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Albania

Love It Here?

A friend asked me if I love it here. Heck no! I think if I was young and energetic I might love it here but at this point it’s more of a feeling of being dazed and confused. I think someday I will love it.

I guess I pictured life here to be similar to Ecuador but much safer. Except for the safety issue, it’s not. The buses to town and back only run once per hour. I know the bus passes here at 5 minutes before the hour but once I get to town I have no idea when they run back this way, so there could be long waits after I’ve already walked more than my limit and am tired. And unlike Ecuador, taxis are really expensive.

In Ecuador I knew at least some rudimentary Spanish. Right now, I know essentially nothing in Shqip so everyone around me is speaking a completely unintelligible language, and given the very difficult pronunciation, I’m a little afraid to even try my luck at speaking. Even some of the words I thought I knew, I was thinking in American, not Albanian. For instance, the word for Thank You is faleminderit. Sounds simple enough, but the actual pronunciation is something like “fawl-a-meen-dare-eet. And roll the r!

So in stores I am still pointing and holding fingers up to indicate how much or how many I want. Then the clerk checks to see if he/she understands and I stupidly nod my head, which means No, so then I modify it and end up with my head going in some weird circle motion that nobody can figure out! Then my next thought is to say “si” which doesn’t work at all. I’m trying to remember to say “po” for Yes, instead of the head shake. No is “nr” but is pronounced something like “nr-r”. Shopping is pretty stressful, what with trying to figure out where to get off the bus, finding the store I want and communicating with shopkeepers, and it makes me hate myself for not being better at going with the flow. I wonder if I’d come when I was younger if I’d have been more confident in these strange situations.

But it’s fine, you know….nothing is horrible and in fact except for the increased walking, which I think is a good thing, my life here is not THAT different from life in Arizona or Ecuador…I read. A lot. Usually two to three books a day. I can’t afford to buy books but I do subscribe to Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited service for $11 a month and I use the heck out of it, so it’s well worth the cost. I also subscribe to a couple daily free ebook emails, a Facebook group called Readers’ Coffeehouse and I can get ebook loans from two US libraries.

One thing I never thought about was having to get around in inclement weather. This week, rain is forecast for every day, so I scooted out early Monday morning to stock up on the scant frozen meat offerings and more drinking water at the local Planet Market. I’m good here for several more days but most of the annual rainfall happens between October and February so there could be lots of these every-day-for-a-week rains. Ugh. Walking in the rain sounds romantic but in reality it’s just miserable, especially when you’re cradling a 15# jug of water in your arms like a baby, with no spare hands to hold an umbrella. Oh well.

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Albania Uncategorized

Mango Beach

I ventured out to find a beach I could walk on today! Mango Beach is just a couple blocks from here. As I’ve mentioned before, Sarandë’s mountains start at the water and go right up. For instance, my apartment building has some (vacant) shops at street level that are about 20′ deep. My apartment is right behind the shops. So at the front my apartment is on the first floor. At my balcony however, that’s about 30′ back from the street, I’m three floors up! And my beach is about 40′ below that. That’s how steep it is here.

So to get down to the beach level I had to walk down a really steep ramp and then some stairs. It’s so steep, I’d be afraid of losing my footing if it was wet!

I got down to the beach and was able to walk quite a ways. The beaches here are not sandy, they are deep gravel that’s hard to walk on…great exercise but really tiring.

The water is gin-clear and it gets deep really quickly, if you walk in about 4′ it’s already waist deep! It seemed comfortably warm.

In summer this beach would be wall to wall beach loungers and umbrellas, for which you’d have to pay $7-10 a day. Sadly, most beaches here are private like this. You can walk along the beach but you can’t sit down!

I accidentally took this little video

I walked a ways and then tried to find a way back up to the road. I saw a couple stairways that turned out to be dead ends, either they were all overgrown or I couldn’t find a way to get to them without entering one of the beachfront hotels. I ended up going all the way back to where I’d come in. There might be a better way but I didn’t find it today. This stairway shows how steep the hill is. It would have been handy but it was all overgrown and trashy at the bottom.

I was pooped when I finally climbed back up to street level on that ramp! I went on up a few more blocks to Planet Market and lugged home another 8 liter bottle of drinking water.

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Albania

The Hard Stuff

I’m learning the hard stuff every day. I can’t tell you how much I hate these exploratory trips all by myself! Today I braved the bus ride into town again. This time the bus was not as crowded and I guess I’m officially “elderly”, as the money collector guy made a middle-aged woman get up and give me her seat on the way to town, and on the way back a young guy gave up his seat. I went farther into town than last time but next time I need to go even farther in order to reach the good meat and fish stores. I’m just scared that I’ll go too far and end up in the next town! I’m making progress though; at least this time I was able to figure out where to get a bus that went towards home.

I was successful in finding a few items on my list; I got some celery! I hadn’t seen it at any of the groceries at all. At the same store I also found walnuts in the shell. In the other markets they sell a little 8 oz. bag of shelled walnuts for $6! And I found a few other rare goodies, like a $4 umbrella for the next thunderstorm that catches me, and a big one kilo package of chia seeds, a daily staple of my breakfast meal. The little triumphs are so satisfying!

I’d been told of a store that sells supplements but after a pretty lengthy walk I found out it wasn’t true. They sold lots of cosmetics and drugstore items but no vitamins or supplements.

Somehow left my wallet unzipped and apparently did a Lady Bountiful act and broadcast all my paper money as I walked along, I think about $30. I’m almost positive it couldn’t be a pickpocket, as it’s a little crossbody purse that I always keep my hand on as I’m walking. After I noticed that, I lost heart for any more shopping today. I just feel sick over being so stupid.

But…. tomorrow’s a bright new day and I don’t have to go anywhere until probably Monday. Yay.

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Albania

Going To Town

Yesterday was the first day the sea had that beautiful “Mama Mia” turquoise color! I don’t know why it’s not that color every day.

Today was the big day that I decided to go to town. I don’t know why people think I’m so adventurous because I’m really not! Trying new things scares the crap outta me. I had to really give myself a stern talking-to to actually get out there and try.

I walked up to where there were a bunch of people standing around and it was the bus stop! Luckily it was near time for the bus because it only goes by once an hour. The bus was already crammed full of people but six more from my stop got on. I was barely inside the doorway; in fact the doors hit me as they closed. A little man forced his way through the crowd to collect 100 Leki, about $.70.

I rode for awhile and was afraid I’d end up in some other town so I got off when a bunch of other people did. Bad idea. That was the promenade at the beach. I still had 1.4 miles to go to the goal, which was the good meat market and the fish market. I should have stayed on the bus until it got to the central terminal.

I set my gps and started out walking. It seemed like I walked forever and it was hot and when I looked at the gps, I still had another 1/2 mile to go. I saw that there was another meat market really close, so I went there. It was a tiny shop and all she had was a big mound of hamburger and a few cuts of beef. No prices but she didn’t speak English and I knew if I asked how much, she’d answer in Shqip and I wouldn’t understand.

By pointing I got two kilos of hamburger (4.4#) and about a 2# beef roast. I keep forgetting that the head shakes for yes and no are backwards here. Side to side is Yes and up & down means No. So I end up making weird circular head motions, which nobody can understand! She gestured cutting up the roast and I tried to say no but she chopped it into big hunks anyway. I couldn’t remember the word for No (nr, which I think is pronounced “nrer”). It ended up costing $26 which I think seems high, so maybe I got ripped off. It averages about $4 a pound and I think that’s really high for here.

At that point I was hot and tired and stressed and I just wanted to go home. So I walked to a taxi stand and took a taxi home, which cost $12 to go 2.5 miles! That’s some pretty expensive meat.

I feel like I failed Town 101. I sure can’t afford to take taxis around here! I’ve GOT to learn how to get around by bus. I’m pretty sure next time I’ll do better.

I still have to go back out to the Planet Market for more drinking water. I’m getting good exercise today!

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Albania

Random Stuff

Sarandë is without a doubt a pure tourist town. In summer the population swells from around 25,000 to nearly 300,000!! That’s just so hard to imagine! When I arrived Sunday the roads were clogged with traffic but since then the road is pretty empty. I suspect the weekends will be busy for a few weeks more but then they say everything goes dead until next June. I thought they meant mostly bars and restaurants, which won’t affect me, but I was saddened to see the little market right across the street had closed. The Dorchester Hotel, right next door, is closed and I’m sure many others. The storm shields are down on most of the apartments in my building. I sure hope the “big” Planet Market stays open all year!

I love these shades on the outside of the windows! They are operated by pulling the flat ribbon on the wall, and they make perfect blackout shades. Nice.

Flat ribbon to the right operates the shade
Shade/storm shield from the outside

I’m booked here until April 1. I think I probably will move to Vlorë then, if not before. The population there is around 150,000 (also swelling hugely in summer). By that time I should have figured out where I want to live and I’ll look for an apartment with a yearly lease. A lot of apartment owners don’t want to rent for the whole year, as the summer rents are so lucrative. For instance, my $300 a month apartment here rents for $690 in June, $990 in July and $1350 in August! I have booked an Airbnb in Vlorë for a week at the end of October to check it out. I suspect my next apartment won’t have the lovely sea view but hopefully will be closer to shopping.

I’ve found out that there are no large supermarkets in Sarandë! The Planet Market near me is about as good as it gets. They have only a very small selection of frozen meats, no fresh meat so I’ll need to go to town for meat and fish. I still haven’t found out how to take the bus to town….I think I have to walk to a bus stop, which I haven’t found yet. Someone also mentioned that the bus only comes once every hour so I’ll need to get the schedule from the elusive bus stop too. I might take a taxi to town the first time and load up on couple weeks’ worth at a time. Gas is around $6.86 a gallon here so taxis are expensive.

I bought some freezer bags the other day. They were not what I expected! I don’t think these would protect against freezer burn at all. I haven’t seen baggies at all. They don’t come with twist ties; I guess you’re supposed to tie them in a knot at the top. I’m glad I packed a lot of things in baggies and saved them when I unpacked!

Remember I said a good swimmer could swim over to Corfu? Well I was right! September 17 is the annual Butrint National Park to Corfu Swim, in remembrance of all the people who tried to escape communism here in those dark days (1944-1992). It is 2.5 miles.

I saw some yummy Albanian dishes advertised….. can’t wait to try the goat’s liver in sauce or the spicy squid casserole! Not.

There’s tons of storage space here for my paltry two suitcases of worldly goods. It took me less than an hour to unpack everything but I am now having to rearrange some things. The tiny washing machine is in the bathroom and there’s a little three tier caddy between it and the sink. This morning I used the Spray n Wash stick on my underarms, so obviously the top tier with my deodorant is not the best place for that! Live and learn.

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Albania Uncategorized

Cheese

I love cheese….super sharp cheddar, nice creamy havarti, maybe a jalapeno jack and mozzarella or provolone on pizza. That’s about my repertoire of cheese. Sadly I’m absolutely not an adventurous eater!

I haven’t found any acceptable cheeses here yet. I haven’t given up hope though, given the fact that shopping at the local stores is only slightly above the equivalent of grocery shopping at a convenience store.

Today I bought three cheeses to try. Something they call “cheddar”, though if it’s like the cheddar in Ecuador, it’s very mild. And something just called “sandwich cheese” (a mystery!). The third one is WAY out of my comfort zone, a wedge of local Kackavall, pronounced “cashkavall”.

I read that it’s a salty semi-soft cheese, the second most popular cheese here after feta, which I just recently tried for the first time and hated the texture.

I didn’t realize there was important information on the other side until I got it home….

SHEEP CHEESE! Ewww?! I had to go put on my Big Girl Panties for this one. Milk is milk, I told myself. Right? So I tried it. It is salty, okay that’s nice; I like salt. It seems more like a hard cheese than semi-soft, at least it’s harder than cheddar. And…. it’s okay. Maybe slightly better than just okay. Maybe a little rubbery though?

I think the jury’s still out on this one as a go-to snack. I’m pinning my hopes on the one they call “cheddar” but in the store they also had Edam, which I haven’t tried yet. There’s still hope! The stores all also have mozzarella but unless I really throw my diet, pizza is not a good choice.

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Albania Sarandë Albania Uncategorized

To The Beach at Last!

I finally made it down to the beach! Most of the beaches in Albania are private. If you want to sit there you have to pay $7-9 a day to rent beach loungers with an umbrella; you can’t just plop down on your towel. The beach in front of the apartment is “wild” (public). I am about two blocks in each direction from very popular private beaches, Mango and Flamingo.

I didn’t go down to the water because I was wearing flip-flops and it looked like an ankle-breaker. This part of Albania is mountainous and they start at the sea and go straight up! So the path down to the water is steep and rocky. My apartment building is the one on the left and I’m around the left side.

Here it was about in the middle of the tides; high tide was in 3 hours. The tides only vary about 8″. It was pretty windy again so the waves are bigger than normal.

It certainly isn’t the kind of beach you’d be able to walk along for very far, but it’s pretty. The beaches here are gravel, not sand. Other cities do have sandy beaches. In town there’s a nice promenade all along the beach. That’s the city of Sarande in the second and third photos. I’m about a mile from the main part of town.

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Albania Sarandë Albania Uncategorized

Another Beautiful Day

Yesterday was quite breezy, with gusts up to 47 mph! I thought I left that kind of wind behind in Arizona. But it was pleasant inside with the slider open and I didn’t need to use the AC.

Yet another early morning shopping trip because it’s supposed to be 86° today. (I really need to learn Celsius) In addition to the other stuff I bought an 8 liter bottle of water…..1.75 gallons. It cost $1.10, the same as only two of the 1.5 liter bottles. I had a hard time bringing it home though; it weighs 15# and only has a small plastic handle. Both hands wore out within the first block and I ended up carrying it in my arms like a baby. Next time I’ll buy it from the little store across the street! Even if it costs a little more there, it’ll be worth it. They don’t seem to use the big 5 gallon jugs of water in a dispenser here but it’s probably just as well; I probably couldn’t lift one high enough to get it into the dispenser.

I still can’t find a lot of items on my list. At this point I’m trying to get the basics, as I’m starting with nothing. I hope to do better once I figure out how to find the big supermarket in town but right now I think I’m done with shopping for the next few days. I wanna go to the beach! I get worn out just walking to the market and back, probably due to spending the last three months sitting on my butt in Ecuador, plus jet lag. I haven’t felt up to shopping and the beach in the same day.

Along the way today I passed some olive trees in front if a hotel! I was very excited about that. Too bad I don’t like olives.

I used my washing machine yesterday. It’s so tiny! It’s only 15″ deep. I don’t understand the little icons so I just picked a cycle out of the 14 available and it took 2 hours and 36 minutes! I saw that on the display but I thought it couldn’t possibly be the time. My clothes aren’t even really dirty; they sure don’t need to be knocked around for that long! I see now that the shortest cycle is 50 minutes….still pretty ridiculous. I haven’t a clue what water temperature I’m using.

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More Shopping

I do have a western view, so sunsets could be amazing! Last night’s wasn’t that great.

Today it’s breezy with some whitecaps. I think there’s not big surf here on the Ionian Sea except maybe in a big storm.

I actually got a decent amount of sleep last night, yay! I felt much better this morning. Today’s high is going to be 81° so I headed out early to the Big Market which is about 1/4 mile from the apartment. It wasn’t. Big, that is. I got a few things and used my day pack to schlep them home. I was very happy that I was able to unlock the apartment door all by myself. I’m afraid that’s going to be a source of anxiety for some time to come.

Than I decided to go back out to the Planet Market which is just 4 or 5 blocks away. That’s the one! Got it on the 4th try. It looks small but it goes way back. They have a little bit of everything. Clothing, toys, housewares, bedding and food, though no fresh fish or meat, only a few frozen chicken and hamburger items. I got two small throw rugs for the bedroom & bathroom, a new small “granite” nonstick pan for eggs (there are 3 frypans here, all huge!) and some more groceries. I still really need a larger supermarket to find some of my favorite keto items, like sugar-free condiments, heavy cream, avocado or coconut oil and raw apple cider vinegar. Also celery. They may not exist here. It’s even harder to shop than I thought, trying to decipher the product information, because a lot of products are Greek and Italian! (Especially the Greek, with that Cyrrilic alphabet!) I was trying to figure out what kind of coffee to buy and there were products from all three countries. I think I’ll have to just experiment with the different kinds of coffee and hopefully find one I like.

The cream I’ve found are unrefrigerated UHT products that are either sweetened, or a vegetable product. Eww. It’s also very expensive. I hope I don’t have to learn to drink my coffee black!

There’s a large Spar supermarket in town that I need to find but it’s too far to walk and bring many groceries back on foot. I don’t know how to take a bus there yet and I haven’t seen any taxis roaming around.

I have balcony access from a large patio door in the living room and a small glass door in the bedroom. Neither one has any screens, nor did the apartment in Tirana. Do they not have bugs here? I wanted an apartment that was on the third floor (with an elevator!) because I read that mosquitoes only fly about 25′ off the ground. I didn’t want to be higher than that in case the power goes out and I have to use the stairs. This seems like the perfect place; it’s ground floor at the entrance but the land drops off really steeply so it’s 3 stories high at the balcony!

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Albania Sarandë Albania Uncategorized

Arrived in Sarandë

The day started pretty early with my ride arriving at 6:30 to pick me up in front of the Pizza Point Restaurant. It’s right under my apartment and I didn’t know that a small pizza is only $2.50-$3.75! Probably a good thing. I managed to wrestle all my luggage over there myself.

The driver only spoke Shqip (Albanian) and Italian! So it was a pretty quiet 3.5 hour ride but he was really nice and looked exactly like a young Telly Savalus. The gps coordinates for my apartment were not quite right but he was able to talk to the rental agent on the phone to find exactly where to go. I thought my apartment had a full front sea view but it’s a side view only, and I guess that’s okay. Here’s the view. You can barely see the tip of the Greek isle of Corfu on the right. I’m not sure but I think my view is towards the west so maybe I’ll get some good sunsets.

I guess I can live with that! It’s a nice place but it seems bare and sterile. The sofas are hard as a rock but the bed seems comfortable. It’s on the main street in and out of town and it’s a little noisy but I assume it will calm down at night…..not that I actually sleep at night lately! And by the end of the month the town will be pretty dead; the population swells hugely in summer.

The door key is huge and strange and I’m unable to unlock the door from the outside; my fingers are not strong enough to turn it! I’m so glad the agent made me try it before he left. He went to get some WD-40 or the Albanian equivalent and didn’t come back for four hours. In the meantime I was starving because I only had a small dinner last night and no breakfast. I guess it’ll be a fasting day.

Even after the lube job, I still couldn’t open the door! Yikes! He said there’s nothing wrong with it, I’m just old and weak. He’s probably right but I’ve sure never encountered a door this hard to unlock! Maybe this is why….FIVE deadbolts plus a spring latch?! (The 5th one is down near the floor)

He packed the spring latch with paper so it doesn’t engage and I can open it now but I’ll need to get some tape to permanently disable it. The only problem now is that the same key also opens the outside door which gets locked at night! I guess I’ll just hope I don’t have to go out at night. Tomorrow I’ll check and see if that one is just as difficult.

The apartment is supposed to have kitchen basics like oil, salt and pepper, etc. but there’s nothing, not even any drinking water. I planned a grocery store trip right away anyway so it’s no big deal I guess. There’s a little store almost right across the street and a larger grocery about 1000′ away. l went to the little one today and it’s got a little bit of everything. It’s probably expensive but I didn’t care; I am feeling totally exhausted this afternoon. I don’t know if it’s the jetlag, too much walking the past two days, too little sleep or stress. I guess it’s probably all of them heaped on me at once. The store owner was really nice.

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Leaving Tirana

I wanted to post the link for this Tirana studio apartment listing on Airbnb, in case by some crazy quirk someone wants to come here. I did have some problems early on but some were user error and they were all resolved quickly and the space is pretty well-equipped, immaculately clean and in a convenient, quiet neighborhood. https://abnb.me/p9Y8hVnLbtb

Here are the Albanian Leki bills. As the denomination goes down, so does the size! I can’t help comparing the little 200 Leki bill to Monopoly money except it has a cute little transparent glassine window in it! I wonder why. I don’t think there’s a 100 Leki bill, just coins for that. Right now it takes 117 Leki to equal $1.

I just noticed the bathroom lock key this morning. A skeleton key, can you believe it? It’s a modern lock, too!

Here is the link for my $300 a month apartment in Sarandë. I really love it (except for that very orange kitchen!) But I can’t see myself living in that space…it just seems too nice for the likes of me. I suppose if I try real hard I can get used to it though! https://abnb.me/1pKFeb2Vctb

I guess I’m not going to escape the effects of jetlag after all. I’m now 8 hours ahead of Michigan time. Last night I didn’t fall asleep until 6 a.m. and only slept for two hours, even though I took melatonin before I went to bed. Ugh! I tell myself that it doesn’t really matter since I don’t have to be anywhere at a certain time (except tomorrow’s trip to Sarande) but I really would like to get back to a semi-normal sleep pattern soon.

This morning I tried to get directions for tomorrow’s driver to pick me up right at my elevator, in the underground parking garage. That would be the easiest place, with all this heavy luggage. Even though both big suitcases are the 4-wheel “spinner” kind, it’s still not easy to control two of them at the same time. I walked from the elevator to the nearest exit…..quite a long ways, with several turns, and got a gps waypoint for the garage entrance. But then I got hopelessly lost trying to find my way back! I tried several different elevators but they were never the right one. Honestly that garage is like the Catacombs, it just goes on and on under the city, with lots of turns and dead ends! I finally gave up and went out the next exit I saw. There wasn’t a single thing that looked familiar so I had to use Google Maps to find my way back, and it was more than 1/3 mile away! Crazy! And there weren’t any nice guardian angels around today to guide me.

I think I’m getting shin splints. Anyway I’m going to have to meet the driver out at the Pizza Point place in front of my building, and it’s going to be really hard to get my suitcases out there. The walkways here are pavers with holes in them that are large enough that my suitcase wheels will fall down into them instead of rolling. I am pretty sure I’ll have to end up actually carrying 100# of suitcases plus a 20# carryon and smaller daypack! I’m sure to end up with stretched-out long arms like a gorilla. It’ll be about 6:15 a.m. so maybe no one will be around and I can just wrestle one suitcase at a time, leaving the other one sitting unattended. Or hey, maybe a big strong Albanian angel will appear and help me!

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Albania Uncategorized

The Kindness of Strangers

Well it’s definitely an adventure here for sure! It’s very strange to not be able to understand a single word being spoken. At least in Ecuador I could pick out a word or two, and I knew most of the “important” words. I am ashamed that at the butcher counter I have to hold up one or two fingers, I can’t even count to two in Albanian! And it seems true that many people speak English here but in many it’s far from perfect and a little hard to figure out the meaning. But they sure know way more English than I know Shqip!

It’s very true people here are very kind! The only ATM that doesn’t charge a $5-15 fee is Credins Bank and it’s 3/4 of a mile from here but I decided to try and go there. I found out that using Google Maps is a lot harder on foot than in a car, because you go so slowly, it takes a while to find out you’re going the wrong way. When I first started out and was staring at my phone trying to figure out which way to go, a man came up and said “where to you go?” And I showed him the phone and said the name of the street I was looking for and he asked again so I said “Credins Bank”. He said “Come, come, I show”. So I went went. He turned in the opposite direction he’d been going. He walked faster than my usual and I started wondering how dumb was I to follow a strange man with no idea where he was leading me??? But we finally turned a corner and he pointed and said “Credins Bank” and there it was! I thanked him profusely and he turned and went back the way we’d come….this man walked a mile and a half out of his way for me!!

Albanian Leki are worth about ten cents so it’s pretty easy to convert to dollars, just move the decimal point over two places. I got confused and a huge wad of 2000 Leki bills came out of the ATM. I’d accidentally withdrawn $800!! Geez I won’t need more cash for about 3 months; my rent comes out of my account automatically!

I was pretty concerned about being able to find my way home from there without my new friend. But there’s a new building being built in front of my apartment and it’s a good landmark. I was so proud that I got within sight of it on the way home, and all by myself….phew! But I couldn’t find the way to get over to it. I was consulting the phone and turning in circles when a policeman walked up and said “No, no, come come”. How did he know where I wanted to go?? But again I went went and he showed me the way to get through to my street!

I stopped at the little grocery again and got two pork chops for $1.35 and a chicken breast for $1.58. And some frozen mixed fruit to go in my morning chia seeds. It’s got black cherries in it, those aren’t Keto approved but yummm! I’m eating them anyway since I just walked a mile and a half.

I got home just in time before a hard rain started.

I was really concerned about adjusting to the new time, which is 8 hours ahead of Michigan time. I’d read that adjusting can take up to a week for each hour of time change! But I think it’s going to be okay. I didn’t get to sleep until 2 a.m. but slept til 10 this morning, so that’s not TOO far out of whack.

I found a ride to Sarandë on Sunday for only 70 euros! (The euro is about par with USD right now). Normally the trip by private car or van is €150-170 but this driver has to go pick some people up in Sarande so he’s just charging me for the gas. Gas here is around $6.80 a gallon. According to comments on my Facebook group, this is a really good guy but just in case I disappear forever, I sent his photo & I.D. to a friend.

€70 seems like a lot but it’s about a four hour drive by car and I really didn’t want to take the 5 1/2 hour bus trip with all this luggage. The only bad thing is that we have to leave at 5:30 a.m.

Here are some photos of my little studio apartment. It’s immaculately clean and cute as can be and would be a perfect size for me except if I do have company come to visit. I’ve never seen a square toilet before, have you? It never occurred to me that toilets could be anything other than butt-shaped. I had a hard time figuring out how to flush it….. it’s the big white panel on the wall!

And here are a few views from my place. I am on the 6th floor. There are lots of trees, rosebushes and flowers along the sidewalks and pretty green spaces all over the city, many with swings & playgrounds for kids. And LOTS of people pushing baby carriages!

This is my apartment building

The building under construction, my landmark!

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I Made It To Albania!

My luggage and I all made it to Albania, but it was not a trouble-free trip.

My first flight to Chicago went well and I was supposed to have a two hour layover there. But something was wrong with the plane so they changed departure gates and then kept changing the departure times over and over. I felt sorry for all the people who missed their connections in London but I didn’t see anyone having tantrums over it. We got to London and had a pretty scary landing. When the plane touched down it first leaned way over to the right and the wingtip nearly touched the ground! Then it did the same to the left but finally settled down. Phew!

I wasn’t able to sleep much on the 8 hour flight. After all the delays, instead of a 4 1/2 hour layover I had to hurry to make my flight to Tirana….when I got to the gate they were already boarding. Then we sat on the tarmac for nearly an hour. There were about 30 people on a big Airbus so I got a whole row to myself. I flipped up the armrests and spread out my little blanket to put my feet on, and laid down but only slept for about an hour of the 3 hour flight. My taxi guy was waiting for me, yay!

I was very worried about my luggage making it with me and loved having the Tile Pro trackers in each suitcase. (They are like AirTags but for Android) I was able to see that they made it to London okay and SO happy to see them in the carousel in Tirana! My brand new suitcase has a corner bashed in but it’s still usable.

I was really wiped out when I got to the apartment in Tirana and anxious to let everyone know I made it safely and hit the bed! It’s been in the 90’s in Tirana so the apartment was very warm. And the air conditioner didn’t work. Then I discovered the wifi didn’t work either, and I was far too tired to go out after dark in a strange city to try and find a free wifi connection. I was really distressed that I might be causing some of my friends a lot of worry. I had to have a good cry and wondered what the hell I’d gotten myself into!

The bed is very comfortable and I got a pretty good night’s sleep. I had to leave the two patio doors wide open to catch a bit of a breeze but since I’m on the 6th floor I figured it was pretty safe. I was shocked at how quiet it was in this city of over 300,000 people.

This morning I took the new phone that I’d bought special for Albania and went out to look for a store that sells internet packages. I went into the first oqne I saw and it seemed I’d found the one young person here who didn’t speak English! I managed to get my point across. I didn’t know my passport would be required so I had to walk back to get it . I got a good plan for about $12. When I got back to the apartment I couldn’t get the sim card to fit into the tray so had to go back to the store for a third time! That poor girl must have thought I was an idiot. She installed it for me and I sat right there and set up the new phone to make sure a 4th trip would not be required!

There is a small grocery store right around the corner from the apartment so I stopped there to pick up a few things for my breakfast and dinner. It didn’t seem cheap, maybe because it was small? There was a huge array of cheeses but nothing I recognized, and lots and lots of sausages and lunchmeats.

This studio apartment has just a little hot plate, toaster oven, electric teapot and microwave. I was starving because I hadn’t had much food at all since breakfast Tuesday morning. They fed us on the flight to London but most of it was not stuff I could eat. Well none of the appliances here worked! A few more tears of frustration. I finally figured out these European outlets…I had them plugged in upside-down. User error! Before I’d finished my coffee the neighbor woman came over and went somewhere with a key and got both the wifi and air conditioner working again! So now I’m happy. I plan to just hang out here in the apartment for the rest of the day.

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Michigan Uncategorized

Ready Set Go….Again!

I’ve been in Michigan for almost three weeks, going going going! I’m not used to being so busy! We started off with a birthday party for Cindy’s nieces Elizabeth and Sadie. Elizabeth’s towering three layer cake had a Barbie doll because she never had a Barbie as a kid. Poor Barbie’s dress and the back of her legs got chocolate frosting all over them so they dubbed her “Shitty Barbie”.

Sadie

At first Cindy’s car was sick and it took 3 different auto repair places to finally get it fixed, so we weren’t able to go on our two week camping trip. Instead we went over to the west side of Michigan for three days, staying at the Doubletree Hotel in Holland…..a Monday through Wednesday. It seemed like every place we wanted to go was closed on Mondays and Tuesdays!

The car developed a new quirk, a loud, horrendous loud screech. We drove it like that for two days until she was finally convinced to stop at Muffler Man in Holland where they diagnosed it as a backing plate rubbing on something-or-other. They had us in, fixed & out in 15 minutes, and no charge!

The highlights of our time in Holland were the Outdoor Discovery Center and DeWitt Birds of Prey exhibit and the Wednesday farmer’s market. The ODC had a nice walk to see Michigan animals and the bird sanctuary, a large taxidermy collection and was free! (Donations recommended) We loaded up on farm fresh eggs, veggies, baked goodies and some really good blueberries at the farmer’s market. I was surprised that there were no organic products there.

We also went to Saugatuck and South Haven. The Michigan Maritime Museum in South Haven was great, with a tall ship we could explore and exhibits about the golden age of steamships. Some of the yachts in the marina were really amazing. Must be nice to have that kind of money!

Cindy had heard that the turkey dinners at Cornwell’s Turkeyville in Marshall were really good so we went there on the way home……a huge disappointment! The turkey was bland and dry, the mashed potatoes were instant and the dressing was not as good as Stovetop. I ordered just a turkey & gravy biscuit and planned to ignore the biscuit and just eat the turkey but I tasted the biscuit and it was really stale. The saving grace for Marshall was the True North ice cream shop we stopped at; homemade ice cream! It was delicious (yes I had some!) and they even had adult alcoholic flavors.

Once home again we’ve been to the Howell Nature Center which had a nice winding trail through the woods with nice habitats for animals and birds. Unfortunately a lot of the critters were nocturnal so we didn’t get to see them! But it was a really nice 3/4 mile walk.

Cindy & I at the Outdoor Discovery Center

We also went to free Senior Day at the Michigan State Fair right here in Novi. It seemed way smaller than when I was a kid! We enjoyed seeing all the farm animals and exhibits. There was a Cool Zoo exhibit where you could hold a baby alligator, big snake, Bengal and Savannah kittens or a baby kangaroo & others…. for $20-30 each!! Yeah we didn’t do that and I didn’t see anyone else paying for it either. Nice that most of it was in an air conditioned arena. Outside was all the fair food and rides. As usual I was totally shocked by the prices…..$10 for an elephant ear, I think the funnel cakes were $11. Yikes. We didn’t partake.

I’ve also had a good time meeting up with some old and new friends (I grew up here). We got to taste some homemade Milk & Froth’s Sea Salt Butter Cake ice cream that was sooo good! If you’re in the Detroit area, try to get some of their ice cream! They have vegan options also. It definitely was worth breaking my diet for! http://www.milkandfroth.com

I also violated my keto diet for some batter fried smelt, breaded yellow perch and walleye dinners (just the fish, no potatoes or anything else bad). And a Bates hamburger including the bun! When I was a kid there was a Bates in Novi and the burgers were 10 for $1.00. Now they’re 6 for $10. So far my weight is staying the same, probably because I’m walking a lot more than usual.

Ruth Crichton, me & Sue Karschnick

Cindy, Kathy Crawford & I

It seems like people all around us have Covid so I’m trying to stay away from people for my last few days here. I fly out in 3 days and I sure don’t want to mess up my $1066 flights!

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Uncategorized

Four more days in Ecuador

Only four more days in Ecuador, then I take a 1:30 a.m. flight to Miami, then on to Phoenix. Have I mentioned how much I hate to fly? I think it’s become a chore for everyone these days….will my flight get cancelled? Will my luggage arrive with me? I have six flights in the next month, each with two checked bags containing pretty much all my worldly goods so it’s a big worry, especially since one of the flights goes through Heathrow where there’s already thousands of mishandled bags piled up. I do have travel insurance so I guess I’d get compensated, but I’d still rather have my stuff.

Look at the beautiful bacon & pork chops I got here! The Plumrose brand bacon is not cheap, around $6 a pound in the grocery deli. The pork chops came from the mercado and were $2.50/lb. Yum!

I haven’t been sleeping worth a darn since I got here and I don’t know why! Most nights I’m awake until 4 or 5 in the morning and sleep til 10. Ugh. Right before bed I take magnesium and melatonin but it doesn’t seem to help. I was wishing I had some Ambien but the last time I took that, I got up at 2 a.m. and wrote crazy emails to three people, and had no memory of it the next day! One of the lucky recipients was my doctor, who thought it was pretty funny when I explained. But he strongly advised not taking it any more.

There’s an ice cream store in La Libertad that sells “helado con queso”. Ice cream with cheese?!! I’m told it’s very good, some kind of sharp shredded cheese sprinkled on the ice cream. I’ll just take their word for it.

You know that Ecuador uses American currency? Yeah, isn’t that strange! You won’t see any dollar bills here though; they use gold-colored one dollar coins. These can be Ecuadorian or US minted. I was advised to bring small denomination bills with me so I brought lots of 1, 5 & 10 dollar bills. Some of the vendors looked a little skeptical of the $1 bills. And nobody here will accept any bills that are torn or really worn! I hear the banks have a day once or twice a year where you can trade your “bad” money for good.

My two week tent camping trip to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula is still on…advance weather forecasts look good (no rain please!). I’m going with my bestest and oldest friend Cindy Carroll; we’ve been friends for 70 years! Cindy has not camped since we went to Alaska together in 1986. Most of the neighborhood kids used to often sleep out in a big old canvas tent in her back yard when we were growing up, with the older boys always trying to scare us half to death, but she got out of the habit when she grew up. Neither of us is looking forward to sleeping on the ground at this stage of our lives but it’s the only way we can afford to go, so we’ll endure and survive. I’m quite sure a video of us trying to get up off the ground would quickly go viral!

Kitty. So sweet when she’s asleep!
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Uncategorized

3 More Weeks in Ecuador

Three more weeks here! I’m trying not to “wish my life away” but I confess Im anxious to start my New Real Life in Albania in September.

Look at the goodies I got at the mercado, all for $4.60! I also got a whole pork tenderloin for $3, ground round for $2.50 a pound and Dodie and I shared a whole beef tenderloin that was $4.50 a lb…$10.50 each for the whole big chunk of filet mignon! I already had some and there’s enough left for at least 4 thick filets. Yum!

Zucchini, 2 bell peppers, 6# tomatoes, carrots, broccoli and cabbage!

The internet connection in my room was out for over a week. Boy I didn’t realize how much I use it! I was able to get a wifi signal from one of the other rooms though, called the Sirena Room. It’s really cute!

The shower is on the other side of La Sirena!

I tried to call British Airways about the horrible flight change they assigned me. Like other airlines, BA has been having so many problems with cancelled flights, thousands of pieces of luggage piled up at Heathrow, etc. It’s kind of funny, their automated phone response is pretty much “Go away and don’t bother us right now”! The change is for the return leg of my round trip ticket so I just accepted the new flights on line, but I should be able to get a refund for trading a 4 hour layover in London for a 16 hour layover. I’ll see what I can do once I get to the airport.

There’s some kind of horrible bug that’s biting me (but apparently no one else!) It looks exactly like black fly bites, and they do have them here. I’m getting huge bright red welts with a white center that itch intensely for two days. Ugh!

Oh my gosh! Breaking news! There was an armed robbery that just took place less than 1/2 block from here, at the beach entrance! It was caught on our next door neighbor’s security camera. Two guys on a motorcycle pulled up to a guy sitting in a parked car, one jumped off with a gun, jerked open the car door and apparently took the driver’s keys and money, jumped back on the motorcycle and took off! The victim started running up the street chasing after the robbers. It’s crazy that this just happened right HERE!