Meet my City: Ilda Zhulali '01
Ilda graduated with Honors from the American College of Thessaloniki in 2001, majoring in History and International Relations, with a concentration in Foreign Affairs. She was a full scholarship student and received two academic awards during her studies. Upon graduating ACT, she was the recipient of the 2003-2004 Chevening Albania Scholarship pursuing "Postgraduate Studies in Diplomacy" at Oxford University, United Kingdom.
She is currently serving as Advisor for European Affairs to the President of the Republic of Albania since 2014. She has already accumulated a long and valuable experience in foreign affairs, representing her country in high-level meetings and conferences. Her expertise includes the EU accession process and the Western Balkan region. Ilda started her career as a diplomat in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 2001, holding different positions as expert, Director, and Director General until 2013.
Which is the best time to visit your city?
Tirana always has something to offer, but I suggest spring and autumn as the best time for outdoor activities. It is the ideal time to walk and surf around the city, favored by good weather and exciting cultural events.
Which museum or attractions are worth visiting?
The city center hosts: the National Historical Museum (communicating the historical and cultural inheritance of Albania), the Tirana Clock Tower (the symbolic signature of the city), the Ethem Beu Mosque (the only surviving mosque built in the XVIII-XIX century in Tirana, offering an incredible architecture and murals belonging to oriental tradition), the National Arts Gallery (housing more than 4500 works of Albanian and foreign artists, dating as of 800), Bunk’Art (located within a bunker, offers a glimpse of the horrors of Enver Hoxha’s communist dictatorship).
Very close to the city center, you could visit the Tirana Castle, which dates back to 1300, a remnant from the Byzantine era, whose fortress represented the heart of Tirana. Also, there is the restored New Bazaar (Pazari i ri), where you can find lovely bars, restaurants, and gift shops.
Which restaurant would you suggest?
This is a difficult question to answer, since Tirana offers excellent traditional and international cuisine in every corner, at relatively affordable prices.
I would suggest “Vila Artigiano," a beautiful combination of delicious food and an in-yard garden, quite an escape from the “concrete invasion” of the city. “Mrizi i Zanave” next to Tabaks’ Bridge offers the best traditional dishes, especially the northern savor. “Berlin Restaurant” and “Villa Ferdinand”, both located in the former Bloc, are also perfect choices if you want qualitative restaurants, yet reasonable prices.
Which places would you recommend for accommodation?
The number of hotels, B&Bs, and hostels have exponentially increased, so you can easily find something that suits your budget, whether at the city center or the periphery. Some of my visiting friends have immensely enjoyed "Mondial Hotel” and “Vanilla Sky Boutique Hostel”, whereas the best hotels list includes “Rogner”, “The Plaza”, “Mak Hotel Tirana”, etc.
What is something worth buying?
You would be surprised to know that you can buy the famous hand-crafted Venetian Carnival Masks in Albania, as they are manufactured in a small studio in Shkodra, north of Albania. Nicole Kidman and Tom Cruise used two of the studio's masks in Stanley Kubrick's "Eyes Wide Shut", which is very telling of their international outreach and exceptional fineness.
It is also worth buying artisanal crafts such as handmade rugs or embroidery, with a beautiful display of colors and geometric shapes, which vary from region to region. And of course, you have to buy some Raki and Albanian wine. Among wine selections, “Kallmet Prestige” is definitely a signature of fine Albanian wine.
What is the best way to get to know your city? (Tourist bus, walking tour, renting a bicycle)
Walking the city is always the best way to get to know it, and a walking tour is my strongest suggestion. Tirana is becoming a bike-friendly city, so I wouldn’t cancel the option of renting a bike or electric scooter either.
What is your favorite place in town?
The park by the artificial lake is my favorite place, where I can escape from the mushrooming of suffocating towers and city noise. A nice walk or bike ride will bring back the energy, and a theatre play or concert in the open-air amphitheater located inside the park would just make my day.
Which is your top-secret place in the city you live in?
Sali Shijaku’s Villa is one of Tirana’s secrets. It’s a 300-year-old well preserved traditional villa of famous painter Sali Shijaku. It is an invaluable piece of the architectural heritage of Tirana and, at the same time, an art gallery and hub of selective cultural evenings.