Fotina Leaves the Motherland! …temporarily.


The last week in January I went to a mid-year conference in Moscow and met the rest of the Fulbrighters spending their year in Russia! It was great to finally meet in person the people who, until now, had been living in my inbox. It was interesting to hear about everyone’s projects…a few examples: studying sea creatures in Lake Baikal, collecting oral histories of Protestant women in Siberia, researching the relationship between the Soviet Union and UNESCO, exploring the Jewish Soviet dissident movement in St. Petersburg, dissertation research on the theme of enthusiasm in early Soviet literature, researching soil and climate in Russia’s southern regions. So much variety!



During my winter break (the conservatory’s vacation is the first week in February–go figure!) I traveled to Albania. My childhood best friend, Ana, lives there, and it was high time for us to have a reunion after several years of not seeing each other! Ana lives in the capital city of Tirana with her husband and adorable two-year-old son. 

On the flight, and even at customs, people asked me why I was headed to Tirana in February, since it is the “cold” season. I had to laugh, because compared to Mother Russia, 50 degrees fahrenheit was a balmy paradise. 

Some pictures of Tirana from my first day, near the city center: 

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Part of the University of Tirana:

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To me, Tirana seems like an interesting mix of Italy and Russia. There is the Mediterranean feel that I love so much about Italy, mixed with Soviet-like architecture that came from Albania’s socialist period 1976-1991. Some more snapshots from our walk in the city:

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In one of the city squares there is a statue of Woodrow Wilson, who advocated for Albanian independence in 1919-1920. America is very popular in Albania, and there are even several streets named after US Presidents, including John F. Kennedy:

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The pyramid structure was the former tomb for Enver Hoxha, Albania’s leader from 1944-1985:

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Of course, I find opera anywhere I go: 


There were palm trees everywhere, in case I forgot that I wasn’t in St. Petersburg anymore:

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The beautiful mountain view from Ana’s apartment: 


Vacation means eating anything and everything you want, right?

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We had a pizza party on Super Bowl Sunday…except minus the football, because with the time difference, the game started at midnight. Zzzzzzzzz 🙂

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I enjoyed seeing this fast food joint: 


Albania Fried Chicken, no affiliation with KFC…although the font looks suspiciously similar, yes?

I also tried Tavë Kosi, a traditional Albanian dish made of baked yogurt and lamb: 


Albanian money (1 US Dollar is about 120 Albanian Lek):


We visited the main Orthodox cathedral in the city on Sunday:

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So grateful to spend time with these wonderful people:

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 Selfie comparison: age 16, and now age 26!

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And now, back to St. Petersburg!! 

winter coat