Paragliding in South Albania

Last weekend my friend Darina had this incredible paragliding experience in Southern coastal Albania. After the crew of Aeroclub Albania took off in Vlora city and drove up to the National Park of Llogara, they left the ground at an altitude of 950 metres to fly over the wonderful Albanian coastline. The breathtaking view from above even just standing by the side of the road is simply divine. Imagine to float up in the air, make spirals and land at the beautiful beach of Dhermi or Palasa. I’m so tempted to try this! In 2010 I took the death ride from the top sphere of the Atomium in Brussels. A breathtaking descent of more than 100 meters which lasted only few seconds. Now, imagine floating up in the air at a tenfold altitude in Llogara. Simply mind-blowing!!!

The Naked and the Posh at the French Riviera. (Part 1)

As summer goes by incredibly fast so does the pressure increase for grasping every free moment. It is impossible not to notice the countless check-ins and the notorious vacation images in the busy Facebook timelines of my friends. It almost feels like in a free fall magazine contest, who takes the better shots, who checks in the coolest bars, who visits the most exotic places out there.  I see a stunning video of my friend paragliding in southern Albania coast, some breathtaking Barcelona pictures where history is harmonically blend with futuristic Dali-like taste, a check in at mad garlic restaurant in Seoul, sailing near Sardine shores, or a colorful image of spice market in Dubai. I also didn’t fall behind, though. I made sure to keep myself busy and post few camera+ images on FB from my recent trip to Côte d’Azur. The FB Pandora box is totally irresistible especially when I’m on vacation.

Wow what a trip!!! Côte d’Azur, an area styled with love and tenderness…terrific nature, deep blue sea, coastal beauty, fancy cuisine, all in line with the irresistible French lifestyle and culture. Here we land in Nice! 

An old playboy dressed all in white linen outfit, crocodile leather shoes waiting in his fancy black Mercedes with a taxi yellow sign. It took one moment when my boyfriend and I already in the taxi exchanged a “worried look”- uhhh, this will get pricy. Luckily it was a short drive, 5 minutes or 42 Euros. Welcome to Nice! We go for a little walk in the main avenue by the sea – La Promenade des Anglais. The striking fancy 5 star hotels and the main highlight, Le Negresco hotel followed by fancy beach bars, restaurants and boats already set the bar high and made us want to explore more.

Next train station: Monaco – Monte Carlo. Taking the lift up to the 14th floor, the door opened to a spectacular view of a city build on a rock.

Monaco, the oasis of rich and famous, where in this small state are squeezed all these fancy buildings and there are even more new constructions going on. I guess it’s in there where the 13,000 residents are hiding since in the streets I could only recognize tourists like myself.

Overcrowed with proudly standing yachts was the shore as well. It’s interesting to know how much it costs to anchor the yacht there, since renting a 140 m2 apartment starts from 2,800 Euro. But hey, there’s no price big enough for anchoring a “sweet doll”.

And just walking a bit further we run into an occupied yacht. Look at the pretty young ladies dinning in style and being taken good care of a generous Grandpa!

Well, we have to hurry up. Last train departs at 23:42. Let’s play it safe and leave a bit earlier. Just in case – the taxi ride back sure would end up three-digit…

Stuck up in the air from Rome to Vienna

My vacation didn’t start until I placed the feet on that plane. Once I accommodated myself comfortably in my seat, turned off the iGadgets, put myself in airplane mode, it then hit me. It wasn’t at the moment when the trip was booked, sent off the last report, phoned to my boss and said “I’m going on vacation”, checked in my luggage at Tirana International Airport “Mother Teresa” , or when constantly got those typical sort of pre-departure looks (where is she going…) Usually knowing someone at the boarding gate is pretty funky. It can start with a sweet request “Let me help you holding your luggage!” to the weirdest one “can you change 200 Euro with smaller cuts?”. As if this matters. C’mon guys, we are flying most likely to different transit destinations and since now it is peak season I certainly got a plan…


It happened the moment I unfolded the Alitalia magazine ” Let’s go to the islands”. Just that my destination is not an island. It’s rather the beautiful region of “Cote d’Azur”, but the first stop before the real beach time off is Vienna. Why so? For very good reasons: Two nights, two concerts, and tonight is ‘Boss Time’, Bruce Springsteen playing at Ernst-Happel Stadium. So here I am waiting at the gate B28 of Fiumicino airport in Roma. Everything seems to go smoothly since I got a couple of hours to hang out in the duty free shops until I get totally incapable of distinguishing any new fragrance. Yes, I’m not an exception to most women when it comes to shopping and perfumes.


Here I was in my own up in the air world, sitting on the window seat, and looking at the merging borderline of the clear Roman sky falling deep into the blue sea when suddenly I heard twice an announcement: “Ladies and Gentlemen, we are now returning to the Fiumicino airport due to a technical problem…” Ohhhh damn it, did I hear that well!?! This is so like in a wrong movie, one of this overblown Hollywood plots with too much drama on board! But what drama!!! Everyone was so calm on board, kindly asking questions to the flight attendants if the issue is too serious or how risky the landing will be while flight attendants were busy explaining that the issue was not worrisome. I thought this could be over soon, they are just trying to keep us tranquil and it was eventually working since there were no strange signs or turbulences on the plane. So I asked the aged man sitting next to me as for seeking reassurance to my legitimate concern. In contrast, he didn’t look worried at all, rather had a regretful talk about missing Springsteen live tonight in Vienna.

After safely landing while some people were busy applauding on the board here we were again walking through the airport corridors searching for our gate, the same B28 one. In déjà vu mode we were desperately looking to hearing good news, an early departure to Vienna. The first notice of Alitalia was that we will depart in less then 1 hour. Cool while the impatient waiting continues. The second notice followed: ‘Ok guys we got the plane, we got the crew, we are missing the pilot. Any volunteer?’ LOL, that was a good one and can certainly leave plenty of room to passengers minds for playing with the idea of a “lost pilot” who was probably enjoying a glass of wine in some airport booth.

Once the captain was found we were now boarding again. The flight went smoothly, it had to go. I was feeling the exhaustion already. Good evening, Vienna! I stuffed myself into a taxi and asked to be dropped off at Fleming’s Deluxe while Springsteen already started rocking with other 50+ thousands fans. I was sad.


The Russians are coming!!!

No longer than two months, while dinning with my boyfriend at the ground floor restaurant of the Twin Towers in Tirana, we couldn’t stop overhearing the conversation coming from the next table on my right. An educated Russian man with a distinguished rasping accent was sitting in the table next to us with two locals. An immediate thought crossed our minds: “A Russian Oligarch doing business in Tirana!” Well, not knowing their occupation we could only make an educated guess judging by their “oil-natural gas-investment”-keywords used in their settled evening talks.

This morning while going through the daily press, I noticed suddenly a small paragraph written in a rather gossiping form about Albpetrol getting privatized at an initial price tag of €150 million. The unofficial sources claims that the potential buyers of Albpetrol are the Sebro-Russian group Naftna Industrija Srbije (NIS). Company’s main business is the petroleum, natural gas exploration, production, importing, processing, and marketing of oil products in Serbia. NIS was privatized in 2008 by Gazprom holding the majority of shares. Since then Serbia and Russia have signed an agreement giving 51% of NIS’s shares to Gazprom (for a total value of €400 million and €550 million in investments until 2012). This news was not officially confirmed by the Albanian officials at METE (Ministry of Economy, Trade and Energy), but it is logical to think that prior to 2013 elections it might be a good time for our government to cash in some millions.

Plus to make the rumor even more amusing let me tell you that the last entry for booking a hotel in Himara through was a Russian. Surprised! I’m not really. Just looking at our neighbors in Montenegro, Budva has turned into the new Mallorca of Russia, the ultimate vacation spot for many Russians. Some local Montenegrin papers are writing figures like 40% of property in Montenegro is owned by Russians and that Russian money has also totally inflated the housing market by the Montenegrin coast.

Just driving there you can easily see €1 million price tags on a house in vicinities of Budva and Kotor. Not mentioning here how hard and expensive it gets to fly to Podgorica or especially Tivat from a non-Russian destination.  To make the story short, I’m dying to see how the likelihood of a Russian influence in Albania will develop in the near future. And please don’t forget to tell me if you see Russians by the Ionian coast this summer, ok…

My Albanian Travels continue…Dardha

Almost everyone has its favorite runaway place. As a child born and raised in Tirana,  I often got jealous of my friends going to extended summer vacations at their grandparents in some village throughout the country. My ties to countryside were weak and that’s such a pity. It even made me feel a little “inferior” towards kids with childhood experience on trees’ climbing, berries’ collection, animals’ feeding, etc. I visited shortly twice my grandmother’s village, 15 km far from Saranda, but that wasn’t enough for developing a special bondage to the place.

Only years later I went with friends for a long weekend to a mountainous village named Dardha (the Pear), 20 km away from Korca, South-East Albania. After that day I never stopped going there on every possible occasion. I so enjoyed driving up the curving mountain roads during the sunset last September. Such an amazing view while searching for the hidden piece of jewelry…

Its landscape is gorgeous and inviting on every season. Snowy cold winters by the fireplace, fresh summers away from exhausting heat, vivid springs, and colorful autumns’ leaves are part of the full seasonal magic. But my favorite period of going there is spring. The freshness of the air, colorful landscape, long hikes in the forest, lovely stone  houses, scattered small churches in the forest set an irresistible desire for return. But not only. I always feel welcomed by the hospitality and extra care of locals in Dardha who can certainly offer one of the most tasteful cuisines in the country. I get never enough ordering the two foil wooden baked pie (lakror) and meat balls (kërnacka). The variety of little sweet places and restaurants makes it the choice even harder, though mine was pretty easy and a comfortable one, Hotel Dardha.

We did not lack funny situations while cruising the village’s streets, like one day when coming across to bulls with real horns which were enjoying a promenade of their own pleasure. No worries, they were harmless.

When I come to the area, a stop over to Voskopoja is also extremely tempting for me since it’s surrounded by high hills, pine and fir green forests. Voskopoja in addition to being a beautiful place it is backed by a notorious history. It used to be an ancient center of habitation dating from 1330, once a flourishing historic center with big values of medieval art destroyed and reconstructed 3 times throughout its history. Hmmmm, now thinking about these places, it so makes me wanna go back there soon…

My Albanian Travels

“Travelling is like flirting with life. It’s like saying, I would stay and love you, but I have to go; this is my station.” – Lisa St. Aubin De Teran

Though I love traveling a lot, I must confess that I’m not a good traveller in my own country. I can only blame myself for several reasons. The moment I start being more open to the outside world, I realized my irreversible attraction to different cultures, diverse societies, people, languages, food, geographical shapes, or even relief changes. It certainly broadened my perspective through constantly testing my assumptions and regulating my own imagination to these different realities out there.

I usually don’t have that uncertain thrill of exploring something totally new when traveling in my own country, or that dying curiosity for sneaking in country’s  mentality, customs, and beliefs since I’m a native here. In addition, there’s always an inner sort of backyard mechanism that postpones the local trips for later. “I can always go to this or that place sometime…I live here”. The typical excuses we often come up with.

Still, my miscalculated perception has been challenged quite often when I visited some striking places in Albania which are quite an exotic work to mother nature. It’s difficult to rank them, but in this entry I would like to talk about one my favorites: The valley of Osumi river. It’s the most distinguished attraction in the area of Corovode-Skrapar with a Big Canyon, the biggest in Albania, 13 km long and 70-80 m deep.The canyon is often referred as the “Albanian Colorado”. I went there 4 years ago for canoeing with my co-workers. There are many travel agencies which offer these activities for local groups and foreign visitors. We turned into little children, cheering who paddles the most and which boat was getting first, turned upside down or stuck in the river’s caves. It was totally a mind-blowing trip. I had no idea something like this existed in my own country.

While canoeing along Osumi river, we couldn’t stop admiring the huge vertical walls made of these calcareous rocks sprinkled down by astonishing waterfalls. Of course we also heard some interesting local legends connected to the mysterious shapes of the canyon. The “Hole of the Bride” which is an old legend of a young woman being forced to get married without her consent. So on the way to the groom’s house she stopped, jumped off the horse and start praying to the canyon for getting her out of this trouble. The rock heard her prayer, opened a hole where she could hide to escape the misery.

The whole area is so not explored due to the lack of publicity and improper infrastructure which makes it even more exotic and natural. The canyon totally disconnects you from everyday life and burns into your mind forever. Definitely a MUST sight-seeing.

Can I be a student forever?

A student forever! First time this thought sparked in my mind was during my studies in Lexington, Kentucky. What an amazing one-in-a-life-time experience that was. The campus was enormously located in Lexington, second biggest city of KY, with the gigantic library on the top of a valley, a newly build gym, several department buildings including here other campus facilities, and apartment housing. My life as graduate student was pretty simple, like a neat triangle: wake up in Commonwealth village, walk for 5 minutes with my backpack on to Patterson Tower where Martin School department was located, and the breathtaking William T. Young library. No need to mention the seriousness of the MPA courses at Martin School  rated in top 5 schools for Public Policy and Financial Management in the States) and academic difficulties faced by us foreigner students with little familiarity on US lifestyle and educational structure.

Here I was, 24, feeling totally revitalized with a great learning desire on my subjects public policy and financial management systems. I was eager and decisive in capturing every bit in a fast forward mode. Every minute counted. Almost felt like sinning when taking a full Saturday off, away from books, library, and study groups. Often I was under impression of “serving in the army” going through this unbreakable daily routine, constantly being challenged by a new difficult task which kept raising the bar higher and higher. It seemed like a continuous struggle,not only coping with the high demand of graduate studies, but also learning how to float in a complicated and highly regulated system.

As pressure increased, so did the need of exploring more in all fronts, spontaneous group travels, short journeys, legendary Balkan beat parties, sight seeings, etc… I loved living in the most awesome apartment housing called ” the Common Wealth Village”  with students coming literally from all around the world. Let’s just say I loved our version of “L’Auberge Espagnole” sharing countless beautiful moments with amazing people.

In 2001, post graduate studies were very limited in Albania. There were no private Universities and the post graduate programs in public universities were quite limited to highly experienced professionals. Therefore, the obvious choice was to apply for fellowship abroad. I’m glad I did pursue this alternative solution as it turned out far more challenging and interesting. I would highly recommend to every young student out there to try it if the opportunity arises. As a professional, I’m now rather disconnected from the academic life here in Tirana, meaning from institutions such as universities. But still I have the gut feeling that the current generation of students stopped seeking opportunities to study abroad by finding rather the easier shortcuts of studying in local private universities. On one hand it is great to have more studying choices on your own country, but it certainly presents a number of disadvantages. It enhances the biased perspective toward other cultures and people from other countries. Having a first-hand cultural experience is much more than learning the language, recognizing personal differences in attitudes,in personal traits and food. It refers to a deeper perception on broader community values shared in international context. It gets deeply rooted in someone’s conscience by expanding its worldview.

What is even more troubling is the profit driven approach of these private universities as their primary goal. It contributes in lowering the bar of student admission criteria which dictates the overall learning quality and experience. Under these circumstances, if I were a student I would certainly choose carefully my university in order to enhance the value of my degree and to have a competitive advantage and access in the future job market.

Unfortunately we can’t be students forever. As time goes by incredibly fast, so does the educational cycle come to an end. So, think twice, grab the opportunity, and move forward. Next…