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Elevator Fun

I needed more almond flour. I guess it’s like childbirth; you forget what a pain it was the last time around! I stupidly decided to make twice as much as the first time. I forgot all about having to de-skin them all! This time I blanched them in the boiling water for almost twice as long and that did make it easier but who knew two cups of almonds would turn into two billion of the darn things when you start undressing them! My poor arthritic thumbs! They don’t normally hurt but this was torture, and they have to be skinned while they’re still wet. Now they have to dry out for a couple days, then ground up in the little coffee grinder, a little bit at a time.

With my elevator broken and no way of knowing when it might be fixed (but probably not soon) the rental agent proposed temporarily moving some of my stuff to a different apartment until the elevator is fixed, then move back.

Maxim (my landlord, I guess he works for them) took me to see the new place. It’s directly behind my place, with a front sea view. It was very nice, a small one bedroom with sofabed in the living room.

And when we got back to the office, they told me that my elevator was working again!!! So I walked back with Maxim and sure enough, it worked. I hadn’t even bothered to try it this morning. It’s not permanently fixed, just temporary. So I’m not moving….. today, anyway. I just hope that I’m not IN the elevator when it decides to break again. And that the worn out parts are not the ones that might send me plunging wildly down to the ground floor at the speed of light. Wheeeeeeee!

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Albania Uncategorized Vlore

Never a Dull Moment

So. More changes. I don’t fully know the extent of them just yet. A friend who’s in the know advised me to go ahead and apply for Residency now instead of waiting until I’ve been here the full 12 months of free visa for Americans. It seems the European Union is pressuring member countries to set the income requirements to €2000 euros a month. Albania is not an EU member but they have applied, so they would have to comply at some point. And the changes usually happen without advance warning. For instance in February of last year, Albania withdrew the 12 month free Visa for Americans without warning  and suddenly there were a whole bunch of Expats who had overstayed the new 90 day visa! Eventually they ruled that if they had entered before January, they’d be grandfathered in. And then a few months later they completely reversed the decision and the 12 month visa was back!

Without warning, Cyprus raised their income requirement from €900 a month (same as here) to €2000, plus raised the bank deposit requirement from €10,000 to €24,000 (a year’s expenses) effective January 1. Several other European Union countries require bank deposits of €10,000 to €25,000. If this happened here, I’d be ineligible!

So I’m applying for Residency now. I need to supply an Apostilled (special certification by the US Government) income statement from Social Security, a certification that I’m not a criminal (available from the US Embassy in Tirana), an Albanian bank account for direct deposit of my income, proof of health insurance and at least a one year notarized apartment lease. And you have to apply within 30 days of entering the country, so I have to leave and come back to reset my entry date.

I already feel completely overwhelmed by all this! I have contracted a facilitator to help me wade through it all. It’s going to end up costing $1000-1200 before it’s all done.

I checked and getting an Apostille is easy enough and only costs $20. But the government website advises a 10-12 week wait time! So I had to use an Apostille service that hand-carries the documents to the Apostille office. It cost $150 but they got it done the same day! It is already on the way to my friend Raquel, who will send it to the facilitator in Tirana via DHL. The shipping cost for that is approximately $147!!

Next I spent half the day yesterday researching the cheapest and easiest way to leave the country and reenter. I’m going to Italy! For one whole day! I can fly to Bari (just north of Italy’s “bootheel”) for $47 round trip on Wizz Air, get a $70 hotel for the night and return the next day at around 1 pm which will allow time for visiting the Embassy for my criminal check, and still get back home that same day. I think it’s a two hour bus trip to Tirana.

I really was dreading to ask about getting a notarized apartment lease because it involves the owners having to file and pay 15% tax on the rental income. A lot of apartment owners just don’t want to be bothered. But I decided to go visit the rental again and get her to ask.

The elevator here has been out of order for five days! And due to the thick cement floors and 10′ ceilings here, that means 90 stairsteps. It’s terrible on my poor knees, especially when carrying a bunch of groceries and a 7 liter jug of water. When I finally got to the ground floor yesterday, I saw a sign on the elevator. It says the elevator is broken and the parts to fix it cost €1300. The apartment owners must pay for the parts before they’ll order them, and once ordered, it will take at least a month to get the parts. How long will it take to collect that money from all the mostly absentee owners??

So just like that, the being elevatorless took precedence over getting a new lease. I can’t live on the 6th floor without an elevator; I just can’t. So I may have to move. The rental agent is out of town until Tuesday. Back when I was apartment hunting, the owner of this apartment also showed me a one bedroom apartment in an adjacent building; maybe he owns both? I don’t remember a thing about that other apartment but I think it was cute. I don’t remember anything bad about it, I just liked this one better. If I have to move I’d really like to stay in this neighborhood. The one bedroom unit would be cheaper too, as if I stay here all year long my rent will probably increase by about $100 a month!

So I’m not going to N. Macedonia for the summer. I canceled my Airbnb in Ohrid, and was penalized 30 days’ rental fee plus some service fees….$545! Gulp. But that’s somewhat offset by not having to pay the other two months’ $465 a month rent plus $450 for travel insurance required to enter the country. I’m relieved about that; I didn’t want to go and have my apartment taken over by casual renters who might spill things on the sofa or scratch the new glass cooktop, etc. I can’t imagine what the summer will be like here, with triple the population. The traffic and parking are already awful and the buses are often Standing Room Only! It’ll be interesting, I’m sure.

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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!

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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!

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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…..it’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! https://abnb.me/gZeAX6Suuub

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.

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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!

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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 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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Albania Uncategorized

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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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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Uncategorized

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!