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Albania Uncategorized

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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Albania Ecuador La Libertad Ecuador Uncategorized

Mercado Trip

I did book the beautiful Airbnb in Sarandë, Albania from September 11 until April 1! It’s beachfront but up on a steep hill so probably a five minute walk to get beach access. It’s a corner apartment so there’s amazing full sea view from the whole front plus a side view, just what I was looking for! In Vlorë, anything with even a sliver of a sea view was $600 or more, WAY up from when I was looking in March. The deal I worked out was €450 for the 20 days in September, because that’s still considered high season, and €300 a month (about $321 US) after that. It’s within walking distance from a large grocery store, pharmacy, restaurants and bars, and the local bus comes right by the building. My landlord’s name is Boguljub….I have NO idea how to pronounce that. He lives in Serbia but there’s also a local co-host.

Here’s the link: https://abnb.me/Jhy0Uzzcvqb

I went to the mercado in La Libertad with Dodie yesterday morning. It’s a massive rabbit-warren of hundreds of tiny booths. You could spend all day there just looking around! The mercados in Salinas, Paute and Gualaceo, when I lived there, were all contained in big buildings, though there was also a weekly outdoor market in Paute where people would bring produce and livestock to sell. It was funny to see people walking around with a cloth sack containing a wildly objecting live chicken or two! They sold everything there… puppies, kittens, lambs, pigs, calves, goats, canaries…

There is also a big building nearby containing the fish market, with lots of individual booths. I was on the hunt for fresh swordfish, and I found some! It was very expensive, a whopping $5 a pound. In comparison, Mahi-Mahi is only $2.50 a pound. At home in AZ, swordfish is about $15 a pound if you can find it….and it wasn’t pulled fresh from the sea yesterday, either. I got 2 1/4 pounds for $10. They also had beautiful fresh shrimp, both farmed and wild. There are lots of shrimp farms around here. And weird stuff like octopus and baby squid.

I got some really nice thick pork chops for $2.50 a pound….mind you, this is pastured pork, not factory farmed. Five lemons for $1, five vine ripened tomatoes for $.30 each, a pound of huge blackberries for $1.50, a big bunch of broccoli for .$25 and a big wedge of cabbage for $.10. SCORE!

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Albania Uncategorized

Happy Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving to everyone; I hope you had your favorite kind of holiday!

Yesterday I had a doctor’s appointment. The whole office staff came into the exam room and sang Happy Birthday, and Dr. Matt gave me a beautiful little mason jar bouquet of flowers, two jars of his wife’s homemade sugar-free jam and a really sweet card! It was all I could do to keep from crying….I swear, he’s the kindest man I’ve ever known. (My birthday is Saturday)

Plans for Albania are progressing. I’m getting more & more excited, but also sad. I know I’ll be fine but just thinking about the Goodbyes makes me cry!

I have reserved an Airbnb in Tirana, the capital, for the first three nights. I’ll need time to recover from the flights and the 8 hour time change, plus get a new phone sim card and calling plan, and exchange some money. The Airbnb owner is going to pick me up at the airport.

I have also reserved an Airbnb apartment for $335 a month for March 26 – May 1. This will give me time to find a long term apartment. This is the place I rented: https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/46851887?adults=1&guests=1&s=42&unique_share_id=1b4e0fbb-f88b-4284-9d8f-e0dcf12db795&source_impression_id=p3_1637680483_eOoAdQHG%2F4k1uBL4

I had some inexpensive sea view apartments bookmarked and when I checked on them, two were already rented for my time period, two turned out to be in the old Communist block buildings with no heat, and one was a third floor walkup! (It pays to read every word in the descriptions!)

So that only left a few of the cheaper ones and I felt I’d better jump on board. I had to pay the first 30 days up front and there’s no refunds for cancellations!

Oh and I changed destinations! I’ve decided to head to Durres, not Vlore. Durres is bigger, not a plus in some ways. I’m so not a Big City girl, but both cities were bigger than I’d like so it probably isn’t much different. The population is around 120,000 and Vlore has 80,000. It’s only 30 minutes from Tirana, the capital, so probably has a better array of goods and services and better healthcare, with more English-speaking doctors. Vlore is about 2.5 hours from Tirana. The summers in Durres are not quite as hot. I read that the temperatures there are rarely colder than 31° or hotter than 91°. Summers are hot and muggy and winters are wet but not terribly cold, and even in summer the temps drop to around 65° at night. The increased humidity will be something I’ll have to get used to! The annual rainfall is about the same as it was in Asheville, NC when I lived there. (42″)

I had to apply for a new passport because all I have now is a Passport Card, which has limited benefits and is of no use for going to Europe. I picked up the application and got my passport photos (ugh, they look just like me!) Then I had to make a $35 appointment at the post office to turn it all in. That’s a new one, I didn’t have to do that the last time I applied. I went for my appointment and was really mad that she kept stopping to wait on other customers! What the heck was the $35 for, if not to get exclusive attention?? If I’d gone in there with a bunch of packages to ship, she would not have waited in other customers while working in my stuff! Grrrrr.

I’ve been looking at ads for long term rental apartments in Durres. I really want to have a sea view! Here’s one I found, can you believe the price??! I sure hope there will be places like this available once I get there! (And yes, it has heat, air conditioning and an elevator!). https://www.century21albania.com/en/property/760669/jepet-me-qira-apartament-1-1-me-pamje-nga-deti-new36188.html

I decided to buy myself an early birthday present. I wanted one of those really lightweight four wheeled “spinner” suitcases. I had saved an $89 one in Amazon but when I went to order it, it had gone up to $129! And most of them were around that price. Then I found an American Tourister on a Black Friday sale at JC Penney for $109, so I ordered it for store pickup. Yay. About a week later I went to the St. Vincent thrift shop, and they had one there for $10! So I grabbed it, stopped off at JC Penney and cancelled my order, and went home happy. When I opened it at home, there was a nice jacket, skirt and some books inside! I was going to take that stuff back but a friend fell in love with the jacket and gave $20 for it. So I took back the books, skirt and the $20 and the woman was quite shocked, but very happy! I looked up the suitcase brand and was amazed to find out it cost $280 and is made of polycarbonate which is much stronger than the usual ABS suitcases. Happy Dance! And now I can stash stuff I want to take with me right in there. I’ve been making lists ….I love lists! So far I have 73 items I want to take, and that does not include any clothes. Hmmm. And I’m only taking the one 28″ checked bag, a backpack carry-on and the personal under-seat item, a smallish day pack. So we’ll see how that goes! I may have to do some extreme paring down. The checked bag also can’t weigh more than 51#.

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Albania

Good News

October 31, 2021

Hello again! Good news, one by one I’m eliminating the health concerns! On the second try I finally got a successful MRI of my brain and the tumor has actually shrunk a little! I still need to see the neurologist in Flagstaff next month. I had to wear a heart monitor for 10 days but it didn’t turn up anything ugly either, so all’s well and I don’t need to return to the cardiologist. I do have a very slow heartbeat but it’s not causing any problems. I still feel great except for some back issues every time I have to horse around my 30# propane tanks, which weigh close to 60# when full. In winter I use a tank every 6 days plus a tank every 3 weeks or so for the fridge. The one for the cooktop lasts a good 6 months or  more, as does the bbq grill. I applied and received supplementary propane credit from the Northern AZ Council of Governments, they gave me $1000 credit that’s good for a year and a day. Last year it was $800 but I heard that propane prices are rising exponentially! It’s still $2.69 a gallon where I go but the place in Concho is charging $3.90! And it’s supposed to possibly go up to $7 in the near future. At that rate, the $1000 won’t last long enough!

I’ve been having trouble reading at night so I had a vision checkup and I have a cataract in my right eye. It’s not terrible but it’s really getting in the way of my reading 2-3 books a day! So I’m going to have it corrected in early December. The left eye had cataract repair at the same time I had a macular hole fixed in 2015 when I lived in Ecuador.  I opted to go with “monovision”, where one eye is good for long distance and the other eye is for close up. It sounds crazy but that’s what I’ve got now and I really like it a lot! I only have to wear my glasses for driving, and then only because my driver’s license says so[JP1] .  My big huge problem with the surgery is that they require someone drive me home, and I don’t have anyone I can ask! Even if I took a Uber there & back, they still require another person to be with me for the ride home! So I’m thinking hard about that…..don’t really know how to handle it.

A friend told me that crypto currency was a lot of fun, like going to a casino. So I bought a little bit and earned around $50 worth by doing some quizzes on the Coinbase website. Wow, talk about volatile! It’s up to the sky one day and in the depths the next! I bought $10 worth of Shiba Inu when it was first offered (1.2 million shares!) just because it was doggy-related. Well it’s gone up over 1000% in the past month! Hey this IS fun! Of course it could plunge again any day now. I just read that a guy bought $8000 of it and now is worth $5.7 BILLION! Hey I don’t need that much, a million or so would do nicely, LOL!

A realtor’s sign showed up across the road a few weeks ago, and now it’s gone. Ugh, does that mean more neigbors?? It was 4 really beautiful acres with fantastic views over the valley, for $22,000.

So on to the big news of the day. I am moving! I am finding it harder and harder to make ends meet here, and there’s no cheaper way to live….I have no household expense at all except for $28 a year property tax! But Medicare and a supplement eat up 1/4 of my income, car expenses take another large chunk, and my car is 16 years old! It’s got 220,000 miles on it and bound to need some really big repairs in the not too distant future. The prices of everything are going up way faster than my income. There have been some months where I end up with less than a dollar in my checking account well before the end of the month, so I do more fasting than usual. And I really try to keep a zero balance on my credit card but sometimes I can’t. Those credit cards are a very slippery slope!

I am selling my place to friends, with a Life Tenancy or something like that, that says I get to live here the rest of my life if I want. (So I’ll always have a place to come back to if I want)

So….I’m moving to Europe! Albania to be exact. I have a one-way ticket for March 22. It was only $444 and I just don’t see it getting any cheaper than that, so I jumped on it. Round trip cost $1328…almost 3x as much! Crazy.

I’m sure you’re all rushing to Google Maps to see where the heck Albania is! It sits on top of Greece, on the NW side. It’s a little bitty country about the size of Maryland, and at the same latitude so approximately the same climate, though I believe it’s warmer in winter. It is on the Adriatic Sea!

Albania was a Communist country for about 50 years, ending in the early 90’s. The dictator was extremely paranoid and super strict and Albania was very much a closed country. He was so paranoid, it’s estimated there are 750,000 cement bunkers placed all over the country, ready for the invasion that never came. No wonder the country was so poor! In the past 30 years since it’s become a parliamentary republic, it has gone from being the poorest country in Europe to now considered to be an upper middle class country! The countryside lacks infrastructure and good healthcare but the larger cities can offer a very comfortable lifestyle for shockingly little money.  

It’s a great place for “aging in place”, something I’ve always known that Concho is not. At some point I’m bound to not be able to drive anymore, and then what? I’m 30 miles from a grocery store and 10+ miles from even a convenience store!

I believe I want to live in Vlorë, a city of 80,000 people, about 2/3 of the way down the Western side of the country. It’s one of the oldest cities in the world, dating back to 3000 BC. It’s got a great downtown area with easy walking distance to markets, etc. and is also very close to the sea. It is very very safe, and has pretty good healthcare. Vlorë is about ½ hour drive to the best hospital in the area but also has it’s own highly rated private hospital. It’s also just a ferry ride from Italy and Corfu, Greece where the healthcare is excellent. Italy is rated #2 in the world, and Greece is #14. (The US is #37 but #1 in costs). Private health insurance costs $50-200 a YEAR.

I really like that Albania doesn’t allow GMO foods or glyphosate at all. The food is naturally organic, but far better than our organic foods because ours are still tainted with cancer-causing, endocrine-disrupting glyphosate.  That’s another one of my larger expenses here, food as clean as I can get it. (I still only spend the same amount as is “average” for a single person, probably because I never eat in restaurants) My food costs in Albania will probably be cut by 2/3! The life expectancy in Albania is about 6 months longer than the U.S.

Two bedroom apartments with sea views cost around $300-400 a month, though I’ll be looking for a one bedroom or better yet, a studio! So that should be even cheaper. Lord knows, I can easily live in a small space! It would be cheaper yet in the middle of the city but I kind of have my heart set on a sea view. I loved living in Ecuador just two blocks from the beach. Actually I’d go back to EC in a heartbeat but it’s way more expensive than Albania and far less safe. The things that brought me back from Ecuador no longer exist….too fat, knees too bad to walk very far at all, and my mom.

I have high hopes that I’ll be able to make some friends there. There are expat groups that meet up at restaurants and go hiking & sightseeing together. I’d love to find a friend or two who like to play cards or games or like to kayak. I really miss having friends nearby.

So…that’s about it for now. I know it’s kind of a drastic change but please be happy for me. I’m very excited! I intend to live out my life there but if not, is it a huge deal? Is it a FAIL? I don’t think so! I spent two years in Ecuador and count it as a really GREAT experience. Even if I just stayed in Albania for two years I could easily become debt-free! (I have a low-interest personal loan I used to purchase the land, some of the building materials and the Tuffshed)  I will have around $500 a month left over after I pay all expenses, including that loan payment! It will depend on where I find to live. I really do have my heart set on a sea view.

And just think….this move will definitely revive the blog! I’ll have LOTS of cool stuff to report on.