Monday, July 14, 2014

Expat Experiences: What I would change about Dublin

Welcome to another instalment of the July Expat Experiences link-up hosted by Molly of The Move toAmerica. If you've never heard of this link-up before you can find out more about it here and also read Molly's story for this week or my previous Expat Experiences posts. The prompt for this week is 'What I would change about …' and the idea is to have a good rant and list all the things that could do with a bit of improvement in your current city. Positive criticism, they call it.  

The Move to America

You all know that I'm feeling quite infatuated by Dublin at the moment but after a month living here I've also started to take notice of some random small things that make my life here slightly less than perfect. They're really small things, as you shall see, but they annoy me from time to time. So here's my little list (Dublin, don't get mad at me for talking behind your back).

The taste of tap water 

Problem: I'm used to drink from the tap and I've probably been spoilt because tap water in the Netherlands and Switzerland tasted way too good. As good as something which by definition is tastelest can taste. Consequence: I am probably not drinking enough water and half of my daily water intake is in the form of tea. My skin is already paying the price.

Public transport routes 

Problem: Now, Dublin has actually quite a decent transport network. There are buses, trams (called luas), urban train. (called DART) and commuting trains but there is a minor flaw in the transport system. Most buses and trams connect peripheric neighbourhoods with the city centre but most neighbourhoods are not connected among themselves at all. Consequence: I spend two hours a day on the bus because I need to change at the city centre to get to my office even though I don't really live that far and it would only take me twenty minutes by car. If only I had a driving license ...

Supermarkets product choice 

Problem: This is almost a bipolar situation, as there is either too little or too much choice for almost everything. I can go crazy looking for the perfect brown bread among at least ten different types of sliced brown bread but then I go to the dairy products aisle and I cannot find a single normal yogurt amid so many low-fat types. And that's not the only aisle inundated by low-fat crap. Consequence: Grocery shopping is confusing and trips to the supermarket have become something overwhelming and time-consuming. Perhaps it's me who needs some improvement this time.

I think that quite sums up what I would change about Dublin, every other thing is just fine. Ok, maybe houses could do with some help too – what about better isolation and normal showers (seriously, THIS is just weird!). But I guess that living in an old house and spending my evenings under a blanket sipping tea is part of the charm of living in Dublin. So, from the cosy corner of my room where I pass my evenings under a blanket, here are some tips to help you get over any inconvenience you might find in your place, expat or non-expat home.

Find a remedy - easier said than done, but it's worth the try. I might be buying a filtering jar in the near future to see if that makes tap water more appealing to my palate.

Ignore it - not applicable to all problems but when it can be done, it is really the best solution. I didn't tell you but Dublin can be a bit filthy, only a bit. Anyway, as long as where I live is clean, I can live with whatever it's on the streets.

Move out of town - drastic times call for drastic measures. If there is something you really, really, really cannot put up with, then better start packing. Maybe day after day of rain will eventually see me leaving Dublin but for now I'm just hoping the weather will not take that nasty turn.

Have a lovely Monday!

Thursday, July 10, 2014

A day at the coast: Dún Laoghaire

Dún Laoghaire: [] Fort of Laoghaire.

It took me nearly a week to learn to pronounce correctly the name of this coastal town south of Dublin. I left the office one Friday asking my colleagues if Doon Loughrie would be a place worth a visit and I came back the next Monday telling them that Doun Laughrie has been a really nice daytrip. No one knew what I was talking about. After explaining briefly what I had seen and done and which bus I had taken, everyone said, 'Oh, Dunleary, lovely, isn't it?'. Ehm, yeah, that's exactly what I was telling you all this time. Anyway.

Dun Laoghaire

Living in Dublin I feel very fortunate for being so close to the sea and being able to go to the coast whenever I feel like. Unlike in Belgium or the Netherlands, where a trip to the coast was a big event due to the distances and hours spent on trains, in Dublin I'm spoilt for choice. Not that I really, really need to go to the beach everyday and that I miss the chance of laying under the sun all year round, but it just feels right to be able to go and see the sea every time I want. Probably this has to do with me coming from a small island. So one of the first things on my Ireland to do list was to explore the coastal surroundings of Dublin and a couple of weeks ago I started with a daytrip to Dún Laoghaire.

The bus stopping in front of my house goes from Phoenix Park to Dún Laoghaire and one sunny Sunday I decided to jump in and ride till the last stop. The Irish coast was awaiting me! The sun was shining brightly and as we left the city centre behind the sky became even more blue, if possible, and the brightness of the day was almost blinding. That was NOT the kind of weather I was expecting in Dublin and I was glad that my first venture outside Dublin wasn't drowned in rain and mist.

The bus ride to Dún Laoghaire was long, around an hour, but as soon as I stepped out from the bus I knew there was a fine day ahead. I could smell the sea, hear the gulls, feel the summer breeze on my face, it was perfect. Dún Laoghaire is a small town some 10 Km south of Dublin; its centre is small but full of cafés and shops and it has some beautiful buildings dating from the 19th century. It is an important port and one of its main attractions are the long piers, which embrace the harbour both from the east and the west. I took a long walk along the East Pier and entertained myself taking photos of everything around me. The shoreline, the fishing and sailing boats, the clear skies, the coastal vegetation and the stranded jellyfish in the water. I was walking for a good hour and the pier came to an end by the lighthouse. From the East Pier you can only guess the silhouetes of the bay of Dublin but you get a superb view of the Malahide Peninsula. Just before the lighthouse there was a single bench facing the ocean. I sat there for a while, breathed in the salty air and gazed into the blue sky. That was my first taste of Ireland outside Dublin and it was quite a tasty bite, now I'm hungry for more.

While in Dún Laoghaire I discovered the '99, a summer favourite of every Dubliner. This beloved cone of soft ice cream could be the most mundane ice cream in the world - in fact it is quite the same as a McDo cone - but everyone in Dublin will tell you that a '99 is a rather special thing with a distinctive taste that makes it different from every other ice cream in the world. Different or not, a '99 is a cone of soft ice cream with a bar of chocolate sticked on it and it usually costs €2.20, so I've no idea why they call it a '99.

Dun Laoghaire

Dun Laoghaire

Du Laoghaire

Dun Laoghaire

Have you ever been to the Irish coast? Any recommendation to share or tales to tell?

Have a lovely Thursday!

Monday, July 7, 2014

Expat Experiences: Spotlight on Antwerp, Maastricht and Basel

I am delighted that Molly of The Move to America has brought back the Expat Experiences link-up in July. This is a wonderful opportunity for expats, perpetual travellers and worldwide wanderers to share their experiences and get to know some like-minded bloggers. And I personally enjoy writing these Expat Experiences posts because they help me reflect on my own journey. So, YAY! 

The Move to America

Every week there is a different topic and this week the prompt is Spotlight on … The idea is to write about three top things to do or see in your current home city. But because I am still very fresh in Dublin and I haven't seen or done some of the most touristy things, I am leaving Dublin aside today – though a similar post about the gorgeous Irish capital is on the making. Instead, I will look back to Antwerp, Basel and Maastricht, three great yet underrated cities where I've lived before. Who knows, maybe you'll find this post inspiring for planning a city break after the summer holidays.

*     *     *     *     *

ANTWERP is the second largest city of Belgium. The city of diamonds, the city of fashion, Antwerp is probably the coolest city in Belgium, though too often ignored by foreign visitors. I lived in Antwerp from September 2007 till June 2008 and I absolutely love it! As an exchange student, it was my first time living abroad and I really enjoyed the diverse student community. Also, Antwerp was a very welcoming city with a pretty city centre full of historical sights but also of international eateries and upbeat cafés and club. And there's the shopping too.

In 2011 the MAS (het Museum Aan de Stroom) opened it doors and it is since the place to go to get the best views of the city. But back in 2008, Linkeroever – the left bank of the river – was the place to view Antwerp in all its glory, preferably on a sunny evening while having a picnic with friends. The walk to Linkeroever is quite an experience itself, as the only way to get there is via a tunnel under the river because Antwerp has no bridges over the Maas. On foot or by bike, the usual way from the city centre is the Sint-Anna Tunnel, which still has some old scalators dating from the beginning of the 20th century. It is rather chilly in the tunnel and the walk can feel quite overwhelming if you stop and think that you are 30m down the river and totally surrounded by water outside the tunnel.

MAASTRICHT, oh, Maastricht. If you have been following this blog for a while I'm sure you've already read more than one post about Maastricht. I started Away from Tenerife while living there and most of the first half of this blog chronicles my life in Maastricht and adventures the Netherlands. Maastricht is the loveliest city I've ever lived in and it will always have a special place in my heart. Located in the most southern point of the Netherlands, some Dutch people joke that Maastricht isn't really part of the Netherlands. And somehow they're right. Maastricht is and feels very different from the reast of the country; even the sun shines way more in Maastricht than in the rest of the Netherlands, if you ask me!

Two of my favourite things to do on Maastricht were book-related, so if you enjoy reading and spending hours in a bookshop or library, I am sure that you will like Maastricht as much as I do. My Saturdays in Maastricht would usually start with a trip to the Selexyz (now Polaris) bookshop located in an old dominican church and considered one of the most beautiful bookshops in the world – read more about it here. Another fave of mine was the Centre Ceramique, which was just round the corner of my apartment. It is the public library of Maastricht but they have much more than books; they also lentd DVDs and magazines and I would usually go there every Sunday to read the weekly magazines and get some films to watch during the week. They also have some interesting exhibitions from time to time, like the annual Photopress or a precious one I saw once about weather inspired traditional Japanese drawings.

BASEL is a Swiss city located on the dual border with France and Germany. I first went to Basel after meeting Boyfriend and I spent some time there in 2010 and moved there for good last summer. I have an almost love-hate relationship with Basel; it is Boyfriend's home city and I really like it there but I just cannot get over the fact that I feel so foreign and somewhat unwelcome. Life in Basel would be perfect, were it not impossible for me to find a job in Switzerland.

Anyway, Basel is an interesting city with much to do and see. Apparently, it has more museums per square km than any other city in the world and though pricey, some of them are really worth a visit. My favourite is the Natural History Museum, probably because they have a couple of complete dinosaur's fossiles, including a T-Rex. Another cool thing to see is the mammoth reconstruction with a tiny window on its side to look into it. You can still see the contents of its last meal in its stomach! My second favourite is the Museum of Dollhouses and Teddy Bears, which features four floors of dollhouses, teddy bears, and many, many antique dolls and toys – it is a real treat for doll collector wannabes.

Moving to a new city can be a daunting thing to do but also a very rewarding experience; these are my tips to make the most of your new home.

Do some research – get on the internet; grab some free local newspaper listing festivals, exhibitions, restaurants; buy a travel guide; or whatever works for you.

Be a tourist – in fact this is what you are until you become settled, so enjoy doing and seeing as much as a tourist would.

Ask the locals – getting off the beaten track seems to be the way to go nowadays and there is no one better than a local to show you the way out of the tourist crowds.

Have you ever been to Antwerp, Maastricht or Basel? Did you like them? What were your highlights of the trip?

Have a lovely week!

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

A month in Dublin

A month ago I landed at Dublin airport ready to take up one of the biggest challenges in my life, both personally and professionally. I came here for the long haul with only one big suitcase and not really knowing what to expect. What I knew about Dublin was close to nothing as I had only been here before for three days in February, when I came for a job interview. Little did I know that my first trip to Ireland would change my life drastically and see me coming back to the Emerald Isle sooner than expected and now a month has already gone. That's thirty days living in Dublin, thirty days without seeing Boyfriend, thirty days facing the unknown and trying to get used to this new reality. And despite the odds, I'm quite liking it.

If you have read some of my first posts on Dublin back then (like this and this) you probably know that I left the Irish capital with a bit of a crush. Dublin was gorgeous! And lovely. And all that in the middle of the winter, so just picture how lovelier this city can get when the sun shines, in a very unusual fashion, day after day. During this past month here, my infatuation for Dublin has only grown and everyday I try to get to know this city a little bit better. And the more I know it, the more I like it. 

During the past month I have walked the pretty streets of the city centre endless times, I have marvelled at the gorgeous architecture and outstanding historical buildings, I have made my way to the coast and enjoyed the sights of the bay of Dublin and the Howth peninsula, I have learned a thing or two at some of the interesting museums in Dublin, I have had a hard time controling myself when window shopping in town and I have soaked up the sun in a handful of parks. Yeah, life in Dublin can be that good, especially when the sun shines and I can have lunch sitting on the lawn nearby the office with some colleagues. Oh, and let's not forget about the people. I'm sure you've heard all the topics about the amiability and hospitality of the Irish folk. Well, let me tell you that there's nothing cliché about it, everyone around here is that friendly and welcoming.

Of course, nothing is perfect, we all know that, and this isn't a flawless adventure either. There is the one-hour commuting, the terribly cold room, the non-reliable internet connection and, oh, the long distance relationship. But if you ask me exclusively about Dublin right now, I can only complain about the tap water and its awful taste - sorry, I think it's terrible and I'm aware that I am not drinking enough water since I moved to Ireland. Maybe that's the reason why Irish people drink so much tea. But that love for tea is just another wonderful thing about Dublin.

Have you ever been to Dublin? Love it or love it?
Any recommendation to do and to see in the city?

Have a lovely Wednesday!

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Second Blogiversary

Today marks two years since I started this small blog called Away from Tenerife. Can you believe it? I cannot believe it myself. When I started this journey two years ago I had no idea of where it would take me or how long it would last and now it's already been two years. Two years of sharing a part of my world with you, of writing stories about my travels, of journaling my experiences abroad, of getting to know some other wonderful bloggers out there and when I look back I can only smile and be happy about it. 

My life has changed quite a lot in the last two years and this blog has followed closely. I went from working full time to studying full time to being long-term unemployed to working full time again and during that time I've changed countries twice. What a crazy time it's been! Similarly, my blog started small, even hesitantly, grew stronger, paused for a while, gained a bit of momentum and eventually slowed down. All in all, I am glad that I've sticked for two years with something which might seems as irrelevant as writing a blog. But relevant or not, I enjoy doing this and right now I like where I stand - a small blog with insightful stories about my expat life. So here's to many more years of blogging to come! 

Something to celebrate? Bring on the cake!

To celebrate this two-year milestone, here's a selection of my favourite stories from the past two years.

How a daytrip to the coast can take an akward turn when you unexpectedly end in a nudist beach.

My most treasured moments in the small yet breathtaking Swiss lands.

How I finally began to appreciate the charms of the Dutch capital

I took a photo (almost) every day during 2013 and this was the result.

Or how those famous coffee brewers can save a family holidays.

Any other you loved and I forgot? 

Thank you for all your love and kind words.
Have a lovely month of July!

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