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Albania

Reality Check

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Categories
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.

Categories
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.

Categories
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!

Categories
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 Sarandë Albania Uncategorized

Arrived in Sarandë

The day started pretty early with my ride arriving at 6:30 to pick me up in front of the Pizza Point Restaurant. It’s right under my apartment and I didn’t know that a small pizza is only $2.50-$3.75! Probably a good thing. I managed to wrestle all my luggage over there myself.

The driver only spoke Shqip (Albanian) and Italian! So it was a pretty quiet 3.5 hour ride but he was really nice and looked exactly like a young Telly Savalus. The gps coordinates for my apartment were not quite right but he was able to talk to the rental agent on the phone to find exactly where to go. I thought my apartment had a full front sea view but it’s a side view only, and I guess that’s okay. Here’s the view. You can barely see the tip of the Greek isle of Corfu on the right. I’m not sure but I think my view is towards the west so maybe I’ll get some good sunsets.

I guess I can live with that! It’s a nice place but it seems bare and sterile. The sofas are hard as a rock but the bed seems comfortable. It’s on the main street in and out of town and it’s a little noisy but I assume it will calm down at night…..not that I actually sleep at night lately! And by the end of the month the town will be pretty dead; the population swells hugely in summer.

The door key is huge and strange and I’m unable to unlock the door from the outside; my fingers are not strong enough to turn it! I’m so glad the agent made me try it before he left. He went to get some WD-40 or the Albanian equivalent and didn’t come back for four hours. In the meantime I was starving because I only had a small dinner last night and no breakfast. I guess it’ll be a fasting day.

Even after the lube job, I still couldn’t open the door! Yikes! He said there’s nothing wrong with it, I’m just old and weak. He’s probably right but I’ve sure never encountered a door this hard to unlock! Maybe this is why….FIVE deadbolts plus a spring latch?! (The 5th one is down near the floor)

He packed the spring latch with paper so it doesn’t engage and I can open it now but I’ll need to get some tape to permanently disable it. The only problem now is that the same key also opens the outside door which gets locked at night! I guess I’ll just hope I don’t have to go out at night. Tomorrow I’ll check and see if that one is just as difficult.

The apartment is supposed to have kitchen basics like oil, salt and pepper, etc. but there’s nothing, not even any drinking water. I planned a grocery store trip right away anyway so it’s no big deal I guess. There’s a little store almost right across the street and a larger grocery about 1000′ away. l went to the little one today and it’s got a little bit of everything. It’s probably expensive but I didn’t care; I am feeling totally exhausted this afternoon. I don’t know if it’s the jetlag, too much walking the past two days, too little sleep or stress. I guess it’s probably all of them heaped on me at once. The store owner was really nice.

Categories
Albania Ecuador La Libertad Ecuador Uncategorized

Mercado Trip

I did book the beautiful Airbnb in Sarandë, Albania from September 11 until April 1! It’s beachfront but up on a steep hill so probably a five minute walk to get beach access. It’s a corner apartment so there’s amazing full sea view from the whole front plus a side view, just what I was looking for! In Vlorë, anything with even a sliver of a sea view was $600 or more, WAY up from when I was looking in March. The deal I worked out was €450 for the 20 days in September, because that’s still considered high season, and €300 a month (about $321 US) after that. It’s within walking distance from a large grocery store, pharmacy, restaurants and bars, and the local bus comes right by the building. My landlord’s name is Boguljub….I have NO idea how to pronounce that. He lives in Serbia but there’s also a local co-host.

Here’s the link: https://abnb.me/Jhy0Uzzcvqb

I went to the mercado in La Libertad with Dodie yesterday morning. It’s a massive rabbit-warren of hundreds of tiny booths. You could spend all day there just looking around! The mercados in Salinas, Paute and Gualaceo, when I lived there, were all contained in big buildings, though there was also a weekly outdoor market in Paute where people would bring produce and livestock to sell. It was funny to see people walking around with a cloth sack containing a wildly objecting live chicken or two! They sold everything there… puppies, kittens, lambs, pigs, calves, goats, canaries…

There is also a big building nearby containing the fish market, with lots of individual booths. I was on the hunt for fresh swordfish, and I found some! It was very expensive, a whopping $5 a pound. In comparison, Mahi-Mahi is only $2.50 a pound. At home in AZ, swordfish is about $15 a pound if you can find it….and it wasn’t pulled fresh from the sea yesterday, either. I got 2 1/4 pounds for $10. They also had beautiful fresh shrimp, both farmed and wild. There are lots of shrimp farms around here. And weird stuff like octopus and baby squid.

I got some really nice thick pork chops for $2.50 a pound….mind you, this is pastured pork, not factory farmed. Five lemons for $1, five vine ripened tomatoes for $.30 each, a pound of huge blackberries for $1.50, a big bunch of broccoli for .$25 and a big wedge of cabbage for $.10. SCORE!