Culture shock

We’re here! In Albania!

It’s my second full day. It is starting to feel like we’re here for more than just a holiday. And its overwhelming on a number of fronts.

We’ve moved into a brand new, almost completely empty apartment that’s being generously loaned to us. It’s awesome but it feels a little like we’re camping so today we hit the markets to find some bargains to help kit the place out – primarily deck chairs so that we can sit on the balcony with a Birra Tirana and watch the world go by!

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We’re also in the suburbs – a big change from living in the centre of London. But the suburb is brand spanking new – eight years ago there was nothing here. Now there are roads, blocks of apartments, shops, restaurants, a school and a cable car up to the top of Dajti, the tallest mountain overlooking Tirana. And the development continues at great speed.

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While the hubby’s family has  helped make our transition the smoothest possible, there is no mistaking that this is a whole other world we’ve just moved to – from goats grazing on the side of pot-holed roads, to some very creative construction work.

Then there is the language barrier. I’ve never been a great one for languages but I can comfortably say my vocabulary has doubled since I arrived – not hard when I only knew half a dozen words before my arrival. I’m coping for the moment – but being someone who likes to chat, I know that learning the language is critical to my future happiness.

I’ve also become the proud owner of proper slippers… no Albanian home is without them:

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And the pace of life has slowed to a crawl. It’s awesome. There is no rush for us to do anything and the whole year is  yawning out in front of us. Bliss.


Family reunions

So, flights are booked. We leave soon. Like, really soon. In less than three weeks’ time I will meet my husband and his family in Tirana and will be enveloped by a whole other life. I am so excited. In less than two weeks’ time my husband will step off the plane in Tirana and into the arms of his family for the first time in 12 years.

This is my dream come true.

For complicated reasons we aren’t travelling to Tirana together but I so wish I could be there to witness this family reunion. It has been so longed for by so many people. (I’m told a pig will be killed in celebration!)

What isn’t going well is my London bucket-list. It’s poorly populated with a few random places I haven’t yet managed to tick off in the last decade. I suspect none of them will be visited and I will end up spending my last few days lurking around my favourite haunts.

In the meantime, cardboard boxes are taking over our living room and we have been marking the occasion of our departure with boozy nights in the pub with lovely friends. Leaving everyone is such a wrench. A huge part of what has made London my home for the last 10 years has been the quality of my friends! Surely evidence of a life well lived is in the quality of the people who’ve come along for the ride?! And you’re all spectacular!

Albania – Strategic Plan 2014


  1. Move to Albania
  2. Sort out official paperwork
  3. Get legally married
  4. Have big, crazy, multi-day Albanian wedding party
  5. Learn the language
  6. Become an Albanian housewife
  7. Complete road trip from Tirana to Munich
  8. Visit the family in Italy
  9. Complete road trip of Albania
  10. Gain visa for whichever country we choose to settle in

Success will be measured by:

  1. Possession of a marriage certificate
  2. The biggest, baddest Albanian wedding album EVER
  3. Ability to conduct a basic conversation in Albanian without making people laugh (unless I’m being purposefully amusing)
  4. Ability to bake bread, make grappa, kill chickens and magic out of thin air a meal for a room full of guests with a moment’s notice
  5. A sizeable collection of memories, photos and souvenirs of happy road trips
  6. Possession of appropriate visas for final country of settlement

Moving on

When I first moved to London, nearly 10 years ago, I kept a travel blog. It was an easy way to update friends and family about my travels in a pre-Facebook age. I was off on my big adventure. I had my one-way ticket out of Auckland and the world was my oyster. I had absolutely no idea what I was going to do!

[I remember the morning before I jumped on the plane I was in the shower and just had this big panic attack and turned into a sobbing mess (proper ugly sobbing) – I was terrified, like leaving-all-the-safety-nets-of-home terrified. I just want to say, it doesn’t necessarily get any easier with age and experience. ]

A few months into my adventure I was settled into London… in the job I was to stay with for nearly 10 years, living above a street I’m still living above. And on my travel blog I wrote this list of things I loved about London:

1. London is the world’s biggest intersection. There’s always someone I know passing through. I’ve had so many house guests lately – and it’s great. I love taking people around the neighbourhood. And catching up with some of the people I’ve met on my travels.

2. I’m never bored. I guess that’s what you get from a city of over 8 million people – there’s always heaps to do – people to hang out with – pubs to sit in – galleries/museums to visit. I’m not too sure I’ll get through everything I want to before I have to head back to NZ.

3. The people here are mad. And that’s always entertaining.

4. My local pub has become my second living room. In fact, my first living room cos my flat doesn’t have one.

5. I’ve got this whole new bunch of lovely friends, who look out for me, who enjoy hanging out, who are all wonderful. This is a very cool thing.

6. I get a huge amount of holidays here. And there’s no shortage of places to go to use them up. This is very exciting. I just seem to lurch from one holiday to the next.

7. I’m completely in love with my job. Yay. Maximum job satisfaction.

I still stand by (most) of that list! London is the world’s greatest city. The place heaves with life, not just in that there are so many people, but in its vibrancy and diversity. In its sense of itself, its confidence, its history, in the way it changes constantly. Most importantly, London has a brilliant sense of humour.

So there’s a big part of me can’t believe I’m leaving. But London has a Peter Pan mentality. If you’re not careful it sucks you in and convinces you that life is so good here that there is no need to move on. And sometimes in life, you just gotta move on.

So, in about two months’ time, I’ll farewell my London family. My life will once again be reduced to boxes and a couple of suitcases. One morning in February I’ll find myself ugly sobbing in the shower. And then I’ll get on a plane to Albania.

Becoming an Albanian housewife