Monday, March 31, 2014

Expat Experiences: The Process of Moving Abroad

"So, how are you planning to move all your stuff? Are you sending everything in boxes by post?" my best friend asked curious.
"I don't think so," I replied puzzled, "why would I do that?".
"Because they're your clothes and stuff. Ain't you taking it all with you? What if you needed something and suddenly realised that you left it in Tenerife?" she answered, even more puzzled than I was.
"Well, I guess I won't need so many miniskirts and sleeveless tops in Holland. Besides, I have so many clothes I don't wear anymore that maybe I should get rid of some instead of packing them with me"

*     *     *     *     *

Welcome to another installment of The Expat Experience link-up, hosted by Molly of The Move to America. The topic for this week is 'The Process of Moving Abroad' and though I could tell you a story of two about how tedious bureaucracy can be, I chose not. Instead I rather focus on clothes and some other trivial things which are often overlooked, probably because they're way less important. Part of the reason for telling the story this way is because I have always moved within the European Union (with the exception of Switzerland) so I have never gone through the process of asking for visas or similar, so I don't have any advice to offer regarding those technicalities.

The Move to America

A couple of days before I moved abroad for good my best friend came to see me at my parent's and at some point the bizarre conversation opening this post took place. When she saw that my bedroom looked exactly the same it did as when I lived there she wondered why I would leave and not take everything I could with me and at the same time I wondered why would I want to take as much stuff as I could with me when I knew that most of it wouldn't be of any use. At least my instinct was telling me so.

I have now moved several times and so far, my intuition has proved right. I think one of the most important phases of the whole process of moving abroad is planning thoughtfully. First do some research about your destination and then plan accordingly (and I guess this goes exactly the same for the research and time needed to apply for visas, permits and whichever paperwork is needed). Planning goes further than making a list of what to take and what not, though. Another side to planning is organizing your time properly so that you can buy anything you need for this epic move and don't rush during the 24 hours previous to your flight or trip, and also leaving enough time aside for you to enjoy with the people you love and know will miss. And for me, this is probably the most important part of the whole process. To try and understand your feelings, to listen to your heart and do as it tells (as cheesy as it sounds). Clothes, books, toilettries, kitchen appliances you may or may not take with you but you can sure buy something similar almost everywhere. but the one thing you're taking with you, whether you want it or not, are feelings, fears and insecurities. The love and memories of the people you cherish. And the sorrows and regrets. That's why I think that allowing yourself time to enjoy with the important persons in our lives is a crucial part of the process of moving abroad. Moving abroad is moving on to a new stage in life and to do this succesfully it is necessary to have some kind of closure and to know that everything is and will be alright while we are away.

As always, some advice I have found useful when I was preparing myself to move abroad for good.

Do some research about the place that will be your new home - you don't have to become and expert and sometimes it is always better to not know anything at all and look at everything with fresh eyes. But some basic knowledge about the place and its people will always be useful to prepare your move. And it can help you to overcome your fears as well, in case you're dreading this move but had no other choice.

Spring clean your appartment or house before leaving - one of the things that living abroad has taught me is that we often accumulate too many material possesions. And so much we don't need! Preparing to move, abroad or not, is the perfect opportunity to go through your stuff and get rid of the things you don't need. Starting with all clothes you haven't worn in the last two years. (Boyfriend's rule of thumb is 'if you haven't looked for it in six months, you don't need it' but I usually need more time to draw such drastic decisions)

Spend some quality time with your hometown, just you and her - I talked about spending as much time as possible with your dear friends and family before leaving but your hometown also deserves a bit of your attention. After all you don't know when you'll see her next time and even if you think you won't, you will miss her. For me, quality time with Tenerife means going swimming in the ocean and watching the sunset at the beach.



Have you ever moved abroad? How did you prepare for it? Any advice?

Have a lovely week!


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Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Photowalk: Spring in Basel

Spring made a very early appearance in Switzerland this year, at least in Basel. Several weeks before its official start date temperatures well already nearing the 20ºC, the sun was shining brightly and trees and flowers were blossoming beautifully. Then spring came and thick clouds covered the sky and it began to rain for days. We hadn't had a single snowflake during winter and last Monday there was even hail! Temperatures seem to be now on the rise and though the sun is shining shyly in the mornings again. I can tell that spring is really here to stay and here are some photos to prove it. Some of them were actually taken during the last weeks of winter and others yesterday but all of them are pretty to me. Taking a walk during these early spring days is definitely a pleasure for the eye.





Basel, Switzerland

Basel, Switzerland


Basel Jean Tinguely fountain

Basel Rhein

Basel Muenster

Basel Marktplazt

Have a lovely Wednesday!

Friday, March 21, 2014

{FoodFriday} Couscous Summer Salad

Mmm couscous, I love it! Now that temperatures are rising, my body starts craving lighter foods and especially during the summer, but also in spring and early autumn, I eat a lot of salad. Couscous salads are perfect for that time of the year because they're light but fulfilling, so they make for a complete meal. This is a gorgeous recipe which screams 'Welcome spring, hello summer!', something very appropriate to say on the first day of spring, plus it is really easy to make. It won't have you longer than 15 minutes in the kitchen, which is great when days get longer and warmer and you rather being outside than inside. It is one of my go-to recipes for summer and I usually eat this once a week. Actually twice, as I usually make a big bowl and have leftovers for the next day or two.

In case you don't know, couscous is a North African cereal staple - wheat semolina - which is cooked by steaming (thanks Wikipedia for helping me with this). Couscous is traditionally prepared with the boiling stock of a rich meat or vegetable stew and then served with the cooked meat and vegetables. Or sometimes with fish instead of meat. Traditions aside, couscous has become increasingly popular in Europe and now it is also a staple food in many kitchens. As far as creative cuisine goes, couscous offers endless possibilities and I've seen recipes for couscous breakfast with red berries or couscous salad with strawberries and goat cheese. This recipe is a lot more simple and conventional, but trust me, not dull at all.

Just a couple of cooking notes before we begin. I use the juice of one lemon but this can be too much if you're not used to have your salads soaking in lemon juice. You can add only the juice of half a lemon if you're not so keen on the lemon flavour - you can cut it off completely but I personally think it is the lemon juice what brings this salad to live. Next, the herbes de Provence. They are probably my favourite seasoning and a spice jar containing herbes de Provence will not last longer than two months in my pantry, as I use them on pretty much everything. The herbes de Provence mix usually varies from brand to brand but they normally contain rosemary, thyme and oregano and sometimes more exotic herbs as lavender. Anyway, feel free to experiment with whatever herbs you have at home and like. Oh, and one last thing, this a salad so you might notice that ingredients quantites are pretty much random. You can modify them as you like to have a bigger or smaller salad (maybe you like more vegetables and less couscous or maybe the other way round, just make sure you add enough water for the couscous to cook).


INGREDIENTS 
(serves 4, depending on how much those four people eat, you know)

150 g couscous
boiling water
3 tomatoes
1 cucumber
olive oil
juice of 1 lemon
herbes de Provence

DIRECTIONS

Put the dried couscous in a bowl and add boiling water just enough to cover the couscous. Cover with a tea towel and leave it to swell for 5-10 minutes.

Dice the tomatoes and cucumber and add to the couscous together with some olive oil and stir gently.

Sprinkle some herbes de Provence, add the lemon juice and stir again to mix all the flavours.


Now you can gladly sit in the sunshine and enjoy!
Happy spring!

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Ireland Inspiration

While growing up I used to have a bit of an obsession with Ireland. It was a country I really wanted to visit and I liked everything with a hint of Irishness: clovers, leprechauns, folk songs, celtic designs ... everything and anything with some green on it. And I was of course mesmerised by all the natural beauty to be found in Ireland. White cliffs, endless green fields, stranded villages and historical monuments, all seemed appealing to me. As the years passed by that obsession wore off and I was only reminded of it last month when I suddenly found myself on a plane with destination Dublin. It got me thinking of my teenage years and some of the reasons behind this fixation with Ireland and today I am sharing some of them with you, as a belated St Patrick's celebration of all things Irish.


BOOKS

One of the book I enjoyed most during my school days was Angela's Ashes. It is the autobiography of Frank McCourt, who reminisces his childhood and teenage years throughout the pages of the book. From his parents' first encounter and his birth in Brooklyn to the family return to Ireland, McCourt shares the penuries of his infant years and how the family, and especially his mother Angela, tried to get through the day without much luck or resources, while grieving for the loss of many a baby. I liked how McCourt relives his misfortunate chilhood candidly and tells the story of a traditional Ireland and its people. The book won a Pulitzer award and was later made into a film.


Later I was introduced to Marian Keyes, one of  Ireland's best-selling contemporary authors, and her novel This Charming Man is one of my absolute favourite books. The book entwines the stories of four women, all somehow related to the successful politician Paddy de Coarcy. This Charming Man tackles a topic as sensitive as domestic violence and it is as real as it gets - even if it's still a light chick-lit read and it made laugh as much as I cried. But yes, I cried while reading and sometimes I found it hard to get through the pages, as this is a topic close to my heart for personal reasons, but I did finish it and I can only recommend it.


Fotos via Wikipedia

FILM

I haven't seen many Irish or Irish-related films, maybe The Magdalene Sisters is the only one I've seen, I don't know. This film explores a very controversial issue of Ireland recent history, the Magdalene asylums and the abuses suffered by the girls who were sent to live and work there by their families or tutors. The film is loosely based on real life and tells the story of four girls who are sent to a Magdalene asylum for different reasons (two got pregnant out of marriage, another was raped by her cousin and the other one for flirting with boys). The film depicts the vexing treatment they endured during their stay at the laundry, where many women remained for life.

MUSIC

Moving on to happier things ... Ireland has a rich musical tradition, even today folk music is rather popular and many Irish bands make big abroad (U2 is probably the best example to this). Back in the 90s my favourite music group was The Corrs, also an Irish band. They were very successful during those years, especially in Spain, as well as in Ireland and the UK, and their first two albums sold millions of copies worldwide. So did their next two albums but their success begin to fizzle out and nowadays they're not much more than a memory. Forgiven not Forgotten and Talk on Corners are still two of my favourite albums ever and I like listening to them from time to time. Oh, and I guess they're also the reason why most clothes in my wardrobe were and still are black.

Another Irish band I liked for a short while was Westlife. Yes, those cute young guys who sang corny ballads - I was just 13 when they first became famous, so don't judge, and I actually got the chance to see them life in Tenerife back in 1998 or so. I didn't like them for long, though, and the only songs I remember from them are Swear It Again and Flying Without Wings.

DANCE

Here we come to one of the most typical Irish things you can see, or at least we're lead to believe so. The Riverdance. Oh, how I liked the Riverdance show and similars. I remember seeing it from a videotape and wanting to try and learn the steps, a hard work that was!  My best friend had also seen the show and wanted to learn to Irish dance as well but there was no possibility to do that in Tenerife. Anyway, that newly-found passion didn't last long either. Next thing I know, we had watched Bend it Like Beckham and decided that women football was the next cool thing to try. Plus it would get us a Keira Knightly body (again, don't judge, I was only a teenager and back then I thought Keira Knightly was a slim girl. Now I think she is a painfully skinny woman and should pile on some pounds). I still would like to see a Riverdance or Lord of the Dance show live someday.



Well, this is the end of my tour of all things Irish that occupied my mind during my teenage years.
Hope you enjoyed it!
Any more Ireland insipration to add? Anything wonderfully Irish I should know about?

Have a lovely Wednesday!

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Monday, March 17, 2014

Expat Experiences: The reason why I left Tenerife

First of all, HAPPY ST PATRICK'S DAY! Yay, it's that day of the year again when cities, rivers and beers go green and Irish and non-Irish celebrate Irishness all over the world. It is one of my favourite celebrations and I have already enjoyed my pint of Guinness in Tenerife, Luxemburg, Belgium, Switzerland and the Netherlands. Hopefully one day I'll celebrate in Ireland ... maybe next year!

Anyway, before starting to sip on Guinness, Murphy's or whichever Irish stout you like, let's go back to the important matters. Today is Monday, the kind of Monday that brings a new Expat Experience post. Yay to that too! In case you're new here or have not read about these Expat Experiences posts before, the Expat Experience is a link-up hosted by Molly of The Move to America. You can read previous installments here, here, here, here and here. The topic for this week is 'The Reason I Left' and here's my story.

The Move to America

I have always wanted to live abroad for a while and six years ago I finally had the chance to spend some time abroad as part of a student exchange program. I was in Belgium for a whole year and I loved it. In fact, I liked it so much that I didn't want to go back to Tenerife but I had to. I moved back to my parents to finish my dregee and started working in Tenerife. A couple of years went by and while part of me still yearned for a more adventurous life somewhere else, I also grew accustomed to the comfort of my old home and the idea of moving abroad started to disipate in my mind, the way the last dream at night disappears in my head when I wake up.

However, a bit more than a year upon my return I met a tall handsome man who would turn my life upside down (yep, you guessed it, he was Boyfriend). He had come all the way from Switzerland to Tenerife to do a master's degree in the same university where I studied. It was pretty clear from the start that he wouldn't stay for longer than a year and it was tacitly agreed that I would follow along. The next year I spent half the time in Switzerlanf and half the time in Tenerife. It was a tough year because we spent long periods apart, I was unemployed and couldn't find a job in Switzerland for the short term. Switzerland didn't seem quite like an option back then and out of the blue Boyfriend decided to do another amster's degree in the Netherlands. Now, that sounded like a good idea for both of us. He was attracted by the good standards (and low prices) of Dutch education and I thought the Netherlands might offer some interesting career chances, as I already spoke some Dutch. And that's how it happened that almost two years after Boyfriend and I met we moved together to the lovely city of Maastricht. 

Bye, bye, Tenerife!

I cannot deny that I left Tenerife for love but at the same time, and given the terrible situation in Spain (up to 26% umployment rate and more than 50% for those under 30), moving abroad was also a bold move for my career. Eventually, I also did a master's degree in Maastricht and had some great opportunities in the Netherlands I could've only dreamt of in Spain. This summer I followed Boyfriend to Switzerland and once again it seems almost impossible to find a job here, so there is the possibility that I will have to move another time and this time for work reasons.

Moving abroad is a difficult thing to do, even a daunting one, but it can be a very rewarding experience. Here's some advico to help you think things through in case you're considering the option of changing countries.

Make the move only if you want to - sounds obvious but too many times people follow someone else blindly only to regret it later. While things have not always worked for me, I have never looked back becauseI had always wanted to live abroad in the first place, so it didn't feel as if someone was impossing this life-changing decision on me and I've enjoyed (and loved) the experience despite the odds.

Make your work arrangements before moving - I arrived in the Netherlands without a job and was very fortunate to find something in less than a month but I wouldn't do it again. Things don't always run smoothly and it is better to know that you're moving onto something good than to the uncertainty of sharing bedrooms with acquaintances and tight budgets. Not to mention the nightmare of having to deal with unknown bureaucratic procedures and the difficulties of finding a job.

Know the language - no one will expect you to be Shakespeare, Cervantes, Goethe or whoever epitomises the brilliance of the language of your host country. But knowing the basics will see you through the day and help you to make the most of your expat life. Besides, having a good command of it will improve your job prospects in your new country.

Any tips to add? Experiences to share?

Have a lovely week!

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Friday, March 14, 2014

{FoodFriday} Cranberry Quark Cake

Good morning, everyone! Today I'm coming up with something new, today is the day the I am sharing a recipe with you for the first time. Yep, you read right, a recipe. I have been wanting to do this for a while now but I wasn't sure that a travel/expat blog was the right place to post a recipe every now and then. At first I thought of starting a second blog solely dedicated to food just to post my collection of recipes and have them all together in one place but maintaining one blog is already too much work (if you're also a blogger, you'll know what I mean) so just imagine what having two blogs would be like - I really, truly admire people who can juggle two blogs, I'm afraid I'll never be that type of person. With the idea of a second blog off the table, I still wondered whether it would be fine to talk food around here. Would my readers think I was writing off topic? Would my culinary attempts be worth of some internet attention? Whatever, in the end I gave in because many of the blogs I enjoy also mix topics as they please and I enjoy that. And even more importantly, because Away from Tenerife is the dear brainchild of mine, so I don't think there's no one better than I to choose which direction it should follow. Well, welcome to the first FoodFriday ever - I might not be posting recipes every Friday but if I do, it'll be on Friday.

To celebrate this small blog happening I'm bringing you some cake, but that's not the only celebration around here. I haven't told you but Boyfriend and I found a lovely apartment and we're moving! Yay! In the past two weeks we have spent a considerable amount of time in Ikea and we have become experts at building Ikea furniture (not quite the easy task it seems). The apartment was totally empty and that means a LOT to do. Things progress slowly but so far I'm very pleased with the results and look forward to move in. So, yes, a little celebration was in order and a homemade cake was the perfect match for a new home.

I'm not completely sure of what quark is, other than a dairy product. Is it a very creamy cheese? A thick yogurt? I don't know but I know I like it. I like how it makes a cake extra moist and tender and gives it a very mild sour taste. You can find the original recipe for this quark cake here (sorry, it is in German). I have made some slight changes because the original recipe makes a huge cake, which is great for a big party but too much for two or three, and I substituted the cherries for cranberries - I prefer cranberries when baking.


INGREDIENTS

50 g dried cranberries
2 tbsp Kirsch
65 g butter (softened)
90 g sugar
2 tsp vanilla sugar
2 egg yolks
175 g quark
2 tbsp milk
150 g flour
1 small sachet baking powder (or 1 tbsp)
2 egg whites and a pinch of salt
icing sugar (to decorate - optional)

DIRECTIONS

1.- Put the dried cranberries in a small bowl. Pour the Kirsch and let them soak for approximately 10 minutes.

2.- Preheat the oven at 180ºC. Cover the cake form with baking paper.

3.- In a bigger bowl, beat the softened butter with the sugar and vanilla sugar. Add the egg yolks and beat together with a spoon until the mix is light and creamy. Add the quark and milk to the mix and the cranberries with the Kirsch. Mix to combine everything.

4.- Sift the flour and the baking powder into the mix and beat together.

5.- On a separate bowl, put the egg whites with a pinch of salt and beat until the egg whites are stiff. Then add the egg whites to the previous mix and beat together with a spatula. 

6.- Put the mix into the cake form and bake for approximately 45 minutes. 

7.- Leave it to cool for a while and sprinkle over the icing sugar, if used.


Enjoy and have a lovely weekend!

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Wednesday, March 12, 2014

A day in Italy: Domodossola & Re

That was the most winding road I had ever seen. We hadn't finished taking a curve when the next one was already showing, even more tight than the previous one. I was sitting tense, my hands clenching the seat and my eyes constantly alert. Most of the time, all I could see on either side of the car were the almost vertical walls of the valleys, covered by a thick blanket of ocre trees and every now and then there would be a crystal water stream flowing downwards. That was probably one of the most scenic drived I had ever done and yet I was feeling too scared to enjoy it properly.

The Italian region known as Centovalli truly lives up to its name (Hundred Valleys in Italian). It is just over the Swiss border and it can be crossed by train or car. We chose the latter when we went to Italy for a day during our November trip to Ticino. We hadn't initially planned this trip but a colleague asked if we could drop by a small town called Domodossola to get him some sundried tomatoes and well, we said yes.




Domodossola is a small town in the north of Italy and acts as a reagional hub for passengers changing trains from Switzerland to Italy and viceversa. It is relatively well-known in the area for its Saturday market, where you can buy fresh produce and Italian specialities and decent prices. We found the market square easily and after stocking on sundried tomatoes we did a bit of exploring. All piazzas were very lively, with people enjoying a cup of coffee in the many terraces around, and the town had a really easy-going feeling to it (maybe because it was Saturday or simply because it was Italy?). Besides the market square, there were many other stalls selling clothes, beauty products and eletronic devices on the streets adjacent to the market and many people busied themselves looking for the most bargainous item. While we strolled along the market stalls I noticed the many mansions with frescoed walls that overlooked the crowded streets from behind a fence. I really liked those old-fashioned houses and if I ever withdraw myself from this stressful world, you will probably find me in one of them, I decided.





On our way back we made a quick stop at Re, a tiny village tucked in the mountains and renowned as a pilmigrage site for its Basilica della Madonna del Sangue. This church was really impressive and it could already be seen from the road, several Km before Re. My photos don't do it any justice, so you can better admire it here.



Have you ever been to the north of Italy? Felt a bit of a crush?

This is (probably) the last recap of my trip to Ticino/Italy. If you want more of it, you can feast your eyes on these photos from Lago Maggiore or read about the stay in Locarno.
Have a lovely Wednesday!

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Sunday, March 9, 2014

Happy Sunday (from Maastricht)

No, I'm not back in Maastricht, sigh, but I just came across this video on Facebook and I really had to share it with you because it brought me many good memories of my happy times in Maastricht and put me in a really good mood, like, whatever this week has in store, bring it on!

Whenever I turn on the radio, it is more than likely that Pharrell Williams' Happy will be aired any minute, the song is really popular in Switzerland right now and I'm really into it. I love it! And when I saw this video this morning I couldn't help but smile and dance along. That's Maastricht, the lovely, crazy, beautiful city I lived in for two years! I recognized every place in the video, though I don't know anyone on it. Minute 0:10, that's the square in front of my Maastrict appartment; minute 1:17, that's the bridge I crossed everyday to go to work or to uni; minute 1:20, that's the university library, where I spent so many hours reading last year; and the list goes on but those were the most significative places to me.


You can read more about Maastricht and my life there here, here, here and here.

Have a Happy Sunday!!!

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p.s. Speaking of Maastricht, one my great friends there has also a blog to showcast her photography works, which include A LOT of Maastricht beauty. Her photographs are simply awesome, you can see it here.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Thoughts on my first visit to Dublin

I found Dublin rather confusing at first. It all started when I entered Dublin Airport and spotted a handful of signs in Irish. Actually everything was written in Irish. I already knew that Irish was the official language of Ireland, together with English, but I wasn't expecting to see it everywhere. All signs were written in English as well but my eyes couldn't make it to the second line and I thought myself lost in all those gaelic words I didn't understand at all. The only word I picked up during my trip was sráid, which means street, I guess - now, that's the reason why I found it impossible to figure out the bus timetables when doing my pre-trip research, because street names were written in Irish and I was unable to match the stops to the names in Google maps, which were written in English ... I took the airport shuttle to the city and as soon as I stepped out the bus I was confronted with the classic traffic confussion. In Ireland cars drive on the left and it is a real challenge to look to the correct side of the road to see if any car was coming but I got used to it, just when it was about time to leave. Actually, after my first day in Ireland confussion wore off and I started to appreciate this small city. I thought is was pretty and cosy but not in a dull way and I also thought it to be a lively city with a very young and mixed population.


I arrived to Dublin on a Sunday morning and one of the first things I noticed is that people dressed very casually and most men and many a girl wore tracksuit pants and hoodies with a bit of a thug touch. A younger version of me would have been impressed but all the current me could think of was why. I was thinking that this might be a Sunday thing but when I met a friend for dinner that evening and she said that this was an all-week thing and that girls even wore their tracksuit pants with ugg boots - again, why. However, on Monday I noticed a bit of a change and realised that many girls actually wore very fashionable clothes, resembling any UK Cosmo fashion edit. And just like in magazines, women (and also men) didn't bother too much to wrap up for a cold climate. Scarfs seemed unnecessary and open shoes were trending  right in February - not that it was particulary cold, but it was still winter. No, it wasn't really cold in Dublin but there was rain, rain, rain and wind, wind, wind, a frozen kind of wind which makes you feel truly cold, especially when walking nearby the river. Anyway, despite the rain and the wind, I was lucky enough to see the sun shine during the four days that I was in Dublin and that's a blessing when doing sightseeing on foot.

When out in the city and while figuring out which way of the street to look at I noticed that Irish people don't bother about traffic lights at all. Green or red it's all the same and if no cars are coming it is then time to cross the street. Even at major roads! I must have looked so foreign with my continental ways waiting for the traffic lights to turn green. Later, while driving to the coast with that same friend of mine I learnt that Irish are as mad drivers as they are pedestrians. Another thing that caught my eye while in the city was how many Irish pubs there were in Dublin, Seriously, I think that almost every street had at least one Irish pub and the the streets in the Temple Bar area were made of of one Irish pub after another. Way too many Irish pubs, only that in Ireland they're probably simply called pubs - just like 'russian salad' is simply called salad or salad Olivier in Russia. And many of those pubs would have live music several times and week and people downing beer every day and a good fraction of those people would probably be Spanish. My travel guide warned me about it, we, Spanish, are like the plague and would be found everywhere in Dublin and especially around Temple Bar. And it was true, no matter where I went I could hear Spanish people talking out loud. In every street and every shop I came across several Spanish people and it seemed that almost every souvenir shop had at least one Spanish cashier. I should be used to it by now, but it still amazes me how many Spanish people I encounter everywhere! And among so many Spanish people, I also noticed that every shop and supermarket in Dublin had a security guard, even the Penney's (the Irish name for the Primark franchise). The Penney's, where you can buy yourself an entire new wardrobe for under 100€, really, how bad do they need a security officer?

These were some of the thoughts that occupied my mind during my trip to Dublin. I tried to pay attention to every small detail that revealed something about Dubliners and the life the live in Dublin. Of course, these are random details and by no means describe the city and its entire population to a full extent but they were funny to observe. One last thing, while having dinner my friend and I discussed Irish food briefly and she mentioned an apparently beloved snack called 'crispy sandwich'. I was already thinking of crispy bacon when she explained that it actually consists of bread spread with butter and crumbles of salt & vinegar crisps in between. Now, this is something that won't make it to my table on St Patrick's day, yet I find it way more appetizing than the butter-sugar-peanut butter Dutch combo (probably because I love salt & vinegar crisps).


Have you ever been to Dublin? Did you like the city? What did you think about Dublin?
Have a lovely Wednesday!

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Monday, March 3, 2014

Expat Experiences: The Unexpected Challenge of Foreign Languages

I am very happy that Molly of The Move to America has brought the Expat Experience link-up back in March. I really enjoyed taking part in it in January - you can read the previous posts here, here, here and here. I found it challenging to write a post given a prompt and thought it was a great idea to put some advice together which might help present and future expats in similar situations. And I have to say that it was also incredibly good for me, as putting things down to paper (or blog) really helped me to identify my own feelings and understand better what I was going through.

The topic for today is 'The Unexpected Challenge' and without further ado, here's my story about one of the most challenging parts of moving abroad - the immersion in a foreign language.

The Move to America

I have always been good at languages. When I was at school my favourite subjects were always English and Maths and I excelled at both (funny that I was good at two such different things and I sucked at Physics, which in the end is only applied maths, and Spanish, my mother tongue). By the time I finished high school I had also studied French and German with outstanding grades as well. I really enjoyed learning and speaking foreign languages but it was something I only did within the four walls of my classroom, a truly confortable environment. It wasn't until I moved abroad for the first time - for my study exchange year - that I faced the real world. The real foreign world, that's it, one where everything was written and said in a foreign language. And in my case, that was a foreign language I didn't know at all.

Before moving to Antwerp I already knew that I would have to learn to speak Dutch because all my courses would be given in Dutch. It was a daunting task but it didn't really bother me, I was actually looking forward to it. I took a three-week intensive Dutch course upon arrival and I took two other courses throughout the academic year and by the end of my stay in Antwerp I could speak quite correctly and understand quite a lot from magazines and books. Understanding people talking was harder but I could manage to follow a conversation, at least in Antwerp. Mind you, one of the problems when learning Dutch is the myriad of dialects, it's like every city has a different dialect with a different pronunciation. As soon as I was outside Antwerp, I was totally lost and hopping over the border to the Netherlands was a real nightmare. I couldn't get a single word right!

Anyway, I never worried too much about understanding any Dutch outside Antwerp. I had learnt Dutch just for fun and it was highly unlikely that I would need it again after returning to Tenerife. But was I wrong! Life can be wicked sometimes and four years later I moved to the Netherlands and there I was with my excellent Dutch grammar but unable to do any small talk with the Dutch. I had to practise a lot to be able to say more than two sentences together and it took months, almost a year, to actually be able to understand everything I was told and whatever was talked on the tv. The worst part was when I started working, barely three weeks after moving to Maastricht, and I realised that most of the time I didn't understand what I had to do. Things improved slowly and in the end, all my efforts paid off and after a year fully immersed in the Dutch daily life I could call myself fluent in Dutch. 

That was my Dutch happy ending, I guess. Here are some things I learnt from my journey navigating the weird vocabulary and impossible sounds of the Dutch.

Don't be shy and talk - everyone makes mistakes and no one will expect you to do perfect. 

Mix with the locals - having friends who don't speak your native language will help you to try harder and learn. A lot.

Ask your questions - it is always better to ask a question, even twice or thrice, and be sure about what you're being told than shutting your mouth and wonder what's really going on.

Goede reis - i.e. Dutch for 'Have a good journey!'

Have a lovely week!

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Saturday, March 1, 2014

A photo a day in February

February has been quite an odd month for me, short but intense and equally sweet and sour. I have learnt that life can be totally unpredictable and that it rarely goes according to plan. I've been feeling slightly overwhelmed by my ever-changing reality and at some point I just wanted to tuck in bed and watch days pass by from under my duvet. But I didn't, I managed to step up and face reality - and not everything was bad, as it unexpectedly took me to Dublin. Luckily, some things stay the same and I really hope they'll never change, even if life's road is rocky and winding.

Despite all this uncertainty, on 1st February I started taking a photo a day again. I had already completed a 365 project last year and took a break during January but I realized that I missed my daily photos. Though I didn't think I wanted to embark on the whole journey again, I decided to do a monthly project and see how it goes - and maybe I'll keep it like that, as monthly projects whenever I feel like, instead of a huge project that requires and equally huge commitment.

This month I decided to challenge myself and only take photos with my mobile phone, something I don't do very often. It was a fun thing and somehow relaxed thing to do, as I didn't bother that much about settings or quality. I just try to have a nice memory from each day and this is part of the result. You can check the whole month here.







Besides the unexpected trip to Dublin, another highlight of February was a surprise that came via post. On 6th February I received a parcel from Arni of Travel Gourmande containing a card with the witty quote 'Keep camels and eat dates', some beautifully colourful coasters and a book. I was really happy to when the postman delivered the parcel and I really like these small presents. I read the book in less than a week and I so enjoyed it! The depiction of daily life in Dubai somehow reminded me to many of the stories I have read on Arni's blog and I was also surprised by some aspects of life in Dubai that I would've never expected (like a strict expat hierarchy in which certain nationalities come very well off while other are totally at the bottom and despised by the rest of society). A really insightful read!

What were your finest moments in February?
Looking forward to March and spring?

Have a lovely weekend!

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