Wednesday, April 16, 2014

What happened to spring?

The weather has worsened since yesterday in Tirana and it will be bad for the rest of this week. It got cooler, and the temperature ranges between mid 40’s to mid 50’s. The Dajti Mountain chain this morning displayed white peaks with quite a bit of snow!   

Local news indicate that some tourists have been stuck in the north where the snow was heavy, and power lines have crashed; and even the foreign press mentions related problems.

Here the rain is light, but steady, and the Lana Canal water level has risen. After returning from an appointment to my comfortable apartment I decided this is the perfect time to sip a cup of steaming, home brewed ‘salep’ while catching up with my email and looking out of my glass wall! Really cozy and delicious intake!

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Enjoyable weekends

While In Albania I am getting spoiled by my friends who always invite me during weekends. This is luxury time for me since I am not used to take rides and get out of town just to get a meal.  This would be unheard of in NYC, where my weekends are usually spent indoors, but in Tirana everyone seems to be escaping the city on Saturdays or Sundays.  Favored by short distances in the tiny country that is Albania, one can have lunch or dinner in the countryside or even in another city within an hour drive.  

Last Sunday I had lunch with one of my friendly families in the port city of Durres, where they wanted me to try a new restaurant called ‘Vertigo’. The name was very appropriate since it was on the top floor of a high-rise, right along the seashore, and totally glass enclosed, with unobstructed views all the way around so that one has the impression, while eating, of being suspended right above the Adriatic sea! 

Here I enjoyed a new, very tasty appetizer made of creamed zucchini in a shell and I had the pleasure of having an Italian “fritto misto di pesce e verdure” (mixed fried fishes and sliced vegetable). A treat I have not had in years!  Although this restaurant had a very nice café`-bar annexed to it on the same top floor, for dessert we moved to another new establishment not too far away that has an enormous showcase of all sorts of pastries, home made ice creams, drinks and coffees. By 6pm we were back home……with a full belly and the need to just snooze a bit….(a habit that Albanians have also during the work week, after their main meal in mid-late afternoon).

During this weekend I went through another round of treats. On Saturday I was invited by an old (dating back from the US) acquaintance for lunch at his home, where I met the rest of the family, children and grandparents included. 
They live in attractive penthouse quarters, spanning over two floors, and spacious enough to have separate bedrooms for each child, a playroom for them, a sizable area used as gym equipped with a stair master, and balconies all the way around. 
Their building is located near Tirana’s Botanical Garden and Lake area, and offers great views of the entire city.   It was a very enjoyable sunny day, with a leisure lunch for the grownups since the children ate in a separate room, and a great afternoon overall!

Today, Sunday, is a grey and rainy day.  With other friends we chose to stay in town, and returned to a favorite restaurant where I always enjoyed a local (very garlicky) dish of stuffed green peppers and eggplants (named Imam Ballajdi). It was served with other assorted appetizers, and was followed by some sizzling fillets of veal, cooked to perfection, in their own hot pan for each individual. An excellent bottle of Chianti accompanied this meal.   

Again we ended up in another café`-bar, also known for good desserts, where everyone chose different pastries and had a ‘macchiato’ to close this other round of goodies!  Thank goodness tomorrow is Monday, and a return to normality is a must! 

Friday, April 11, 2014

Capricious weather

An interesting aspect to deal with while living in Tirana is its ever changing weather. It happens very quickly and practically by the hour, and, I guess, it’s probably due to its topography. 

Case in point today: it was pouring rain when I woke up and the city was covered by very low, thick clouds and fog, obscuring even the mountain chain that hug this capital from the East.  
Less than an hour later, after the clouds lifted, the Dajti range showed a dusting of snow on its top, and the sun now has begun to peek through the clouded vapors that are traveling westward toward the sea.  

By midday, as usual, the sun will be quite strong, and it’s a relief to walk the boulevards under the shade provided by the trees that now display a gorgeous new greenery all over town and the surrounding hills. 

The ‘garden patrol’ as I call the group of women in green uniforms that cleanup the undergrowth along the Lana canal, are back at work. During the rain outbursts they take shelter in a wooden shack located in a corner of another small garden across this water channel, where also, during good weather, a bunch of senior male citizens spend hours playing checker or domino.   

Saturday, April 05, 2014

The swallows.......

.....have arrived promptly last week from their winter lodgings, thus, spring has officially started here! The nest that was built by some of them near my kitchen window (12 stories high) is again in use. Every morning I can see these lovely birds flying back and forth from it.  Their most active time seems to be round 10am.

While I was away during the winter, my apartment was repainted and with it also some external walls of the building. As it can be seen from the short video I took now some spots of paint ended up on the outside of the nest. It was not easy to catch their comings and goings, and I was unable to seize a particularly interesting moment when one of these birds actually inspected the outer layers of the nest before entering it. 

It’s amazing to watch animals of all kind. How do these swallows find their original home? They seem to teach us even how to keep regular meal times, which is something of a fete for me to maintain when abroad, when my time has to be adapted to local customs and must be split between business meetings and friends at all hours of the day.     

Saturday, March 29, 2014

A new savor

A couple of days ago, during an afternoon outburst of heavy rain, I ran into a shop that, last year, was pointed out to me as ‘the’ place to find all sorts of coffee. 

It was a brand new type of store for Tirana, well furnished with a variety of goodies that in addition to an enormous variety of coffee beans, included a superb assortment of chocolates, but it was practically a whole in a wall. While being served one could enjoy an excellent espresso, by standing up (such as many Italians do at their bars) since it had room only for a couple of high round stands where to park the serving cup and saucer. I remember enjoying then the strong, wonderful aroma that hit me when I entered this place, and where the owner obliged me in offering me different samples of the grind I was looking for to brew an American type of coffee. 

This time I found the store a bit larger and redecorated, but with the same setup of small, high tables; thus I sipped an espresso standing up. When the friend I was supposed to meet in that part of town reached me, she and I went next door to another larger café where we could sit down, be served, and chat. Here she suggested a new drink that I had never heard of before, named ‘salep’.  This new potion whose ingredients she tried to describe, was a fabulous brew that it’s touted to have several health benefits.  The basic product is extracted from some type of orchids’ bulbs, and the best ones come from Turkey (that my friend wanted to be assured of, when she placed the order with our waiter).  The best description and recipe of this thick and creamy delight can, of course, be found online here also with related pictures.       

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Flying travelers watch out!

This is for my friends that do not follow my postings on FB, but travel on their own. I want to share this article that really makes one think twice when boarding a plane. Some items are known, but others may not be so easily thought of when mind is on other matters. Be aware, take precautions, and have safe trips anytime, anywhere!