Albania Albania Residency

Still Working on Residency

You know me and my bad luck….sad to report it’s still with me.

The plan was for me to complete four tasks on Monday, then wait a week or less for my ID card. I rented a tiny studio apartment for a week for $30 a night and told the guy in Shkoder that I wasn’t able to come when scheduled.

The apartment is nice but it’s a 3rd floor walkup, with a bathroom about the size of an RV bathroom and with the same kind of “wet bath” shower that sprays the whole room when used.

It’s got a teeny 2 burner stove top, a teeny kitchen sink with a little drain board and zero counter space. And a small fridge/freezer and washing machine in the bed area

But it’s cheaper than a hotel, plus I can cook. Kinda. The qutensils provided are one wooden spoon and a corkscrew. There’s some silverware. The only pots are two big Dutch ovens, and only one giant scabby nonstick frypan. No salt or pepper. I’m well aware of the shortcomings of Airbnb kitchens so I had packed a lot of my own stuff, including my spices, salt & pepper, a small titanium saucepan and two frypans.

Monday morning started out pretty good. I got the forms printed, made a bank deposit of $57 to Immigration’s account to pay for the biometric ID card and then met a real estate agent who my facilitator had arranged to take me to City Hall to get my official address. But their computer system was down, so that was all I could do on Monday.

Later I got a taxi and took the stuff I’m going to store (2 big suitcases plus a carryon) over to Catherine’s apartment, and we went to dinner at a nearby Suflaqe place. I had eaten a late snack so I just got one skewer of bacon-wrapped chicken kebob for $1.50 and it was very good.

Catherine’s two kebab dinner was $5.

Tuesday was an absolute disaster. I took a bus to the City Hall area and found the right office. The woman there looked up my apartment’s location on a big online map and gave me a piece of paper with my official address. I started chatting with a Canadian woman who was there with her realtor and when they left, I cadged a ride with them to Immigration. I paid my $57 fee for the biometric I.D. card and then went next door to Immigration and was told that it wasn’t the right address form and to go back, and she said “That lady before you had the same problem; go with them”.

So I rushed out of there and they’d already gone. I was too hot and bothered to go wait for a bus so I walked up to a taxi stand and got a $10 ride back to City Hall. The woman there said that’s the only form she had. At that point I called my facilitator in Tirana and she said I should have given Immigration the document I had printed that had my ID number on it. So I got another taxi back to Immigration and just before we got there, the facilitator called and had spoken to Immigration. She said to turn around, go back to City Hall again and to call when I got there so she could speak to the woman in charge. So back we went.

It turned out that the form I needed had to come from the Civil Registry Office. In Tirana, that is housed in City Hall but not here; here it’s (naturally) on the other side of town. I got a taxi there and gave her my lease and the form from City Hall and she said it was too late in the day, to come back today to pick it up. Another day lost, and about $30 wasted on taxis.

Today I took a bus to town and then got a taxi to take me to Civil Registry and wait for me. I was directed around the back of the building and was second in line when a middle-aged man came and squeezed between me and the guy being helped! What the heck?? I decided not to make a scene right then but was prepared to make big fuss if they actually started to help him before me, especially since I had a taxi meter running! But I was spared that confrontation because she called my name and handed me the document. Phew!

So yay, progress! I went back to Immigration. What I need is to get fingerprinted and photographed for the biometric ID card. I was thinking that photo was gonna be wonderful with me sweaty, red-faced and with hair sticking straight up from riding in a taxi with openqq windows. But hey, at least I’d get the darn thing done.

They looked at my paperwork and FINALLY said it was correct. But nobody was there today to do the fingerprinting; come back tomorrow after 10 a.m.

So MAYBE I can finish it up tomorrow. At this point I’m not getting too excited about anything. Oh and she said once I get the next step done, it’ll take 1-2 more weeks to get the card!! (In Tirana it only takes 4 days but I bet the cards are made in Tirana and have to go back & forth to here; maybe by mule). So now I’m trying to extend my stay in the apartment for 4 more nights. That will be til June 10 and another $120.

It’s too bad you only do this once; now that I’m an expert at it I’m done! Almost.

Albania Albania Residency

Residency Approved!

Oh my! I just got word that my Residency application is approved, just three days before I’m supposed to leave here and go to Shkoder for the summer, yikes!  The Immigration officer told me I’d have to bring a copy of a bank statement showing the first Social Security deposit to my Albanian bank before it would get approved (scheduled first deposit is June 28) but the facilitator tried sending him the form I filled out to change the deposit to my bank here, and evidently it worked!

I have several things I need to do on Monday (a bank deposit of $57, fingerprinting and get my address verified) and then it takes about a week to get my card. So another little zigzag but it seems things are falling into place. I’m nervous about getting all this stuff done right but excited that I’ll finally have it all behind me.

I don’t want to do the 5 hour bus trip to Shkoder and then come back here a week later, so I’m renting a small apartment a couple blocks away for that last week for $30 a night.

I’ve been packing. And repacking. The one big suitcase that’s going with me still won’t quite close, even if I sit on it. I’ve gone through everything a couple times and there’s nothing I think is extraneous. So I think I’ll have to also take my bigger daypack and maybe the small daypack as well. I guess that’s okay; there’s just not much luggage space on the minibuses. I wish I could travel lighter than that but I know these Airbnb’s have crappy scratched & peeling nonstick pans and scanty cooking utensils so I want to take a couple of my good pans and my favorite kitchen gadgets and good sharp knives. I can’t go 3 months without a bathroom scale either, and my supplements also take up a good bit of space. I think I’m gonna make it but that suitcase sure weighs a ton.

I went out to dinner with a couple friends a few days ago and had lamb! I’ve only had it once before, many years ago, and I’ve been wanting to try it again. (I’d also like to try goat) They had lamb ribs on the menu for $7.50 but the waiter said they didn’t have them. He suggested another lamb dish so I ordered that. It was tiny little grilled lamb chops, delicious! I found out later they cost $14! Oops. Oh well, I guess a splurge once in a while is okay, and isn’t it nice that now I can afford it.   We were near Dewayne’s  apartment so we walked over there afterward and chatted awhile. I really liked the location and hope maybe I can find something similar in that area in the fall. I suggested he move out in November but apparently he’s not THAT good a friend. I forgot about having to catch a bus back home and just missed the last bus at 10 p.m. I could have sprung for a taxi but just decided to walk the 1.6 miles home. I need the exercise anyway; I’m so lazy! It’s so nice to be able to go anywhere at any time and be so safe.

My friends are having a farewell dinner for me on Sunday! Wow! And now I’m not leaving, but any excuse to eat out….we’re still going. Nice.

Check out the top flight of these stairs….no handrail!

I saw a photo posted to an AZ Facebook group and thought “my tiny house view is as good as that “. Turns out it was posted by the friend who bought my place, and it IS my view!


It’s Here!

My long lost package was located in Serbia and sent on it’s way! The post office called me this morning to say it was here so I hotfooted over to the Old Town post office to get it. I handed her my passport and she found the package right away. Phew!

It looked as though it’d been through a war or two but at least nothing was leaking out. But….not so fast! There was some kind of problem with the Customs fee. She tried over and over and it wasn’t working. In the end there were 5 people there trying to solve the problem. They each inspected my passport as though it was counterfeit. The four others walked away. Finally after 20 minutes she got it! I paid the $126 import tax and rushed back home with my goodies. It’s Christmas in May! And even though the box is all bashed up, everything inside was in great shape.

Outside my apartment entry are two trees that smell like heaven. Actually maybe they smell like honeysuckle….same thing. It’s very strong. I hope they last for a long time. Can anyone identify them?

Last night I took a friend to dinner for his 54th birthday and several other friends showed up to help celebrate. I was so happy that I could take my friend out… the US I couldn’t even afford to take myself out, let alone anyone else. Our Italian friend Arash came out with two chocolate brioches with birthday candles in them and they were shared all around. It was a fun night.

Dewayne’s 54th

Last week I met a friend for lunch at the Taushani Restaurant in the next building. As I was walking over there I thought I heard a kitten crying but then I decided it was a bird. A few minutes later I saw a kid coming from that direction, holding a teeny squirming kitten!! Wow, I dodged a bullet there! The last thing I need is to be raising a two week old orphan kitten right now! The last time I raised an orphan kitten in 2012 I had Roxie who, after the first day of her obviously thinking “Phew Mom, that thing STINKS!”, then took over all the kitten care except feeding! She was just the sweetest kitty mom! Here’s a flashback to those days.


What I Love About Albania

It’s been pointed out that some people seem to think my life is nothing but adverse events, and that I’m only here because it’s cheap. I really hate when that happens!

It’s a sad truth that I definitely can’t afford to live in the US. I’d need around another $800 a month in order to live comfortably in the states, even though there are no utility bills at my AZ tiny house, and taxes are only $29 a year. And it is true that I initially moved here because of the cost of living, but also for the quality of life and ability to live without owning a car.

I think Albania suits me and is a good fit for me. I’m pretty health-conscious and the food here is far superior and healthier than in the US, plus here I’m forced to get my lazy butt up off the sofa and walk to get groceries, etc. instead of walking 20′ and jumping in a car to run errands. The most recent life expectancy figures rates Albania higher than the US. Here there are very few overweight people and the older folks seem more vigorous and healthy.

I have never been one to eat in restaurants, especially in the US, because of cost and how unhealthy the ingredients are that they use.  I still don’t eat in restaurants much, mostly because I’m such a fussy eater and I like to cook, but if I did, I can get an omelet and cappuchino for $4.00 or a chicken breast dinner for $6. (and a 10% tip is considered pretty generous!) A delicious 10″ pizza is from $4.50 to $8.00! Pizza is one of my most favorite foods and it kills me to not eat it here where it’s so good and so cheap! (Too many carbs). Here’s part of the pizza offerings from Patio Restaurant, where we have our Game Night gatherings. (Right now 100 ALL = $1)

The meats are all free-range, antibiotic and hormone free. They’re also really lean and without a lot of fat marbling, so not as tender but are so delicious! GMO foods and the use of Glyphosate (Round-Up pesticide) and many other pesticides are strictly forbidden. Produce is local, seasonal, incredibly cheap and insanely delicious.

The climate here is pretty nice, apartment rentals are ridiculously low (my very nice 2 bedroom apartment 1 block from the beach is €250 a month in the off-season) and the sea view is great. There’s a 5 mile long promenade along the beach for walking.

Albania is super-safe. Like 10 times safer than anywhere in the US! I feel 100% safe walking here at any time of the day or night. Albanians are very friendly and kind (unless you’re trying to get on a bus, then it’s every man for himself!) And they’re especially nice to the elderly, which apparently I am, though it’s really hard to wrap my mind around that concept.  (Wasn’t I whitewater kayaking and rock climbing just a few years ago??) Anyway, no matter how many people are on the bus, a younger person will almost always get up and offer me their seat. And if not, the money-taker guy will often make someone get up so I can sit.

And the big bonus is that I have local friends here. I really haven’t had friends near me to do stuff with since I moved from Michigan to NC in 1979. Luckily I’m very self-sufficient and I have plenty of good friends, they just didn’t live very close. The weekly Game Nights and occasional coffee or breakfasts with friends here is priceless.

I admit my start-up and Residency expenses have been more than I anticipated but I also got about $22,000 of dental work for $1200. It’s hard to beat that kind of savings. I literally never would have been able to get my teeth fixed in the US, and that would have affected my health sooner or later. I’ve been surprised at how much more confident I am when meeting new people and how much more likely I am to smile, and to not cover my mouth with my hand.

Some of the things I do miss about the US are my sweet tiny house and the night skies there, filled with millions of stars. Some food products and supplements are just not available. And I wish the time difference wasn’t so great. Six hours is a lot.

What I’d really love is to have enough money to be able to stash a minivan somewhere in the US and go back for a couple months a year to travel around and visit my friends, camping in the van and seeing the sights along the way. I don’t feel I was really done yet with US travel and there are many places I’d love to revisit. While that’s a really pleasant dream, it’s just never gonna happen.

Yesterday I asked myself the hard question….if I could afford to live comfortably in the US, would I move back. Shockingly, even to myself, I concluded that the answer was a resounding NO! I really am happy here.

So please don’t feel sorry for me. I’m not in exile here! It’s a great country and now that I’m here, I selfishly want to close the borders so hordes of expats like me don’t descend and change everything. I think Albania is going to be a hot destination for expats, especially Americans, in the future. And that’s usually not a good thing for the adopted country. We need to tread lightly.

Albania Vlorë Albania

Balkan Inter-Folk Festival

This weekend was the Balkan Inter-Folk Festival here in Vlore. When I was walking to Game Night on Saturday there were hundreds of people gathered in the big green space next to my apartment building, with the prime minister giving a speech. Later the promenade was completely filled with the throngs of people headed back to town. I wish I could tell you more about it but you know me; I take every opportunity to avoid crowds. Here’s a short video clip though.

We played a new game this past week called King of Tokyo. It’s a dice game that also has a lot of “mean cards” that you can inflict on your fellow players. After I won the first game, the second game was chock full of Mean Cards flying my way! And since I’m about 13 years older than the next oldest person there, I’m pretty sure this was Elder Abuse at its finest. I’d never heard of any of the board games we play, but they’re always fun. Some of the others are Dixit (so far I’m undefeated!), Code Name and Love Letter.

I saw this guy strolling along as I waited for the bus this morning. Judging by the clothing, he’s GOT to be an American! An Albanian man of this age would be wearing a suit.

An American looking for Wal-Mart?

I hadn’t really noticed until a friend pointed it out, but during the day all the people hanging out at the street cafes having coffee and a smoke are men! No women. And if you click on the photo and enlarge it a bit, you can see how the typical older Albanian men dress.

My Provisional Residency was granted today! I think it’s considered Provisional until you’ve been here for five years. Until then, it must be renewed annually. Now my facilitator is preparing a document that she’ll send me in the mail (scary prospect!) And I’ll need to get an appointment with the Immigration office at the port here in Vlorë to finalize it. Yay! I was getting concerned that I wouldn’t get it until after I left for Shkoder, and that I’d end up having to take a $200 taxi ride back here to make the appointment time! They only give you one day’s notice.

5 Stinet Giesthouse Albania Albania Residency Komani Lake

Rainy Day

I heard back from the Social Security office in Rome! They sent me a form that needed to be filled out by me and my bank in order to have my benefits start going to my Albanian bank, which may or may not actually be required for Residency. It’s unclear, so better safe than sorry.

It has to be returned by mail, which is a pretty scary prospect considering my last foray into international mail service! It was raining this morning but I felt I had to get it done ASAP so I donned my raincoat, grabbed my umbrella and set out. Ugh, whoever thinks walking in the rain is fun has got to be nuts! It’s miserable!

I went to a print shop to get the form printed, then walked the 2/3 mile to the bank. I got the form duly completed, signed and stamped and walked up to a bus stop to go to the post office, since it’s an additional 3/4 mile and by then the rain was really coming down. At that point my $3.50 Albanian umbrella started to misbehave. It wouldn’t stay open and kept collapsing on my head, which seemed to amuse everyone around except me. So I tossed it in a trash bin and soldiered on. I mailed the form and paid extra to get tracking, for whatever that’s worth. Tracking sure didn’t keep my package from getting lost! I also checked to see if by some miracle my package was there but it wasn’t a day for miracles.

The post office is on a one way street so I wandered around in the rain trying to find where to catch a bus going back towards home and got a little lost. I finally stopped and asked a kid, who directed me to the right spot. I’d have saved a lot of steps if I’d just walked back up the street to where it became two way again! Oh well, next time I’ll be smarter. Then I rode home and was glad to get my soggy self back indoors! And now you know why I usually don’t go out when it’s raining. Sometimes I really miss not having a car.

I’m going on a vacation! I’ve booked a 3 night stay at a boat-in guesthouse on Komani Lake called “5 Stinet”, June 20-23! It’s five cute little lakefront chalets with out of this world views of the surrounding Accursed Mountains.

5 Stinet

From there I can take kayaking tours, take a ferry to the little village of Fierze, and a trip up the Shala River. It includes van transportation from my summer abode in Shkoder to the ferry dock in Koman and back plus the ferry trip to the guesthouse on Peace Island. The chalets each sleep 3, have wifi, air conditioning, nice modern bathrooms and cost €70 per night with breakfast included. Lunch and dinner are $12 each. Luckily I only eat twice a day.

Here’s a bit of a problem! The trip includes round trip van transportation van from Shkoder plus the ferry to the guesthouse. The white squiggly line on the map below is the road from Shkoder to Koman, which is not only very curvy but also very bad, partly paved, partly gravel with huge potholes. I’ve heard it’s very vomit-inducing and I get terrible motion sickness so I guess I’ll have to use a couple of my precious (and expensive) Transderm Scōp patches. They stick on behind the ear and are good for about 3 days but they give me really dry mouth. Still, that’s better than suffering a miserable 1.5 hour roller coaster van ride.

Here’s a little 10 minute video of the chalets and the Shala River trip. I can’t wait!

Albania Expats in Albania Vlorë Albania

Woe Is Me

Well it hasn’t been a very good week. My package with $470 worth of goodies is lost in space. It was shipped on 4/13 and was supposed to arrive in 3-5 business days. The tracking shows it leaving New York on the 18th, never to be seen again. The US post office is trying to find it. The biggest reason I was getting the package was because my US cellphone carrier is upgrading their system and my current phone is obsolete. If I ordered and activated a new phone by May 4 they were offering a $100 rebate. It’s very doubtful that I’ll be able to meet the deadline now.

Also I have a big mess with Residency. My facilitator told me I didn’t need to have my Social Security deposited to the Albanian bank, but a friend went and talked to the Immigration office here in Vlorë and was told unequivocally that it does! I could have had that all done by now! You know my luck….I tried to do it on line but the SS system wants to send me a code via text to verify it’s really me. It says, “Is this your number: XXX-XXX-4495”. I never get the texts and suspect I accidentally gave them my NC area code 828 instead of my AZ area code 928. But there’s no way to check it. It took three tries with nearly 30 minutes waits each time to finally get through on the phone to SS (once a human actually answered, the call would get dropped!) I asked and she couldn’t tell me what the number was. The solution is that they send you a link to change the number by mail, and that takes 5-10 days to arrive. It’ll go to my California friends and they’ll let me know when it arrives, then I can change the contact number and again get online access to my account.

It turns out you can’t change your deposits to a foreign bank using the US 800 number, I have to go through the nearest SS office which is in Rome. I’ve emailed them and am awaiting a reply. So it’s possible I couldn’t have done the change online anyway.

It takes at least 2 months to get the deposits redirected and I wonder if my Residency will be put on hold until they can see the money being deposited!! I hope there’s some other way to prove that it’s been done.

Three months ago my landlady told me I could stay until June 15 but when I went to pay my utility bills this month, she said May 31. I was able to get my stay in Shkoder extended so that’s good, but that place costs nearly twice as much as my apartment here! So more money slip sliding away.

And that means I’ll be leaving in a month! I’m going to have to find some packing boxes and start packing up the things to be stored. Oh I hate to have to make another move!

I wonder if maybe I’ll fall in love with Shkoder. It’s Albania’s 5th largest city and only half the population of Vlorë and it’s supposed to be quite a bit cheaper than here (Airbnb prices notwithstanding!). I was looking at some restaurant menus there and the food looked considerably cheaper. Omelets were $1.40 and they’re $2.50 here. The climate is similar but a few degrees cooler, which might be nice in summer. I guess it’ll depend on what goods & services are available and whether there are any active expat groups.

We’re still having our Expat Game Nights, and they’re still a lot of fun. It’s strange that when I’m walking home at 10:30 pm, the sidewalk and sea promenade have throngs of people strolling along….many more than in the daytime! Albanians eat dinner really late, then go out walking. No wonder there are hardly any fat people here.

On Tuesday an arsonist set fire to the city’s water supply pipe. What a strange target! And how do you BURN a water pipe??? They must have used some accelerant or really oily stuff that would be impervious to floods of water!The city’s water was out for 5 days but came back last night. I don’t know where my water comes from, but mine never went out, thank goodness. I do keep about 10 gallons of tap water in jugs, just in case. My water has gone out a few times but usually only for a few hours.

Here’s some of those cute kiddie three-wheeled skateboards. The toddler stands on it and the parent pulls them along with the long handle.

It seems really strange that in a city of 180,000 people, the main street is only one lane in each direction and there’s only one roundabout and no traffic lights! Yet traffic usually moves right along except for temporary halts when cars have to take turns going around the many double-parked cars. The drivers here seem pretty polite about letting others turn left in front of them or enter from a side street, and I haven’t seen a single fender-bender yet. Pedestrians have the right of way and cars will always stop for people crossing the street. (It’s the people on bicycles you have to watch out for!)

I don’t know who this fisherman is supposed to be, and why is he naked?
One of several little kiddie play areas on the Promenade

I can’t figure out why American candy bars like Mars, Snickers, etc. can be sold here for $.60. Can you?? I seriously doubt they’re made in Albania!

Albania Vlore

It’s Albania

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Catherine, Dewayne, me & RJ

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

Dewayne, me & RJ

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

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

Albania Bari, Italy Uncategorized

Going Home

Well it’s very nice here in Bari but too expensive. I’ll be glad to get back home. The hotel’s free breakfast looked good but it was all heavy carbs…..pastries and other yummy stuff. So I just had that tablespoon of espresso and headed out to the train station. Ugh, it was raining! I suddenly wished I’d packed an umbrella but I did have my rain jacket.

I didn’t realize there were two train stations in Bari so naturally I went to the wrong one. I thought I’d be able to figure out the ticket machine but I couldn’t find destination Aeropuerto anywhere. I guess I was taking too long so a uniformed man came up and offered assistance. Oh the train that goes to the airport is in a different building, the one with blue windows! It was only about 100′ away.

I got my ticket (€5.20) and had only five minutes wait for the train. I was glad I’d left early because the next train wasn’t for 50 minutes. From the train station it’s about a ten minute walk to the airport but it goes through a long long tunnel so it’s out of the weather.

They tell you to be at the airport three hours before your flight for international flights but WizzAir’s check in desk doesn’t open until two hours before, so I had an hour to kill, and nowhere to sit! I got some euros from the ATM; that killed a whole two minutes. I had read that ATMs in Italy are fee free and I guess it’s true, because they didn’t charge a fee even at the airport!

Elevator doors at the airport

I decided to go have breakfast at McDonald’s. Yeah, I know what I said before but they do have keto friendly breakfast options. But not here. The breakfast offerings here were all croissants, rolls and muffins. I wandered around and the only other restaurants on this floor also only had rolls & pastries. I guess Italians are not into American style egg breakfasts at all.

The flight was pretty full but uneventful and coming back through Immigration in Tirana is just through two machines that look at your passport and then take your picture. I sure hope they recorded my entry, as that was the whole reason for going to Italy!

I walked to the back of the airport parking lot to the buses and I didn’t have to take the bus that goes to Tirana city center; I found a minibus that went straight to Vlorë! Almost. Several of us had to change to a different bus halfway there. It cost 1200 lek ($11 USD) and I was able to get dropped off at my usual city bus stop instead of going all the way to the far side of town. But I’d just missed a bus so I knew it would be a 15 minute wait. I just started walking towards home, in hard rain. I was soaked, cold and miserable when the bus did finally come along so I hopped on even though it was just one stop before mine.

I’m so glad to be home and so tired! Air travel sure isn’t fun any more., especially International travel.

Albania Lord Hotel Tirana Albania Tirana Albania

A Rube Goes To The Big City

This morning I took the minibus (called a furgon) to Tirana. I’m staying overnight here before tomorrow’s flight to Bari, Italy. We arrived at a huge parking lot filled with big and little buses from all over. Right away men came up and yelled “Taxi”? I told them I was going to walk. I found a calm spot and searched for the Toptani Mall on Google Maps, as it was supposed to be close to the bus terminal. It’s a huge 8 story mall and I was going to search for supplements and sweeteners. I guess I had my bus terminals mixed up because it said it was 2.4 miles away. Since I still have shin splints from Saturday’s walk, that was out of the question.

I decided to just get a taxi to the city bus terminal, which is behind the Palace of Culture on the main square. I knew I could catch the airport bus from there, and it would have cost 400 lek. I was accosted by a taxi guy again and asked how much to the Palace of Culture and he didn’t know where it was. That should have set off some alarm bells but I just decided to get a ride to the hotel. So I said I needed to go to Lord Hotel near the airport and he didn’t know where that was either. But he said “1500 lek” which is pretty high; it should have been 1200-1300. But I said okay and he led me over to the next street where all the taxis park. He went to an unmarked car, not a taxi at all but just an ordinary sedan. Oh crap. A taxi imposter! I can hear all you moms yelling “Don’t get in the car!!”

Well…..being the nonconfrontational, don’t cause a fuss kinda person that I am, I got in the car. I plugged the Lord Hotel into my Google Maps so I’d know if he was going the right way and wondered how much it would hurt if I had to jump out of a moving vehicle if I seemed to be getting kidnapped. He followed the directions though and got me safely to the hotel. Then he demanded 2000 lek because he said he based his original quote on going to the airport, not a hotel. Boy it really made me mad but I handed over the loot.

So far the hotel is making up for all that unpleasantness. The girl at the check- in desk spoke perfect English and she upgraded me from a tiny twin bed room to a huge room with king size bed a comfy reading chair and a balcony! All for $45. This room is normally $115!

It must be pretty new construction because everything is worked by touch screens. I got to my room with the little plastic card and there was nowhere to insert it. Last time I stayed in a hotel, you had to put the card IN something. I stood there feeling like an idiot and a housekeeper came out of the room next door and showed me how to place the card against a black box on the wall. Duhhh.

Then I couldn’t figure out how to turn on the lights… nothing worked! So I went and got the housekeeper again and she showed me another black box where you have to insert the card to turn on the electricity.

Later I was cold and naturally I couldn’t figure out the touchscreen controls for the heat/air. That housekeeper was long gone so I went down to the desk and the same sweet girl that checked me in said “Come, I’ll show you” So we went back to the room and she explained how it works. I’m really feeling like a complete idiot! And old, really old.

View from the balcony
Another view

There’s a restaurant attached to the hotel so I went there for dinner. The waitress spoke perfect English too! I ordered grilled chicken with baked potato for $5.50 and she offered fire-roasted vegetables instead of the potato, yay! It was delicious, and I didn’t even have to be shown how to eat it!

The hotel offers a free breakfast thing but I think I’ll splurge and go back to the restaurant for the $2.35 ham & cheese omelet with bacon.

They have a free airport shuttle so I won’t have to deal with any greedy imitation taxi drivers in the morning. On to Italy tomorrow!

Albania Albania Dentistry Uncategorized


My dental issues have caused no small amount of problems and setbacks. I thought it was a simple matter of replacing existing crowns and two bridges on top. I forgot about my bad luck!

Getting crowns here involve three or four visits. First the prep work and impressions, then another visit to make sure the new bare metal or zircon crown fits and to be adjusted as needed. Then the lab adds the porcelain and there’s another visit to make sure it still fits (because now it’s thicker and larger than before). It then goes back to the lab for final color and polishing. Each of these visits are 2-3 days apart. I feel like I’m practically living at the dentist’s office!

I had the extraction and root root canal I already mentioned. Then she removed two old crowns on that same side and took impressions. They don’t do temporary crowns here so I was left with a really ugly ground-down “peg” of a tooth right in front!

At my next visit she greeted me with the words no one ever wants to hear, “We have a big problem “. As we age, our teeth get worn down, mine more than most because the enamel on my teeth is so thin. My bottom front teeth are extremely worn and are actually hollow, with the pulp exposed. I also am missing 3 bottom molars on each side, which allows the opposing teeth to float downward. The lab said I didn’t have enough space in my bite for the new bridge; it would raise that side and cause the teeth on the other side to not meet at all!

The solution was to do both sides at the same time and raise the whole bite. And another advantage would have is that it would even out the bite pressure along my whole mouth instead of the current excessive pressure on one side. That is what caused the porcelain veneer to pop off two crowns on that side in the past.

But wait, it’s not over! Because my lower front teeth are so worn, and worn so unevenly, none of the front teeth in the new 12 tooth upper bridge met the bottom teeth. There was a huge gap of more than 1/4″! Of course you don’t want the new upper teeth to be hanging way down and crooked just so they’ll meet those old bottom teeth, so she went to work with that carbon paper stuff that shows where the teeth meet, and ground down each side & back tooth of the bridge as much as she could. I still have a gap in front but it’s much smaller.

The bad part was that she then had to remove the 5 tooth bridge on the other side so I was left virtually toothless on top! I had one set of upper & lower teeth way at the back that still met each other, and the next day the crown fell off one of those poor overworked teeth! And I was stuck with three of those ugly little toothpegs qright in front! I looked like a very macabre jack-o-lantern for more than a week.

It looks like the Expat Game Nights are a weekly event! I had to skip last Friday because of my scary Miss Snaggletooth look, but I got the new teeth just one hour before this week’s event and it was lots of fun again. I’m a little worried that my extreme introvert tendencies will eventually chafe at having a weekly “commitment” but for now I’m loving it! It’s always a mix of really interesting people. This week we had people from Finland, England and Ukraine plus 7 Americans and one Canadian.

The final cost for one extraction, one root canal and 13 crowns was $1156 USD.

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 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.