Category Archives: Lifestyle

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 🙂


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.


“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?

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.


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 😉

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.


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.

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.

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:








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.

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…

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…

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”.


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.


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”

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?


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:


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 🙂


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.


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!


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.


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 😉


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.

Welcome to Balkans!

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

Summer Day and Pagan Holiday (Dita e Verës)

I’m off work today since it’s March 14th, meaning the official Summer Day in Albania. I always wondered why we put such a strong emphasis on the initial start of the summer/spring since we definitely don’t miss the super hot summer days for at least 6 months. But being a pagan holiday it symbolizes revival of nature, flourishing of plants, and rejuvenation of spirits awaken from the cold winter days. It’s the first day of the year according to the BC Grigorian calendar. Therefore, the national celebration of the Summer Day always occupied the streets with crowds of people walking along the boulevard, street performances and summer festivals, happy kids on playgrounds, special sweets named “ballokume”, etc.

Sunny Summer Day in Tirana 2012


The unwritten rule or belief throughout years has been that it doesn’t rain on the Summer Day. Actually as long as I can recall I didn’t rain, well until today. I don’t know what disappointed me the most, the constant rain crashing the celebrations in Tirana, or the fall of the “does-not-rain-alwayes-sunshine” myth. Nevertheless, I still went out in the city today, got a couple of ballokume, few snapshots of the rainy empty streets and children playgrounds, and got home happily soaking wet. Happy Summer Day to everyone! It’s still there, just hiding in the next corner…

Faded Summer Day in Tirana 2013



Same old traditional sweets : Ballokume Elbasani


The Myth of Dating the Albanian Girl

I always find hilarious reading topics like “the perfect woman”, “how to seduce a man”, “10 naughty secrets”, ” 30 things to do to a naked man” , “how to land a date”, and so on… the list gets endless in women and fashion magazines around the globe. Therefore, looking at the article Would You Date: the Albanian Girl which I found randomly at Elite Daily, immediately triggered funky thoughts. I was right. The dating guide to the Elite globetrotting men this time offered pros and cons of dating The Albanian Girl. I don’t know what irritated me most, likely the pros, but nevertheless I found it pretty entertaining.

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Long Summer nights at Padam, Tirana

Pros: Domesticated- “In a period where women are overly preoccupied with “who are you wearing”, “how they can get their hands on the latest fashion”, or “how they can find a man who will buy them whatever they desire,” it is difficult to find that particular girl that knows how to treat a man. Because many Albanian families are very traditional, it is almost guaranteed that she is more than capable of preparing a good meal and actually knows how to do laundry well”. Are you serious? Since when dressing up is not part of the Albanian culture or since when women who actually follow fashion do not qualify as family-oriented? Who on earth are those “Elite guys” wanting a wife only for being capable of preparing a good meal and doing laundry? It’s true that families in Albania are rather conservative and traditional, like it’s true that more young women are keened on embracing western values, getting educated, and working hard to be independent.

Make Good Wives- Wow, I didn’t know that we deserve that stupid title “A good Wife Material” or You can count on an Albanian woman to stick by her man no matter how difficult things get financially. Even if her man is in the wrong, an Albanian woman will be understanding and stick by her man.” Not that having a loyal woman by your side it’s not essential, actually it’s very important, but nowadays Albanian women are not much different from their western counterparts. I’m just being honest here. The number of divorces in Albania not only is constantly increasing, but are mainly women filing for it. To some extend this is even good news for us since it means we’re getting more free and capable of taking life into our own hands rather than living an unhappy married life. I guess the wrong perception derives from the communism decades where divorce was almost illegal and society back then was heavily stigmatizing a divorced couple; therefore women were obliged to “stick by their man” no matter what.

Presentable“They take care of themselves, are very fashionable, and present themselves in a manner that is classy and sophisticated without coming off as haughty. Not only are they well dressed, but Albanian women also take pride in how they present themselves in the public sphere. You will never need to stress over being embarrassed by harlot-esque actions from an Albanian woman”. I tend to agree with this one 😉 

Sex: The average Albanian household is known to be strict, especially for the women. This however does not deter our beloved Albanian women from getting down in the bedroom. She will come off as modest in public, but once the lights are off and the door is closed you must be prepared for the inner freak to come out. Behind closed doors these women have some moves reminiscent of some of your wildest fantasies”. I have NO comment on that, but I LOL when I read another user’s comment “At least they got one thing right”.


Picture of Fadil Berisha -retaken at Pedonale street expo, Tirana

Cons: GossipersGossip plays a big part in the lives of women within the Albanian community. If you notice that your girlfriend is prominent in her social media sphere and changes her Facebook profile picture frequently, you might have a heavy gossiper on your hands. Social media will ruin this relationship because if she is stalking others, rest assured that she is taking note of your actions as well”. Well, I really find amusing the correlation between the frequency of changing the profile picture and a gossiper, but don’t forget that many couples throughout the world hooked up or ended their relationships through Facebook. But seriously, the problem shouldn’t be the “stalkers”, the problem should rather be the lame cheaters out there. This so reminds me an Albanian joke: A villager complained to his fellows that someone stole his cow last night, and they all start blaming him why he let that happen. The grieving villager listen to them and added: So, all the fault is mine, but the one who actually stole the cow is not to be blamed?

Questionable Past RelationshipsNever under any circumstance fall for the “You’re the first guy I’ve spoken to” or “I really don’t talk to guys like you” line. In most cases, it is a complete lie. Since many Albanian households are strict, Albanian women must find creative ways to circumvent the overbearing rules of their strict parents. This includes keeping some of their darkest and dirtiest secrets under wraps for extensive periods of time. Trust me, if they are good at keeping secrets from those closest to them, just imagine the past experiences she is keeping from you.” This does sound too paranoid and teenage-like issue to me. Parents asks to come home not too late so I tell a little lie to come around the situation or I keep a little secret for myself. It’s true that being open about past or private life is not a common quality for many Albanians, but still there’s no need to freak out, especially if you’re in a mature relationship.At the end our family ties usually are too strong to keep skeletons in our closets.


Jealousy- “Home grown Albanian women tend to be territorial. Once you are theirs, you are theirs and no one else’s. Albanian women have difficulties with sharing. They are highly aware of their surroundings, so a wrong look from another girl can cause quite the commotion” Yes, we don’t like to share our man, but who would want actually…unless you’re into that swing couple stuff or you’re too hooked on threesomes, I have a hard time believing that other women out there like to share their man or have him flirt around. Plus, Albanian girls are extremely intuitive. So in case you’re playing the audacious smart ass with her just do a favor to yourself and avoid that, it won’t work. She will know you lied before you even realized you did;)


Younger friends in South Albania

In the end it needs a no brainier that all this is not to be taken too seriously, since we are generalizing. If not, who’s the representation model of the Albanian girl? Is this sample girl coming from some remote village, big enough county, little town, city? What’s her education level or professional background? What looks are like or they’re all hot Mediterranean babes? I’m born, raised and lived most of my life in Albania and if you would ask me on this I would say; this all –inclusive stereotyping is not the right way to go. It usually carries elements of stigma, prejudice, verbal insult, or slur that encompasses the entire group. Rather go for the communication approach, chat, talk, or write and you’ll find out by yourself about the Albanian Girl.

Happy Birthday SHQIPERI!

Let me tell you a real fairy tale in a nutshell. Once upon a time, 100 years ago, there was a nation with its own language, customs, and symbols. A nation in its own land occupied for 5 centuries by the Ottoman Empire. My Albanian stepfathers who were known as great fighters, by realizing the weakness of the Turkish army, accelerated to take measures on their own hands. Therefore, our founding father Ismail Qemali departed from Istanbul, set off for Vienna where he reached an agreement with the Great Powers, and invited all Albanians to gather in Vlora on November 28th 1912, precisely 469 years after our National Hero Skanderbeg liberated Kruja and raised the flag on November 28th 1443. Ismail Qemali was extremely pleased to see that delegates from all parts of Albania were gathered to proclaim the Albanian Independence, a free and independent state under a provisional government. He was the key figure in the Albanian Declaration of Independence and the formation of the independent Albania in 28 November 1912.

Here we are standing after 100 years of Independent State heritage, having certainly gone through historic turmoil like World and Balkan Wars, monarchy, communism, and lately democracy. There’s a great deal of history to take a look at during this past century in terms of political events, influential leadership, a deeper reflection on how we evolved, and where we’re headed to. Personally, I have been reflecting a lot on such epic event like the 100 Anniversary of Independence.

More I thought of it, more confused I have got. On the verge of this national super-exaltation, grabbing every moment of city life like a clock ticking with accelerated tick-tack rhythm, I’m caught thinking 100 questions: “What would be like the equivalent of freedoms we enjoy today versus those 100 years ago?”; “How comparable are the nowadays leaders to the idealistic founding fathers”; “Are we really better off discounting time-inflation factor?”; “Have we changed much and to what extend?” What are your thoughts?

Since this anniversary is truly iconic for its importance, I can understand why any remote skeptical opinion on current developments is viewed as anti-patriotic or political oriented. I have the feeling there’s no place for constructive criticism on what we have achieved in this century time-frame or added to the taste of celebrating this mega event. If one does that, risks falling into the anti-patriotic or political bi-polar loop trap. Sounds complicated, but let me simplify it. Two main political parties in the country, or better two main political leaders, celebrate the 28th separately – the one in power in Tirana while the opposition one celebrates it in Vlora. How cheerless and shameful would be for our political leadership to show up divided even in this symbolic day! Can’t they just in the name of national interest leave behind their contradictions/interests at least for ONE DAY? Finally its official, after all the media rumors, prior declarations, or speculations the political leadership of all colors stayed united in the opening ceremony today in Vlora where symbolically the Albanian flag was raised again after 100 years.

As the prominent novelist Mr. Rexhep Qosja mentioned earlier in his speech, today is the day where Albanians worldwide celebrate their independence as Albanians, not divided by their political views, geographical region or religion.

Today we commemorate our Independence Day as one great nation and that’s what counts most. And here’s a pre-taste of what’s going on right now…

Delegates coming from different regions of Kosovo headed to Vlora (impersonated, remembering 28 November 1912), Photo credit: Eris Gashi

Hundred of thousands Albanians gathered in Vlora to celebrate 100 Years Independence!

Arms and Helmet of Skanderbeg in a 45 days exhibition for the first time in Tirana – Collection of Arms and Armour at the Neue Burg (affiliated with the Kunsthistorisches Museum) in Vienna.

Standing in front of Skanderbeg weapons @ Albanian Historical Museum. His weapons have been subjects of mythical adoration.

Flag kept by patriot Said Najdeni

Inauguration of the Eagle Square

Google Doodle wearing Albanian Flag Colors. View-able in Albania

Tirana getting ready for the Independence Day

…and it’s everywhere

…also up in the blue sky (Photo Credit to Aeronautika Shqiptare)

Gathered for some after hour celebration…
…and sipping Margaritas to some awesome Etno Jazz rhythms @ Opium bar


My Hometown Tirana

How do we relate to our hometowns? I think we are like verbs that love, hate, run away, forget, feel eternal affection, or never leave that single unique spot on earth we were brought to life. In the meantime our hometown is like a rock-solid noun that never goes away. It follows us unconditionally, throughout life and beyond death. I was born in here on a settled Sunday morning. Since then, I don’t know how this deep connection for my hometown Tirana was rooted on me. May be was ingrained during early childhood or by some unexplained mystical feeling that gets socially inherited in us. I can’t word it. It’s strange, since it’s not the best city in world; it yet needs to be urbanized; there remain many MUST developing areas; it’s far from being perfect, with no beach or river going through (Lana is not a river). Still it’s the only single place I call home, I feel at home, makes me homesick when I’m far away, triggers my madness, my joy, or my sadness like no other city in the world.

Today is yet another day and that’s how this lovely day looks like in Tirana.

It’s a long sunny weekend and I go for a walk at the lake. On the way back I stop at my favorite street, the Pedonale of Tirana. Surprise, surprise! The Albanian models have occupied the outdoor expo of the well-know Albanian photographer Fadil Berisha. Great setting with all the beauty queens proudly confirming their exquisiteness and splendor in various frames; traditional, attractive, symbolic,  magnificent, contemporary, goth, and spicy. 

Further up I notice these colorful umbrellas floating up in the air. Underneath this colorful ceiling visitors go through the walls of another interesting expo “Let’s pull off the boundaries”. A student majoring in urban planning at POLIS University starts explaining the idea of how the housing boundaries have developed in our history from the period of fortification of castle-cities to nowadays formal and informal urban areas. Great effort for a good cause, Congrats guys!!!

But I’m not done yet as I decide to watch Das System a German movie showing in framework of German October activities which are organized every year in the capital.

The movie was a good choice, heavily dramatic referring to the pernicious influence of the former East Germany’s very corrupt system which even  20+ years after the reunification continues to be felt in today’s Federal Republic. Great plot to watch.

When I thought this lovely day was coming to an end, the iPhone rang. Yes, my friend I’ll sure join you tonight at the Living Room for some VIP cameo appearance of the SP left wing opposition leader, and for a long time former Mayor of Tirana Mr. Edi Rama

Why so?

Nor I’m too crazy to be part of some VIP snob party, neither too nuts about aligning myself with any political groupies. Just that I found quite intriguing to see him in that setting, invited by a right wing political analyst who happens to run a private university, and Rama appears to greet its FRESSH Students. Complicated, but still very amusing.

In the end Tirana is a very small place. Still, it’s my Hometown, like Bruce Springsteen smoothly played in his beautiful heart felt song – My Hometown.

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 Lekë 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.”

Shopping in Tirana, New Trends and Risks to the Shopping Paradise

It’s Sunday afternoon and I feel bothered for no groundbreaking reason actually. Well, it’s October 7th, sunny, +27 degrees, and stupidly enough I’m not taking advantage of Mother Nature’s generosity with these exceptional late summer days. But instead of laying on a beach chair or simply spending time with friends I’m caught by this lame state of being. Crumbling in dissatisfaction and pre-Monday stress I have this super dangerous buying desire that I can’t gratify unless I go shopping. But where actually!!! In the Block area, M. Shyri Street gets tricky with the parking.

Tirana has quite some nice shopping areas and centers. The newest one is Tirana East Gate (TEG),which is the bigger version of the oldest one, QTU.There are quite some popular shops I prefer like Mango, Koton, Motivi, Springfield, Cortefiel, Esprit, etc. Also activities and attraction for little children are not missing. I once even took a train ride with my little nephew in TEG. The super fancy shops and entertaining areas of Citypark, Coin, and ETC certainly don’t fall behind. Therefore, quite some shopping choices in this fast growing retail market targeting different income groups are already in place.

In addition to existing shopping centers spread throughout the city, a new Tirana Business Park facility is being built on the way to Rinas airport. As well Toptani Shopping Center which lays in the heart of Tirana is expected to finish by 2013.

For future nostalgic reasons I decided to take some snapshots of yet non-occupied land closed to Rinas area. In a couple of years these landscapes will be simply nonexistent with current development rhythms. But this is another issue.

But what makes this investment scene so vibrant in light of increased competition in retail market and newly build shopping centers in the outskirts of the capital? Despite the negative trickle down effects of the European crisis, the Albanian economy indicates still growth though at lower levels. Other favorable conditions contributing to these ongoing investments refer to increased demand for goods and services. The migration of population from rural toward urban areas is still present. Car ownership continues to grow, as well as improvements to road infrastructure. All these factors make Tirana a target for investors. The new highway connecting Kosovo to Albania in less then 3 hours potentially adds on to the purchasing power. So does the relocation of many emigrants “escaping” the economic turmoils in neighboring countries. All these combined with limited shopping space in the inner city creates good prospects for capital investments in retail.

As for myself, unfortunately I still use any possibility I have to shop abroad. I’m not quite satisfied with what I’m offered in terms of “products’ quality and prices”. Being in consumers’s shoes is rather difficult to find a balance between product quality and competitive prices. It is definitely not a shopping paradise. Even at seasonal sales and discounts, there’s a shortage of spiced up collections or choices at decent price levels. For the time being is difficult to find retail stores like Zara, H&M, Bershka, Promod that maintain a cost advantage to their competitors in their marketing activities. It’s great to invest in new shopping facilities and building up a sophisticated shopping culture, but the biggest challenge for many retailers out there will be maintaining business sustainability through calibrating their competitive advantages relative to their peers.

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 entrée 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 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.


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…

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…

Coffee Culture in Tirana

I love drinking coffee, especially my morning coffee. It boosts my energies to actively start the day. Most likely, I’m not an exception among other coffee lovers. Also people who don’t drink coffee use some kind of caffeine substitute to get this energy kick, like coca cola, tea and so on. Even now that I’m writing these thoughts, I so need a coffee:) Once I got a little upset when I heard an English consultant saying to me “…unbelievable, this country runs on coffee”. My counter-reaction was obvious and pretty fast “same like England that runs on beers, no…” A bit silly I know, but it is the typical reaction when you don’t want to hear from a random foreigner insulting neither your country nor your people.

It is not easy to stay far from coffee shops when you live in Tirana. They are everywhere and usually they serve as a meeting point for everything, you name it: doing business, meeting a date, breaking up, killing spare time, planning the weekend with friends, doing group work, lobbing and even reaching political deals. In other words, a coffee shop is the place to got, so let’s meet for a coffee;)

For many of us it is a fast way to get things done, meet with an acquaintance, talk over things and let’s get it on. Someone can find the social impact of this attitude more comforting or healthier by spending spare time sitting face to face with a person in a coffee shop, than hiding after a monitor screen, chatting for hours with someone, tweeting and re-tweeting hundreds of time a day, going through pictures and status updates on Facebook or endlessly adding 500+ new professional connections in LinkedIn.

To some extend it is more common for us Albanians to establish bondage in real life then sinking deep in the virtual world with a good intention of living a life they imagined. And that’s beautiful, makes life much more sizzling and lovely. I guess that’s the Mediterranean gene in us. But not always the big picture reflects optimism and joy. By walking through these coffee shops in Tirana you often notice these annoyed faces filled with boredom, sitting in this outdoor little spaces defined by a coffee table and four chairs (expect on times when people are busy cheering for their favorite Euro team, of course). It is normal considering that it’s a rather passive activity and when it’s overdone, results in reduced satisfaction. Only we Albanians can understand this rather “schizophrenic” behavior which simultaneously explains its dullness and excitement.

There are many reasons for rooting the coffee culture so deeply in our cells. The past heritage plays its own importance. It is known that coffee was born in northeast Ethiopia and migrated to Europe back in XV century through Turkish traders. Being occupied by Ottoman Empire for 5 centuries, it was unthinkable to believe that this powerful social drink could not make it through Albania.

Another reason which helps explains this social attitude is the lack of sufficient public spaces in Tirana like parks, squares, playgrounds, public sportive and youth centers. The creation of those facilities would re-orient people especially the youngsters on spending more free time on open space recreational areas.

Furthermore, meetings for business talks in coffee shops, like it happens randomly with public officials, is a dangerous approach. It transfers outside doors of the institutions formal issues on serious public/private matters. It is not professionally serious plus through making this process informal stimulates corruptive affairs and strengthens exhausting red tape attitudes. “Coffee informality” is also a well know phenomena in other South Eastern countries which have already taken measurements for strengthening the institutional powers in regards to social – economic and administrative matters.

In a light of coffee culture talks, here is a very special coffee bean mosaic by the Albanian artist Saimir Strati, depicting five musicians, entered the Guinness World Records as the world’s largest coffee bean mosaic.

Tirana is getting ready for the epic Battle!

Euro 2012 has definitely brought more fun to the roads of Tirana. Just walking by you find hundreds of bars with big white screens showing the Euro 2012 matches. This one is one of my favorites: The Tirana Euro 2012 Fest.

As we traditionally follow German football and without doubt our Azzuri neighbours, tonight it’s gonna be the night to watch the epic battle that will hopefully change the wheel of history! Believe it or not, Germany has never won a decisive game in any tournament against Italy. So if you’re cheering for ‘Schland, Schland’ tonight drop by and find me at Kaon… Tifozi Gjermani are always welcomed 🙂