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

More quirky things I love about South Africa…

A few weeks ago I wrote a post about some of the “quirkier” aspects of South African life that I have grown to love. Or at least if not love then tolerate! As I said then, it is only when you are new to a country that you notice these things – so I thought I would get them down on paper the screen before the weird things became normal to me.

Anyway, having written one such post, I couldn’t help noticing more and more head-scratching things as I went about my daily life. That, combined with some of the suggestions I received in the comments section of my last post, has led me to decide I need to do a Quirky post part two. So here it is!


1. They wrap their trees in pink. Why? I have no idea! Obviously not ALL their trees, but at intervals around Pretoria you will find these pink wrapped trees, for no apparent reason. At first I thought it was an advert for a close-by boutique. But then I kept seeing more and more of them. I don’t recall seeing any in Cape Town or Johannesburg so perhaps it’s a Pretoria phenonemon. If anyone knows why they do this please let me know!


2. (As suggested by a reader) They employ people to stand at roadworks and wave red flags to slow people down. ALL DAY LONG. Boy do I feel sorry for these people. They must have the strongest arms in the world by the end of their shifts. But how boring must their job be! What goes through their heads? Do they count blue cars, white cars, cars with roof racks? Are they silently writing novels in their minds? I try and make myself feel better when I see these poor souls by thinking they are probably happy to have a job at all, and one they can do relatively easily. But all I feel is sympathy. Let’s just hope they are allowed to be rotated with some of the other roadwork people, like the ones that get to move the signs….

3. And in a similar vein – car guards! Men in high-viz jackets who hang around your cars and then hope you will pay them a few measly rand for “guarding” your car and then “helping” you to back out of a space (I am actually far more worried I am going to hit the car guards than hit another car when this happens). They also stand in the middle of the roads and desperately try and wave you down and get you to park in one of “their” spaces by the side of the road, even if you have no intention of parking any where at all at that particular point in time. Sometimes I feel like pulling in, parking, sitting in my car for a minute, giving them some change and then leaving just to make them happy.

4. Monkey-gland sauce. What is it? I have no idea and I have no intention of ever trying it! I am fairly sure it has never actually been near a monkey but there again….

5. And while we are on the subject of food, their obsession with bacon and banana on pizza. Actually it makes a lot of sense, after all, the sweet-salty combo can work very well: ham and pineapple, gammon and honey-glaze etc. But this one is totally new to us and somehow banana on a pizza? Hmmm, I am not sure – although my daughter tried it and seemed to like it…


6. Impala poop spitting. Okay, I actually had to Google this one – it was suggested by fellow-blogger Joburg Expat who wrote her own blog post about it when she was living here. I still can’t quite believe it’s actually a thing but yes apparently do put pellets of dried impala poo (or Kudo poo, hopefully not human poo!) in their mouths and then spit it. Ok, that’s quirky!

7. Shoeless children. This isn’t confined just to South Africa but must be a southern hemisphere thing as I have also seen this in Australia and New Zealand. Children walking around bare foot all over the place – shops, malls, outside on the pavement, restaurants…and I’m not talking about children who look like they can’t afford shoes – these are well-dressed children who look like they come from affluent backgrounds. I was once on an expat forum (made up mostly of expats in Europe) where most people were horrifed by this idea that children would walk around in a city barefoot – wouldn’t it be dirty? Germs! Bloody feet! Filth!!! But actually I quite like it, it is one of the things that epitomises the laidbackness of this part of the world. My oldest daughter is also getting quite into it and tries to sneak out of the house barefoot as often as possible – although I do draw the line at sending them to school shoeless!

8. Feta cheese. Another obsession which I don’t really understand. Now I quite like feta, especially in salads (actually what else do you do with it?). But I can’t understand why roughly half of their cheese sections in the supermarkets is made up of cartons, packs and containers of the stuff. Slimline feta, black pepper feta, herby feta, goats feta, good-old-plain-and-simple feta….If you like feta, this is certainly the place to come!


Yup, that’s ALL feta

9. Four-way stops. Driving here is relatively easy, but it’s still different. And one of the most different things is the four-way stops. Basically this is what we would call a crossroads but where none of the roads are main roads, all the roads are equal. And no roundabout. So no way of knowing who has a right of way. Which means you all stop and then someone eventually goes forward. If you reach the stop line before anyone else then  it’s usually obvious that you go first. But it doesn’t always work this way. Sometimes I find someone else is there first and yet they wait for me to arrive and wave me through. Are they just being polite? Is there a rule  I still don’t understand? Can they just see I am a crazed non-South African (I drive with Diplomatic plates) and therefore know the likelihood is I will get it wrong if they leave it to me? Who knows!

10. The weather. Mostly the weather here seems to be A1. Hot, sunny but dry – not humid like I was used to in the Caribbean. But then they have these strange thunderstorms – massively loud thunder, lots of lightning and then…. no rain! Or if it does rain it lasts about three minutes. And although the storms are huge they don’t really last very long either – usually around 30-45 minutes. All very polite really. We also recently had an enormous hailstorm – it managed to miss us in Pretoria but the huge hailstones caused huge damage in other parts of the region. And when I say huge I mean it – think golf-ball size. This is why we always keep our cars undercover.

11. Flour. Alright another strange thing to get worked up about but in every other country I have ever lived in there has been plain four and there has been self-raising flour (bar Pakistan where there was no self-raising anything). Here there is self-raising flour and then there is something called “cake flour”. What is this? Is it plain flour? Well it will have to be as I need it to bake with. So far my baking efforts have worked out okay, but I’m still not convinced. Once again, answers to this one in the comments section please!


12. And finally, another reader suggestion: hadedas. I had never heard of these birds before coming to South Africa. Now you can’t get through a day without hearing them. Basically they are like little miniature pterodactyl’s – squawking birds with long beaks that seem to argue at the top of their lungs outside our bedrooms every morning. They really are the loudest birds I have ever heard – the even put seagulls to shame. But they are also part of the “South African” experience and I have heard many homesick South Africans lamenting them as they talk about what they miss from home. Yeah, okay, they are quite unique in their own way. I just wish they would turn the volume down a bit!

So that’s it for now, 12 more quirky things about South Africa to add to my original list. But what have I missed? Go on, add your comments below 🙂

PS An update on chorizo from my last quirky post: I think someone from Woolworths was reading as suddenly proper, Spanish chorizo has appeared in their shops here. Huzzah!


Some of the Quirky things I “love” about South Africa

Every country has its quirks, but if you live there all the time you probably don’t realise what they are. All those slightly odd, definitely not run-of-the mill things just seem, well, normal to you.  It’s only when you are new somewhere that you realise what the quirks of that country are – and I think you need to write them down quickly before they also become normal to you. So here is my list of some of the weird and wonderful, slightly odd, very strange and downright head-scratching things I have so far discovered in South Africa:

  1. The eggs are tiny


We have to buy JUMBO sized eggs to get the equivalent of a LARGE back home. What is this all about? Are the chickens here extra small? Do they have extra-tiny chicken bottoms (or wherever eggs come out of)? It’s a mystery to me.

2. Traffic lights are called ROBOTS

This is particularly confusing to me because in Jamaica Robots were the term used to describe the taxi-minibusses, the ones that would stop and pick up passengers waiting by the side of the road. Which brings me to number three odditiy which is….

3. The mad driving of the minibus taxis

I’ve been around some, I have lived, worked and travelled in quite a few countries and I have seen some driving. By that I mean I have seen plenty of dangerous, outrageous, too-fast, too-slow and macho driving. But here in South Africa what the mini-bus taxi drivers bring to the table is total randomness. You just never know what they are going to do – pull over to the right, to the left, stop in the middle of the road, overtake everyone waiting in a queue to turn and just turn in front of you all, cross a road when the lights (sorry, robots) are still in red….the other day, I stopped as one of these crazy drivers did a u-turn on a roundabout. I kid you not. I have decided the best way to deal with it is to realise they might literally do anything and treat them accordingly. I basically just stay as far away from them as possible most of the time…..Incidentally there are a LOT of traffic accidents in this country. I have no idea what percentage of them are caused by minibusses….


Minibus taxis in Johannesburg

4. Shame and Just Now

Eveything here is a “shame”. I don’t think “shame” actually means “shame”. I think it is just a general word that gets used a lot, like “okay” or “really” or even “hmmmmm”. Similarily, Just Now doesn’t actually mean Just Now (eg right away) – I think it actually means “eventually” or “later” or at some point, but I am still not entirely sure. I have no idea when something will happen if someone says “now now”.

5. The whole paying by credit card thing and signing

When I pay by credit card sometimes I am asked to sign a piece of paper…..and sometimes I am not. And it seems totally random as to whether I will be asked to do so or not. I have been trying to work it out – is it just particular shops? Is it over a certain amount? Under a certain amount? Just for food? But so far I have drawn a blank. It just seems to be….random.

6. Languages

There appear to be dozens of languages here, all used simultaneously and all understood by everyone. Including the one that starts with a click (which really is a clever trick). My domestic helper seems to understand about 10 languages – and speak at least five of those pretty fluently. It is a total mystery to me as to how they know who speaks what and which language to address each other in. Being white, I get addressed in either English or Afrikaans and it is another mystery to me as to why sometimes I get one and sometimes the other. According to my English South African cousin, it is to do with how glam I look that day. The more make-up I am wearing, the more likely it is to be in Afrikaans. Which would explain why it is usually English…..


It’ll be an Afrikaans day today then…..

7. Chorizo

Now I can’t really complain about the availability of food in the shops here – compared to most other places I have lived it’s pretty good. Of course it’s different from home but not necessily worse. Some of the things you can buy here are amazing. Although of course there are quite a few things I miss so we are still going through that stage of trying to work out what to replace with what. But one thing that is puzzling me is the lack of chorizo. Well, you can buy it but it isn’t chorizo – it’s something closer to what we would call Polish Kielbasa, which is very nice but it isn’t chorizo. It’s an oddity because otherwise the availabilty of cold meats is pretty good here, and it’s a pain because a little bit of chorizo – with its beautiful strong flavours – can go a long way in a recipe. We use it in cooking quite a lot. I think I am going to have to get someone to smuggle some in for us.

8. Tipping

We all know about tipping in the States. Basically if you don’t tip you are instantly viewed as some sort of mix of Cruella de Ville, Freddy Kreuger and the Wicked Witch of the West. In other words, tip – or be damned. At home in the UK it’s a little murkier – we do tend to tip in restaurants, but not if the service is bad. Sometimes we tip elsewhere: hairdressers, taxi drivers. Here though it’s even more confusing. On the whole it is not a tipping – or “baksheesh” – culture, which is refreshing. You tip if you think someone deserves or particularly needs it but I get confused looks when I give money to the people packing my bags in the supermarket or delivering my furniture. However the one exception is waiters and waitresses. Apparently many of them don’t get paid a wage. At all. So they live off tips – completely. Not like in the States where they are just underpaid and therefore rely on tips to make a better salary. Here, I am told, in many restaurants tips are ALL they get. Not good – so tipping and tipping well is very important (and the service is generally excellent).

9. The whole “housewives” thing

I previously wrote a post about how, living here, I often feel like I have been transported back 65 years to the 1950’s. My husband gets dressed for work and sets off every morning, the children go to school. I stay behind and tidy up the breakfast things. It can suck but sadly it is one of the realities of expat life for many non-working partners (male or female) so suck it does but you still have to suck it up. However, it doesn’t help when you go out shopping and see things like this on the shelves:


Housewives cheese powder? Enough said!

Now I know traditionally there are ten points in a post like this but I am still pondering on number 10. I haven’t been here that long and have yet to get out of the area around Pretoria so there could be lots more quirkiness in other parts of the country. So for now I’m leaving it at nine. However, if you live or have lived or travelled in South Africa I would love to hear from you. What would you add to my list?

Photo credits: Joburg minibus:  Undone; Made up woman Dave Goehring


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.


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.


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

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!

Show your world: The Beautiful Florida Keys

We’ve just returned from two weeks in Florida and I’m still suffering the affect of jet-lag (so apologies for any mistakes in this post – my brain and my fingers aren’t joining too well at the moment). It was a wonderful, fun-filled week in the theme parks followed by a slowed-down relaxing few days by the water on Key Islamorada. Just the perfect anecdote to all that roller-coastering and non-stop walking in the blistering heat. I can’t recommend Islamorada highly enough, it really was a beautiful, calming and suprisingly un-commercialised place.

La Jolla beach motel, Key Islamorada

La Jolla beach motel, Key Islamorada

We stayed in a small, up-dated 1950’s motel called La Jolla right on the water front and from the moment we got there we were entranced by the wildlife in and around the sea surrounding the site. Nurse sharks, sting ray, flocks of parrot fish, jacks, groupers, snapper and many, many more types of fish swam around in front of the dock where we would sit swinging our feet out over the crystal clear water. Pelicans. seagulls and other birds came by for a visit, while in the trees above huge iguanas slept peacefully in the warm sun.


But best of all, in the early misty light of the day, coffee in hand, we watched first manatees and later dolphins swim gracefully past our front door. The motel had kayaks free for guest use so once we knew roughly what time these beautiful creatures were due to visit we lay in wait, then grabbed a paddle at the first tell-tale sight of either the  bubbles emerging from the lolloping manatees or the distinctive blowing sound and v-shaped ripples of the dolphins. To kayak alongside these animals as they swam playfully past, below and away from us was a magical privilige.

Kayaking, La Jolla resort. Key Islamorada. Florida

Kayaking, La Jolla resort. Key Islamorada. Florida

Another highight of our stay were the evening sunsets – truely magnificent, whether at the end of a clear, blue day or on a moodier evening, when the dark clouds backdropped against the blood-red sky. The morning light, too, was breathtaking and even on one of those cloudy days the slate grey of the sky reflected in the water gave an eerie, other-worldy quality to the scene.

DSCF1856 DSCF1953 DSCF1971 DSCF1959


As well as swimming, snorkelling, kayaking, sun-bathing, relaxing, beer-drinking and sunset-watching, we did manage a few trips during our stay in the keys – including right down to Mile 0 at Key West and on our last day, a memorable trip to the Everglades. But I think I’ll save those for another post!

This post is part the Show Your World series on Tiny Expat’s blog.

show your world

My Travel Monkey

A weekend in Martinique

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you will already have come across Phoebe. An old school friend, Phoebe and I share a love of travel and a similar childhood, both daughters of British diplomats. A few weeks ago, she wrote this guest post for me, about her Memorable Journey in Mongolia. Now it’s my turn to guest blog for her.

Phoebe’s blog is French themed. So I had to come up with something French to fit in. I have visited France, several times, but not for a long time and I can’t say any of my visits were interesting enough to make a post out of. My parents lived in Cameroon, which is half Francophile. But it wasn’t really enough. Then I remembered, when we were living in St Lucia we had visited Martinique, one of the French ‘dom toms’ – also known as French Overseas Departments and  Territories. Unlike our British overseas territories (eg Cayman Islands, Monserrat, Gibraltar), the French dom toms are actually France. The people living on them have the same rights as people living in France. They are part of the EU and they use Euros. So there was certainly something very intriguing about visiting the island.

On the ferry to Martinique

On the ferry to Martinique

Although this is a post about a beautiful Caribbean island, with golden beaches and aquamarine sea, I won’t be talking about those things. I’ll be ignoring the sound of the waves lapping gently on the sand and the tall palm trees swaying in the tropical breeze. Nope, those things aren’t for me. Instead, I’ll be discussing French cheese and the play area at the local McDonalds restaurant. I know that sounds strange, but stick with me on this. To read the rest of this post, click here.

In the meantime, Phoebe is on the lookout for anyone who has lived in or visited any of the other French dom toms to contribute to her series. Have you ever been to:

  • Guadelope
  • French Guiana
  • Reunion
  • Mayotte (although I am hoping Curtis already has this one covered!)
  • French Polynesia
  • Saint Pierre and Miquelon
  • Wallis and Futuna
  • Saint Martin
  • Saint Barthelemy
  • New Caladonia
  • Or, strangest of all, Clipperton Island.

If you have then drop Phoebe a line over at her blog, or leave me a message below and I will pass it on.

Memorable Journeys #5: London to Islamabad via Dubai (where we should never have been)

The run up to our posting to Islamabad wasn’t easy – we had a baby and a toddler, the baby got ill (gastroentiritis), she then developed some sort of exploding nappy syndrome…luckily at the last moment I remembered the doctor mentioning that gastroentiritis can lead to lactose intolerance in babies (and STUPIDLY I had given up breast feeding just before we were about to launch on an epic journey when not having to worry about her formula would have been one thing less to worry about)….

…so eventually we bought some lactose-free formula, the baby’s nappies stopped being quite so horrendously green and smelly, our bags were packed, we said our goodbyes to all and sundry and we set off to the airport, all of us packed together with about 6 large suitcases, two car-seats, a buggy and one of those huge nappy bags you have to take everywhere with you when you have any child under the age of about two.

We were lucky enough to be flying business class – these were still the days before the austerity cuts put an end to that (for us, at least). So check in and the period leading up to the flight was all relatively relaxed. We got on the plane, found our seats and settled in for what we thought would be a nice, straight-forward, A-to-B flight.

Never turning right again!

Never turning right again!

I can’t say the main part of the flight was fun. First the baby slept while the toddler was awake (see above – E, aged two, enjoying the best BA Business class has to offer). Then when the toddler finally feel asleep, it was the baby’s turn to wake. Still, I told myself as I paced the aisles bouncing a crotchety seven-month-old in my arms, it won’t be long until we’re there and we can all collapse into bed in our new house….

And we were nearly there. We were VERY nearly there. Unfortunately, we had been beaten to our destination by a very large thunderstorm. Which meant landing in Islamabad was going to be impossible. And since we couldn’t land in Karachi (security issues) or in Delhi (too many Pakistani’s on board – the Indians wouldn’t let them in) the only viable option open to us was to turn around and head for Dubai. Groan!

From London to Dubai

So the captain turned the plane around and back we went. This was annoying but we thought it would just be a blip. We were reassured that there would be BA ground staff waiting for us when we arrived in Dubai – they even made it sound like someone somewhere had a clue what they were doing. Ha ha ha ha ha.

When we landed in Dubai – one of the busiest airports in the world – it soon became clear that in fact no-one, not the Captain, nor the crew nor anyone at the airport had any idea of who we were, where we had come from or what to do with us. The plane wandered around aimlessly for a bit before finally finding somewhere to park. We were ushered off and taken on a bus first to one gate, then another. Eventually we were pointed inside the airport building and led around in a few circles. No-one went through any kind of security and I almost lost the toddler in the scrum. I screamed at her across the airport as she was about to disappear into a dense thicket of thawb’s, abaya’s, kameezes and dishdash’s….

Finally we found ourselves, plus some of our suitcases, on a bus to a hotel. Where there was a queue of fellow-passengers snaking around the room and to the door. We found some seats and made ourselves at home. While my husband and I took it in turns to queue, the children fell asleep…..

Now just to add some context here, the London to Islamabad flight was a night flight. We hadn’t managed to snatch more than a few minutes sleep before we arrived in Dubai – by which time it was some time the day after we originally took off. As for meals, I don’t think we had any idea as to what we should have eaten when. We’d gone through so many different time zones, and then back again, by this point that the only clue as to when it was time to eat was our grumbling stomachs. Unfortunately we were now in a country for which we had no relevant currency….

Eventually we were taken up to our hotel room where we were presented with one bed for the four of us….and certainly no such thing as a cot or anything safe for the baby to sleep in. Luckily, although the rest of us hadn’t had anything to eat in a while, I had packed some pouches of food for the baby (Ella’s Pouches – thoroughly recommended!) as well as some formula in little boxes (once again, why oh why had I stopped breastfeeding before this journey?), so she was able to eat. We were eventually presented with some tokens for the restaurant downstairs – where we managed to stuff the toddler with bread as there wasn’t much else that she recognised on offer.

So at this point we thought we would all at least be able to sleep while we waited for some news from the airline. However, if you remember a little further up the story, the children had slept while we waited to check in. And were now wide awake and full of beans. And jumping (well, the toddler was jumping, the baby was watching her) all over the room.

We were getting close to two days without sleep and it didn’t look like we were getting any soon.

It was a dismal, dismal situation. We were stuck in a small hotel room in Dubai with no money, no information, no food and no sleep. And this is what the view out of the window looked like:


As the day wore on we started to get more and more desperate for information. I am sure our sleep deprivation, as well as all the accumulated stress from the weeks leading up to the move, wasn’t helping, but things were starting to get a little emotional. We tried calling the airline, but just kept being put through to the inevitable clueless call-centre operators. There was no-one from British Airways to be found, anywhere.

EVENTUALLY we were told a bus would take us back to the airport that evening and we would be put on a flight to Islamabad. The children fell asleep and we all managed to get a couple of hours kip, before we had to wake them up, bath them and get them ready for the next leg of our seemingly never-ending journey.

We didn’t want to stand in any more lines so changed enough money for a taxi to get us to the airport and thus one step ahead of our fellow passengers. We still had a three or four hour wait at the airport and I remember how interesting it was watching all the people in all their various different outfits – Dubai really is a true crossroads of the world. I was also starting to feel a little more benign towards our unwanted destination, now that we knew we were on our way out of it.

So the rest of the story is actually quite unremarkable. We got on the plane. It flew to Islamabad. We got off, entered Pakistan, were picked up by my husband’s predecessor, drove to our house on the diplomatic compound, found with huge relief that someone had turned the air-conditioning on….and collapsed into those beds we’d been dreaming of since before the u-turn over Islamabad. Our time in Pakistan was difficult, full of drama and short -lived. But despite this, the memories of that awful journey haunt me to this day.

This post is part of my memorable journeys series. Read the other posts in this series: 

London to Cameroon via Moscow 

Keeping it Sterile

A Step into the Unknown at Frankfurt Airport

Mongolian Airways to Khovd via Moron

And please don’t forget, if you have ever had a memorable journey and would like it to feature in this series let me know!

 click here to buy

Memorable Journeys #4: Flying Mongolian Airways to Khovd – via Moron…

The latest in my Memorable Journeys series comes from Phoebe an old school friend who blogs over at Lou Messugo. Coming from a similar background to me (Phoebe’s father was also a British diplomat), she is one of the few people who won’t bat an eyelid if I talk about some of the more remote places I have visited or how many countries I have lived in. Here she proves this point by describing a journey she and a friend made in Mongolia – one country I haven’t actually been to. Yet. I hope you will agree, it’s an excellent read – thank you for sharing it, Phoebe!

Inspired by Clara’s series about memorable journeys I’ve been thinking back on some of the crazy trips I’ve taken and there will always be one that stands out, despite being over 20 years ago. In 1994 I flew from Ulaan-Baatar (UB) to Khovd in Western Mongolia on a domestic flight with MИAT (MIAT – Mongolian Airways) known locally at the time as “Maybe It’ll Arrive Tomorrow”. Looking back I’m amazed I arrived at all!

Mongolia in 1994 was only just beginning to wake up to tourism, there were very few foreign travellers and not many expats but my friend Sally and I quite literally bumped into one of the few other Westerners on our first day in UB while looking for a place to stay. As luck would have it, Matt turned out to be working for the only foreign tour operator in town and was in the process of organising a recce for the summer season. He invited us along for the ride. We had no fixed plans and a visa for a month so we jumped at the chance to go with him to the Altai mountains to check out locations for tours. We would be riding horses and camels and sleeping in gers. It was perfect, and such luck. But first we had to get to Khovd.

mongolia map

A few days later we got ourselves to the airport, passing a big billboard on the way announcing “Welcome to Mongolia”. It was definitely facing the direction of the leaving Mongolia traffic! We were travelling with Matt, Mandelhai (an interpreter) and 40 boxes of food and equipment, 4 kit bags and 2 suitcases. There were 2 flights leaving that morning for Khovd, one passenger flight and one cargo with a few passengers. It was pot luck which one you got on. The check-in process was a scrum. No queue, no formal procedure but somehow we scored seats. A friend of Matt’s ended up on the cargo (I was secretly jealous!) However, by the time we had checked in both flights to Khovd had gone off the departure board. Apparently this wasn’t anything to be concerned about. As well as our small party there were 5 other foreigners, 3 Germans and 2 Americans, on our flight. I remember being impressed by one of the Americans reading philosophical tome The Malaise of Modernity by Charles Taylor amongst the chaos at 8 in the morning! I was also impressed (alarmed?) by what seemed like thousands of other passengers waiting for our flight – many more than there were seats for on the plane.

Intrepid explorers

Intrepid explorers

Everything was a shove. There was no point standing back politely. It really was a scrum. Elbows were put to use as we only had 3 boarding passes for the 4 of us! Again apparently this wasn’t a problem. As long as we shoved and pushed nobody seemed to notice whether we actually had a boarding pass or not. Matt had to pay tax somewhere and disappeared and by the time he came back the bus to the plane had left. There were no airport ground staff around but other passengers were shouting “Khovd” and pointing to the plane furthest away on the tarmac so we all rushed in that direction after the bus. About ¾ of the way to the plane an official appeared from nowhere and put us all on an empty bus heading back to the terminal….which after a while turned around and took us to the plane after all.

Everybody was carrying a ton of luggage which had to be dumped at the back of the plane (on the tarmac). Most packages and boxes didn’t get checked in. We had to wait at the bottom of the steps for 15 minutes while ground staff went in and out of the aircraft and others examined the wheels. Finally our ticket numbers were called out and we scrambled for our seats. There were several people too many who sat with the luggage at the back and up with the pilot in the cockpit. There were also several people turned away who didn’t seem to mind too much.

The inside of the plane – a 1950s propeller plane – was quite unique. It had absolutely no markings – no signs on the emergency exits let alone instructions, no seat numbers, no No Smoking signs, no logos, no seatback tables and very few seat belts. I had half of a belt. (On the return flight the luggage was stored in a section between the cockpit and passengers. The door to this section swung open when the plane pointed downwards, which was a handy indicator that we were landing.)

Northern Mongolia scenery

Northern Mongolia scenery

Once we were on our way an annoucement was made saying we’d be going via somewhere in the South Gobi. However, when we landed it was in a town disconcertingly called “Moron” in the far north, with a wrecked plane by the runway. Taxi-ing from the runway to the terminal building the pilot took the most direct route – across the grass where there were sheep grazing. No one seemed to bat an eyelid about any of this, not that it was not the town announced, nor the crashed plane beside us, nor the unusual cross-country route. We were allowed off to buy the only things available, snickers and fanta (needless to say there was no catering on the flight) and took the opportunity to pose for photos on the steps without the scrum. It turned out this was a necessary refuelling stop. Also slightly disconcerting as it was only just over a 3 hour flight altogether!

Moron airport...with wrecked plane in the background

Moron airport…with wrecked plane in the background

I don’t remember much about Khovd airport other than that it was as chaotic as UB and had no toilets (or food or drink but that’s a minor detail). But I do remember that we had to weigh our luggage on arrival before being allowed out of the airport (having not weighed it at check-in).

A suburb of gers in Khovd

A suburb of gers in Khovd

I don’t think I’ll ever forget this journey, it was alarming, challenging, exhilarating and possibly the most adventurous flight I’ve ever taken, but if my memory one day fails me, Sally and I wrote a communal diary of our travels which I’ve still got. I had a wonderful reread of parts of it to refresh myself of the finer details of this journey and honestly I haven’t made any of this up. I haven’t even exaggerated, in fact if anything, I’ve played it down compared to the descriptions in the diary. Travel on MIAT really was crazy! I’m glad I don’t travel like this any more but I’m so glad I have.

Thanks again Phoebe for such an interesting story! Don’t forget, let me know if you have any memorable journey’s you would like to share – and check out the earlier posts on this – Keeping it Sterile, A Step into the Unknown at Frankfurt Airport and London to Cameroon…via Moscow

Memorable Journey’s #3 – Keeping it Sterile

Another contribution to my Memorable Journey’s series – this time from Morag, who blogs over at Morag’s Place and who writes about a journey she made from London to Seatlle – via first Boston, then New York…..

He did go down for a second landing attempt but his heart really wasn’t in it, and we were diverted off to Boston. With all this bumpy travel, plus the fear factor of an aborted landing attempt, there were quite a few people making use of the sick bags on our plane. The cabin crew were doing a sterling job running up and down the aisles exchanging full ones for empty ones.

You can read the full story here – Keeping it Sterile. Thank you Morag for sharing this with me – sick bags and all!

And in the meantime if you haven’t already done so don’t forget to check out the other posts in this series – A Step into the Unknown at Frankfurt Airport and  Cameroon – via Moscow.

Finally, please don’t forget to let me know if you’ve got a partcularly memorable journey you would like to share. It doesn’t have to be a plane journey, it could be by train, car, boat….or even horse. And I do welcome positive tales as well as the horror stories!