Categories
Albania Uncategorized Vlore

Never a Dull Moment

So. More changes. I don’t fully know the extent of them just yet. A friend who’s in the know advised me to go ahead and apply for Residency now instead of waiting until I’ve been here the full 12 months of free visa for Americans. It seems the European Union is pressuring member countries to set the income requirements to €2000 euros a month. Albania is not an EU member but they have applied, so they would have to comply at some point. And the changes usually happen without advance warning. For instance in February of last year, Albania withdrew the 12 month free Visa for Americans without warning  and suddenly there were a whole bunch of Expats who had overstayed the new 90 day visa! Eventually they ruled that if they had entered before January, they’d be grandfathered in. And then a few months later they completely reversed the decision and the 12 month visa was back!

Without warning, Cyprus raised their income requirement from €900 a month (same as here) to €2000, plus raised the bank deposit requirement from €10,000 to €24,000 (a year’s expenses) effective January 1. Several other European Union countries require bank deposits of €10,000 to €25,000. If this happened here, I’d be ineligible!

So I’m applying for Residency now. I need to supply an Apostilled (special certification by the US Government) income statement from Social Security, a certification that I’m not a criminal (available from the US Embassy in Tirana), an Albanian bank account for direct deposit of my income, proof of health insurance and at least a one year notarized apartment lease. And you have to apply within 30 days of entering the country, so I have to leave and come back to reset my entry date.

I already feel completely overwhelmed by all this! I have contracted a facilitator to help me wade through it all. It’s going to end up costing $1000-1200 before it’s all done.

I checked and getting an Apostille is easy enough and only costs $20. But the government website advises a 10-12 week wait time! So I had to use an Apostille service that hand-carries the documents to the Apostille office. It cost $150 but they got it done the same day! It is already on the way to my friend Raquel, who will send it to the facilitator in Tirana via DHL. The shipping cost for that is approximately $147!!

Next I spent half the day yesterday researching the cheapest and easiest way to leave the country and reenter. I’m going to Italy! For one whole day! I can fly to Bari (just north of Italy’s “bootheel”) for $47 round trip on Wizz Air, get a $70 hotel for the night and return the next day at around 1 pm which will allow time for visiting the Embassy for my criminal check, and still get back home that same day. I think it’s a two hour bus trip to Tirana.

I really was dreading to ask about getting a notarized apartment lease because it involves the owners having to file and pay 15% tax on the rental income. A lot of apartment owners just don’t want to be bothered. But I decided to go visit the rental again and get her to ask.

The elevator here has been out of order for five days! And due to the thick cement floors and 10′ ceilings here, that means 90 stairsteps. It’s terrible on my poor knees, especially when carrying a bunch of groceries and a 7 liter jug of water. When I finally got to the ground floor yesterday, I saw a sign on the elevator. It says the elevator is broken and the parts to fix it cost €1300. The apartment owners must pay for the parts before they’ll order them, and once ordered, it will take at least a month to get the parts. How long will it take to collect that money from all the mostly absentee owners??

So just like that, the being elevatorless took precedence over getting a new lease. I can’t live on the 6th floor without an elevator; I just can’t. So I may have to move. The rental agent is out of town until Tuesday. Back when I was apartment hunting, the owner of this apartment also showed me a one bedroom apartment in an adjacent building; maybe he owns both? I don’t remember a thing about that other apartment but I think it was cute. I don’t remember anything bad about it, I just liked this one better. If I have to move I’d really like to stay in this neighborhood. The one bedroom unit would be cheaper too, as if I stay here all year long my rent will probably increase by about $100 a month!

So I’m not going to N. Macedonia for the summer. I canceled my Airbnb in Ohrid, and was penalized 30 days’ rental fee plus some service fees….$545! Gulp. But that’s somewhat offset by not having to pay the other two months’ $465 a month rent plus $450 for travel insurance required to enter the country. I’m relieved about that; I didn’t want to go and have my apartment taken over by casual renters who might spill things on the sofa or scratch the new glass cooktop, etc. I can’t imagine what the summer will be like here, with triple the population. The traffic and parking are already awful and the buses are often Standing Room Only! It’ll be interesting, I’m sure.

Advertisement
Categories
Albania Vlore

Exploring the Neighborhood

Update on a few things…..I fixed the sofa cushions! It’s a big L-shaped sofa with 5 identical back cushions so I switched them around until I found a combination where the stripes lined up better. Now the cushions on the end that I sit on are wildly “off” but I don’t care because I don’t have to look at them. That’s better!

And the landlord didn’t return until three days later, after I’d given up on being presentable at all times. So it was again Scary Janis who answered the door….poor guy! Same baggy fleece pants, mismatched and wildly clashing fleece shirt, no bra, fuzzy teeth. I had at least brushed my hair this time, for whatever that’s worth.  I think he said they had to order a part for the mini-split AC unit in the bedroom so that means another surprise visit at some point. Sigh. I’m afraid he’s just going to have to chalk Scary Janis up to me being old, or American. Or both.

I read that they’re building a new international Airport here in Vlorë! It will take 2-3 years to build and it will have direct flights to the US.  That’ll be nice!

It’s a really nice day, sunny and 64° so I went out exploring my neighborhood a bit more. About 2.5 blocks away I found a second meat store, another little produce market and a fresh fish store! I got some salmon that was $7.50 a pound, pretty pricey, especially compared to the little teeny fishies I usually get that are $.75 a pound. And for the first time I saw goat meat for sale….the whole goat was on display at the meat market! I didn’t buy any but I do wonder what it tastes like.

I also went into a little variety store and got some really thick sweatpants and a sweatshirt. I’ve been mourning the nice warm sweatpants I had to leave behind because they were too bulky and too heavy. These weren’t cheap, $20 for both but they’re really nice. The pants are big; I could have used a smaller size but I held them up to me and they seemed too small. They’re just for wearing around the house so big is okay. The man & wife store owners were really sweet.

I sure lucked out with this neighborhood; it’s got everything I need! To think I didn’t want to live in this area because it’s the tourist side of town! I’m so glad I didn’t rule it out completely and not even look at this apartment. Now I really only need to go into the city to get cash from the ATM. 

I stopped at my little grocery on the way home for a few items. If the total is over 1000 Leke (about $9) they’ll take a credit or debit card. I think it’s really funny that I can tap my “contactless” debit card but they also still make me sign the receipt. Then I went to the produce market and got lettuce and 3 little tangerines. I just want one bunch of lettuce but they always have two bunches hooked together. Today it was four bunches; a huge armload of it! I can’t keep it fresh long enough. Because it’s not refrigerated here, it’s kinda limp right from the start. But I guess it’s okay if some gets tossed out; it only cost $.70 and the tangerines were 3 for $.08! 

I love this place!

Categories
Albania Vlore

Albania’s Independence Day

Today (November 28) is a national holiday, Albania’s Independence Day, the day when their Declaration of Independence from the oppressive Ottoman Empire was signed in 1912. And it happened right here in Vlorë!

I’m afraid my antisocial side kicked in and I opted not to go downtown for any of the festivities, sorry. I tend to avoid crowds and events like that. But it’s a beautiful sunny 55° day so I did go out to the beach at about 1 pm. I was astounded by the numbers of people who were out and about! The beach promenade was filled with people strolling and lots of people were relaxing at the many outdoor restaurant patios.

Notice the nice two-lane bike path on the left

Here’s a menu board for one of the coffee shops along the promenade. 70 Leke for coffee is only $.62 US; cappuchino is $1.07. Of course the coffee comes in little bitty cups too though! Lëng frutash is fruit juice.

The beach is nice hard-packed sand, with lots of little tiny shells. The water looks pretty clean but definitely not gin-clear like in Sarandë, so it never is that gorgeous “Mama Mia” blue color. I was surprised at how clean the beach was, as trash is a huge problem here. People think nothing of just throwing down their candy wrappers, water bottles, drink cups….even when they’re standing next to a trash can! Perhaps people go along the beach and pick up the trash every morning?

I found an app called Albanian Weather and it’s way more accurate than the so-called AccuWeather app! The temps have taken a sudden downturn.  This week they’ve been around 55/40. Last week it was still in the 70’s! But this week’s temps are more the norm. December averages 50/36 and it’s the wettest month of the year, with about 12 rainy days and 6.7″ of rain. But hey, no snow!

Categories
Albania Sarandë Albania Vlore

All Moved In

Yesterday Sarandë Taxi picked me up (in a Mercedes!) and brought me back to Vlorë with my big pile of stuff. It only took 2 3/4 hours rather than 4 hours by bus and was far more comfortable, though it did cost 12x as much ($100). He took the coast road part of the way, then cut over to the new, faster inland route.  Both are pretty curvy but that coast road is a constant series of corkscrew turns with hardly any straightaways. He was a fast and good driver but he was a big fan of passing everyone else on the road, mostly on blind curves. Oy! But we made it in one piece and he helped me cram all the stuff into the elevator at my building. There was hardly any room left for me! (It’s a very small elevator, maybe 4′ square)

That elevator! They gave me a little old Nokia cellphone that I have to use to call the elevator.  Literally…it actually calls the elevator! And then when the elevator answers, then it unlocks and I can use it. I’ve never heard of such a thing. They said it was for security purposes so I thought “Oh okay, that’s a good thing, even if it is a royal pain.” But wait….the stairs are all open; are all the thieves and lowlives here too lazy to take the stairs? If they can’t access the elevator, they just give up and slink away? Interesting.

I’m almost all unpacked, just one more big suitcase to go. I acquired some new stuff before I left Sarandë so I had more to move than I anticipated. The little supermarket had a new display of really pretty stoneware dishes. The new apartment only had one serving size bowl so I bought one bowl. The prices weren’t marked (that’s pretty normal here) and I was shocked when I checked out….it only cost $1.46! I went home and started thinking about how I really didn’t like the dishes at the new apartment, and I went back and got 4 dinner plates and 4 smaller bowls. The plates were $1.90 and all the bowls were $1.46 each. Such a deal! And the really funny thing is that not mine, but some of the other dishes had Walmart’s Mainstay logo on the bottom! How on earth did they find their way to Albania?!

I also bought some good slippers in Sarandë, for only $5. I know they’re good because it says so…in English!

GOOD slippers!

So I’m here until June. NICE! There are many things I like better about this apartment.  I like that it has two bedrooms, in case I ever do have guests, and the beds are all comfortable. I like that the floor tile is a marbled beige color and not plain white like the other one (it showed every little speck of dirt). I love that it’s got the cool stove with two gas and two electric burners, and a nice convection oven. And it’s very sunny in winter…hopefully not so much in summer! The little grocery store is only 100′ away instead of 4 blocks, the beach here is sand, not gravel, and it’s much more accessible. The buses run every 15 minutes instead of only once an hour. And the city is cleaner, with wide safe sidewalks.

Trash here is a huge problem. It’s everywhere. People think nothing of just throwing their cigarettes, wrappers and trash on the ground or out the car windows. I’m not sure if it’s just Albanians with this attitude or if it’s other nationalities also, because tourists here come from all over. It’s ugly though.

Remember my sweet potato with the long sprouts? It’s now my first houseplant! I stuck it in a mayo jar in water, cut the sprouts a lot shorter and it took right off! I emptied out the water for the trip here and it came out looking pretty sad and depressed but it’s perked right up. I think they’re pretty hardy little vines. I’m happy to have a plant! I’ll have to find it a nicer jar or vase. Maybe when I have to leave, the new renters will care for it over the summer.

It’s supposed to rain on the weekend so I’m planning on staying home. But with all that walking last week, I did lose 2#! I hope to do more of that but right now I’m ready to sit here in my cute little apartment and read to my heart’s content, and let the rest of the world go right on around me.

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.