Life Without Central Heating

   With the winter season closing in on us and my new book coming along on schedule, I found myself thinking about winters in Albania

   Coming from America I grew up in New York City and everybody had heat. I mean if you live in an apartment building in NYC, you have to leave the windows open to cool off when it is minus 5 outside. Steam heat, ahh, it was great. I grew up in a stand-alone house and the sound of listening to that old boiler’s low rumble was quite comforting. Slept many a night on the carpet next to the radiator. My Dad owned a sheet metal shop so we had covers that kept you from burning yourself. They got hot too, but it wouldn’t instantly create a blister like the bare radiators would. Making sure you put a pot of water on one or two to keep from drying out and waking up with your lips stuck to your teeth. Hahaha. That low knocking as they cooled down and heated up was like music in the winter. Not only did they keep you warm, you dried your gloves, scarfs and could hang your coat near the boiler in the basement to dry it out in no time. It was great!

   Laying out my clothes for tomorrow on my dresser top as I get ready to hop into bed and wrap myself up with the blanket.  I have visited and lived in a lot of places before coming to Albania, so it wasn’t like I was thinking; NO CENTRAL HEAT!!! ARE THEY CRAZY!!! Most of Europe that I have been to doesn’t have central heat and there are those that hold up a crucifix and call for the Parrish Priest to exorcise you. So as you can expect living with no central heating on a two week visit is kind of like camping out and is no big deal. Living without it for an entire autumn, winter and spring season requires a few lifestyle modifications. If you like camping you’re in! Me, I have a strong disdain for camping. I like nature, but I figure that’s why the caveman figured out putting some sticks together was a better idea.

   I arrived in Albania in November 2012 and it was a chilly season, it was the first time in 8 years that Shkoder had seen snow for Christmas. We lived in an apartment until the end of March 2013, and then we moved into what is now our apartment at my wife’s familial home.

   So how do you adjust to no central heating? Most bedrooms aren’t heated so the sheets have the same temperature as the room. Now that temperature will vary depending on the outside temp, radiant heat from the room you are using and heating, and the materials used in that room.

   That first apartment it had tiled flooring throughout on a cement slab with a small crawl space underneath. Insulation? Only on the newest buildings, wall thickness determines how cold they get and how much of the heat you generate is retained. You guessed it; thicker walls are better.

   Getting ready for bed at the minimum you want to run your hand between the sheets to warm them up a bit unless you like being completely woken up from the shock of hitting them at about 45 – 50 degrees. Me I sleep without a tee shirt so I have more skin exposed to contact.

   After preheating your bed sheets you want to quickly undress and layout your clothes in the order you want to put them on in the morning. There will be almost no heat in the entire apartment. Most of the buildings and apartments only have electrical outlets designed for a lamp, not for a 3500-watt continuous use heater so some caution is advised and 3 million Albanians manage to survive doing just fine without heat in the apartment all night. There are studies that say breathing cold air while sleeping is good for you. I remember being in a sleeping bag watching my breath as I exhale when I was in the military. It was kind of like that only I’m in a bed.

   You quickly jump into bed, managing to remember to keep your feet on the side carpets so you don’t send a signal to your brain to wake up before you freeze to death.  Ahhh, you snuggle under the covers, get a spot all warmed up as you are drifting off to sleep you remember you left the space heater on in the main salon!

   Morning comes, you know it’s chilly and I always get up about 6 AM, can’t help it. It’s a physical law; you have a limited time before that nice layer of warmth dissipates off your skin. You have just enough time to fantasize about sipping a big mug of coffee on a nice cool spring morning, maybe on a porch. Then that record scratching sound in your head interrupts your fantasy. That thin layer of warmth, it’s gone and your brain is screaming at you to get dressed. You put your head into your shirt sleeve and waste precious moments getting your head out the right hole. Tee-shirt secured you doff your pants stepping off the small carpet only once onto the tile. You react like it was hot coals under your feet. Grabbing my flannel shirt I pick up the space heater as I enter the hallway on my way to the bathroom.  I plug it in and put it dangerously close as it warms up while I wait for the water to warm up. Once I allowed myself to wonder what would happen if I accidently splashed water onto the heater. I didn’t want to dwell on that thought; GFI circuits aren’t exactly standard here.

   I do believe Isaac Newton or some other scientist said there’s another law that cold water is colder in a cold room, brrrr. The water takes forever to heat up, of course, if you are practicing for the polar jump this is a good way to start each morning. Having an insulated mat under the sink I have taken my slippers off and momentarily forgotten where I was. 

   We all have experienced walking on tile in the warmer months enjoying the cool feeling on our feet. It isn’t like that in the winter months; those lovely bits of square beauty emit more cold than the non-insulated windows do. Your feet landing on those lovely tiles send a shock wave to your brain. It increases the blood flow through your body, your feet retreat to the comfort of your thick soled slippers almost on their own. Good Morning!

   I finish up in the bathroom, the space heater has been at its peak for 2 minutes and now I have to unplug it and take into the kitchen which has a separate glass door that emits more cold into both the big salon and kitchen. I turn the gas stove on first and then plug in the space heater. The kitchen light flickers every time I plug the heater in, hmmmm. I was told that first night not to worry, it always does that.

  Taking a shower requires a little coordination and for me is the most inconvenient; I have to pre-heat the bathroom for 30 -45 minutes. It isn’t so bad once you get the shower all warm and steamy. The steam takes over the bathroom and aids in making the air temp warmer when you step out. Like getting up in the morning you have to have your clothes or a heavy robe waiting for you. The hallway seems to get longer and colder after a shower.

   The kitchen is small so it warms up relatively fast since the stove puts off a good amount of heat while my tea is brewing. The bluish gray light is turning to bright sunshine and that makes the kitchen feel even warmer.

   Like every marriage, someone is going to get up first and I am that one. By the time my wife gets up I have both space heaters up for an hour or two and the bathroom, kitchen and main salon are bearable. She doesn’t know why I get up so early, what is there to do, but she is happy that the heat is on.

  Oh, in my wife’s familial house we have wooden floors throughout, even in the bathroom. They aren’t warm by any means, but compared to tile…  

   Life without central heat, yeah, you can live without it even if you grew up in NYC.

 Until next time, See ya at the Forge!!!




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