28 July 2019

Man at Work - Sundays in My City

His name is Čumil (which means "watcher") and he watches from a street corner in Bratislava, Slovakia.  I fell in love with him. 

He's one of several statues in the city.  Due to his being so low to the ground, he's lost his head twice thanks to negligent drivers :o. Legend has it that if you rub his head and make a wish it will come true. That's why it's so shiny.  








This little guy didn't have a camera but mimicked taking pictures of his own :)


This little guy didn't seem very amused by being made to pose with Čumil
Bratislava was a cute little city...perfect for a quick weekend get-away (but you can even do it as a day-trip from Vienna).  It's still not super popular so it's not very crowded (except that I was there on the final weekend of the International Ice Hockey championships which were taking place in the city so it was relatively crowded...which was still not crowded compared to any popular European city) and it's really inexpensive.

The history of Slovakia (only an independent country (former one half of Czechoslovakia) since 1993) is super fascinating and surprising given the terrible history of the breakup of of its neighbor, Yugoslavia. Do the Free Walking Tour. Thoroughly enjoyable.


Sundays In My City

30 June 2019

Muddy Fiets - Sundays in My City

Pronounced feets (as if you made the word feet plural by adding an 's'...as if feet weren't already plural).  Fiets means bicycle but fiets is singular so it should really be Muddy Fietsen but that doesn't sound like an English word made plural.  I digress.

I've done posts in the past about bikes in Amsterdam (here, and here, and also here). I can't get enough of them!

These were probably fished out of the canal the day or two before (all kinds of things from trash to bikes and even cars end up in the canals and have to be routinely removed). Seems like Amsterdam is doing a whole bicycle cleanup with new signs and markings about where you can and cannot park your bike and where to go retrieve your bike if it is no longer where you parked it.  Perhaps this is something they do on a somewhat regular basis but I've never seen anything on this scale.




Do you enjoy foreign language words that sound like English words as much as I do?


Sundays In My City

16 June 2019

On a Bus in Malta - Sundays in My City

I've been writing this post in my head for over 6 months. 


I went to Malta last year over Thanksgiving. Malta is an island-nation off the south coast of Italy making it an easy weekend getaway when you're living in Italy. Once a British colony, they drive on the wrong side of the road (much like the Imperial system of measurement, something I think the few countries still doing it need to just rip off the band aid and switch!).  Being located between mainland Europe and northern Africa in the Mediterranean, Malta has been occupied by numerous entities including the Phoenicians, Romans, Greeks, Arabs, French, and British; each leaving a mark on the cultural landscape.  Maltese, the official language, is the only Semitic language in the European Union.


Malta is beautiful and the water is so amazingly crystal blue-green.  Although, honestly, I didn't enjoy the trip all that much. Everyone said to go to Gozo (one of the islands) so I booked a tour but the tour I booked was so awful that it was a complete waste of a whole day. Not that Gozo was awful, just that the tour I was on didn't actually let me see any of Gozo. Worst. Tour. Ever.  I had read that the public transport was great but I ended up on one bus that was extremely late and was so crowded that I stood for over an hour (although the ride was only supposed to be 30 min) and waited over 30 min for a different bus because it was also apparently very late. It was all just very frustrating and once I got to where I was going I was tired and didn't feel much like seeing what I went to see. 


I'm not saying Malta isn't a good place to visit...just that my visit didn't live up to what I'd heard from friends but hey, I had perfect weather and beautiful views and delicious food so it wasn't all bad. Truly first-world problems.




I should have just sat on my balcony and relaxed and enjoyed this amazing view.



The entrance to Mdina...also known as the Silent City.



Valletta, the capitol of Malta, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.






Every expat has a list in the back of their mind of who/what warrants an emergency trip home.  It isn't something we like to talk about but it's a fact of life.  Immediate family...what about aunts, uncles, cousins...really close friends...your best friend's mom or kid?...hospitalizations, funerals?  


What about weddings or other momentous big events? Birthdays, retirements, births? Those wouldn't be emergency visits but do involve expensive plane tickets and when you're flying that far you want to make it worth the trip so you need vacation time. Often these decisions aren't so easy. 


I read a great article recently about the price we pay for this chosen life.  The things we miss. It states, in part, "Some days, I can feel those 12,500 kilometres in my heart. Especially when something happens to someone I love back home.“ 


I had two dads...kinda. Not a biological father and a step-father.  But two men who were there when I was born...my father and his best friend, Skip. Skip had a distinctive voice and a huge laugh.  I can still hear it.  He gave me my first dog. 


Me and my first dog, Friday. My parents named him Friday to get back at Skip for giving me the puppy in the first place. Friday was Skip's nickname for me because I was born on Friday the 13th. My parents didn't want Skip to give me the puppy because they thought I was too young.
So when I got the news while traveling in Malta that Skip had gone into hospice, I sat on a bus riding to the capitol and made the decision that he was one of those people who warranted a last-minute plane ticket home. I booked a ticket as soon as I got back to Italy.  I was able to see him and I was fortunate that he was having a good day. He'd  checked himself out of hospice and gone home (no one can ever say I didn't come by my stubbornness honestly...I got it from all my parents!). You'd hardly even know anything was wrong with him. I'm really glad I got to see him. Worth every minute of the journey.




What issues have you dealt with being an expat far away from home?



Sundays In My City

19 May 2019

It's All An Adventure That Comes With a Breathtaking View - Sundays in My City

That song was in my head the entire time...


I've climbed countless towers (with countless hundreds and hundreds of stairs) and hills, often early in the morning for the best light, to get that "must see" view of the town square or the old town or the country side. 


I've also had to decide whether that "must see" is really worth it.  Who hasn't read about a "must see" only to find it somewhat disappointing. Or, read that the "must see" is disappointing and then having to decide if you'll feel like you missed something if you don't do the "must see" even if you know there's a good chance it will be disappointing (my recommendation...save your money and don't go to the Blue Lagoon in Iceland!!).


So, this brings us to the City Walls in Dubrovnik, Croatia.  With numerous additions and modifications throughout their history, they have been considered to be amongst the great fortification systems of the Middle Ages, as they were never breached by a hostile army during this time period. In 1979, the old city of Dubrovnik, which includes a substantial portion of the old walls of Dubrovnik, joined the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites. The walls ring the city and are over a mile in length.


It was hot and crowded when I visited Dubrovnik. I had already read that if you want to walk the walls you should do it first thing in the morning to avoid the crowds.  I was there when they opened and it was already warm and there were several other people waiting.  NOTE: There is no shade!  Wear your sunscreen!!


To get to the walls you have to climb some steep stairs.




Dubrovnik is the site of Kings Landing for those Game of Thrones fans so some of these views might look familiar.








Oh, good, more stairs...*sigh*


This city is so small and so crowded with tourists that it can be hard to remember that ordinary people live here (although it's getting harder for them to afford to do so because prices are being driven so high due to aforementioned tourists). Imagine thousands of people walking past your window every day...



Cruise ships. Dubrovnik has limited the number that can come each day but that just made the companies go to larger ships.


Was it worth it?  Well...
  • There were definitely some amazing views! That said, it's not for everyone:
  • It's not for the faint of knees! 
  • It would have been nice if it had opened earlier in the hotter months (hey, Dubrovnik Tourism Board!!) because it was hot and I started as early as was possible.
  • Definitely go early if you're going because by the time I was done I could see that it was packed for those just starting. 
What "must sees" have you done? Which have you skipped? Which did you do that you wish you'd skipped?

Sundays In My City

21 April 2019

Reflections - Sundays in My City

I was in Amsterdam for a couple days and I woke up at 4:30am and couldn't get back to sleep. So rather than fight it I went out and took pictures in the early light.  There was almost no one out and about and it was a good chance to work on getting the good shots of the reflections in the canals.






















Amsterdam remains my favorite city although it's popularity as a tourist destination is increasing, even in the off season, which makes me enjoy it less due to the crowds everywhere. So it was nice to walk around while everyone else was still asleep.


On one hand, I'm glad more people are getting to experience European destinations but cities like Amsterdam and Venice and Paris and even less-well-known cities like Dubrovnik are starting to suffer under the strain of coping with so many tourists. Venice is talking about limiting the number of tourist who can enter per day.  Dubrovnik put a limit on how many cruise ships can dock each day (although that just made the cruise companies go to larger ships).  I don't know what the answer is. I know it's not a simple solution. 






Sundays In My City

26 January 2019

Preparing to Move...Again. Tips and Tricks and Lessons Learned


I'm moving again.  This will be my 7th move in 15 years (5 of those were with at least one dog and 3 of them involved crossing an ocean with two dogs)).  I've learned a thing or twenty. 

Mind you, I'm fortunate that a team of people comes to pack all my stuff, load it into crates and then on to a truck (possibly from there onto a boat) and then delivers all to my new destination.  They will even unpack it (but sadly, they won't put it all away) if I want. If you're doing it yourself, more power to you and best of luck!  Most of these tips and tricks and lessons learned will still apply.

This will be my first inter-Europe move.  I'm heading back to the Netherlands. If you've read anything on this blog you're probably aware that I love the Netherlands (minus the weather) so I'm really happy to have the chance to go back.

First things first...Put on your favorite podcast or Broadway musical soundtrack or whatever gets you up and moving.


I recommend this (although be warned, it's hard not to just sit and watch it!!):




Some of these are things that should probably be done regularly but...


1. Survey the fridge, freezer and pantry.  Unless you're just moving across town, figure out how to use up anything that's open before you go. Movers won't pack open food. This might mean getting creative or making a family dinner where everyone is eating something different. Find people to bestow your half-used bottle of ketchup and open jar of capers to.  Your local Freecycle group is great for this.  I once posted, "Half-used and open fridge and freezer contents," and people wanted them.  Don't assume they just need to be thrown out!




2. This goes for bathroom items and cleaning products as well.  Use up lotions, shampoos, etc.  If you need to buy laundry detergent, avoid buying the jumbo bottle if you only have 2 weeks left.  Again, give away anything unused. 

Pro tip: When you think that tube has been squeezed (squze, squozen) to the max, cut it open (but be careful because those cut edges are sharp!).  There's more left in there than you think! This is just a good, in general, money saving tip!






I filled those two travel-sized containers with what I got out of these "empties."


3. Plan to wash comforters, curtains, area rugs, dog beds...  This might require a trip to a laundromat where they have those giant washing machines.  If you have pets, many laundromats don't let you wash pet beds in their machines so you might have to seek out a place that does.


4. Go through that basket of gloves and hats and scarves that sits by the door.  It turns out I have no less than 15 pairs of gloves!  I certainly don't need that many!






5. Obviously sort through the closets, dressers, bins under the bed... No need carting along jeans that haven't fit for years or shirts with stains (although those make good rags for cleaning).


6. If you're doing an overseas move you'll probably have some stuff going into storage.


Pro tip: I found it really useful to get colored tags (I found red and green but any two different colors would work).  I tagged everything that was going to storage Red and everything going with me Green.  This meant I wasn't running around answering "stay or go" from the packers a million times. 


It also forced me to really think about what I'd need during my years away and what I could do without.  It helps to know things like 110V lamps work just fine with a 220 bulb and a plug adapter.  No voltage converter needed. Taking your Vitamix might seem like a good idea (because you simply can't live without it) until you realize what size voltage converter you'll need and how much energy that will consume. 


7. Gather up all your important documents (passports, birth certificates, insurance policies, social security cards, titles, deeds...) and valuables (grandma's pearls, for example) and make sure those travel with you. Don't forget your pets.  Get copies of their vet records.


Pro tip: Take pictures of EVERYTHING.  If you really have time, make an itemized list.  Keep these records with you. A colleague of mine lost everything when the moving truck with all his stuff (except those super-important things he had in the car with him) caught fire somewhere in the mid-west. Imagine trying to remember how many sets of towels you have. And then multiply that by everything you own.


8. Same goes for medications (again, don't forget your pets).  Also, make sure you have enough with you to cover until you can establish a new doctor and prescription.  Ask your insurance if you can get a 3-month supply instead of just one.  Also ask for a vacation override.  This allows you to fill the next month or 3-months without waiting.


9. Think about comfort items.  Will you be staying in temporary quarters (a hotel, someone's basement)?  Do you have a pillow or blanket, a pair of slippers or favorite coffee mug that you hate being without when you travel? Once again, don't forget about your pets and anything that will make the transition period easier on them.


10. Make sure you're wearing shoes!!  I learned this the hard way.  I don't wear shoes in the house because I don't like wearing shoes.  The packers literally packed ALL my shoes.  They had to go through the truck to find a box of shoes so that I didn't have to go barefoot! 


Pro tip: clear out a closet and put everything in there that you don't want packed and carted off (those important documents, your suitcases, and at least 1 pair of shoes!). Lock it or put a big sign on it so that the packers understand that they aren't to touch the contents. 


Having moved so much over the years I've gradually pared down how much stuff I have and I try to get rid of more each move.  I'm far from being a minimalist but if we really look at what we have versus what we use/need...  Moving is a good excuse/motivator to purge.  Especially if you're doing the packing and hauling yourself. But even if you aren't.


There are plenty more things I've learned and if you have specific questions leave a comment.  I do not enjoy the process of moving but it has, maybe, gotten a little bit easier after doing it so many time.


What are your tips, tricks, and/or lessons learned from big, or small, moves?







Sundays In My City


NOTE: If you're moving overseas with pets, start the process early (minimum more than 30 days before departure). Go to https://www.aphis.usda.gov/aphis/pet-travel and find a USDA certified vet (and hope the government isn't shutdown!). They can give you all the information you'll need and you will need them to do your paperwork.  If you're going to an island (Hawaii, Japan, Australia) the process is way more involved (these islands don't have rabies and want to keep it that way) and you need to start a lot earlier (sometimes 6 months in advance)!!

30 December 2018

At The Top of the World

Tromsø, Norway is almost as far north as you can go (Magerøya is farther but this was plenty far for me) on land in Europe. It's north of the arctic circle and definitely the furthest north I've ever been. Why did I choose to go here in mid-December (as someone who hates being cold)?  I wanted to see the northern lights for my birthday.




The sun doesn't go above the horizon from mid-November to mid-January this far north.  There are about 2 hours of twilight but that's it.  It's dark the rest of the time.  I know people adjust but I would have a very difficult time living there. 


We set off to chase the lights after suiting up in some serious cold-weather gear.  Despite this gear, my toes were cold and we were still in the van.  As I sat in the very uncomfortable, cold van, it wasn't lost on me that I'm very fortunate to have the means and ability to take trips like this.  So I smiled to myself and wiggled my toes to try to keep them warm. Happy birthday to me.


Due to a storm off the coast of Norway, we headed inland to Finland where skies were clearer.  After checking out a few possible locations, our guides settled on a frozen lake in the Lapland area of Finland just on the border with Sweden. It took us about 3 hours to get there and is inhabited by nomadic reindeer herders.  The guides told us that although the reindeer aren't confined in any way, they all officially belong to the Sami people.


The naked eye cannot see as much of the color spectrum as a camera lens can pick up.  Therefore, all the pictures you see of the northern lights are more brilliant than what we mere humans see.  What we mere humans saw that night was rather underwhelming.  The lights just were not very strong.  I cannot take credit for these photos.  They were taken by our guide using camera techniques that I definitely do not possess! That faint greenish glow is all we got (and what's in the pictures is more than what we could actually see).






I'm not complaining that it wasn't anywhere near as cold as I feared (just a few degrees below freezing).  The suits they gave us worked really well (and mine was only a little too big so I was still able to move around). My toes were cold and my cheeks are obviously red but I expected to be miserably cold and, thankfully, I wasn't.
We did see an amazing number of shooting stars and constellations were bigger and seemed closer than I'd ever seen them.  I've seen incredibly clear skies in places like Mali (where there's just no nearby light pollution so there are more stars than you could have imagined) but they all felt so much closer up there.


We stayed there for about 3 hours, I think, and then headed back; returning at about 4am.  Not that 4am looks any different than 4pm. The guides do a really good job of trying to find the best location for viewing the lights but they can't control solar winds and atmospheric conditions.  It's not uncommon to book an excursion several nights in a row in hopes of getting good conditions but I was so exhausted after just one night out like that that I am glad we didn't try it 2 nights in a row.  I might go back again and try my luck another time.  Maybe.  It's definitely something that I still want to experience...maybe even more now that I was teased.


The town of Tromsø itself is cute (it would be interesting to see it in the summer when it's light enough to actually see!) and I had the most amazing vegan sushi ever!  Seriously!  I'd almost go back just to eat that again!!



This is mid-day. We waited to go out until we had the most light.

I like the reflection of the roofs in the puddle.

We walked across that bridge and then took a cable car up the hill.  It was really cold and windy!



I'm not a big fan of winter in cold places and I'm disappointed that we didn't get dancing lights streaking and swirling across the sky but it's basically a crap shoot and we tried.  We can say we saw...*something.*  Better than nothing.




Have you seen the northern lights? Have you gone on an adventure that didn't quite deliver what you had hoped for?