A Second Gift Idea for the Expat

Friday 30 November 2012

Expats can be difficult to buy for - we have to carry everything across the world in a suitcase so it can't be too big or too heavy.  Electronics can be finicky and what is useful in one country, may not be in another.  On Monday, I shared a map that I had made tracking our expatriations as I thought it would make the perfect gift for the expat or traveller.  I thought I'd share another gift that is a luxury both Joe and I have appreciated over the last year or so.

When we move overseas, we leave behind important things like family & friends and jobs and hobbies but we also leave less important things behind like TV.  Watching our favourite TV shows helps us to feel connected to our old lives and a lot of the time, those programs are not accessible in the country we're living in.  Enter the WD Live.  
Our good friend, Mike, gave this to us for our wedding and it has made all of the difference.  It connects directly to the TV, sort of like a DVD player, but instead of inserting a disk, we keep a hard drive full of TV shows and movies connected to it.  It also has the capability of streaming Hulu or Netflix directly through it.  Gone are the days of hovering over the tiny computer screen watching your favourite shows and no more stringing cables from the TV to the computer.  The WD Live does it all for you.

In other good news, it works with both 110 V & 220 V so all you need is a small adapter to plug it in and it's super compact and lightweight meaning it won't take up too much room in your suitcase if you're lucky enough to find one under the tree.

Image above taken directly from the WD Live website.


Wednesday 28 November 2012

I remember when I first moved to Gabon, I had heard about this women's group and I thought it sounded lame.  I suppose I was being a bit of a snob and figured that all they probably did was knit and play bridge.  (By the way, there's nothing wrong with knitting or playing bridge but it's just not for me.)  In any case, I had no intention of joining such a group.

About a month later, I had yet to meet a single person.  I had been in contact with another English speaker and after a coffee one morning, she asked if I wanted to tag a long the following week to a sewing morning with the ladies group.  This was exactly what I was afraid of but the idea of getting out of that terrible hotel room beside the stinky zoo for a morning was enough to make me agree.  I don't sew (actually, I still don't) yet I ended up really enjoying myself that morning.  I connected with a few other women, we laughed about our situation, I got answers to all sorts of questions I was trying to figure out and I began to feel like I could actually live in Gabon.  After all, all these other women were doing it too.
Joe and I at the PWC Gala in Port Gentil, 2011

The PWC originally formed as the Petroleum Wive's Club in a variety of locations all over the world in the late 50's early 60's.  It was directed at women who followed their husbands around the oil industry and gave them a community of women to connect to as they settled into new homes.  Most of the PWC groups now welcome any women, oil or not, but their purpose is still the same.

When I arrived in Stavanger, I reached out to the PWC again as it had done me quite well in Port Gentil.  Each group is a little different but they generally have a variety of activities you can choose to take part in.  Movie mornings, book clubs, jewelry making, volunteering, conversations in the local language, crafts, coffees, you name it, they probably have it.  You are never obligated to attend anything but the goal of the club is to help women connect with each other.

The likelihood of me joining such a group in Canada is slim to none but when you're in a brand new country with no friends, one often does things they wouldn't normally do and the PWC has been great at helping me to make a friend or 2.  I was worried about knitting and playing bridge and I did nothing of the sort (instead I played mahjong and went to Wednesday morning sewing) but I know I wouldn't have survived Gabon without the weekly events and the camaraderie.

It's certainly worth looking into should you find yourself in a new place.

A Gift Idea For The Expat

Monday 26 November 2012

Or the serial mover.

Or the traveller.

Expats make some pretty big moves, often traversing the globe where they set up life in foreign countries.  No matter the experience, those locations will inevitably become 'home' even if it is temporary.

Joe and I have now lived on 3 different continents and when we made the move from Gabon to Norway, I really wanted to find some way to showcase our 'homes.'  Enter Carrie and her Here & There Etsy shop.
Carrie creates maps of all sorts from world to continent to country to province/state and they are fully customizable.  I chose a style, size & colours and emailed off our locations to Carrie and she came back with this lovely design.
I think it's the perfect way to map our moves and I can't wait to showcase this in our Norwegian home.  I pre-purchased a frame so that I'd be ready when it arrived but the size isn't quite right so I have to find a different mat to make it work.

I think this would make a fantastic gift for the expat in your life but with all of the options on Here & There, it's possible to make it work for anyone.  {It would be really neat to map the countries you've visited too.}

Carrie also sent me the image in order for me to use it on my About page - the perfect graphic to introduce our life abroad!

Stavanger Domkirke

Friday 23 November 2012

As part of my efforts to make friends, I joined the PWC club in Stavanger (more on that later.)  One of their regular activities is exploring different parts of the city.  This week, I joined them on a guided tour of the Stavanger Cathedral.

Stavanger Domkirke is the oldest cathedral in all of Norway, with construction starting in 1100 and finishing somewhere around 1150 although the city uses 1125 as the year it was founded.  Before this, the same location is thought to have been the site of rituals and sacrifice pre-Christianity in Norway and then a small church.  The cathedral itself has undergone many renovations over the years - first in the late 1200's when Stavanger was ravaged by fire, again in the 1800's and finally again in the late 1900's.

Originally, the cathedral was built with a dirt floor.  Wealthier patrons were able to purchase grave sites inside the church making the floor quite uneven due to graves and gravestones.  Later, everyone was moved outside to a graveyard surrounding the cathedral and even later, moved again to a larger graveyard further away.  The interior is a mix of Roman and Gothic styles and it features work by different Norwegian artists.

While it wasn't the most impressive cathedral I've ever been in, it's fascinating to learn about the early history of this city we get to call home.


Monday 19 November 2012

On our Sunday walk to Vaulen Beach
Instagram: cjstjohn

There are several different theories that propose stages of a new expatriation.  Looking back on our time in Gabon, I feel like the stages were quite pronounced and occasionally extreme.  We were adjusting our way of life in almost every aspect.  Our move to Norway was a little different.  Instead of being so focused on the contrasts to Canada, we were revelling in the similarities; things we had so missed in Port Gentil.

In both cases, we experienced a honeymoon period, typical to almost every expatriation.  In Gabon, I'm certain our honeymoon period began when it started to snow and dip below 0 in Canada and we were laughing it up on the beach.  In Norway, the honeymoon started the minute we landed as we dined on Thai, drove on paved roads, browsed the shops and planned weekends away all over Europe.  The honeymoon is all about the excitement of a new home.

I realised this past week that I think we're over the honeymoon in Stavanger.  This isn't to say we've come crashing down and are fraught with problems but we're settled.  We have normal day to day routines, we generally know what to expect and how things work and we're sleeping in on weekends instead of rushing out the door to explore.  While we're still smitten with our home, it's not new anymore.  We're comfortable, happy and settled.

That's the thing with expat life; we have adventures and travels but it's also just plain, old life.  

Berlin - Day 4

Friday 16 November 2012

The last day of a trip is always a little bittersweet - you're hopefully so thankful for a great experience, you wish it didn't have to end yet at the same time, you're tired and would enjoy some downtime at home.  Our flight back to Norway wasn't until 9 pm so we had the entire day to round out our trip to Berlin.

Late Monday morning, we made our way to Victory Column.  This monument has been in Berlin since 1873.  It was relocated to it's present location by the Nazis in 1939 and it luckily survived WWII practically unscathed.  We paid a couple of euros to climb to hundreds of winding steps to the top to take in views of the city.
From the first observation level

From the top - Brandenburg Gate at the end of the street

The views were spectacular but it was a bit chilly, crowded and my husband is not a big fan of heights so we descended and crossed the street to walk through the Tiergarten.

The Tiergarten is Berlin's central park and the 5+ square kilometres of trees and grassy areas is a haven in the middle of a busy city.  It is calm, quiet, beautiful and while in the middle, one could hardly tell we were in the city.  Joe and I spent over an hour following the paths, people watching and stopping to pause and take it all in.  Every once in awhile, a gentle breeze would make it's way through the park, picking up the fallen leaves.  The rustling of those leaves skirting around the trees was simply magical.  I could have spent hours upon hours in that park - bringing a blanket to sit on in a quiet spot with a thermos full of coffee.

 The remainder of the day was spent wandering the streets.  We walked for miles and miles, stopping for goulash soup and currywurst before continuing on.  Eventually we made our way back towards our hotel.  On our first night, we'd walked by a small restaurant, Ruben & Carla's, and we decided to eat there before leaving for the airport.  We enjoyed a delicious meal before returning to the hotel to fetch our luggage and catch a flight back to Stavanger.

This trip to Berlin was seriously a dream come true for me.  I finally got to see all of these places I'd heard/learned so much about with my own eyes and it couldn't have been more perfect.

Berlin, we will meet again, I'm sure of that.

You can find the other posts about our long weekend in Berlin here, here, here and here.

I've been nominated for an expat blog award - comments contribute to the decision.  I would be honoured if you took a moment to leave one here.

Berlin - Day 3

Wednesday 14 November 2012

In case you missed it:
Day 2

Sunday morning, we grabbed a quick breakfast at a cafe and prepared to tackle Berlin's metro system.  My husband loves to figure out the subway/train/tram systems in every city we visit and he makes it sort of like a personal mission.  I could care less as long as we get from A to B.  (By the way, Barcelona ranks as the easiest/cleanest/most efficient train system so far.)  We figured out what trains we could take, confirmed at our hotel front desk and made our way to the station.  The ticket machine conveniently had an English button which is always handy however the options were confusing.  It wouldn't accept our destination point and because there were multiple trains going in that direction, we didn't know what end point to put in.  Eventually, we settled on buying a day pass but the machine wouldn't take our money.  It rejected both of our credit cards, would not scan our cash and we didn't have enough in coins to make the transaction.  The station was busy, we had a line up behind us and we were getting frustrated so we abandoned it.  Unable to accept defeat, we walked to the next station in hopes that because it was a larger stop there would be a ticketing counter that could help us but alas, we just couldn't make it work.  This made Joe grumpy which in turn makes me grumpy so I marched on over to the taxi stand and put an end to the whole debacle.  Berlin Metro - you fail in our eyes.

All of the above struggle was to bring us to the East Side Gallery, a 1.3 km section of the Berlin Wall covered in paintings as a symbol of freedom.

Coming to Berlin, I was primarily interested in the Nazi history but our docent's personal stories of growing up with the wall really piqued our interest.  From 1961 until 1989, this wall separated families, friends, and thousands of East Germans tried to defect, 5000 successful while 200 were killed in the attempt.  (Numbers are disputed on both accounts.)  Much of the 155 km long wall that separated West Berlin from East Berlin and East Germany has been dismantled, but the East Side Gallery remains.

Should we be fortunate enough to return to Berlin, I'd love to spend more time looking at this side of the city's history.  Often times when looking at history, it seems so far in the past but the Berlin Wall came down in my lifetime.  It's amazing to see how far this city has come in a relatively short amount of time.

From the gallery, we caught another taxi to the J├╝disches Museum (Jewish Museum.)  Entry into the museum is 5€ and we opted for the audio guide which is another 3€.  The museum was designed by Daniel Libeskind, a Polish-Jewish architect who is known around the world for his work including the Denver Art Museum, the Royal Ontario Museum and he is the master plan architect of the rebuilding of the World Trade Centre site in New York City.

The design of the museum itself is quite interesting and the audio guide did a really great job at explaining the reasons behind the architectural decisions.  The Garden of Exile stands out particularly in my mind - designed to "completely disorient the visitor.  It represents a shipwreck of history" as described by Libeskind and it truly does that.  Slanted ground and tall cement columns left me feeling dizzy as I stumbled through, occasionally leaning on the columns to try to regain my balance.

The museum itself is extensive, chronicling German Jewish history from medieval times to present day. It was a lot of information to take in yet certainly interesting to deepen our understanding.

Day 3 was busy - taxis, walking, reading, learning.  We were tired, yet exhilarated so we capped off Sunday like this...

Berlin: Day 2 - Context Travel

Monday 12 November 2012

When we travel, we don't do tours.  I tend to get frustrated and cranky in groups of tourists and I like the freedom to do my own thing.  Because I was so interested in the history of Berlin, I knew that I wanted to be able to delve a little deeper on this trip but I wasn't sure how to do it.  Then, I came across Context Travels.  Their tagline, "Walking tours for the intellectually curious," piqued my interest and when I began hearing so many great things about them, I was sold.

Context does walking tours in several cities around the globe.  While normally I would never consider this, the fact that the maximum number of participants in a group is 6 and that it's led by a scholar seemed more credible and much more what I was looking for.  We debarked on our tour, The Topography of Terror: Nazi Berlin, Saturday morning, meeting our lovely docent near the Brandenburg Gate.

Our docent walked us through the gate, to the Reichstag, then to the Memorial of the Sinti and Roma people (which had just opened the week prior,) on to the Memorial to the Murdered Jews, past Hitler's bunker and further on to the Topography of Terror museum all the while, stopping along the way at important buildings and sites.  It was fascinating.
Memorial to Political Prisoners outside of the Reichstag

Memorial to the Murdered Roma & Sinti

Memorial to the Murdered Jews
Interesting Note:  Many ideas were proposed as to how to memorialize the 6 million Jewish who lost their lives during WWII.  One idea was to write the names of all of those people in this space but even with 6 point font, they would need at least double the amount of space.

Some refer to the raindrops that sit on the columns as tears.

Outside the Topography of Terror Museum - a section of the Wall in the backdrop.

Our Context Travel Walking Tour was one of the best things we did on our stay in Berlin and it was most definitely worth the 65€ cost per person.  I feel like we came away much more knowledgeable but as always, the more one learns, the more questions they have.  We were, in fact, so impressed that we immediately tried to book a second tour (on the divided city) but unfortunately, none were running during the remainder of our stay in Berlin.

Luckily, Prague is also one of Context's tour cities and we're looking at booking a walk while we're there in the next couple of weeks.
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