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 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 Vlore

Gëzuar Ditëlindjen to me!

Phonetically, Gez-oo-ar Deet-a-leendy-yan. It’s my birthday! I’m a whopping 74 years old, ugh! I had a huge and very un-keto breakfast! This is the fourth year of being on Keto on my birthday and the first year I’ve not stayed pretty strict keto. I hope it doesn’t cost me too much next time I step on the scale but it was delicious! I walked a half block over to a little bakery and bought a loaf of crusty fresh bread and a pastry. It was a sugar-covered, custard- filled roll of flaky pastry dipped in chocolate on each end. Oh my! These two things cost $1.20 US. I had one yummy slice of toast with breakfast and I’ll throw the rest of the loaf away so I won’t be tempted. I saved half of the pastry for my dessert after dinner. I bought a little steak for dinner and I think I’m going to have a BAKED POTATO with it! Wow.

My birthday bread and pastry

This is the first time I ventured over in that direction and right across the street from the bakery is a cute place called Big Scoop. Ice cream, crepes, waffles…..oh dear! I checked the menu prices; $.85 per scoop for ice cream and a banana split costs $3.70 US. It gets worse. Right around the corner is a pizzeria! Pizzas start at $3.62 US for marghareta pizza. I’d better not go in that direction very often!

I’m just amazed that all these places, along with the grocery, produce market, restaurants, bars, coffee shops and a liquor store are all less than a block from home! Quite a change from my little home in Concho AZ where even qthe closest mini-mart is 11 miles away!

I was making a little pork loin roast on Monday and it fell from the tongs just as I was putting it in a very hot frypan to sear the outside. A tidal wave of blazing hot grease splashed up (I swear way more oil than I put in the pan, it grew exponentially!) all over the wall, the floor that I’d just mopped that morning, all down the front of the stove and all over my hand. Ow! I ran cold water over it for awhile but it blistered anyway.¹ I put some homeopathic calendula burn ointment on it and within a few minutes the blisters went right away! It still hurt but was much improved. That stuff is amazing! It still looks bad but only hurts if I accidentally rub it against something or put my hand in hot water.

6 days later

I got another good produce haul the other day, tomatoes, zucchini broccoli, avocado, kiwi, red and green bell peppers and these luscious strawberries, all for $6.92!

I also bought a 1.5 liter bottle of homemade olive oil for just under $5. It looks awfully GREEN!

Homemade olive oil

I told you about needing a cellphone to actually call the elevator in my building. I tried putting that number into my regular cellphone but for some reason that doesn’t work. The little old cellphone they gave me doesn’t have a very good battery and I learned there’s a steep penalty for letting it run down. It’s climbing five flights of stairs while carrying a ton of groceries! Lesson learned.

Albania Vlore

Rainy Days & Gelato

I planned to return to Sarandë yesterday but I forgot to check the weather first. It was really blustery and pouring down rain. To get to the inter-city buses would have been about a half mile walk plus waiting up to 15 minutes for the bus to come by here. Then I’d have had to sit on the bus for 4 hours while probably soaking wet, as I didn’t bring my raincoat with me. More rain was also forecast for today so I decided to wait til tomorrow to go back. I did nothing but read yesterday and it was really nice to give my legs a rest…I’ve got terrible shin splints from all this walking.

Today turned out to be a gorgeous sunny day though! Good to know that Albanian weather forecasters aren’t any more accurate than the ones in the US. I decided to make the hike to that really big supermarket. On my corner of the main road is this little kiddie carnival setup with some rides & games.

It’s a 2.4 mile round trip hike from the nearest bus stop to Haso Hipermart and back. I am desperately seeking a source for stevia sweetener! All I’ve seen here so far is aspartame and that stuff is terrible for you. This store sounds like my best bet for finding it here.

Haso Hipermart really is a big store, and their prices are very good. But no stevia. I’m really bummed about that. I guess I’ll buy up a ton of it in Sarande and bring it back with me. And maybe I can get the little market around the corner to buy me a whole case of it, when I have a can of it to show them what I want.

On the way back to the bus stop I pass THREE gelato shops! I’ve never had gelato but I always look to see what flavors they have, and always tell myself there isn’t anything that sounds good enough. Until today. They had dark chocolate flavor! Oh. Who could pass that up? Certainly not I.

One scoop only costs $.80! I had a couple tiny bites with the teeny tiny spoon thing…oh MY!!!!! SO good! I decided to keep walking towards the bus stop. I was almost there when the bus pulled up so I ran for it, tossed the gelato in the trash and went to get on the bus but for some unknown reason the money-taker guy wouldn’t let me get on the bus! He shook his head no and the doors closed right in my face! I had to wait for the next bus and I badly wanted to dig my gelato out of the trash can but of course I didn’t do it. I guess it just goes to show that God approves of the Keto diet.

Albania Vlore

I Found a Great Apartment!

On Tuesday I finally met up with the Remax agents to look at a one bedroom $250 apartment in the city. The agent had said it was only a two minute walk to downtown. The apartment was cute as a button and I’d have taken it in a heartbeat except it turned out to be almost 3/4 mile from downtown, way too far to walk if it was rainy or if my knees start acting up.

And boy I’m glad! Yesterday the agent who’s renting me the Airbnb I’m staying in here in Vlore showed me two apartments. I fell in love with the first one, on the 5th floor of a new building just 1/2 block from the beach, the promenade and bus route. It’s $250 a month and that includes all furnishings, right down to the linens, bedding and kitchen equipment! Heck of a deal, though it’s pretty sparsely outfitted with kitchen utensils.

It’s a small two bedroom unit, one with a queen size bed and one with two twin beds. I’ll get to play Goldilocks, discovering which bed is best! There’s individual heat and AC mini-split units in the two outside-facing rooms. Not in the twin bedroom, as the temperature in there should stay fairly constant. There is a big fan on a stand in there if needed.

That window thing high on the left is a fixed pane frosted glass that lets light into the second bedroom, as it doesn’t have an outside window.
Check out that whole wall of closet space!! I’m gonna have to buy a lot more clothes!

The kitchen has a nice amount of counter space with room for a microwave. The stove is really cool;  it’s got two gas burners and two electric burners! I’ve never seen anything like it but it’s a great idea!

The living room has a big L-shaped sofa that’s lime green and cream. It wouldn’t be my choice of colors, but it’s okay. There’s a big flat screen TV that has at least one movie channel in English with Albanian subtitles. Maybe more; I haven’t explored what’s available. I really don’t watch TV much. I’d rather read.

This is the water heater, mounted high on the wall in the bathroom. They all seem to be this type here.

And there’s even a bit of a sea view from the balcony! Hopefully no derelict campers will show up.

And a huge bonus….screens on all the windows! This is the first place I’ve seen that has screens!

I really loved it but thought I didn’t want it because it’s in the Lungomare neighborhood where all the tourists go. But it’s only a five minute bus ride to the heart of the city. Things got a lot more interesting when I mentioned to the agent that I’m not going to be here all summer. She said they have storage places where I could stash the stuff I’m not taking to Ohrid, and they would use the apartment as summer rental! They’ll get way more rent for those three months, and I won’t have to pay any rent while I’m away. Win-win. And I’ll get my apartment back in September, hopefully still in good condition.

Wifi and cable TV is included in the rent. I’ll have to pay for my water and electricity usage, which runs about $30-35 a month.

I moved in this morning. I’m supposed to go back to Sarandë tomorrow but I think I’ll stay an extra night and go back on Saturday. I still need to locate the bus station and find out what time the furgon leaves for Sarandë.

Albania Vlore

Vlorë  Day 2

I forgot to include this photo yesterday.  It’s a place along the roadside between Sarandë and Vlorë where you can fill your containers with spring water. There were at least a dozen free-flowing artesian wells, with several little booths selling honey,  olive oil and snacks. I wish I’d bought some of that honey.

And here’s an Albanian license plate. They sure are a lot easier to read than our US plates!

This morning the rental agent came over and showed me how to unlock the stove. You have to press two locations at once and hold them. I had tried that but I guess I just didn’t hold them long enough. She couldn’t get the wifi to work but she hooked me up on her office network,  which is right across the street.  It’s not very strong but it’s better than nothing! I am using data on my Albanian phone plan but the US phone won’t work at all without a wifi connection.  If I run out of data I can get an additional 5gb for $5.

Whoops! I just discovered this guy on my bed! Nope nope nope, little feller! I was able to scoop him up and take him outside.

The kitchen here is not well stocked. There’s only one bowl, one spoon and this huge Dutch oven is the only saucepan. There are two huge frypans, both with most of the nonstick coating scraped off. No spatulas, no salt & pepper, dishtowels or paper towels. And there’s only about 1/3 of a roll of t.p. in the bathroom so I’d better be frugal with it!

I am just a half block from the beach here and there’s a bit of a side view from the balcony. The beach here is sand, not pebbles like in Sarandë.  I saw a few hardy souls swimming yesterday! There’s a really nice wide promenade along the beach that goes for a couple miles.

View from my balcony

Later….I just got back from the city. I love it! I definitely want to live here! It’s much bigger than Sarandë and feels nicer and newer. The sidewalks are wide, without holes to fall into or trip over, and there’s a two lane bike path all along the road. The streets are tree-lined and there are places to sit and rest about every 50′.

I learned how to take the city bus! I just went out to the main drag and flagged down a bus as it came along. I gave the money guy a 100 Lek coin but he didn’t want to take it. I had to dig out a 50 Lek coin for the 40 Lek fare. ($.34) That’s way cheaper than the Sarandë bus; that one is 100 Lek each way. I was aiming for the Remax office but missed the nearest stop, and the driver refused to let me off before the next bus stop, so I had to walk back more than 1/4 mile. I thought that was kind of mean of him.

When I got there the office was closed! The agent had told me to just stop in anytime and someone would show me the apartment I’m interested in.  I texted the agent but got no reply so I wandered around a bit and found the Jumbo store. I felt like I won the lottery! It’s the biggest store I’ve seen yet here in Albania, and the prices seemed decent. It has all kinds of home goods and decor, and even some hardware items!  I was able to find a  small saucepan and small frypan, small bowls, a dishtowel, and even most of the items on my Most Wanted list! Measuring cups in cups, not  milliliters! Rubber bands and binder clips to close food bags after they’re opened! A thingy to help open bottles caps and jar lids! What a bonanza! (It takes so little to make me happy!)

Then I returned to the Remax office but it was still locked, so I just came home. I put my destination into Google Maps so I could follow along where the bus was going and that way I was able to get off in the right place. I’m so proud of myself! Here the buses run every 15 minutes too, instead of just once an hour like Sarandë. That is so much more convenient! I’ll try to get a definite appointment time with Remax before I go back to the city. The agent for this apartment is supposed to let me know tomorrow what she has available but I don’t think she has anything actually IN the city.

So in spite of not getting to view the apartment, it felt like a really good day, and so far except for one mean bus driver, I love Vlorë!

Downtown Main Street
Albania Uncategorized Vlore

Vlorë Day 1

Today was our time change! I don’t know why we’re a week ahead of you. I found the right bus in Vlorë and paid 1000 Lek ($8.45). It was a “furgon”, a large van that seated about 24 people.

We left right on time and I thought it was a 2.5 hour trip. Nope! Ot actually took 4 hours to go about 85 miles. The driver kept stopping to pick up more people waiting at the roadside along the way. I sat right behind the driver so I could see out the windshield. He spent the whole time either talking on the phone, texting or turning around talking to guy across the aisle from me. It was a little nerve-wracking.

Halfway there we stopped for a rest break at a place that had a little restaurant and a little restroom building. Uh oh, I had to go pretty badly and had left my phone on the bus, so I couldn’t translate and I didn’t know which side was for women and which for men! I waited until I saw a man come out and chose a cubicle on the other side. (I’m a GRA) What a surprise….my very first floor toilet!

I’m a GRA
Yep, that’s the toilet!

Then after a while we came to a roundabout where Vlorë was one way and Tirana was the other. The driver made me and 3 others get off the bus at the side of the road! I’m so glad I wasn’t the only one. After about 10 minutes another furgon came along and picked us up and took us into Vlorë, for an additional $3. I took a taxi out to the apartment complex. It was at least 1/2 off the main drag, up a really steep twisty hill. I went where the taxi guy pointed but couldn’t find the office. Turns out, I was supposed to go to their office in town! I wasted $8 on a taxi and the agent had come out, pick me up and drive me back to town. She suggested I stay at a different apartment in town, and I jumped on that idea because there’s no way I could have hiked that hill to get to amd from the bus!

So this place is cute but weird. The kitchen is enclosed but in order to get to it, you have to go out on the terrace first! It’s obvious that they just enclosed part of the balcony. It’s odd because there’s actually room inside the apartment for a little kitchen. Oh well. It’s a studio with bathroom, bed, sofa and table. And the little outdoor kitchen. It’s just 1/2 block from the beach and there’s a little market right next door!

The entry to the kitchen….from the balcony!

The kitchen has a two burner electronic hot plate, similar to the stove in Ecuador that I struggled with so much. And guess what, just like the stove in Ecuador, I can’t get the darn thing to obey my commands. It shows that it’s locked and nothing I do changes it’s evil little mind. So tonight’s dinner was cold ham and some cheese and walnuts. I won’t be able to have my nightly cup of decaf, which is pretty close to a National Emergency in my mind! I’ll have to go get help from the agent tomorrow morning; their office is directly across the street.

So tomorrow starts the apartment hunting! Wish me luck!