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Albania

Love It Here?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Albania Uncategorized

Mango Beach

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

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

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

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

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

I accidentally took this little video

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

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

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Albania

The Hard Stuff

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

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

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

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

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

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Albania

Going To Town

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Albania

Random Stuff

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Albania Sarandë Albania Uncategorized

To The Beach at Last!

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

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

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

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

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Albania Sarandë Albania Uncategorized

Another Beautiful Day

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

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

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

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

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

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Albania Uncategorized

More Shopping

I do have a western view, so sunsets could be amazing! Last night’s wasn’t that great.

Today it’s breezy with some whitecaps. I think there’s not big surf here on the Ionian Sea except maybe in a big storm.

I actually got a decent amount of sleep last night, yay! I felt much better this morning. Today’s high is going to be 81° so I headed out early to the Big Market which is about 1/4 mile from the apartment. It wasn’t. Big, that is. I got a few things and used my day pack to schlep them home. I was very happy that I was able to unlock the apartment door all by myself. I’m afraid that’s going to be a source of anxiety for some time to come.

Than I decided to go back out to the Planet Market which is just 4 or 5 blocks away. That’s the one! Got it on the 4th try. It looks small but it goes way back. They have a little bit of everything. Clothing, toys, housewares, bedding and food, though no fresh fish or meat, only a few frozen chicken and hamburger items. I got two small throw rugs for the bedroom & bathroom, a new small “granite” nonstick pan for eggs (there are 3 frypans here, all huge!) and some more groceries. I still really need a larger supermarket to find some of my favorite keto items, like sugar-free condiments, heavy cream, avocado or coconut oil and raw apple cider vinegar. Also celery. They may not exist here. It’s even harder to shop than I thought, trying to decipher the product information, because a lot of products are Greek and Italian! (Especially the Greek, with that Cyrrilic alphabet!) I was trying to figure out what kind of coffee to buy and there were products from all three countries. I think I’ll have to just experiment with the different kinds of coffee and hopefully find one I like.

The cream I’ve found are unrefrigerated UHT products that are either sweetened, or a vegetable product. Eww. It’s also very expensive. I hope I don’t have to learn to drink my coffee black!

There’s a large Spar supermarket in town that I need to find but it’s too far to walk and bring many groceries back on foot. I don’t know how to take a bus there yet and I haven’t seen any taxis roaming around.

I have balcony access from a large patio door in the living room and a small glass door in the bedroom. Neither one has any screens, nor did the apartment in Tirana. Do they not have bugs here? I wanted an apartment that was on the third floor (with an elevator!) because I read that mosquitoes only fly about 25′ off the ground. I didn’t want to be higher than that in case the power goes out and I have to use the stairs. This seems like the perfect place; it’s ground floor at the entrance but the land drops off really steeply so it’s 3 stories high at the balcony!

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Leaving Tirana

I wanted to post the link for this Tirana studio apartment listing on Airbnb, in case by some crazy quirk someone wants to come here. I did have some problems early on but some were user error and they were all resolved quickly and the space is pretty well-equipped, immaculately clean and in a convenient, quiet neighborhood. https://abnb.me/p9Y8hVnLbtb

Here are the Albanian Leki bills. As the denomination goes down, so does the size! I can’t help comparing the little 200 Leki bill to Monopoly money except it has a cute little transparent glassine window in it! I wonder why. I don’t think there’s a 100 Leki bill, just coins for that. Right now it takes 117 Leki to equal $1.

I just noticed the bathroom lock key this morning. A skeleton key, can you believe it? It’s a modern lock, too!

Here is the link for my $300 a month apartment in Sarandë. I really love it (except for that very orange kitchen!) But I can’t see myself living in that space…it just seems too nice for the likes of me. I suppose if I try real hard I can get used to it though! https://abnb.me/1pKFeb2Vctb

I guess I’m not going to escape the effects of jetlag after all. I’m now 8 hours ahead of Michigan time. Last night I didn’t fall asleep until 6 a.m. and only slept for two hours, even though I took melatonin before I went to bed. Ugh! I tell myself that it doesn’t really matter since I don’t have to be anywhere at a certain time (except tomorrow’s trip to Sarande) but I really would like to get back to a semi-normal sleep pattern soon.

This morning I tried to get directions for tomorrow’s driver to pick me up right at my elevator, in the underground parking garage. That would be the easiest place, with all this heavy luggage. Even though both big suitcases are the 4-wheel “spinner” kind, it’s still not easy to control two of them at the same time. I walked from the elevator to the nearest exit…..quite a long ways, with several turns, and got a gps waypoint for the garage entrance. But then I got hopelessly lost trying to find my way back! I tried several different elevators but they were never the right one. Honestly that garage is like the Catacombs, it just goes on and on under the city, with lots of turns and dead ends! I finally gave up and went out the next exit I saw. There wasn’t a single thing that looked familiar so I had to use Google Maps to find my way back, and it was more than 1/3 mile away! Crazy! And there weren’t any nice guardian angels around today to guide me.

I think I’m getting shin splints. Anyway I’m going to have to meet the driver out at the Pizza Point place in front of my building, and it’s going to be really hard to get my suitcases out there. The walkways here are pavers with holes in them that are large enough that my suitcase wheels will fall down into them instead of rolling. I am pretty sure I’ll have to end up actually carrying 100# of suitcases plus a 20# carryon and smaller daypack! I’m sure to end up with stretched-out long arms like a gorilla. It’ll be about 6:15 a.m. so maybe no one will be around and I can just wrestle one suitcase at a time, leaving the other one sitting unattended. Or hey, maybe a big strong Albanian angel will appear and help me!

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Albania Uncategorized

The Kindness of Strangers

Well it’s definitely an adventure here for sure! It’s very strange to not be able to understand a single word being spoken. At least in Ecuador I could pick out a word or two, and I knew most of the “important” words. I am ashamed that at the butcher counter I have to hold up one or two fingers, I can’t even count to two in Albanian! And it seems true that many people speak English here but in many it’s far from perfect and a little hard to figure out the meaning. But they sure know way more English than I know Shqip!

It’s very true people here are very kind! The only ATM that doesn’t charge a $5-15 fee is Credins Bank and it’s 3/4 of a mile from here but I decided to try and go there. I found out that using Google Maps is a lot harder on foot than in a car, because you go so slowly, it takes a while to find out you’re going the wrong way. When I first started out and was staring at my phone trying to figure out which way to go, a man came up and said “where to you go?” And I showed him the phone and said the name of the street I was looking for and he asked again so I said “Credins Bank”. He said “Come, come, I show”. So I went went. He turned in the opposite direction he’d been going. He walked faster than my usual and I started wondering how dumb was I to follow a strange man with no idea where he was leading me??? But we finally turned a corner and he pointed and said “Credins Bank” and there it was! I thanked him profusely and he turned and went back the way we’d come….this man walked a mile and a half out of his way for me!!

Albanian Leki are worth about ten cents so it’s pretty easy to convert to dollars, just move the decimal point over two places. I got confused and a huge wad of 2000 Leki bills came out of the ATM. I’d accidentally withdrawn $800!! Geez I won’t need more cash for about 3 months; my rent comes out of my account automatically!

I was pretty concerned about being able to find my way home from there without my new friend. But there’s a new building being built in front of my apartment and it’s a good landmark. I was so proud that I got within sight of it on the way home, and all by myself….phew! But I couldn’t find the way to get over to it. I was consulting the phone and turning in circles when a policeman walked up and said “No, no, come come”. How did he know where I wanted to go?? But again I went went and he showed me the way to get through to my street!

I stopped at the little grocery again and got two pork chops for $1.35 and a chicken breast for $1.58. And some frozen mixed fruit to go in my morning chia seeds. It’s got black cherries in it, those aren’t Keto approved but yummm! I’m eating them anyway since I just walked a mile and a half.

I got home just in time before a hard rain started.

I was really concerned about adjusting to the new time, which is 8 hours ahead of Michigan time. I’d read that adjusting can take up to a week for each hour of time change! But I think it’s going to be okay. I didn’t get to sleep until 2 a.m. but slept til 10 this morning, so that’s not TOO far out of whack.

I found a ride to Sarandë on Sunday for only 70 euros! (The euro is about par with USD right now). Normally the trip by private car or van is €150-170 but this driver has to go pick some people up in Sarande so he’s just charging me for the gas. Gas here is around $6.80 a gallon. According to comments on my Facebook group, this is a really good guy but just in case I disappear forever, I sent his photo & I.D. to a friend.

€70 seems like a lot but it’s about a four hour drive by car and I really didn’t want to take the 5 1/2 hour bus trip with all this luggage. The only bad thing is that we have to leave at 5:30 a.m.

Here are some photos of my little studio apartment. It’s immaculately clean and cute as can be and would be a perfect size for me except if I do have company come to visit. I’ve never seen a square toilet before, have you? It never occurred to me that toilets could be anything other than butt-shaped. I had a hard time figuring out how to flush it….. it’s the big white panel on the wall!

And here are a few views from my place. I am on the 6th floor. There are lots of trees, rosebushes and flowers along the sidewalks and pretty green spaces all over the city, many with swings & playgrounds for kids. And LOTS of people pushing baby carriages!

This is my apartment building

The building under construction, my landmark!

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I Made It To Albania!

My luggage and I all made it to Albania, but it was not a trouble-free trip.

My first flight to Chicago went well and I was supposed to have a two hour layover there. But something was wrong with the plane so they changed departure gates and then kept changing the departure times over and over. I felt sorry for all the people who missed their connections in London but I didn’t see anyone having tantrums over it. We got to London and had a pretty scary landing. When the plane touched down it first leaned way over to the right and the wingtip nearly touched the ground! Then it did the same to the left but finally settled down. Phew!

I wasn’t able to sleep much on the 8 hour flight. After all the delays, instead of a 4 1/2 hour layover I had to hurry to make my flight to Tirana….when I got to the gate they were already boarding. Then we sat on the tarmac for nearly an hour. There were about 30 people on a big Airbus so I got a whole row to myself. I flipped up the armrests and spread out my little blanket to put my feet on, and laid down but only slept for about an hour of the 3 hour flight. My taxi guy was waiting for me, yay!

I was very worried about my luggage making it with me and loved having the Tile Pro trackers in each suitcase. (They are like AirTags but for Android) I was able to see that they made it to London okay and SO happy to see them in the carousel in Tirana! My brand new suitcase has a corner bashed in but it’s still usable.

I was really wiped out when I got to the apartment in Tirana and anxious to let everyone know I made it safely and hit the bed! It’s been in the 90’s in Tirana so the apartment was very warm. And the air conditioner didn’t work. Then I discovered the wifi didn’t work either, and I was far too tired to go out after dark in a strange city to try and find a free wifi connection. I was really distressed that I might be causing some of my friends a lot of worry. I had to have a good cry and wondered what the hell I’d gotten myself into!

The bed is very comfortable and I got a pretty good night’s sleep. I had to leave the two patio doors wide open to catch a bit of a breeze but since I’m on the 6th floor I figured it was pretty safe. I was shocked at how quiet it was in this city of over 300,000 people.

This morning I took the new phone that I’d bought special for Albania and went out to look for a store that sells internet packages. I went into the first oqne I saw and it seemed I’d found the one young person here who didn’t speak English! I managed to get my point across. I didn’t know my passport would be required so I had to walk back to get it . I got a good plan for about $12. When I got back to the apartment I couldn’t get the sim card to fit into the tray so had to go back to the store for a third time! That poor girl must have thought I was an idiot. She installed it for me and I sat right there and set up the new phone to make sure a 4th trip would not be required!

There is a small grocery store right around the corner from the apartment so I stopped there to pick up a few things for my breakfast and dinner. It didn’t seem cheap, maybe because it was small? There was a huge array of cheeses but nothing I recognized, and lots and lots of sausages and lunchmeats.

This studio apartment has just a little hot plate, toaster oven, electric teapot and microwave. I was starving because I hadn’t had much food at all since breakfast Tuesday morning. They fed us on the flight to London but most of it was not stuff I could eat. Well none of the appliances here worked! A few more tears of frustration. I finally figured out these European outlets…I had them plugged in upside-down. User error! Before I’d finished my coffee the neighbor woman came over and went somewhere with a key and got both the wifi and air conditioner working again! So now I’m happy. I plan to just hang out here in the apartment for the rest of the day.

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T Minus Nine And Counting

Oh me oh my! Only nine days left before liftoff; seven days til I leave here! I’m getting more and more excited….and sadder and sadder every day. Somehow those two should not go together, but that’s how I feel. I do wish I could just jump on down to Ecuador and skip that nasty expensive PCR test and the long flights. First a 5 hour redeye flight to Miami, then almost 4 hour layover, then a 3.25 hour flight to Guayaquil. And a two hour taxi ride to Ballenita.

I did get my transportation to Phoenix straightened out though, and I don’t have to take the Greyhound bus! Phew! Matt accepted a family practice position in an Urgent Care clinic in Hilo, Hawaii, so they are moving too! They are going to do a goodbye visit to family in Phoenix next Sunday and they’ll let me ride along. My best camping buddy Jeanne will meet us on the road and take me home with her, take me to get my PCR test on Monday, and drop me at the airport on Tuesday evening.

I am selling my car to Matt, either for his oldest son to take to college with him, or they may possibly be shipping it to Hawaii! It’s the only state I haven’t been to (got hooked on Alaska and went there 5 times instead) but maybe my car will make it. I suppose that doesn’t count.

I did a trial packing run the other day…bad news! There’s no stinkin’ way I’m going to get everything I want to take in one checked bag. So today I’m going through everything again, trying to winnow out everything but the essentials. I could pay the extra fee for a second checked bag, but then I’d have to pay it again when I return to Phoenix in August, and I don’t think my stuff is really worth that much.

In Ecuador they don’t have thrift shops. They use it until it’s unfixable or pass it along. So I really need to take my clothes with me. Besides, seems like all the Ecuadorian ladies really love to wear really tight spandex, which is definitely not my style! I can’t imagine spandex is at all comfortable in that 90 degree heat, either.

Last weekend Matt came over and helped me finish painting the back of the house. Even with my 10.5′ ladder I couldn’t reach the highest part of the gable end. He also helped me muscle the big solar panel and a couple of the heavier propane tanks into the shed. I also finally did some small carpentry projects that should have been done three years ago! I’m so glad I got all those outdoor chores done, as we’re now in the middle of 5 days of 50+ mph winds here. Being outside is just miserable. Except for packing and getting stuff stored away in the shed at the last minute, I’m actually done with projects.

I sold my darling camper yesterday, to a young couple of Canyonlands National Park employees. It was a great relief to get it sold, but I’m very sad about it. I sure had a lot of great trips and good times in the 13 years I had her. This leaving is different from the last time I moved to Ecuador in 2013, because then I knew I’d be returning to the US for a couple months every year, since my mom was still alive. So when I moved then, I left my car and camper with friends. This time if I do come back, I won’t have anything to drive or camp in. And actually if I do return just temporarily, I’ll probably fly back to Detroit where I still have lots of school friends, not to Phoenix.

I am also very sad to leave my rocks. Isn’t that crazy? But during the years when I was wandering around, I picked up a lot of special “good rocks”. For three years when I lived out of the car and camper, I carried probably 100# of rocks with me everywhere! They’re now surrounding my little garden spot. I am taking some good rocks with me, but just a small handful of really tiny ones, mostly agates. Funny how my past life boils down to a bunch of digital photos and just a few special things, all goofy. The things I can’t live without: a very small stained glass happy whale souvenir from Maine, and a plastic solar flamingo that flaps it’s little wings. This move takes the cake though, paring down to just one large suitcase and a carry-on bag of stuff! I am leaving a large suitcase in Phoenix, in case I ever do get to go to Albania, with cool weather clothing and a few other things that are hard to find there. I would get rid of about half the hot-weather clothes, as it’s only hot for about 3.5 months in Albania. (No real winter on the Albanian Riviera though).

As to the “where to go after Ecuador” decision, right now I’m thinking that if the situation in Europe is about that same as now, I’ll come back to Phoenix in August, do my dogsitting gig, then fly to Detroit and visit friends for a few weeks and fly to Albania from there. It’s crazy though, it costs about $300 more to fly there from Detroit than it does from Phoenix, even though it’s a couple thousand miles closer!

If I had to make a quick exit from Albania, I could take a ferry to Greece (Corfu) or Italy and fly somewhere else from there, if I couldn’t get to the airport in Tirana (two hours’ drive from Vlore). Still, it’s a bit scary.

If I’m too much of a chicken to go to Albania then, I can get a 90 day visa extension in Ecuador just by asking for it and paying $150. After that….90 days in Nicaragua, Panama, Costa Rica, Colombia??? I really don’t want to be THAT adventurous!

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Uncategorized

Change of Plans

Well in light of all the strange things going on in the world right now, after much agonizing deliberation I’ve decided to postpone my move to Albania. I am still second-guessing myself but I guess playing it safe is a rational plan. But I am really really sad and disappointed. I had this whole new life planned out, and to change those plans is costly. I gave away and donated so many things that now I want back, and I will lose money on some Airbnb reservations that are non-cancellable. Some folks have said to try and change their mind but it would be different if Albania was at war. It’s not! There’s no way Airbnb is going to refund everyone who decides Europe is not where they want to be right now.

The kicker that helped me make the final decision was that the prime minister announced that there could be power shortages because they buy some resources from Russia. I noticed complaints from the Facebook groups about 5-6 power outages a day now…..coincidence? Hey if I’m going to be without power, it’s gonna be right here where I’m all set up for living off-grid, not in some all-electric city apartment!

I was having trouble making ends meet when I made the decision to move in October and now it’s way worse, the costs of food and gas in particular. Now it costs nearly $14 for one trip to town and back. It used to cost $8, which I thought was bad enough!

The thought of having to be here in this hot box for another summer is really depressing too. If the war in Europe drags out til summer I am considering spending $250 for a flight to Detroit so I can couch-surf at friends’ homes and soak up their air conditioning for a month or so! Surely no one would get too sick of me if I just spent 3 or 4 days at a time at their house? The big drawback I see to that is my weird eating habits now. I’m pretty sure my friends would not be shelling out extra money so I can eat my organic, gluten-free, sugar-free, packaged food-free diet.

The other alternative would be to take off in the camper again to higher elevations in New Mexico or Colorado. But most of the places where the free campsites are do not have easy access to organic foods either, plus it could be way too expensive if the gas prices continue to rise.

So……there are lots of things up in the air right now. I so like to have my ducks all in a row, and it’s just not possible at present.

I had donated so many of my clothes to the Concho thrift shop and threw a lot away, I decided I was going to need some back! So I went and found four shirts and a pair of cropped pants that I’d just donated last week, and luck was with me; it was Fill A Bag for $3 day! Yay. Most of the clothes I have left that I was going to take with me are “good” clothes, not “play” clothes. Working around here I get things stained and filthy so now I need more crappy clothes. Sigh.

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Getting Ready

Things with the move to Albania are progressing! Effective January 7, Albania changed the rules for Residency. Now they will be offering Retiree and Digital Nomad Residencies, but all seems to be in confusion right now as to exactly how they’ll work and what will be required. I was going to pay 59 Euros for a 30 minute phone assistance call with a facilitator but even they said to wait, they just don’t know what’s going on yet! One thing is for sure, that generous 1 year Visa for Americans is no longer, and I will have to apply for Residency within 30 days of entering the country. Yikes. I have exactly 30 days before I leave.

I did go ahead and get an FBI criminal background check and got it Apostilled, that’s a special seal from the state or federal government attesting to the validity of a document. I read that it could take up to 8 weeks (and I only had 6!) so was very relieved with it arrived quickly. I also got two Apostilled birth certificates. Of course all these things are not cheap.

I learned that Albania has a northern and a southern dialect, and they are quite different! I wonder which one I’m learning. Hopefully the southern one! One of the things that makes Albanian so difficult for Westerners is that some words are just unpronounceable for us. Like the word for “hot” is nxehte. Huh? I hit the audio button over and over but still can’t duplicate the sound of this word. And there are plenty more like it. If I pair it with “coffee” though, they all mash together. Kafe Nxehte comes out “Kafenzehsta”. Luckily a lot of Albanians speak English, and if someone doesn’t, they’ll drag over someone who does.

I’ve been collecting things to be packed in the camper, it’s my staging area. The gigantic spinner suitcase I bought for $10 at a thrift shop is there on the bed, along with my carry-on backpack and smaller under-seat daypack. I’ve been trying to sort and clean out the storage shed to make room for those things, so I can get the camper cleaned out and hopefully sold. It’s a big drawback to having a tiny house, there’s just no extra space for things like that.

Yesterday I brought in all the clothing I’d stashed out there to go….tried everything on and weeded out about 2/3 of it! I’ll probably become known as the little old lady who never changes her clothes. But I know they do have thrift shops there, as long as I don’t gain any weight. I’ve read that it’s pretty hard to find clothing larger than size 10 unless you have things custom made. I sealed them all into those Space Bags that squish all the air out, and they still take up nearly half of the big suitcase.

Today I went through all the goodies I’d stashed out there to go. I wish I knew what was going to be available there, and what’s not. I thought nearly everything was already out there, but there’s lots of stuff thatI’m still using so will be last-minute items. Seventy of them, as it turns out! Yikes. I guess I’ll be winnowing that list down also, though nothing really takes up a lot of space or weight, 100 items do add up. Luckily the few special things I can’t live without are very small and light.

The suitcase weighs almost 11 pounds so that leaves only 40# for my stuff. The heaviest items are the Chromebook, the PC laptop, a powerful solar battery bank to recharge the phone & Kindles, and two Kindles. Those will all go in my carry-ons.

Two weeks ago I saw the neurologist again, and a neurosurgeon about the brain tumor. The neurologist and my speech therapist both thought I should get it out while it’s nice and small. The speech guy told me they grow tentacles and if you wait too long, just removing it causes a lot of damage to the brain. Pretty scary!

Well the neurosurgeon absolutely did not recommend removing it. He said it’s so small, they’d do more damage trying to find it than it would ever cause. The first neurologist I saw 2 1/2 years ago told me it was a couple inches above my left ear, right about where the speech center is. Wrong! It is actually right on top of my head, between the two hemispheres. Nowhere near the speech center, so there’s no way it’s causing my speech problems. And he also said that this kind (meningioma) almost always grows super-slowly and I’ll most likely be dead of something else before it ever got big enough to cause problems. And they DON’T grow tentacles!!

So the neurologist blames the speech problems on a small brain stem stroke that was SO small, it didn’t leave any trace! I find it hard to believe but I guess we have to blame something or else send me off to the crazy-farm. She wants me to have a CT scan of my head and neck but I’m waiting to discuss this with my regular doctor. I’m not really seeing a lot of advantage to getting it done, and CT scans do involve a good bit of radiation. I had a CT scan of my head 2 1/2 years ago when we were searching for a reason for the speech problems, and it didn’t show anything. BTW my speech is much improved, but not 100% fixed. I still have to be very cognizant of where my tongue is situated.

I dog-sat for friends in Mesa for almost two weeks in early February. I sure got my “dog fix”! There was a big boisterous neutered male Standard Poodle, a tiny intact male Toy Poodle, two Havanese and a toy Doodle. One of the Hav girls was in season. Oh my! The toy poodle, Finn, hated the big poodle. Luckily he has no teeth so when he went all Cujo on the big poodle, he couldn’t do any damage. And the big poodle was just enough of a doofus to not realize he was being seriously attacked. Finn and Misti had to take turns being crated. She was an angel but Finn whined and cried the whole time. What an adventure!

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Albania Uncategorized

Happy Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving to everyone; I hope you had your favorite kind of holiday!

Yesterday I had a doctor’s appointment. The whole office staff came into the exam room and sang Happy Birthday, and Dr. Matt gave me a beautiful little mason jar bouquet of flowers, two jars of his wife’s homemade sugar-free jam and a really sweet card! It was all I could do to keep from crying….I swear, he’s the kindest man I’ve ever known. (My birthday is Saturday)

Plans for Albania are progressing. I’m getting more & more excited, but also sad. I know I’ll be fine but just thinking about the Goodbyes makes me cry!

I have reserved an Airbnb in Tirana, the capital, for the first three nights. I’ll need time to recover from the flights and the 8 hour time change, plus get a new phone sim card and calling plan, and exchange some money. The Airbnb owner is going to pick me up at the airport.

I have also reserved an Airbnb apartment for $335 a month for March 26 – May 1. This will give me time to find a long term apartment. This is the place I rented: https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/46851887?adults=1&guests=1&s=42&unique_share_id=1b4e0fbb-f88b-4284-9d8f-e0dcf12db795&source_impression_id=p3_1637680483_eOoAdQHG%2F4k1uBL4

I had some inexpensive sea view apartments bookmarked and when I checked on them, two were already rented for my time period, two turned out to be in the old Communist block buildings with no heat, and one was a third floor walkup! (It pays to read every word in the descriptions!)

So that only left a few of the cheaper ones and I felt I’d better jump on board. I had to pay the first 30 days up front and there’s no refunds for cancellations!

Oh and I changed destinations! I’ve decided to head to Durres, not Vlore. Durres is bigger, not a plus in some ways. I’m so not a Big City girl, but both cities were bigger than I’d like so it probably isn’t much different. The population is around 120,000 and Vlore has 80,000. It’s only 30 minutes from Tirana, the capital, so probably has a better array of goods and services and better healthcare, with more English-speaking doctors. Vlore is about 2.5 hours from Tirana. The summers in Durres are not quite as hot. I read that the temperatures there are rarely colder than 31° or hotter than 91°. Summers are hot and muggy and winters are wet but not terribly cold, and even in summer the temps drop to around 65° at night. The increased humidity will be something I’ll have to get used to! The annual rainfall is about the same as it was in Asheville, NC when I lived there. (42″)

I had to apply for a new passport because all I have now is a Passport Card, which has limited benefits and is of no use for going to Europe. I picked up the application and got my passport photos (ugh, they look just like me!) Then I had to make a $35 appointment at the post office to turn it all in. That’s a new one, I didn’t have to do that the last time I applied. I went for my appointment and was really mad that she kept stopping to wait on other customers! What the heck was the $35 for, if not to get exclusive attention?? If I’d gone in there with a bunch of packages to ship, she would not have waited in other customers while working in my stuff! Grrrrr.

I’ve been looking at ads for long term rental apartments in Durres. I really want to have a sea view! Here’s one I found, can you believe the price??! I sure hope there will be places like this available once I get there! (And yes, it has heat, air conditioning and an elevator!). https://www.century21albania.com/en/property/760669/jepet-me-qira-apartament-1-1-me-pamje-nga-deti-new36188.html

I decided to buy myself an early birthday present. I wanted one of those really lightweight four wheeled “spinner” suitcases. I had saved an $89 one in Amazon but when I went to order it, it had gone up to $129! And most of them were around that price. Then I found an American Tourister on a Black Friday sale at JC Penney for $109, so I ordered it for store pickup. Yay. About a week later I went to the St. Vincent thrift shop, and they had one there for $10! So I grabbed it, stopped off at JC Penney and cancelled my order, and went home happy. When I opened it at home, there was a nice jacket, skirt and some books inside! I was going to take that stuff back but a friend fell in love with the jacket and gave $20 for it. So I took back the books, skirt and the $20 and the woman was quite shocked, but very happy! I looked up the suitcase brand and was amazed to find out it cost $280 and is made of polycarbonate which is much stronger than the usual ABS suitcases. Happy Dance! And now I can stash stuff I want to take with me right in there. I’ve been making lists ….I love lists! So far I have 73 items I want to take, and that does not include any clothes. Hmmm. And I’m only taking the one 28″ checked bag, a backpack carry-on and the personal under-seat item, a smallish day pack. So we’ll see how that goes! I may have to do some extreme paring down. The checked bag also can’t weigh more than 51#.

Categories
Albania

Good News

October 31, 2021

Hello again! Good news, one by one I’m eliminating the health concerns! On the second try I finally got a successful MRI of my brain and the tumor has actually shrunk a little! I still need to see the neurologist in Flagstaff next month. I had to wear a heart monitor for 10 days but it didn’t turn up anything ugly either, so all’s well and I don’t need to return to the cardiologist. I do have a very slow heartbeat but it’s not causing any problems. I still feel great except for some back issues every time I have to horse around my 30# propane tanks, which weigh close to 60# when full. In winter I use a tank every 6 days plus a tank every 3 weeks or so for the fridge. The one for the cooktop lasts a good 6 months or  more, as does the bbq grill. I applied and received supplementary propane credit from the Northern AZ Council of Governments, they gave me $1000 credit that’s good for a year and a day. Last year it was $800 but I heard that propane prices are rising exponentially! It’s still $2.69 a gallon where I go but the place in Concho is charging $3.90! And it’s supposed to possibly go up to $7 in the near future. At that rate, the $1000 won’t last long enough!

I’ve been having trouble reading at night so I had a vision checkup and I have a cataract in my right eye. It’s not terrible but it’s really getting in the way of my reading 2-3 books a day! So I’m going to have it corrected in early December. The left eye had cataract repair at the same time I had a macular hole fixed in 2015 when I lived in Ecuador.  I opted to go with “monovision”, where one eye is good for long distance and the other eye is for close up. It sounds crazy but that’s what I’ve got now and I really like it a lot! I only have to wear my glasses for driving, and then only because my driver’s license says so[JP1] .  My big huge problem with the surgery is that they require someone drive me home, and I don’t have anyone I can ask! Even if I took a Uber there & back, they still require another person to be with me for the ride home! So I’m thinking hard about that…..don’t really know how to handle it.

A friend told me that crypto currency was a lot of fun, like going to a casino. So I bought a little bit and earned around $50 worth by doing some quizzes on the Coinbase website. Wow, talk about volatile! It’s up to the sky one day and in the depths the next! I bought $10 worth of Shiba Inu when it was first offered (1.2 million shares!) just because it was doggy-related. Well it’s gone up over 1000% in the past month! Hey this IS fun! Of course it could plunge again any day now. I just read that a guy bought $8000 of it and now is worth $5.7 BILLION! Hey I don’t need that much, a million or so would do nicely, LOL!

A realtor’s sign showed up across the road a few weeks ago, and now it’s gone. Ugh, does that mean more neigbors?? It was 4 really beautiful acres with fantastic views over the valley, for $22,000.

So on to the big news of the day. I am moving! I am finding it harder and harder to make ends meet here, and there’s no cheaper way to live….I have no household expense at all except for $28 a year property tax! But Medicare and a supplement eat up 1/4 of my income, car expenses take another large chunk, and my car is 16 years old! It’s got 220,000 miles on it and bound to need some really big repairs in the not too distant future. The prices of everything are going up way faster than my income. There have been some months where I end up with less than a dollar in my checking account well before the end of the month, so I do more fasting than usual. And I really try to keep a zero balance on my credit card but sometimes I can’t. Those credit cards are a very slippery slope!

I am selling my place to friends, with a Life Tenancy or something like that, that says I get to live here the rest of my life if I want. (So I’ll always have a place to come back to if I want)

So….I’m moving to Europe! Albania to be exact. I have a one-way ticket for March 22. It was only $444 and I just don’t see it getting any cheaper than that, so I jumped on it. Round trip cost $1328…almost 3x as much! Crazy.

I’m sure you’re all rushing to Google Maps to see where the heck Albania is! It sits on top of Greece, on the NW side. It’s a little bitty country about the size of Maryland, and at the same latitude so approximately the same climate, though I believe it’s warmer in winter. It is on the Adriatic Sea!

Albania was a Communist country for about 50 years, ending in the early 90’s. The dictator was extremely paranoid and super strict and Albania was very much a closed country. He was so paranoid, it’s estimated there are 750,000 cement bunkers placed all over the country, ready for the invasion that never came. No wonder the country was so poor! In the past 30 years since it’s become a parliamentary republic, it has gone from being the poorest country in Europe to now considered to be an upper middle class country! The countryside lacks infrastructure and good healthcare but the larger cities can offer a very comfortable lifestyle for shockingly little money.  

It’s a great place for “aging in place”, something I’ve always known that Concho is not. At some point I’m bound to not be able to drive anymore, and then what? I’m 30 miles from a grocery store and 10+ miles from even a convenience store!

I believe I want to live in Vlorë, a city of 80,000 people, about 2/3 of the way down the Western side of the country. It’s one of the oldest cities in the world, dating back to 3000 BC. It’s got a great downtown area with easy walking distance to markets, etc. and is also very close to the sea. It is very very safe, and has pretty good healthcare. Vlorë is about ½ hour drive to the best hospital in the area but also has it’s own highly rated private hospital. It’s also just a ferry ride from Italy and Corfu, Greece where the healthcare is excellent. Italy is rated #2 in the world, and Greece is #14. (The US is #37 but #1 in costs). Private health insurance costs $50-200 a YEAR.

I really like that Albania doesn’t allow GMO foods or glyphosate at all. The food is naturally organic, but far better than our organic foods because ours are still tainted with cancer-causing, endocrine-disrupting glyphosate.  That’s another one of my larger expenses here, food as clean as I can get it. (I still only spend the same amount as is “average” for a single person, probably because I never eat in restaurants) My food costs in Albania will probably be cut by 2/3! The life expectancy in Albania is about 6 months longer than the U.S.

Two bedroom apartments with sea views cost around $300-400 a month, though I’ll be looking for a one bedroom or better yet, a studio! So that should be even cheaper. Lord knows, I can easily live in a small space! It would be cheaper yet in the middle of the city but I kind of have my heart set on a sea view. I loved living in Ecuador just two blocks from the beach. Actually I’d go back to EC in a heartbeat but it’s way more expensive than Albania and far less safe. The things that brought me back from Ecuador no longer exist….too fat, knees too bad to walk very far at all, and my mom.

I have high hopes that I’ll be able to make some friends there. There are expat groups that meet up at restaurants and go hiking & sightseeing together. I’d love to find a friend or two who like to play cards or games or like to kayak. I really miss having friends nearby.

So…that’s about it for now. I know it’s kind of a drastic change but please be happy for me. I’m very excited! I intend to live out my life there but if not, is it a huge deal? Is it a FAIL? I don’t think so! I spent two years in Ecuador and count it as a really GREAT experience. Even if I just stayed in Albania for two years I could easily become debt-free! (I have a low-interest personal loan I used to purchase the land, some of the building materials and the Tuffshed)  I will have around $500 a month left over after I pay all expenses, including that loan payment! It will depend on where I find to live. I really do have my heart set on a sea view.

And just think….this move will definitely revive the blog! I’ll have LOTS of cool stuff to report on.