A Look Back

Sunday 30 December 2012

With a new year around the corner, it's a great time to reflect on the past and I'm so thankful to have this blog to chronicle our experiences.  It's fun to look back, read old posts, and reflect on how far we've come.

Here are some of my favourite posts from 2012:

Joe and I leave Saskatchewan today and say good-bye to my family and we head West to Washington state where we'll ring in 2013.  

We wish you a safe and happy new year!

Another Christmas Come and Gone

Thursday 27 December 2012

Well, Christmas has come and gone for another year.

We had round 1 of the holiday with Joe's family in Alberta before taking off to Saskatchewan to spend Christmas day with my family.  As the temperatures plunged below -30 degrees Celsius, we took refuge inside with drinks, games and far too many Christmas treats.  This year, my niece is 3 years old and she's brought a whole new life to the holidays.  We left out lunch for Santa, woke up relatively early on Christmas morning not even begrudgingly, watched as she ripped through stockings and gifts with fervour and had so many toys and activities to play with after all was said and done.

With the temperatures warming slightly, we're going to start braving the cold and venturing out.  The holiday visits have started with company popping over pretty regularly and we're finally running low on turkey leftovers.
Our new niece, Gabby
My brother, Corbin, Joe and my brother-in-law, Kyle on Christmas Eve 

 A stocking as big as Kyptin!

Someone is pretty excited about Canadian beer in his stocking! (Steamwhistle if you are curious.)

A Cinderella dress from Auntie & Uncle

We'll be spending the rest of the week with my family before jetting off to Washington state for New Years Eve and finally, Vancouver to visit friends of mine before returning to Norway.

I hope you all have had a happy holiday whether you've been celebrating with family or abroad starting new traditions!


Wednesday 19 December 2012

Christmas holidays in 2008

Joe and I are currently sitting fireside at his sister's house in Canada where we're trying to stay out of the -24 degree cold.  We spent the weekend shopping, eating & catching up with friends and now we're here, reunited with his family after 18 months.  

I apologize if I'm a bit slow to respond over the next couple of weeks as we're soaking up as much time as possible with our friends & family.  We wish you a happy holiday season and safe travels if you are heading elsewhere.

The Prague Christmas Markets

Monday 17 December 2012

One of the bonuses of visiting Prague in the winter are the Christmas Markets.  We don't have these outdoor markets where we come from in Canada (most likely due to the weather) and we missed out on the Christmas feeling last year as we spent the holidays in Gabon so both of us were really looking forward to getting into the Christmas spirit.

While they were setting up the market in Old Town Square when we arrived in Prague, the kickoff was Saturday evening with the lighting of the tree.  Having spent the afternoon on the other side of the river, we followed the crowds back to the square just after dark.  There were literally thousands of people trying to find a spot around the large tree; children bundled up in snowsuits, ready to be hoisted onto their parents' shoulders, young couples holding hands and tourists all taking part.

Eventually, the lights in the square were dimmed and a few minutes later, the tree lighting ceremony began, set to instrumental music.  It was a bit of a spectacle with different sections illuminating to the music until finally, it all culminated in the entire tree lighting up to the cheers of the crowd.

Hot wine, beer, old Prague Ham, freshly made potato chips and my personal favourite, the trdelnik were found throughout the market.  At 50 czech korunas ($2.50) we couldn't afford to turn anything down and even skipped dinner twice just to snack.

I couldn't count how many of these delicious pastries I consumed over the course of our stay in Prague. Dough wrapped around a stick, roasted over hot coals and then seasoned with sugar and cinnamon made the perfect treat at any point in the day.

It was the perfect start to December and the Christmas season and great to see Prague in festive spirits.

The Prague Castle

Friday 14 December 2012

The Prague castle dates back to 880 and is considered the largest castle complex in the world at 70 000 square metres.  It certainly has a strong presence in the city, perched atop with the towers of the cathedral visible for miles.

We made our way to the castle via trolley just in time for noon on Saturday.  There were several admission choices but we chose the full admission so we'd get to see everything we could.  Unfortunately, visiting in the winter meant that we'd have to miss out on the palace garden, which are often my favourite parts of these estates.

The cathedral was by far the most impressive building on site and arriving just after noon had the sun shining through the beautiful stained glass around the exterior of the building leaving colourful patterns on the columns inside.

Afterwards, we moved on to the palace itself where we were led into the grand hall and into another smaller rooms before returning the way we came.

Our favourite part of the entire complex was the Golden Lane - a long row of colourful houses once inhabited by those who worked at the palace.  Each little,often one room, home was furnished as it would have been for the different tenants.  The seamstress, herbologist, metalsmith, among others were all included and the stories featured on the outside of the homes gave an interesting description as to what it would have been like living in the quarters over the years.

To be completely honest, the Prague castle didn't really do it for us.  While there are certainly some impressive things, it felt more like a mini city or a complex than a castle.  It was also really crowded (I can't even imagine it during high season) and we felt the layout and organisation of the sites left a lot to be desired.  Often times the entrance and exits to the buildings would be funnelled through the same small doors leaving jams of people waiting or pushing through.  The information boards were often put in inconvenient places making it near impossible to stand and read and we felt like we hardly had access to much of the sites.  After viewing a couple of breathtaking castles in Spain, the Prague castle didn't have the same effect on us.

With that being said, it was still worth visiting and interesting nonetheless.

The Egersund Christmas Market

Wednesday 12 December 2012

When we booked our trip to Prague, we both had really hoped to see snow.  So far, winter in Norway had only shown us rain, rain and more rain and we were looking forward to a change.  Funny enough, we didn't see a single snowflake in Prague yet found several inches of snow on our car when we arrived home to Stavanger.

It's been 2 years since either of us have been in a real winter wonderland and there's nothing like days of below 0 temperatures and snow covered rooftops to put a Canadian in the Christmas spirit.

Christmas markets are popping up all over Europe and this was a tradition I was so looking forward to. Egersund, a small Norwegian town South of Stavanger, is known to have our area's best Christmas market so we took a little road trip on Saturday to take part in the festivities.

The little town of Egersund was packed with people, bundled up and enjoying the festivities.  Little shops lined the streets selling homemade products but the crowds certainly gathered around the stalls selling food.  The Norwegian pølse (hot dog), juleøl (Christmas beer), smoked salmon all hits among the attendees.  Christmas carols were sung, bands played and the children played in their Santa outfits.

It was a great afternoon spent celebrating the upcoming holidays and our last weekend in Norway before we head home to our families for Christmas.

Prague - Our Second Context Walk

Monday 10 December 2012

On top of Vitkov Hill during our Context Walk

After a fantastic first experience with Context in Berlin, we couldn't wait to do another walk and Prague happens to be 1 of the 21 cities where they offer their services.  I debated back and forth between 2 walks but eventually decided on "From Iron Curtain to Velvet Revolution, a Tour of Communist Prague."

We lucked out again – only one other man joined us on this tour and he was actually shadowing our docent as he decided if he wanted to join Context.  Our docent was born in Russia although he spent over 20 years in the United States and the other man with us was born and raised in Prague, currently teaching at a University in the city.  It was quite interesting to hear the history as well as 2 different perspectives on it.  

Of course, we learned a lot about communism in Prague and Czechoslovakia but what is most interesting to me were the little insights, things we most likely would never have known without the walk.  For example, as we walked to Vitkov hill we took a large tunnel to the other side which was built as a bomb shelter during the Cold War scare.  The underground metro system as well as several other sites are still maintained as bomb shelters to this day, stocked with emergency supplies, electricity and pressurized to accommodate 40% of the population just in case bombs start dropping.  In fact, the warning sirens still ring on the first Wednesday of the month.

As we neared the end of our walk, our docent suggested we stopped for a cup of coffee and as we weren't pressed for time, we graciously accepted.  We ended up chatting about all sorts of things, eventually leaving to finish off our itinerary an hour and a half over our scheduled time.  

For the second time, our Context walk was one of the highlights of our trip and I only wished I would have booked both walks.

[By the way, Context currently is currently offering 15% off if you book a walk in 2 of 3 cities (Vienna, Prague & Budapest.)  They also do gift certificates if you're needing a gift for a traveller.]

Prague - Praha - Praga

Friday 7 December 2012

We're back after 5 fantastic days in Prague.

It didn't take long for us to fall for this historical Bohemian capital with it's medieval architecture, intriguing history, cheap beer and friendly people.

The history is fascinating; founded in 885 it's been through the hands of Good King Wenceslas, King Charles, the Hussite revolution, Nazi occupation, communism, and the Velvet Revolution.  Prague is home to the world's oldest, working astronomical clock and the world's biggest ancient castle and countless other sites including the historic centre, on the UNESCO World Heritage List since the early 90s.

Installed in 1410, the astronomical clock celebrated it's 600th birthday in 2010 and it can be found in the Old Town Square.  As we stood waiting for the hour to change, Joe and I joked that probably nothing would happen but when the skeleton started ringing the bell, the doors opened, the characters started rotating through and finally, the trumpet sounded from atop the tower we couldn't help but feel as if we were in a fairytale.

With 5 full days to explore the city, we could take our time, stopping periodically to warm up with tea or hot chocolate or pop into a pub to sample czech beer.  We appreciated the walkability of the city, hardly needing public transport or taxis as we wandered from site to cafe to street to pub.

There's a lot to share - the Prague Castle, the Christmas Market, the Jewish Museum, a monastery - too much for one post thus they'll be popping up over the next couple of weeks.

Hope you have a lovely weekend - we're looking forward to our first Norwegian Christmas Market and a little downtime.

You know you live in Norway when...

Wednesday 5 December 2012

It's no secret, Norway is expensive.

It doesn't come as much of a shock to us as we find it quite similar to Gabon but where we notice it most is in the alcohol.  In Gabon, beer was cheaper than water.  In Norway, a bottle of domestic beer in the grocery store will cost you close to $5.  Yes, $5/can in the grocery store.  Hard alcohol seems to be the worst with a bottle of vodka costing around $70.

Our first flight into Norway, Joe and I sauntered off the plane into the terminal only to be pushed aside as a mass of Norwegians and expats literally began running to the Duty Free store.  We stood by and watched as they grabbed carts and rushed around the store filling it with mounds of alcohol.  We laughed and continued on our way to collect our bags.  Little did we know, we'd later regret that decision.
Our stock after Prague.
Now, we plan ahead of time.  We study the limits and work out exactly what we'll each get in order to make the most of our duty free shopping experience.  Some may think this is a sign of a problem, I think it's being budget conscientious.

{I'm also on Lost in Travels today with a post about perspectives after expatriations.  Check it out here if you are interested!}

{EXPATRIATED} Nicole from La Mia Vita

Monday 3 December 2012

Sometimes I get the impression that people think we are crazy for leaving all that we are familiar with for a life abroad but we aren't the only ones who have chosen this lifestyle.  In fact, there are a lot of us and many of us blog about it.  Expatriated is a series to introduce you to other expat bloggers.

I'm honoured to feature Nicole from La Mia Vita on Expatriated today.  She's one of those ladies doing this whole expat thing on her own - something I'm not sure I'd be able to do!  She exudes positivity, takes lovely photos and has been taking some pretty cool weekend trips around Europe.

·      Where are you from and where did you move to?
I’m from San Francisco (which I love love love and plan on moving back to) but my parents/family live in Southern California so I call both home.
I spent a few months in Barcelona and now I am in Madrid for the year!
·      How did you end up there and what inspired you to make the move?
I studied abroad in Florence during college and after that incredible experience I always knew I would live abroad again. For 6 years there was always the excuse of finishing college, then continuing school to get my teaching credential, relationships, jobs, etc but then all those things ended and I had no more excuses to hide behind my fear of taking the leap.
I randomly found a master’s program for Bilingual and Multicultural Education (perfect for my career!) here in Madrid. I got accepted and even though I was very nervous to move abroad by myself, I knew I couldn’t pass up the opportunity.

·      What is the best part of living overseas?
I’m sure everyone has the same answer…  the ability to travel!
I have a very long Europe bucket list and plan on taking advantage of taking advantage of every free weekend, cheap flight, airbnb and peoples couches to cross it off! :)

·      What do you miss the most from home (besides friends & family?)
You know, there isn’t much about home that I miss besides my friends, family and just the comforts of home. I don’t even miss the food all that much. I’d say the things I’m missing from home are just the experiences I’m missing out on there.
Living abroad is an incredible experience but at the same time you are trading these experiences for experiences back home. I’m giving up memories of my little brothers growing up, San Francisco fun and friends and family adventures. But of course I don’t think anyone every regrets the trade.
·      What is the most difficult thing to adjust to in Madrid?
No beach!!!
And the Spanish system. So frustrating sometimes because everything just seems so illogical and inefficient, but you just have to take a deep breathe and accept it.
And the extreme temperatures! 110 in the summer and snowing in the winter… This California girl is going to have serious problems come winter.

·      Any funny ‘whoopsies’ while adjusting to your new life?
OHHH a ton! Most have to do with not speaking Spanish very well.
 My first month I was washing my clothes, I kept telling my friends that the water must be really harsh here because my clothes were not getting clean, they smelled and felt really funny… well a month later when I learned a little more Spanish, I was doing laundry, took a look at my ‘detergent’ and realized I had been watching my clothes with only SOFTNER for a month!
·      Saving graces (ie. things that made life abroad easier?)
Hands down, Blog World. I can’t imagine doing this and being happy without the support of blog world. Not only do I get to share my adventures with others but I have also met friends here in Spain and Europe through blogging! It’s crazy to think I never would have met those friends had it not been for blogging.

·      What is the biggest lesson you learned from your time in Spain?
Stepping out of my comfort zone.
I like my comfort zone and my little bubble, like most people. But when you come with no friends, no family, no significant other, you are forced to step out of your comfort zone and go to intercambio meet up, meet up with people you’ve met online (even though at first it seems really weird) ask for things in a language you don’t know that well and learn to be comfortable all on your own.
·      If you had the chance to move elsewhere in the world, where would you go and why?
Oh, that’s a hard one and a conversation I’ve had with a lot of people. There is a huge difference between wanting to visit somewhere and wanting to actually live somewhere. There are a lot of places I would love to live like Amsterdam, Paris and  Prague, but only during the Summer, Spring and Fall. I don’t think I could handle the winters.  I would also love to live in Andalusia, Spain and San Sebastian.

·      Do you have any advice for the newly expatriated?
Learn the language before you move! I wish I had done this. It makes it so much easier to adjust to the culture, make friends and get settled if you can communicate with people!

Patience and flexibility… every single day

Don’t expect anything to be like home. Just go ahead and assume everything will be more difficult, customer service will be nonexistent, everything’s more expensive than you think, and nothing tastes the way you expect. You won’t be disappointed and then you will be pleasantly surprised when things are as you’d hope. 


Thank you Nicole!

I completely agree with your advice!  I always prefer to be pleasantly surprised than disappointed!

You can check out more of Nicole's life in Spain and her travels all over Europe here.
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