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Meet Lena Nikolaj, the adventurous photographer discovering Albania [Jun 2024]

The Albanian-American girl living between New York and Tirana

Lena Nikolaj Albanian flag

For the first time, I heard about Lena when one of my friends in Michigan mentioned me that there was an American girl traveling around Korça at that time and taking beautiful photographs of some not so much popular places. I checked her instagram profile and the name hit me. It was “Wheretfislena”. I loved it and if I remember well, I followed her right away. Last year she changed her instagram account name to her full name Lena Nikolaj (which to be honest made me sad, I loved the previous one so much) and unfortunately she was hacked at 12.5 k followers, which forced her to create a new account and start fresh but at 0.

*I mentioned this episode, because it has happened to many instagrammers and influencers during the last months and to most of them it affects their professional life, some times even their personal one, to have been cybernetically robbed and not being protected, not even by the actual platforms. 

I have shortly met Lena in Tirana, while she was having an afternoon glass of wine with one of her friends, and couldn’t help but noticing this not just beautiful, but intelligent, friendly and awesome person she is. That is why I am happy to have interviewed her, discovering some very exciting news about her personal life, therefore I invite you to read it til the end and leave your comment or congrats for her down below!

Ladies and gentlemen, meet Lena Nikolaj!

Lena Nikolaj

1. When did you visit Albania for the first time and what made you come here?

I visited Albania for the first time in 2016 when I was 25. Although I always wanted to visit, a man was the reason it happened as soon as it did. That man is now my boyfriend of 6 years. He did the right thing by taking me to the most beautiful place in Albania as one of my first experiences. That place was Theth. The village and the people sparked my obsession for Albania so much. I became addicted to exploring as much as I possibly could and I’m lucky enough to have met Ardi who showed me even the places native Albanians have never even heard of.

2. What’s a wrong opinion/thought you had before coming here?

I guess I thought that it would be hard to meet close friends that I really related to or vibed with. I thought people would look at me like some stuck up American girl but that was not the case at all. I’ve met some of the funniest, kindest, and adventurous people in Albania.

3. What’s one drink you always get when visiting Albania?

Raki, of course! 😉

4. Do you keep a journal while traveling?

Yes! Although I wish I was more consistent with travel journaling throughout the years, I do have some pretty genuine moments written down in a couple journals I have. I’m going to try and be more disciplined with this from now on because I would have love to look back and relive some beautiful moments I’ve had exploring.

Lena Nikolaj caraibe
5. What do you think is the most stressful thing about traveling in our country?

I wouldn’t say stressful but I would say it is a bit difficult to get used to figuring out the bus schedules and locations for different cities in Albania. (Maybe I’m just too used to NYC buses and trains.) Also, off-roading on the narrow roads of the mountains is a bit stressful but also exciting and gets my adrenaline going.

6. Can you dance the Albanian Valle? If yes who taught you?

Oh yes! I grew up going to Albanian weddings all the time. I never leave the dance floor! I believe my first cousin Lilly taught me. 🙂

Lena scaled
7. How would you describe Albania in 3 words?

Wild, adventurous, welcoming

8. What’s the most interesting thing you’ve eaten while traveling?

Fried sheep brains

9. Are you a great travel companion?

I would say so, haha. If you asked Ardi or my friends and family I would think they would say yes…I hope at least! I’m very laid back and spontaneous when traveling. I’m up for whatever, whenever.

Lena 1 scaled
10. How would you convince me to take you on a no limit budget trip around Albania?

First we would have a glass of Albania’s finest wine. Then I would tell you that I could capture the most genuine and wholesome photos and videos of each village or city in Albania. I would promote these to the world and drastically diminish the stereotypes around our motherland while making it even more of a tourist hot spot. This ripple effect would then create more jobs and opportunities for our wonderful Albanian people. How could you say no to that? 😉

11. Go somewhere you’ve been before or somewhere new?

Somewhere new unless it’s a place that really left a mark on my heart. There’s just something about that feeling of being in a new place. The curiosity is endless.

12. Which Albanian cities have you visited so far?

Tirana, Gjirokaster, Shkoder, Saranda, Korca, Elbasan, Berat, Kruje, Durres, Vlora, Fier, Pogradec, Gramsh, Fushe-Kruje, Lezhe, Kukes, and Permet. Did I miss any?!

Lena Nikolaj scaled
13. What is one thing you experienced during travels but it’s hard to capture on camera?

Probably the very adventurous things I do like skydiving, parasailing, hot air ballooning, rafting, hiking, etc. Depends on the level of activity, capacity of speed, height and how much water is involved.

14. What’s been the weirdest thing you’ve seen?

Hmm i can’t think of anything abnormal at the top of my head but the thing II’ll never get used to seeing is very young kids smoking on the streets.

Lena 2
15. The cutest Albanian word you say often?

The classic – “Shpirt” will always be my favorite word forever.

16. Where in Albania would you like to throw your wedding party?

My dream is to actually have my future wedding close by in Kotor, Montenegro, but if I had to choose Albania I would go with Dhermi. I love the beach vibes there so much!

Lena Nikolaj dhermi beach scaled
17.  You have taken a lot of photographs around Albania. Can you show us the one you’re most proud of?

These photos were taken in Erseke. Ardi and I were on a road trip and I noticed how beautiful the scenery in front of us was so I asked him to stop so we could get a photo. I helped him set up the camera functions and composition for this so he could just click the photo of me in it. 

Lena Nikolaj, Erseke
Lena Nikolaj, Erseke

Us, at Albania360° are happy to introduce you to the best travel experts of Albania. You will meet them through interviews, their photography, their videos and their advices. Follow us in FACEBOOK and INSTAGRAM and tag us if you discover a beautiful place in Albania!

Safe travels! 🙂