hamburg senate to buy back the area from the previous owner Hanzevast Holding. In the end no politician wants to be responsible of selling off this old slice of historic Hamburg, and certainly not against an increasing public awareness on historic preservation issues.


But why am I writing about this? What do I care about these city historic preservation issues?

Well, first I find easy just by walking through the Gängeviertel to sympathize the “Komm in die Gänge” movement while reading about famous characters such as water carrier Hans Hummel and the petite lemon seller “Zitronenjette” once lived in Gängeviertel. Just to walk through the hood feels like being brought back in the 17th century.

Second, I find fascinating for a over-regulated country like Germany, that some 200 squatters take over the good old hood, gather in a movement not only to preserve it, but also to develop an alternative social housing for free-lance artists who can not afford to live otherwise in the city. Their cotribution in return is to preserve and revitalize the Gängeviertel.

Last but not the least I would like to bring this movement as a great example for the society I come from where the money rush seems to have no limits, but to seize and hold firmly every historic corner,  like old characteristic Tirana houses. How many of them are left before turning them into block buildings? Can the shining facades always justify the trade-off?

German: The New Math


Someone might be mentally deranged by learning a foreign language in mid-thirties. Especially after being there and done that for 4-5 times. Now imagine how “insanely scared” I felt when started learning German in “voluntary basis” three weeks ago. Those who have gone through that understand what I mean. Those who are in the process of learning German can relate even better. Well, I always associated this crazy idea with the famous saying of Oscar Wilde ” Life is too short to learn German”. I tended to agree with that at first, even more now that I’m being constantly “attacked” by German grammar and bothered by exceptions to every little rule that attempts to put some order in my fragile mental notes. Once, a friend told me that learning German will be a piece of cake since I speak English. Yeah I agree, having this linguistic background does not hurt. Plus these languages have many words in common. But while British kept themselves busy simplifying English over centuries, in contrary Germans got busy complicating it. Why keeping something easy when one can complicate it. Do I need to give an example? Here is when they drop a 63 letter long word that refers to a law for beef monitoring and testing:

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Ok, that’s exaggerated. Though it is not a scam, but a real word. Well, in everyday life someone can learn to deal with this law complying vocabulary simply through ignoring it. While learning to deal with other tongue twisters words which are quite often repeated and common it’s not the biggest deal neither. But what totally drives me nuts, especially on Friday sessions, it’s when learning to talk German feels a lot like doing math. And you better be good at it. Which article to place in front of 3-gender names where vague rules followed by unlimited exceptions do apply? Not to mention here the transformation of articles, adjectives in dative, accusative and genitive case. Really, I just want to speak the language here, and not to mentally screen articles’ transformation each time I attempt to put a sentence together.

Now that I got this off my chest, and finished my constructive whining brief, I can go back to work on the upside down structure of the sentences. Good Luck to me! In the meantime, I have to reward myself for the hard work with some entertainment material like…50 steps to be German 🙂

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At House of Photography: Guy Bourdin


What’s on Vogue this year? Did you get your Vogue magazine? No? I agree, how much can one new edition influence my life and what possibly new and revolutionary photo composition can one bring? When I think of retro-fashion of course the 60’s MadMan style comes to my mind, as unbeatable as I find the fashion and aesthetics of MadMen era. But how about taking a retrospective journey through some of the most impressive, shocking, controversial, provocative and sensual Vogue years of the whole generation of late 70’s? House of Photography at Deichtonhallen Hamburg is hosting a great exhibition of the legendary French photographer Guy Bourdin (1928 – 1991). What a great way to start the Saturday, being introduced to unveiling works of the master of image making with surreal story telling which Bourdin beautifully associates with a fashion item. The incredible intensity of color saturation, texture and image composition artfully displayed by Vogue models of mid-end 70’s enhanced the dramatic scenery through playful sex, sensuality and violence. Bourdin is the first photographer to create such complex story telling with strange and mysterious thematic. With his often surreal twist goes beyond limits of that reality and radically breaks conventions of back then commercial photography.

But who was Guy Bourdin? His early back and white work dating from 1950 included people and artists portrait as well as life in Paris. His genius personality placed in a short man stature with high-pitched voice and demanding character was surrounded by dark gossip stories of being an abandoned child, the suicide of his wife and two girlfriends, and maltreatment of models. That might also explain how violence displays in his oeuvre merged with the sublimed beauty of female models, all in fashion-sensual like context.

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The New Year Resolution: Dinner for One or Dinner for Ten?


It’s no surprise each time I spend my Christmas & New Year holidays in Germany I’m usually asked how we celebrate these holidays in Albania. Then I go over the main distinctions as Christmas is not huge in former communist countries unlike in Germany where the notorious Christmas markets stick around for about a month which I highly oppose as I think they should be there for the entire winter. My Christmas in Hamburg are followed by an absolute 3 days parental feeding/R&R at my boyfriend’s parents, spoiled by the warmth and love these holidays convey. A real magical atmosphere that spikes up in delight of Christmas ornaments, decor, and gift exchange, which slowly fades away as Sylvester (New Year) approaches. Quite the opposite in Tirana. As Christmas is not that big of a deal, New Year instead is. That’s when every woman household displays a large variety of food combination that in case you survive without being sick to your stomach from the “mishmash” of turkey, lamp, Russian salad, baklava, and Raki you obviously did not have that big of a fun. There’s so much good food being cooked that can glut the appetite of 10 people and will probably last for the next 2-3 days. That’s how New Year celebration looks in Tirana, the bigger the better, and after 12 pm find your shoes to escape the big fat family gathering for finally getting unleashed with friends in some downtown party, pre-booked of course.

To my surprise 2014 was presented with a new ritual: Dinner for One. We got to watch Dinner for One, my boyfriend said, before we went out to wait for the real firework explosion at Altonaer Balkon. So we did. We watched Miss Sophie and her butler James – a brilliant comedy sketch written by British author Lauri Wylie back in 1920s which went in to be the most frequent aired comedy by German TV. Since 1963 this 18 minutes black-and-white British sketch has become an integral part of New Year’s Eve in Germany. Therefore, this year was not an exception, about 15 million Germans viewed Dinner for One. Meanwhile in England most people don’t even know that Dinner for One is a British comedy, or that it exists. For those of you who don’t really know what I’m blubbering on, take 18 minutes of your time to enjoy “Dinner for One”, you will not regret it. Enjoy!

At Eros Garden


Eros-the messenger of love expo, made it to the charming lake of Como, in Italy. That was a nice surprise as the day at fjord town turned into a revisit of artistic impressions from Greek mythology blended in Romanesque monumental villas where Napoleon used to stay in the 17th century. As Como is known for its famous VIP guests throughout centuries, I was looking for the notorious villa of George Clooney, but instead I came across to the wonderful Expo of Eros. Well, not too bad as a trade off though.  A walk through the breathtaking palace along the lake where the expo was hosted, evoked in my memory the beautiful Myth of Eros and Psyche.

The myth of Psyche, the beautiful princess who won her immortality from her unconditional love and sacrifice for Eros, was embodied in expo’s artifacts as a symbol of soul-searching and personal growth through losing and preserving the real love.  The language of passion, devotion, and lust spoke in a artful and ardent way in this exhibition of textile from different artists worldwide. It was a great expo to attend and some of the images there I would love to share with you. Enjoy!

Week II : Travel Highlight Cefalú, Palermo, Mamma Sicilia


Two years ago I went for a week in Sicily, known as the garden of the Mediterranean. Located at the southern tip of Italy with all those wild stories you hear about it, I was quite curios and happy to go there. What I immediately found striking was that Sicily it’s more than just an island, it’s a huge island where bits and pieces of Europe, Africa and Asia are blended into one of the world’s first multicultural societies. It’s a unique place full of art and archaeology, history and breathtaking scenery. The fabulous mixture displayed in Greek amphitheaters, temples, Roman villas, Arab mosques and gardens, Norman cathedrals, Renaissance palaces, Baroque churches – more than 30 centuries of culture.  Not to my surprise I could see signs of several towns like Piana degli Albanesi that was founded or repopulated by the Albanians in 1488. These “Arbereshe” communities still exist today and some of these agricultural sites are distinguished for wine tasting and recreational activities.

Since happened to be in Palermo, I also visited the little coastal town, Cefalú. Its breathtaking rocky seaside along that charming little town made it quite interesting place to spend the day. Special were the little restaurants, souvenir shops, the delicious food and of course “La Grande Famiglia”gatherings. That was fun, when we had to squeeze ourselves in a tiny corner once the entire restaurant was “invaded” by 30 people part of a family celebration for a 1-year-old birthday boy. It was great to observe, as Sicilians are known to be unbeatable for their body language. As D.H. Lawrence writes about Sicilians in Sea and Sardinia “They pour themselves one over the other like so much melted butter over parsnips.”

 

 

The Spirit of Albanian Protesters


Pictures worth 1000 words. Albanians protesting in front of their Prime Minister’s office waiting for the PM to say No to dismantling Syrian chemical weapons in Albania. The tension increased rapidly in the last hours, as the countdown for disclosing the decision of the government started. Plus PM Rama is known for his long speeches. Nevertheless the protest went peacefully, and ended literally in fireworks as government said NO to Syrian arsenal.

Never felt more proud than today, looking at youngsters, parents with their kids, and elderly gathered for the first time for an unanimous cause that went beyond any electoral party event. We love our country free from hazardous substances and today we said NO.

You Guys protesting rocked! Deep appreciation also go to the social media managers, the backstage people we don’t see, but who supported non-stop the protesters and the larger audience. Having said that now I can relax. Waiter, one cup of tea with no Sarin please…

 

Open Letter to President Obama


Dear President Obama,

I am a deeply concerned citizen of Albania, who like millions of Albanians is shocked by the news that deadly toxic chemical arsenal of Assad’s regime is landing to Albanian shores. For a small country of 28,000 km2, over-populated, with poor infrastructure, with countless problems in every sector of the economy, health, education, environment, agriculture, tourism, struggling for over two decades to fight corruption and organized crime plagued in every cell of our society, the decision of demolition chemical weapons in Albania is TOXIC. The lethal impact that this potential decision will have in the lives of Albanians and the generations to come is unquestionable.

I am addressing to you this letter for a couple of reasons. Our historic ties to US date back to 1919, when US President Woodrow Wilson intervened to block the Paris Peace Conference agreement, which divided Albania among former Yugoslavia, Italy, and Greece. US support followed until these days with President Clinton’s decision to halt the Serbian genocide in Kosovo, for which we as Albanians are deeply grateful.  But as dark days have captured the skyline of the Albanian people, our eyes are turned to you as a world leader in a desperate attempt to change the tragic fate of our nation. From a nightmarish dream we woke up few days ago to the horrible news that our government has volunteered to host the Assad’s arsenal of +1,000 MT of highly dangerous chemical weapons and materials, infringing our constitutional rights, without any transparency, public consent, REFERENDUM, or even any hearings from the interest groups. Our government is selling this issue of hosting Assad’s weapons as a request of NATO to our country as a member of NATO alliance, while there is no evidence that neither NATO itself is involved in the process of disarming Syria nor that NATO officially has submitted a request to Albania to host it. Plus in 1993 the U.S. supported Germany and Europe by shipping out of our continent the very dangerous German chemical weapons stockpile. How can one in good conscience suggest to bring now, in 2013, in the heart of Europe, Assad’s stockpile?

But what should ring the ALARM bells to the international community is the wrong evaluation of capacities of our country for handling an operation of this magnitude.

How can the poorest country in Europe deal with a potential accident of this nature? How can a country like ours deal with waste management of Sarin and Mustard gas if DID NOT yet manage the waste from its own symbolic destruction of chemical materials inherited from communism? The lives of those innocent people and children killed in Gerdec (army depot explosion) by the incompetence of public authorities do not signal any concern? What about the image of Albania worldwide pinned as the toxic ground of Europe? What about potential poisoned water resources, land, shores?  Who will pay the consequences of this irrational act? – The Albanian people!!! And the future generations to come will be condemned without being guilty for a crime that they did not commit.

In this dark moment of desperation, but also proud of being a citizen of a peaceful nation that embraces democratic values, seeking to join EU, we ask you President Obama to stop this move.

To end this heartfelt letter, I am going to quote our famous patriot and former Minister and Extraordinary Envoy of Albania to the U.S Faik Konitza. “If Albania will die, it will die because of its politicians” 

5 Reasons why we should protest at the Prime Minister’s Office


Here are a couple of thoughts on why I think we should protest in front of our Prime Minister’s office and not in front of the American Embassy:

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1. We are citizens of Albania and as such we are obeying by the rules and regulations of the Republic of Albania. The Article 56 of the Albanian Constitution guaranties the right to everyone to be informed on the conditions or our environment, its protection, which in combination with Article 59 “the right to have a healthy environment for today’s and future generations” set the stage for demanding these basic rights to our government. Any infringement of our constitutional rights is strictly our business, therefore should be addressed to our government. It is not like the infringement of US constitutional rights are at stake here.

2. We recently elected our government to represent us with a majority of 84 deputies in the parliament. It is our government’s responsibility and duty to protect it’s citizens and not in any way to jeopardize or put its lives in danger.

3. Call for REFERENDUM against importation of Chemical Weapons is definitely an internal measure addressed to our government and not to the US embassy.

4. US is one of the most historic allies of Albanians, and as such it will respect the common will of Albanians coming through a democratic Referendum for this matter.

5. Last but not the least, we are entitled of transparency on our government’s side related to this national issue. Arrogance is not welcomed and not deserved by the Albanian people.

The Affair of Destroying Syrian Weapons Arsenal in Albania


These days of heated debate for destroying Assad’s weapon arsenal, I can’t stop thinking of the same question. Why on earth Albania, I mean Albania is targeted as the backyard of destroying these mass destruction weapons? Our country does not have the capacity, any plant for weapon destruction, or real experience (what they call experience is destroying 16 mt chemicals inherited from communism). So, I start doing a little homework in order to better comprehend this operation.

Here is a view of the distribution of global stockpile of chemical weapons: two main stockpile owners are US and Russia which have destroyed about 90% and 74% of their own arsenal. Obviously it makes them experienced and resourcefully of handling such operations, but yet reluctant to host such operation. Patricia Lewis, from the London-Based think tank Chatham House, favors shipping the bulk agent out of Syria to a country like Russia. “Because Russia has taken the initiative here, they have that responsibility now to make sure it works.”Plus Russia has a naval base at Tartus in Syria”. But it is obvious that reluctance comes from a price tag associated with it, moving deadly chemicals is a risky business plus what you do with the waste coming out of Incineration or Neutralisation.

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On the other hand US is offering to bring this mobile unit developed by the US military called the Explosive Destruction System (EDS), which can handle up to six weapons at a time. The reason this mobile unit was invented is to avoid moving the highly dangerous arsenal from the initial storage, since transportation of chemical weapons can cause terrible accidents. So why Albania? Why bringing the EDS mobile unit to Albania if the weapon arsenal is in Syria and yet needs to be transported? Doesn’t it make sense to do this operation in Syria or near by where the arsenal is stored? Did our government volunteered to host the toxic stockpile or was asked by big powers? How big is the price tag to justify lives of Albanians? For these questions the Albanian citizens demand an answer. Not to mention here how is our government going to handle such accidents, potentially speaking? As we are talking about toxic chemicals like sarin and mustard gas that takes hundred of thousands of life’s in a blink of an eye.

So the risk of this potential operation is very serious and present. And if you are living in Albania and yet not convinced just look at YouTube videos of Syrian victims of chemical weapons. This could be you or your child.

Assad’s Chemical Weapons in Albanian Soil? No Thank You…


The breaking news that Syrian chemical weapons are most likely to be shipped for destruction to Albania has created an unanimous public reaction. Civil society, environmental groups, young activists, intellectuals, public figures, and citizens started a Ghandi-style marathon of protests in Tirana. Every day by staying in silence in front of government offices, protesters will gather to oppose the decision of bringing Syrian chemical weapons for destruction to Albania. Today, we all gathered in front of the Prime Minister’s (MP) office to protest. A Syrian woman, mother of two kids gave a strong message in the name of Syrians, victims of chemical weapons. “Albanian kids should not have the same fate as Syrian ones” added the Syrian woman bursting into tears. Other activists and prominent figures also issued strong messages addressed to the government.

Pics from the today’s protest in front of PM office:

Ironically, the first action of Rama’s government when took the office two months ago was to stop the importation of waste as a measure to ensure environment protection. This was one of the key promises in its electoral agenda. Now it’s being challenged by the decision of diluting 1,000 MT stocks of sarin nerve agent and mustard gas, which implies officiating the image of Albania as Europe’s toxic landfill. The silence of PM’s office on this issue is not only concerning and unacceptable, but raises further questions. Strangely the opposition, DP party is silent too. Meanwhile “the virtual war” has started. Online petitions are being signed, calls for referendum have initiated, daily protests are being organized. I doubt this will go easy and unnoticed. Albanians are irritated that on top of economic hardships and everyday struggles, they are being served a new threat to their health, environment, country image and most importantly the future of generations to come. I am sure that if Syrian weapons will make it to Albanian shores, Rama government will be nailed by the public opinion. It’s “New Born” reputation will fall off the cliff, it will earn the hatred of its own voters, it will face serious grassroots opposition, and will be viewed if not as evil, definitely as a weak bootlicker that puts in jeopardy the life of its own constituents.

Instead our government should work on promoting the country as a tourist destination not as the toxic dumping ground of Europe, as it is clear our country is lacking capacity, infrastructure, and experience in undertaking tasks of this magnitude with such high degree of hazard. Our neighboring countries should worry too. Are they really comfortable with storing tons of weapons of mass destruction in their neighbors’ backyard? 

Week 1-Travel Highlight, Bol, Croatia


The Balkan summer this year was an absolute highlight. The island of Brac in Croatia was the final destination after driving along Dalmatian coastal area and stopping over other alluring places. The ultimate place for sunbath, suntan, water sports, known as one of the most popular destinations in Europe is Bol. Its most famous and recognizable beach, by all means, is Zlatni Rat. As a pure miracle of nature is known for its golden horn shape which tip shifts with the changes of currents and winds. In contrast to the western side of the horn which is exposed to strong winds and big surfing waves, the eastern part is blessed with calm waters, perfect for sunbaths, chilling and sipping margaritas in nearby bars.

Another beautiful spotlight is Dominican Monastery, the oldest institution of Bol. It was a nice change of scenery with crystal clear beaches and shady pine-lined promenade. Waters were cold, but who cared.

And of course the experience was not complete without enjoying a real taste of Dalmatian cuisine at the famous restaurant in Bol, Vagabundo. The food was delicious and the waiter serving us looked like coming straight from Sinatra’s Epoque. Definitely a funky and yet remarkable treatment that will stay in memory for a long time. So was the vivid night life by the beach with bar girls playing violins in the background.

 

HalloFrida


As Halloween is out there to be great fun and celebrated, I start playing with the idea of dressing up as pregnant nun. It immediately triggered hilarious laughter and questions like “Who’s the father?” Thought I loved the scariest divine idea that a pregnant nun costume represents, unfortunately I found difficult to get one. So start thinking more in gypsy-like outfits that are easy and yet funky to improvise. But still, that did not convince me. Luckily I was reminded by a friend of my beloved female character who’s love for life went beyond her long-lasting pain.

Happy Halloween from Frida!

Who was Frida Kahlo? A Mexican painter who suffered lifelong health problems due to a traffic accident in early teenage days. The longing injuries that isolated her from the rest of the world influenced her artistic works, made her best known for her self-portraits. Frida once said “I paint myself because I am so often alone and because I am the subject I know best”.

Red Carpet October: How Heiner Lauterbach made it to Tirana


October is quite charming to me. The melancholic feeling of the late Indian summer that seems like never wants to give up its place to the cold ruthless winter, is priceless. So are the colorful leaves falling smoothly to their seasonal routine and summer’s days revisiting once again for leaving us surprised. It’s end of October and yet the temperatures are sticking around 25-26 degrees. How nice to wander around the city streets in aimless way, without a demanding task to accomplish or a deadline to meet. I love those weekends in Tirana, but most of all when there’s something casual, relaxed, and yet distinguished to attend. And I’m not referring to those one-day wellness treatments someone rewards oneself.

A stop at the TIRANA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL (TIFF) that comes in full swing on its 11th edition is more then welcoming. I’m early, 10 minutes before the movie starts. I wait outside the Millenium for my friend Dari, when I find myself few meters away from the movie stars and film makers that I’m about to watch, HARMS. Undoubtedly I started taking shots like a real paparazzi, feeling all genuinely excited of photographing the local star, actor Blerim Destani as well as the famous German actor Heiner Lauterbach. A foolish idea crossed my mind in the enthusiastic mode, to have a picture with them. Didn’t ask for it though, felt a little foolish and embarrassed. Schade!!!! A lost chance as other local celebs occupied the red carpet to grasp its magic for that five seconds of glory. The moment was gone. But not for watching the next two movies once my friend showed up. Here it goes a short briefing of both HARMS and The Daughter.

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The feature film competition starts with Harms, a German production of Nikolai Müllerschön with staring actor Heiner Lauterbach. Not to downgrade it, but if you’re after those bloody gang action movies, this is the one for you. It makes Tarantino’s blood-splattering scenes look quite inferior. Harms really had some graphic violent scenes. Nevertheless the character role of Lauterbach made it special.

The next movie under feature competition category was “The Daughter” by Greek producer Thanos Anastopoulos. This contemporary plot starts with an clear allegory about Greece’s economic crisis. What I find very interesting in this psychological thriller was the drawing of parallels between individual and societal drama coming through some questions : “What do you do when things go wrong, when life doesn’t turn out as you thought it would, when you feel alone?” …. “You fight…”

Faust from Tirana


After reading the title of monodrama “Faust from Tirana” a showpiece in an alternative setting, I was keened on going to this event. I’m glad I did, since it turned to be beautiful piece, perfectly adopted in the our context, done with an absolute low budget, but still reflecting much care, passion and desire to convey a powerful message to viewers. Staged at the premises of Tirana Express, in a modest, improvised stage located in a run-down post industrial environment of communist era, created the perfect setting for this performance – the transition of Faust from Tirana.

But let’s get to our personage and his inner drama. Faust from Tirana is an upset, disappointed intellectual looking back 22 years later after the fall of communist regime in 1991, displeased about the failure of his generation dreams and high hopes. It carries a powerful political message of a lost generation of the early 90’s, young intellectuals who’s dreams and aspirations for a democratic society adhering to EU values and integration are shattered. Transition between systems was longer then expected, full of unresolved issues which have captured every cell of our society like a chronic disease.

As in the original legend where Faust decides that a pact with Mephistopheles (devil) is the only way to fulfill his ambitions, Faust from Tirana suffered a deep emotional drama, an inner conflict on which path to follow: A pact with the devil (here it refers to politics) is the way to succeed, with the condition that as individual he will loose his privacy, his identity, his soul, become a clown in the eyes of his family and lead an absolute mediocre life. The lifestyle of a man who wakes up in the morning, drinks his coffee, goes out and bargains, comes back and sleeps. While shutting the door to Mephistopheles, abolishing the pact with the devil means being left alone, idle, un-accomplished, unrealized, without the dignity and the respect that an intellectual like Faust deserves. It’s the portrait of an unhappy “looser” who never went that far “to succeed”.

The dilemma of our Faust intensifies the moment in which he questions the very foundation of his life. Whether his reality has any longer a meaning, value or purpose triggered by the traumatic loss of his dear Margaret, is indeed a crucial moment in his existential crisis. In one hand, becoming a politician is both pragmatist and mediocre solution which he never found appealing. While feeling alone, isolated from the world, with no external meaning, he appreciates his own mortality. But ending it would that make a difference? Would that impact the world if he doesn’t wake up on the next morning? The harsh reality hits in. The life of the mediocre will continue with the same habits, in the same patterns. Therefore, committing suicide does not seem to be the solution either. The resolution of Faust from Tirana is left to the public to decide. The message stays strong and powerful, given in an artful and professional way by the production team and tremendous acting of Alfred Trebicka. If you get the chance, don’t miss this monodrama.

The Generation of Twerks


Ok enough is enough. There’s not one single day passing by without reading something on twerking. After the infamous dance routine of Miley Cyrus at the MTV Video Music Awards, the analysis of the inappropriateness of her twerking went over the roof. After all mocking and twerking debate the unofficial word “twerk” made it even to Oxford online vocabulary. There’s an official twerk team that performs live show around the States, a Twerk fest in 2013, and even a Twerking user’s guide. Well, not that I care much about it, but I just wonder why do people all the sudden overreact on Cyrus’s twerk? I don’t remember seeing much of that reaction on the dreadful shows of Lady whatever Gaga. I guess being psychopathic weird is more socially accepted than being a twerker in today’s world. Today read that North Dakota students protested since they were not allowed to twerk at their school dance and they walked out to another friendly-twerking place of the town. And they’re not the only one facing parental or teachers opposition. There seems to be increasing fear and opposition toward the growing generation of Twerks.

When I think of my generation as early teens, back in the early 90’s , we grow up in Albania learning how to “Dirty Dance”, dreaming a participation in TV weekly show of “Dirty Dancing contest” or fancying Patrick Swayze in instructor Johnny role to the point that it was hard dating a normal boyfriend. I don’t want to sound like my grandmother now, but I guess we were far more sound and decent generation then the generation of Twerks 😉

And the madness continues, just yesterday BuzzFeed posted “Disney Princesses Twerking will Shatter your Childhood” . It made it to a new level, even kids can now look at their lovely Alice who’s showing a mushroom how twerking is done. Learning starts early 😉

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Via redbubble.com

Ah I forgot, while listening to Jay Z new album “Somewhere in America” , he is also referring to Miley’s twerking more likely in a praising way. “Miley Cyrus is still twerking. Twerk, Miley-Miley Twerk” ;))

Mrizi i Zanave – The Culinary Delights of Northern Albania


A restaurant with its farm, vineyard, and vegetable garden, its own olive plantation, delicious wine, lovely nature of the countryside with historic significance sets the ground for a unique experience for many visitors. I’m referring to Mrizi I Zanave in village Fishte of Zadrima commune. This place apart from the historic importance as the birthplace of Gjergj Fishta known as one of the most prominent figures of the Albanian literature and politics of 19th century with significant contribution to the Albanian cause, sets a fine example of a newborn social-economical tourism pattern in traditional Albanian gastronomy. Last weekend i visited Mrizi i Zanave for the first time and I was immediately impressed. The food was delicious, modern touch spicing up local tradition. Everything 100% BIO, 100% Albanian. Freshly picked vegetable from the garden cooked and served in ceramic plates from a nearby ceramic business, dairy products such as goat or cattle cheese processed by the restaurant staff, country ham preserved down in their basement, red Kallmet wine from the local vineyards, local fruit dessert, originate an authentic dining experience even for us locals.

The owner of this place Altin Prenga, who’s passion goes beyond the ambition of a young passionate Albanian cook, had a broader prospective of his investment. The core of his business is offering delicate taste of rural culinary in its natural habitat with absolute fair pricing, through promoting not only values of environment preservation, but also by enhancing the development of local economy in the region. I found this extremely useful as certain Agritourism initiatives are new in Albania. This modern form of intra-cooperation between local businesses in building sustainable Agritourism can sure lead to an increased interest in the quality of regional products, as well as awareness of replicating such business models in other parts of the country. 

Agritourism is not widespread in Albania though people are becoming more interested in knowing how their food is produced and what food they consume. A honey and wine tasting activity, learning about cheese-making, picking fruits or vegetables, or shopping for local hand-crafted gifts can be added value to every local culinary business. These are simple ideas which can add value to a business but also represent the cultural highlights of such localities. Furthermore, two decades of foreign incursion of culinary savors have sort of under-shadowed our traditional gastronomy. Opening an Italian restaurant or something similar to western European taste is more common to find in Tirana or other main cities. It’s not necessarely better just a safer bet. Foreign is mainstream, seen as cool and in vogue. There’s no need to reserve a table in advance in most restorants here, but not at Mrizi I Zanave. I called 2 days in advance to book a table for three in the weekend and I got one only after 3:30 pm. That’s what’s a pattern of successful investment with multiple positive trickle down effects in local economy. That’s a great example to follow. Made in Albania.

Promiscuous Summer Thoughts…


As weather unusually turned less inspiring this Sunday, only 26-13 degrees Celsius, which for July levels is unthinkable in the Balkans, I keep on fancying hot summer memories. A couple of weeks ago I was in Budva, by the Montenegrin coast which often turns into a warm shelter for runaway weekends. I simply love going there, and it works great even for a short weekend especially after a busy week. The drive is 3.5 hours from Tirana and the coastal scenery is breathtaking. And it never gets boring. Even by being there quite often, new things are being discovered, like the mermaid of Budva, the hidden rocky beach closed by, and finally I made it inside Citadella thanks to extended visiting hours.


As fun travels are as funky they can turn out to be. The Albanian-Montenegrin border has a very modest custom building. Passing through two countries police control means literally stopping in front of a shared little room.

The Albanian passport control: Where are you going?

Me: To Budva (isn’t that obvious) and I hand in my passport.

The Albanian passport control: Why?

Me: Holidays.

The Albanian passport control: Where do you work?

Me: Why does that matter!!!

The Albanian passport control: No, but is everything ok? Have you booked a hotel?

Me: Yes (Please don’t ask me whom I’m meeting there, it’s none of your business.)

The Albanian passport control: But really is everything ok with you, should I have to worry?

Me: Look with all these interrogative questions I’m starting to get worried myself. But you have no reason to worry sir, I know how to get there. (though I’m driving across border alone at 6:30 pm all I want is to drive fast and finally relax at the old town with my boyfriend who’s waiting for me there.)

The Montenegrian passport control: Good evening? Where are you heading to?

Me: To Budva and finally I’m handed the passport.

Afterwards, I so hated myself for being poky and hesitating to dig into the officer’s mind, what was he really thinking? Is still that awkward for a female to drive in the nearby country alone for the weekend?

Anyway, the day might be over, but the night didn’t start yet. After meeting my boyfriend and his friend at Astoria it was time for some Friday party unleashment. Our good looking German friend couldn’t wait to have a pre-taste of nightlife in Kotor. The Montenegrin girls looked as always gorgeous in their fancy outfits and tall attires. A couple of warm up cocktails and he’s approaching with confidence the next table where three local girls were sipping on their cocktails. The magic opening line always works. What’s the best club in Kotor? Maximus, they answered unanimously, we’re going there so meet you later.

At Maximus some type of local Bon Jovi had occupied the stage with wild crowds partying hard to some unknown lyrics to us. As flirting went on, it didn’t lead anywhere, not immediately at least. Typical Balkan style, you dress slutish, you have a diva attitude, but at the end you’re just not that promiscuous woman. They may seem to ran wild, appear as indulged in un-selective or casual approach, but in reality it definitely takes more effort for the guy. It was so much fun seeing the pattern repeating over and over again. In that way, when it comes to flirting I find little difference in the region.

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Welcome to Balkans!