Albania Vlore

Water Fountains

Thursday was finally a beautiful Spring day, with a high of 71°! That’s the warmest temp so far this year! I decided to take the bus to the far end of Vlorë, where I hadn’t explored at all yet. There’s a spring where people get drinking water. What a surprise…..the spring is inside a little cave, and under the highway tunnel!

In order to get water, you have to go down some steps, then walk along this narrow cement wall and then climb down into the cave. The sea comes right up into the cave!

The sea at this end of town is absolutely clear and reflects that beautiful turquoise color.

There were a couple kids diving off a big cement platform. Brrrr, that water must have been really cold!

I don’t know what this was but it looked pretty cool….a mosaic of sea stones.

And this tiny building was built right into the cliff.

Along the way I passed some beautiful tennis, basketball and soccer courts. I passed several boats that must belong to the net fishermen; they all had these big reels on the back. I think all the fish I’ve seen in the stores have been netted, as nothing is bigger than about 10″ long.

As I was almost home I heard someone calling my name! It was Leah and Steven from the Game Nights, snacking on Nutella and strawberry crepes! ($1 each). They looked really yummy. So we sat and chatted for awhile and Steven mentioned the “lion fountain”. Then I remembered that’s what people called it. I hadn’t thought about the lack of a lion where I was. Turns out there are two places to get spring water! I had walked right past the lion without noticing it. Oh well, who wants water that’s been spit out by a lion anyway, hmm?

I think these are a really great idea….I hadn’t ever seen them before coming here. It’s a tricycle with a long detachable handle on the back. The toddler can pedal or not, while the mom pushes him along. This one is a two-seater! They also have three-wheeled skateboards with handles in front for the older 3-4 year olds. They stand on the board and get towed by the parent.

Albania Vlore

This ‘n’ That

I was surprised to see a small cruise ship in the harbor in front of my apartment the other day. According to the cruise ship schedule,  only one ship per month visits Vlorë and that’s between May and October. I got out my binoculars and the ship’s name was “The World”. The world’s largest privately owned cruise ship! 142 owners each paid $3-15 million and up to buy an apartment (price depending on size; they range from 335 sq ft to 3000 sq ft! Then they pay approximately $30,000 a month for maintenance fees. Most owners are permanent residents. Wow! It’s embarked on a three year round the world cruise.

Great news…of all the European and Balkan countries, in Albania you’re the least likely to get mugged! Only 3 robberies per 100,000 people! On the other hand, watch out in Belgium and Spain; 140 robberies per 100,000. Out of curiosity I looked up the robbery rate for Phoenix and it was 3278 per 100,000 in 2020! Belgium and Spain look pretty safe in comparison.

Mowing the grass in Albania.  There were 3 goats and a fat brown sheep hard at work here for several days.

The men here, young and old, are extremely clean-cut. No droopy-drawers here! I’ve only seen a couple men who look like they could use a haircut, and they’ve all been older. I learned that many men get their hair trimmed every week or two! It costs around $2 for a trim.

Sadly, our trip to Gjirokaster fell through at the last minute and we had to cancel. I was really looking forward to going but didn’t feel like I could afford to go unless the costs were shared four ways, and we only had three people who wanted to go. Maybe another time.

This ship is often in port. I think it’s the ferry that goes to Brindisi, Italy. It’s 97 miles, takes between 6.5 and 8 hours and costs around €55 each way. I love ferries but the trip always operates at night….that’s no fun!

A friend is sending me a package with a new US cellphone (upgrade was required by my provider) and some supplements and keto sweeteners! Shipping and VAT is going to cost about $200 on $550 worth of stuff. Ouch! There are no addresses here and no mail delivery so mail goes to the main post office in Vlorë and supposedly they will call me when it arrives. I hope they speak English! It takes around three weeks. I’m pretty nervous about it. Twice I’ve tried to send mail from here to Hawaii and neither one ever got there. So fingers are crossed.

I got these beautiful strawberries last week, about two quarts for $3.85. They tasted so much better than US grocery store berries! I eat them with chia seeds every morning.

Albania Vlore

It’s Albania

I thought this video was really great! Unfortunately you need to have a Facebook account to access it, so my apologies to those who don’t. It shows the amazing diversity of Albania, with really gorgeous photos.

Albanians are known for their kindness to strangers and overall I’ve found that to be true, EXCEPT when it comes to buses. There’ll be just a couple people waiting for the bus and then when it arrives, suddenly a bunch more people appear out of thin air, all rudely pushing and shoving to be the first on the bus! I got my revenge yesterday though. A girl in her 20’s literally shoved me aside, got on the bus ahead of me and sat down in the last remaining seat. A minute later the money-taker guy came along and made her give up her seat so I could have it! It was very satisfying, except when I realized it meant I really AM elderly! How did that happen to a nice person like me?

Last week I saw a guy on the sidewalk selling transistor radios! How long has it been since you saw one of those!

We had another great Game Night on Friday. The group is pretty fluid, with different people coming each week but there’s a core group of about 8 people who come every week. It’s a hugely diverse group and so far everyone is really interesting and fun.

In this photo of part of the group we have people from Finland, US, Canada and Italy!
I don’t know what Vincent was saying but Katie and I look pretty disbelieving!

Vincent, one of my new friends, is leaving to spend a few months in Kosovo. He promises to come back to Vlorë in September but I’m still really sad about it, as he’s an ever-cheerful happy-go-lucky bright light in my life. I’m really going to miss him.


Today a few of us did the Saturday Walkabout again. We met for morning coffee at Bold Bistro

Catherine, Dewayne, me & RJ

Then we walked to the Mercato in town and took a bus to the bazaar in Old Town. I got some farm fresh eggs and veggies and the others got a 1.5 liter of home pressed olive oil (it comes in a previously used water bottle!), olives and herbs.

Dewayne, me & RJ

We saw this really cool old wreck of a building…don’t you love that curved staircase! They’re not real big on handrails here.

I was tired so we took another bus back to the promenade area and had a late lunch at Ristorant Anchor. Excellent brick oven pizza but of course I didn’t have any. I had grilled chicken and it was good too. I walked 3 miles today, plus my elevator is out of order again today so I had to do the Ninety Stairsteps. Ugh.

Albania Old Town Vlorë Albania Uncategorized Vlore

Old Town Vlorë

On Saturday a group of six entrepid explorers took a wonderful guided tour of Old Town Vlorë and the bazaar. It was led by our young expat friend Travis (age 32) who is a darling boy, with huge dimples…I want to adopt him!

L to R Vincent, Catherine, me, RJ, Dewayne and Travis

Travis walks 10+ miles every day so he knows where everything is, and since he’s on a strict budget here, the locations of all the best and cheapest cafes and restaurants.

Interesting story he told….he befriended a street dog and somehow got distracted and left behind his bag with about $300 of Airpods and other electronics on the beach. He went back the next day and it was still there where he left it! I’ve heard others say they had similar experiences here in Albania. Would that happen in your town?

We walked to Old Town and Travis showed us some of the really old buildings

Muradie Mosque built in 1537

He took us to a really cool little coffeeshop, Committee Cafe, where we sat in an enclosed patio full of banana trees and other lush vegetation

This was a whole wall of twigs inside the coffeeshop!

In the ladies’ room was this weird hole in the floor, which I think was an ancient toilet. Thank goodness it also had a modern toilet (though it had no seat)

These are some of the pretty little shops in Old Town, though I guess most of them are only open in summer.


And some ancient artifacts, just laying around. Vlorë was founded in the 6th century BC!

We ended up walking through the bazaar area which goes along several streets but it was late and most were all packed up already.

So we headed back to our starting point and Travis took us to a little tiny restaurant where we got roasted pork sandwiches that came with French fries, a little salad and some yogurt-cucumber sauce for around $2! But it was all tucked into a pita together. I don’t think I’ve ever seen french fries in a sandwich! Travis ordered me (Miss Fussy Eater) a plate with just meat and salad. There had to be close to a pound of meat there, for around $4.25 US! Vincent got a huge tray of food for 600 lek, about $5.50 US!

Vincent’s huge tray of food

RJ has a really accurate distance app and he said we walked 4.8 miles! I’m pretty sure I’ve never walked that far in my LIFE before, and I was really starting to wilt. For the last mile or so they kept telling me we were “almost there”, the big fat liars! But it was a really enjoyable day with a fun bunch, so it was well worth the mild shin splints and stiffness I’m experiencing today. I’d do it again in a heartbeat!

Stephen, a crazy Canadian and me at Game Night

I’m having so much fun here! But I am very happy to be spending all day today staying home reading and recovering from yesterday’s big hike. Tomorrow I take the bus to Tirana and stay overnight at a hotel near the airport and on Tuesday I take my $46 round trip flight to Bari, Italy, returning on Wednesday.

I saw this man walking his sheep on a leash right in the middle of the city! They stopped off at this tiny patch of grass for a snack.

Albania Uncategorized Vlore

Game Night

Last night there was an Expats Game Night at  Pizeri Amantia restaurant and I overcame my Extreme Introverted tendencies and actually forced myself to go! I’m still a little amazed at that. Like all good little introverts, I usually sign up for something that sounds really fun but then at the last minute I don’t go.

I’m so glad I went! It was so fun, and so nice to speak English again.  There were 11 people there; mostly Americans but also one each from England, Canada and Italy. I was happy to see that the other expats weren’t all 20-somethings, though of course I was the oldest by a long shot and also had the most “seniority ” in Albania. Several had only just arrived.  There was lots of raucous chatting, laughing, eating and a really fun game called Dixit. It’s an Italian restaurant and most people were eating delicious-looking pizza (around $5-6 for a big pizza!) And it was really hard to have to sit there and smell that pizza aroma and not be able to partake. But I survived,  and really had a great time. I hope this is the start of regular expat gatherings and maybe even some small group travel to other cities.

I’m so jealous of all the places these young kids have been….Thailand, Germany, Bali. All over the world, made possible by being able to work on line.  The other day I went to breakfast with Catherine and we met a young guy from Poland who was looking to put more distance from the Russian army. He worked for a  S. Korean company,  spoke perfect English and was buying a brand new one bedroom apartment one block from the sea for $85k US. It’s the building right behind mine and I’ve been watching the construction proceed. I find it amazing that those guys just scamper around on narrow scaffolding 7 or 8 stories above the ground.

When I was young I always wanted to do the backpacking through Europe thing. I’d look up the Eurailpasses and hostel information and figure costs, but I never could afford it.

I was thrilled last week to find a source for ziplock sandwich bags! They’re quite rare, in fact all ziplock bags are a little hard to find.

I also went to my favorite fish store to buy frozen sardines. The fresh ones are half the price but are not cleaned and while I know how to clean fish, I’m happy to pay double for them to do it. The cleaned ones are $.85 a pound. But I accidentally picked up something else. They’re really skinny like sardines but once I got them home I realized my mistake….They’re about 9-12″ long and they don’t have any fins. I think they’re baby eels! I haven’t decided if I’m going to try and eat them or not but I’m leaning towards NOT. This one is 12″ long!

I went for an early walk on the beach the morning after a windy day and found some treasures.  I love the round one; it’s a sea urchin shell.

I just realized a couple things. There’s no packaged sandwich bread in the supermarkets. You get bread from a bakery and it costs around $.60 a loaf. The other thing is that Albania has 20% tax on nearly everything you buy! (And I thought Arizona’s 8.5% sales tax was bad!) It’s included in the marked price on each item though so there’s no big shock at the end of checkout. Except that very often the price marked on the shelf is way lower (as much as $1.50!) than the actual price at checkout. What can I say? It’s an Albania thing. Oh 3 things. You can’t get cash back with your debit card. It’s very much a cash society here. Some stores will take a card if you’re spending more than $10-15 but none will give any cash back.

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.

Albania Vlore

Exploring the Neighborhood

Update on a few things…..I fixed the sofa cushions! It’s a big L-shaped sofa with 5 identical back cushions so I switched them around until I found a combination where the stripes lined up better. Now the cushions on the end that I sit on are wildly “off” but I don’t care because I don’t have to look at them. That’s better!

And the landlord didn’t return until three days later, after I’d given up on being presentable at all times. So it was again Scary Janis who answered the door….poor guy! Same baggy fleece pants, mismatched and wildly clashing fleece shirt, no bra, fuzzy teeth. I had at least brushed my hair this time, for whatever that’s worth.  I think he said they had to order a part for the mini-split AC unit in the bedroom so that means another surprise visit at some point. Sigh. I’m afraid he’s just going to have to chalk Scary Janis up to me being old, or American. Or both.

I read that they’re building a new international Airport here in Vlorë! It will take 2-3 years to build and it will have direct flights to the US.  That’ll be nice!

It’s a really nice day, sunny and 64° so I went out exploring my neighborhood a bit more. About 2.5 blocks away I found a second meat store, another little produce market and a fresh fish store! I got some salmon that was $7.50 a pound, pretty pricey, especially compared to the little teeny fishies I usually get that are $.75 a pound. And for the first time I saw goat meat for sale….the whole goat was on display at the meat market! I didn’t buy any but I do wonder what it tastes like.

I also went into a little variety store and got some really thick sweatpants and a sweatshirt. I’ve been mourning the nice warm sweatpants I had to leave behind because they were too bulky and too heavy. These weren’t cheap, $20 for both but they’re really nice. The pants are big; I could have used a smaller size but I held them up to me and they seemed too small. They’re just for wearing around the house so big is okay. The man & wife store owners were really sweet.

I sure lucked out with this neighborhood; it’s got everything I need! To think I didn’t want to live in this area because it’s the tourist side of town! I’m so glad I didn’t rule it out completely and not even look at this apartment. Now I really only need to go into the city to get cash from the ATM. 

I stopped at my little grocery on the way home for a few items. If the total is over 1000 Leke (about $9) they’ll take a credit or debit card. I think it’s really funny that I can tap my “contactless” debit card but they also still make me sign the receipt. Then I went to the produce market and got lettuce and 3 little tangerines. I just want one bunch of lettuce but they always have two bunches hooked together. Today it was four bunches; a huge armload of it! I can’t keep it fresh long enough. Because it’s not refrigerated here, it’s kinda limp right from the start. But I guess it’s okay if some gets tossed out; it only cost $.70 and the tangerines were 3 for $.08! 

I love this place!

Albania Vlore

Christmas in Albania

It’s less than two weeks until Christmas and I’m feeling kind of Grinchy. I’m not exactly sure why but maybe it something to do with the absolute certainty that I’ll be alone that day. What’s the big deal; I’m always alone that day!? Time to snap out of it.

Albania is about 70% Muslim (20% Orthodox Albanian and 10% Catholic) so Christmas is not nearly as much of a big deal here as in the US, though I have seen some decorated trees here and there. Christmas cards are nonexistent (as are all other greeting cards) and I do miss sending and receiving them. I brought only one Christmas card with me. I sent it to my friends in Hawaii on November 25 (cost $1.80 US for the postage) and it hasn’t arrived yet!

I thought this was a really good article on Albanian Christmas….well New Year really. For the 50 years that Albania was a Communist country, all religions were illegal, so New Year’s was the big holiday of the year.

I did get a coffee grinder and it did solve my almond flour problem! Yay. If I shake it while grinding, it doesn’t even need to be sifted. The grinder also did a great job on flax seeds. In the blender, all they did was fly around and end up exactly the same way they went in.

My biggest pet peeve in Albania is the trash that seems to be everywhere (though the beach is clean; someone must be picking it up). These photos are the areas on both sides of the steps leading to my building. I keep forgetting to grab a trash bag and go down there and pick it up. Maybe if I did that several times, people would catch on?

My cooktop here had two electric and two propane burners which I thought was a great idea! In case of power outage, I could still cook! But the gas burners had never been hooked up so I asked the property manager if they could do that. The next morning the apartment owners showed up with a brand new glass electronic cooktop! She said that the summer renters have kids and they didn’t want gas burners around the kids. ?? So they switched the cooktop so I could have more than just the two burners to cook with. The new cooktop was slightly bigger than the old one as they used a power cutter to enlarge the opening in the countertop. What a mess; sawdust everywhere!

They also brought me a very pretty area rug for the living room. They placed it under the sofa legs and I didn’t realize until after they’d left that it was CROOKED! Oh horrors, my OCD antenna was up and quivering wildly! See how the border is way more exposed at one end?

The sofa was too heavy and I couldn’t budge it but the next day I propped one end of the sofa up on a small saucepan to get the weight off it and was able to get it mostly straight….it’s not perfect but at least it’s not nearly as obvious. I fear I’ll wear a path where I pass through to the kitchen so I’ve adopted a crazy little hopscotch-type maneuver so I only step on the red areas, which I figure will hide dirt a lot better than the cream ones.

And while we’re on the subjject of my OCD, here’s another thing that constantly bugs me…..the green stripes on the back cushions don’t all line up straight with each other! Oh the agony…..

When the owners showed up the other day I wasn’t expecting them so I was in my Staying Home clothes and I was pretty embarrassed. I wore really baggy fleece pants and a fleece shirt that clashed; no bra and hadn’t yet brushed my teeth yet; my hair was sticking up all over and the previous night’s dinner dishes were unwashed! The landlord is supposed to be coming today to check out the bedroom heater so I set my alarm to wake up early and be properly dressed, etc. Wow I’d forgotten how horrible it is to get awakened by an alarm! I can’t believe I went through that torture 5 days a week for nearly 50 years. (And naturally, it’s almost 4 pm and he hasn’t shown up yet!)

Albania Vlore

Making Almond Flour

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

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

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

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

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

Albania Vlore

Albania’s Independence Day

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

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

Notice the nice two-lane bike path on the left

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

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

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

Albania Vlore

Gëzuar Ditëlindjen to me!

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

My birthday bread and pastry

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

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

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

6 days later

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

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

Homemade olive oil

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

Albania Sarandë Albania Vlore

All Moved In

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

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

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

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

GOOD slippers!

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

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

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

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

Albania Vlore

Rainy Days & Gelato

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

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

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

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

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

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

Albania Vlore

I Found a Great Apartment!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Albania Vlore

Vlorë  Day 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

View from my balcony

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

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

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

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

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

Downtown Main Street
Albania Uncategorized Vlore

Vlorë Day 1

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

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

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

I’m a GRA
Yep, that’s the toilet!

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

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

The entry to the kitchen….from the balcony!

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

So tomorrow starts the apartment hunting! Wish me luck!