South Africa travels: The Wine Tram!

One of the best things about living in South Africa is being able to drink the country’s wine freely and cheaply (within reason – we try and limit our imbibement to weekends!). But of course, one problem is that children don’t tend to be very into wine – and when you have an 8yr old and a 10yr old like we do that does somewhat limit your ability to explore the wondeful wine regions.

However where there is a will there’s a way and last week I was able to get away with a girlfriend, my Swedish friend Karin (hi Karin!) to Cape Town and go a bit wild. Well, okay, slightly wild – we are two mothers with young children after all and one of the best things about the whole long weekend was lounging in bed reading books!

But we made sure to make the best of our time in one of the most well-known wine regions of the world, a spectacularly beautiful area with never-ending photo opportunities. Specifically as far as the wine was concerned, we spent a day visiting wineries by way of the Wine Tram tour – and what a wondeful experience it was!

We were first picked up from our hotel and shuttled the hour inland to the very attractive town of Franschhoek. Full of pavement cafes and boutique hotels, this town is a must-stop for any grown-ups visiting this part of South Africa. It is the sort of place you could just kick back and enjoy for days at a time, contemplating life through a fine wine haze.

However, we were only there for the day – a day which started on this bus:

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The idea is that you take one of the four pre-organised routes between eight different wineries, choosing the five or six you are most keen to visit and simply jump off, stay for an hour, drink some wine, and then hop back on again. Simple! We did worry that after a few tastings we would lose the plot track a bit but the staff both on the bus/trams and at the wineries were obviously well used to slightly inebriated guests and kept us in line. We actually only saw two women who looked like they had probably gone over their limit, as they ran screaming to catch the bus from one stop….

Anyway our first stop was Le Lude where we started the day with three tastings of bubbly – two local and one imported champagne:

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It was a wonderful way to begin the tour and we both agreed that in fact the local stuff (at about a third of the price) was every way as good as the imported French Champagne. Definitely on my list for future purchase!

After a pleasant hour at La Lude we made our way back onto the bus along with a large bunch of jolly South African women who we bumped into on and off throughout the day as they chose different wineries to us for their tastings.

Our next stop was Holden Manz, where we decided to have a bit of food as it was now midday and we didn’t want to keep drinking on empty(ish – breakfast had been big….) stomachs. So we sat with this fabulous view and tucked in to some nibbles while sampling some of the house specials:

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As well as the wine, the views are the star of the tour – although I can imagine it would be even more stunning during the wetter months (everything was a bit brown and bare at this time of year – but on the plus side, we had beautiful sun and clear blue skies and it wasn’t too stifingly hot).

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After a bit of food and three more tasters of wine, it was on to the next stop: La Bourgogne. Everything was getting slightly hazy now but this one was memorable for a sweet garden and a couple of friendly dogs who joined us as we took some coffee and cake along with – yes – more wine. Well, it was part of the deal, why wouldn’t you (the tour included two free tastings, plus some at half price and another tasting was free because we bought wine).

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By this time the weather had started to really heat up so it was quite a relief that the next stop was inside the relative cool interior of the La Couronne winery where we partook of our second free tasting. My main memory here is that our host was a man called Budha – and yes, apparently that was his birth name and not a nickname!

At this point we were finally able to get on the actual tram! In the end we weren’t on it for very long and I seem to recall there was a tractor involved at some point as well but it was a fun experience so sit in this vehicle for the short trip to our next destination: Rickety Bridge.

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This being our fifth and final tasting of the day we decided we needed a bit more food and ordered a platter of cheese and meat to go with the wine. It might have been the paring (or the fact that we had been drinking all day!), but I think this was one of the best wines of the day and we ended up ordering several bottles to take home with us. Incidentally for any South Africans reading this, or anyone travelling internally in the country, you are allowed to take wine as hand luggage on the flights. Not sure how that squares with security procedure but we were happy 🙂

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And so the say ended and it was back to base at Franshoek where we ended up having rather a long wait for our taxi home due to hold ups on the road from Cape Town – which at least gave us a chance to have a look round:

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All in all it was a great day out and a really wonderful way to try several different types of wine without having to worry about driving. We also really liked the fact that we were basically independent and didn’t feel too herded around as you are on some tours – and could chose which wineries we wanted to get off at.

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A Day in My Expat Life: Sweden#2

I’ve already featured Sweden in my Day in My Expat Life series but as someone who has lots of Swedish friends and has Sweden high on my list of places to visit soon I say we can never have too much Sweden! So here we go – please welcome Sara!

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I’m Sara. I was born in Portugal but I left ten years ago. In the meantime I have lived 3 years in Poland, 3 in Brazil and 2 in the Czech Republic. Now I live in Sweden. I live with my boyfriend. He is Swedish. He has also lived in different countries, including Brazil and the Czech Republic with me.

You can find my blog at http://asvoltasnomundo.blogspot.se/

1- window

1. My window 7.30 I get up and usually I stare out of the window for a couple of minutes. I check how the weather is, go through my to do list mentally and judge how awake I am. I’m a morning person, so I am usually fully awake after a few minutes. This is one of the good things of being unemployed… I have time to stare out the window.

2- breakfast

2. Breakfast 8.00 I have breakfast in the kitchen. Most mornings I eat porridge with cinnamon. Occasionally, I add a spoon of jam or apple puree. And black tea in my favourite cup. I love black tea in the morning! I read or check social networks in my phone while a eat.

3- my corner

3. My corner 8.30 After doing this and that (make the bed, clean here and there, you know what I mean) I sit in my favourite corner. It almost looks like a small office but it’s a corner of my living room. It is from here that I blog. The colourful post its have notes about what I want to blog about. From here I write, edit photographs, I read other blogs, I search and apply for jobs, etc. Note my favourite cup again with my second cup of tea. Usually, I turn on the radio for company. Portuguese radio. I can hear the news from my country and most importantly, I can hear my own language!

4- run

4. Run 10.00 I love running and I do it almost everyday. If I want a fast run I just go on the streets and in the pedestrian path along the road, because it’s flat. If I’m looking for a challenge I go up to the forest near my flat, where I find many hills. Of course the surroundings are nicer in the forest and the sound of the birds encourages me to keep going. Afterwards, I stretch for a few minutes at the entrance of my building and I go home and have shower.

5- cookbooks

5. Cookbooks 11.30 Since I had a few minutes to spare I went through some of my cookbooks to get ideas for dinner. I started collecting cookbooks when I started travelling more. I have always been interested in food and I really enjoy trying different dishes and new ingredients. I started buying a cookbook in every new country I visited and now I have a nice collection. I have more than one cookbook from certain countries. From Italy, for instance, I have 5! You guessed right… I love Italian food.

6- lunch

6. Lunch 11.45 After running I’m hungry so I need to eat some lunch. I either heat up some leftovers from the day before or eat a sandwich with salad. One of my favourite combinations is sill in lemon sauce with boiled egg. Sill is herring (a fish) and in Sweden you can buy it marinated in different sauces. Sill is always present in different Swedish festivities celebrated all over the year. I actually enjoy it quite a lot and as it makes an easy and fast meal I eat it for lunch sometimes

7- school

7. School 12.30 I moved to Sweden in the beginning of the year and I spend roughly 3h a day learning Swedish in school. It is called SFI (Swedish for immigrants) and it is a free course for foreigners. Foreigners who do have a job can also take the course, but it is usually only once a week. Our teacher is great and full of energy, which is very motivating. It’s fun and I really enjoy sharing that part of my day with people from all over the world.

8- library

8. Library 15.45 After dropping the school books at home, I take my bicycle and cycle to the library to return a book. I love the library! It’s huge and has a large selection of books in english, and a lot in many different languages! I finished Be careful what you wish for, from the Clifton series of Jeffrey Archer and I took Sushi for beginners, from Marian Keyes. I have 3 weeks to read each book, but the time can be extended through my online account. Usually I don’t have to extend it.

9- supermarket

9. Supermarket 16.10 Afterwards, I also went to the supermarket. I always have a list because my memory is not the best. The supermarket is huge and it only takes me 5 minutes to get there from home by bicycle. I am a member of their club and I can use the self-scanning machines. I scan my own groceries and I pay on my own at the end. It makes it so much faster! One can get a random check and be penalised if not all products are scanned. I have never failed… yet. Today is a bit later than normal, so my boyfriend Johan meets me at the supermarket and we go home together.

10- sofa

10. Sofa 17.00 Johan is usually tired after a long day at work and he enjoys laying down a bit in the sofa, reading or surfing the web in his tablet. Usually, I’m back in my corner to do my homework and study Swedish on the internet. Once he suggested me to read children’s books in Swedish to practise my reading. We brought his collection of books from his parents house and now and then I read for him. The interesting fact is that he often does fall asleep! The brain reaction is still there… 30 years later.

11- dinner

11. Dinner 18.00 – 20.00 We usually have a lot of fun cooking together and one of the things we make often is fresh pasta. Today, I found a pasta recipe that uses one of my favourite combinations: gorgonzola and walnuts. We have tried it in pizza, together with pear, but never in pasta. Since we really liked the recipe, we will repeat it and I will take better photographs of the dish, so I can post it on my recipe’s blog, the Swedish and the Chef (link: http://the-swedishchef.blogspot.se/)

12- bedtime

12. Reading 20.00 – 00.00 After dinner, I go back to studying Swedish because I have a test in two days. Sometimes I blog instead, or chat on the internet with family or friends. When I get tired I join Johan in the sofa and watch a bit of TV or read. Around 23.00 we go to bed and I keep reading as much as my eyes allow me. It varies from a couple of pages to an hour straight.

Thanks Sara, I really enjoyed reading about your life and seeing your photos. That pasta looks great! Remember to check out my other posts in this series – and please let me know if you would like your expat life featured on this blog.

A Day in My Expat Life: Abu Dhabi

Welcome to another Day in My Expat Life and again this is a special one because Keri, of the website Baby Globetrotters, is a blogger I have been communicating, coordinating and collaborating since we both started out about the same time a couple of years ago. I have never actually met Keri – even though she came on holiday to South Africa at one point since we have been living here – so was curious to find about a bit more about her life. I also love the fact that even though she has three children, she still manages to have time to do her own thing: so important for us expat parents.

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6.19am(1)

6.19am Our day normally starts when the first child wakes up; this can be anywhere between 5.30am and 7am on really lucky days! On a standard school day though we need to be up and at it by 6.30am Not a bad view to wake up to though, we live in a fairly new beach front development “off island” in Abu Dhabi, Al Raha Beach. This is the view from the top floor of our townhouse (4 floors high!)

7.25am

7.25am We have 3 kids to try and usher out the door for school by 7.25am if we can. The International school the oldest two attend is only a few kilometers away but traffic lights are rubbish and we spend 15-20 mins every morning sat in the school run queue. We have rather a large car to fit our collection of kiddy seats – and kids (they are sadly not compulsory in the UAE but no way we’d go anywhere without them). Our littlest one is only 1, he attends the British nursery near the school.

8.35am

8.35am My favourite part of the day once the kids are dropped off! I start my working day by heading down to the beach front for a coffee. Here I catch up my overnight emails and social media. It’s too hot now for sitting on the beach itself but it’s a great, friendly little place – and makes me love my work from home jobs!

9.25am

9.25am Walking back to my house – it’s a mixed development along the man-made Al Raha Beach (slightly inland from the Persian gulf coast) with apartments, townhouses, villas and some commercial buildings – Etihad Centre is right behind our house. It comes with the convenience of a little supermarket and a few shops. The only real hassle here is parking.

10am

10am Where the work gets done! Back to my desk for the next few hours until kiddy pick up times. Once or twice a week I might be at client meetings but mostly working at home in front of the PC, three mornings a week while my youngest is at nursery.

12.30pm

12.30pm Lunch is just something quick and simple like toast or sandwich. NB note the kitchen only looks immaculate as we have a full time helper. She cleans the house while the kids are at school which is *amazing*

2.45pm(1)

2.45pm School pick up run starts again around 1.45pm when I leave our house, then with staggered finish times over two locations – at least if I am not picking up extra kids, dropping off for play dates etc – it takes about 1.5hrs to get home again. As you can see our cars are big (to fit all those car seats!) but having a 4wd or “Mummy Tank” is fairly standard issue here.

3.15pm(1)

3.15pm Today is slightly special and different as it’s my middle boy’s 4th birthday. We always get a special cake and treat on our actual birthday, he will have a pool party on the weekend with his friends. Afternoons while it’s hot they will generally stay in the playroom or play in the pool until dinner time.

5.45pm(1)

5.45pm As a special treat we let the kids pick birthday dinner and we all go out, including some of my husband’s relatives who live in Abu Dhabi too. We are very lucky to have this connection here and make things like birthday celebrations special – they love their Uncle Sean! My Master L will basically only eat pasta so he picked Carluccio’s at Eastern Mangroves, another fairly new waterfront development.

6.30pm(1)

6.30pm The high life when you have kids! All done by about 6.30pm to be home in bed around 7pm. This is the view from the gorgeous Eastern Mangroves marina back to some of the high rises on Reem Island. There really is no ‘centre’ of Abu Dhabi, just lots of awesome little spots to explore.

 

Thank you Keri for that look at your expat life. Please check out our other posts in this series if you haven’t already done so and let me know if you would like your expat life to be featured in a future post!

A Day in my Expat Life – France

This edition of A Day in My Expat Life is a special one as it features old school friend Phoebe who I caught up with a few years ago and now keep on contact with via social media and blogging. Keen-eyed readers might have spotted an ad at the side of my blog with the words “Book Me” on it. This ad links to the Gite run by Phoebe on the Cote D’Azur in France called Lou Messugo. I haven’t managed to visit (yet) but after reading about Phoebe’s life, it’s certainly on my list……

 

01 breakfast

I get up at 7.30 but my day really starts around 8.15 after the kids have gone to school when I have a calm breakfast on my own usually consisting of a Franco-British combo of toasted leftover baguette “tartines” with marmite, some fruit and a coffee. At this time of year I eat it outside on the terrace.

02 Lou  Messugo Facebook page

8.30 Next up I usually check and answer emails and update the Facebook page for my gite. I also check and reply to other social medias, link up to blog linkies etc. I take my laptop out on to the terrace and spend anything from 1-2 hours doing this.

03 laundry

9.30 There is always laundry to do, living with 3 sporty males and running a holiday rental. Every day I do at least 2 and often more loads. Our climate is good enough that for most of the year I dry everything outside in the sun and avoid using the dryer.

04 goodbye guests

11.00 The gîte is very popular and for most of the year I have 2 changeovers a week. Today is one of those days and check out time is 11am so I go to check over the apartment and say goodbye to the guest.

05 unblocking septic tank

11.30 While cleaning the gîte today I discover the septic tank is blocked so I call my husband who has to pop back from work to deal with it. It is not a pleasant job! This is one of the worst things about running a holiday rental and unfortunately it happens reasonably often.

06 cleaning gîte

13.30 Cleaning usually takes me 2-3 hours depending on the state the guests leave it in. Last job is to mop the floor. I haven’t had time to eat lunch….

07 supermarket shopping

14.00 I just have time for a quick rush around the supermarket as we’re out of most things. I also go to the weekly market and several small shops on a daily basis but today is the big weekly shop and not market day. Supermarkets in France are excellent (but quite pricey!)

08 school pick up

15.45 School pick up. I car pool with neighbours and today it’s my turn to pick up my younger kid and a couple of others from primary school. (My oldest at high school, he takes the bus and is fully independent). I go straight from the supermarket.

09 welcome basket

16.15 I put the finishing touches to the welcome basket for the next guests in the gîte and pick some flowers from the garden for them. Check-in is from 16.00 but today’s guests aren’t due till 17.30 so I’m in time!

10 guests arrival

17.30 New guests arrive (and get photographed!) I don’t usually record arrivals but today’s guests have stayed at Lou Messugo several times and I asked if they wouldn’t mind! As they’ve been so often I don’t have to explain anything to them, just welcome them in.

11 edit photos

17.45 Time for another session on the computer catching up on admin, comments on the blog and other social medias. I have my phone on me all day for immediate answers to booking enquiries etc but I still like to sit down at my desk to deal with booking contracts and other details of running a holiday rental.

12 bus to Nice

19.00 I’m off for a rare night out in Nice with a group of friends to watch the Euro football in the “fan zone” (official spectator area with giant screen and bars). Buses are free tonight as the match is in Nice (one of the host cities) so I take public transport.

13 Nice fanzone

I grab a snack in the fan zone. On changeover days I often don’t get time to eat lunch. I get home around midnight and go to bed.

Thank you Phoebe for this peak into your French life. If you haven’t already seen them, please take a look at the other posts in this series A Day in My Expat LIfe; and do get in touch if you would like to feature.

 

Lou Messugo

A year in South Africa – my highlights

This time exactly a year ago we were perched  on the sofa in our garden, nibbling at sandwiches made with the sort of peanut butter I have since learned never to buy, wondering at the cold air but hot sun, listening to the strange sounds of the screeching hadedas and trying to contemplate our new life in this huge and hugely exciting country.  I can’t believe it has been a year. Fresh off the overnight flight, we felt like pale, strange animals found under stones – defenceless and pathetic, entirely reliant on others to keep us safe.

But here we are, 365 days on (or rather, 366 as it’s a leap year) and we’ve toughened up. Learnt our way around. Found out where to source the food we want, the clothes and shoes we need, and the books we desire. Bought a dog. Completed a year of schooling (the children) and a year in a new office (husband). Found friends, and sadly lost some of them to repatriation. Travelled far and wide but at the same time realised how much more there still is to see.

It hasn’t always been an easy year but overall we have loved our life in South Africa. I could drone on for hours about what we have been up to since we got here but really, that would get pretty dull. So here, instead, are just a few highlights:

Best trip

A hard one this as we have had so many great holidays since we arrived. Namibia, Cape Town, Mauritius are all up there. But for sheer excitement and for memories that will last with us forever, I think it was our six day safari in Kruger National Park with my parents in December/January that wins this one.

Best meal out

Again, so many to choose from. Eating out in South Africa is  genuinely.one of the best things about this country – possibly because to us, it is so much more affordable than at home but also because the food is great quality and very innovative. So there have been many, many good meals and quite a few great ones. But probably the one I enjoyed most overall was a wine-tasting meal at Zest Bistro in Pretoria where we sat at a long table with other guests and were given different wines to taste with each course. The food was fantastic (I have been back and enjoyed it even without gallons of wine to wash it down!), the wine was world class and the mixed company of friends and strangers was perfect.

Best tour

When my mother came to stay I decided it was time to dig a bit deeper into South Africa’s recent history. I had yet to venture deep into Soweto so when a friend recommended a tour by a lady called Snowy Mattera we decided to book it. I am so glad we did: Snowy’s father was Don Mattera, a poet and activist during the apartheid years. Snowy grew up in Soweto and was part of the student protests in the 1970’s. Learning about the history of the area through the eyes of someone who was actually there gave a unnique experience and really helped understand the actions of the people of that era. Highly recommended!

Best view

Oh so hard! The views in Cape Town from the top of Table Mountain were incredible. Ditto the unique panorama from the top of the sand dunes in Namibia. But in the end I think I have to choose the Drakensbergs where around every corner was another stunner!

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Best memory

I am going to cheat a little with this one and choose two – albeit it of doing the same thing, just in different countries. When you have had a year like we have, there are so many good memories, it’s hard to single it down to just one (or, in this case, two). However, sometimes it is the simplist activities which are the best and I am going to chose star-gazing as one of the things that I will remember for ever. Sitting at the back of our cabin in Namibia in the middle of a meteorite shower, watching shooting star after shooting star fall from the sky. And lying on our backs at our lodge in the Drakensbergs with the huge, huge night sky above is. It makes you feel so small and insignificant but at the same time so glad to be alive.

Best wildlife

So there have been zebras and whales and penguins and dolphins and octopusses (octopi?) and a lots of antelopey things and rhinos and elephants and giraffes and dung beatles and bats and warthogs with their hoglets and wild dogs and….how can I chose just one? Our entire year has been one wildlife-bonanza. So I will just have to chose the one that gave me the best picture:

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Best non-wildlife experience

Way back not long after we arrived I was invited to the local footy derby in Soweto – the Orlando Pirates vs the Kaiser Chiefs. Two of the biggest teams in the world, each with some of the most loyal supporters on the planet. This was, apparently, one of the biggest derbys it was possible to watch but I don’t think I quite appreciated the enormity of it until we walked into the stadium. I have been to big matches before, including watching Arsenal play and England vs Germany in Munich. But this was on a different scale altogether – whether it was the numbers, the sheer passion or just the noise I don’t know but it was certainly an experience never to be forgotten.

Soweto derby

Best luck

What started off as terrible luck in the end worked out for us in a way we could never have predicted. I had booked a balloon flight for my husband’s birthday shortly after we moved to Pretoria. Unfortunately due to an unseasonal rain storm, the original flight was cancelled and then rescheduled to a few weeks later. So here we were, up at dawn and floating across the landscape – lovely! It was so early that after we had landed and eaten breakfast, it was still not yet 9am. So we decided to hot-foot it across to the nearby Maropeng museum where the recently discovered fossilised remaines of Homo Naledi were on display for a limited period before being moved away to tour the world/be studied properly (whatever they do with bones and things). Anyway, we arrived so early we were the first people in and, having visited the museum previously, bypassed all the normal exhibits and made our way straight to the main attraction. Where, again, we were first in and thus had the exhibit totally to ourselves for a brief few moments. It isn’t often you get so see such an amazing discovery so close up and in such privacy – it felt like a private viewing and we definitely felt very lucky.

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Best discovery

I’m not sure if I can really call it a discovery as so many others seem to know about it, but a little cafe called the Moroccan House has become a favourite place to meet people for morning coffee or lunch. Great food and drinks, a lovely, cool, secluded terrace and fantastic service makes it a stand-out in a place of stand-outs. And did I mention the price? Definitely worth a visit if you are ever in town.

Most photogenic place

I think this one has to be won by Namibia. I have never seen so many photo opportunities in such a short space of time. Around every corner there was something else I wanted to take a picture of – helped by the most amazing light and bright blue skies. Here is a taster:

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And finally (because I could go on forever) – most relaxing holiday

This one is easy – hands down, it’s Mauritius. It helps that we stayed in an all-inclusive but the sea, the beach, the pools, the diving, the bars, the staff, the service….When you really need somewhere to unwind, what more could you ask for?

Well, that’s just some of my highlights from the last year. I notice I haven’t even included Cape Town in this post which just goes to show how much great stuff we have done! Maybe I will have to do another one at the end of this year – I wonder what will make the grade this time?

Have you been to South or Southern Africa? What have been your highlights?

A Day in My Expat Life: Zambia

Today’s Day in My Expat Life comes to you from sunny Zambia. I am still on holiday in the UK and really starting to miss the sights and sounds of Africa so have enjoyed looking through these photos.

In this entry to my series, Annie Wright of A Wright Adventure (also on Facebook and instragram at awrightadventure) takes us through a day with her three beautiful boys, from sun up to sun down. I can hear those cicadas and smell that dusty road from here!

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6:30 : Sun rise walk / run to drop big boys of at school bus.

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7:00 : Breakfast with my baby blue. Although most of his seems to go on the floor.

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8:00 : Baby blue gets as many toys out as possible!

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10:00 : Outside play with Baby blue. Picking our strawberries.

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12:30 : Pick up middle man from nursery. Red dirt roads and Blue skys.

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14:00 : Lego boy comes home on the bus and bounces with Baby Blue.

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17:45 : Beautiful sun set but it means it is time for insect replant.

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18:00 : Homework time.

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19:15: Lego boy reads me a bed time story.

If you want to read more Day in My Expat Life entries then please click here – and let me know if you would like to feature in this series!

Exploring the Delightful, Dramatic Drakensbergs

A couple of months ago we took a wonderful African road trip to the Drakensbergs. Located a few hours south of Pretoria in Kwa-Zulu Natal (known colloquially as KZN), this region is renowned for its stunning scenery and mountainous terrain and it certainly did not disappoint. It wasn’t a long trip – just a few days to take a rest from the demands of city life – but the area was so beauiful we felt completely refreshed at the end of our break.

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We stayed at a quirkly little place called Antbear Lodge – where the rooms were all carved from wood but the views were as stunning as they come. We had originally booked this place because it was dog-friendly and we thought we might be able to bring our new puppy with us. But in the event he was too young for his first holiday so we left him behind (in good hands 🙂 ), and enjoyed not having to get up at the crack of dawn to let him out for a pee. There were however other dogs on the property, as well as sheep, ducks, geese and -most exciting of all – horses for riding!

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We didn’t have a fixed agenda but were keen to explore the area a little as we hadn’t yet ventured to this part of South Africa. As it was, we found plenty to do – and the children just enjoyed the freedom to run around on the lodge grounds without restrictions of bars, fences, gates and locks…

One of the days we drove to an well-known paragliding site for my husband to chuck himself off a cliff. The drive turned into a bit of an adventure as the road up to the site was the narrowest, rockiest, steepest and downright most terrifying drive we have yet undertaken in this country. The panorama from the top was wonderful though and as my husband even managed to get a flight in, definitely worth the hassle to get there as this meant his mood was much improved 🙂

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Another day we drove to the Giant’s Castle reserve and walked up to look at some of the cave paintings – something that has been on my “to do” list since we got here. Since I managed to injure my ankle quite badly a few weeks before we went away I was quite nervous about the walk even though it wasn’t more than about one hour to get there. But by taking it easy and wearing “sensible footwear” I was fine and so glad that I did as the paintings are very special. They date back hundreds of years, with some a lot more recent – but are a great reminder that while life has been going on here for centuries, it’s only relatively recently that man has started to dramatically changed the landscape to what we know now. The views from the walk to and from the caves were also magnificent – the whole area reminds me of some sort of “garden of eden”and I can understand why it is such a popular hiking spot.

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As well as exploring nature we also made sure to have a bit of fun. On one morning we rode the lodge’s horses through the fields, admiring the view from a different angle and enjoying the fact that thanks to months of riding lessons this was the first time we could ride as a family without worrying about anyone falling off. Another day we visited the attractions on the famous “midlands meander” – a mix of local craft shops, fun things for the kids to do (candle dipping; archery etc) and foodie places to stock up on things like cheeses and biltong. We particularly enjoyed the chocolate dipping at Chocolate Heaven – seriously, what was there NOT to like about this place? It was a plateful of strawberries, biscuits, marshmallows, bananas, dried fruit and even chillis and biltong should you so wish – all dipped into suprisingly good Belgian chocolate. We walked away feeling a little sick but totally happy. We came to the Drakensbergs for the views; we found amazing chocolate. What more could we possibly ask for?

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Well there was one more suprise and this was something we hadn’t expected. At the end of the “meander” is a place called the “capture site” – the place where Nelson Mandela, masquarading as a chauffeur,  was finally captured after evading the apartheid forces for more than 17 months. The site has been turned into a small museum which was interesting enough on its own. But it is the extraordinary sculpture of Mandela’s head that only reveals itself to you as you take the “long road to freedom” path down the slope towards it that really made the stop worthwhile. Reading about the scultpure online I see there is all sorts of signficance to the number of steel bars used to make it etc. But really it doesn’t need explanation as it speaks for itself.

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And so ended our trip to the Drakensbergs – a wonderful, refreshing, beautiful area of the country that so many just rush past on the way to the coast. I hope we get the chance to return – it’s relatively close to Pretoria (relative being the size of the country) and we still want to try and drive up the famous Sani pass into Lesotho. But if we don’t make it back we will have many good memories to sustain us. Of beautiful views, magnificent sculptures and of course of delicious chocolate!

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An Expat Partner: the First Three Months

Thank you to Sarah who blogs over at Scribbles from Overseas for the refreshingly honest story of her first three months living as an Expat Partner. Those early days are often the hardest for any expat – and even more so for the non-working partner who has to find a new routine to their day, as well as find their way around, find out where the shops are and how to use the local bus service….But as Sarah’s post proves, things do usually start to look up once you have the first few months under your belt.

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My partner was always very honest with me. There was a chance his job might be moving overseas, and it was more a question of when rather than if.

I have always found myself torn between two separate paths in life. The first is the kind of ‘normal’ one I suppose – go to school, get a good job, a house, get married and live happily ever after. I am a self-confessed homemaker.

The second, however, is the travelling path. I would love to see more of the world and experience new cultures. When I was growing up I always said one day I would like to spend a year or two living and working overseas.

So when my partner told me we were moving to Toronto, Canada I was excited. There were the initial stresses to deal with – like packing up our house, sorting out shipping and leaving my job. But I loved the idea of Canada. I looked forward to spending my weekend’s hiking in mountains or hiring out cute log cabins by a snowy lake. And I could not wait to go exploring all the cities in North America that I’d always wanted to visit. These would now be on the right side of the ocean for us.

Yet lurking underneath all that anticipation, buried somewhere deep in my subconscious was a growing anxiety.

bubblewrap! Starting the long task of packing our stuff in Bristol

Bubblewrap! Starting the long task of packing our stuff in Bristol.

Leaving England was stressful. Only a couple of days before our flight I was still trying to shift our stuff on gumtree whilst my partner did multiple trips to the dump. Well after dark on the day we were supposed to move out of our house in Bristol, we were still cleaning and sorting out what would be coming with us, and what was going in the bin. It didn’t help that I had come down with the world’s worst (and most badly timed) cold and was feeling entirely wiped out.

Waving goodbye to our house somewhere close to midnight, we drove to my partner’s parents to stay the night before our flight. I felt so nauseous I had to stop the car to throw up. The illness (and general exhaustion) was probably partly to blame, but also the brewing nervousness.

In Toronto

Me, My partner and the CN Tower

Me, my partner and the CN Tower

The first few weeks after you get off that flight will be the hardest. We had two days in Toronto before my partner returned to work in his new office. You feel like you have to squeeze everything into that short period of time. It is a whirlwind of trying to get the important stuff done – such as opening bank accounts and setting up phone numbers. But mixed in is the desire to learn your way around the city and make the most of the time you have off together before work takes over. I was glad we managed to find the time to have some fun and fit a little of the touristy stuff in, such as visiting the CN Tower.

It was after he went to work that supressed bubble of anxiety really shimmied its way to the surface. I had this sugar-coated idea in my head before arriving in Toronto that I would spend this time getting to know the city. However, in reality there is only so much exploring you want to do by yourself. Plus there’s the ever growing guilt that you are not working and therefore should really hold back on spending too much money.

I quickly realised I do not like being dependent. I have always worked since the age of thirteen when I had my first paper round. I do have a work permit here, but I found the process of job hunting agonising. Trailing though endless pages of job advertisements, half of which specify applicants with Canadian permanent resident status will be prioritised was an incredibly de-motivating experience.

Far too excited to find a shop selling British baked beans and squash!

Far too excited to find a shop selling British baked beans and squash! (not at all: I think we all know where you are coming from – look, Yorkshire Tea! Ed).

I got into the habit of researching trailing spouse syndrome online and convinced myself I was doomed to two years of depression and there was nothing I could do about it. Finding some temping work pulled me out of that routine. It stopped me sitting in our apartment thinking, or getting frustrated at job hunting all day. And even though I am not working again now and those niggles do still exist, after three months of being here I am able to enjoy having the opportunity to spend my time writing, cooking and doing the things I love. Things I wouldn’t normally have the time to do when working a full-time job.

I don’t want to make this all sound too negative. Things do get better once you get over that initial first month hurdle. Yes you will undoubtedly sob into a cup of tea wondering whether you made the right decision and consider getting on the next plane home at various points. Yes you may go slightly loopy some days, and I certainly crave that path one lifestyle from time to time.  However, if I could go back in time six months I wouldn’t change my decision to move overseas and become an expat partner. Most days I really love being here, and for every day I want to go home there’s another where I am thinking about where might be next on the list after Toronto.

On top of all the obvious positives of seeing a new place, meeting new people and learning about new cultures, I have found this an opportunity to learn what makes me happy. I have realised what is most important to me – and who is most important to me. You learn who your true friends are. It gives you the chance to step back, re-evaluate and maybe write a whole new path for yourself.

Three months in and Toronto is bright and blooming. It is summer here now and the weather at least certainly beats the grey drizzle England promises most of the year around. Toronto is a really great place – and I have still only seen the tip of the iceberg!

There is still a lot to learn and a long way to go until I will feel completely settled, but I am starting to realise it is OK to not have everything neatly in place.

 

A sojourn in Mauritius

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The spectacular mountains of volcanic Mauritius

Eagle-eyed readers of this blog will have noticed a bit of tumble-weed blowing through its environs recently. No I haven’t given up altogether (although exciting ventures elsewhere have been keeping me busy) but one of the reasons things have been so quiet is that we have been on holiday.

On holiday, I hear you cry. Isn’t life as an expat in South Africa one long holiday? Well yes you have a point, we do get to travel a lot while we live here – and hell, if you lived in the most beautiful country in the world (trademark) wouldn’t you do your best to see as much of it as possible?

However, travelling and holidaying are two different concepts and what we really needed was a proper break. A time to be able to do nothing, to not move an inch from the sunbed should we chose, to totally re-charge our batteries. Unfortunately we do of course have two very active pre-teens so this total relaxation was never going to happen. But all the same, we wanted to get away somewhere really beautiful and life-enhancing for a fantastic fun-filled family vacation and Mauritius fits the bill completely. It’s also only 4.5 hours flight from Johannesburg, which of course helps!

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There’s nothing like a sun-drenched beach to lighten your mood.

Mauritius is one of those countries that most people simply associate with holidays and little else – a bit like one of the many Caribbean islands dominated by resorts geared up to doing nothing more than sipping rum and dipping the occastional toe in a pool. However, just like many of those Caribbean islands, dig a little deeper and there is actually a fascinating history to this island involving pirates, runaway slaves, a mish-mash of cultures which altogether add up to a very unique identity, a famous now-extinct bird (the dodo) and a man called Peter Pepper (yes, really!). But we weren’t really here for the history and culture, fascinating as it was – we were here for the sea, sun, sand and (remember, kids involved) snorkelling!

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Under the sea…is where we want to be….

It is hard to chose a resort on an island like Mauritius because there are so many of them and most of them looked fantastic. I know people who have gone rogue and stayed in self-catering houses on the island and this also looks like a lovely option for some real rest and relaxation. However for this, our official “breather break” from South Africa, we wanted to stay somewhere where we really didn’t have to lift a finger. In the end we settled on the Ravenala Attitude, part of the Attitude chain and a newly refurbished hotel.

The Ravenala is not paying me for this review (unless they wish to do so retrospectively….contact me tab above….) so I can say anything I like but in all honesty it was a fabulous resort. There were issues and you can read my review on TripAdvisor, but the pluses far out-weighed the minuses and I would both recommend it and return to it. In particular, the staff were outstanding and made us all (especially the children) feel as welcome as it is possible to feel. Clientele were a little mixed – we were out of season so there weren’t many families, with honeymooning couples taking up most of the room on the sun-loungers. But this mattered not a jot, we were still treated like royalty by waiters, bar-staff, room cleaners, the dive crew and sports guys as well as pretty well everyone else we met.

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Sun-loungers waiting for the childless honeymooners to arrive…

The main reason we picked Ravenala was because it offered us as a family what we wanted – a family suite so we didn’t have to book two rooms (which would have racked the cost up considerably), lots of activities, and good choices of restaurants. As well as snorkelling, we spent the week on the sea on various vessels including a glass-bottom boat, kayaks, pedaloes, stand-up paddle boards, water-skies and lasers (small sailing boats which capsize easily….). On the land we played badminton, beach tennis, petanque and table-tennis (ish). When we fancied a dip we had both the ocean and several large pools to chose from. And of course there was plenty of choice when it came to needing a drink to quench that thirst – although this being a sugar island, that choice mostly revolved around rum for the grown-ups.

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Rum shack!

Our favourite activity though was under the sea. I learnt to dive more than 15 years ago and reached over 100 dives before our five year break in the UK (where diving was off the menu thanks to a non-tropical climate). Having completed a refresher course here in Pretoria a couple of weeks before our holiday, dusted down our wetsuits and polished our masks we were ready to go. The hotel has a new dive centre attached so it was super easy to book a package of six dives shared between me and my husband, plus a couple of try-dives in the pool for the kids. Which turned out to be a great success because our 10-year-old daughter went on to do not only one but two dives in the sea and loved it!

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Daughter number one on her first ever open water dive.

The reason this was such a huge success for us was because, despite living on a Caribbean island as a child, she has never liked beaches or salt water which has been a bit of a struggle for the rest of our sea-loving family (my younger daughter, at eight, is still too young for a sea dive but snorkels like a pro and enjoyed her dive in the pool).

Diving, for anyone who hasn’t tried it, seems like a faff while you are above water but as soon as you get below the surface can be one of the most relaxing things you can do. I liken it to a session of yoga or meditiation – you drift around looking at beautiful things with just your thoughts for company (you do of course dive in a group or with a buddy but as you can’t talk it can feel very peaceful). On some dives the excitement does rack up with sightings of sharks, large rays or other “big things” but the coral reef diving we did around Mauritius wasn’t that sort of dive. Lots of fish life and plenty to look at but it was never going to be one of those “Top Ten” dives. Just very relaxing, very beautiful and very de-stressing.

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Wreck dive

Sadly all good things come to an end and after a week of indulgence we settled in for one last evening on the beach, rum cocktails in hand. And luckily for us, the island decided we deserved a fabulous sunset on our final day – watching this spectacular show was a wonderful way to end our week away and will stay in our memories for years to come.

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So now we’re back in South Africa and I am trying to catch up with everything, I hope to be able to get back to some sort of blogging routine soon. Which, if everything goes to plan, will include a new link-up for expat bloggers in Africa – so watch this space!

TravelathomeTingNewBlue

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.