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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 😉


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” ;))

The Albanian Diva: Elhaida Dani an Insane Inspiration for All of Us

The so called “Devastating Hurricane” by the jury of the Voice of Italy is causing a real turmoil of emotions inside and outside Albania. The young Albanian singer Elhaida Dani, Top fest winner 2012, is now heading to her big night, the final of the Voice of Italy as one of the four contestants.

With fair modesty I can state that she is not only an amazing young singer, gorgeous looking, a reminiscence of Whitney Huston’s vocal, a vivid show of strength and great technique, but also an incredible sweet girl that has rocked the hearts of the wide Albanian and Italian public.

Tonight is the great night. It will be officially decided ” The Voice of Italy”. I really hope it will be a rewarding night for Elhaida. Neither because she is an Albanian going that far at the Voice of Italy, nor of something seen as symbol or national pride, but simply because she is the best and deserves it. Elhaida is The Voice and I hope the Italian public will see it and not get lost in some “nationalistic quotations” trap as the ones I notice in few social media threads. It is about “The Voice” and she is the one, you know it.

Here are some of her fine moments at the Voice contest:

I believe I can fly, it makes R. Kelly look small 😉

The thunderstorm Mama knows best which astonished the jury, nicknamed her “the devastating hurricane”, “the force of nature”, “The VOICE”.

Go Elhaida, take that crown, you deserve it, it’s yours 🙂

PS: After-hour midnight update…And the winner is : ELHAIDA DANI, a diva who made two countries proud of her talent, simplicity and modesty. A girl who made her great coach Cocciante say in tears “I learned from her modesty”.

Now I shut up and let the VOICE talk The Winner of Voice of Italy

Lana Del Rey: Lolita Lost in the 60’s Hood

Sensational Lana in her ravishing retro style looked like she just stepped off the set of Mad Men into the stage O2 World Hamburg arena.


Lana Del Rey for German “Interview.”
Photo: Courtesy of “Interview” magazine

At first, I wasn’t quite sure in attending her concert in early April during my short stay in Hamburg, as I rather pictured her comfortably sitting in the role of a lounge singer which doesn’t exactly fit into an exciting live concert framing. I certainly would have not thought twice of going to a classical Rolling Stones, Metallica, or even not so classical Pink or Coldplay concert. But given the fact that I was invited and that deep down I enjoyed her Summer Sadness epic song, I find myself power walking for 20 minutes against some 60 thousand disappointed Hamburg fans that had left the stadium after Hamburg – Freiburg football match. It wasn’t easy, but luckily to my advantage the concert started with an hour delay. And when it did I was dazzled by the overwhelming performance of this young artist. She was still quite shy in engaging the audience, but her remarkable 50’s meets 60’s style, baby doll gone Priscilla Presley like bridal, self-styled “Gangsta Nancy Sinatra” meets “Lolita lost in the Hood” was unique in its own dramatic tenderness and sensual retro performance.

Of course certain stunning public appearance make someone think further and provoke endless conversations on her genuine authenticity as female artist versus reinventing herself as a perfect manufactured product. Just surfing the web there’s plenty of evidence on her earlier failure as Lizzy Grant (her original name) when her very first album fell unnoticed, untraced, while the later slick Lana Del Rey image with her soaring vocal and natural 60’s look, controversially triggered fame and indisputable success.

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Marketing product or not, the re-inventing of Lana Del Ray who appears to just have left the Mad Men rehearsal dinner in a simply gorgeous look, devine voice and playful apperance is certainly a new phenomena in the music trend, which set the stage for further artistic and tasteful impressions.

The Sirens of Kuala Lumpur

The second after exploring the breathtaking Petronas Towers that lay beautifully there on their own, like not for sale expensive jewels you can look at but not possess, you feel this immediate grasping urge of going out and seeing more of the city.
As the night hits the ground, so I approach one of the most vivid KL nightlife scenes, Bukit Bintang district. Not exactly knowing the city, you got to trust the taxi driver of where to be dropped off. It looked reasonable to go through China town which merges into the party district.

Beach Club, KLNot the smartest idea though walking around on an exciting evening outfit in the amidst of smelly, second hand market. Then again time has to be maximized. The crowded district with a wide spectrum of party styles and settings to choose is there in front of me. Still difficult to choose a nightspot from latin, techno, reggae, retro or groovy beats. Making a cameo appearance in a couple of clubs doesn’t fully satisfy my taste. Still interesting to observe the diverse party folks being unleashed to the night beats.

Lady Boys of KL.As they say, “It ain’t over until it is really over”. A last stop at the downtown beach club. Lady boys being held outside of the club and many unaccompanied men waiting for the lucky touch to get in. I had no problems getting in. Sited outside at the bar in the “observation deck” for the first drink, surrounded by a proxy of twenty young girls standing in a rows just at the club entrance.

Party Chicks, KL.The girls look extremely young and beautiful, teens in 80s pretty woman style, outdated outfits, and vivid hunting eyes. A funky mixture really. African girls whose looks and styles were a reminiscence of Naomi Campbell, and petit Asian young ladies with their striking innocent faces. It feels like being invisible, great. A wink of an eye, a soft touch below man’s shoulders, or a fake thrill of running upon an easy victim with the looks of a 50+ man who’s desperately in search of the trade off ” I can buy your youth and feel a cool dude offering cocktails to a beautiful girl”.

Kenya calling, KL.That’s not the only pattern though. You see it all. A young man whining to an Asian girl about having postponed his trip to Istanbul for her girlfriend who’s not showing up, two western guys in their 40’s immediately approached by their Kenyan sweethearts, girls on the waiting line looking at smartphones with little frustration as time is running out, a desperate man who feels seduced, but still reluctant to conceive to her gorgeous looks and body language, a chubby old man walking out with his winning prize for the night. Btw, still haven’t seen one single kiss. You can go in bed, but you don’t kiss a stranger. That’s too personal.

The Hook-up, KL.With this defense mechanism in mind, the thought of who’s exploiting whom arouses the thinking further. Both sides of the coin need each other and if they’re not both stapled on it, the coin would not exist. The bad and the good, the ugliness and the beauty are held dormant until they are being evoked by some random situation or momentum. One great thing I felt in every breathing molecule while traveling Asia is that you DON’T JUDGE OTHERS, no matter how looks are like, what stomachs can digest, what dress or scarf you put on, or what air is being breathed. It all comes down to feeling peaceful and satisfied with oneself and others around you.

Taken 2 – Hollywood’s Albanian Complex 2.0

So here I am at the Millennium cinema after a week of persisting my girlfriends  to watch Taken 2 by using social research arguments. I don’t even know how I succeeded to convince them, knowing their specific and rather alternative movie taste. Thank you girls for joining me, I own you a drink! 

What really triggered my interest in Taken 2 is plain curiosity how Hollywood directors portrait my people, customs, and cultural elements especially in some oriental set up setting like Istanbul.

The sequel of “Taken 2 ” is very simple, as simple as 1+1=2 for first graders is. The Albanian sex traffickers who kidnapped Kim (Maggie Grace) in Taken 1 are after her father, retired CIA agent Bryan Mills (Neeson), seeking revenge on Bryan and his ex-wife, Lenore (Famke Janssen) who happen to be in Istanbul together with their daughter.  After the first 10 minutes there was nothing left to imagine or to look forward to. It was very clear who were the winners, the losers, the good guys, the evil ones, and who will be slaughtered in name of some Albanian tribal revenge. It’s a movie advertised as an adrenaline-fuel thrill ride with a pretty hot thriller staring like Liam Neeson, but unfortunately with no substance and weight behind its contend. Not even a charismatic movie star like Liam could compensate, it’s that bad that the action thriller PG-13 turns out comic and ridiculously cheesy. But ok, Rotten Tomatoes critics can rate it. 

What’s striking is that even simple facts and symbols were not straight.  Since we’re talking about a Hollywood movie, I find quite embarrassing this mishmash of symbols like the blue color of our flag with an eagle or some weird ES number plate. What a lousy research! After all is it that difficult for a crew of experts on multi million movie budget to check these facts? If you ask a 10 year old kid here can tell you that Tropoja a city situated in northern Albania and it is not bordered with Turkey (Turkish flag was showing in the borderline). Furthermore, as a matter of fact Albanians do speak Albanian and do not greet each other in Arabic with “Salam Aleikum” though the majority of us are Muslim. Plus what a confusion with traffickers’  names as father named Murad, sons respectively Mirko and Marko. Sexist was the ritual of burial ceremony with almost no women around, but rough dark skin looking men (for the record people living in northern part of Albania  are mostly blond, tall and blue eyed). Not that this matters, but just to straighten the facts. 

In addition, I found misleading using the stereotype of revenge/blood feuds in such a criminal context. First by involving the family in bloodthirsty revenge plot they’re talking no longer about Albanian gangs, but rather Albanian people of Tropoja seeking revenge for their lost son’s life. Second, by building up the scenario on one of the most controversial rules of the Kanun of LekĂ« Dukagjini , a code of rules dating back in the 15th century where is specified how murder is supposed to be handled, which lead to blood feuds (similar to Italian Vendetta laws) risk of deforming and generalizing this particular clustered phenomena into some randomized crime and unfaithful Albanian stereotypes. In other words, that’s again the danger of little knowledge.

To sum it up I can’t agree more with Wesley Morris of The Boston Globe: It’s a stupid movie by smart people who aren’t smart enough to realize it’s stupid. The absurdity grows like mold in the dank, dark of seriousness. So it’s fun for some of the right reasons, but mostly for the wrong ones.”

As Summer Fades Away in Drymadhes

It has been an exceptional hot and dry summer within our continental climate boundaries! It’s September 8th and summer is still hanging in there. So am I. Driving up to curvy Llogara roads in search of the divinest spot thousand meters up in the air, in midst of mountains, it’s impossible to draw the imaginary line between the deep crystal clear Ionian sea and blue sky.

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Why did I take so long to return here? It is not associated to a break up story or a accident, certainty not. Though five years passed by incredibly fast and things might have changed for the better or the worse, I didn’t forget to write a mental note to myself: Don’t expect too much, these are just small villages by the costal line.

The paved road and sign of a Raiffeisen cash machine were the first things to capture my eye on the Dhermi/Drymadhes entrance. That’s definitely an improvement. So it is the list of hotels’ phone numbers on a poster. Booking hotels/rooms online is quite limited and bargaining deals are still in fashion here. Though it’s already September, the Drymadhes Inn was fully booked, but finding another place to stay was not difficult. My coworker Mr. Elton Gjika who is the architect of the impressive 4 stars “Mansion of Pasha” (Sarajet e Pashait Residence Hotel) suggested me to spend the weekend there. It felt like residing in old times, equipped in luxurious old setting, surrounded by thick stone walls, and the mansion itself was beautifully conceptualized with modern comfort deriving from the historical Albanian mansions of 17th-18th century. The place could not offer more then its historic feeling and hospitality in terms of full range of services and activities speaking, since we were few guests accommodated in these fading summer days.

Dining turned out more tricky. Both evenings sticking to a fish restaurant that seemed to be the only one operating in Drymadhes. Here comes the waiter with a booklet menu and a sarcastic smile. Great! We seem to have alternatives and plenty of choices by going through the menu. But after each attempted order or request there was still this persistent ironic smile of the waiter mentioning repetitively “No, we don’t serve this or we don’t have that…” Ok, my mistake, let’s leave the menu aside and reformulate the question: “Is there anything we can order apart from the 5,000 lek rip-off fish, please?” This time the smile seemed honest followed by a clearer explanation. We are closing down tomorrow, tonight is the last night we serve.

Walking through Drymadhes at daylight was depressive. It was a beautiful summer Sunday at 30+, but almost everything was closed down. The bars, clubs, restaurants, empty touristic information center, trash laying on the sidewalks, skeletons of the summer bars like an earthquake had just hit the area. Unfinished construction works and roads gave nothing but a sad closure to the summer season. Even cows seemed abandoned by their owners, taking lonely promenades in search of company at the beach or at a random hotel entrance.

Finally among free associative thoughts, reminiscences from the past, regretful observations and an inner refusal force screaming out “This can’t be it!!!” Then, the real thing by the seaside: Laying in a comfortable beach chair at the Albanian version of Nikki Beach, feeling the breeze blowing as sun got hotter, sensing the barefoot warmth of the little stones, crashing the playful waves as first sun-kissed rays leave their place to a breathtaking sunset. What a purity of nature and bonheur, what you couldn’t find in Marbella, Mallorca or St. Tropez! Finally: THIS IS IT…

Pinned at a fabulous wedding party!

If you were to pin your wedding in an Albanian way, the most frequently asked questions would be: Whom to invite? How many guests? Live music or DJ? Traditional or modern style? I’m not even mentioning the bride’s dilemmas about wedding dress, hair and makeup artist, interior decor, camera man, menu selection, etc. I know these facts from my friends and family who got married earlier. Everyone thinks it’s crazy to go through the process and yet every one does it. It’s all worth it in the end…

I love being a wedding guest. Not only I don’t have to worry about finding the perfect gift for the couple since the norm here requires money only sealed in an envelope, but I have plenty of time to plan in advance my outfit, hair and makeup. It’s a bit like going to a ballroom; equipped with a splendid appearance and a dancing partner. My only single requirement as guest is to show up on time, often a challenge since it really takes time to get ready for such an important event . It is like this old Albanian saying  “One gets married and one hundred get crazy”.
So here I’m sited in a round table with an entrĂ©e plate looking at me: Try me, try me!!! Not yet, though. We have to wait for the fireworks signaling the arrival of the newlyweds. Once the bride and the groom greet us, their dancing performance which they mastered following ongoing dance courses in the last few months finally starts. I feel empathy for the groom. Poor him, what he has to go through for the perfect wedding dance. But it’s ok. Little exercise is healthy after all and never killed a man.

As for the bride, she left us all speechless wearing that gorgeous bell shaped wedding gown.  Congratulations to Loreta and Eris and wish them happy new life together!

Once we get out of the way the newlyweds dance’s choreography of romantic ballad-R&B-techno-tango-you name it, is finally our turn to swing and twist. Good luck with that! If the next music track happens to be from the southern Albania, it involves meters long of human chain dancing around in the dance floor. The couple doesn’t have their main performance until they dance the mid-Tirana region collage of wedding songs. A sudden wave of money flows over their foreheads circled by the many of us floating around them to the Napoloni dance rhythms. While kids get busy collecting the money on the ground, someone offers to burn the bachelor’s handkerchief that groom is holding as a symbol of commitment to the new marital life.

As the party goes on for several hours make sure you eat or at least try some of the many courses being served before getting totally lost into dancing lines.

In addition, there are no worries about holding a great speech to welcome guests. That takes 3-5 seconds. And the guests are not required to say anything to the couple, at least publicly. In the end, we don’t have a public speech gene.

Shall we continue to dance?

Music Ban and the End of Summer Nights in Tirana

After our “wise leading fathers” addressed all our political and societal problems, fought corruption which is holding back the country’s integration to the bigger European family, improved our quality of life through sound public policies, created countless jobs for youngsters and middle class, created parks in every neighborhood, invested in public transportation, education, and health system it is about time to win the last battle: The War on noise pollution in every corner of the Albanian territory.

Since a couple of weeks now you see police knocking on every bar-pub-club door with a clear noise-free mission: To enforce our Prime Father’s order for shutting down music at midnight. Seriously, the music in every bar in Tirana stops at 12 pm, followed by crowds of young people leaving soon afterwards.

So the typical Saturday night now looks like go out around 11 pm and come back home around midnight. Why bothering, really!!! Such an effort to dress up, do my hair, put on some make up, get the car out of the garage, look for parking, order quickly a drink while waiting for the music to ditch me by midnight? This is nonsense. There’s no need to mention the disappointment of younger crowds and their frustration to this ridicule. This harassment has to stop, it is mockery.

We are a Southern country with the youngest population age in Europe. One of the biggest if not the only asset of Tirana, often pointed out by foreigners for its dullness is the stylish and vibrant night life. There is really a neat party culture in Tirana which is hard to find even in some main European metropolis. Numerous fancy designed bars, open air summer terrace, well behaved and dressed up people partying to urban beats in +26 degrees at night, sets a wonderful example of modern party culture. Not to mention here the negative economic effects and burden of this sudden restriction on local bars and entertainment businesses.Image

What is more important is to understand that the concept of noise pollution does not only refer neither it is limited to loud music in bars. It is a much broader concept and addressing it requires smart public policies and not lousy executive orders followed by police authority. Keeping the city noise down requires a long-term plan and commitment set to cope with a wide range of factors, such as noise from transportation, private businesses, road works, construction sites, noisy neighbors, etc. This plan should involve better management of transportation systems, better city planning and better design of buildings. Roads, for example, can be made quieter by better repairing them, using low-noise road surfaces, and also by educating drivers to use less horns and drive less chaotically. Barking dogs or quarreling neighbors are not less sleep disturbing though are generally accepted in here.

I’m not saying that we have to ignore the rights of habitants for living in a quite city. I’m just trying to trigger a second thought to this discussion. There are certainly better ways for addressing this issue properly than cutting corners. Applying specific rules and regulations in certain areas depending on population density, setting different closing hours, music volume, etc. Midnight music ban in “Mai Tai” located in outskirts of Tirana, in the middle of valleys is misfitting to the general rule. A clustered plan based on cost and benefit analysis could determine the optimized solution. Let’s rather try for a win win situation and avoid lousy shortcuts.

The Naked and the Posh at the French Riviera. (Part 2)

The first evening in Cannes started curiously looking at the wealth demonstration in La Croisette Boulevard. Image

Everything seems literally shinier there, the signature shops of Dior, Burberry, Gucci, Salvatore Ferragamo, Yves Saint-Lauren, the jewels’ exhibition in the lobby of Carlton Intercontinental Hotel, the shelter of movie stars, the impressive Galeries Bartoux, the lighten promenade occupied by world-class models on frame of the 9th international photographic festival on Mode and Beaute, the gleaming red Ferrari driving by…

At some point we have to eat dinner. It definitely feels like the most dangerous avenue to satisfy our gourmet appetite. Look at this hotel, the menu is first written in Russian followed by French translated version. In situations like this my modest French skills become handy, but let’s check further for something less dangerous. A waiter with a trendy haircut and Armani belt approached to take the order. That went well. We got what we wanted in a minimalistic size. Where do you find such a place where the portion itself take care of your ideal body figure? Too bad there is no Quality Burger Restaurant near by, if not at all to ease our “stomach pain”. But hey, there’s always delicious red wine. That can certainly soften our souls.

A failed version of Brigitte Bardot is now approaching the table next to us where these two Algerian looking-like women are sitting. Still a mystery how the ladies knew each other, but it was definitely very amusing to listen to their spiced-up conversation. How to convince the young Algerian lady in her early thirties that there’s still time to find the right man? This coming from a single 60’s Bohemian lady who was never married, but she seemed to happily enjoy her freedom and her yoga state of mind.

The days were usual, free tanning sessions at the crowed public beaches opposed to lying in a 40 Euro beach chair, little ice-cream and Orangina breaks to satisfy thirst, afternoon naps in the little oasis at the charming backyard of our hotel. Life is pretty good in here!

As Cannes is being the playground of every world’s elite including rich and famous, royals and multi-billionaires, celebrities and stars, want to be moneyed and want to be celebrated, it sets the stage of an arrogant and rather patronizing behavior even at an early age. So there’s no joke, you see little kids rather 14 years old running around with jeans and classy jackets sitting on bars sipping, well, just apple juice. Also, Cannes is certainly the place where hot chicks are neither secretive nor put out of the sight. Totally dressed up in their fancy evening dresses it gets even difficult of distinguishing them from the “good girls” of La Croissete Boulevard who certainly have a style of their own. Flirting and playing around you get to see in every corner; in the colorful avenue, by the beach, in the party area, on the back door of Film Festival Palace where wild parties are being thrown for the worlds’ most glamorous celebrities.  Even a flirty approach in midnight clubbing line had a rather classy style to it, as being asked by the club body guard if I was alone or with “my husband”.

Is it really everything about status in this overexcited posh environment, isn’t it? Enough of this madness! Let’s go to somewhere more inspiring, warm, and inviting.

Next stop: Little charming of its own kind French town, the beautiful Antibes!

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 CĂŽte d’Azur. The FB Pandora box is totally irresistible especially when I’m on vacation.

Wow what a trip!!! CĂŽte 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 dĂ©jĂ  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.


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 (kĂ«rnacka). 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…