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 Albania Residency Dentistry in Albania Uncategorized

Summer Plans & Residency

I’ve had a busy morning!  I am proceeding with my plan to apply for residency. I have to leave the country and reenter because the application has to be submitted within 30 days of entry. So I leave for one day, come back and my entry date is fresh and new! I booked a flight on a discount airline called WizzAir. $48 rd trip from Tirana to a little town in Italy’s “bootheel” called Bari on March 14, returning the 15th. I booked a hotel for $80 that’s close to the city center and the rail line from the airport.

My landlords rent my apartment in summer for $2000 a month! (I pay €250, about $277.) So I will have to be gone from June 15 until September 1. If I have my Residency I won’t have to go to a different country, which is really good because my health insurance is only valid in Albania. At my “advanced age” the cheapest travel insurance I could find for neighboring countries cost $660 for that 2.5 month period! (My Albanian insurance is only $100 a year). So I started searching Airbnb for somewhere to live this summer. It had to be away from the ultra-expensive coast. Places are already going fast and I couldn’t find any decent sized city that’s really cheap. I booked an apartment in Shkoder (Northern Albania) for June 15 until September 1. Quite pricey, $523 a month! But that includes utilities, which could run as much as $80+ in summer.

Shkoder is on Europe’s largest lake which also is half in Montenegro. They have some pretty cool kayak trips on the lake to twoq restricted-access bird sanctuaries and also boat trips to Komani Lake and Shala River which I’m really excited about. Shala River is beautifully turquoise and clear, really pretty. 

Shala River

So now I feel like I can relax a bit. I still need to go to the US Embassy and swear a notarized affidavit that I’m not a criminal. I was hoping to do that on the day I fly back from Bari but the Embassy’s last appointment is at 1 pm and my flight gets in at 12:50, so no. I’ll have to make a special trip. It’s about 2 hours and $9.25 each way on the bus.

I had to get a tooth pulled last week and it was a doozy, with a curved root plus it was broken off at the gumline and split vertically, so it was hard to remove. Glad that’s over! Tomorrow I get a root canal and then in a week or so I’ll have the two new 5 tooth bridges and I can smile again! It cost $9.25 to get the tooth pulled and the root canal costs $56.

I’ve made a friend! She’s a 61 year old retired from the US Forest Service. We met for lunch and had a nice time and are meeting for breakfast on Wednesday. For lunch we just walked along the promenade looking at the menu boards and chose a restaurant that looked promising. One place offered grilled goat or lamb for 1000 lek ($9.25), grilled guts for 500 lek and whole sheep’s head for 400 lek. Yeah…didn’t go there!

Those who know me well know that I’m an extremely fussy eater. It’s been said that I have the taste buds of an 8 year old boy. And eating low carb makes it even harder to eat in restaurants.

I can’t remember the name of the restaurant we chose but I’ll walk back over that way soon and find out, though I hope no one is reading my blog for restaurant recommendations; if so they must be sorely disappointed! This was the first time I’ve eaten out since I got here almost 4 months ago!

So I was tempted to just order a nice safe omelet for $2.30 but I decided to be really adventurous and ordered a whole grilled fish, including the head which had a lot of really sharp little teeth! It came with scrumptious hand cut french fries which nearly killed me to resist gobbling up. I only ate one. This was a pretty expensive meal at $10 US but it was excellent!

Albania Dentistry in Albania

Getting My Teeth Fixed

One of the things I was anxious to do as soon as I arrived here was to get my teeth fixed. Somehow it ended up taking 5 months, but now I’m finally starting the process.

I need two 5 tooth upper bridges and one single crown on the bottom. All those teeth already have crowns and/or bridges so I won’t need any of that nasty grinding done. But a 3 tooth bridge I had gotten 5 or 6 years ago in Mexico has been loose for a long time and I couldn’t afford the $3000+ to replace it, so at least one, maybe both of the anchor teeth need to be extracted and that 3 tooth bridge will be replaced with a 5 tooth bridge. Uggggh.

I found a young dentist who got great reviews and stopped in to make an appointment. She’s quite young and very kind, and she speaks halfway decent English.

First I needed to get x-rays, as she doesn’t have that equipment. A full mouth panoramic view cost $14. Last week I started with the single crown. She thought it should be qa full zircon crown. So the first appointment she removed the old porcelain/gold crown and took impressions. I went back two days later and she fitted the crown and then sent it back to the lab for coloring. It ended up taking 4 visits because the lab didn’t get the color right the first time.

Next Wednesday I will go back and she’ll remove that 3 tooth Mexican bridge and do the extraction(s). Hopefully only one, but the way my luck runs…. I’ll have a 3 tooth gap there for two weeks while the gums heal, then she’ll remove the other two crowns and take impressions. She doesn’t seem to do temporary crowns so I’ll then have a 5 tooth gap for two or three more days. No laughing for 2.5 weeks!

And then the other 5 tooth bridge should be uneventful and just take 2-3 days. Two teeth in that one have excessive bite pressure that made the front facing pop off so the metal is showing, and it looks like I have huge cavities. Those two teeth will get full zircon crowns that are much stronger than porcelain.

She charges (in US dollars) $9.25 for extractions, $83 for porcelain crowns and $214 for the full zircon crowns. So the whole thing, 11 crowns (3 of them zircon) plus one extraction is going to cost $1290….about the cost of a single porcelain crown in the US. And I’ll finally be able to smile again without embarrassment!

Albania Albania Residency

Fun With Albanian Residency Application

I’m working on getting my Albanian Residency. The hardest and most expensive part for me is getting my Social Security benefit statement Apostilled (an official government affidavit). For $20 I could get it Apostilled at the official government agency but their lead time is 20 weeks! So I have to use an expedited service. I paid $150 for that, uploaded my benefit statement to them, and voila! It was done that same day and sent Priority Mail to my friend Raquel in California. Well that one got lost in the mail somewhere. After almost a week, I reached out to the service and they redid it and re-±¹sent it, and this time it made it to Raquel!

She sent me a copy of it though and it was Apostilled by the State of Illinois, not the US government! It’s a federal document and must be done by the federal agency. I looked on the service’s website and nowhere does it say where the apostille will be done. I just assumed they would know where it needed to go. So…you know what happens when you assume things. My $150 mistake.

I sent that copy to my residency facilitator but didn’t hear back from her about whether or not that one might be acceptable. She’s not good at communicating, but I felt like it needs to be done properly and surely the Albanian government will feel the same way.

In the meantime I did more research and discovered that I can’t use the benefits statement from the SSA website; I need a special letter signed (stamped) by the Commissioner of SSA and notarized by me. That’s only available by calling SSA or visiting the local office. My “local office” is in Rome. I contacted them and they are not able to supply it with that special signature.

So I called SSA on my US phone that uses wifi. The connections are always awful. I managed to finally get through to a real person after only a 49 minute wait, and of course she could only hear half of what I was saying. We both persevered and she finally understood what I needed and then suddenly I lost the connection completely but I am hopingà the document is on its way to Raquel.

Raquel would have to send me the letter via DHL at a cost of $147! Then I’d have to take it to the US Embassy in Tirana (5 hours on a bus plus $50 fee) for a US notarization. Then I’d send it via DHL (about $125) to the express apostille service ($195) and finally get the Apostilled form back to me (another $147 DHL fee)! So in the end, about $600 cost for this one document, and a whole lot of chances for it to be lost. Eeeek.

I thought it would actually make more sense to just fly back to the US and get it notarized and sent off to the Apostille service from there, saving around $425 in DHL fees. Plus I could restock some of the supplements, etc that I’m unable to buy here, and by leaving Albania and reentering, I wouldn’t have to make that $200 one day trip to Italy. (Residency applications must be made within 30 days of entering the country).

I had a $563 travel voucher from British Airways so my ticket to Atlanta only cost $200 out of pocket. And don’t you know, 30 minutes after I bought it, I got an email from the facilitator saying, “Great! They won’t notice where it was Apostilled”! She thinks we should proceed with that one. I’m very skeptical…obviously the woman is not aware of the perpetual bad luck cloud that follows me around!

But I canceled the flights and I think I’m getting a refund since it had been less than 24 hours since I had purchased them. Raquel will wait to receive the new benefits statement that’s hopefully on the way and send it along with the Apostilled document, just in case my application does get rejected and I need to proceed with the new statement.

Phew! This stuff is not for the faint of heart! It’s exhausting just writing about it.

Albania Arizona DIY Micro House DIY Tiny House Intermittent Fasting Keto Micro House Owner Built Tiny House

Four Years Ago

Today is an important milestone for me; it’s been four years since I started dieting. I was looking back at photos and realized a lot has happened in those four years!

In January 2019 I was living in my tiny ALiner folding camper on my recently purchased property in Concho, AZ. Brrr!

With me was my faithful and ever-cheerful sidekick Roxie.

I was uncomfortably fat, with high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, GERD and constant heartburn, and aching joints. I could barely walk one block without terrible pain in my knees and hips.

I had just started seeing a new doctor whom I absolutely loved. He was alarmed at my blood test results and wanted me to start taking drugs for cholesterol and diabetes. I was already on blood pressure medications but they were not adequately doing the job. I asked that he give me 90 days to try to turn things around.

And that was the start of my weight loss journey. I started out just trying to cut back on snacks….i.e. no more eating an entire bag of candy or can of Pringles in one sitting! And I did lose weight, and in that 90 day period I lowered all those markers. Doctor Matt was happy! I originally thought getting down to 180# would be great…that would have been a loss of 51#. Quite an ambitious goal.

I started building my tiny house on the property. It was really really hard at 200+ pounds, plus I realized that at 70 years old, I no longer had the strength to lift sheets of plywood, 60# bags of cement, etc. The last time I’d built a house I was only 40!

But I persevered, and I got some good paid and volunteer help, and continued to shed the weight. It took almost a year to get my little bitty 85 square foot house to the point where I could move in!

After about six months of a calorie restriction diet I hit a plateau and didn’t lose any more weight for a couple months. It was at that point that I learned about the Keto diet, something I would never have even considered to be possible before, but I realized I was almost doing it! So I changed a few things and adopted the Keto lifestyle. I saw a video by Dr. Jason Fung, a brilliant nephrologist, took his advice and started Intermittent Fasting, and the weight started falling off. I’ve never looked back! I lost a total of 98# and got down to 129#, which Dr. Matt thought was too skinny. That’s okay, once I got a little less strict, I leveled out at around 135-140, which seems good for me. My bloodwork was great, I am on a tiny dosage of one blood pressure med and my diabetes is long gone. My AIC tests have been at 5.2 for the past 3 years! I never need Rolaids any more. And because I eat an anti-inflammatory diet, my severe neck, back, hand and knee arthritis don’t hurt at all any more, except when the elevator doesn’t work and I have to walk up the 90 stairsteps to my apartment! Then one knee hurts for two days when I go to sit down. I routinely walk 1.5 to 2 miles every time I go into the city, with no problems. Life Is Good!

I wish my friends would be more proactive about their health. My thought is that I really don’t want to spend my last 10-15 years of life being in pain, miserable, and sickly. Several have tried the Keto diet but I admit, it’s an extreme way of life and like any diet, you have to keep it up or the weight comes right back. I read that the average person stays on Keto for only 42 days! But more and more studies are showing that it’s a pretty healthy way to live.


Elevator Fun

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

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

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

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

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.



The weather has been so nice, consistently 5-10° above normal, and no rain for the past couple of weeks, just lovely bright sunny days. On average it rains 15 days in January but the forecast for the next two weeks only shows two rainy days.  I suppose the farmer’s might not be happy but I am!

If it’s above 60° when I go into the city I just wear a long sleeve shirt or microfleece shirt but virtually everyone else is wearing winter coats! I don’t get it….I get hot when I walk. Doesn’t everyone? The other day at a produce stand in town the girl said “Hello,” so I asked her how she knew I was American and it embarrassed her. She said I just looked like I spoke English. I’m pretty sure it’s the clothes. While I was waiting for the bus I noticed the old ladies, 60 & up. Some wore dressy slacks but most, especially the older ones, wore skirts well below their knees and thick stockings. Not a one of them in jeans. I only have three pairs of pants and two are jeans! A lot of people here say Hello to me before I even open my mouth so something is tipping them off!

A lot of the street vendors are selling raw olives right now. Harvest is in late November.  They cost around $.45 a pound but they’re not edible (extremely bitter) until soaked in brine or oil for 6 months.  I guess a lot of people must do that though, considering how many are being sold.

Here’s one of the little street booths. There’s one street downtown that’s blocked off from traffic for about two blocks and has lots of people selling everything…fruit, nuts, fish, mops, pots and pans and clothing. The price signs are in leke, for one kilo (2.2#). So the lemons are $.34 USD a pound. Vine ripened tomatoes are usually around $.50 a pound.

I bought a little propane stove so I can cook in case of power outage, it cost $10 and the gas cartridges are $1. 10 each. The power has gone out a few times but so far never for more than ten minutes. I have my solar Luci Light handy in case it happens after dark!

Also at the Mercato I bought this cute blackberry table runner for $1.80! I love it. The lady took my 200 leke and said “Gracias? Thank you”? (I ask you, do I look Latina at all??) We both laughed and I said “Thank you, faleminderit” and went on my way. It’s these funny little encounters with people that really brighten my days.

The other day I had another funny encounter, with the lady at the produce stand near my apartment. I am determined to start speaking Shqip more, even though I’m not sure of the pronunciation. I’ve been getting some avocados that never ripen, and I’m not sure how to pick a good one. I wanted to ask if this was a good avocado but I accidentally asked if it was a happy avocado! She looked puzzled and shrugged her shoulders and then I realized what I’d said and we both laughed. I wish I could get photos of this lady. She’s in her 50’s with jet black hair and huge eyebrows that look like they were drawn on with a wide tip black Sharpie!

I didn’t see any turkeys anywhere until Christmas eve, when I passed a woman on the street carrying a live turkey in a plastic shopping bag! Just his head was sticking up out of the bag. I fear he came to a bad end. Then in the butcher shop I saw turkeys. They’re just as scrawny as the chickens. A friend who lives in Cyprus said the European Union does not allow growth hormones, antibiotics and steroids in poultry, so they don’t end up with all that breast meat that we’re used to. They are also probably a different breed. Apparently the turkeys here can actually walk around without falling on their faces! What a concept. They have more thigh meat than ours, because they are allowed to get some exercise. She cooked one for Christmas and said it was delicious. I know that the chicken here tastes way better than even the organic chicken I used to buy in AZ. These turkeys (back row) are quite expensive at $6 USD a pound!

I bought a little chunk of beef for my Christmas dinner. Beef here is cut with the grain instead of against it like in the US so it’s hard to recognize the cuts. A lot of them look like a big muscle (which of course they are). There’s no factory farming here so all the meat animals are grass fed or pastured and are very lean. Beef is not very tender but like the chicken, it really tastes great. I simmered the beef on very low heat for two hours but should have started earlier. It wasn’t shoe leather but it was chewy!

I had a very quiet Christmas and New Year but New Year’s Eve is a huge celebration here. New Year’s Day is the biggest holiday of the year because for the 50 years of Communist reign, all religion was forbidden. Even though that era is 20+ years past, the tradition continues. Also, 70% of Albania is Muslim so Christmas is not a big deal. There were some decorations along the street and in stores, but not much. New Year’s Eve was incredibly noisy though, filled with heavy artillery noise from fireworks and maybe cherry bombs (?) stating as soon as it got dark. Much louder than firecrackers anyway; they made me jump every time.

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 Uncategorized

My Kitchen Smells Like Camping (and other trivialities)

My kitchen smells like camping! I had the hardest time figuring out why, or what the smell actually reminded me of. Then it hit me; it was my new trash can liners, and they smell exactly like that blue liquid they use in porta-johns! HAH! Not exactly the most favorite camping fragrance I’d pick, but hey, at least it’s the smell of unused porta-johns. Could be worse.

I’m learning that the weather forecasters here are even more inaccurate than the ones in the US. Rain was forecast every day for 10 days. They’re still saying that and this is the 5th bright sunny day in a row. I plan my trips into the city around the weather because I really don’t want to get caught on foot in a downpour.

I went into the city a few days ago and spent a small fortune ($40) on stuff like a dish drainer, fleece throw, some mixing bowls, a bedside lamp, a few Christmas decorations and other goodies. I got a little 8″ Christmas tree and a hanging decoration with pinecones & ribbon but then I discovered I don’t have anyplace to hang it! The walls here are all concrete. So I hung it on the corner of the TV, since I never watch it, it won’t be in the way. My best find was this little gizmo that helps open jars and bottles. I don’t know how I ever lived without it!

I wanted to also go to the meat store. I can’t believe I haven’t made it there yet but I turned out to be way overloaded with three bulky bags already so I couldn’t go this trip either. But I did pass a little fish store and bought a half kilo (1.1#) of tiny fishies, 3-4″ long. For $.88 US! There were 3 different kinds of fish and I don’t know what any of them were but I think some were sardines. I had to clean them myself which was kind of a pain but boy were they good! I just lightly fried them and they tasted very much like smelt and I ate them the same way….bones & all. Now I want to go back and get lots more to clean and freeze.

I just love all the closet space in my bedroom. It spans the whole 14′ length of wall! I need a lot more clothes to even come close to filling it up!

I’ve noticed the older women like me mostly wear dresses or skirts below the knee. I guess that’s why most Albanians know to speak to me in English; old Albanian women don’t wear jeans! The younger people dress very differently too. They might wear jeans but also a lot of dressier pants and matched sweatpants and tops. Nobody here looks grungy, they’re all very neat and clean. Men don’t have long hair. Definitely no droopy pants on boys or young men! A lot of the men use messenger bags, man-purses or fanny packs. And nobody wears tee shirts with crazy patterns or sayings, usually if it’s a tee shirt, it’s plain or it has Adidas or Nike logos.

I went over to my little local grocery this morning and for the first time, noticed that there’s a bakery right around the corner! So I wandered by but didn’t buy anything. Bread or foccacia costs $.50. I might go there and splurge and try an Albanian dessert on my birthday. 0

Right outside the grocery is a little produce stand. The produce is super cheap, cheaper even than the one on Sarandë! Plus the lady is very cheerful and smiley, unlike the ladies in Sarandë who always seemed grumpy. I got a gigantic leek, two onions, 3 potatoes, two kiwi and 2 lemons for $.83!

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.


Back in Sarandë

Yesterday I took a furgon (large passenger van) from Vlorë back to Sarandë. It cost $8.50 US and it took almost 4 hours to go 67 miles. It’s very mountainous so even in a car it takes almost 2 1/2 hours.

The furgon stops for every person who happens to be standing at the roadside, in case they want to get on. Some people ride for just a few miles. The driver also runs delivery errands for people. He stopped along the road to pick up two bottles of milk from a guy, and dropped them off about 5 miles farther up. We waited 15 minutes for an old man to make his way down his long steep driveway, to be handed a bag of empty 2 liter water bottles! And we stopped to deliver a new microwave to someone. Hey at least it’s not one of those “chicken” buses, though they might be allowed too, maybe I just haven’t seen any yet.

The scenery between the two cities is gorgeous! I saw lots of grapevines and olive groves, and some people harvesting olives the old-fashioned way. They spread big tarps under the tree and use long pole thingies to shake the branches so the olives fall off onto the tarps. (The modern way is to use mechanical tree-shakers) It takes 80-100# of olives to make a gallon of olive oil.

And shepherds herding flocks of everything…..sheep, goats, cows, turkeys and Guinea hens!

I was really anxious about getting to Sarande before dark, as I’m not completely confident about being able to recognize my bus stop in the dark. I got lucky! We arrived just as the sun was going down and just in time to catch the once an hour city bus out to my neighborhood. Once I got there my heart sank when I saw that the outer door to the building was shut. I was soooo tired, I really didn’t want to have to walk the three extra blocks to get around to the downstairs entrance. But it wasn’t double locked and I was able to wrestle it open. Oops, I only bent the key a little bit!

Today I went to town to try and buy lots of stevia. Sadly, they had only one 1 kilo (2.2#) cannister that cost $21.39 US (ouch!) And it’s not pure stevia; it’s mixed with erythritol. Maybe I can get one of the shops in Vlorë to order a case of it for me. I also bought some little pellets of cyclamate, which was banned I the US in 1969 because it was thought to be carcinogenic but has always been allowed in most other countries, including Canada. It is now being reevaluated in the US because of it’s safe use in other countries.

I met a nice American lady while waiting for the bus home! Wouldn’t you know I’d meet a prospective friend two days before I leave here. But she might come to Vlorë. She seemed woefully ignorant of the immigration policies here. She didn’t know that Americans can stay 12 months, and wasn’t aware that there’s a Retiree Residency available. The only weird thing is that I asked her where she lived and she told me that she’d rescued 7 puppies and was living in an old abandoned gas station! Ehhhh…does that mean she’s homeless?? I’m not sure I want to get all tangled up with someone that desperate, though she seemed real cheerful about it. Is that mean of me? I gave her my email address so she can contact me and then I can send her the official info on the 12 month visa and my apartment agent in Vlorë.

I have to take a walk down to the little market to see if they have any boxes I can use for moving. I don’t have a whole lot more stuff than I arrived with, but I have purchased some kitchen things that were lacking, and I’ll have to take the food I’ve bought. I am taking a private car back to Vlorë on Thursday at a cost of $100 USD.