Trois Ans de Mariage

Wednesday 30 October 2013

Three years ago today, Joe and I were married in Gabon.  At the time, it was a bit of a kerfuffle - the months of struggles trying to work out my residence card hoping I wouldn't be deported finally culminating in the resolve to get married.  The major's office gave us two weeks notice but thinking the ceremony wouldn't be legal anywhere outside of Gabon, we didn't put much thought into the actual logistics of it.  It was what it was and without wanting to take anything away from the wedding we were planning in Canada, we just sort of did it.  These days, the whole idea of it brings a lot of laughter.

When I pull out our marriage certificate for paperwork here I can't help but giggle at the tiny, handwritten strip of paper and when Joe and I get asked about it, we'll often jovially relay the story.  We'll share that our driver was one of the four witnesses as we were desperate for attendants that had legal residence in Gabon (something many of our friends were also struggling to attain.)  I'll recount, whilst shaking my head, the struggle to find any sort of suitable dress in Port Gentil however, not wanting to show up underdressed, I purchased a $12 white dress from a local shop that I detested.  Joe, leaving his formal wear in Canada, borrowed a suit from his boss!

We'll talk about arriving that morning to city hall waiting in the back of the room for the ceremony to start only to be beckoned to walk down the aisle to Rihanna & Eminem's 'Love the Way You Lie.'  Our Moroccan friend Tarik, also an attendant, translated the entire ceremony for us through a microphone as the mayor was adamant that we understand every single word.  We all laughed as they reiterated that we decided upon a monogamous marriage and what that entailed and we sat smiling and nodding as we endured a twenty minute long speech as to why we should bring all of our friends and family to Gabon.

Quite unlike our reception in Canada, we immediately left city hall for an oceanfront restaurant where we sat, sweating, in plastic chairs, batting away flies and sipping champagne.  Currently sitting on our bookcase here in Stavanger is the cork from that first bottle of champagne with a Gabonese coin wedged in it, a tradition relayed from our British friends who joined us.

While we didn't have a photographer to capture all of the details, those memories are etched in our minds and although I can see a million things I would have done differently, I love that every time it comes up, every anniversary, every story we tell, it brings a smile to both of our faces.

{If you're interested, you can read the first post where we announced our wedding to family & friends via this blog here and of course, our more typical Canadian wedding is here.}

On Documentaries

Friday 25 October 2013

Documentaries often have a bad rap.  I think some people equate them to those terrible educational films you had to watch when you had a substitute teacher.  (They're not at all.)  When someone chooses to make a documentary, it's usually because they are passionate about the topic and there's a story to be told.  It's not necessarily about making money or being a box-office success, it's about sharing and teaching and learning and when you combine those with artistic cinematography and a soundtrack, it's a recipe for success.  Or at least it is in my books.

One of the perks of being a trailing spouse and not working is having time to explore documentaries.  If I'm feeling bored one afternoon, I'll do a browse through Netflix or iTunes to see what I find.  Sometimes I'll watch something I would never expect to be interesting only to find a fascinating story and I almost always feel like I've learned something.  In fact, that's my favourite part about Netflix - I watch something I might not have paid for separately which has uncovered a wealth of fantastic documentaries.

So, in no particular order, a few of the favourites over the past year...

Ai Weiwei - Never Sorry
Ai Weiwei is a contemporary Chinese artist whose pieces tend to straddle Art and political activism.  Never Sorry offers a glimpse into his process as an artist while examining the injustices of current life in China particularly when it comes to freedom of speech and corruption.  Critics widely pan this documentary as a success and I'd have to agree. In a word, fascinating.

Brooklyn Castle
Brooklyn Castle follows an inner-city school in Brooklyn and their unlikely success in the competitive chess circuit.  Despite budget cuts and students with financial and other burdens, the after-school program continues to thrive resulting in the school winning the most junior high school chess championships in the country.  I don't play chess but I was rooting for these kids and the teachers who fight so hard to keep the program up and running.

Stories We Tell
Sarah Polley is a Canadian celebrity made famous by her beloved role in Road to Avonlea.  This documentary is brilliant in almost every way.  Brilliant.  Polley uses a combination of interviews from family and friends of her late mother as well as clips which were filmed to resemble home movies in order to uncover a family secret.  Stories We Tell has this way creating such a intricate, comprehensive story without having the main character present.  It was wonderfully done.

They Call it Myanmar: Lifting the Curtain
Myanmar, also known as Burma, is one of the most closed off societies in the world as it's citizens continue to live under military dictatorship.  Filmed, occasionally in secret, over 2 years, we get a glimpse at everyday life in one of the world's poorest nations.  It, again, reinforces that what we see on the outside is a very small aspect of the complexities of a nation, particularly of one that is so cut off from the rest of the world.

Being Elmo
Most children who grow up in North America will have some sort of connection to Sesame Street.  Those puppets signify childhood where we learnt our numbers and letters and where we were taught lessons about sharing and caring.  Being Elmo not only shows us how the beloved character came to be but also a behind the scenes look at puppetry.  Seeing how the puppets are physically made and then how they are brought to life by those that play them was really interesting.

Note by Note: The Making of Steinway L1037
We have a tendency to see an object just as an object like it appears on Earth exactly as it is whereas Note by Note allows us to follow one piano from start to finish and all of those that bring it to life.  The details and the sheer amount of time, effort, energy and manpower behind it's construction is really quite something and certainly reignited my appreciation of handcrafted items.

Helvetica is one of the world's most used fonts and what might appear to be a simple, clean typeface, is actual a well thought out, complex system.  The film looks at typography, how it's used and what it says.  It examines Helvetica's successes and critics all while drawing attention to just how often we come across this font.

Inside Job
I'm not good with numbers and while a lot of the concepts are still over my head, I can understand that money, greed and corruption have had catastrophic effects on the world economy.  Inside Job looks at the financial crisis, how it started, how and why it continues and the bastards who made millions of dollars off of it.  I've never seen so many well educated, powerful people play dumb and it is infuriating.  Even more so, practically nothing has changed.  This is an eye opening film.

Scatter My Ashes at Bergdorf's
I tend to get caught up in the serious documentaries but this was a nice departure for me.  From the history of the store, to the competitiveness to get a brand into Bergdorfs to it's elaborate window displays,  we really get a sense of the exclusivity of this New York department store.  And while the likelihood of my shopping there is unfortunately, minimal, a girl can dream.

First Position
The former dancer in me was enthralled by this film.  First Position follows six dancers who hope to enter the world of professional dancing.  The commitment and dedication these performers exhibit is nothing short of amazing particularly in an industry that is so competitive and cut-throat.

Exit Through the Gift Shop
Fellow blogger, Jess, recommended this Banksy film to me after I posted on Stavanger's Street Art Festival.  It gives a really interesting look into the world of street art and perhaps even more interesting, starts a discussion about what constitutes Art.  This is a great discussion starter and if anything, will have you looking a little more closely and perhaps with a little more admiration at the Art that graces our streets.

{Honourable mentions from over the years - When the Levees Broke - The September Issue - and as polarizing as he may be, Michael Moore's trio of Bowling for Columbine, Fahrenheit 9/11 & Sicko are fascinating.}

Any recommendations?  Tell me about it!

Travel Planning: Itineraries

Wednesday 23 October 2013

So far, we've tackled long term travel planning, we looked at booking flights & hotels and now, it's time to look at itineraries; how do we plan our days before & while we're traveling.

As with everything else, I'm generally the one who does the pre-trip research.  I try to get an idea of what there is to see and do in the location we'll be visiting, the areas of the city we might want to visit, I'll track down restaurants to try and I'll check if there are any admissions or tickets we should pre purchase.  (I learned my lesson after the Alhambra & Versailles.)  I usually compile everything on one, handwritten piece of paper to bring with me.

Unless we had to purchase tickets for something in advance, we do not keep a strict itinerary for a trip.  To be completely honest, we usually plan our days when we arrive in our location - we'll get a city map from the hotel and over dinner or drinks, we'll sit down and start to plan it out.  We'll discuss the must-sees and decide when/how to see them but generally, everything is kept pretty loose.

With that being said, here are a few things we've learned along the way...

+Always research transport to/from the airport in advance.  Sometimes it makes sense for both budget & time to jump in a cab, other times, not so much.
+Tourist spots are tourist spots for a reason and they're usually what a city or location is known for but don't forget, a city is much more than it's well-known sights.  Research other neighbourhoods and spend some time wandering the streets well away from famous spots.
+WALK!  Joe hates walking the same street twice which sometimes drives me nuts but we see so much of the city because of it.  When we stop for lunch or a drink, we'll pull out our map and draw all of the routes we've walked which inevitably, draws our attention to areas or streets we've neglected.
+Schedule plenty of time for meals and drinks.  When you see a cute cafe, stop and have a drink.  People watch, try the local beer and if the staff seem friendly, ask for their recommendations for things to see and do.
+Eat away from the main tourist sights.  The best restaurants are usually where the locals are - well away from the tourists.  Come armed with recommendations from the internet, friends and locals which will help you avoid hanger.
+When planning to visit popular museums, try to visit first thing in the morning or later in the afternoon when they're less busy. It also pays to research where you can buy tickets.  Pre-purchasing online or at a satellite location can save you from wasting time in lengthy lines on location.
+Don't plan to shop on a Sunday without double checking that shops will be open.  Stores across many major European cities will close on Sunday however, there are often markets to explore for a less mainstream experience.
+Keep a loose itinerary but don't be afraid to stray from the plan.  Sometimes you stumble onto something you didn't know existed and those often turn out to be the most memorable parts of the trip.  It's a shame to rush off just to stick to a plan and miss out on something really unique and valuable.

Do you create an itinerary or do you prefer to go with the flow?

Cruising to Kristiansand, Norway

Monday 21 October 2013

Back in August, Joe and I jumped in the car and drove 3 hours Southeast of Stavanger to Kristiansand.  We had been hearing about this Southernmost city in Norway for some time particularly as a summer destination and with the summer quickly leaving us, we jumped at the opportunity to spend a night there when the weather looked promising.

It's a quaint, little town with a distinctly beachy feel and surprisingly enough, the most visited city by tourists in all of Norway.  It's home to the second largest port in Norway and if you plan on bringing your car from Continental Europe to tour this Scandinavian country, it's quite likely you'll arrive first in Kristiansand.

Joe and I booked a room at the brand new Scandic Bystranda hotel right on the water.  We walked and walked and walked, exploring the centre of town on foot and dined at Bølgen and Moi, located right on a waterway, Saturday evening.  Sitting on the terrace, we watched boats pull in for ice cream and groups of people having cocktails in their boat before heading out for the night.  After a sunset stroll to walk off a large dinner, we capped off the night with a bottle of champagne on the hotel's second floor terrace.
Kristiansand's stunning new Concert House
From the terrace of the Scandic Bystranda
On Sunday, we jumped in the car and drove up the hill behind the city to Banaheia, a large park with several walking paths and a fresh water lake often used for swimming.  We weaved through the trails until we found Café Generalen, a lovely little restaurant with a great outdoor dining area in the park where we had lunch before jumping back in the car and returning to Stavanger.
Cafe Generalen
I can see why Kristiansand would be a popular destination for families in the summer.  It's abundance of parks, playgrounds and beaches make it a great destination to bring kids when the sun is out.  We enjoyed its laid back nature and being that the town is very pedestrian friendly, it was great to park the car and explore leisurely on foot.

And the drive home was pretty darn nice too...

Recent Reads IV

Tuesday 15 October 2013

I always find travel more meaningful when I've read books that either take place or are about the location I'm visiting.  The actual experience of travel can feel fleeting but when I've sat in a book for weeks, digesting it's content and minutiae, I feel like I've been there all along.  There's also the thrill of finally seeing those sites you read so much about in real life and noticing the tiny little details you might never have known without the book.  Whether it's non-fiction, historical fiction or a fictional story set in  a real place, it's almost as if I feel a deeper connection with the city, like we're old friends.

Immediately after booking our trip to Istanbul, I started looking for a book to read as I really knew very little about the city.  Pamuk is widely known as the Turkish writer (he won a Nobel prize in 2002 for literature) and when I saw that he had a memoir all about Istanbul, I figured it would be the perfect accompaniment.  

Well, I might have been a bit wrong.  This book was hard to read.  I wanted so badly to enjoy it, but I just didn't.  To be honest, I didn't even finish it.  I stopped about two thirds of the way through; Joe stopped at the halfway point.  It wasn't a total waste; I certainly felt like I learned some of the inner workings of the city and the cultural values that some of its long time residents hold dear.  

I really yearned for more of Pamuk's story in Istanbul when it felt like the majority of the book focused on everyone else's thoughts about Istanbul.  He spent ages talking about foreign writers' perceptions of the city when all I really wanted were his personal experiences.  In fact, the moments that I loved in the book were the stories about his family & their life through the fall of the Ottoman empire.  Unfortunately, those stories felt few and far between and there wasn't really a consistent plot to keep me interested.  In retrospect, I wish I had chosen one of his fictional stories.  I've heard My Name is Red is fantastic and I'll probably pick it up down the road.

Tales from the Expat Harem edited by Anastasia Ashman & Jennifer Eaten Gökmen
I purchased the Kindle edition of this book as I thought it would provide a great contrast to Pamuk; a native Istanbullu's experience juxtaposed against the foreigners who have called Turkey home. Tales is a collection of short stories from women of all walks of life - those who visited Turkey and never left, those who moved for love, those who moved for work, those who live in Istanbul and those who live in conservative, rural villages.  I felt like I gained some really great insight into a Turkish home and being an expat, I could certainly relate to the ideas and challenges of integrating into a different culture.

(On a side note, Joe read Dan Brown's Inferno a few months prior to our trip and he was really excited to see some of the locations in person.)

And a book completely unrelated to Turkey...

Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald by Therese Anne Fowler
Last year, I read The Paris Wife followed by Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises before our Spring trip to Europe and then this year, in anticipation of the film, I finally read Gatsby.  Throw in regular viewing of Midnight in Paris and I feel like a silent observer in this tortured group of writers & artists.  

Z was a fantastic read.  While the author readily puts forward that this is a work of fiction, it is based upon the real life stories and letters of the Fitzgeralds.  Their turbulent marriage is really brought to life here and Fowler has a way of telling a somewhat tragic story with a lightness and humour.  I cheered for Zelda and her sassy personality, I laughed at her sometimes outrageous behaviour and I felt sadness for those missed opportunities at the life and success she yearned for.  It was a great, insightful book and I was sad to see it come to an end.

Currently Reading...

And The Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini
I think most people agree, Hosseini is a master storyteller and his new book has been on my to-read list ever since I heard about it.

Have you read any books that have inspired or enhanced travel?


Sunday 13 October 2013

+Today is Thanksgiving in Canada.  This year I'm thankful for so much but feeling especially happy that despite a very late and wet seeding season, my brother and Dad got all of their crops off this week. Joe and I have a chicken to roast but I sure wish I was eating turkey & dressing with my family.

+Joe and I hiked Dalsnuten this morning for the second time.  It was so busy but the weather couldn't have been better and of course, the views were fantastic.

+Last night, we went to the theatre to see The Butler - have you seen it?  Both of us quite enjoyed it.  We thought the acting was good and the story, interesting.

+Afterwards, we went to test out Marcus Samuelsson's new restaurant, Kitchen & Table.  Samuelsson's story is pretty interesting; he was born in Ethiopia but was adopted by a Swedish couple after his mother died of tuberculosis.  He won Top Chef Masters and he was the guest chef for President Obama's first state dinner.

His Kitchen & Table restaurants have been popping up all over Norway and Sweden with the Stavanger location opening up this summer.  The food is inspired by casual, fresh New York City dining.  We started with the Pork Tacitos, I had the Steak Frites and Joe, the Halibut.  We shared the apple & cheddar pie which sounds weird but was quite good.  We deemed the restaurant a success.

+I took an unplanned break from most social media this past week.  I turned off notifications, I didn't reply to emails and aside from occasionally perusing Instagram, I kept away from most sharing platforms.  I found myself feeling a little negative towards a few things and stepping back was just what I needed to gain a some perspective.  I'm hoping to keep a bit of distance this week too so if I don't respond to something right away, know that I'm not ignoring you, I'm just trying to work on a better offline balance.

+Thanks for your kind comments & wishes last week when I was recovering from a bad cold/flu.  I'm feeling much, much better now.

Happy Thanksgiving Canadian friends, family & readers.  Hope you have a lovely day filled with family & food.

Under the Weather

Friday 4 October 2013

Catnapping in Beyoglu, Istanbul
Sunday morning in Istanbul, I awoke with a sore throat.  I figured it had something to do with the copious amounts of secondhand cigarette smoke I'd inhaled that week until part way through our flight to Oslo.  My ears were popping with every swallow and when the sneezing commenced, I knew I was in for it.  Then, there was the descent.  We fly a lot, obviously (24 flight segments on Star Alliance alone so far this year,) and I've never had a problem with my ears until Sunday night's descent in to Oslo Gardermoen Airport.  My right ear wouldn't release and as the pressure mounted, I was near tears nudging Joe awake hoping he'd have some magical fix.  Despite numerous attempts to rectify the situation, we landed and my ear felt like it might explode.  By the time I crawled into bed after arriving in Stavanger, a fever had appeared with aches and pains to accompany the ear pain & sinus issues.

Getting sick is never enjoyable.  Getting sick overseas isn't any better.  In fact, it might be one of the few times I wish I was back in Canada where I could access a bevy of over the counter drugs easily and indulge in comfort foods and talk shows in English.

I normally keep a medicine cupboard full of familiar and imported remedies in case of emergencies.  Things like Advil, Pepto-Bismal & Reactine are stocked up on every trip home not because something similar can't be found here but because everything is labelled in another language, the branding is different and it requires a trip to the pharmacy.  Deciphering symptoms with a technician who may or may not understand what you're getting at is the last thing anyone wants to do when they're under the weather.

Monday, with my future looking bleak, I stammered into my homemade pharmacy only to discover that all of my cold and flu medications were expired.  Disgruntled, I settled on regular Advil to at least deal with my ear pain but by Monday evening with no ability to breath through my nose, I sucked it up and swallowed the expired medication telling myself that in the grand scheme of things, being expired by a year couldn't be that serious.  Obviously, I'm here to tell the tale so my suspicions were right.

Five days later, I continue to convalesce on the couch.  I have left my apartment exactly one time to walk to the recycle bin one night with Joe but have otherwise sat beside a heap of kleenex and a hard drive full of old movies.  I'm imagining the weekend to look similar.

While I hope you are feeling healthy & well, should you find yourself in a similar situation to mine, here are some links for your weekend...

+My friend JoAnna wrote a lovely piece about getting better with age.

+Even in the midst of my pity party, these Jimmy Fallon videos had me cracking up.

+This New Yorker satire also had me laughing.

+After waiting for this release for weeks, I was happy to finally purchase The Paper Kites new album.

+I'm also reading the novel about Zelda Fitzgerald which has been perfect for this week - light yet interesting and has me transporting back to the 20s.  I don't know how accurate it is but it's entertaining and it feels like how I picture Zelda.

+A later addition - The Pixel Painter. (Thanks Jess)

Reflecting on Istanbul

Wednesday 2 October 2013

The Blue Mosque at sunset from above

Sometimes I feel like I'm constantly raving about our travels and destinations on this blog and I hope it doesn't come across as disingenuous but I write what I feel and lately I've been feeling really grateful for the path Joe and I have chosen and the ability to see so many cities & countries.  It's been teaching me that a positive outlook often leads to positive experiences and my raving is a reflection of that and certainly not insincere.

With that being said, Istanbul... Wow.  We arrived to a sort of organized chaos in Ataturk International Airport and as we weaved in and out of taxis making our way to our prearranged transport, I'd be lying if I said I wasn't a little worried about this destination.  We've grown quite accustomed to the shiny, comfortable kind of travel to fully developed European cities and we were immediately reminded that this was going to be different.  Not completely different, but different enough to notice.

Istanbul was unfamiliar enough to feel slightly exotic and exciting without going so far as to feel strained.  We found found ourselves wandering through crowded streets filled with both pleasant and nauseating smells and then later, down deserted, cobblestone paths to funky cafés fit for any cosmopolitan city.  One minute I'd be pulling my scarf up to cover my hair and bare arms to step into a mosque and the next, shopping alongside girls in miniskirts.  We'd be awestruck by magnificent architecture standing strong and beautiful through hundreds of years and the falls of empires and then climb staircases of a derelict building still home to several families despite its complete disrepair.  It's clear that Istanbul straddles more than just two continents.

Joe and I were in wonderment for the duration of our five days in Turkey's (and the world's) largest city.  Each morning we were anxious to explore more and then collapsing into bed exhausted yet exhilarated after a full day.  When Sunday rolled around and our return flight to Norway loomed, neither of us felt ready to leave Istanbul.  There was so much more to see, learn and eat.  That city dug a place in my heart even if it wasn't all shiny and perfect.

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