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Klaivert Dervishi: The 17-year-old Albanian eSports world champion

Klaivert Dervishi: The 17-year-old Albanian eSports world champion

TIRANA, July 19 – Seventeen-year-old Albanian Klaivert Dervishi was part of the duo that impressed audiences in Valencia’s DreamHack venue, by winning the Fortnite gaming competition, which granted the winning team €5,000. In what looks like a hobby to some,

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Albanian Riviera becomes second home destination for Norwegian, Russian tourists

Albanian Riviera becomes second home destination for Norwegian, Russian tourists

TIRANA, July 17 – Albania’s coastline is gradually turning into a second home destination for European holidaymakers and it’s mostly the southern Albania Riviera that is becoming a magnet. A combination of Mediterranean weather with plenty of sunshine, sandy and

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More Israeli tourists discover Albania as direct flights link Tirana to Tel Aviv

More Israeli tourists discover Albania as direct flights link Tirana to Tel Aviv

TIRANA, July 12 – More and more Israeli tourists are visiting Albania, a Balkan country which Israel recognizes as unique in Europe for its efforts to save Jews during World War II, following the recent launch of direct Tel Aviv

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Preserving traditional architecture becomes top challenge for Albania’s emerging mountain tourism

Preserving traditional architecture becomes top challenge for Albania’s emerging mountain tourism

Back in 2006 when the then German Technical Cooperation (GTZ), the current GIZ International Cooperation, launched a project to turn the century-old towers into guesthouses accommodating tourists in the Theth mountain area in northern Albania, only five households accepted to

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New survey to help set up Albania’s first underwater heritage museum

New survey to help set up Albania’s first underwater heritage museum

TIRANA, July 4 – An archeological research vessel of the U.S.-based Institute of Nautical Archaeology has embarked on a mission to conduct a month-long coastal survey in Albanian waters, helping Albanian authorities in their bid to promote underwater cultural tourism

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One hour with Vladislav Bajac

One hour with Vladislav Bajac

By Sidonja Manushi   Vladislav Bajac looks as if he could have been anything he wanted in life – painter, rock and roll star, zen master…anything; but he decided to be a man of the written word and eventually found

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3D ties, the newest ‘Made in Albania’ brand

3D ties, the newest ‘Made in Albania’ brand

When talking about fashion, one think of Paris or Milan. However, it has been almost a year now since Albanian fashion has reached a milestone with 3D ties designed and produced in Tirana. Fiordi Pernaska, the executive director of Tirana-based

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New visitor center revitalizes Albania’s sole curly pelican nesting place

New visitor center revitalizes Albania’s sole curly pelican nesting place

TIRANA, June 25 – A new visitor center has been launched at the Divjaka-Karavasta national park, a wetland and lagoon 90km south of the capital Tirana which is home to the endangered Curly Pelican. The EU-funded center now offers a

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Charter flights bring thousands of Ukrainian, Russian-speaking tourists to Albania

Charter flights bring thousands of Ukrainian, Russian-speaking tourists to Albania

TIRANA, June 19 – Ukrainians are among the new tourists to massively visit Albania for this year, joining Nordic countries as well as some central European countries who have been discovering Albania and its emerging tourism industry in the past

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Saranda makes it to top off-the-radar destinations around the world

Saranda makes it to top off-the-radar destinations around the world

TIRANA, June 14 – Albania’s southern pearl, Saranda, has been named by prestigious Business Insider portal as one of the top off-the-radar destinations that deserve holidaymakers’ attention. “Saranda, a resort in the Albanian Riviera, is equally known for its archaeological

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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, July 19 - Seventeen-year-old Albanian Klaivert Dervishi was part of the duo that impressed audiences in Valencia’s DreamHack venue, by winning the Fortnite gaming competition, which granted the winning team €5,000.

In what looks like a hobby to some, Dervishi has found a passion which he plans on sticking with, and eventually even turn into a profession.

Having broken his third world record on June 28 in the solo vs. duo category, where he managed 31 kills, Dervishi says he is considering to even start his own game one day, or become the head of eSports - a form of competition using video games.

Last April Dervishi, who goes by the name of Teeqzy in his online gaming platforms, placed an absolute world record of 43 kills in the solo vs. squad category - this remains the highest number of kills a player has managed to achieve at a Fortnite Battle Royale, in all game platforms and modes.

“My online name Teeqzy doesn’t have any special significance,” Dervishi told Tirana Times during an exclusive interview, “I just randomly clicked on the keyboard, and really liked the way the outcome sounded.”

Followed by approximately 126,400 subscribers at his online YouTube channel, Dervishi differs from other gamers in terms of his performance - while it is common for Fortnite gamers to under-perform during live Youtube gaming sessions, he reached his record 43 kills during a live gaming session, as he was also playing the moderator’s role.

Now, the Albanian teenager, who lives in Belgium, has been offered job positions and significant amounts of pay from some of the best gaming companies in the world.

“I play many hours each day, in order to train. I don’t feel time passing because I play with passion and when I don’t feel like playing anymore, I simply stop and make time for myself. My parents were worried at first, as they primarily think about my studies, but I proved to them I can dedicate time to gaming as much as studying, and so I won their trust,” Dervishi explains. 

His words are not just claims, and his results are proof of that - Dervishi graduated high school with honors, while he is already making his own money at seventeen, having won complete financial independence.

“Being financially independent at seventeen is awesome. I am aware that I’m very lucky but nonetheless I’m trying to remain grounded and be careful, money-wise. I don’t spend on too many things, except maybe for tools or equipment that are needed in gaming. I am also trying to save in the meantime, to be able to afford my future projects.”

His maturity and level of confidence when it comes to his gaming routine and future have managed to also win his parents’ trust and support, which has also reassured him on the steps he is willing to take in the future to make his gaming plans a reality.

“First and foremost, I play for passion, not money or popularity. I am the same person I was when I first started, and, of course, I am Albanian, before being Belgian,” Dervishi comments, on what is probably the most frequently asked question coming from Albanian media. 

“I have kept contact with my home country, Albania, I try to visit as frequently as possible, when I make time between dealing with school and gaming. I try to make the most out of seeing my family and vacating there…family comes before everything else,” he concludes. 

Teeqzy and Verrmax was the duo that awarded the Millenium team the world cup in online gaming at Valencia’s DreamHack - a sports event that has been increasingly gaining attention also in Albania, due to its popularity but also due to recent research pointing to links between game skills and intelligence, thus removing the stigma associated with spending too many hours in front of the computer. 

 
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, July 17 – Albania’s coastline is gradually turning into a second home destination for European holidaymakers and it’s mostly the southern Albania Riviera that is becoming a magnet.

A combination of Mediterranean weather with plenty of sunshine, sandy and rocky beaches as well as cultural heritage dating back to Illyrian, Roman and ancient Greece times play a key role in European holidaymakers’ decision-making to invest in second homes in Albania, an emerging travel destination.

But above all, it’s the rather cheap and easily affordable prices starting at €400m2 for sea view apartments and the traditional hospitality Albanians shows toward foreigners that are the decisive factors.

The Albanian Riviera and its pearl, the southernmost Albanian city of Saranda, has been the prime destination for hundreds of European holidaymakers who have decided to make Albania their second home.

Having recently made it as one of the top off-the-radar destinations that deserve holidaymakers' attention in a rating by prestigious Business Insider, Saranda has turned a popular destination for Norwegian tourists and more than 300 have already invested in second homes.

Arben Cipa, who runs a travel agency there, says there are some 500 foreign-owned apartments in Saranda.

The Norwegians dominate with some 316 apartments, followed by Russians with 32, but there rising interest by Poles and nationals of former Soviet Union countries.

In Saranda, an apartment block in the city and a nearby small beach is now known as “Norvegjezet,” the Albanian name for Norwegians.

Stig Nyhus and Mari Aaboen are among the first Norwegians to have invested in a second home in Saranda which they first visited 12 years ago.

"It wasn't something planned. We came with some friends. We liked the city and the people and of course it was the normal and affordable prices that enabled even a normal Norwegian worker to buy an apartment," they tell a local Albanian TV.

The Sigbjons have also had their summer home at the same apartment block since 2012.

"We visited Saranda in 2008 when we were on holiday in Corfu. We spent a few days here and we decided to have our home in Saranda. We travelled to several other countries but we liked Saranda. The prices were really nice and that was the main reason, but we also liked the climate, the people and the position,” they say.

A once long-isolated country under communism until the early 1990s and with poor reputation during the transition period until the early 2000s, things have changed a lot during the past decade as Albania gradually develops and tourism emerges as one of the key sectors of the Albanian economy.

Skepticism by central and north European tourists is gradually fading as word spreads about Albania’s destinations and affordable prices compared to more overcrowded attractions with a longer tradition in the industry such as Greece, Croatia or even Montenegro.

Real estate agents also report a rising interest by foreigners to buy apartments in the central Albania Adriatic coastline of Durres which this year has turned into a magnet for Nordic tourists.

Charter flights have been regularly linking Copenhagen, Oslo, Stockholm and Helsinki as well as Moscow, Warsaw and Budapest to Albania this summer when tourism looks much more promising despite a rather fresh and rainy June producing a lukewarm start.

 

Rising Russian interest

Interest from Russian tourists to spend holidays and invest in Saranda apartments is also rising.

Natalia Ivanova, a Russian tour guide who lives in Saranda together with her Albanian husband, is focused on Russian and former Soviet Union holidaymakers who are the prime target of their travel agency.

"I have been living here for four years and I want to spend a lot of other years as I love this country and I love Albanians, the landscape and everything else. I am married to an Albanian and we have two children," she says.

"Russians and Ukrainians almost know nothing at all about Albania and they get surprised when they come here. When on holiday here in Saranda, many of them ask about apartments here. I know Russians, Ukrainians, Kazakhs, Belarusians who have purchased homes here," adds the Russian tour guide.

Some 15,000 Russians a year visit Albania, but it’s mostly for short stays while on holiday in the Balkan region.

Tatyana Bajraktari, a Ukrainian lady married to an Albanian and managing a Tirana-based tour operator and several rented hotels around Albania, has also had a key role in promoting Albania to her homeland and increasing the number of Ukrainian and Russian-speaking tourists to Albania.

Regular charters from Ukraine have been flying to the Tirana International Airport, Albania’s sole international airport, six times a week starting early June, having already brought thousands of Ukrainian and Russian-speaking tourists.

 

Albania’s pearl

Known as the pearl of Albanian Riviera, the southernmost Albanian district is a top destination in Albania during summer, offering tourists a combination of rocky and sandy beaches as well as cultural heritage attractions such as the Butrint UNESCO World Heritage site and the Blue Eye spring. Situated just next to the Greek island of Corfu with regular ferry lines, Saranda remains one of Albania’s top destinations despite the boom of uncontrolled constructions somehow spoiling the beauty of Albania’s southernmost coastal town.

However, reaching Saranda from Tirana and the country’s sole international airport is a 290 km five-hour drive and authorities are planning new airports in Vlora and Saranda to ease access to two of southern Albania’s tourism gems.

Saranda is the only Balkan town to make it to the 40 underrated destinations around the world which the Business Insider says deserve more attention compared to popular destinations at the top of tourists’ travel bucket list.

“Saranda, a resort in the Albanian Riviera, is equally known for its archaeological ruins and its beaches. While you’ll find the remains of a 5th-century synagogue in the town itself, a UNESCO World Heritage site that dates to prehistoric times is located about 12 miles outside Sarandë. The site, Butrint, has in the course of its storied history functioned as a Greek colony, a Roman city, and a bishopric,” writes the Business Insider portal.

Saranda is also famous for its four Ksamil islands which remained covered in lush, green vegetation throughout the year and can be easily accessed by small boats.

The travel and tourism industry was one of the key drivers of the Albanian economy in 2017 when authorities say it generated a record high of €1.7 billion in income, up about 12 percent compared to a year ago as the country was visited by more than 5 million foreign tourists.
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, July 12 - More and more Israeli tourists are visiting Albania, a Balkan country which Israel recognizes as unique in Europe for its efforts to save Jews during World War II, following the recent launch of direct Tel Aviv – Tirana flights during Albania’s peak tourist season.

About 200 Israeli tourists landed in Tirana in late June flying Israir Airlines, which the Tirana International Airport says will offer direct links twice a week until the end of September and strengthen relations between Albania and Israel, especially in economy.

Another carrier, Albanian-owned Albawings is also offering Tirana-Tel Aviv flights throughout summer when Albania is packed by tourists discovering the decades-long isolated country under communism which is emerging as an off-the radar destination and has been named ‘Europe’s last secret.’

Israeli interest to visit Albania is also triggered by the fact that Albania, a country with a majority Muslim population, was unique in Europe during World War II as the only country which had more Jews after the war than it did beforehand. BESA, a code of honour stressing religious tolerance and hospitality is considered to be the reason that Jews were safe there.

Norman Gershman's "Besa: A Code of Honor," a photo exhibition featuring the accounts of Muslim Albanians who rescued Jews during the Holocaust, has been touring around the world for a decade now.

"A holiday in Albania for Israeli tourists is a relatively cheap and that includes food, shopping and entertainment. If you decide to get out of Tirana, you will find beautiful landscapes such as beaches, mountains, hills, streams and lakes," Israel's Walla news agency writes about Albania.

Describing Albania as the country of Skanderbeg, the 15th century national hero who ousted the Ottomans for about a quarter of century, and the homeland of Mother Teresa, the renowned nun of Albanian origin who has been declared a Saint, the Israeli agency says Albanians are very proud of their history.

"Albanians are very proud of their history and being successors to the Illyrians is an honor and a fact that distinguishes them from citizens of other countries they are surrounded by. Recent history is something they take less pride in and forty years of isolation under the Hoxha regime has left its traces with hundreds of thousands of bunkers built in the country because of the late dictator's paranoia of being occupied," the article says.

Albania is described in the article as a majority Muslim country but with a quite Western lifestyle in dressing and its restaurants serving good pork and wine.

The Israeli agency says travel and tourism prices in Albania are much cheaper compared to Greece or Croatia and cold beer is even quite less expensive than in Tel Aviv.

Football games have also brought the two countries closer in the past couple of years, although a late 2016 Albania-Israel qualifier was marred by a planned terrorist attack successfully foiled by the authorities.

The Albania and Israeli national football sides faced each other in the 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign and each claimed 3-0 away wins. The two national sides have been drawn together again and will face each other this year in the inaugural UEFA Nations League, a tournament that largely replaces friendlies but which will also play a major part in the Euro 2020 qualifying campaign by deciding the final four places via play-offs.

Albania will host Israel September 7 before a second-leg away encounter on October 14, 2018.

The organized Israeli tourists come at a time when Albania is facing a sharp increase in charter flights, mostly bringing Nordic tourists who are massively visiting Albania, having booked up the best hotels along the Adriatic coast of Durres for most of the season.

Ukrainian and Russian-speaking tourists are also visiting Albania in quite larger numbers this year at a time when tourism in Albania continues to be dominated by the so-called ‘patriotic’ segment bringing ethnic Albanians from Kosovo and Macedonia as well as migrants living and working abroad, mainly in Italy and Greece.

 

 
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                    [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_137854" align="alignright" width="300"]SONY DSC Theth: Photos: Albanian Alps portal[/caption]

Back in 2006 when the then German Technical Cooperation (GTZ), the current GIZ International Cooperation, launched a project to turn the century-old towers into guesthouses accommodating tourists in the Theth mountain area in northern Albania, only five households accepted to become part of the project, worried over losing their hospitality tradition.

With modest investments of €2,000 per inn, GIZ provided beds, reconstructed the toilets, fixed showers and the kitchen using solar panel technology.

Currently, Theth numbers more than 25 inns and 100 households dealing with tourism which has turned the once abandoned remote area into an emerging sustainable mountain tourism destination.

A decade on the challenge in the northern Albanian site, is preserving its traditional centuries-old architecture with characteristic wooden and stone tower buildings, often fortified to protect local households from blood feuds.

Poor road infrastructure and inadequate access to electricity still hamper tourism efforts there.

 

Design Code, - A new ‘Kanun’ for the Highlands

Tourism pressure is putting at risk the traditional architecture in Theth, even though the village has been  declared a protected historical center, say German and Albanian experts working on a new design code that would preserve local traditions when reconstructing existing buildings and building new ones, especially guesthouses.

With only a handful of houses a decade ago, Theth has now opened the doors to tourists who find themselves torn between the sight of magnificent landscapes and ancient houses, many of which in ruins and at a time when new buildings are no longer built based on traditions which have shaped local identity for generations, says a GIZ documentary on Theth.

The documentary features students and lecturers from Kassel University in Germany and the Albanian universities of Tirana and Shkodra who met in Theth for one week earlier this year to collect information about the natural and cultural landscape, the architecture of the buildings in the area as part of a joint project Albanian-German project financed by GIZ to preserve local architecture through new design code intended to become the new Kanun, the local code of honor that has governed life in northern Albanian since the late Middle Ages.

Experts say Theth can develop tourism without harming the beauty of its natural landscape, without losing its history which lives on in its characteristic houses and without forgetting traditions and its unspoiled heritage that can still be found today.

"Theth is being increasingly visited by foreign and local tourists who want to enjoy this fairytale landscape. A core part of this environment, in this cultural landscape, is the traditional houses. But it's not only the houses, there's also the immediate environment that includes the little gardens, narrow roads, beautiful plants, fields and thus the entire landscape should be preserved. It is the main pillar for future tourism development in this region," says Petra Wagner, a senior consultant of the Germany-based GOPA Worldwide Consultants.

Nico Loesch, a student of the University of Kassel, says many of the local residents are not aware of the traditional architecture of the area.

"We have noticed that houses lie isolated from each other. They are not clustered in a true village center. People here build houses uncontrolled, I would say. They seem to believe they can do whatever they want," he is quoted as saying.

"Another thing we noticed is that people abandon their old houses, leaving ruins behind. Almost a third of all houses registered and mapped were in ruins. Next to them, we see entirely new constructions. It is odd to see this and it makes you wonder why the abandoned houses are not restored or converted for other uses," the student adds.

However, Albanian architecture student Zhoelta Guri, says the situation is not as bad as it might look.

"These houses here are in an almost perfect harmony with the landscape. We are talking about a traditional vernacular architecture of the area. I think we are fortunate that the local people have managed to preserve it up to this day," says Guri.

"Obviously there are examples that did not follow these traditions. However these people faced economic problems which should be acknowledged. Some traditional building materials are difficult to find. This explains why builders deviate from traditional designs," she adds.

The old tradition of living in Theth is also identified through gardens around the house with their wooden fences or piling loose field stone walls where the local craft of wreathing the house is inherited.

Drawing sketches of the doors and windows of the buildings to highlight the particular details found, students were told in interviews with local residents that the cross on the house gate symbolizes the forgiven blood.

Blood feuds, although declining still haunt some isolated northern Albanian areas where the centuries old Kanun code of honor continues to govern some aspects of life and stands above law, forcing many to live in self-imposed isolation and escape the country to avoid blood feud avenge.

“Families in blood feud used to come here and lock themselves inside for 15 days. But the last time that happened was about a hundred years ago" says the owner of what used to be a former blood feud reconciliation tower that has now turned into a tourist attraction.

 

An up-and-coming destination

Situated in the Northern Albanian Alps, Theth is a perfect destination for Albania’s emerging mountain and adventure travel tourism which can help turn tourism in the country into a year-round destination.

“When spring arrives and only traces of the harsh winter remain, Theth, a mountainous area in northern Albania starts to live again. The road connecting it with Shkodra, the largest northern Albania city, reopens and people return to their guesthouses. They work hard and devote themselves to tourism and agriculture,” says the GIZ documentary about Theth.

Rich in natural and cultural beauty, Theth is one of the largest national parks in Albania. It is often referred to as the land of tradition and history. There lies the house where famous British traveler Edith Durham stayed 100 years ago during her trip through the Albanian Alps. Traditional costumes are still preserved and shown with pride and young couples often choose to get married according to local traditions.

Late Canadian-German Albanologist Robert Elsie who dedicated his life to Albanian studies was buried in Theth in October 2017 having his last wish fulfilled to rest amid the Albanian Alps, a place which he loved so much and also dedicated a book calling it Albania’s rugged Shangri-La, a fictional valley as described in a novel by British author James Hilton.

In his co-authored “A passion for Theth: Albania’s rugged Shangri-La” Robert Elsie and Dutch traveler Gerda Mulder introduce the region with the writings of the early explorers and travelers to the valley, accompanied by old photographs of the period.

“Though it is one of the remotest corners of Europe, Theth has never failed to attract visitors. Edith Durham was in her element when she visited the valley in 1908, as were the Austro-Hungarian scholars Karl Steinmetz and Baron Franz Nopcsa, and the American writer Rose Wilder Lane,” they write about Theth, which has in the past few years turned into one of Albania’s most popular mountain tourism destinations.

Katharina Halser of the University of Kassel says that the special feature about Theth is that up in the mountains one can still find pristine wild nature, while down in the valley the landscape is characterized by classical cultural landscape. “Those systems are interconnected. Even in wilderness areas, elements of cultural landscapes are common, for example, larger pastures and scattered terraced fields. Further down in the valley the landscape is predominantly shaped by humans. Such a close connection between cultural and natural landscapes is a feature that you can hardly find in Germany. This is why it is so special here," she adds.

 

National Park of Theth 

Theth is located in the centre of the Albanian Alps, 900m above sea level, between the Bjeshkët e Nemuna (the Accursed Mountains) to the west and the Mount Jezerca to the east, says the Albanian Alps travel portal. Theth is by far the most important tourism destinations in northern area along with Valbona. It is located 70 km from the city of Shkodra and 172 km from Tirana.

In November 1966, the mountainous area of Theth was declared National Park due its rare beauty and natural values. It has a surface of 2,630 ha, 1680ha of which are covered by forests, and the rest are pastures and rocky areas. It is managed by the Regional Agency of Protected Area (RAPA), located in Shkodra.

The national park has high values of biodiversity in relation to the habitats, plants and animal species. A meeting point of different types of forests such as beech, pine, spruce, alpine meadows, plenty of streams and mountainous rivers, glacial lakes etc. The park is rich in endemism and subendemism like Gentiana, Luthea, Eulfenia, Baldaccii, Viola, Dukagjinica, Lilium, Albanicum etc. You can also see the protected mammals like the brown bear (Ursus arctos), wolf (Canis lupus), lynx (Felis lynx), chamois (Rupicapra rupicapra), deer (Capreolus capreolus), wild boar (Sus scrofa), whereas from the birds category you can find the wild roost (Tatrao urogallus) and the alpine eagle (Aquila chrysaetos). In the crystal clear fresh waters of Theth’s and Shala’s river you can find a globally endangered otter specie (Lutra lutra). The park, apart from scientific, didactic, landscape and other values, it carries great potential for the development of tourism, in particular the alpine and cultural tourism.

Theth is surrounded by high rocky peaks of the two upper blocks, which sharply fall down in the valley and form breath taking sceneries, like the peak of Radohima (2,570 m), Arapi (2,217 m), Paplukë (2,569 m), Alisë (2,471 m) etc. Down the valley, at an altitude of 750-800m, lies the picturesque Theth on both sides of Shala river with its villages.

Theth can easily be reached by car, however a four-wheel-drive vehicle is required as part of the road is unpaved.

Guesthouses, travel agencies or local guides can pick up visitors with four-wheel-drive vehicles from Shkoder.

 

 
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, July 4 – An archeological research vessel of the U.S.-based Institute of Nautical Archaeology has embarked on a mission to conduct a month-long coastal survey in Albanian waters, helping Albanian authorities in their bid to promote underwater cultural tourism and set up the country’s first museum that would feature ancient Roman and Greek artefacts as well as shipwrecks discovered in Albanian waters during the past decade.

Virazon II, the new archeological research vessel of Texas-based Institute of Nautical Archaeology, INA, reached southern Albanian waters this week on a mission to help archeologists investigate into the discovered ancient shipwrecks.

“In recent years, several shipwrecks have been discovered off the coast of Albania in the Adriatic Sea, though none has yet been investigated by archaeologists. The goal of this project is to survey these sites, recording conditions using video and photogrammetry, and assess their suitability for future excavation efforts,” says INA about its 2018 Albania project.

Auron Tare, the head of the Albania's National Coastline Agency, says the new mission will pave the way for a long-awaited museum of underwater cultural heritage that would give a boost to Albania’s emerging tourism industry, currently highly seasonal and coastal based.

“After a successful decade by the Hercules ship of the U.S. RPM Nautical Foundation, the Virazon II vessel has arrived in our waters. This ship owned by Institute of Nautical Archeology in Texas specializes in underwater research and will support discoveries made to date with specialized photographing and digital maps as well as future real archeological research which will pave the way for the establishment of an underwater heritage museum,” Tare has said.

In a meeting held this week in Tirana, archeologists reiterated their appeal to Albanian authorities to protect underwater discoveries from looting and accelerate plans for a museum that would showcase the discovered items.

“The meeting was an effort to raise public awareness on the great importance of Albania's underwater cultural heritage, which is still an unknown field in Albania. That's why we invited some of the best underwater researchers from the Texas Institute and the RPM Foundation which has been our partner for 12 years now to publicly share all the important discoveries in Albanian waters and to stress the fact that Albania has historically been part of the ancient civilization crossroads and shed light on new facts on the ships discovered to date and to explain the great importance they have in explaining the history of those coasts,” said Tare.

Scanning the southern Albanian waters along the Riviera coastline during the past decade, a U.S.-Albanian expedition supported by the RPM Nautical Foundation has discovered numerous amphoras and artefacts including ancient Greek, Roman, medial and modern finds. Dozens of wreck sites including warships and armoured vehicles have also been discovered.

Back in 2007, the mission discovered an ancient shipwreck near the waters of Butrint archeological park, a UNESCO World Heritage site in southern Albania, before tracing a giant cargo ship believed to have sunk during World War II in the waters of Karaburun peninsula, Vlora, four years later.

Pending legislation to regulate underwater heritage, a map has been submitted to police to prevent diving and possible looting and trafficking of artefacts in the areas where discoveries have been made.

The archeological finds that include sunken ships date back from the 4th century B.C. to until World War II, are also helping reconnect current historical facts regarding Illyria, the territory and origin of much of modern day Albania.

“The finds show ancient sources are in contradiction to what we are finding underwater. The coastline of ancient Illyria was not only populated by pirate population, but the fact that many commercial ships loaded with wine, cooking oil and other products were discovered near our coast shows of a trade exchange between Illyria and other Mediterranean regions,” Tare has earlier said.

 
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                    [post_content] => By Sidonja Manushi 

 

Vladislav Bajac looks as if he could have been anything he wanted in life - painter, rock and roll star, zen master...anything; but he decided to be a man of the written word and eventually found himself in Tirana, at a time visits from Serbs continue to be uncommon and are regarded with awe on the one hand, and a certain disbelief on the other.

Among the crowd of bibliophiles who gathered at the Tirana Times bookstore to hear him share bits and pieces of his life, Bajac is introduced as an author, translator and publisher. Later, he tells me he also worked as a journalist.  

As an author, Bajac has brought seven novels to life, as well as two books of poetry and three books of short stories. The first, Which way Leads To People, was published when he was 18-years-old and his face still slightly cringes when being asked about it. He stayed away from writing for sixteen years after that. 

“It is difficult to say something more about my long life; when I write I realize how long it has been,” he replies, when asked whether he’d like to add something to his short introductory bio for the public.

 

As, during that same evening, we are facing each other at the lobby of his hotel over a sugar-free, objectively bitter macchiato, longer parts of his life start being shared and I realize it must indeed be difficult to say all that much about such an artistically rich life in a few concise sentences. After all, life cannot be made into a Japanese, short-form haiku and Bajac knows that better than anyone else, having received two international awards for his poems in the genre in Tokyo at the start of the nineties.  

And yet, some themes start surfacing as he expands more on specific areas, such as his 25-year-old career as a publisher at the Geopoetika publishing house, his way to Eastern religions and the way they influenced his personal and professional life, some of his best stories with other internationally known authors he has the luck to call friends, and how to remain optimistic in a tense global reality. 

Stories about the Geopoetika Publishing House start naturally when, having visited Belgrade only a few days ago, I tell Bajac the number of bookstores in the Serbian capital is impressive. 

Bajac says his journey as a publisher started simply as a way to stay connected with the world in what then was the very end of Yugoslavia. In a city where the bipolar rule of two major publishing houses “doesn’t leave enough space for other, brilliant publishers anymore” however, he and his team decided to give life to new books, mainly from young Serbian and international authors, that could appeal to both populism and elitism.

“At the very beginning I only had two ideals: not to be ruined, to continue to exist as a publisher,” he says, half-heartedly entertained by the fact writers and publishers now have to think twice before taking up the art-form, “and the other was choosing books that were not that popular, but would reach a big audience while retaining the same, high publishing standards.”

He managed to do that by picking up on young unrecognized writers through his sixth writer’s sense - he tells me his latest find is a 26-year-old girl with a brilliant novel - and by using his network of existing and upcoming writers, many of which have become an exclusivity of Geopoetika in translation. 

“In the end, we are in the position to be proud of something. It might not be a best-selling story, but at least it’s good literature.”

After saying that, Bajac goes on to share a story about Orhan Pamuk, the Turkish 2006 Nobel winner whom he’d known and translated before becoming globally famous, convincing that, with the right outlook, sometimes good literature can become a best-selling story.  

Another element that helped him excel as a publisher by separating it from writing, kill his ego trips as a writer and spotter of other people’s talent and go through life caring about the ideal, rather than the business of writing, has been his early interest in far-Eastern philosophies. 

“Buddhism is a shortcut to becoming a wise guy and I became wise, I think so, much earlier than usual. It’s not praising myself, but it’s a very practical thing that happened to me. It helped put myself aside as a writer. That’s why, in general, writers are not good publishers. They cannot control their ego - but I do that. What is more important, I deal with the ego trips of other writers. It is difficult to deal with those who are famous, or important, because I often see my possible self in them and because, very often, they cannot control their ego!” 

The death of the ego, as he describes it, has caused divides between him and his friends throughout, but also seems to have offered him the best point of view in life.

For example, when Allen Ginsberg, the beat generation representative who also turned to meditation and Eastern philosophies at a later time in his life and who was a personal friend of Bajac, visited him in Belgrade, the world literature scholar turned haiku poet turned prominent literary figure in Serbia, told him that he was commercializing the way to the zen.

“He didn’t like that. He was quite angry and we fell apart for awhile,” Bajac reminisces. “After some year, however, when he came back to Belgrade for a book promo, we met and he told me: ‘Vlado, you were right.’ It was nice to hear that, although, it was never the point,” he smiles.

For Bajac, the point to being happy, partly learned from his involvement with Buddhism and partly, I assume, from growing up in a region like the Balkans, is to be naive and to be ‘stupid’.

His answer to this very difficult question of how one remains happy in a cynical world convinces me with its simplicity, because real things are inevitably cliche, and simple.

“People ask me how I’m doing and when I say ‘I’m fine,’ they are really surprised. So, I tell them ‘Don’t worry! It’s only because I’m stupid,’” and he immediately shakes his head, wanting to reassess his claim about himself as if it’s the highest praise.

“It’s just an energy; if you are eager to know, if you don’t think you picked up all the knowledge and that there is a lot of things that you don’t know and there are brilliant people everywhere - not many, but enough - it makes you positive, like it’s all worth doing.”

Bajac is planning to translate his most awarded and globally recognized book, Hamam Balkanija, in Albanian as well. The story, which evolves in two timelines, plays with two different forms of narratives and styles: the 16th century Ottoman Empire, and the present, and is even written in two different alphabets in the original Serbian language. Another one of his books, Hronika sumnje, is also being eyed by the Tirana Times publishing house for translation and publication in the country. When we talk about his visit here, doing literary work between the two countries seems to be the thing to excite Bajac the most, a man who, as I was proved, could have been anything, but luckily decided to be a man of the written word! 

 
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                    [post_content] => When talking about fashion, one think of Paris or Milan. However, it has been almost a year now since Albanian fashion has reached a milestone with 3D ties designed and produced in Tirana.

Fiordi Pernaska, the executive director of Tirana-based VIP Tie 3D says the company is a fully run Albanian brand and that he is proud of the fact because it is not only ‘Made in Albania’ but both designed and ‘Made in Albania’ at the same time.

“Currently, we are the sole international brand that produces these final products and we have been awarded by the prestigious New York-based 3D printing community 3Dprint.com as the first international company that managed to fully integrate the 3D technology in the production process to achieve the final product,” he tells Deutsche Welle in the local Albanian service.

A young entrepreneur, Fiordi Pernaska has graduated in economic science from Italy's Bocconi University and it is not by chance that he is in the fashion industry.

"That is closely related to my family's legacy because that is something that has been passed through generations. In 1927, my great-grandfather established in Tirana the first fashion atelier in Albania and was the official designer of the then Royal Family and he was really addicted to those accessories and we decided to integrate something like that on the market and we have integrated that as a solution to potential male customers because it's a product that allows for unlimited customization to express oneself as good as possible,” he says.

But how is a 3D tie made?

Gerti Struga, the company's technology director, says once a specific design has been selected, it is later modelled on a computer where the whole tie is designed in 3D and then a sample image is sent to the customer to check for any final changes. After being designed in 3D, it then switches to the printing process and is then hand-sewn, a process which applies to all ties.

Usually it takes 15 to 30 hours for a tie to produce in a process involving all its stages.

However, 3D ties are rather costly.

Gerti Struga says the production cost is relatively high because the product is a novelty, but the company has also managed to produce products at friendlier prices for 3D and customized ties starting from €77.

Every 3D tie or bow tie has customized details including buyer’s initials on the front part and the full name on the bottom back.

Albanian motifs are also incorporated in most of them. One of the special items in the company's collection includes a tie with neighborhoods of the old Tirana city pictured on it.

“The idea is to integrate different parts of the city in the tie with the target of making each final product unique," says Pernaska.

The company's big target is to integrate this kind of Albanian brand internationally and make it a symbol of Made and designed in Albania.

New York-based 3DPrint.com, a portal focus on the 3D printing industry, describes the Albania-made ties as well-designed, attention-getting, but not overly flashy.

"With prices ranging as high as €240, these ties are not cheap, but a lot of work goes into handcrafting and 3D printing each individual piece. This isn’t mass-produced, throwaway apparel. Each ties is carefully, painstakingly crafted, with care being taken to make them as individual as their wearers," says 3DPrint.com

The Albania-made ties made their debut at the 2016 Miss Globe Albania contest as the Balkans' first fully 3D printed fashion collection to hit the runway.

The garment industry is one of the top employers in Albania's private sector but is mostly involved in cut-make-trim production and overwhelmingly imports raw materials, designs and patterns from Italy, the main destination of the locally processed products.

Only few local garment and footwear products have upgraded to full cycle production and are marketed as Made in Albania brands.
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                    [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_137651" align="alignright" width="300"]karavasta 2 Divjaka-Karavasta national park: Photos: EU Delegation to Albania[/caption]

TIRANA, June 25 – A new visitor center has been launched at the Divjaka-Karavasta national park, a wetland and lagoon 90km south of the capital Tirana which is home to the endangered Curly Pelican.

The EU-funded center now offers a new experience for visitors who can now ride around the park, learn everything about the amazing nature and understand how to best respect and preserve it.

The center also offers better facilities for park rangers to ensure that this unique ecosystem is protected, including the famous Dalmatian Pelicans, says the EU Delegation to Albania which is supporting the country to strengthen its capacity in nature protection and expand the coverage of protected areas throughout the country through the “NaturAL” project.

"Legislation and law enforcement is essential and rangers that will work here will play a key role in safeguarding the nature of Divjaka. This new visitor centre and the work of the rangers will contribute to the protection of the flora and fauna of the park and will play a key role in educating people on the proper behavior in the park and help raise awareness on the ecosystem values of the park," said Sylvain Gambert, a representative of the EU Delegation to Albania speaking at an inauguration ceremony last week.

Fier Prefect Baki Bala described the new visitor center as bringing value added not only for the Divjaka-Karavasta National Park, but also for the entire area.

“This center will link nature and visitors, providing adequate information and rising respect for the site,” he was quoted as saying.

Albania's National Agency of Protected Areas says the EU-funded “NaturAL” project has supported the state-run agency in undertaking important steps for a better conservation of Albania’s natural heritage, in particular liaising with the Regional Administration of Protected Areas and relevant NGOs to preserve and enhance the values of Divjaka - Karavasta National Park.

karavastaThe new center offers detailed information on Divjaka-Karavasta National Park unique ecosystem and its rich biodiversity. Inside the centre, there is a corner dedicated to the children where they can explore the park’s flora and fauna. A small shop, managed by a local NGO, offers souvenirs with park landscape and its pride, the Dalmatian Pelican.

Divjaka-Karavasta is home to the Dalmatian Pelican and its only nesting place in Albania. The park and its lagoon is also considered an important resource for the development of the sustainable tourism and economic activities of the local community.

The EU says new visitor centers will also be set up at the Llogara park, southern Albania where the Adriatic meets the Ionian Sea, and at Mount Dajti, outside Tirana.

Albania’s protected areas cover 18 percent of country’s territory, something which experts describe as an outstanding national value in preserving natural habitats and sustaining biodiversity, but also offering recreation and enjoyment and contributing to sustainable economic development while safeguarding the territory against natural hazards.

Green, sustainable, responsible tourism is steadily growing and is an important economic input that is increasingly realised within protected areas – through ecotourism activities such as hiking, biking, canoeing, bird watching and so on, say experts of the EU-funded NaturAL project.

 

Divjaka-Karavasta lagoon

 

About 5 percent of the entire worldwide population of the Curly Pelican breed at the Karavasta Lagoon, which has been under the Ramsar Convention protection since 1994. However, only a few dozen have survived in the past two decades due to illegal hunting.

Inside the lagoon, there is a small sandy island where flocks of pelicans typically come together. The Curly Pelican is considered an endangered species and the numbers of this bird continue to decrease worldwide.

The Lagoon has a surface of 4,330 ha and is the largest lagoon of the Albanian coast and one of the largest along the Adriatic. Soft and wild pines dominate the lagoon where the large crown pines stand out. The multistory forest is very rich in herbals and tall woods. The nearby Divjaka sea sand is rich in iodine and temperatures above 20 degree Celsius start from the second half of May and continue until the beginning of October. The site is national park where beach activities mix with eco-tourism.

In this ecosystem, there are 210 kinds of birds, 12 kinds of mammals and 16 kinds of reptiles. Lagoon waters of about 1.5 meters deep are rich in fish, especially mullet and eel, which are served in many restaurants on the Divjaka beach. The flora of the National Park of Divjaka is famous for its beauty and special freshness.

Lonely Planet, which in 2011 placed Albania as the number one global destination to visit, suggests the Divjake-Karavasta national park as the top destination for tourists taking bird-watching tours in the wetland areas of Albania’s Adriatic coast.

According to the Albanian Ornithological Society, which also runs bird-watching tours, Karavasta offers shelter to more than 245 species of birds.

Last year, a proposed billion dollar mass tourism resort at the Karavasta Lagoon triggered strong reaction by Albanian environmentalists worried over the development project, putting at risk the local ecosystem and its flora and fauna, including the already endangered Dalmatian Pelican population. The Kosovo company which proposed the project has temporarily withdrawn from its development plans following strong public reaction.

The Divjaka-Karavasta national park spans over a surface of 22,230 hectares offering a variety of habitats such as a river delta, lagoons, sand dunes and rich flora and fauna.

The park is also known for its sandy beaches, pine forests and trekking.

Albania is home to an impressive number of species of birds that vary from residents, that stay all year around, to breeding birds that spend a good part of the growing season in the country to raise their young, migrants who pass through the country with the seasons, to wintering birds who like to spend a good part of the winter in Albanian to escape colder conditions up north.

Albania has banned hunting since 2014 in a bid to put an end to uncontrolled and illegal hunting, which has decimated wildlife populations in the country over the last two and a half decades after the collapse of the communist regime in the early 1990s. The current ban is valid until 2021.

 

 
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, June 19 – Ukrainians are among the new tourists to massively visit Albania for this year, joining Nordic countries as well as some central European countries who have been discovering Albania and its emerging tourism industry in the past few years as one of Europe’s last secrets and an up-and-coming destination.

Regular charters from Ukraine have been flying to the Tirana International Airport, Albania’s sole international airport, six times a week starting early June, having already brought thousands of Ukrainian and Russian-speaking tourists.

Sky Up, a Ukrainian charter airline, has arranged 96 flights to Albania in partnership with an Albanian tour operator from June until the end of September, says TIA, the Tirana International Airport.

“Tourist numbers are growing in Albania, and the new interest is very high to see this country. I am sure that the warm hospitality of the Albanians will be very welcome, treating the new guests well and making them wish to return. TIA is happy to support these routes financially and contributing to tourism across borders,” says Rolf Castro-Vasquez, TIA’s Chief Executive Officer.

A country with a resident population of some 45 million, Ukraine is a huge potential for Albania’s emerging travel and tourism industry and sporadic visits by Ukrainian travelers until a few years ago have now become well-organized and sharply increased in numbers.

Tatyana Bajraktari, a Ukrainian lady married to an Albanian and managing a Tirana-based tour operator and several rented hotels around Albania, has had a key role in promoting Albania to her homeland and increasing the number of Ukrainian and Russian-speaking tourists to Albania.

"I have always maintained that Albania possesses a real gem which with some arrangements can become much more valuable. Mother Nature has given a lot to Albania including mountains, seas, lakes and endless historic sites. The thing is how to make use of them and bring people here," says the Ukrainian travel manager who brings Ukrainian, Russian and Belarus tourists to the country.

Her husband Bledi Bajraktari, who serves as Ukraine's honorary consul to Albania, says he expects the number of Russian-speaking charter tourists to double to 20,000 this year.

The central Albanian city of Durres is a favorite for family holidaymakers and children enjoying sun and sea along the Adriatic coast while young couples seeking adventures often try the southern Albanian Riviera offering a combination of sandy and rocky beaches.

Some 5,000 Albanians live in the southern Odesse region in Ukraine. The Albanian community there settled in the 18th and 19th centuries from Bulgaria, having previously escaped 15th century Ottoman occupation from the southeastern Albanian region of Korça.

Ukraine is mostly popular in Albania for its sports stars, former AC Milan striker Andriy Shevchenko, the current coach of Ukraine whom Albania played in a recent friendly , and the Klitschko brothers who dominated heavyweight boxing for more than a decade until the early 2010s.

NATO member and EU candidate Albania has also joined Western sanctions over Russia's 2014 annexation of Crimea.

Albanian regularly lifts visas for Russian, Ukrainian and several other former Soviet Union countries for most of the year.

This year’s tourist season in Albania is being characterized by a sharp increase in charter flights, mostly bringing Nordic tourists who are massively visiting Albania, having booked up the best hotels along the Adriatic coast of Durres for most of the season.

Charter flights will regularly link Copenhagen, Oslo, Stockholm and Helsinki to Tirana from May to early October 2018. In addition, direct charter flights from Poland, Hungary and Russia as well as new regular flights with Israel and a new low-cost carrier linking Tirana to London are much promising for this season in Albania.

The travel and tourism industry was one of the key drivers of the Albanian economy in 2017 when it generated a record high of €1.7 billion in income as the country was visited by more than 5 million foreign tourists, according to central bank and INSTAT data.

Closed to tourists for about five decades under a Stalinist dictatorship, Albania has a rather later tradition in tourism compared to its regional competitors, but quality investment and service in the past decade and a mix of natural and cultural heritage dating back to ancient times have rated it as “Europe’s last secret” and a destination worth being visited.

 
                    [post_title] => Charter flights bring thousands of Ukrainian, Russian-speaking tourists to Albania
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, June 14 - Albania's southern pearl, Saranda, has been named by prestigious Business Insider portal as one of the top off-the-radar destinations that deserve holidaymakers' attention.

“Saranda, a resort in the Albanian Riviera, is equally known for its archaeological ruins and its beaches. While you'll find the remains of a 5th-century synagogue in the town itself, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that dates to prehistoric times is located about 12 miles outside Sarandë. The site, Butrint, has in the course of its storied history functioned as a Greek colony, a Roman city, and a bishopric,” writes the Business Insider portal.

Saranda is the only Balkan town to make it to the 40 underrated destinations around the world which the Business Insider says deserve more attention compared to popular destinations at the top of tourists' travel bucket list.

From overlooked second cities — Bergen, Norway, and Valparaíso, Chile, to name a few — to beautiful islands such as Anguilla and Pangkor Island, Malaysia, Saranda, on the southern Albanian Riviera is ranked the second most popular among 40 underrated travel sites.

“If you'd rather catch some rays than sightsee, some of the most popular beaches in the area include Mirror Beach, Santa Quaranta Beach, and Pulebardha Beach.As an added bonus, the Greek isle of Corfu is just a short ferry ride away,” says the Business Insider.

"A friend's photos of Pulebardha Beach was the impetus for my visit to Albania and it was well worth the visit," writes a TripAdvisor user.

Known as the pearl of Albanian Riviera, the southernmost Albanian district is a top destination in Albania during summer, offering tourists a combination of rocky and sandy beaches as well as cultural heritage attractions such as the Butrint UNESCO World Heritage site and the Blue Eye spring. Situated just next to the Greek island of Corfu with regular ferry lines, Saranda remains one of Albania’s top destinations despite the boom of uncontrolled constructions somehow spoiling the beauty of Albania’s southernmost coastal town.

“Saranda is a great location for summer travelers who want a good deal without having to compromise cleanliness or good food. Whether you want to relax on the beach and swim to one of the islands in Ksamil, visit ancient archaeological sites like Butrint, or perhaps just enjoy a nice meal or drink next to the glistening Ionian Sea, you will likely find yourself charmed by this unique location,” says a Saranda promotional website.

In 2013, Saranda, known for its beautiful pure Ionian waters, was named by the United States Price of Travel portal as the third cheapest beach destination in Europe.

“The town of Saranda in the south is arguably the highlight of the Albanian Riviera, and part of its appeal is that it’s just across the channel from the (also modestly priced) Greek island of Corfu. Perhaps one day it will be competing for the mass market cheap holidaymaker, so it could be a good choice for those who like to go to those places first so they can complain about the development later,” says the portal.
                    [post_title] => Saranda makes it to top off-the-radar destinations around the world
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            [post_content] => TIRANA, July 19 - Seventeen-year-old Albanian Klaivert Dervishi was part of the duo that impressed audiences in Valencia’s DreamHack venue, by winning the Fortnite gaming competition, which granted the winning team €5,000.

In what looks like a hobby to some, Dervishi has found a passion which he plans on sticking with, and eventually even turn into a profession.

Having broken his third world record on June 28 in the solo vs. duo category, where he managed 31 kills, Dervishi says he is considering to even start his own game one day, or become the head of eSports - a form of competition using video games.

Last April Dervishi, who goes by the name of Teeqzy in his online gaming platforms, placed an absolute world record of 43 kills in the solo vs. squad category - this remains the highest number of kills a player has managed to achieve at a Fortnite Battle Royale, in all game platforms and modes.

“My online name Teeqzy doesn’t have any special significance,” Dervishi told Tirana Times during an exclusive interview, “I just randomly clicked on the keyboard, and really liked the way the outcome sounded.”

Followed by approximately 126,400 subscribers at his online YouTube channel, Dervishi differs from other gamers in terms of his performance - while it is common for Fortnite gamers to under-perform during live Youtube gaming sessions, he reached his record 43 kills during a live gaming session, as he was also playing the moderator’s role.

Now, the Albanian teenager, who lives in Belgium, has been offered job positions and significant amounts of pay from some of the best gaming companies in the world.

“I play many hours each day, in order to train. I don’t feel time passing because I play with passion and when I don’t feel like playing anymore, I simply stop and make time for myself. My parents were worried at first, as they primarily think about my studies, but I proved to them I can dedicate time to gaming as much as studying, and so I won their trust,” Dervishi explains. 

His words are not just claims, and his results are proof of that - Dervishi graduated high school with honors, while he is already making his own money at seventeen, having won complete financial independence.

“Being financially independent at seventeen is awesome. I am aware that I’m very lucky but nonetheless I’m trying to remain grounded and be careful, money-wise. I don’t spend on too many things, except maybe for tools or equipment that are needed in gaming. I am also trying to save in the meantime, to be able to afford my future projects.”

His maturity and level of confidence when it comes to his gaming routine and future have managed to also win his parents’ trust and support, which has also reassured him on the steps he is willing to take in the future to make his gaming plans a reality.

“First and foremost, I play for passion, not money or popularity. I am the same person I was when I first started, and, of course, I am Albanian, before being Belgian,” Dervishi comments, on what is probably the most frequently asked question coming from Albanian media. 

“I have kept contact with my home country, Albania, I try to visit as frequently as possible, when I make time between dealing with school and gaming. I try to make the most out of seeing my family and vacating there…family comes before everything else,” he concludes. 

Teeqzy and Verrmax was the duo that awarded the Millenium team the world cup in online gaming at Valencia’s DreamHack - a sports event that has been increasingly gaining attention also in Albania, due to its popularity but also due to recent research pointing to links between game skills and intelligence, thus removing the stigma associated with spending too many hours in front of the computer. 

 
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