Balkan Cities: Tirana In Five Pictures

I visited Albania at the beginning of 2018 and I managed to see some very interesting places. I was in Tirana for three days only, but I found it to be a city rich in culture and entertainment; while people usually prefer to see more natural places in Albania, especially towns by the sea, visiting Tirana was also important to understand a piece of Albania’s history. Tirana is the most populous city in the entire nation (located in an area inhabited by more than one-third of the entire Albanian population) but although the city was founded during the Ottoman Empire, it was expanded and modernized during the 20th century, particularly in the 1990s with the fall of the communist regime. Numerous investments by foreign entrepreneurs have ensured that nowadays the city has many venues and it is especially attractive for young people, due to the large number of cafés and restaurants. I had a chance to walk around the city and see how the locals live; as far as safety is concerned, Tirana is rather quiet but as it happens with all the big cities around the world, you have to be careful especially if you are traveling solo.

Speaking of bars and restaurants, I had a very good time at Millennium Garden, where I tried Puka Beer, which is a delicious Albanian craft beer. I also recommend eating fish at Markata E Peshkut, located in the city center.

Tirana Cityscape

1) Tirana Cityscape: I saw the city of Tirana from the top floor of the Maritim Hotel Plaza , one of the best business hotels in the city. The view from there is pretty amazing, as it also includes the mountains surrounding the entire area. Tirana is the seat of power of the Albanian government, as it also hosts the Albanian parliament. The city is now the main economic, financial, political and commercial centre of Albania, and it is home to various public institutions and the university. From the urban agglomeration of buildings, it can be noticed that Tirana is a city in constant urban growth and it has also been awarded the title of European Youth Capital for 2022.

Street Art - Tirana, Albania.
Graffiti work on the façade of NOKI bar

2) Graffiti in Tirana : the capital of Albania is full of graffiti and urban artworks as part of a project that embraces street art as a tool for social cohesion; the many murals located in various parts of the city have helped improve the city aesthetically and have given a new face to its urban fabric as well. In the same year I visited Tirana, a group of street artists organized a street art festival called MuralFest in collaboration with an art workshop in the Italian city of Lecce and the Albanian administration. Murals are increasingly appreciated by citizens in different parts of the world, and the same is happening in Tirana. I spotted this colorful graffiti of a girl dressed in flowers depicted on the façade of a popular bar called NOKI, which is located on the city’s main pedestrian street.


Five Bookstores In London

Daunt Books, London. Image Credits: Alexandra Kirr

I am an avid reader and I love wandering around bookstores in towns and cities I am visiting. I started reading when I was still attending kindergarten and my love for reading has grown through the years; I usually read all kinds of books across different genres and I love reading physical copies of books, so I rarely get to use an e-reader. Since I speak four languages, I like to read in different languages as well. I mostly read in English and Italian but I occasionally read French and Spanish editions of books as well. When I’m in Italy I find it difficult to buy books written in English in local bookstores, as most of them have only very few in stock and they are often quite expensive, so when I’m in foreign places like London or New York I really enjoy exploring the city to discover new bookstores.

I lived in London for some time in 2016 so I would buy books directly from local bookstores and I have rounded up five of my favorite ones I came across while living in the city:

Brick Lane Bookshop

1) Brick Lane Bookshop: an independent bookshop in Tower Hamlets. Established in 1978, it is located in the East End, one of the most iconic areas of London, which hosts plenty of interesting clothing stores, cafés and is also home to the famous Spitalfields Market. I love walking around this neighborhood because it is one of the most distinctive in the city and it has become a trendy area like Shoreditch, especially for young people. Many streets intersecting with Brick Lane are great to explore if you enjoy urban art and graffiti, since the East End is filled with amazing artworks covering different building façades. Brick Lane Bookshop used to be part of the Tower Hamlets Arts Project, formed in the 1970s out of a protest. There wasn’t a single bookshop in Tower Hamlets at the beginning of the ’70s, so a group of local people decided to start one. They began with a weekly stall in Whitechapel Market where they sold Penguin proof copies and the success of the bookstall inspired the locals to create a permanent bookstore. If you happen to visit Brick Lane, be sure to stop by the library because you will sure find some interesting reads about London and the East End (I suggest you have a look at the historic Brick Lane’s Beigel Shop, which is also known as “the yellow one” thanks to its bright yellow sign, and try one of their delicious bagels).

Brick Lane Bookshop, 166 Brick Lane, London, E1 6RU


Crazy Rich Asians – Jon M. Chu

Image Credits: Warner Bros.

“So your family is, like, rich?”

“We’re comfortable.”

“That is exactly what a super-rich person would say.”

Crazy Rich Asians is a movie based on Kevin Kwan’s 2013 best-selling novel (I devoured the book in three days along with its two sequels and I highly recommend the whole trilogy, it’s so hilarious and it deals with important themes in a light-hearted way). The movie received much attention due to it being the first Hollywood blockbuster in 25 years to have an all-Asian and Asian-American cast.

It starts off with Chinese-American Rachel Chu going to Singapore with her boyfriend Nick to meet his family. This turns out to be a shocking experience for her, since she finds out that Nick is the heir to one of the most massive fortunes in Asia; he is basically Singapore royalty. Being his girlfriend, Rachel becomes the target of jealous socialites and Nick’s relatives show hostility towards her from the start. Most of the criticism comes from Nick’s mother, Eleanor, who instantly disapproves of Rachel and tries to expose her inadequacy in any way possible.

The movie is unique in its genre, although in some respects it recalls previous Hollywood productions; the huge quantity of designer clothes and expensive items is reminiscent of Gossip Girl, a popular TV show about the lifestyle of rich Upper East Siders, and the grandeur of the party sets reminds the viewer of Baz Luhrmann’s 2013 version of The Great Gatsby.


Homage To Central Park

Central Park – Reflections at the pond

I first visited Central Park when I was attending an acting course at New York City’s American Academy of Dramatic Arts in the summer of 2014. It was quite incredible to see this huge park in the middle of a megacity like New York; when you are walking through Central Park, you start to forget about being in a city, since you find yourself immersed in a beautiful natural environment. Only the outline of skyscrapers reminds you that the park finds itself in the middle of an urban space, and it makes you feel at peace with yourself and the world around you.

I spent my first day in Central Park with my classmates walking the Mall and Literary Walk (which is lined with statues of famed writers like Shakespeare), watching soap bubble artists at work and observing trees on a wonderful summer morning, with the sun peeking through the treetops. We got French fries at Central Park’s Loeb Boathouse and spent the rest of the afternoon lying on the grass, watching the boats on the Lake and taking group pictures with my Canon 1000D.

In that month of July, we were back in Central Park to attend the Club Classics Live! concert, which was part of the line-up for the Central Park SummerStage Festival, an outdoor music festival held every year at Rumsey Playfield; it was one of the most amazing experiences of my life (videos from the event are still available on YouTube, so you will notice that the atmosphere was really one-of-a-kind). The audience was very excited to be part of it and the artists played some famous disco hits like Cheryl Lynn’s “Got To Be Real” and Ultra Naté’s “Free”. Whenever I rewatch videos from that day in Central Park I feel emotional and it brings tears of joy and nostalgia to my eyes. It was truly one of those moments when you feel part of something beautiful and engaging.

La Nature - Central Park.
Central Park Lake
Frites - Central Park.
French Fries – The Loeb Boathouse