People who live in small places: Guernsey

I haven’t had a People Who Live in Small Places post for a while, although those I have done still get a lot of views. I have been focused on other things (specifically my series on depression) but couldn’t resist when Liz – who runs the Island Girl Writing website offering writing and editing services got in touch. Liz lives on an island just off the shore of my home country and one with a fascinating history. So please welcome Liz from Guernsey.

Hagen and Liz at Vazon Beach

Liz and husband Hagen

 

Hi Liz and thank you for being part of this series. First of all please tell me a bit about living in your small place.
I live on the island of Guernsey, a British crown dependency that lies approximately 25 miles from the French Normandy coast. In fact, on a clear day, you can see the French coastline with amazing clarity. Guernsey, along with Jersey and some lesser islands, make up the Channel Islands. Although Guernsey is a crown possession, the island has its own government, stamps and currency.

It also has a heavy French influence, owing to its historical association with (and proximity to) France. Official signs appear in both French and English, and many street names are French, too. It is definitely helpful if you speak French or can at least pronounce French words. I can do neither and this has resulted in some entertaining situations when I try to say my address to people.

There is also a local patois, called Guernésiais, that originates from an old Norman language. This patois is spoken primarily by the older generations here. Unfortunately, like most old languages, it is slowly dying out. Given my utter lack of success with French, I don’t have any immediate plans to be the lone individual to carry on the patois tradition.

View of Petit Bois Bay

View of Petit Bois Bay

Guernsey has several “claims to fame.”

• Victor Hugo took refuge in Guernsey when he was exiled from France. He wrote several of his best works here, and there is now a museum in the house he called home during his time on the island. The writer in me loves the local tie with literary greatness.
• Guernsey, along with the other Channel Islands, was the only British territory occupied by Germany during World War II. You can still find extensive evidence of this occupation around the entire island, in the form of abandoned bunkers, tunnels and the German Underground Military Hospital.
• Many corporations and wealthy individuals flock to Guernsey to take advantage of the generous tax breaks the island offers. Although Guernsey was traditionally an agricultural-based community, today the island is considered a tax haven and financial services represents one of the largest employment sectors on the island.
• During the reign of Queen Mary in the mid 1500s, three local women – one of whom was pregnant – were burned at the stake after being accused and convicted of heresy. These unfortunate women, whose guilt was rather questionable, represent the Channel Islands only known deaths directly attributed to the violent and gruesome reign of Bloody Mary.

And what are the good, and not so good, things about living there.
To understand both the good and bad about living on Guernsey, you have to start by understanding how small the island is. At just 30 square miles, with a maximum speed limit of 35 MPH islandwide (yes, you read that right) and a population exceeding 60,000, things can get quite crowded – and occasionally frustrating – here. Yes, we often have traffic jams on this quaint rock.

But let’s start with the good!

Guernsey is one of the safest places I’ve ever lived, and is the ideal place to raise children. (After all, it’s not like they’re going to sneak off to the big city…or pretty much anywhere else…without you knowing about it!) Not once since moving here have I been concerned about walking anywhere late at night or forgetting to lock the doors of the house.

The people are also, generally, quite helpful and polite, especially when they hear my American accent. They seem genuinely curious to know how an American ended up on their tiny rock, and they ask. All the time.

Guernsey also has stunningly beautiful scenery. From the rugged, towering cliffs on the island’s southern coastline to the soft, sandy beaches along the west coast, there is no shortage of scenic landscapes to enjoy. You can hike the cliff paths, take a dip in the invigorating water of a number of secluded, sandy coves or simply head to the beach and set up shop for the day.

The water here is deceptively Caribbean looking. Amazing shades of turquoise, cobalt and every shade in between sparkle and shimmer in every direction. Unfortunately, this beautiful water is also really cold! While I see other brave souls swimming here year-round, I’ve never made it past wading in up to my ankles – and that was in July. Still, relaxing at the beach on a sunny, midsummer day is a really lovely way to spend time.

Guernsey Cliffs With German Bunker

Guernsey Cliffs with German Bunker

But everything is not perfect here.

The biggest issue is the cost of living. I’ve lived on other islands, and understand that most things need to be shipped in (and that costs money), which increases the price of goods to levels not seen on the mainland. However, living on Guernsey goes beyond anything I’ve experienced before.

The primary driver is the cost of housing. Guernsey operates a two-tier housing system – differentiated as local or open market. While anyone can buy or live in open market housing here (and the price reflects this freedom…rents and sale prices for open market housing is significantly higher than local market houses), only “qualified residents” can live in or buy local market housing. The stinger is that even local market housing is shockingly expensive. I find housing prices overall to be on par with central London or Manhattan.

Besides the very high cost-of-living, it can also get very boring here. Especially in winter, when the skies are perpetually grey and it rains a lot. The inside joke here is that, on the weekends (especially Sundays…when most things are closed), the biggest decision you have to make is which direction to drive around the island, clockwise or anti-clockwise. We tend to alternate each week to keep things fresh. I wish I were kidding.

What do you find to do to occupy yourself in your spare time?
Besides the aforementioned tradition of circumnavigating the island each Sunday, we try and take advantage of good weather when we have it and explore the outdoors. We hike along the cliff paths, put on wetsuits and go standup paddle boarding, or just go for long walks and explore the quiet, quaint lanes. There is a lot of very pretty architecture to look at here, especially the old granite and stone cottages and manor houses.

St Peter Port

St Peter Port

How easy is it to “get away” and where do you escape to? Do you feel the need to escape?
It is both easy and difficult to get away. There are six direct flights daily to London Gatwick, as well as daily ferry service to both southern England and St. Malo, France. So getting off the island is not the problem, weather permitting. Fog or heavy seas tend to disrupt travel quite often.

Unfortunately, time and money are factors in how often we can actually get away. We don’t get off the island as often as we’d like. Ideally, one weekend off the island each month would be perfect to stave off island fever. A quick trip to London is pretty common here, as is taking your car on the ferry to France and then exploring the continent.

We managed a long weekend in Paris in the fall, a trip to the southwest coast of England, and a few trips to London since moving here. In a pinch, we sometimes hop on the local inter-island ferry for a 20-minute boat ride to Herm Island, a tiny, sparsely populated neighboring island with beautiful beaches, walking paths and a fun pub. When you are on Herm, it seems like a million miles away from Guernsey, yet you can be home by dinner time, refreshed and rejuvenated.

Guernsey and Herm Aerial

Guernsey and Herm ariel view

What is the local community like? Have you felt welcomed?
I feel that, overall, people have been welcoming to me. Perhaps this is because I’m somewhat of a novelty, as one of the few Americans living here relative to overall population. It also helps that my husband was born and raised here, so he knows a lot of people and I sort of integrated naturally. I’m not sure if I would have experienced the same thing had I arrived here without him.

I do find people here to be more reserved than people in other places I’ve lived. While I know a lot of people, I still haven’t found those one or two really good friends that I usually find quickly when I move someplace new.

What advice would you give to someone thinking about moving to your island or somewhere similar?
First and foremost, make sure you have enough financial resources to live at your desired standard of living here. Things are expensive, more expensive than you may imagine. Feeling trapped here or being limited in what you can do because of a lack of resources is a fast way for the island to quickly lose its luster.

Also, be sure you can live with the limited options for entertainment found here. You won’t get first-run movies in the theater here. There are not too many plays or concerts where you’ll see international performers. The few museums here are more concerned with local history than acquiring or displaying exhibits of famous works. If you prefer warm, sunny weather for your outdoor pursuits, you will be hard-pressed to get that most of the year.

If, however, you are looking for a slower, quieter, simpler lifestyle and you don’t mind occasionally feeling a bit isolated, then Guernsey might be the perfect place.

Kitesurfing in Guernsey

Kitesurfing in Guernsey

Can you tell me a bit about yourself and why/how you came to be living in your small space.
Originally from a small town in the Midwestern United States, I became an expat in 2011 when I moved to the Southern Caribbean island of Bonaire. One day shortly after moving to the island, I met a guy on the beach who told me he was from the island of Guernsey.

Before he could explain where his home country was, I confidently stated that it was the place where Guernsey cows come from and that there was probably another island nearby called Jersey, where Jersey cows come from. My years growing up in farming country finally paid off! Apparently, he found my bovine knowledge impressive and asked me on a date. The rest is history, I suppose. We got married in 2013 with dreams of growing and old watching Caribbean sunsets together.

Unfortunately, family circumstances demanded we return unexpectedly to Guernsey. So in 2014 we packed up our breezy, sun-filled Caribbean house, shipped a container north and settled into a new life in the Channel Islands. Despite being perpetually cold and pale, we are enjoying our time on this little rock.
About the Author: Liz Wegerer is a writer, wanderer and self-professed citizen of the world. After growing up and pursuing a traditional life in the U.S., she gave it all up to travel and experience life outside her comfort zone. After four years kite surfing and scuba diving in the Southern Caribbean, she headed north to a tiny rock off the coast of France to test the waters there – she discovered they are…cold. Not content to stay in one place too long, her backpack and passport are always ready for the next challenge. After all, as long as she has her trusty Macbook, she can write from anywhere.

You can follow her adventures at www.lizwegerer.com.

People Who Live in Small Places #10: Roatan

I am so glad I started this series because I am finding out about so many interesting and beautiful places – and have so many people I can now look up if I ever decide to visit! The latest Small Place is a teeny sland off the coast of Honduras. Known as a holiday and diving destination extraordinaire, it’s certainly on my list of places to get to one day. Contributer Deb blogs at Mermaid on a Raft and has this to say about herself:
I am a 60 something retired banker. I used to wear fancy clothes and high heels every day. I used to do my job work at home because there wasn’t enough time in the day. When our kids were grown and on their own, we flew the coop and moved to a small island. We came here for vacation for 7 years, then finally made the move. It’s not always dolphins and gorgeous sunrises but it’s pretty damn good. Life on a rock is always different and interesting.
By the way, I wear as few clothes as possible now, no more fancy bras (only wear one in public because I must) and no high heels, ever again. Most days you can find me in flip flops (I have 7 pairs) a short cotton skirt and the loosest shirt I can find. I often only wear a handful of clothes for weeks on end..Life has changed.
I’ve wanted to be Ariel the mermaid since I can remember, so living here and being able to fulfill my “mermaid fascination with the sea” on a whim is pure magic for me.
Rock life is not for everyone BUT it may be for you..
So now we know a bit about Deb, let’s hear about her island:

First of all, can you tell me a bit about your “small place.”

We have lived on the island of Roatan Honduras since October of 2013. The island itself is approximately 40 miles off the coast of Central America and it is about 35 miles long and 5 miles wide at the widest point. The island is surrounded by the 2nd largest barrier reef in the world, the Meso-American reef, which makes Roatan a divers paradise. There are well over 80,000 people living on this rock. There are no chain stores, except Ace Hardware, no chain restaurants and the shopping is mainly tourist related items as we have 2 cruise ship docks. During the winter months there are often 5 cruise ships here on one day, adding 10-15,000+ more people A DAY. Cruise ships are a huge part of the islands economy.

And what are the good and not so good things about living there?
The good things about living here are the slower pace of life, the gorgeous sea and reef that surrounds us, the nice island people and the simpler lifestyle. It’s so different from living in the states where everyone dresses to impress, drives big flashy cars and spends more money than they make. Living here, the only place we spend a lot of money is buying groceries and dog food. The bad things about living here are the slower pace of life (yes I said it was a good thing but not when you are trying to get someone to finish a job for you), the limited items in the grocery stores, fresh peaches, yummy strawberries, never..Often times it is very difficult to find the simplest things, and when you do find them they are 4 times the price that they were in the states. Overall, the good outweighs the bad. You learn to make do or do without.

 
What do you find to do to occupy yourself in your spare time?

I have very little spare time; to begin with I have 3 four month old puppies, a 9 month old puppy, an almost 3 year old dog and another dog that has 3 legs, maybe 3-4 years old and is the mother of the puppies (she had 7 but I found homes for 4). She was pregnant when I rescued her, had to have her leg amputated then she blessed us with the pups. All of my dogs are rescues. I also have a cat. I spend a lot of time cleaning up dog poop and feeding and cleaning up after the dogs.

I am also very involved in a group here on the island called Because We Care. We provide food and Christmas gifts for over 1500 families during the holidays, we fit over 9000 pairs of TOMS shoes this year so far to needy school children, we give out school supplies and back packs and we also raise money for school desks. The government does not do anything for the schools, many kids have to stand for classes or sit on big bags of beans or rice. Today we are delivering more desks to a school and passing out flip flops to the kids.

I also am a volunteer for Helping Paws Across Borders. They are vets and vet techs from all over the US, Belize and the Bahamas who come here and do free shots, spay and neuter, flea and tick and mange management and treat all other type of medical situations for animals. This last trip they even neutered a pig! They left their meds here so a friend and I have been setting up shop weekly and we do shots, clean ears, remove ticks, de-worm and treat for fleas and mange and ringworm. The vets were here in Feb., July and are coming in November again. I also volunteer on art days at a school called Cattleya. It is for mentally challenged or physically handicapped kids. They have downs, autism, some can’t walk well or talk, it’s a great school. They even take them to Zumba classes, so much fun. And last but not least I volunteer for the Bay Islands Visitors Association as a greeter at the International airport. I work two, sometimes 3 Saturdays a month and am the first person people see when they enter our immigration building. It’s great fun getting to meet people from all over the world. When I do have spare time I am kayaking, snorkeling and am waiting for some extra spare time for my dive refresher course so I can start diving again.

How easy is it to “get away” and where do you escape to? Do you feel the need to escape?

I have been back to the states only 3 times in 2 years, to see my elderly parents. We actually are very limited to where we can go because of the animals. Either my husband or I have to be here to take care of them, so escaping is not something we do. At this point in the game, we don’t feel the need to escape, it’s pretty serene here. That could change in a few years but if we have had a hectic week or two we go to the beach with some beers and chill.

What is the local community like? Have you felt welcomed?

There is a huge, well connected ex-pat community on this island. We have friends from the west end to the east end. (we are middle islanders) There are several ex-pat hang outs and everyone is welcomed. The east-enders have Mondays Don’t Suck days at a beach, Fridays it BJ’s where the Banditos play music and people dance and enjoy each others company. There is a lot to do, but we are usually too busy to do all the partying stuff. We have also found the islanders to be fabulous people and are very close to many of them. They are warm, kind, happy people who live very simple lives but would still give you the shirt off of their back if you needed it. We are very proud to be able to call some islanders our best friends, people we totally trust. The woman who runs Because We Care is an islander and one of the most incredible women I have ever met, I adore her.

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What advice would you give to someone thinking about moving to your small place or somewhere similar?

RESEARCH, RESEARCH, RESEARCH. We have several friends that built or bought homes on one end of the island but they prefer the lifestyle on the other end of the island so they spend a couple hours each day driving to where they would rather be. Visit the island for a few weeks, stay in resorts in different locations, talk to people, go to the ex-pat hangouts, look at the different areas of the island and what they offer. Island living is certainly not for everyone, many think it is paradise but after a few years are disillusioned, unhappy and they leave. It is what it is.

Can you tell me a bit about yourself and why/how you came to be living in your small place?

After out 2 sons were grown and on their own my husband and I began traveling to different islands for a few years. Once we were PADI certified for diving we traveled more, to Mexico, the Caribbean and the South Pacific for several years. We considered a few places in Mexico but the difficulty in actually owning land there was an issue. I have always wanted to live on an island, I love everything about being near the water. In 2007 on a whim we came to Roatan.

I had been reading and researching the island for a long time and was interested in retiring there. We contacted a reputable realtor, met him the second day here and traveled up and down this island looking for land or a house. He took us to a piece of land and we fell in love with the view. After seeing more properties and homes we kept coming back to this one piece of land. We made an offer and it was accepted before we went home.

My husband and I both had very stressful jobs in corporate America, working 45-50 hours a week was normal. Fast forward to November 2012, I had hand surgery and was no longer able to do my job so I retired and I moved to Roatan alone with my cat for 4 months to get a feel for the island. We were at the point of starting to build our home so the groundwork began. After 4 months on the island, I went back to the US with my cat and a dog I had rescued down here. We sold our home on 30 acres, our cars, dump truck, tractor, airplane, most of my husbands tools and all of our furniture. My husband made 10 crates filled with the things we wanted to bring, clothes, artwork, tools, things that meant something to us and we shipped that down by boat from Texas right before we were leaving.

On October 26, 2013 we packed up 2 dogs and a cat, 5 checked bags, 4 carry-ons, drove to Seattle, boarded a plane and moved to the island. We rented right next to where we were building and in March of 2014, we moved into the first floor of the house and July of 2014 we moved upstairs, there are  much better views of both sides of the island from the second floor. We also have a rooftop deck with amazing views of sunrise and sunset. The lower level is a guest condo. The house is a work in progress, still have some kitchen shelves to build, we are building a workshop for my husbands tools and a pool for me to do my mermaid thing in. I also blog at www.mermaidonaraft.com. My blog is filled with my take on our island life. As the saying on the rock goes, “You can’t make this s*it up”.
Thank you Deb for another fantastic contribution to my series about people who live in small places. If you want to read more in this series then do click on the tag below. And if you live somewhere small (an island, a village, a rock…) and would like to feature on this blog, then do get in touch 🙂

People Who Live in Small Places #9: St Croix

Following my previous Caribbean-related Small Places post (about the tiny island of Virgin Gorda), I was contacted by several other Caribbean-island dwellers keen to tell their own stories. To date, only one has come up with the goods – although I am still hopeful I will eventually hear back from the others; I just assume they’re all working on “island time”. So today’s post comes from Marina, who lives on the enigmatically-named St Croix in the US Virgin islands. Marina has her own blog – St Croix Beach Bum; but if that hasn’t sated your appetite for finding out more about this intrepid adventurer, she was also featured in the local island rag. In the meantime, over to Marina to tell us more about life in her Small Place:

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First of all, can you tell me a bit about your ‘small place’
St. Croix, US Virgin Islands is 28 miles by 7 miles and it is actually the biggest of the US Virgin Islands. With 50,000 people who live here, the island is warm, breezy, beautiful and very friendly. Owned by seven different nations, the Danes owned the US Virgin Islands for almost 200 years right before it was sold to the United States in 1916, so there is a lot of Danish history here as well.

And what are the good, and not so good, things about living there?
The people of St. Croix are warm and very friendly so making friends is very easy. It’s hard to walk down the street without having a full conversation with a stranger or seeing at least a few people that you just met. The sun is always shining and the beaches are always beautiful and the water is always clear.

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I’s hard to think about things that aren’t so good but we don’t have a lot of stores so if you need to have a Starbucks or Dunkin Donuts in the morning, that’s not happening here because these stores just don’t exist on the island. The same goes for most clothing chain stores and chain restaurants. But there are plenty of local bakeries and local clothing stores.

What to you find to do to occupy yourself in your spare time?
There is so much to do here that sometimes living here is exhausting. There is always a new beach to explore and snorkelling to do. There are also a lot of ruins on the island so I discover new ruins that I haven’t seen before daily. And there is also horseback riding, animals that just stroll on the side of the road and tons of crafting and street fairs going on weekly. Locals and tourists alike think of watching the sunrise (at the Eastern most point of the United States) and watching the sunset on the west side of the island an activity in itself (I do it weekly).

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How easy is it to “get away” and where do you escape to? Do you feel the need to escape?
My move here was my escape so I just want to stay here and I never feel like I need to get away. But when I want to be awed, I go watch the sunset on the west side of the island and then I watch hundreds of stars shine in a sky not touched by city light.

What is the local community like? Have you felt welcomed?
The locals are extremely welcoming and happy to invite visitors and new residents alike to see the island through their eyes. Even the new locals try very hard to make everyone feel comfortable and happy to be on island. It’s hard not to enjoy island life when the locals are so friendly and helpful.

What advice would you give to someone thinking about moving to your (small place – eg island, village etc), or somewhere similar?

Enjoy your new home for what it is and don’t try to make it into a better version of what you left behind. It’s really important to accept the culture and surroundings of the new place because if you can’t do that, the whole experience will become really frustrating quickly. I accept the quirks of this island and I laugh them off because there are so many great things about living here and I can’t imagine not having this experience.

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Can you tell me a bit about yourself (and your family if you have one with you) and why/how you came to be living in your small place?
I was living in Illinois and working as an attorney when I felt a strong need to change my life. Once I started researching, I felt a pull for a better quality of life and St. Croix came up as one of the first candidates in my search. When I came to this island to visit, I knew that I belonged here and I have been having the time of life ever since.

Thanks Marina for this insight into your life on a small island. I hope you continue to enjoy your life – it’ll be interesting to see how things go for you in the coming months and maybe even years! Do come back and check in with us again at some point 🙂

Please let me know if you live in a Small Place and would like to feature in this series. In the meantime, use the People Who Live in Small Places tag to find out how other people live in their Small Place.

TingNewBlue

People Who Live in Small Places #8: Brunei (and no that’s not next to Dubai)

Huge thanks to Liz at Secrets of a Trailing Spouse who has kindly volunteered details about her life in the small country of Brunei for my occasional series People Who Live in Small Places. Brunei is one of those places that many have heard of – but few could place on a map. It sounds like it belongs somewhere in the Middle East whereas in fact it’s very firmly in South East Asia. So, to find out more, over to Liz:

Thanks for being part of this series, Liz. First of all, can you tell me a bit about your ‘small place’

Brunei Darussalam is a small country nestled between two Malaysian states on the island of Borneo. It has a population of around 400,000 and a land mass of 5675 square kilometres. Brunei has an equatorial climate and is mainly covered in rainforest. Many people have no idea where it is, and often think I live in Dubai

And so what are the good, and not so good, things about living there?

Brunei’s nickname is the ‘abode of peace’, and on the plus side it really is tranquil here: things move at their own pace, there is little crime, few crowds and a great sense of community. There is some beautiful primary rainforest, and very little tourism so you can really feel alone in there (apart from the wildlife). It’s sunny all year round and the whole of South-East Asia is on our doorstep – we have had some fantastic travel opportunities since moving here. The cost of living is fairly cheap so there’s plenty left over for some holidays of a lifetime!

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Brunei consists mainly of rainforest

I’ve always preferred to live in a ‘quiet’ place, yet this took on a whole new meaning when we moved to Brunei! It is such a small country that it takes less than two hours to drive from one end to the other (and would take even less time if the roads were better). Most of the expats live on camp in close proximity to one another so there is a real sense of community, although it can get a bit too close sometimes – when I got pregnant pretty much everyone knew because I stopped drinking, although they were kind enough to not ask me about it until I was ready to announce the news.

The small population means that there is very little to do in terms of anything – shopping, entertainment, culture… In Brunei you have to make your own entertainment, which brings me on to the next question.

What to you find to do to occupy yourself in your spare time?

There are many other ‘trailing spouses’ here; due to restrictions with work permits it is very difficult for spouses to legally gain employment, but as a result there are numerous clubs and societies to reflect the diverse interests of an international community. Pre-baby I spent a lot of my time volunteering, and I still help out with the Brownies (Girl Guides aged 7-10) as well as chairing the library. There is a club for the expats which has an outdoor swimming pool, gym, restaurants and events held by the different sections. There are also a large number of exercise classes, and a lot of very fit people around!

Entertainment is self-made but there are people here from all walks of life and with all kinds of qualifications, which means that there is a lot going on.

Enjoying a beer in a ‘bar’ – the fact that this photo is several years old shows how rare an occurrence that is in Brunei!

Enjoying a beer in a ‘bar’ – the fact that this photo is several years old shows how rare an occurrence that is in Brunei!

When my son was born it was a bit like moving here all over again as I swapped my old routine for one full of baby groups and playdates. It is a bit more restrictive now in terms of getting out and about; due to the very high temperatures and mosquitoes I do not spend nearly as much time outside as I would like to. But there are plenty of activities for the little ones to attend.

How easy is it to “get away” and where do you escape to? Do you feel the need to escape?

Yes, I certainly feel the need to escape! Living in Brunei is wonderful, most of the time. But the longer I spend here, the more I start to miss things like theatre, music, eating out in good restaurants, going to a bar… And the need to escape builds up. Sometimes just a weekend away to Singapore for a culture binge is enough, other times a longer holiday to somewhere with nice toilets and good shops… My priorities have certainly changed since living here! Luckily it is pretty easy to get away, although usually you need to change flights at one of the main hubs such as Kuala Lumpur or Singapore, which makes the journey time add up. For a quick fix, we can drive across the border to Miri in Malaysia in one and a half hours for a weekend getaway. Our most recent escape was to Japan, but we are in easy flying distance to many beautiful destinations such as Thailand, Vietnam, Bali… Sadly too many places to visit on a four year posting!

Enjoying some time outside in Japan

Enjoying some time outside in Japan

What is the local community like? Have you felt welcomed?

The Brunians are tremendously welcoming, as is the rest of the expat community. I was nervous about moving initially as I can be quite shy and usually struggle to make friends to begin with in a new place. But it took only a couple of months before I had settled in here and made some good friends. Because the turnover of expats is quite high in Brunei, with most contracts lasting four years or less, friendships are much more fluid and tend to progress faster – it is not uncommon to be invited round to someone’s house after only one meeting, and the numerous clubs and societies mean that it’s easy to meet people without having to go out of your way. Although the official language of Brunei is Malay, most people speak English, which makes everything so much easier.

What advice would you give to someone thinking about moving to your (small place – eg island, village etc), or somewhere similar?

Try to manage your expectations. I know of some people who have turned up here and absolutely hated it because they have spent all their time comparing it to their home or previous postings. There are many challenges of living in such a small place, but you get used to it after a while and you can always ship anything that you can’t find. Lastly, the internet is a life-line when you live in a small place, but make sure you switch up and venture out of the house sometimes!

Monkeying around with the internet connection

Monkeying around with the internet connection

Can you tell me a bit about yourself (and your family if you have one with you) and why/how you came to be living in your small place?

My husband works for an oil company and we moved in 2011 when he applied for a job abroad and was awarded a post in Brunei. My son was born last year (in Brunei) and has just turned one. I used to work as an English teacher in the UK before we moved, but I found that I soon got used to being a trailing spouse and now you would have to persuade me to give it up and return to work! Our contract is up at the end of this year, so we will be moving on to a new (bigger) place soon if all goes to plan.

Thank you so much Liz! I’ve certainly learned a lot about a country I knew very little about. Good luck with wherever you move on to next! Please don’t forget to check out my other Small Places blogs by clicking on the tag below – and let me know if you live somewhere small and would like to be featured right here on this blog 🙂

TingNewBlue

People Who Live in Small Places #7: The *tiny* island of Virgin Gorda in the British Virgin Islands

I first came across Chrissann via her brilliant website, Women Who Live on Rocks. Maybe it’s something you can only really appreciate if you have been a woman who has lived on a rock (as I used to on St Lucia), but it was so reassuring to find out I wasn’t the only one living this crazy island life. Chrissann, who lives on a teeny tiny speck in the Caribbean surrounded by so few people I am guessing they all know each other pretty well by now, was happy to volunteer details of her life on such a small island. Small it may be, but they say the best things come in small packages and I am sure a few of you reading this will be dreaming of moving there right away. However, as all readers of this site know, living on a very small island – however beautiful it is – is not always a holiday! So, over to Chrissann to tell us about her island.

VG wall handstand

Thank you for agreeing to be interviewed for this series, Chrissann. First of all, could you tell me a bit about your ‘small place’

I live on the island of Virgin Gorda in the British Virgin Islands. It is 8 square miles with a population of around 3,000.

What are the good, and not so good, things about living there?

For me, they are one and the same: it’s a very small island. On one hand, I love the small size because it’s quiet, people are generally kind to one another (my theory: in large part because everyone knows each other, or at least with one or two degrees of separation), there’s never any traffic or congestion, and you never feel smothered by the sheer degree of people you’re typically surrounded by 24/7 in cities. However, with the small size comes its downsides – lack of variety (most of the restaurants all serve a similar menu; few boutiques to shop in, mostly just tourist shops with souvenirs) and lack of “real world” activity options (no coffee shops or movie theaters or fitness studios, etc.)

VG beach

What to you find to do to occupy yourself in your spare time?

I am fortunate to have a great group of friends on island who are a blast to spend time with – whether it’s hiking, paddle boarding, yoga nights, taking turns hosting dine-arounds, boating trips, etc. I also really enjoy my alone time to read, float in the pool, or do little artsy projects. My current obsession is my mermaid tail – it is pure magic to swim in it.

mermaid life

How easy is it to “get away” and where do you escape to? Do you feel the need to escape?

It’s relatively easy (though a bit pricey) to get in and out of this area. Island hopping nearby is always fun for weekend trips, with Puerto Rico being a particular fav due to it feeling more like a big city (Shopping! Great restaurants! Dancing!). For longer trips, I like to cure the “rock fever” and head to places with a greater variety of options not available on my island. I tend to seek out all the things I miss sometimes like going to the movies, the theatre, comedy clubs, etc. I just got back from a girl’s trip to NYC and it was so much fun to be able to walk everywhere and have so many activities to choose from at all hours of the day and night.

What is the local community like? Have you felt welcomed?

Overall, people are pretty friendly here. My boyfriend had lived here for years before we met and I joined him, so it was easier to make connections that he had already established. This country is pretty protective of its citizens, so working or doing anything entrepreneurial is challenging to say the least, which can be frustrating at times. But yes, I have felt welcomed mostly and I love this little community in many ways.

Paddleboarding

What advice would you give to someone thinking about moving to your island, or somewhere similar?

Just come into it knowing that it’s not for everyone. Keep an open mind and be kind to yourself if you struggle – you won’t be a failure if you decide island life is not for you, it’s certainly not for everyone. I think the people who tend to have the most trouble adjusting here are the ones who constantly compare it to what their life was like elsewhere. If you accept this place as a unique adventure and embrace all the positives it has to offer, you’ll have a lot more fun for however long you end up staying.

VG

Finally, can you tell me a bit about yourself and why/how you came to be living in your small place?

I am originally from the SF Bay Area in California. I used to work in sales for Marriott hotels and had the opportunity to move to St. Thomas in the US Virgin Islands in 2006. I worked there for a few years then, through some mutual friends, met and fell in love with my current boyfriend, David. I moved up to the British Virgin Islands to be with him, as he operates a resort here. Check out Saba Rock – a really one-of-a-kind slice of paradise!

Chrissann Nickel headshot

I am the Creator and Editor in Chief of the humorous island life website, Women Who Live on Rocks. I am also a freelance writer and yoga instructor. My personal website is chrissannnickel.com.

Thank you so much Chrissann for agreeing to be interviewed for this series. I think this may beat all the others in terms of population, if not size. Please check out the other posts in this series – including Mayotte, Gibraltar, a small village in France, the Seychelles, a small European town in the Netherlands, and the small Scottish island of Unst. And don’t forget to let me know if you live somewhere small and would like to feature in this series!

People Who Live in Small Places #6: The Scottish island of Unst

I’m so excited about this entry into my Small Places series because it’s in my own country! As I’ve posted this series, I have learnt so much about so many different places. But when you get a post like this you realise how many places there are really close to where you live that you just knew nothing about! To be honest, the northern islands of Scotland are as alien to me as some of my other “small places” (in fact, I have visited the Seychelles and lived in Gibraltar so they are a lot less alien!), which is what makes this post so fascinating.

A joint mother-daughter effort, this post about Unst, a small Scottish island, comes to you courtesy of Rhoda (mum) and Morag (daughter). Morag blogs at Wir Unst Family.

Please tell me a bit about your “small place”


Unst is an island in Shetland. It is Britain’s most northerly inhabited island and is closer to Norway than the mainland of Scotland. Often when you see a map that includes Shetland, it is in a box due East of Aberdeen, but that’s not actually where it is! There is a whole facebook group determined to get Shetland correctly on maps!

Unst has an interesting geology with multiple bands of different types of rock, all found in the area of Unst which is only 12 miles long. As a result of this diverse geology Unst has a wide variety of habitats giving a rich diversity of flora and fauna. Having said that, trees are not in abundance on the island, due to the combination of wind and salt air.

There is however, a small wood planted by a renowned Botanist, Dr Laurence Edmondston, in the mid-1800s which has a sheltering wall around it, and so the trees are a decent size. This attracts bird life that prefers trees, although there is a huge range of birdlife which arrives on Unst, some native, some migratory.Unst is often the first land mass they reach on the way south from the Arctic. Over the years we have also played host to some rarities that were blown significantly off course. As you might therefore imagine, Unst is very much a bird watcher’s paradise.

Unst is the home of some unique flora, one of which was discovered by Thomas Edmondston, and named Edmondston’s Chickweed . It only grows on the island of Unst, and no where else in the world. Unst, as with other places in Shetland, has a good population of Shetland ponies, and Shetland sheep. The Shetland breeds of ponies and sheep are smaller and hardier than their mainland counterparts, to better survive the conditions, especially the winter winds. The same has also been said of the people!

ShetlandPonies

Shetland Pony and Foal. Taken at Uyeasound, Unst

What are the good – and not so good – things about living there?

As I suspect may be true on many small islands, Unst is fortunate to have a thriving and close community which pulls together in hard times, and celebrates together in good times. This has obvious good points, the rallying spirit when things go wrong, recent examples include the community pulling together to protest the possible school closures; but also has some not so good points, because everyone knows your business.

Many facets of life have a good and bad side because of isolated island life. Take a simple thing like produce for example, on the one hand there are still many small-holding farmers (crofters are they are called in the Highlands and Islands) who grow vegetables, so you can get produce such as potatoes, cabbage, and turnips which were grown locally, but then, because of the isolation, other things that won’t grow in Shetland, such as fruit, costs more due to freight prices.This has encouraged the creation of a small business on the island, The Unst Market Garden, which produces salad plants, fruit and vegetables in a poly-tunnel.

Unst is an island in between the North Sea and the Altantic and so its weather is very much at the mercy of the elements. Due to being surrounded by the sea, the temperatures are mild, winters, although cold and sometimes snowy, are not anywhere near the harsh winters of the North East of the U.S.A., although the wind chill factor does makes it feel colder than the recorded temperature might otherwise advertise.

In summer we have long light evenings, the Simmer Dim as it is known, and around the longest day, the sun barely sets. We are at 60°North, on a level with the South of Greenland. The reverse is of course true in the winter time when children come home from school in the dark. The on-line shopping revolution has made a huge difference to isolated places such as Unst, so you can order things online that you couldn’t buy on the island. However, there are also some marvellous shops on the island that stock a whole range of goods, and islanders are very good at supporting these shops with their custom because we know that if we don’t support them, we will lose them.

What do you find to occupy yourself in your spare time?

The Oil boom of the 1970s saw Leisure Centres being built all round Shetland, so the island of Unst, with a current population of 600 people, has a Leisure Centre with a 12.5m pool, squash court, three badminton counts, and a gym which is actively used by the community and the school which is located right across the road. Each village on the island has a community hall which is used for events, agricultural shows, evening dances, weddings, and even regular fish and chips nights. These events are always well attended.

ShowVegetables

Winning Veg entry in the Unst Agricultural Show

Since retiring as Britain’s most northerly head teacher, Rhoda had become involved with the Unst Heritage Centre and the Unst Boat Haven which are run by volunteers on a trust. She helps with researching new topics for display at the centre as well as helping to create unique books about the history of the island and the knitting heritage. Many people come to the centre looking for family history information as well, and Morag is currently working on a complete Unst family tree to supplement what is in the centre for those visitors.

Once a week, Rhoda also runs a Fairtrade shop every Saturday afternoon. She says the rest of her spare time, which isn’t a lot (you’re supposed to be retired mum!) is spent reading, walking and visiting friends.

UnstBoatHaven

The Unst Boat Haven has a unique display of Shetland Boats

How easy is it to “get away” and where do you escape to? Do you feel the need to escape?

The north isles of Shetland (Unst, Yell and Fetlar) are linked to the mainland of Shetland by ro-ro ferries, which run regularly through the day. To take a day-trip to Lerwick, the capital town of Shetland, is about a couple of hours from Unst. To travel further afield, there is the choice of the overnight boat from Lerwick to Aberdeen, or the plane from Sumburgh, the southern-most tip of Shetland. In the winter, the seas can be rough, so beware sea-sickness. The planes can be affected by strong winds, but the pilots who man the flights to Shetland are quite amazing, and seem to be able to land them in all sorts of weather.However, Morag feels she has spent many extra hours in airports when travelling to and from Shetland in the winter, due to bad weather delays.

In the summer, seas and air flow is much calmer, but sometimes too calm and the flights can be disrupted as much, if not more, by fog in the summer, than any bad weather in the winter. When Rhoda traveled south for Morag’s wedding, they made sure there were a few extra days before the wedding in case of any summer travel delays. Rhoda still likes to get away from the island to see other places, mainly to visit friends and family. She does notice less need to escape than she had in her younger years. Internet shopping has meant that getting to shops is less of a draw than it previously was.

Puffins

Caption: Puffins come on land for only three weeks a year. Taken at Hermaness, Unst

What advice would you give to someone thinking of moving to the island?

The island of Unst has been very used to a flexible population for centuries. In the late 1800s the herring fishing season saw a huge influx of herring fishermen and herring gutter lassies for several months. The population swelled from 500 in the village of Baltasound to 12,000! More recently in the 1950s, there was an RAF early warning radar base on Unst, which brought a new population of RAF families to the island, increasing the population and filling the schools. This base was decommissioned after 2000 and the population decreased accordingly. Nowadays the population is a mix of native Shetlanders and people who have chosen the island life.

If you’re thinking about moving to the island, come to visit in the summer, but also in the winter. Island life draws many people because of the quiet, slower pace of life. Make sure you can cope with this slower pace of life. Winter weather is possibly the hardest thing to cope with for those who aren’t used to it.

WhiteSandyBeach

Caption: Skeotaing Beach – wouldn’t look out of place in the Med, a few degrees cooler though!

Can you tell me a bit about yourself, and your mum?

Rhoda has lived on Unst all her life, apart from attending school in Lerwick which required staying in the school accommodation for a term at a time, and a brief spell in Aberdeen at Teacher training college. She returned to the island as a qualified teacher and got a post teaching at the Baltasound school. Later in her teaching career she became Britain’s most northerly head teacher at the Haroldswick school. When the Haroldswick School closed, the building was re-purposed as the Unst Heritage Centre and Rhoda was back in her old stomping ground.

Morag is Rhoda’s daughter and also grew up in Unst (after being born in the hospital in Lerwick) and lived there until she went to school in Lerwick (which by this time was weekly boarding rather than whole term boarding as it was when her mum went). After finishing secondary school in Lerwick, she went to University in St. Andrews and then got a job in Hampshire. Although she doesn’t currently live in Unst, she is still in regular contact with friends and family who still live there, and is trying to put together a complete Unst Family Tree.

Thank you so much Rhoda and Morag for this fascinating insight into life on a small, Scottish island. I hope one day to visit! In the meantime don’t forget to check out my earlier People Who Live in Small Places posts: Mayotte, Gibraltar, a small village in France, the Seychelles and a small country in Europe. And if you live somewhere small, and would like to feature in this series, get in touch!

People Who Live in Small Places #5: The Netherlands

When I started this series, I wasn’t sure what I would end up with. I started with Mayotte, simply because I had never heard of it so thought it would be interesting to hear about life there from someone who actually lived there. But while in the process of putting together those first set of questions, I kept coming back to my own experience of living in a “small place” and how similar life must be in Mayotte as it was for me in St Lucia – despite being half a world apart. So the concept of People Who Live in Small Places was born. Since then, I have branched out to include a small rock (Gibraltar), a small village (in France) and a small series of islands (the Seychelles). And then when I spotted a blog called Small European Country I knew I had to ask the owner to contribute. It turns out the small country in question is the Netherlands – and Michael is the blogger. So here it is, yet another take on what it is like to live in a small place.

Small places Netherlands 1_1

Thanks for helping me with this, Michael. First of all, can you tell me a bit about your ‘small place’
I live in Rotterdam, a city of over half a million people which can hardly be called a “small place”. It is, however, in the Netherlands, which is a small European country, so you can say that I live in a small place. What I love about living in Rotterdam is that it is a no-nonsense city, where attitudes and poses are not appreciated, it is a rough-around-the-edges port city.

And what are the good, and the not so good, things about living there?
The Netherlands is a very colourful country to live in – the Dutch countryside still looks much like a classic Golden Age landscape painting, and the spring flower colours are amazing. The living standard is quite high, and its a great place for children – playground facilities are superb here! I love cycling so of course I enjoy the world-famous Dutch cycling infrastructure. The downside is that it is a very crowded country, with little wild nature. Especially in Rotterdam, where there is a lot of industry, the air is rather polluted and the roads are very congested.

Dutch cycling infrastructure is superb

What to you find to do to occupy yourself in your spare time?
As I mentioned, I like cycling, and in the weekends I often go for a ride. I am also a runner, and in the summer I participate in triathlons (not the full one, but the shorter versions). Writing is my creative outlet. Besides my own blog about the living in a small European country, I also write about my favourite spots in Rotterdam for Spotted By Locals.

I have two children one 2 years old and another 2 months old, and they of course keep me busy, so my spare time activities have in the past two years been more centred on playgrounds and petting zoo’s. We do go to museums and exhibitions together. The Netherlands has probably the highest density of museums in the world – there’s a museum here for everything! I have a so-called Rotterdam Pas, which gives me free access to museums in and around the city, so even if the children’s attention span is only half an hour, its still affordable to visit museums.

The Utrecht canals on a sunny day are packed with boats

How easy is it to “get away” and where do you escape to? Do you even feel the need to escape?
As most small European countries, the Netherlands is very well connected to the neighbouring countries and there are flight connections to every corner of the world, so yes, it is very easy to “get away”. As I mentioned, this small European country severely lacks wilderness, and it is of course known for its flatness. I love hiking in the mountains, so I do feel the need to escape the flat Dutch landscape every now and then. Fortunately, there is another small European country just around the corner – Belgium – that is more three-dimensional.

What is the local community like? Have you felt welcomed?
The first years after my arrival I spent studying at the Delft University of Technology. I jokingly say that Delft is a big university with a small town in it. As befits a technological institution, Delft is highly internationalized, so everyone’s accustomed to foreigners. I once checked the newspapers offered at the Delft train station and was a bit surprised to find no less than 9 in Russian – more than in Dutch! Of course, moving to a new place always takes adjustment, and I am not the easiest person to welcome, so my housemates sometimes raised an eyebrow about my habits and customs, but the Dutch have quite a few quirky habits themselves, so I’d say we’re even.

Small places Netherlands 4

What advice would you give to someone thinking about moving to your small place, or to somewhere similar?
Even though the locals, especially in North-Western European countries like the Netherlands, speak fluent English, making meaningful connections in the local community is difficult if you do not speak the local language. And since the locals speak English well, and generally do not understand why would you want to learn their insignificant and difficult language, it is rather challenging to learn it – and the vicious circle is complete! I am fluent in Dutch but local people still try to speak English to me as soon as they spot a slight accent, weird but true.

The Dutch climate is best described as ‘moist’, so be prepared. Especially people from more stable climates and drier places have trouble imagining how the unpredictable weather can effect your daily life. For example, winter temperatures of 5 degrees feel much colder in the wet, windy Holland than -25 in, say, dry and sunny Novosibirsk, where I was born. Sure, here in the Netherlands it can be dry, sunny and warm. But (almost) never all 3 on the same  day.

OK, so the Dutch have their wilderness - on the water

Can you tell me a bit about yourself and your family, and why/how you came to be living in your small place?
I am a “serial immigrant” – I was born in Novosibirsk, in what was then the Soviet Union, and when I was 12 we moved to Israel. I came to the Netherlands more than 12 years ago, to study Aerospace Engineering in Delft. The choice for Delft, and the Netherlands, was a bit random, in short, I could find arguments against studying in pretty much every other place but had no reasons not to go to Delft. I applied, was accepted, and here I am 12 years later, still studying in Delft (doing a PhD by now), married to a Dutch girl, with whom I have two children. My local friends now plague me for being the most assimilated foreigner in the country.

Thank you Michael for that insight into what looks like a really pleasant place to live (despite it’s petit size). Michael does include guest blogs from others living in small European countries on his blog so let him know if you’re interested. In the meantime, don’t forget to check out my review of Dutched Up if you want to find out more about living in the Netherlands as an expat; and to read my earlier posts on People Who Live in Small Places if you haven’t already done so: Mayotte, Gibraltar, a Small French Village and the Seychelles.

People Who Live in Small Places #4: Seychelles

Today I bring you paradise! I could stare at the photos of those beauiful beaches forever, dreaming of the day we will hopefully visit once we are living in South Africa. However, having lived on a beautiful small island myself (St Lucia), I know that all that glitters isn’t always gold. Here, the lovely blogger Chantelle, who lives in the Seychelles with her son, Arthur, husband Mark and their ever-growing new “bump” and who blogs at Seychelles Mama tells us a bit about her small place.

So, tell me a bit about your “small place”

My “small place” is Praslin island, part of the Seychelles in the Indian Ocean.  There are around 6,500 people living here.  It’s the second largest island in the Seychelles at around 38km squared.  When it was first discovered they thought they had found the real garden of Eden! A couple of our beaches (Anse Lazio and Anse Georgette) are frequently featured in top 10 beaches of the world lists.

beautiful seychelles sceneIt’s also only one of two places in the world where the amazing Coco de Mer tree grows naturally (the other on an other near by Seychelles Island) in the Valee de Mai.
coco de mar

And what are the good – and the not so good – things about living there?

Something that’s good for us (but would be bad for some) is that life is quiet and pretty slow here. Despite being a tropical island there are not that many dangerous things here on land.  There are centipedes that have a nasty sting but other than that nothing crazy!  It can sometimes feel pretty isolated here, I don’t know what I would do without the internet to be able to stay in touch with family and friends. Power cuts are  also pretty common….

Food is becoming easier to get all the time but there are still times where certain foods aren’t available for a while such as onions, chicken breast, potatoes!!  It wasn’t until I couldn’t get onions that I realised that cooking without onions is really hard….We have friends that have lived here for over 10 years who tell us there used to be a time when things like toilet roll wouldn’t be available!!!!!!!

There is a small but supportive expat community here.

And while we do get rainy seasons there is no monsoon season so you’re never stuck indoors for too long!

What do you find to do to occupy yourself in your “spare time” (if you have any

Being a mum to a toddler, “spare time” is hard to come by!  But, the beach is always a lovely way to pass the time and we’ve definitely got our pick of them here!

beautiful seychelles beach scene2
We love to go for walks in the Vallee de Mai!
walk in seychelles

Boat trips are always nice, as is heading to another island for the day.  I love going to visit la digue and it’s only a 15 minute ferry ride away.

How easy is it to “get away” and where do you escape to? Do you feel the need to escape?

It depends on your definition of “Getting away” It is fairly easy to get to another island.  Price can often restrict staying anywhere though. We are lucky having resident rates in a lot of places which helps. We don’t really feel the need to get away too often though, pace of life is slow and a trip to the beach is usually more than enough to feel like you’ve been on holiday.

To go to another country is fairly expensive as we are pretty far away from anything here.  We have been to Sri Lanka we also want to visit some other places in Asia as well as South Africa while we are here

What is the local community like? Is it close? Too close? Did/do you feel welcomed?

We have been really welcomed by the expat community here, we are lucky that it seems to all centre around the school that my husband works at. The local community have been very welcoming too, there are also those that like to keep themselves to themselves…the same as any community really.

What advice would you give to someone thinking of moving to the island?

To be aware of how slow the pace of life is here.  Things take time to get done!!!  Its something that can be difficult to get used to coming from a more built up “westernised” society.  Being such a small place, news travels fast.  Don’t be surprised that as an expat, people know a whole lot more about you then you do about them…

Living costs here are rising.  It’s definitely not as cheap as you might expect. We didn’t really appreciate how expensive it is here until we went to Sri Lanka and saw how cheap it was there!!

 Being a tropical island there is not a whole lot going on.  If you are into a lively nightlife this probably isn’t the place to be!

And finally can you tell me a bit about yourself and your family

I live here with my family.  Myself and my husband moved here 2.5 years ago right after we got married as my husband got a job in the international school here.  We have since had our son Arthur, and are now pregnant with number 2!

beautiful seychelles scene 3
Before I had Arthur I did some volunteering work on a nearby island monitoring turtle nesting.  Now I am a full time mama blogging about our life here.

Thank you so much Chantelle – I think we’ve all just fallen a little bit in love with Seychelles from these photos (packs suitcase). And if you like Chantelle’s blog please also check out her Expat Family link-up where expats from around the world post blogs about their lives once a month.

 And don’t forget you can read about what life is like in other small places here too – Mayotte, Gibraltar and a small French Village.

People Who Live in Small Places #3: Un Petit Village en France

So my last post in this series, about Gibraltar, went a bit crazy. It was shared 456 times on Facebook and viewed 2,474 times. This makes it by far and away my most popular post – but I think it says more about the people of Gibraltar and their loyalty towards their Rock than it does about my blog. This time, I have something a little different – a post about a small village in France. But the contributor, Jacqui Brown (who blogs over at French Village Diaries), couldn’t be any more enthusiastic about her “small place” – after reading this, I was ready to pack ma valise, get in un voiture and head over to the other side of La Manche to join her.

First of all, tell me a bit about your small place.

My small place is a rural village in the west of France, about an hours drive from the Atlantic Coast. It has just under four hundred inhabitants, a boulangerie with sub post office, a hairdressers (from my observations there are as many hairdressers as boulangeries in France), a church, a library and not a lot else, except a great community spirit.

What are the good, and not so good, things about living there?

The good things are definitely the people. From the very beginning, almost eleven years ago, they have been welcoming, understanding with my language (or lack of it) and always encouraged me to get involved. I really feel I have become part of the community.

Living in a rural area has meant that as a family we now have a much more outdoor lifestyle than we had in the UK. We are very lucky to be surrounded by open countryside, farm tracks and quiet roads, which is perfect for walking and cycling, especially when the sun is shining. We now cycle over 2000km every year, exploring the back roads and village bars of rural France. The lack of traffic has also given our 14 year old son more independence here than we would have allowed him to have in the UK. He often takes off on his bike or walks the dog without us.

The downside of rural life is that everything is a drive away. Whether it is shopping, an appointment at the doctor or a music lesson, nothing is available on our doorstep.

bike ride france

What do you find to do, to occupy yourselves, in your spare time?

It has always been important to me to get involved in our community and from the start I have volunteered and made the effort to say yes whenever I was asked to help out. This led to joining committees which in turn led to being elected onto the village council a year ago. This keeps me busy, but I also write about our life on my blog http://www.frenchvillagediaries.com and I am a passionate reader of books on a French theme. I have reviewed almost two hundred books and am often contacted by authors and publishers to review and help promote their latest publications.

I am also a gardener, always trying to keep one step ahead of the weeds in our veggie garden and I love cooking and preserving the potager vegetables and fruit from our orchard.
vegetable garden france

How easy is it to “get away” and where do you escape to? Do you feel the need to escape?

I’m very happy with my calm, quiet village life. I hear more birdsong than car horns and if I see traffic on my daily dog walk it is more likely to be a tractor than a traffic jam. However, every now and then it is lovely to get out and about somewhere different. My perfect escape is to head to La Rochelle on the Atlantic Coast. It may only be an hour and a half away, but it is like another world. The people look different and wear different clothes, the shops sell different styles to those in our local town and stopping for a coffee and a spot of people watching is one of my favourite things to do. As my husband regularly uses the airport at La Rochelle I’m lucky to be able to get my chic fix a couple of times a month.

What is the local community like? Have you felt welcomed?

I have felt welcomed, but I think this has to do with the fact that I have always put myself forward to help out. This started with the village magazine, then helping to organise events and run the library and now I’m one year into a six year term on the village council. In the beginning I was way out of my comfort zone, in a village where everyone knew each other and my level of French was very poor, it was hard, but it was worth it. I’m lucky to live somewhere that already had a group of energetic people happy to put on events, as getting involved by helping out is easier than trying to organise something from scratch. Living in a rural village that doesn’t have an active social scene can be lonely and feel very isolated.

playing badminton france

What advice would you give to someone thinking about moving to your village, or somewhere similar?

Do your homework and research your new area, as a great summer location may be quite desolate out of season, especially in a rural area.

Learn the language if you are moving abroad as even if you aren’t fluent you will find it easier to get involved in your new community if you can speak a little of the language. The more involved you get the quicker your language will improve.

If you are moving to a French village make sure you pop down and say hello to the Maire (mayor). He (or she) really is a very useful person to be on friendly terms with and should be able to help you with the official and administrative side of settling in.

Can you tell me a bit about yourself (and your family) and why/how you came to be living in your village?

We are an English family with one son who moved from a town in the south of England to a village in France in the summer of 2004. I was an accountant, commuting to London on a daily basis and my husband is a freelance IT trainer and consultant whose work has always taken him away from home. Family time together was rare, but my husband’s work means that as a family we can be based anywhere in Europe with good airport access and here we have six within a two hour drive of home. France was always our holiday destination of choice and with cheaper property prices it was possible to choose to live a simpler life, working fewer hours, earning less money, but have less expenses and more time together as a family. Whatever happens in our future, nothing can take away the fact that for the last ten years our 14 year old son has had both parents at home for the two months of his school summer holidays.

Thank you to Jacqui for this insight into life in your small village in France. Anyone joining me in ma voiture? Don’t forget to read the earlier People Who Live in Small Places posts – Gibraltar and Mayotte; and please let me know if you live somewhere small and would like to feature in this series.

People Who Live in Small Places #2: Gibraltar

For the second post in my ‘occasional’ series People Who Live in Small Places, I have a fascinating contribution from an old friend, Warren, who lives on the tiny Rock of Gibraltar. This one held a special interest to me as I myself lived in  Gib, in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s. I was curious to see what life would be like there now – it can be a difficult place for an outsider to assimilate, especially with a generation who grew up in the days when the border with Spain was still closed. I’m pleased to see that Warren and his wife Jacqui, who live in Gibraltar with their two young children, seem to be really enjoying the Rock.

gIB

Tell me a bit about your “small place”

Gibraltar is often referred to simply as The Rock, which takes up the majority of the peninsula hanging off the south Iberian coast. And Gibraltar is tiny: just 3 miles long by ¾ of a mile wide and 30,000 inhabitants. The rock itself dominates everything: the landscape, tourism, the steepness of your walk to and from everywhere, the first sighting of the sun each day, and even the weather. It’s nearest equivalent is Table Mountain in Cape Town. And the rock and its location are also the basis for its fascinating history – I won’t dwell, but having been part of the Arab kingdom of Seville, later Spanish and now a British overseas territory, there are plenty of historical sites and cultural influences.

There is a sense of prosperity too. As a major port, and for a long time a naval base, it services oil tankers and cargo ships, and also snares its fair share of cruise liners. I have yet to see a Gibraltar summer, but am told that the place will be thronging with visitors making a stop on their Mediterranean cruise, touring the historical sites on the rock and saying hello to the macaques. It’s no Monaco, but it does have its own marinas and the gambling industry is a big source of income – not so much casinos, though there are one or two, but online gaming and sports betting. Luxury apartment blocks and rising property prices are further evidence that Gibraltar is doing well. Yet it retains a small town feel.

MONKEY IN GIB

What are the good – and not so good – things about living there?

One or two people warned me that owing to Gibraltar’s size and its small community, everyone knows each other. I first saw this for myself when test driving a car around the eastern side. The rock on my right and beach on my left narrowed the road and I had to stop to let an oncoming truck past. The truck clipped the car’s wing mirror. With a sigh of acceptance, the accompanying car dealer admitted, “I know the driver.” But the sense of community is exactly what I like about the place.

Even commercial exchanges are much more personal. Shop assistants and customers know each other. And chat, yet no one in the queue objects. For a newcomer it’s worth noting that such interactions are no longer the one off exchanges that take place in a big city: you are likely to meet the same people again. And therefore better to shrug off the usual desire to get out of the supermarket as quickly as possible, forgo the urge to rattle your trolley and shout for the manager, and just smile and say hello when it’s finally your turn. Some may find the need to be on best behaviour irksome until they adjust. Thankfully these days I’m in no rush.

The tricky bit is tapping in to a community where people have grown up together. Speaking English does make it all very accessible. But Gibraltarians also speak Llanito, a variation of Spanish, and to get closer to what goes on I think I may need to learn some. It may also help in finding a local job, though it’s not essential.

Aside from all that, compared to the UK Gibraltar is warm and sunny, yet not too hot in summer I’m told. The views are fantastic too. I doubt I’ll tire of looking out over the bay at the coastal hills of Spain, over the Med at the hills of Africa and over the town at the rock. All in one panoramic view.

sunset gib

The facilities here are akin to those in the UK. Education and healthcare is of a similar standard. There are some British high street shops and also a large UK supermarket. That makes life easy, but on the flipside it detracts a touch from that sense of exploration that usually comes with living overseas, and which is often the motivation behind expat life. Andalucia is of course just across the border. There are in fact many people who commute from the nearby Spanish towns, where the cost of living is much lower.

 What do you find to occupy yourself in your spare time?

So far I’ve mostly been settling into the kids’ school routine and putting in place everything that has been put out of place as a result of the move. In quieter moments I’ve enjoyed simply not being at work, and have an extensive list of books to read between gazing out at the scenery.

But that will not be enough to keep me occupied for the few years we are here. We have all joined the local tennis club. Our eldest takes advantage of regular coaching sessions while mum and dad need to get to know more of the members and arrange to play more often. Our son is also enjoying frequent football training sessions (football is the number one sport and there are teams for every age) which means chauffeuring services and a chance to get to know other parents. There are also opportunities to learn to sail, play a variety of sport and in the summer some beaches on which to laze about.

Hosting visiting family members has already provided excuses to visit the historical sites and be a tourist. Less than 3 hours flying from the UK should ensure more frequent visits both ways, something I missed in our last location.

How easy is it to “get away” and where do you escape to? Do you feel the need to escape?

The need to escape Gibraltar hasn’t yet hit me. I’m assured it will but I’m happy to remain a sceptic. There is plenty going on though and we have just really scratched the surface.

Most locals make frequent visits to southern Spain for a change of scenery and to treat their taste buds. Morocco is a short ferry ride. Skiing in the Sierra Nevada, just a few hours away by car, is high on our to do list. Seeing how British expats live in the Costa del Sol will make for an interesting comparison.

At the moment the airport only has flights to the UK. Malaga offers more destinations but flights beyond Europe require at least one stop.

What is the local community like? Have you felt welcomed?

Yes, I have the impression that the locals are proud of their community and always willing to welcome newcomers. That has already been a blessing. New Year’s Day, at the local play area, our son managed to head the goalpost along with the football. Other parents nearby were quick to help, ringing for an ambulance, using whatever was to hand to staunch the blood, and with only room for two in the ambulance, taking the other two of us (and bikes and scooters) to the hospital. And so by the time he started school, he already had a couple of friends looking out for him.

What advice would you give to someone thinking of moving to Gibraltar?

I think you have to be clear in your own mind why you want to move here and check that against what it offers: a thriving small town with a close-knit close community, and all the associated benefits and potential drawbacks the latter brings. If you can accept that and want to be part of it, you will fit in and enjoy your time here. It’s been surprising how many people we knew who had lived here before and recommended it. They were good sources of knowledge. Many locals you come into contact with during your enquiries will be willing to elaborate.

Can you tell me a bit about yourself and how you came to be living on the Rock?

I have previously lived and worked in the Far East, South Africa and South Asia. Now on a career break, this is my first time overseas with only one of us working, but our two primary school children have so far kept me out of trouble. I’m hoping to make some progress learning Spanish and then seek some more gainful employment locally, perhaps in a new avenue of work – our move offers the chance for me to try something different.

Thank you so much Warren for that fascinating insight into living in a very small place. Please let me know if you live somewhere small (a small country, island, rock, village…) and would like to be featured in this series. In the meantime, don’t forget to check out my first post in this series about the small island of Mayotte in the Indian ocean.