Albania Vlore

Making Almond Flour

I can’t find a lot of keto friendly ingredients here, like stevia and other natural sweeteners, almond flour, coconut flour and several others. But I learned that almond flour is nothing more than ground-up almonds! It’s a necessary staple for any low carb baking. Yay! So I got some almonds and started right in. It sounds pretty easy.

Well silly me. Making almond flour is incredibly labor-intensive! First you have to blanch & peel the almonds. Sounds easy…pour boiling water over the almonds, wait exactly one minute and no longer, drain and cool with cold water. Drain again & pat dry and those pesky skins will squirt right off with a little squeeze. In fact the directions had the audacity to suggest using both hands because you might lose control of the almonds as they shoot out of your grasp! Uh huh. Some of them I had to blanch three times before the darn skins would come off, with hard rubbing! They sure weren’t flying around the room. Then I spread them in a baking pan and let them air dry, and later put them in a warm oven for awhile.

The next morning I started grinding them in my cheapie new blender. The instructions say to use a food processor but I don’t have one. You have to be careful not to overdo it or you get almond butter instead of flour. Well I got a teeny bit of flour with a lot of almond pieces on top that wouldn’t grind. So now the task is to send all that stuff through a fine strainer to sort out the flour and have another go with the blender. My first attempt netted me about a cup of stuff that needs regrinding and two tablespoons of flour. As friend Gail says, enough flour to make one silver dollar size pancake. Aaaaggghhhhh!! This could take weeks!

I spent all day off & on grinding, sifting and regrinding almonds. I’ve perfected my technique….now while grinding I shake the blender so it will incorporate more of those bigger pieces, or so I imagine. I’m up to about 1/3 cup of flour after at least ten grindings and siftings!

And the sad thing is, I’m only working with half of the almonds I blanched & peeled. I’ve got way more work ahead of me. I’m sitting here wondering what recipe could possibly be stupendously delicious enough to rate using this more-precious-than-gold flour?

Albania Vlore

Albania’s Independence Day

Today (November 28) is a national holiday, Albania’s Independence Day, the day when their Declaration of Independence from the oppressive Ottoman Empire was signed in 1912. And it happened right here in Vlorë!

I’m afraid my antisocial side kicked in and I opted not to go downtown for any of the festivities, sorry. I tend to avoid crowds and events like that. But it’s a beautiful sunny 55° day so I did go out to the beach at about 1 pm. I was astounded by the numbers of people who were out and about! The beach promenade was filled with people strolling and lots of people were relaxing at the many outdoor restaurant patios.

Notice the nice two-lane bike path on the left

Here’s a menu board for one of the coffee shops along the promenade. 70 Leke for coffee is only $.62 US; cappuchino is $1.07. Of course the coffee comes in little bitty cups too though! Lëng frutash is fruit juice.

The beach is nice hard-packed sand, with lots of little tiny shells. The water looks pretty clean but definitely not gin-clear like in Sarandë, so it never is that gorgeous “Mama Mia” blue color. I was surprised at how clean the beach was, as trash is a huge problem here. People think nothing of just throwing down their candy wrappers, water bottles, drink cups….even when they’re standing next to a trash can! Perhaps people go along the beach and pick up the trash every morning?

I found an app called Albanian Weather and it’s way more accurate than the so-called AccuWeather app! The temps have taken a sudden downturn.  This week they’ve been around 55/40. Last week it was still in the 70’s! But this week’s temps are more the norm. December averages 50/36 and it’s the wettest month of the year, with about 12 rainy days and 6.7″ of rain. But hey, no snow!

Albania Vlore

Gëzuar Ditëlindjen to me!

Phonetically, Gez-oo-ar Deet-a-leendy-yan. It’s my birthday! I’m a whopping 74 years old, ugh! I had a huge and very un-keto breakfast! This is the fourth year of being on Keto on my birthday and the first year I’ve not stayed pretty strict keto. I hope it doesn’t cost me too much next time I step on the scale but it was delicious! I walked a half block over to a little bakery and bought a loaf of crusty fresh bread and a pastry. It was a sugar-covered, custard- filled roll of flaky pastry dipped in chocolate on each end. Oh my! These two things cost $1.20 US. I had one yummy slice of toast with breakfast and I’ll throw the rest of the loaf away so I won’t be tempted. I saved half of the pastry for my dessert after dinner. I bought a little steak for dinner and I think I’m going to have a BAKED POTATO with it! Wow.

My birthday bread and pastry

This is the first time I ventured over in that direction and right across the street from the bakery is a cute place called Big Scoop. Ice cream, crepes, waffles…..oh dear! I checked the menu prices; $.85 per scoop for ice cream and a banana split costs $3.70 US. It gets worse. Right around the corner is a pizzeria! Pizzas start at $3.62 US for marghareta pizza. I’d better not go in that direction very often!

I’m just amazed that all these places, along with the grocery, produce market, restaurants, bars, coffee shops and a liquor store are all less than a block from home! Quite a change from my little home in Concho AZ where even qthe closest mini-mart is 11 miles away!

I was making a little pork loin roast on Monday and it fell from the tongs just as I was putting it in a very hot frypan to sear the outside. A tidal wave of blazing hot grease splashed up (I swear way more oil than I put in the pan, it grew exponentially!) all over the wall, the floor that I’d just mopped that morning, all down the front of the stove and all over my hand. Ow! I ran cold water over it for awhile but it blistered anyway.¹ I put some homeopathic calendula burn ointment on it and within a few minutes the blisters went right away! It still hurt but was much improved. That stuff is amazing! It still looks bad but only hurts if I accidentally rub it against something or put my hand in hot water.

6 days later

I got another good produce haul the other day, tomatoes, zucchini broccoli, avocado, kiwi, red and green bell peppers and these luscious strawberries, all for $6.92!

I also bought a 1.5 liter bottle of homemade olive oil for just under $5. It looks awfully GREEN!

Homemade olive oil

I told you about needing a cellphone to actually call the elevator in my building. I tried putting that number into my regular cellphone but for some reason that doesn’t work. The little old cellphone they gave me doesn’t have a very good battery and I learned there’s a steep penalty for letting it run down. It’s climbing five flights of stairs while carrying a ton of groceries! Lesson learned.

Albania Uncategorized

My Kitchen Smells Like Camping (and other trivialities)

My kitchen smells like camping! I had the hardest time figuring out why, or what the smell actually reminded me of. Then it hit me; it was my new trash can liners, and they smell exactly like that blue liquid they use in porta-johns! HAH! Not exactly the most favorite camping fragrance I’d pick, but hey, at least it’s the smell of unused porta-johns. Could be worse.

I’m learning that the weather forecasters here are even more inaccurate than the ones in the US. Rain was forecast every day for 10 days. They’re still saying that and this is the 5th bright sunny day in a row. I plan my trips into the city around the weather because I really don’t want to get caught on foot in a downpour.

I went into the city a few days ago and spent a small fortune ($40) on stuff like a dish drainer, fleece throw, some mixing bowls, a bedside lamp, a few Christmas decorations and other goodies. I got a little 8″ Christmas tree and a hanging decoration with pinecones & ribbon but then I discovered I don’t have anyplace to hang it! The walls here are all concrete. So I hung it on the corner of the TV, since I never watch it, it won’t be in the way. My best find was this little gizmo that helps open jars and bottles. I don’t know how I ever lived without it!

I wanted to also go to the meat store. I can’t believe I haven’t made it there yet but I turned out to be way overloaded with three bulky bags already so I couldn’t go this trip either. But I did pass a little fish store and bought a half kilo (1.1#) of tiny fishies, 3-4″ long. For $.88 US! There were 3 different kinds of fish and I don’t know what any of them were but I think some were sardines. I had to clean them myself which was kind of a pain but boy were they good! I just lightly fried them and they tasted very much like smelt and I ate them the same way….bones & all. Now I want to go back and get lots more to clean and freeze.

I just love all the closet space in my bedroom. It spans the whole 14′ length of wall! I need a lot more clothes to even come close to filling it up!

I’ve noticed the older women like me mostly wear dresses or skirts below the knee. I guess that’s why most Albanians know to speak to me in English; old Albanian women don’t wear jeans! The younger people dress very differently too. They might wear jeans but also a lot of dressier pants and matched sweatpants and tops. Nobody here looks grungy, they’re all very neat and clean. Men don’t have long hair. Definitely no droopy pants on boys or young men! A lot of the men use messenger bags, man-purses or fanny packs. And nobody wears tee shirts with crazy patterns or sayings, usually if it’s a tee shirt, it’s plain or it has Adidas or Nike logos.

I went over to my little local grocery this morning and for the first time, noticed that there’s a bakery right around the corner! So I wandered by but didn’t buy anything. Bread or foccacia costs $.50. I might go there and splurge and try an Albanian dessert on my birthday. 0

Right outside the grocery is a little produce stand. The produce is super cheap, cheaper even than the one on Sarandë! Plus the lady is very cheerful and smiley, unlike the ladies in Sarandë who always seemed grumpy. I got a gigantic leek, two onions, 3 potatoes, two kiwi and 2 lemons for $.83!

Albania Sarandë Albania Vlore

All Moved In

Yesterday Sarandë Taxi picked me up (in a Mercedes!) and brought me back to Vlorë with my big pile of stuff. It only took 2 3/4 hours rather than 4 hours by bus and was far more comfortable, though it did cost 12x as much ($100). He took the coast road part of the way, then cut over to the new, faster inland route.  Both are pretty curvy but that coast road is a constant series of corkscrew turns with hardly any straightaways. He was a fast and good driver but he was a big fan of passing everyone else on the road, mostly on blind curves. Oy! But we made it in one piece and he helped me cram all the stuff into the elevator at my building. There was hardly any room left for me! (It’s a very small elevator, maybe 4′ square)

That elevator! They gave me a little old Nokia cellphone that I have to use to call the elevator.  Literally…it actually calls the elevator! And then when the elevator answers, then it unlocks and I can use it. I’ve never heard of such a thing. They said it was for security purposes so I thought “Oh okay, that’s a good thing, even if it is a royal pain.” But wait….the stairs are all open; are all the thieves and lowlives here too lazy to take the stairs? If they can’t access the elevator, they just give up and slink away? Interesting.

I’m almost all unpacked, just one more big suitcase to go. I acquired some new stuff before I left Sarandë so I had more to move than I anticipated. The little supermarket had a new display of really pretty stoneware dishes. The new apartment only had one serving size bowl so I bought one bowl. The prices weren’t marked (that’s pretty normal here) and I was shocked when I checked out….it only cost $1.46! I went home and started thinking about how I really didn’t like the dishes at the new apartment, and I went back and got 4 dinner plates and 4 smaller bowls. The plates were $1.90 and all the bowls were $1.46 each. Such a deal! And the really funny thing is that not mine, but some of the other dishes had Walmart’s Mainstay logo on the bottom! How on earth did they find their way to Albania?!

I also bought some good slippers in Sarandë, for only $5. I know they’re good because it says so…in English!

GOOD slippers!

So I’m here until June. NICE! There are many things I like better about this apartment.  I like that it has two bedrooms, in case I ever do have guests, and the beds are all comfortable. I like that the floor tile is a marbled beige color and not plain white like the other one (it showed every little speck of dirt). I love that it’s got the cool stove with two gas and two electric burners, and a nice convection oven. And it’s very sunny in winter…hopefully not so much in summer! The little grocery store is only 100′ away instead of 4 blocks, the beach here is sand, not gravel, and it’s much more accessible. The buses run every 15 minutes instead of only once an hour. And the city is cleaner, with wide safe sidewalks.

Trash here is a huge problem. It’s everywhere. People think nothing of just throwing their cigarettes, wrappers and trash on the ground or out the car windows. I’m not sure if it’s just Albanians with this attitude or if it’s other nationalities also, because tourists here come from all over. It’s ugly though.

Remember my sweet potato with the long sprouts? It’s now my first houseplant! I stuck it in a mayo jar in water, cut the sprouts a lot shorter and it took right off! I emptied out the water for the trip here and it came out looking pretty sad and depressed but it’s perked right up. I think they’re pretty hardy little vines. I’m happy to have a plant! I’ll have to find it a nicer jar or vase. Maybe when I have to leave, the new renters will care for it over the summer.

It’s supposed to rain on the weekend so I’m planning on staying home. But with all that walking last week, I did lose 2#! I hope to do more of that but right now I’m ready to sit here in my cute little apartment and read to my heart’s content, and let the rest of the world go right on around me.


Back in Sarandë

Yesterday I took a furgon (large passenger van) from Vlorë back to Sarandë. It cost $8.50 US and it took almost 4 hours to go 67 miles. It’s very mountainous so even in a car it takes almost 2 1/2 hours.

The furgon stops for every person who happens to be standing at the roadside, in case they want to get on. Some people ride for just a few miles. The driver also runs delivery errands for people. He stopped along the road to pick up two bottles of milk from a guy, and dropped them off about 5 miles farther up. We waited 15 minutes for an old man to make his way down his long steep driveway, to be handed a bag of empty 2 liter water bottles! And we stopped to deliver a new microwave to someone. Hey at least it’s not one of those “chicken” buses, though they might be allowed too, maybe I just haven’t seen any yet.

The scenery between the two cities is gorgeous! I saw lots of grapevines and olive groves, and some people harvesting olives the old-fashioned way. They spread big tarps under the tree and use long pole thingies to shake the branches so the olives fall off onto the tarps. (The modern way is to use mechanical tree-shakers) It takes 80-100# of olives to make a gallon of olive oil.

And shepherds herding flocks of everything…..sheep, goats, cows, turkeys and Guinea hens!

I was really anxious about getting to Sarande before dark, as I’m not completely confident about being able to recognize my bus stop in the dark. I got lucky! We arrived just as the sun was going down and just in time to catch the once an hour city bus out to my neighborhood. Once I got there my heart sank when I saw that the outer door to the building was shut. I was soooo tired, I really didn’t want to have to walk the three extra blocks to get around to the downstairs entrance. But it wasn’t double locked and I was able to wrestle it open. Oops, I only bent the key a little bit!

Today I went to town to try and buy lots of stevia. Sadly, they had only one 1 kilo (2.2#) cannister that cost $21.39 US (ouch!) And it’s not pure stevia; it’s mixed with erythritol. Maybe I can get one of the shops in Vlorë to order a case of it for me. I also bought some little pellets of cyclamate, which was banned I the US in 1969 because it was thought to be carcinogenic but has always been allowed in most other countries, including Canada. It is now being reevaluated in the US because of it’s safe use in other countries.

I met a nice American lady while waiting for the bus home! Wouldn’t you know I’d meet a prospective friend two days before I leave here. But she might come to Vlorë. She seemed woefully ignorant of the immigration policies here. She didn’t know that Americans can stay 12 months, and wasn’t aware that there’s a Retiree Residency available. The only weird thing is that I asked her where she lived and she told me that she’d rescued 7 puppies and was living in an old abandoned gas station! Ehhhh…does that mean she’s homeless?? I’m not sure I want to get all tangled up with someone that desperate, though she seemed real cheerful about it. Is that mean of me? I gave her my email address so she can contact me and then I can send her the official info on the 12 month visa and my apartment agent in Vlorë.

I have to take a walk down to the little market to see if they have any boxes I can use for moving. I don’t have a whole lot more stuff than I arrived with, but I have purchased some kitchen things that were lacking, and I’ll have to take the food I’ve bought. I am taking a private car back to Vlorë on Thursday at a cost of $100 USD.

Albania Vlore

Rainy Days & Gelato

I planned to return to Sarandë yesterday but I forgot to check the weather first. It was really blustery and pouring down rain. To get to the inter-city buses would have been about a half mile walk plus waiting up to 15 minutes for the bus to come by here. Then I’d have had to sit on the bus for 4 hours while probably soaking wet, as I didn’t bring my raincoat with me. More rain was also forecast for today so I decided to wait til tomorrow to go back. I did nothing but read yesterday and it was really nice to give my legs a rest…I’ve got terrible shin splints from all this walking.

Today turned out to be a gorgeous sunny day though! Good to know that Albanian weather forecasters aren’t any more accurate than the ones in the US. I decided to make the hike to that really big supermarket. On my corner of the main road is this little kiddie carnival setup with some rides & games.

It’s a 2.4 mile round trip hike from the nearest bus stop to Haso Hipermart and back. I am desperately seeking a source for stevia sweetener! All I’ve seen here so far is aspartame and that stuff is terrible for you. This store sounds like my best bet for finding it here.

Haso Hipermart really is a big store, and their prices are very good. But no stevia. I’m really bummed about that. I guess I’ll buy up a ton of it in Sarande and bring it back with me. And maybe I can get the little market around the corner to buy me a whole case of it, when I have a can of it to show them what I want.

On the way back to the bus stop I pass THREE gelato shops! I’ve never had gelato but I always look to see what flavors they have, and always tell myself there isn’t anything that sounds good enough. Until today. They had dark chocolate flavor! Oh. Who could pass that up? Certainly not I.

One scoop only costs $.80! I had a couple tiny bites with the teeny tiny spoon thing…oh MY!!!!! SO good! I decided to keep walking towards the bus stop. I was almost there when the bus pulled up so I ran for it, tossed the gelato in the trash and went to get on the bus but for some unknown reason the money-taker guy wouldn’t let me get on the bus! He shook his head no and the doors closed right in my face! I had to wait for the next bus and I badly wanted to dig my gelato out of the trash can but of course I didn’t do it. I guess it just goes to show that God approves of the Keto diet.

Albania Vlore

I Found a Great Apartment!

On Tuesday I finally met up with the Remax agents to look at a one bedroom $250 apartment in the city. The agent had said it was only a two minute walk to downtown. The apartment was cute as a button and I’d have taken it in a heartbeat except it turned out to be almost 3/4 mile from downtown, way too far to walk if it was rainy or if my knees start acting up.

And boy I’m glad! Yesterday the agent who’s renting me the Airbnb I’m staying in here in Vlore showed me two apartments. I fell in love with the first one, on the 5th floor of a new building just 1/2 block from the beach, the promenade and bus route. It’s $250 a month and that includes all furnishings, right down to the linens, bedding and kitchen equipment! Heck of a deal, though it’s pretty sparsely outfitted with kitchen utensils.

It’s a small two bedroom unit, one with a queen size bed and one with two twin beds. I’ll get to play Goldilocks, discovering which bed is best! There’s individual heat and AC mini-split units in the two outside-facing rooms. Not in the twin bedroom, as the temperature in there should stay fairly constant. There is a big fan on a stand in there if needed.

That window thing high on the left is a fixed pane frosted glass that lets light into the second bedroom, as it doesn’t have an outside window.
Check out that whole wall of closet space!! I’m gonna have to buy a lot more clothes!

The kitchen has a nice amount of counter space with room for a microwave. The stove is really cool;  it’s got two gas burners and two electric burners! I’ve never seen anything like it but it’s a great idea!

The living room has a big L-shaped sofa that’s lime green and cream. It wouldn’t be my choice of colors, but it’s okay. There’s a big flat screen TV that has at least one movie channel in English with Albanian subtitles. Maybe more; I haven’t explored what’s available. I really don’t watch TV much. I’d rather read.

This is the water heater, mounted high on the wall in the bathroom. They all seem to be this type here.

And there’s even a bit of a sea view from the balcony! Hopefully no derelict campers will show up.

And a huge bonus….screens on all the windows! This is the first place I’ve seen that has screens!

I really loved it but thought I didn’t want it because it’s in the Lungomare neighborhood where all the tourists go. But it’s only a five minute bus ride to the heart of the city. Things got a lot more interesting when I mentioned to the agent that I’m not going to be here all summer. She said they have storage places where I could stash the stuff I’m not taking to Ohrid, and they would use the apartment as summer rental! They’ll get way more rent for those three months, and I won’t have to pay any rent while I’m away. Win-win. And I’ll get my apartment back in September, hopefully still in good condition.

Wifi and cable TV is included in the rent. I’ll have to pay for my water and electricity usage, which runs about $30-35 a month.

I moved in this morning. I’m supposed to go back to Sarandë tomorrow but I think I’ll stay an extra night and go back on Saturday. I still need to locate the bus station and find out what time the furgon leaves for Sarandë.

Albania Vlore

Vlorë  Day 2

I forgot to include this photo yesterday.  It’s a place along the roadside between Sarandë and Vlorë where you can fill your containers with spring water. There were at least a dozen free-flowing artesian wells, with several little booths selling honey,  olive oil and snacks. I wish I’d bought some of that honey.

And here’s an Albanian license plate. They sure are a lot easier to read than our US plates!

This morning the rental agent came over and showed me how to unlock the stove. You have to press two locations at once and hold them. I had tried that but I guess I just didn’t hold them long enough. She couldn’t get the wifi to work but she hooked me up on her office network,  which is right across the street.  It’s not very strong but it’s better than nothing! I am using data on my Albanian phone plan but the US phone won’t work at all without a wifi connection.  If I run out of data I can get an additional 5gb for $5.

Whoops! I just discovered this guy on my bed! Nope nope nope, little feller! I was able to scoop him up and take him outside.

The kitchen here is not well stocked. There’s only one bowl, one spoon and this huge Dutch oven is the only saucepan. There are two huge frypans, both with most of the nonstick coating scraped off. No spatulas, no salt & pepper, dishtowels or paper towels. And there’s only about 1/3 of a roll of t.p. in the bathroom so I’d better be frugal with it!

I am just a half block from the beach here and there’s a bit of a side view from the balcony. The beach here is sand, not pebbles like in Sarandë.  I saw a few hardy souls swimming yesterday! There’s a really nice wide promenade along the beach that goes for a couple miles.

View from my balcony

Later….I just got back from the city. I love it! I definitely want to live here! It’s much bigger than Sarandë and feels nicer and newer. The sidewalks are wide, without holes to fall into or trip over, and there’s a two lane bike path all along the road. The streets are tree-lined and there are places to sit and rest about every 50′.

I learned how to take the city bus! I just went out to the main drag and flagged down a bus as it came along. I gave the money guy a 100 Lek coin but he didn’t want to take it. I had to dig out a 50 Lek coin for the 40 Lek fare. ($.34) That’s way cheaper than the Sarandë bus; that one is 100 Lek each way. I was aiming for the Remax office but missed the nearest stop, and the driver refused to let me off before the next bus stop, so I had to walk back more than 1/4 mile. I thought that was kind of mean of him.

When I got there the office was closed! The agent had told me to just stop in anytime and someone would show me the apartment I’m interested in.  I texted the agent but got no reply so I wandered around a bit and found the Jumbo store. I felt like I won the lottery! It’s the biggest store I’ve seen yet here in Albania, and the prices seemed decent. It has all kinds of home goods and decor, and even some hardware items!  I was able to find a  small saucepan and small frypan, small bowls, a dishtowel, and even most of the items on my Most Wanted list! Measuring cups in cups, not  milliliters! Rubber bands and binder clips to close food bags after they’re opened! A thingy to help open bottles caps and jar lids! What a bonanza! (It takes so little to make me happy!)

Then I returned to the Remax office but it was still locked, so I just came home. I put my destination into Google Maps so I could follow along where the bus was going and that way I was able to get off in the right place. I’m so proud of myself! Here the buses run every 15 minutes too, instead of just once an hour like Sarandë. That is so much more convenient! I’ll try to get a definite appointment time with Remax before I go back to the city. The agent for this apartment is supposed to let me know tomorrow what she has available but I don’t think she has anything actually IN the city.

So in spite of not getting to view the apartment, it felt like a really good day, and so far except for one mean bus driver, I love Vlorë!

Downtown Main Street
Albania Uncategorized Vlore

Vlorë Day 1

Today was our time change! I don’t know why we’re a week ahead of you. I found the right bus in Vlorë and paid 1000 Lek ($8.45). It was a “furgon”, a large van that seated about 24 people.

We left right on time and I thought it was a 2.5 hour trip. Nope! Ot actually took 4 hours to go about 85 miles. The driver kept stopping to pick up more people waiting at the roadside along the way. I sat right behind the driver so I could see out the windshield. He spent the whole time either talking on the phone, texting or turning around talking to guy across the aisle from me. It was a little nerve-wracking.

Halfway there we stopped for a rest break at a place that had a little restaurant and a little restroom building. Uh oh, I had to go pretty badly and had left my phone on the bus, so I couldn’t translate and I didn’t know which side was for women and which for men! I waited until I saw a man come out and chose a cubicle on the other side. (I’m a GRA) What a surprise….my very first floor toilet!

I’m a GRA
Yep, that’s the toilet!

Then after a while we came to a roundabout where Vlorë was one way and Tirana was the other. The driver made me and 3 others get off the bus at the side of the road! I’m so glad I wasn’t the only one. After about 10 minutes another furgon came along and picked us up and took us into Vlorë, for an additional $3. I took a taxi out to the apartment complex. It was at least 1/2 off the main drag, up a really steep twisty hill. I went where the taxi guy pointed but couldn’t find the office. Turns out, I was supposed to go to their office in town! I wasted $8 on a taxi and the agent had come out, pick me up and drive me back to town. She suggested I stay at a different apartment in town, and I jumped on that idea because there’s no way I could have hiked that hill to get to amd from the bus!

So this place is cute but weird. The kitchen is enclosed but in order to get to it, you have to go out on the terrace first! It’s obvious that they just enclosed part of the balcony. It’s odd because there’s actually room inside the apartment for a little kitchen. Oh well. It’s a studio with bathroom, bed, sofa and table. And the little outdoor kitchen. It’s just 1/2 block from the beach and there’s a little market right next door!

The entry to the kitchen….from the balcony!

The kitchen has a two burner electronic hot plate, similar to the stove in Ecuador that I struggled with so much. And guess what, just like the stove in Ecuador, I can’t get the darn thing to obey my commands. It shows that it’s locked and nothing I do changes it’s evil little mind. So tonight’s dinner was cold ham and some cheese and walnuts. I won’t be able to have my nightly cup of decaf, which is pretty close to a National Emergency in my mind! I’ll have to go get help from the agent tomorrow morning; their office is directly across the street.

So tomorrow starts the apartment hunting! Wish me luck!

Albania Uncategorized

Summer Plans

On Sunday I have to put on my Adventure Girl hat and Big Girl panties and take the bus to Vlorë to look for a new apartment.  I hate not knowing EXACTLY how to do this, how much it costs and how to get from the bus station to the rental agent’s office to check into the little Airbnb studio apt. I’m renting for the next 6 nights. The agent said it was an easy walk from the bus station but I just pulled up the directions and it’s 1.2 miles! With a heavy backpack plus a day pack. Maybe I’ll spring for a taxi…..that’ll probably cost more than the 2.5 hour bus trip, which is $5 I think. The bus to Vlorë is in a furgon, a large van that holds about a dozen people. I’ll have to catch the 9:53 bus to town and then hang out for nearly an hour to wait for the 11:00 furgon to Vlorë. Ugh.aà

And that’s another thing, the bus goes through some really twisty turns roads and I guess I should wear one of the expensive Transderm Scop patches that go behind the ear. They work really great and are good for three days. For someone like me who gets sick on swings, they’re a lifesaver! Better to waste one than maybe have to use a barf bag. I was okay coming to Sarandë in a car but the bus sway is probably way different. 

I cannot believe this…they dragged that nasty old camper away! I was so happy! Then it came back a few hours later, with wheels under it now but with two flat tires! So it’s still being dragged, not rolled. Crazy! I got a close-up photo of it last week…’s coming apart at the seams! It’s a wonder it doesn’t just disintegrate on the road. The liquor bottle shoved into the gap is a nice touch, eh?  Or maybe it was trying to escape from the inside.

I’ve got my summer plans figured out. I’m going to leave the country for 90 days, June through August. I’ll skip the super high summer rents and hordes of tourists in Vlorë and when I return, I’ll get another 12 months free visa in Albania. So I’m going to Ohrid, North Macedonia. It’s just over the NE border and on huge Lake Ohrid, and the summer highs are only around 80. There’s really cheap kayak trips & rentals on the lake; I’m really excited about being able to kayak again! It’s not cheap though, a one roomà studio apartment was $430 a month. And…yet another strange language, and the Cyrillic alphabet! Won’t that be fun.

Here’s the little apartment I’m getting. Not much of a kitchen but everything else that’s still available was way more expensive. Seems crazy that reserving an apartment 8 months in advance is too late!

Then I have to come back through Greece. I have to be out of Albania for 90 days but can only be in N. Macedonia for 90 days, and both countries count the day you arrive and the day you leave. Anyway, to be away for 90 days without overstaying in the second country,  you have to go to a third country for one night. I’ve booked 3 nights at a hotel in Florina, Greece which is pretty close to Ohrid. (Today’s Geography lesson!) It’s $90 for all three nights. So….yet another foreign language and alphabet. Ain’t Life Grand!

I am hoping that when I come back next fall I can move back into the same winter apartment in Vlorë. I’ve been studying the ads on the MerrJep website and there are quite a few “student” apartments that rent from September or October until June every year. After studying the ads I feel pretty confident that I can find a nice well-appointed apartment for $200-300 a month. I think I want to be in the city center next time, rather than have a long walk from the seaside. But at least the buses in Vlorë run every 15 minutes, not just once an hour like here.

Albania Uncategorized

Apartment Hunting & Summer Plans

I’m going to take the bus to Vlorë on Sunday, to try and find an apartment to rent from now until summer. I’ll be there for 6 days. I contacted a few agents who have apartments for rent but so far nothing has been exactly right. Maybe I’m too fussy, but I’d like a place that has heat and air conditioning,  and maybe a stove in the kitchen? This one place was really beautiful but no stove or refrigerator in the kitchen?? Oh HERE they are, out on the balcony about 15′ from the rest of the kitchen! And this was not a cheap place  either! Yeah….no.

I’m learning that yes, you can find apartments for $180-250 a month but they are most likely in older buildings without elevators, heat and AC, or maybe stoves in the kitchen! $300 seems to be the norm for a nice apartment with all the modern conveniences we wimpy Americans want.

My requirements are that it be on a lower floor (4th or below) with an elevator because they do have power outages here and having to hike up 5-7 flights or steps would probably do irreparable harm to my fragile knees. It’s not like a flight of stairs in a house! These buildings have thick cement floors and 10′ ceilings. Getting from ground floor level to my 3rd floor apartment means 54 steps! (Huff  puff!) I also need a good kitchen, stove with an oven, microwave or space to put one and an outlet to plug one into. My apartment here is only 10 years old, very modern, yet there’s only one electrical outlet in the kitchen! And not a duplex outlet, just one. If I wanted to use an appliance,  I’d first have to unplug the microwave. Perhaps that’s why there are no appliances here. Most Airbnbs provide at least a coffeemaker!

I spent hours poring over the apartment ads on the Century21 and Remax websites, only to find that they are woefully out of date. None of the apartments I was interested in were available. 

I have a few more resources plus there’s an online website called MerrJep,à similar to Craigslist that lists a lot of apartments for rent.

I have learned that getting Residency is fairly easy but costs about $600, plus it requires Apostilled documents from the US that a friend would have to get for me and send. And an Albanian bank account is required, plus a one year notarized apartment lease. It seems to be a lot of red tape and it’s only good for a year, then the whole thing must be repeated! After 5 years of doing this I could apply for permanent Residency.

But Americans can come here and get a free 12 month visa. After the 12 months are up  you leave the country for 90 days, then come back and get another 12 months. So that’s what I’m going to do for this first year anyway. I’m looking at spending the summer in either Pristina, Kosovo or Ohrid, North Macedonia. Ohrid would be my first choice, as it’s just a 6 hour bus trip from Vlorë. It’s on a big lake, with lots of kayak rental places! It’s cooler than the south coast, plus I’d escape the summer crowds.

I was going to go to town yesterday but looked out and saw the huge cruise ship Oosterdam in port. It holds up to 4,000 passengers so there’s no way I wanted to get into that mess! It blasted it’s whistle as it was steaming away.

I finally made it to the good meat store this morning! It was quite a hike but well worth it. Another meat store I went to had ground beef for 1500 Leki per kilo! That’s $5.67 a pound! Of course it’s all grass-fed, but that still seems outrageous for here. So the A Stillo Shpk meat market had it for 900 Leki, $3.45 a pound. I spent $47 there and now I’m all stocked up for a while. I got 2 kilos (4.4#) of the ground beef, a nice beef roast, some pork chops ($2.88/lb), a pork roast and some chicken breasts.

I passed a guy on the sidewalk selling the biggest walnuts I’ve ever seen so I had to get some. He didn’t speak English and he also started shoveling some normal sized blackish walnuts into the bag. A passerby said the dark ones were local, the big ones were from the north but they were both the same price. So I got some of each, mainly because I didn’t know how to refuse. A huge bag of them cost $4. The big ones are 2 1/2″ long!

Albania Sarandë Albania

Sunny Days

We’ve had a couple rainy, gloomy days but today is brilliantly sunny and clear, with a projected high of 70°. Nice weather is forecast for the next six days, yay! I have realized the weather becomes a lot more important when you can’t just run out and jump in your car to go shopping, you have to walk in it, carrying all your purchases. Right now the temps are around 72/55, which is pretty perfect. I’ve noticed that the indoor temperature doesn’t change much between day and night, which makes me hopeful that the apartment will be easy to heat in winter. I’m surrounded by other apartments on all sides plus above & below; with only one wall exposed to the outdoors. That one wall is nearly all glass, but I do have the storm/blackout shades that can add an extra layer of insulation, I hope. I have to pay for my electric usage but the wifi , TV and other utilities are included in the rent.

It’s so clear today, I can see those two tiny Greek islands, which are Othonoí and Erikoússa. (Slight humps off in the center distance) Corfu is on the far left. Qqq

I had a nice time with my visitors on Monday but they have opted to go on to Kosovo instead of returning here. Sarandë and the coast are not really their favorite places; they really love the mountains. At any rate, I’m glad they came for a visit.

I finally found a bathroom scale! It was at a store I’ve been in before but I guess I just missed them the first time. It was about $20 US so I guess that’s about in line, as it’s a fancy electronic one that also measures body fat percentage and BMI, though I’m not at all sure I want to know those things! And….I’m back to stricter eating for awhile. I needed to lose about 8#. I was afraid of that; I gained a few pounds in Ecuador and another couple in Michigan. And here I’ve been snacking on too much cheese and nuts. I’ve been getting really hungry in the evenings. I tried drinking water to fill me up but that resulted in a LOT of trips to the bathroom all night long! So now I just try to tough it out, and I’m pretty much back to that famous “If it tastes good, spit it out” diet. But on a brighter note, I have lost 2# already.

The choices here for keto-friendly snacks here are really slim, unless I want to snack on veggies (I don’t!) I haven’t found any almond or coconut flour here, or any natural sweeteners except stevia. So baking snacks is out, and that’s what I crave most. I brought a small amount of almond flour with me but I’m hoarding it, along with the sugar-free chocolate chips. I’m now down to three chips a day with my paltry amount of daily walnuts or almonds.

Check out my sweet potato! I’ve only had it for two weeks, stored in a nice dark place. It not only has sprouts, it’s got leaves! I wish I could plant it but since we’re going into winter and my balcony doesn’t get much sun, I guess it wouldn’t do any good. It would be nice to have a plant though. I need to check and see, can’t you grow sweet potatoes just in water??

Downtown near the bus stop is Friendship Park, which I use as a landmark. It’s the starting point for all my Google Maps inquiries. It’s quite nice….a resting place for people, with some sidewalk vendors and old men gathering to chat. Yes, we have palm trees!

I think I’ve mentioned that during the Communist Era here, the dictator Hoxha was extremely paranoid about the country being invaded, so he commissioned about 170,000 cement bunkers everywhere. That’s about one for every square mile! A lot of them have been dismantled but about half are still here. Some are just big enough for two people but some are quite large, with underground tunnels connecting them. I just noticed this small one in downtown Sarandë the other day. I know I’ve walked right past it at least four times before this!

There are some really old ruins near the park but I can’t find any information about them. t looks like some of the local stray dogs like to nap there!

Albania Sarandë Albania

Touring the Town

Company day! The Reads and their friends Helen & Tony from England arrived at 2:00. They visited the Blue Eye and Ksamil Beach before coming here but invited me for a late lunch. They were starving so we left immediately to get lunch. They had a restaurant in mind that they thought was right around the corner so we walked. And walked! Either that place had changed hands or was closed. So we kept walking while Keven went back to get the car, and we ended up at a place called Mamacita’s. That sure doesn’t sound very Albanian, does it?!

It was kinda funny, the waiter who was also the cook and owner, changed three of our orders. I ordered chicken kabobs and he said “No, no, you should get this instead! Much much flavor”. So I got chicken in some kind of sauce, I haven’t a clue what it was but it was pretty tasty. It came with french fries that I didn’t eat, and cost 800 Lek ($6.66 US) Well okay, I ate one french fry. Tony wanted pork kabobs but was redirected to a different pork dish, and Helen was made to get meatballs with rice. He didn’t have a problem with Kevin & Ruth’s seafood risotto order. We think maybe he was wanting us to eat what was available.

My chicken dish
Seafood Risotto

Then we hopped in the car and drove the rest of the way to town. We walked along the promenade at the boat harbor and walked through the farmer’s market. An old woman offered us fresh figs, which I’ve never had, but then got mad when none of us bought any. Yikes, beware of accepting “free” samples! Then went to find the only fee-free ATM in town, which was broken. We stopped at several other ATM’s but they all charge service fees of $6-7 US! So they didn’t get any cash. We walked past a hardware store so I bought a small adjustable wrench that hopefully will give me the leverage I need so my feeble fingers can use my key to open the doors here.

This is what’s left of the original city gate, which dates back to the Byzantine Age…7th century! In the background overlooking the city on top of the peak on the right is the 15th century Lekuresi Castle. It’s in ruins and the site is now utilized by a restaurant. On top of the hill on the left is an old monastery.

So then it was getting late and they didn’t want to be driving after dark, so they just dropped me off at home and I didn’t get a chance to be a good hostess! And now I have a bunch of beer and wine that I have no interest in drinking. And I didn’t get any photos of them, either! I tried but my stupid phone’s camera is often really stubborn and refuses to take photos. (I really hate this new phone; it’s a Samsung Galaxy 12.) Well if I end up being mentioned in their blog, maybe I can steal a photo or two. Anyway I had a really good day.


Company’s Coming!

Oh boy, I’m supposed to be having company tomorrow! I’m excited about being able to speak to Humans. And in English, too!

It’s a couple of rather famous Canadian travel bloggers who roam all over in their small RV, which is currently in storage in Germany. They have over 5,000 followers just on Facebook! They mentioned awhile back in the blog that they were bringing two friends to Albania for two weeks, then had time to kill with no agenda between then and when they can go pick up the RV again in early November. (Travel within the European Union countries is limited to 90 days in 180) Albania is one of their favorite countries to visit, and is not one of the EU countries (yet! They’re working on it though) so it doesn’t count towards the 90 day limit.

So I emailed them and invited them to come here for a few days, or however long they can stand me. They’re coming with their two friends for a short visit tomorrow, to meet me (and judge whether they’d want to stay here or not, I’m sure). So we’ll see what happens.

I realized I need to get some drinks to offer, so I got an assortment. I got two brands of Albanian beer, Korce and Elbar. The Korce was $.67 US and the Elbar was $.75. I’m not much of a drinker but it’ll be interesting to try them. I also got a bottle of white wine, some canned iced coffee drinks, a couple Cokes and some Rose Lemonade. I don’t know what the lemonade is but it’s just so pretty, I couldn’t resist. The Coke cost $.67 and says “Original Flavor” on the front, in case you’re wondering. It’s 330 ml, about 12 ounces.


Many things in the stores don’t have prices marked so sometimes I buy them and then say “Well I won’t buy that again”! when I see the price. The Rose Lemonade is one of those things….it cost $2.10 a bottle! So now I wonder if it’s alcoholic. Guess I’ll see!



Eeeek! This derelict old camper got (literally) dragged in and dumped here a few nights ago! This is my new view.

As you can see, it doesn’t even have any wheels! It considerably changes my lovely sea views. And I found out that it has been parked here every fall for at least the past three years, and spends the whole winter here. I am not happy!

I think I’ll be moving, even if it does cost me one month’s rent to get out of the rental agreement. Hopefully I can find a cheaper apartment that’ll make up for the money loss. It probably won’t have a sea view but I’d like to be a lot closer to the shopping district, especially since I’ll surely be having to schlep around in the rain for at least three months of the winter here. Nearly all the annual rainfall comes between November and that’s a lot of rainy days.

I’m making slow but steady progress in finding my way around town. The Halo store I really need to get to is a 1.5 mile hike from the downtown bus stop so I haven’t made it there yet. The past two times I’ve gone to town, I’ve had to go to the Sigal health insurance office and it’s 1/4 mile in the opposite direction, so that would be a little too much walking for one day. My I.D. card hadn’t arrived yet when I went yesterday so I still have to go there again next trip too. Darn it!

But I did find the cell provider store and renewed my cellphone plan, it’s $11 a month for a huge amount of minutes and data. Next time I might just get the $8 plan, since I really only use the Albanian phone for Google Maps to find my way around town. I mostly use the US phone here at home on the wifi connection. My US phone plan is with Visible, only costs $25 a month for unlimited usage, and my US phone number works here without any foreign country or roaming fees. I have to keep the US number viable because my bank and some other websites send texts with access codes. I got a US number from Text Now but it’s not accepted, darn it!

I also found a store that sells bulk foods and the Benn Kafe store that sells whole coffee beans, yay! The pre-ground stuff I’ve been using is Lavazzo brand (also in the US!) and it’s pretty good but the store where I got that has closed for the winter. The beans only cost about $6 a pound; I got regular and decaf because I’ve picked up the bad habit of having a cup of decaf after dinner. It helps me to not be hungry between dinner and bedtime.

I need the Halo store to get a bathroom scale, it’s driving me nuts to not know what I weigh. They’re also supposed to have a lot of imported and hard to find items. I’m having a real problem finding a number of foods I use on keto, particularly natural sweeteners. They sell artificial sweeteners like saccharine (yuck!) and cyclamate here and I did find stevia with erythritol in one store but I’m hoping to find monkfruit or xylitol, which taste far better than stevia. I also can’t find ground flaxseed and I need a queen size blanket or quilt.

The only cover that fits my queen size bed is a really thin thing. There are 3 twin size quilts though, and only one pillowcase. Weird. My bed didn’t have a top sheet either! The bottom sheet is a flat sheet all tucked in. But I dug around the other day and found a fitted sheet so I’ll change those around the next time I wash the sheet.

Also measuring cups….. that’s a bad mistake I made! I had read that you should bring them but so many other things took precedence. I did bring my favorite 1/4 cup measure and yes I do know it’s kinda crazy to have a favorite measuring cup! Well duhhhh! Here the measurements are metric! And all I’ve seen are big 1 liter cups, measured off in milliliters. Not helpful. I did bring measuring spoons, thank goodness!

Last night was another really spectacular sunset. In the distance across the sea are two tiny Greek islands.