{EXPATRIATED} Ashley from Ashley Abroad

Friday 30 August 2013

Sometimes I get the impression that people think we are crazy for leaving all that we are familiar with behind for a life overseas but we aren't the only ones that 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.

It's been quite awhile since I've had an Expatriated interview but it's high time to get back on track.  Today, I'm happy to share Ashley's story - she's been living in one of Europe's most coveted cities and while I've featured another expat in this same location, it's always so interesting to hear different perspectives.  After all, our experiences abroad are personal and dependent on so many different factors.

With that being said, welcome Ashley!

-How did you end up in Paris and what inspired you to make the move?  Where are you from and where do you live now?
I’m from the suburbs of Detroit, Michigan, U.S.A. and now reside in the suburbs of Paris, France. Moving to France was never part of my long-term plans but I landed a job as an au pair through friends and took it on a whim after graduating. I came because I had a lifelong dream to learn French and wanted to learn more about the culture, history and cuisine of France. Especially the cuisine.

-What is the best part of living overseas?
I love living abroad because of the other expats you meet- I find we have really similar attitudes on how life is an adventure and should be lived to the fullest.
I also love being surrounded by a foreign language and culture- it makes every day an experience, and even the most commonplace activities feel exotic and fun.

-What do you miss most about home (besides friends & family?)
Hm… I certainly miss cheaper prices- anyone has ever sent out their dry-cleaning in France knows what I mean. I also miss Mexican food with all my heart.
-What was the most difficult thing to adjust to in the France?
The most difficult thing for me was adjusting to living with a family after four years of living on my own in college. Especially at the beginning it was hard to get used to sharing my space and living where I work.

-Any funny ‘whoopsies’ while adjusting to your new life?
Definitely, and mostly with language. Even though I would say my French has improved a lot I still make really silly blunders to this day- like when my friend was telling me about his fishing trip and I responded,”Oh that’s great, how many peaches did you catch?” Oy.

-Saving graces?  
I’m so grateful that I have a supportive family back home- to this day I don’t think I have ever heard a discouraging word from either of my parents. And a few months back my mom and little sister came all the way to France to visit me and we took a road trip down the French Atlantic coast all the way to Spain- it was incredible!
-What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned from your time in Paris?
That I can live my life abroad if I choose to do so. I had always pictured myself in the states but now know that there’s a whole world out there to be explored and lived in.

-If you had the chance to move elsewhere in the world, where would you go and why?
This question is on my mind all the time… but for now I’d love to live in a city with great weather. I’ve spent too much time in cities like Chicago and Paris- year-round sunshine would be nice!

-Any advice for the newly expatriated?
Be patient- the first several months are the hardest, and it can be difficult to create a circle of friends. And buy Skype minutes for those days when you're really homesick and just need to talk to someone back home.


Thank you Ashley.

If you happen to be heading to Paris, definitely check out Ashley's blog.  She shares all sorts of tips to help you experience the best of France's capital city.

Previous Editions of Expatriated

Paperwork, Visas & Moving to Norway

Wednesday 28 August 2013

"Was it really difficult to get your residence visa in Norway?"

This is a question I've been getting asked a lot lately.  To be frank, dealing with immigration in any country is bound to be a pain in the neck.  There's paperwork and procedures and a lot of it makes absolutely no sense to foreigners.  You go through the motions as best as you can and hope that you've dotted all of your 'i's' and crossed your 't's' in order to finally get the approval to live and work in said foreign country.

It's really no different in Norway.  The process has been refined over the last few years - those who immigrated here during the transition period experienced quite a bit of frustration as new policies and procedures were put into place but it seems like they've ironed out the details and things are running relatively smoothly.  Everything runs through UDI.no and all pertinent information and documents can be found there.  It's also important to keep in mind, there are different requirements for different nationalities so my process as a Canadian is different than those coming from other countries.

Joe and I began our application process for Norwegian residence permits from Gabon.  Both of us began by creating online accounts through the UDI website and filling out the application form.  Once that was complete, we paid the fee (mine was 1100 nok) and booked an appointment at the local police services desk.  (In Stavanger, this is at Skatt Vest and is on the ground floor with the Centre for Foreign Workers.)

The first appointment is solely to hand in all of the necessary paperwork.  For us, that included, the cover letter given to us upon receipt of our application, Joe's work contract, 3 recent pay stubs, photocopies of our entire passports, declaration of relationship, and a copy of our marriage certificate.  We did not attend the first appointment as we were still residing in Gabon so an HR representative from Joe's company handed in our paperwork on our behalf. (We had to sign a document allowing someone to represent us.)

From there, we waited for approval which came a few weeks later in the form of a written letter.  We were instructed to return to our online profile to book a second and final appointment with the police services desk.  For the second appointment, we showed our ID to prove our identity, had our photo taken and fingers scanned and told to keep an eye on the mailbox as our residence card would arrive within two weeks.

This card allows as to come and go as we please to Norway but also to other Schengen countries and it allows us both to work while in country.  Joe's is valid for 2 years, mine 1 year.  I just completed the renewal process and it was just as straight forward as it was the first time and from start to card in hand, it took about 5 weeks.

Now, things get tricky if you are trying to move to Norway and you haven't already secured work.  As you may well know, Norway is one of the most expensive countries in the world to live in and you are required to prove that you have the means to support yourself in this country for a certain amount of time.  This is a substantial amount of money.  Also, while you may have heard that there are an abundance of high paying jobs for professionals in this Nordic country, do note that even those who are highly qualified and skilled often take between 6 months and 1 year to successfully find full time work in their field.  The online forums are filled with frustrated jobseekers who are quickly running out of money and patience.

Some tips...

+Get a job before you pack up your life and move here.  This is easier said than done but it will make everything a lot easier if you start applying from your home country.
+Do your research.  It's better to arrive prepared than to be completely surprised at everything.
+Bring every document you can possibly think of that might be of any relevance to your residence permit with you to your appointments.  Even though we think we have everything, occasionally they'll ask for something you didn't know you needed and instead of having to rebook another appointment 2 weeks down the road, it'll be easier if you can root through your file right there.
+Take copies of all of your documents.  I made the mistake of handing over Joe's original contract last time without realising it and then had to contact the office to make sure they took a copy and held the original for me.  It wasn't too serious but a pain.
+Ask questions at your appointments and make sure everything is crystal clear.  It's much easier to do it in person rather than track down answers later on.
+Always double check the procedures and don't take anyone else's word for it (including mine.)  Things change all of the time.
+Everything slows down here drastically in the summer as Norwegians take holidays.  Expect things to take twice as long June through August.
+Try not to schedule any travel outside of the country during the visa process.  It's incredibly frustrating when you have to cancel flights and plans because things haven't come together as quick as you thought they would plus it puts a lot of extra pressure and stress on the situation.
+BE PATIENT.  Visas and immigration are never as simple as you hope it to be and they often take longer than first expected.  It's like this everywhere but rather than working yourself into a fury, do your homework, complete your part and let it go.  It is what it is.

We've successfully navigated our way through the process in two countries now and as expected, it was quite a bit easier in Norway.  We didn't have to take trips to the Congo, we didn't have to bribe anyone through 'fines,' we didn't have to have another wedding and the process didn't span several months.

Are you an expat? How was the process where you live?

***I am not a visa or permit specialist.  These are solely our experiences.  Joe's visa is under a Skilled Worker and mine is under Family Immigration.  We applied as Canadian citizens and the process and procedures differ depending on your nationality and life situation.  If in doubt, always confirm with UDI.***


Monday 26 August 2013

"Bonjour Madame."

"Bonjour Jean.  Ça va?"

"Oui Madame."

My mornings in Gabon often started in such a manner as I climbed into my Rav 4 to meet the ladies for our hour long morning walk.

Joe and I's alarm would ring just after 6 am sending Joe off to the shower.  I'd eventually crawl out of bed, making my way into the dining room where I'd part the white, linen curtains ever so slightly to make sure we had a daytime guard.  Jean was pretty reliable and most days I'd see him bent over top of an old paint bucket wearing his purple and white tie-dyed pants as he washed his work uniform.  Eventually, he'd hang it on the small line alongside the pool before stringing the hose out the gate to wash Joe's truck.

By the time I left the house two hours later, Jean's blue collared shirt would have dried and he'd be dressed for the days work.  Despite buying him a couple of plastic, white garden chairs, he'd flip over the paint bucket-turned wash basin and sit on it outside the door.

My morning walk consisted of a regular route with several other ladies and it usually took just over an hour.  I liked to keep the pace up and by the end, we'd be drenched partly due to exercise but mostly due to 35 degree heat with an insane amount of humidity.  We'd say our 'Au revoirs' and I'd drive back to my home, this time finding Jean sat across the street with the woman who ran a small cigarette/phone credit/convenience store stand.  He'd see me come around the corner, hop up and lumber back across the street to meet me.

Half the time, there'd be someone parked in Joe's spot.  This used to annoy me as one of the main responsibilities of our guard was to guard our parking.  We even devised a makeshift gate which could be closed when we departed just to curb those that would ignore the 'No Parking' sign on the wall but the guards would leave the gate open in case they weren't there when we pulled up leaving it vulnerable to other drivers.  No amount of reasoning resulted in any change so I gave up.

"C'est qui?" I'd ask, pointing at the vehicle beside me.

"Oh, le monsieur là.  J'ai dit que c'est privé mais il n'ecoute pas."
(Oh, the man there.  I told him that it's private but he doesn't listen.)

I'd nod and remind him that once 'le monsieur' left, to close up the ribbons.

Most days, Jean would have something to rant about.  He'd complain about the adjacent store's night guard who would leave his garbage in front of our entrance.  He'd demand that I march over and confront 'le chef' and explain that his guard was useless.  Sometimes he'd complain about the men urinating on the wall or the school children that always walked out in front of vehicles.  Most of time, he vent about our night guard, Diallo.  "He sleeps all night long when he's supposed to be working and he always leaves early before I arrive in the morning.  He's really messy and the WC is a disaster."  I'd nod, occasionally telling him I'd have a talk with Diallo before climbing the stairs to take a shower.

Jean was somewhere between his early and mid-fifties.  In Gabon, this was considered very old.  After all, life expectancy for a male sat somewhere around 57.  He has a wife who would occasionally visit.  Jean would bring out the plastic chair for her and he'd sit on the overturned bucket where they'd watch the downtown going-ons in silence.  In all the guards we had, Jean was the most reliable.  He worked his 12 hour shifts, 6 days a week and was usually on time.  Near the end of our stay in Gabon, he was taking more and more time to travel to the hospital for treatment on his bad knee.  I hated those days because it meant a replacement guard would come (or not) and replacement guards tended to be miserable souls who showed up several hours late, slept all day long and left several hours early.

But Jean, he was kind.  He acted like a house manager.  He directed the gardeners and mosquito sprayers.  He cleaned the pool and informed me when the chlorine block needed replacing and he tended to the banana trees letting me know when they were ready to be cut.  He filled me in on neighbourhood gossip and every afternoon, he'd meet me at my car to carry my groceries upstairs, each time, slipping off his worn shoes below despite me telling him that he could wear them inside.  When something was wrong, the buzzer would start ringing incessantly and I'd know, Jean was worked up about something.  I'd peek out the door and he'd beckon me down so that I could nod away as he ranted about this or that.  Despite being a mostly gentle man, he had a fiery side to him but often after the rant, he'd feel better and the crisis would subside.

Having a full time guard stationed at your house 24 hours a day was a concept so foreign and uncomfortable to me when we first moved to Gabon.  They knew when and where I went and who came to the house, how often I grocery shopped and what time I woke up in the morning.  In the beginning, I didn't like the transparency.  At one point in our second year in Gabon, I became quite ill and lay confined in the house for almost 2 weeks as I battled whatever tropical bug was fighting me.  Jean caught on pretty quickly as I didn't follow my normal routines and soon, every morning he was greeting Joe with, "Et Madame?"  Joe would reply in his broken French, "Pas bonne," and Jean would look down and shake his head.  When I finally did surface, I could see a look of relief in his eyes as he hopped up and assisted me.

In the end, it was comforting to have him there, watching over us and keeping an eye on everything.  As we prepared to depart Gabon for good, we gifted him a hat from Joe's parents' golf course and a healthy bonus in hopes to make things a bit easier for him for the next few months.  I knew when we said goodbye, we'd never hear from each other again but I think of him often.  I wonder how the new family treated him and how is sore knee is faring.  I hoped he still had his health and I hoped he continued to watch out for those school children as they made their way to school.

A Weekend in Stockholm

Friday 23 August 2013

We keep an informal list of weekend destinations - places that don't require taking holiday days because the flights are direct (or nearly direct) and the travel costs reasonable (for Stavanger.)  When I notice a gap in our travel calendar longer than a month, I'll start to peruse flights.  More often than not, a return trip over a weekend will end up being too expensive or the flight connections too lengthy to make it worthwhile but occasionally, I'll come across something feasible.

At the beginning of June, in the midst of our crazy travel schedule, the August calendar was looking a little bare and low and behold, flights to Stockholm had come down in price.  Tickets were bought, hotel booked and the trip was put on the back-burner as we prepared to travel to North America via France.

Stockholm was one of those places we visited with little planning and few expectations.  I think we assumed the city would be quite similar Oslo and while we enjoyed our weekend there, we weren't particularly smitten with Norway's capital city but upon arrival in Sweden, we were pleasantly surprised.
This Scandinavian city felt urban and the architecture was more inspiring.  Water in every direction made for pretty pictures and walking paths made the city very accessible by foot.  We ate really, really well and had the perfect mix of learning and exploring with relaxing and people watching.  Of course, the sunny weather helped.

Having come across the Story Hotel in our Condé Nast Traveller magazine, we decided to make it our base for our weekend in Stockholm.  The location was ideal - in Östermalm, noted to be a higher end neighbourhood in the city filled with restaurants, shops and a stone's throw from many of the major sites.  The hotel was hip and quirky from the decor to the happening lounge on the main floor.

We booked the "Bath Room" (those of you who love baths as much as I do and find yourself living without one will seek them out in nice hotels) and while it was small, it was completely functional.  The long glass wall dividing the bathroom from the rest of the room was unique and perhaps for some, a little too 'revealing.'  While the sink and toilet are a little more discreet, privacy is definitely lacking should you 'ahem' require it.  But, with that being said, we quite enjoyed it for a short weekend in the city and as always, I appreciate hotels with a little personality and this one certainly had it.

Should you find yourself booking a room, definitely ask for an upper floor.  As I said, the bar downstairs is happening, particularly on a Friday night, and I'm not sure I'd want to find myself right above it unless I was planning on joining in.

The Details
+ Flights were purchased through SAS and required a stop in Oslo.
+We took the Arlanda Express from the airport to centre and found it fast, clean and easy to use.  From there, it was about a 20 minute walk to the hotel which was fine with minimal luggage.  We did take a taxi on the way back.
+We stayed at the Story Hotel but booked through Mr & Mrs Smith for a better rate.

**More to come on Stockholm and how we spent our time there but in case you're interested, you can check out our visits to other Scandinavian cities - Oslo & Copenhagen.

Gladmat - Stavanger's Food Festival

Wednesday 21 August 2013

May and June were extremely busy full of travel and although we returned to Norway July first, we only had a week to recover from jet lag and prepare the house for my parent's arrival.  After their visit, we were quite literally exhausted and so ready for some quiet time around the house but we also couldn't pass up the opportunity to visit Gladmat, Scandinavia's largest food festival, taking place in Stavanger Sentrum.

I missed the festival last year as I was spending time in Canada and while Joe made an appearance, he only found his way to the Lervig beer tent and his memories are hazy at best.  Apparently, Gladmat attracts some 250 000 people each year and celebrity chefs are known to make an appearance.  (In 2010, Gordon Ramsay was a guest of honour.)

The food festival features many stalls where one can sample local restaurants' signature dishes; there are large stands similar to what one would find at a farmer's market selling cheese, produce, and homemade goods including typical Norwegian dishes like lefse; there are also cooking courses and competitions.  It's near impossible not to find a little something for everyone.
Just before this picture was taken, I dropped 50 kr and a nice man let me know the bill was laying
beside my foot. I love living in a place where people are honest!

We made our way to the harbour around noon in hopes of sampling a few foods in lieu of lunch.  The atmosphere was jovial and the crowds were large.  We started by taking a preliminary walk around the entire area to view our options but as time went on, the crowds grew and so did the lines.  We managed to taste a few dishes from some Asian stations but soon our patience wore out and our feet were tired.  When we couldn't find a table to enjoy a beer, we picked up a few batches of berries and jumped the train back home.  Next year I'll be determined to arrive a bit earlier.

I'm honoured to be featured on Flight Network's Top 100 Canadian Travel Bloggers list.  Thank you for all of your support and recognition!

Recent (Summer) Reads III

Monday 19 August 2013

There is something about summer that warrants easy living.  We dine on light, cool meals thrown together casually.  When the sun comes out and the air warms, we abandon responsibilities a little easier  and when we read, we want something we can drift in and out of yet the plot keeps our attention and can be picked up when left for days or even weeks.
Speaking From Among The Bones by Alan Bradley
I've been following this series for several years now and the main character, Flavia de Luce, keeps me coming back.  A child prodigy of sorts, Flavia solves mysteries in her small English village and this novel keeps one guessing throughout.  In fact, there's quite a cliffhanger leaving me anxious for the next instalment.  The writing is poetic and Bradley does a wonderful job at drawing you into Flavia's world of chemistry and mystery.  I'd recommend you start at the first novel in the series if you're looking for a little mystery in your summer reading.

Rules of Civility by Amor Towles
New York in the late 30s, working class women with an eye for more and a tangled story of friendship and romance make this a great read for the summer.  The main character, Katie, is smart and self aware and I love that she goes against the grain, becoming a spinster of sorts.  In my books, this was the perfect book to devour in the sunshine (or for that matter, in the rain.)  The author also created a playlist full of jazz to pair with your reading - I'd suggest a cocktail too, preferably a martini.

The Shoemaker's Wife by Adriana Trigiani
Italy in the early 1900s to America in 1950s, this is a love story that spans two continents and several decades as two young Italians try to make their way in New York City.  Sometimes the story felt slow with pages of narrative over a single encounter yet other times, years or even decades would pass between paragraphs.  I started to lose interest half way through - as the plot progressed, many events came together far too neatly and too quickly.  I finished it feeling a little 'meh.'  It wasn't a waste of time but I was happy to be done with it and ready to move onto something else.

What has graced your summer reading list?

{PS. Recent Reads 1 & Recent Reads 2 & Why I Read}

Sunday Currently

Sunday 18 August 2013

Life's been busy lately - the kind of busy that has had me frequenting airports - and while I'm always happy to travel, a part of me is relieved for things to calm down a little.  I'm ready to get back into the routine that Fall often brings.

Posts around these parts have been heavily travel based and very often, written in advance and prescheduled as I try to keep on top of the blog so today, as we enjoy a quiet Sunday in the comfort of our home, I thought I'd take a page out of Betsy's book and catch you up on the non-travel side of our lives.
(L) A castle in Aberdeenshire visited this week.
(R) Saturday night chocolate chip cookie baking.

C u r r e n t l y...

Listening to the sound of the wind whipping around our apartment, Joe's computer keys and mouse clicking as he catches up on an agglomeration of work sent his way from Norwegians returning from their summer holidays and the hum of the overhead fan in the kitchen that never seems to shut completely off.

Reading Orhan Pamuk's Istanbul: Memories and the City in preparation for a trip to Turkey next month.

Writing more in my head just before I fall asleep that never actually makes it to paper (or computer.)  It's funny how that happens - during the day when I'm on my own, my focus wanes yet as I'm falling asleep, the sentences practically write themselves.

Watching House of Cards on Netflix and enjoying it.  As usual, it felt a little slow at the start when we were trying to figure everything out but as we near the end of Season 1, things are coming together and I'm sure we'll be anxiously awaiting the premiere of the second season.  This morning we watched Mud after a French toast breakfast - both of us enjoyed it.  It reminded me of those coming of age American books and films (Huck Finn, Stand By Me, The Outsiders) with a little bit of adventure and an occasional pull on the heart strings.

Cooking this Roasted Tomato and Basil Soup recipe in hopes of trimming down my massive basil plant that sits on my window sill.  That thing has been growing like crazy and I'm constantly looking for recipes that could benefit from some fresh herbs.

Wearing a J Crew t shirt and my Lululemon WonderUnder pants that I've seriously been living in whenever I'm at home.

Clicking on this letter that Stephen Fry wrote to the International Olympic Committee & David Cameron in response to the anti-gay laws in Russia.

Hope you all have a nice Sunday!

{Linking up with Siddathornton}

Part IX: O Canada, Our Home and Native Land

Friday 16 August 2013

Time abroad and travel often help us see our home country in a different light but it also makes us aware how little the rest of the world knows about our vast and beautiful nation.  Despite our humble nature, we Canadians are fiercely proud of our country and we'll gladly sing its praises.



From Lauren...


I have an unhealthy obsession with this classic Canadian dish that has ironically grown since I moved to California. It’s considered a fast food dish that I think originated in Quebec but - lucky for the rest of us in different parts of the country - has made its way elsewhere.

Let me walk you through it: take a heaping pile of french fries, throw a fairly generous handful of cheese curds* on top of said pile and then pour brown gravy all over it all. Watch the steam rise, watch the cheese melt, and before your friends around you get the chance, grab a fork and dig in. You won’t regret it - I promise. This is the traditional way to order it, but there are places like Smoke’s Poutinerie that offer add-ons like chicken, steak and veggies.

From Jess...
{Jess shared more great, Canadian brands on another O Canada post found here.}

Club Monaco: Club Monaco was founded by Canadian designer Joe Mimran and Alfred Sung in Toronto, Canada in 1985.

Alfred Sung: Alfred Sung is a one-man fashion brand, but I bet you didn’t know he is actually Chinese-Canadian!

Jason Wu: Jason Wu is another one-man-brand (one of my favourites, and yes, people can be brands too), but did you know he is actually Taiwanese-Canadian? He is perhaps most famous for designing Michelle Obama’s inauguration dresses.

Cirque du Soleil: Born in Montreal, Quebec, Cirque du Soleil was founded by two street performers in 1984. Today, over 90 million people have seen a Cirque show!

La Senza: This lingerie and intimate apparel brand is based in Dorval, Quebec. First launched in 1990, it includes over 300 stores in 30 countries around the globe (plus another 300 in Canada!) We even have a La Senza here, on the tiny Mediterranean island of Malta.

IMAX: IMAX finds its roots at the Montreal Expo 67, where it was debuted by its four Canadian filmmaker founders.

Flickr: Flickr was launched in 2004 by a Vancouver company, Ludicorp, before being acquired by Yahoo in 2005.

And some honourable mentions of beloved Canadian brands, to throw into conversation the next time you talk to a Canuck:

·       Hudson’s Bay Company: Established in 1670 as a fur trading business, HBC lives on today as Canada’s oldest brand. I’m a huge fan of their HBC Collection, which is a throw back to their centuries-old four stripes design.
·       Tim Hortons: In Canada we have two religions: Hockey and Tim Hortons, the nation’s favourite coffee shop chain.
·       The Big Five Banks: The darlings of the global financial world, Canada’s Big Four banks (RBC, CIBC, TD, BMO, and Scotiabank) have remained pillars of stability during the global economic crisis, thanks in part to a good financial regulatory framework in my home and native land.

Thanks Jay, for letting me spread the word about these proud Canadian brands!

Lauren is a Canadian export who has been studying towards a Masters in PR in Los Angeles, California.  If that wasn't cool enough, she packed up and crossed the Atlantic for a summer in London, England.  She has travelled fairly extensively, loves taking beautiful photos and trying new restaurants.

Jess, of Mike and Jess in Malta fame, moved from Halifax on the East coast of Canada to Malta in 2010.  She just completed a double Masters degree, already having finished a degree in Art History and can often be found revelling in clever branding.  If that didn't make her busy enough, she's planning an über-cool wedding to her counterpart, Mike, this year.  (She also designed that awesome graphic above!)

Fjøløy Lighthouse

Wednesday 14 August 2013

After visiting the Utstein Monastery, we ventured down the road, through fields of sheep until we came upon a lighthouse.

This stretch of coastline was considered some of the most dangerous in Norway.  When people thought of Norway, they pictured mountains and as they approached Norwegian land, they'd see the fjord mountains in the distance yet often forget about the rocky and barren islands dotting the coast.  Dozens of lighthouses were installed in the area in hopes that ships could follow from one to the next, guiding them safely inland.

Being a lighthouse keeper was considered a respectable job and the lighthouses in this region were sought after due to their proximity to larger towns.  The keeper's family lived in a house right on site for many years until the position turned into commuter style where workers would rotate in and out.  In 1977, the lighthouse was automated no longer requiring a regular employee.

The Fljøløy Lighthouse was built in 1894 and today, the keeper's house, an engine house, an outhouse and a boat house still sit perched along the rocky coast accompanying the light.  As we stood there, wind whipping around us, I couldn't help but think of The Light Between Oceans and wonder what it must have been like living in semi-isolation, guiding boats and ships to safety.

The Fjøløy Lighthouse is located in the Rennesøy municipality on Mosterøy Island and is about a 35 minute drive from Stavanger.  From the Utstein Monastery, it's about 2.7 kilometres which can be either walked or driven.

Utstein Monastery

Monday 12 August 2013

Stavanger is a pretty small city (120 000 inhabitants in the region) yet I find myself amazed at how much there is to do and see in the area.  People often assume you need to be in a big metropolis for a variety of sites and activities and while Stavanger may not be London or Hong Kong, it really does have a lot to offer even if you have to look a little harder for it.
Utstein Monastery has been on my to-do list for quite some time but it just never seemed to cross our minds when we were hanging out around here on a weekend.  In fact, the opening hours outside of the summer season are quite limited and the 30 minute drive from Stavanger means you have to be at least somewhat organised to visit.  But, with my parents in town and a free Sunday on the horizon, we made the trek.

The Monastery was first mentioned in historical records in the 9th century but the building of the site that we see today started around 1260.  It's thought that it housed 9 monks and employed dozens of people to tend to the surrounding farms.  As far as monasteries go, Utstein and it's farm were considered quite wealthy and could feed 250 people.  After the reformation in the 15th century, Utstein sat vacant and fell into disrepair until Christopher Garmann bought and renovated the property for personal use.  It continued as a working farm until the 1930s but now is home to a museum.
The museum and monastery are not particularly impressive on the inside.  The site is small and there isn't a lot of information posted but my Mom purchased a small pamphlet and we toured the main rooms on the ground floor and then continued to the second floor which was set up as the Garmann home.

The scenery alone makes it a great place to visit.  Located on the Mosterøy Island, the drive and the area are quite picturesque and should you happen to visit on a nice day, there are a couple of different walks to explore the area on foot.

Part VIII: O Canada, Our Home and Native Land

Friday 9 August 2013

Time abroad and travel often help us see our home country in a different light but it also makes us aware how little the rest of the world knows about our vast and beautiful nation.  Despite our humble nature, we Canadians are fiercely proud of our country and we'll gladly sing its praises.



From Oneika...

The tropics usually don't come to mind when most people think of (cold!) Canada, but one of the country's biggest events is Caribana, a colourful festival celebrating Caribbean culture held in Toronto every year.

Many people don't realize that Toronto has a large population from the many islands that dot the Caribbean Sea. Immigrants from places like Trinidad, Jamaica, Grenada, and Barbados are part of the city's vibrant, multicultural fabric, and have weaved their food, culture, and music into the Canadian way of life.

Caribana is a vivid and extremely fun manifestation of these aspects. Officially known as the Scotiabank Toronto Caribbean Festival, this is a street party of epic proportions. It is comprised of a number of events (taking place over a two week period) that fete the heritage and traditions of the countries in the West Indies.  The culminating event is the Parade of Bands, which is a massive street parade that takes place at the every end of the festival.

As a proud Jamaican-Canadian who took part in the parade a few years ago, I have to tell you that it was deliciously fun!  Have you ever seen pictures of Rio de Janeiro's Carnival?  This is pretty similar.  Us parade participants don brightly coloured costumes (plumes, sparkles, and giant headpieces are standard!) and dance our way down the 2 mile or so parade route. We are kept moving by the loud blasts of steel pan, calypso, and soca music supplied by the many speakers and live bands that are also part of the parade. Spectators who are not part of the parade line the parade route to gawk and cheer us on. Between the vibe, camaraderie between participants, and eye-catching costumes, it is a stellar time. Check me out in the field in my feathery finery! (I'm the lady in the middle.)


The parade, a "closing ceremony" of sorts, brings over 1 million tourists to Toronto every summer and is a great way to discover the city beyond usual sights like the CN Tower or Hockey Hall of Fame.

So if you ever have a hankering for a good party in the Great White North, I beseech you to add the Caribana festival to your list. I'm willing to bet five loonies* that you'll have the time of your life!

*loonie = the Canadian one dollar coin.

Oneika  is a fellow Canadian, teacher and expat who just moved back to Hong Kong after a stint in London but has also called France and Mexico home.  She's an avid traveller, visiting 60+ countries on 6 continents and continues to spend her time exploring this vast and beautiful world.  When she's not on the road, she's taking advantage of all that her adopted home has to offer and thankfully, she documents it all on her blog, Oneika The Traveller.

Gardens of Versailles

Wednesday 7 August 2013

The sun was warm, hot even, and the shade was cool - the perfect early June weather.  Class after class of school children lined the Grand Canal, spreading the groups long and thin against the tall, manicured trees to take respite from the heat.  Empty benches in placid gardens beckoned us where we sat, quietly letting the sounds and smells permeate the air.

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