Tag Archives: Albania

South Albania: Mountains, Sea and Sharp Contrasts


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

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

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

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

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

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

Advertisements

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


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

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

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

13445760_10154103399592110_1374605437446761222_n

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

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

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

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

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

13432328_10154113200042110_1438090485958728415_n

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

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

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

13516314_10154113198882110_6069110500530557970_n

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

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

IMG_4159Albanian and French Fans cheering together in Marseille 🙂 

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.

IMG_8042

“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…

Bildschirmfoto 2016-02-14 um 19.47.37.png

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.

Bildschirmfoto 2016-02-14 um 23.30.28

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 🙂

 

Eurovision 2015: Which Fan Club will win this Time?


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

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

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

Poll: Who should win the Eurovision song contest 2015? 

Who should win Eurovision

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

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

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

The best female vocalist Eurovision 15

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

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

20 Places that will change your Mind about Albania


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

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

Valbona Canyon

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

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

Gjiri i Gramës

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

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

Stone Towers of Thethi

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

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

Lake of Ohrid, Pogradec

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

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

Karaburun Peninsula

© Nëntor Oseku, Gjiri i Bristanit, Karaburun Peninsula

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

Wasserfall of Grunas, Theth

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

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

Apollonia

© My Albania “Nature Explorers” – Apollonia, Fier

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

Ksamil Beach

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

9. And many other valleys…

Valbona

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

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

Dea

© Robert Hagen – Dea e Butrintit 

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

Kruja

© Arton Krasniqi – Kruja, Albania

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

Fishtë

© Armela Bega – Mrizi i Zanave, Fishtë

13. More cliffs and rocky seaside…

The Pirates' Cave

© Armela Bega – Caves, South Albania

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

The Pirates' Cave

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

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

Dardha Village

© Armela Bega – Dardhë, Korca, South East Albania

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

Fortress of Petrela, Tirana

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

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

Berat

© Sarah Tzinieris – Berat, Albania

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

Blue Eye Saranda

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

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

Canyons Skrapar

© Fadion Dashi – Osumi Canyons, Skrapar

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

IMG_3647

© Armela Bega – Llogara National Park, South Albania

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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…