{EXPATRIATED} Melissa from Wanderlust

Tuesday, 31 July 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.

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With the London 2012 Olympics underway, it seemed like the perfect time to have Melissa from Wanderlust as our expat featured in this edition of Expatriated.  A fellow Canadian and a lover of travel, Melissa calls the UK home and will have firsthand experience of the Olympic games.


Where are you from and where do you live now?

I'm from Mississauga, (Ontario) Canada and I currently live in London, England.

How did you end up in London and what inspired you to make the move?

During university, I had a lot of friends taking semesters abroad to amazing locations like India, Mexico and France.  I hadn't travelled properly at that point but it seemed so exciting.  I wanted to go but I was a broke student.  So I promised myself that after I graduated I would find a way to live abroad even if it was only for a couple of months.  During some extended travel in the early part of 2008 I decided that when I returned home I would stop thinking about it and make the move.  So I applied to university, was accepted and made the move to London later that year.

What is the best part of living overseas?

I suppose that would be different depending on where you choose to live.  For London, the best part of living here has to be individual freedom, which is most easily displayed through clothing.  You can wear the craziest outfit here and no one will bat an eyelash.  Also, the ease and (cheaper) cost of travel, the diversity in the English landscape, and finding out how well-liked Canada and Canadians are abroad.

What do you miss most about home (besides friends & family?)

I miss the general respect for the environment and the people around you.  For a city that has so many people in it, Londoners really don't attention to those around them at all.  I understand it though.  When you are commuting in the city you have to sort of gear yourself up for it.  I also miss that feeling of 'home' and being settled.  London is cool but I don't feel like it is truly home.

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

Hands down, the weather.  While it's nice to live through a more temperate winter, the dreary skies and the rain can be difficult to handle.  Even though Canada is cold and snowy there are tons of winter activities and also blue skies and sun.  Here it is easy to become a bit of a shut in over the winter months.  It really only hit me the second winter I was here as the first I went home at Christmas for a month.  Now that I know I have the tendency to shut myself away during the winter I've countered that with connecting with friends more to do things in the city.

Any funny 'whoopsies' while adjusting to your new life?

I was having dinner with two new friends I had just met earlier that day.  One asked me what Canadians do in the summer for fun.  I went on to gush that we love the outdoors and a lot of people especially love to go cottaging.  There was an awkward pause and a look of surprise on their faces.  I said, "Cottaging means something different here doesn't it?"  The laughed and the guy said, "Yes, here it refers to anonymous sex between men in a public loo."  Lesson learned.

Saving graces?

Social media.  We all love it and hate it at the same time but, it has made life abroad a lot easier.  I have told all of my friends to get Skype with varying degrees of success.  I use a multitude of platforms because for some Facebook or MSN or email works better for them.  Besides that, blogging has also enriched my expat experience immensely.  Only another expatriate can understand the roller coaster of emotions you go through sometimes.


What is the biggest lesson you've learned from your time in England?

This is really tough.  I have to say that I have proved to myself that I can be completely self-sufficient.  That isn't to say I wasn't helped all along the way but I made the decision on my own, got my visa and settled in to London knowing virtually no one here except for the family I had just found out a few months before existed and met for the first time in the airport.  I was always independent at home but this took it to another level.  I didn't have a friend, spouse or a family member from home to guide me through it all.

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

I've considered somewhere in South or Central America, West Africa or Vancouver.  I know, I know, that is more than one place.  I first thought of going to Japan to teach English but after visiting for 2 weeks I know that the curious eyes following me is not something I could endure for long periods of time.  South or Central America would be completely new territory for me but I think it would be really great.  Costa Rica is supposed to have some of the happiest people in the world.  Senegal has a special place in my heart.  After spending nearly 2 months there in 2008, I know I could live there.  I know what the frustrations would be and I could handle it for a time.  I could also improve my French.  Finally, I see myself in Canada longer term.  BC is beautiful and it would be nice to live somewhere else in Canada.

Any advice for the newly expatriated?

Be open to your new home, I mean truly open.  Make friends with locals, do not gravitate towards your countrymen and women.  Put down roots right away and get into a routine.  Know that you will naturally compare your new home to your old.  That is ok but do not get wrapped up in that narrative.  Know that you can always go home but home will forever changed as you will be too.


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Thank you Melissa!  

I feel like I should keep that advice nearby as we settle in to our new home - such great words of wisdom!

If you want to read more about Melissa, her experiences in the UK and her travels, check out her blog.  If you happen to be considering a move to England, she has a ton of information to help you out!




Are you a homebody?

Friday, 27 July 2012

Somewhere in Banff National Park - Summer 2011

I don't often get homesick.  In fact, I could probably count on one hand the number of times I've felt homesick in the last 2-3 years.  Of course I miss family and friends and Canada and certain food items.  When I'm sick I wish I was somewhere where things were easy and I could order in takeaway and go to the pharmacy and know exactly where to find that cough syrup that always works.  When I skype with my 2.5 year old niece I wish I was there so she knew that Auntie Jay Jay doesn't live in the 'puter.

But I don't often feel 'sick' about it.  

I miss them, I sometimes feel sad about missing out on things but not really homesick.

I have a fairly easy time making somewhere 'home.'  I don't even need all of my 'things' nor do I need to spend a bunch of time in the place - home is where I tell it to be and home is where Joe and I live together.  It gets easier when we settle in to a place to live and I begin setting it up as I want it and filling it with things that mean something to us but even before then, it's home.


What about you?  Do you get homesick? How do you make a place a 'home?'



Well, I'm home...

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

In Canada that is.

Osoyoos, British Columbia - July 2011

I had always planned to come home once we had things sorted out in Norway.  (It's been a year since I've seen my family and my passport is out of pages.)  Then everything went up in the air and I tried to wait it out for a final decision but I don't know when that's coming.  Two weeks later and we aren't any more certain as to where we'll be living - frustrating.  So I've escaped to Canada for 2 weeks.

While I'm home I plan to...

:: Get a new passport.
:: Visit with my family & a few friends.
:: Stay put - I'm not traveling around the country like a crazy person this time.
:: Drink an obscene amount of caesars.
:: Play with my niece and make sure she realises I am a real person - not just someone who's on the computer.
:: Indulge in all of those homefoods I've been missing.
:: Shop!

And in 2 weeks when I head back to Norway, I hope there will be some sort of resolution so we can set up our life out of West Africa!

Månafossen Falls

Monday, 23 July 2012

A week ago, Joe and I did our first Norwegian hike.

Hiking is a way of life in Norway.  When the weather is nice (actually, even when it's not) people get outside and do something active.  Hikes range from several minutes to several days and include the entire family - babies, toddlers, teenagers and grandparents.  

Månafossen Falls is located about an hours drive from Stavanger.  The scenery on the way there was beautiful as we followed along the fjord and admired the Norwegian countryside.  The road was very narrow, really only big enough for one lane of traffic, and there were a couple of 'hold your breath' moments as we squeezed by other cars on the cliffside.


Månafossen falls was described as a short but challenging hike. As we stood in the parking lot looking up the path filled with loose rocks, I did wonder if this 'challenging hike' was a little over my head... and then a 3 year old and her Mom came around the corner and down the path causing Joe to laugh at my hesitation.

Anyways, we embarked and while it was pretty steep, it was perfectly manageable.  And then we turned a corner and the steep hike turned into a steep climb.

Wet and slippery boulders turned into our path and when it got tougher, chains staked into the ground could be used to pull yourself up.  There were no railings beside the cliffside and I tried not to think of what might happen if I lost my footing.

And then it seemed like Norway mocked me.

At every landing, we'd stop to catch our breath and Norwegians in sandals, carrying babies in one arm and giant packs in the other would bound over those boulders and carry on up as if they were walking on sidewalks.  Small children hardly looked bothered carrying tents and sleeping bags on their backs and grandma with her walking stick didn't even have flushed cheeks.

In any case, we carried on, egos a little deflated, and made it to the top to enjoy the view.





And then we had to go back down...


Our Wedding: The Venue, The Decor & The Details

Friday, 20 July 2012

I've talked about our wedding day, our attire and today, we'll round off this wedding week with the venue, decor & the details.

The Venue

As I mentioned before, Joe and I had always talked about getting married in our restaurant.  I really wanted an intimate feeling to our wedding and I knew that I could find that in a restaurant much easier than trying to 'make it' in a ballroom.

When the venue search began, we thought we knew exactly what restaurant we wanted.  Jennifer, our wedding planner, went to check it out and look to see if it would work and everything came back positive.  We were concerned that it was quite small and we might have to limit our guest list to make it work.  Jennifer sent us a couple more options and we thought we had pretty much settled on Option #1 until Lux came through.  Joe & I had eaten there once, although only in the bar, and when we saw the photos, we knew, this was the place.

The staff were ultra accommodating for us and were willing to make anything we wanted happen.  On the day of, they were professional and attentive and the restaurant made the perfect wedding venue.






















































We loved that we had the separation between the lounge and the restaurant and all of the little design details already incorporated.  

The Decor

Lux was a stunning location all on it's own and provided the ambience we were looking for.  We chose to add to it with flowers, candles and table linens.

When planning, I was constantly asked, "What are your wedding colours?"  I'm not that colourful of a person.  If you look at my closet you'll see I stick to neutrals: grey, brown, black, white, beige.  I loved the rich browns Lux provided and really wanted to try to enhance that by staying monochromatic with my flowers.  

I had a fairly clear vision when it came to the tables.  I loved the idea of a tablescape of flowers instead of the traditional centre piece and I was so happy with the way it turned out.  I was also fairly adamant on having rectangular tables instead of circles because I liked long, linear feeling it gave.




























Details

One of the most talked about aspects of our decor was a table of wedding photos right at the entrance.  Joe and I both come from families where we've had great examples of long, happy marriages and I really wanted to showcase those couples.  I collected wedding photos from family & friends, framed them and labelled them with their wedding date.  Our guests loved guessing who was who and reminiscing about weddings past.


Other details:


**Some of Joe's favourite memories are at Pete's Piano Bar in Forth Worth, Texas and I loved how interactive and fun it was when I went so we decided to do the same for our wedding.  The dueling pianists had our guests talking for months to come.**

**Our guests loved the Kobe beef sliders & sweet potato fries we served at midnight.**

**When our guests checked in to their hotels, we had welcome bags waiting for them.  Inside there were snacks, bottled water, a map and guide to the city with some of our favourite things to do in the city and a custom crossword that challenged our guests to come up with a couple pretty obscure answers.**

Our wedding absolutely exceeded all of our expectations.  I loved planning it and when it was all said and done, both Joe and I wished we could do it again, not to change anything but just because it was so much fun!

If you want to see more, you can see our wedding featured on Style Me Pretty, our wedding planner's blog & our photographer's blog.


Our Wedding: The Guest Book

Thursday, 19 July 2012

One of my favourite elements of our wedding was our unique guest book.

Our guests chose a year (or several years), left a note, and sealed the envelope for us to open on our future anniversary.

















































After our wedding, I packed those cards around with me in my suitcase from Canada to Gabon and now, to Norway and I anxiously awaited the opportunity to finally begin opening them.

Monday night, after Joe and I returned from dinner, it was time.  We sat down across from one another and each picked a card.  We made a guess as to who we thought it would be from, opened it and read it aloud.  It was so nice to read the sweet words from our friends and family and perhaps, it was even sweeter being so far away from all of them.



































I vividly remember joining a table of my friends at some point in the night and they were laughing hysterically.  Apparently, we have a 'special' card to look forward to on our 50th anniversary.

(I'm not going to lie - I've thought about steaming open that envelope on a few occasions but have held back thus far.  I can't guarantee I won't do it in the future though...)


Absurd, funny, or thoughtful, we'll be looking forward to opening those cards every July 16th for years to come.

Our Wedding: The Attire

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

When we began planning our wedding, we knew we'd only be home one time before the big day... yes, ONE time.  In that trip, I needed to find a dress, Joe needed a suit and we needed to order our wedding rings - none of those things could be done from Gabon.

The Bride

I wasn't one of those brides who knew exactly what I wanted to wear.  I thought I wanted something with lace and something fitted and I was fairly certain that I didn't want anything too 'princess-y' however, I was willing to try anything.

I pre-booked appointments at 2 small boutiques in our 'wedding city' and I was a little anxious because I knew I really only had one day to try to find THE dress.  Luckily, it was fairly easy for me.  































I loved the lace detail, the little belt and surprisingly, the bit of sparkle.  

Because of the detail on the top, I chose to pair it with only earrings.
























And the shoes --- I love my shoes.

It was almost like they chose me.  Again, I was strapped for time.  I landed in Canada after 5 months in Gabon with a fitting the very next day.  I made one stop at Holt Renfrew and these shoes practically jumped off the shelf into my hands.  When the sales lady told me that for that one day they were 40% off, the deal was sealed and I walked away with a fabulous pair of Jimmy Choos.



The Groom

Joe was fairly laid back about his attire (surprise, surprise!)

He wore a fitted, black Hugo Boss suit with a white shirt and a white tie and I think he looked pretty handsome.



The Wedding Party

I had one maid of honour and Joe had one best man so it was fairly easy dressing them.  A black suit, white shirt & black tie took care of Kellen and Ras and I chose a short, flowing dress in beige to fit with the neutral colours throughout the wedding.


Everything came together seamlessly when it came to our attire, especially being that we were so pressed for time, and I wouldn't change one thing.

Later in the week, I'll share a closer look at the venue, decor & special details included in our wedding.

Did you miss Monday's post with the run-down of our wedding day?

Check back here to catch up!




One Year

Monday, 16 July 2012

One year ago today, Joe and I were married (again) in front of our closest friends and family and it was without a doubt, the best day of our lives.  

In honour of our anniversary, I thought I'd share our wedding with you this week.  (I can't believe I haven't done that yet!)

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For those of you who are new around here, you may not know that Joe and I were actually married in Gabon.  (You can read about it here.)  When we did it, we assumed it wouldn't actually be legal anywhere outside of Gabon when in fact, it was.  While that wedding was certainly memorable, it wasn't exactly what we pictured and we knew that we wanted to be able to share the day with our friends and family.

Planning a wedding is hard and planning one from Africa, with a terrible internet connection and a 7 hour time difference, was bound to be impossible.  The first thing I did was contact Jennifer Bergman Weddings, we set up a skype date and the rest was history.  Jennifer was amazing and hiring her was the best decision I've ever made.  Because I wasn't working, I had tons of time to peruse wedding blogs and compile ideas to send to Jennifer and she basically made it all happen.

Joe & I really wanted the wedding to reflect us: our tastes, our personalities and our relationship and we weren't afraid to bend tradition.  Our must haves were:

**When Joe and I began talking about our wedding years before, we had always talked about having in a restaurant - somewhere that had it's own atmosphere, somewhere that we didn't have to 'fill.'**

**We wanted to keep our wedding small.  Both of us feel more comfortable in small, intimate groups and we knew we wouldn't feel any different at our wedding.  Of course, we wanted those closest to us present and in the end, we had 85 guests.**

**We wanted our guests to have the easiest weekend possible.  Having the ceremony head directly into the reception to avoid downtime, booking hotels within walking distance of our venue, great entertainment, delicious food and an open bar were all very important to us.**

**While we respect tradition, we didn't feel the need to stick with things if they didn't make sense for us.  We eliminated the cake (we'd rather have apple crisp,) we didn't want a ton of speeches nor a traditional MC and we wanted to keep the wedding party small (we both know how much work it is to be in a wedding party and we wanted our friends to be able to show up and enjoy themselves without having to do a ton of work.)**

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With that in mind, our Canadian wedding day went like this:


We started with a first look...




Did our portraits and family photos




And then the ceremony




And directly into a champagne reception and cocktail hour while the room was prepared for dinner


And finally, dinner, a couple of speeches and the party!






We had the most amazing dueling pianists who completely 'made' the party!



Joe and I had the time of our lives and when we stumbled home at 4 in the morning, we were so happy with how everything went.  It was most definitely the best day of our lives.

Later in the week, I'll get into the details but today...

I want to wish my husband a very happy first anniversary (for the second time - how lucky am I to celebrate 2 wedding anniversaries every year!)  I love the life that we're creating together and I'm so proud to call you my husband!
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