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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 Sarandë Albania

Sunny Days

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Albania Sarandë Albania

Touring the Town

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

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

My chicken dish
Seafood Risotto

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

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

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

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Albania

Company’s Coming!

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

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

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

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

BEER!

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

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Albania

Eeeek!

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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Albania

Reality Check

I needed to go pay for my health insurance plan ($83 USD per year!) and I put it off until today because rain was forecast all week and I really didn’t want to go get drenched again. This morning’s forecast said 6% chance of rain. Yeah, you guessed it, it rained the whole time! It wasn’t too bad; I had my new umbrella.

I am much more comfortable riding the bus to town now, and I know where to get off at the bus station. Between my place and the bus station it’s about 2.5 miles, with only one stop in between. I know my bus continues on to Butrint National Park but I don’t know if it stops in between, or where. I guess someday I’ll have to just continue on and see.

I found the little grocery again (so proud!) that has walnuts & almonds in the shell for $3 a pound and got a lot! A few nuts are my after dinner dessert every day, and the little packets of shelled nuts in most of the stores cost around $5 for 1/2#! They also had chestnuts, which I’ve never tried but they’re really high carb, so I gave them a pass.

Then I found the Sigal insurance office pretty easily. She asked for my passport, oh no! I didn’t know it was needed for more than just entering the country! She said it was very important but let me go ahead and pay for my policy. I need to go back on Tuesday to show my passport and pick up my card.

I also saw another meat store. They had a bunch of beef cuts that I didn’t recognize at all, some scrawny whole chickens and a little pork. I got a pork loin roast for about $4.

Since it continued to rain I decided to just go on home. I had to ask around to find where the bus stop was and just my luck, I’d missed the hourly bus by 6 minutes!

Finally the bus arrived and I was even able to recognize where I needed to get off near home (always worrisome)! The problem started when I got to my building and the entry door was closed. It’s never been closed before. Remember how I was unable to open my apartment door because my fingers don’t have the strength to turn the key? Yep, same problem with the outer door. I knocked on the door several times to no avail, and waited awhile for either someone to come out, or some strong-looking person to walk past. No joy. I finally walked up one block and down to the street that runs behind the building so I could go in the beachside entry. That door was open, thank goodness! I walked up three flights of stairs and finally was home sweet home!

I went over to see if the building entry door opened without a key from the inside and it didn’t! And I couldn’t get my key to work from the inside either. That’s kind of scary for someone as paranoid about fire as I am; I could be trapped three floors up without a way to exit the building!

So here’s the thing. Once it starts getting colder, both those entry doors are going to be kept closed, and I won’t be able to get in or out without help! It makes me kinda sick to my stomach. What a stupid reason to have to move!

I have an Airbnb reserved in Vlorë for the first week of November. I guess what I’ll do is check out the city and probably try to find an apartment to rent there. I can get out of my apartment here with a forfeit of one month’s rent, $300. Maybe I’ll try to find something closer to the city center….there goes my great sea view!

Today’s veggie haul….all for $1.99 USD!

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Albania

Love It Here?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Albania Uncategorized

Mango Beach

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

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

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

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

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

I accidentally took this little video

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

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

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Albania

The Hard Stuff

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

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

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

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

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

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Albania

Going To Town

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Albania

Random Stuff

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Albania Uncategorized

Cheese

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Albania Sarandë Albania Uncategorized

To The Beach at Last!

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

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

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

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

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Albania Sarandë Albania Uncategorized

Another Beautiful Day

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

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

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

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

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