Wednesday 30 May 2012

Seville was our last stop in Spain.  

(We decided to leave Madrid for another time as we didn't want to rush and we figured it would be fairly easy to get back to.)

Funny enough when we arrived in Seville and began to explore the first thing Joe said was, "Now this is what I expected Spain to be like."  I'm not exactly sure what it was - perhaps the giant bull fighting ring in the centre of town or maybe it was the atmosphere in the city as their largest festival of the year had just ended.  In any case, Seville had a lot to offer.

Like we did in all of the other cities, we spent a lot of time wandering the streets, browsing the shops and stopping for drinks.

One of the main attractions in Seville is the Real Alcazar, a royal palace in the city which originally was a Moorish fort.  

Again, the intricacies within the palace are unreal and the gardens were extraordinary.  (However, after just coming from The Alhambra, it did pale in comparison.)

It was fascinating to stand in a room where Christopher Columbus once stood after his second voyage.  The chapel is also home to one of the first paintings of the Americas and of Columbus himself.

I loved the Plaza de Espana and could envision ourselves wandering the park, people watching, riding bikes and taking naps under the trees for hours.

Seville was fantastic and the more time we spent there, the more I liked it.  Life felt easy and relaxed and it was the perfect place to cap off our Spanish holiday.


-We stayed at Hotel Monte Triana primarily because we were looking for somewhere easy to drive to (after trying to navigate Granada we didn't want to drive right in to the centre of town) and this was close enough to walk to the attractions.  The hotel rooms have recently been renovated and they were clean however this was the hotel I was least impressed with on our holiday.  It was quite loud and there were all sorts of little problems in the room.

-Both Joe and I needed a break from Spanish food and we found a fantastic little Italian place called Osteria L'Oca Guiliva.  We had such a great meal that we went back for a second time.  It opens at 8:30 pm and it was always full minutes after the door opened.  Reservations are recommended.

-There was always a line at the Real Alcazar but it moved quickly.  Again, we went in the morning to avoid the biggest crowds.


Monday 28 May 2012

Believe it or not, it's a little overwhelming rejoining the first world after several months in Gabon.  We're used to a fairly slow pace of life here.  In Gabon, we don't get a lot of choice in products we buy, restaurants we eat at, or things to do so when we're elsewhere, with so much choice, it's exhausting.  We were loving all that we were seeing in Spain but we were also starting to feel like we needed a bit of a break - a refresher of sorts.  That's when Marbella came up.

Marbella wasn't part of our original plan but when we decided we wanted a bit of a getaway, heading to the Southern coast of Spain seemed like the perfect place.  It's a fairly popular tourist sun destination and thus home to resorts, restaurants and golf courses.

It certainly didn't feel like the cultural peak of our holiday but we enjoyed the downtime.  In fact, I wasn't too upset when it started to rain for the first time since we arrived in Spain.  It gave us some time to relax, decompress and reflect.

I didn't use my camera in Marbella - only Instagram.

The view from our room

Catching up




-Because we were going to Marbella to get away from the business of cities, we didn't want to stay at a big hotel or resort.  We chose The Marbella Heights and it was exactly what we were looking for.  It's really quite small, more like a B&B, away from the tourists and resorts.  We had the entire place to ourselves and we appreciated the personal touch - especially the homemade breakfast in the morning.

-By the time we reached Marbella, our stomachs were back in good form and we were ready to indulge.  Both of us were craving Thai and had a great meal at Naga.

**My Instragram username is cjstjohn.**

{EXPATRIATED} Kisha from Chronicled

Friday 25 May 2012

Sometimes, I get the impression people think we are crazy for moving abroad but we aren't the only ones who have chosen this lifestyle.  In fact, there are a lot of us out there and many of us blog about it.  Expatriated is a new series I'm starting on this blog to introduce you to other expats.

I had the idea to start this series back before Christmas when I began planning the new blog but as you know, it took a long time to come to fruition.  I created the questions and lists of people whom I'd like to feature but it sat aside for months as I waited for From There to Here to launch.  From the beginning, I knew I wanted Kisha from Chronicled to be the first featured expat blogger because I was entranced by her journey to India.  Funny enough, the week my blog launched and the week I was to contact Kisha she also launched a similar series called Lady Abroad.  Great minds think alike!

While Kisha is recently repatriated, her experiences in India are enthralling so, without further ado...

Where are you from and where did you move to?

I’m from Toronto, Ontario, Canada and moved more than halfway around the world to New Delhi, India.
How did you end up there and what inspired you to make the move?
To be 100% honest, India was not a country that was on my “must-visit” list. To make a long story short, volunteering overseas is something I’d wanted to do for a long time and every few years or so I’d look into organizations that sent volunteers abroad but most of them, I felt, were too expensive. I was willing to go abroad and volunteer and they expected me to pay as well? Didn’t make sense. Anyways, in late 2008 I got laid off and over the next year or so the volunteering idea started coming up more and more. I discovered a great organization  called VSO that would cover most all of my expenses and decided to apply. After a series of interviews I was accepted and eagerly await word of where I would get a placement offer. I got an offer to Africa that was very tempting but too long (2 years), that I declined. I then declined a 1 year placement in a rural area in India. Finally, my 3rd offer was a placement in Delhi for a year. It just felt right. I accepted. And the rest is kinda history.

What was the best part of living overseas?

Oh my, I could go on and on. India might not have been a country that was on my "to visit" list before but now I can’t wait to go back. The best part? The wonderful friendships I made with like-minded amazing people from all over the world. Really having the opportunity to experience and live in a culture so different than my own; getting to know some of the ins and outs that might not be evident when you just visit a country for a few weeks. Experiencing a country with so much history and diversity - there was always something to do and there is literally something for everyone.

What did you miss the most from home (besides friends, family & Howard?)
**Howard is Kisha's dog.**

I was going to say Howard but you beat me to it! Hmm, you know - I actually didn’t miss the things I thought I would. I didn’t have a tv, a smartphone, or drive for that year and I didn’t really miss any of it at all. I didn’t miss pop culture (like hearing the latest songs, magazines etc) which is something I was hugely into before going abroad. And after a while I just got used to doing things differently than I did at home; I had a new "normal" (like brushing my teeth with bottled water instead of tap water, not having a shower - just a tap...doing my laundry by hand, etc.) After much thought, I guess I’d say the thing I missed the most was...earning a normal salary? I know, superficial right? But I could have done a lot more exploring (and shopping) had I not been on a volunteer budget.

What was the most difficult thing to adjust to in India?

The staring. I got stared at A LOT. It was never in a rude way or an intimidating way - but men and women, young and old, would stare and stare; I’ve never been asked to be in so many pictures in my life! I’d love to see these family photo albums with the one random black girl in them lololol. It's also a very male dominated society so that was difficult to get used to as well. Men are everywhere! Even shops for ladies are staffed by all that was weird for me.

Any funny ‘whoopsies’ while adjusting to your new life?

Hmm, not that I can remember.

Saving graces (ie. things that made life abroad easier?)

Making friends with people who were in the same boat (away from family & friends, in a different culture, new to the country) was definitely a saving grace. 

What is the biggest lesson you learned from your time in India?

Oh I can't pick just one! Always listen to your gut, it is possible to make genuine friendships as an adult, it's not always about me, at the end of the day people are more alike than different and just want to be heard, I can do anything I set my mind to.....I actually did a post with 10 lessons I learned here.

If you had the chance to move elsewhere in the world, where would you go and why?

Oh my gosh, there are so many places I would live - but the top of my list is Egypt. I have a crazy love obsession with that country; such an incredible history! If I got a job offer there, and could bring my dog, I'd move in a heartbeat lol.
Do you have any advice for the newly expatriated?
When I moved abroad my personal motto was "say yes more than I say no." I would give this advice to others. Adhering to this motto made me do things I probably wouldn't have done at home (nothing too crazy!) and enhanced my experience 10-fold. Invitations to parties of friends of friends I didn't know, last minute day trips, dinner invitations, dinner with boys I'd just met ;-), hosting parties, early morning yoga sessions...these are all things that at home I would have said "no" to but with my personal motto I said "yes" and am so thankful I did. When you move abroad it's so easy to get into that same comfortable routine you had at home - don't. 
At the same time, I'd say always listen to your gut. If something doesn't feel right it probably isn't. Even if you think you'll look "foolish" (like hopping out of a taxi/rickshaw you feel uncomfortable in or something...) do it. Always listen to your gut.
Bring a few reminders of home for those times when you get homesick - because you will!. I brought a few pictures of family and friends that went up on my wall as well as some easy to pack foods that I knew I'd miss like vanilla oreo cookies and those cheap packs of noodles lol.
Make friends with people around you. It can be really tempting to just skype all evening and keep in touch with your friends & family at home every day with the thought that it'll make it easier for you to adjust to your new surroundings - it doesn't. I think it makes it harder because you're constantly reminding yourself of what you're missing and not living in your new present. Go out and make friends in your new city and keep your skype dates with family to once a week. Or once every two weeks. Trust me on this one. While you're inside skyping you're missing out on a lot. And seriously, what could you have to talk about every day with family & friends if you're not actually having any experiences (because you're always on Skype).....
I could go on and on.....


Thank you so much for contributing Kisha.  If you'd like to read more about her experiences in India, click here.

(I'd also like to apologize for the funky formatting on this post.  For some reason, Blogger is changing font sizes when published but it shows up completely normal when I'm editing it.)

Featured: Gringos Abroad

Thursday 24 May 2012

I'm being featured on Gringos Abroad today.

Check it out here if you're interested!

Granada: The Alhambra

Wednesday 23 May 2012

We didn't really know a lot about Granada before we went but I did know that we had to see the Alhambra.  Our first full day in Granada, we got up early (in vacation standards) and jumped in a cab to head up the hill to the palace.  We arrived less than 1 hour after it opened and when the taxi pulled up, we could see a line snaking back and forth.  The line moved ridiculously slow and we worried as we were told to budget the entire morning for the Alhambra and it closes for a couple of hours before the afternoon showing.  After about 45 minutes in line, an announcement came over the loudspeaker saying that all tickets for the Nasrid Palaces had sold out for the day.  Disappointed, we continued in line to get tickets for the next day but when it was our turn, we were told they do not sell advance tickets at the office.

We decided to head back to the hotel immediately in order to purchase tickets online but when we logged on, all online tickets were sold out until days after we were to leave Granada.  We had no idea  it would be this difficult to get in to the Alhambra but we resolved to get up early the next morning to be in line before the ticket office opened as we were due to depart that afternoon.

The next morning we arrived close to 1 hour before the ticket office opened and were surprised to find the line even longer than the day before.  Our fate looking grim, we joined the line anyways.  As we were waiting, we saw a number of people leave the line for the concession but coming back smiling and leaving the line completely.  Joe went to take a look and while I waited for him to return the announcement came that there were only 50 tickets left for the morning viewing.  There was definitely more than 50 people in line so I resigned to the fact that we'd come all the way to Granada but wouldn't be able to see the Alhambra.

And then Joe walked up, joined me in line, turned to me, smiled and produced 2 glorious tickets.  Past the concession and the gift shop stood 2 automated ticket machines that apparently no one knew about. It felt like we won the lottery.

We sort of did - the Alhambra was amazing.  Known as 'The Red Fortress,' construction began in 1237 by the founder of the Nasrid dynasty.  In continued under Nasrid rule until 1492 when it was surrendered to the Catholics.  It continued to be used for various purposes and in 1984 it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The compound itself is fairly large containing several palaces, military quarters and gorgeous gardens and grounds.

The Nasrid Palaces are truly breathtaking.  The intricacies on all surfaces of the palaces are mindblowing and even moreso, that they are still standing to this date.  I would have assumed when the Christians took control, all signs of Muslim rule would have been destroyed.

This was certainly one of the highlights of our entire stay in Spain and I'm so glad we lucked out and got in.

(While we were there, they were setting up for a Rufus Wainwright concert on the grounds of the Alhambra - I can't even imagine.  Unfortunately, it was taking place a couple of days after we left.)


-As explained above, it's not easy to get tickets.  If you know you are going to Granada, book your tickets well in advance.

-Allow yourself at minimum, 2 hours.  We took about 2 hours to tour the entire grounds before our entry to the Nasrid Palaces and it was just about the perfect amount of time to see everything without feeling rushed.

-We entered the grounds minutes after they opened and the first hour was perfect.  Crowds hadn't gathered, tours hadn't arrived and we had plenty of time to linger and take photos.  Near the end of our tour, it was definitely much more crowded.

-You are given an exact time to visit the Nasrid Palaces.  Ours was 11:30 and it was really busy with tour groups.  If you have the choice, perhaps one of the earlier start times would be better.

-There aren't really any information signs around so if you don't take the audio guide or a guided tour, you don't really get the history behind everything.  

-If you are in a small group, it might be beneficial to look up a private tour guide.  It seemed expensive for 2 of us but if there were even 4, it might be worth it.

The Road

Monday 21 May 2012

I've mentioned the terrible state of the roads in Port Gentil a couple of times and surprise, surprise, they haven't gotten any better however, now that we live downtown, I hardly notice as our immediate surrounding roads are in pretty good shape.

There is one road in particular that you will hear every, single resident of Port Gentil complain about:

Sogara Road.

It's one of the most used roads in the entire city for 2 reasons.  First of all, the majority of all foreign companies have their offices & bases out there and second, it's the road to the beach.  

I'm certain the road was paved at some point because every once in awhile, you'll come across a jagged piece of pavement but they have since let that go and it's now mostly packed, red dirt.  Every few months they plow it to smooth out the bumps and pot holes but it only lasts until the next big rainstorm and rather quickly, it turns terrible once again.

Because of Sogara Road, I have learned why there are handles in a vehicle.  I have also learned that there is no need for a chiropractor.

A couple of months ago, I took a video to illustrate a drive to Joe's office.  In order to take the video, I wasn't able to hold on to the handles and risked seriously injuring myself.  (Fortunately, I came out unscathed.)


---Traffic swerves back and forth all over the road to avoid 'the big ones.'---
--- 8/12 months of the year is rainy season meaning there will be giant pools of murky water to also avoid.---
---It's about 10 am and traffic was at a downtime.---
---We only went 1/4 of the way and not even through the worst part.---
---Because of the video, Joe & I kept our cursing down.---

When we first moved to Gabon, we were planning to live out at the beach.  When we expressed our concern about driving that road everyday, the response was always, "Don't worry, they're fixing the road."  Am I ever glad we didn't find a house out there.  When we lived at the staffhouse, that road was the bane of my existence.  

Before we got here, many of the companies got together and proposed paying out of their own pockets to fix the road.  The government wanted the companies to pass the cash to them and they would get the road fixed.  Needless to say, it didn't happen because the companies know that money has a funny way of disappearing here without any work getting done.

A few weeks ago something started happening on Sogara road.  Crews came, rerouted traffic and it looked like repairs were taking place.  People rejoiced.  While it's certainly better for the time being, it's really only been plowed and no one can quite figure out what they're doing.  I imagine we'll be long gone before it's actually 'fixed.'


Friday 18 May 2012

Granada stole my heart.

I loved practically everything about this city.

Unfortunately for Joe, he fell victim to my stomach virus on our last night in Valencia so he wasn't in his prime while we explored Granada.  Even so, we both couldn't help but revel in it's beauty.

Granada is nestled in the Sierra Nevada mountains and is home to the Alhambra (more on that in another post.)  Perhaps my most favorite part of this city is the multitude of cultural influences evident throughout the city.

The centre of town is typically Spanish with it's tiny, cobble stone streets, shops, tapas bars and cathedrals.  Again there were endless roads to follow and innumerable places to stop for Sangria.

My favourite party of the city had to be the Albayzin.  It was literally like entering another country.  Steep streets winding up the hills, stark white buildings of Moorish influence & street markets.  

There was so much to see in Granada and this was one place where I really wished to have a bit more time.  (We probably could have made it happen but both of us were exhausted from travel & illness and needed some downtime.)

In the end, Granada turned out to be, without a doubt, my favourite Spanish city that we visited.  I loved the history (from Romans, to Moors, to Jewish, to Arab & Christian, it felt like everyone had a part in making this city.)  And I can't forget the Alhambra - one of the most breathtaking sites I've ever seen.


-We stayed at the Hotel NH Victoria and we were really happy with it.  It was one of the more modern hotels we found in Spain and it was right downtown amongst the shopping & restaurants.  We found it fairly easy to navigate the city from here.

-Buy your tickets to Alhambra before you go (more on this in another post.)

-Do not attempt to drive in Granada if you can help it.  The tiny, one way roads were really difficult to navigate not to mention, a few of the main roads have been converted into bus & taxi only.

-We heard about a Tapas Tour and we really wish we would have done it.  (Our stomachs just weren't ready for it.)  We found it quite difficult to find the 'good tapas' and not the stuff aimed at tourists.  I think this would have helped.

-Be prepared, there was a lot less English to be spoken in Granada compared to Barcelona & Valencia.

(By the way, thank you for all of your support and comments about our move this week!)

We're moving to...

Thursday 17 May 2012

You guessed it (well, many of you did.)

We're moving to...



Come this summer (no fixed date yet) we'll be calling Stavanger, Norway home for the next few years and we couldn't be more excited.  I'm not sure we could have picked a place more different than Gabon - in fact, I might argue that they are polar opposites on just about everything from weather, to education to government.  

Like I mentioned earlier this week, this wasn't the easiest of decisions for us.  Funny enough, Norway seemed a bit too 'normal.'  Here we are young & childless and it seemed like we should be doing something more exotic.  As we began to seriously consider it, I did what anyone would do when weighing a big decision - I made a pro & con list.  With careful consideration, I sat down to make the list and I kid you not, everything was written very seriously.

I'll share a bit with you, in no particular order:

-closer to home
-good healthcare
-travel Europe
-better job for Joe
-stable political situation
-little corruption
-easier for family to visit
-modern housing
-consistent electricity, water & internet

-less holiday time
-too 'normal'
-little daylight in winter

I set the list aside and returned to it later to share with Joe and I had to giggle to myself.  Here we were humming and hawing over a move to Norway when basically the only negative we really care about is the weather.  Yet another great example as to how much Gabon has changed us.  I'm sure most people would have heard Norway and said 'yes' without a doubt.  (Norway, who is #1 on the human development index, and had my expat friends in Gabon swooning.)  As far as proposed locations go, Norway is fairly good.

In any case, we're excited about the upcoming change and while it's always difficult starting over somewhere else, especially on a completely different continent, if we can last a couple of years in Gabon, Norway will be a walk in the park.


Pulpit Rock - located 25 km from our future new home.


Wednesday 16 May 2012

Unfortunately, I had a nasty encounter with a stomach virus our last night in Barcelona leaving me violently ill and causing me to miss the last 30 minutes of The Hunger Games in the theatre.  Afterwards, I couldn't eat for 2 days and certainly wasn't in my prime.  While I refused to sit in my hotel room, I wasn't in my best form for Valencia which is really too bad because it is amazing!

If Barcelona was all about architecture, Valencia is all about history.  Founded in 138 BC by Roman colonists, it's one of the oldest cities in Spain.  The historical centre of the city is absolutely stunning and it has a completely different look from any of the other Spanish cities we visited.  The rich history mixed with the glamourous feeling the city eludes was really quite cool.

Juxtaposed with the Old Quarter is the ultra modern and sleek City of Arts & Sciences.  It's home to several unique looking buildings including an interactive science centre, an opera house, an aquarium, and a planetarium.

We bought tickets to the science centre but with my recurrent dizziness, we didn't stay long.  If I were to go back, I think the oceanographic park would be a better choice.

Valencia is one of those cities you just can't help but fall in love with.  As you walk the streets you marvel at the history yet you feel like you are somewhere glamourous and rich.  Joe continually places it near the top of his favorite Spanish cities.


-We stayed at the SH Ingles Valencia and we were happy with it.  It was one of the cheapest hotels we stayed in yet it's location was superb and the room was spacious & clean.  It's certainly not luxurious but you can't beat the price & location.

-We had a really fantastic lunch at La Pappardella which is just up a small side street near the cathedral in the centre of town.

-Eat paella in Valencia because it was invented there.  (I only wish I could have!)

By the way...
Email subscriptions are up and running.  If you haven't got yours you probably haven't clicked on the link sent to your inbox to verify your subscription.  If it's not in your inbox, check your junk mail.

Also, Dana ,over at Wonder Forest, wrote this really great post about how to follow along to your favourite blogs.  It's a great read if you've been wondering about what you are seeing around here!

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