Monday, July 11, 2011

My Thoughts on Repatriation....

This weekend, we booked our one way tickets from London to Raleigh and started to clear our home of furniture that we won't be taking back with us to the USA.  As I walked through our home just now, I got a bit emotional.  But thankfully, I know that this is all quite normal.

A friend of mine, who was an expat in India, shared a book with me on life as an expat just before we moved here to England.  One of the things that I learned from that book is that repatriating back into your home country is often more difficult than the move to a new country.  In my experience, this is turning out to be very true.

When you are preparing to move to a new country the process is a bit scary, but its exciting, and full of adventure, freedom, and the wonder of what's to come.   While away, you experience so many different opportunities that will most certainly change the person that you were.  You meet people, you see history, cultures, and ways of life that you have never seen before.  And if you're lucky, you are in that new place long enough to officially feel like a "local" and no longer a tourist.

The move home is tough - you are going home to very familiar places and people, but again, things have changed - you know you have changed, but because of the distance and inevitable disconnection with home, you don't quite know how "home" has changed.  While you tell yourself you know what to expect, its almost scary to finally KNOW what to expect for a change - the roller coaster of wonder and new experiences isn't as thrilling as it was in your expat country...

I am sad today because I know that this journey is quickly coming to an end, and these two years have been the best two years of my life.  Since August 2009, I have been engaged, packed up a house in NC and turned it into a rental property, lived and worked abroad, traveled Europe, prepared to purchase a second home, and married my best friend.  If you had told me all of this was in store for me, I would have never believed you.

It's been amazing, and while I am so excited to get home, I will truly miss this place. It's going to be like saying goodbye to an old friend. I know we'll be back to visit, but wow, it won't be easy to say goodbye on August 21, not at all.

I have learned so much about myself and about people, I just hope I can hold onto these memories forever.  I am not the person I was two years ago when I took the one-way flight from Raleigh to London, and the return trip will send me home as a new, more confident, more accepting, and compassionate person.  It's bittersweet to leave, but I think we have laughed, learned and loved here in more than ever before - there's nothing bitter about that. 

The next chapter is quickly approaching, and if the previous chapters of our story indicate anything about future, these next two years will be quite an adventure, perhaps not THIS adventure, but I guarantee you there will be one...or two :)

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Things I Have Learned While Living in England

We are just back from a spending a great 3-day weekend in Vienna, Austria.  Vienna is such an easy city to tour, everything for the most part was in walking distance or accessible by their subway system.  We enjoyed some great food and did a bit of shopping - if you want to know the details of our itinerary and how we did it just let me know!

On our flight home, I started to reflect on some of the life lessons I have learned during these past two years abroad. Here's my list:


  1. Mind the Gap - If you have ever been to London, then you know this phrase well - if you have not then google it!   Outside of riding the Underground in London, this phrase reminds me be aware of my surroundings and any obstacles that I might encounter.  It doesn't mean that we should not take risks or experience adventure, but just that we should be aware of any pitfalls along the way
  2. Recognize When You're KNACKERED and Take a Break - One thing Europeans do very well is balance work and life.  For the most part, folks make time to have fun, have hobbies, travel and spend time with their families - I don't think we do that enough in America.  "Knackered" means worn out, exhausted, or good for nothing.  I have found I am much more productive and pleasant when I balance work and life.
  3. Keep Calm and  Carry On - One of my favorite quotes...a wartime quote from Winston Churchill.  Its pretty self explanatory, but says so much - just keep going, no matter what is going on around you. 
  4. Dance in the Rain - Well, you don't have to exactly dance in the rain, but if you have ever spent a significant amount of time in England, you know that you have to get out and get on with your day when it rains.  At home, when there is rain or the promise of rain, we typically stay home and wait for the storm to pass.  Here in England, we have learned that if we are going to get anything done, we have to just get out and go, even in the pouring rain!  I have actually come to join the rain, which I never thought I would.  Our time on this planet is limited, do not delay your productivity and adventure one day longer, even if its raining :-) 
We are really going to miss this place, but are truly looking forward to going home soon!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Is This Thing On?

How is it possible that I have not written anything on this space since January?  Here it is late June and I have not once updated this site.  Yes, it is pitiful I know...but let me tell you what I have been up to lately, and maybe you will forgive me for my slackness. 

I decided a while ago, that I would not sit down and write until I was compelled to do so.  I was worried that this site was becoming a laundry list of places I have seen and how to experience some pretty fascinating cities in only a few days.  I was concerned that this "laundry list" approach was not only reflected on this site, but also in how I viewed my journey.  While the list of places we have visited IS interesting, I questioned whether it was meaningful or not - perhaps it is interesting, meaningful and useful to whoever might read this, I don't know.

Anyway, I just stopped writing with no warning - and believe it or not, I discovered that a few people actually missed my writing - total surprise :)

Since my last post we have done so much - here's an overview of the highlights:
  • Spent Valentine's Day weekend in Venice, Italy (how romantic is THAT?)
  • Celebrated our 6-month wedding anniversary in Madrid, Spain and saw Adele perform the song that was our first dance at our wedding ON the anniversary day
  • Visited Istanbul, Turkey and experienced a 7-star hotel
  • Seen the Queen of England THREE times (Cambridge, Trooping the Colour, Royal Ascot)
  • Helped a friend visiting from the USA celebrate her 25th birthday in London
  • Visited a friend in Florence, Italy, with stops in Pisa and Cinque Terre along the way
  • Enjoyed a two week vacation in Tanzania - including one week safari and one week on the island of Zanzibar
  • And we are currently hosting some dear friends from the USA who are visiting and sightseeing for a week.
  • Next week we are off to Vienna, Austria!

So as you can see its been an extremely hectic, exciting and memorable 2011 so far.  I cannot begin to tell you all of the things we have seen and experienced these past several months.  Its truly been filled with life-changing moments and an indescribable compassion for people - I think that my compassion for people in every corner of this globe has grown tremendously these past several months.

In addition to all of these wonderful experiences, the past few months have been a reflective time for me.  I am absolutely shocked that our two years in England are coming to an end so quickly.  I am so sad that this time flew by so fast, because it is something that we often wish would last forever.  We have experienced a sense of freedom, adventure and spontaneity that I do not know when we will ever have again - but I do know that we will work together to make sure we keep this feeling a part of our lives and our children's lives, forever.

I have thought so much about everything we have done, and I try to always tell myself to be present in every moment (thanks Oprah), because I do not want to ever forget these memories and I want to make sure that I am fully aware and in every moment with no distractions - its really worked.  I feel like I have been a sponge absorbing all of the cultures we have seen, history we have learned, and people's struggles and joys that we have witnessed. Who needs a tattoo to remind you of something when you have the presence of memories?

I am often overcome with emotion because I wish that I could put the experience of these past two in a box and give it to everyone I love (and don't love for that matter).  I think we all deserve the opportunity to see the world - how easy it is to travel, how welcoming people are when you visit their part of the world, how much alike we all really are, how "good" we have it America no matter how bad we think it is, how much we can learn from others, how we are all generally good people, and most importantly, how much we can learn about ourselves through travel and openness to other cultures.

I do not know what the future holds for us, but I do know that we have officially been bitten by the "travel bug" (and lots of other bugs in Africa, but that's another blog topic!) and that this is not the end of our adventure.  I do know that our children will have the opportunity to explore and see the world before they reach adulthood.  I do know that I will continue to share our journey with anyone who will listen, because I know how fortunate we have been and how much it has impacted us and the people who have followed our journey.

This blog doesn't have many followers, and sometimes I convince myself that no one really cares about our journey - but I have to remind myself, and maybe others, that its so much more than places we have checked off on a map - its so much more than that.  It's been bigger than that - we have been an awesome team, planned this journey ourselves, and executed our dreams.  Its so much bigger than the monuments and historical sites we have seen, its the monumental memories and history we have made together - and I only hope that people see that. 

I'll do better about my blogging, I hope you're still reading :-)

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

A Refresher Course on Change

I posted a while back about major changes and embracing those changes and whatever may lie ahead.  Sometimes, I have to remind myself of that and brace myself for whats to come.  A good friend just shared this with me, and it was right on time to help me get on track.

"So often when things change in our lives, we have such a resistance to the change. This is because when people see a big change appearing they are often fearful that it is something bad. But it is important to remember that when something big changes in our lives, it means something better is coming. There cannot be a vacuum in the Universe, and so as something moves out, something must come in and replace it. When change comes, relax, have total faith, and know that the change is ALL GOOD.  Something more magnificent is coming to you!" 

Friday, January 14, 2011

Hogmanay - New Year's in Edinburgh!

This post is a bit overdue, but I wanted to share our New Year's Eve experience - we went to Edinburgh, Scotland to celebrate Hogmanay, one of the world's largest New Year's parties.  We flew into Edinburgh from London, and it was a quick 40 minute flight.  Once at the airport, we took the city's airport bus which provides transportation into the city center. 

Once we were checked in and settled we decided to spend our day exploring the city - we started with visiting the Edinburgh Castle, which provided amazing views of the city and beyond, and from there we headed down the Royal Mile to explore.  That evening, we headed to Princes Street to view the Torchlight Procession which served as the official kickoff to the Hogmanay weekend - the turn out was great which made for great photos of all the torches!

We grabbed dinner at the Hard Rock Cafe (yes, I know this is so American of us, but we were CRAVING some American style food!), and to our surprise ran into some fellow Americans who live in England - great times and dinner with everyone!  That night, the two of us enjoyed the Winter Market in the city centre, all of the sights, and took a ride on the ferris wheel - it was a bit cold but we enjoyed it and took some great pictures. 

On New Year's Eve, we toured the Royal Yacht Britannia, did some shopping and rested up for the big night.  We enjoyed a great celebration meal at our hotel, and then headed out for the evening.  Hogmanay is a huge street party with people from all over the world in attendance, concerts, food vendors, and really excitement and some pretty hilarious people everywhere you look. The big countdown and fireworks show was what we were all waiting for and it did not disappoint - I cannot tell you how special it was to bring in our first New Year as a married couple in such a great atmosphere! 

As you might expect, we were a bit exhausted on New Year's Day, so we slept in and toured the Palace of Holyroodhouse, the Queen's official residence while she is in Scotland, and then headed back to London!  One thing we did fall in love with in Edinburgh is Thai Orchid, a delicious and very popular Thai restaurant - we ate there twice!  We had a great weekend and it was not nearly as cold as we expected, which is always a plus! 

Here's to a happy, healthy, and productive 2011!  Up next....Athens, Greece!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Viva Barcelona!

I must say that being so far away from home for the holidays is not easy. Something about this time of year just SCREAMS family, friends and loved ones. It was not possible for us to make it home last month, so we decided that we would again, make the most of our time here in Europe and see a few new places. First on the list, Barcelona!

We spent the three days after Christmas in this beautiful city, and I must tell you that of all the places we have visited and that I have shared with you, Barcelona is one of the places that we would like to visit again (along with the South of France!). The sights, people, food, and just the feeling of the city, is something I really cannot explain...but I will try!

Once we arrived in Barcelona, we headed outside of the airport and took the Aerobus from the airport into the city center. This is an extremely easy and affordable way to get into the city - and the final stop is in Plaza Catalunya, Barcelona’s central square and the starting point of Las Ramblas - the major avenue of the city. From there, we headed to our hotel, Le Meridien Barcelona, and got our vacation started.

Day one was really an orientation day for us - we walked the length of Las Ramblas from Plaza Catalunya onto the Columbus monument and the Harbor. It was a bit chilly, but warmer than the United Kingdom and quite sunny - so we were pretty happy. From the Harbor we headed back towards the hotel and stopped to tour the Barcelona Cathedral. That night we grabbed dinner at La Xina, a Chinese restaurant of all things, right across the street from the hotel - this place is good, and highly recommended.

The following day we headed out to experience a bit of Antoni Gaudi’s architecture. First up - Sagrada Familia - Gaudi’s most famous work, a magnificent unfinished church. There was quite a line to get into the church, but it was worth the wait. We spent time standing inside this work of art in awe - its truly like nothing I have ever seen. From there we took a taxi onto Parc Guell - which I imagine is even more lovely when its warmer - but a great place for views of the city and people watching. At this point, we were pretty hungry, so we decided to try a tapas restaurant that was recommended to us by the hotel concierge, Velodromo Bar. Here, we enjoyed tapas, great wine, and beer - the food is delicious and the waiters are great at recommending dishes for you to sample.

Our final stop of the day was Casa Mila - another of Gaudi’s fantastic works - we toured the apartment, museum and then onto the lovely terrace that reminded me of a Dr. Seuss story. Great views of Pasieg de Gracia can be found at the top of Casa Mila - which ignited our next journey - walking back to our hotel along this main road, and doing some shopping and checking out some more architecture along the Block of Discord.  When we arrived a Plaza Catalunya, we decided to walk down Avinguda Portal de l’Angel to see a few more of the shops and sights. We made our way to the popular Granja la Pallaresa, where there was a line of people waiting to get inside! We waited in the quick line and got our seat to enjoy churros con chocolate - what better way to end the day!

Our final day in Barcelona, we decided that instead of going to the Picasso Museum we wanted to walk the city a bit more and see some places we had not yet visited. We sometimes get in museum overload with our travels and chose to see this the next time we come to Barcelona. So, we headed out of Le Meridien and onto La Boqueria Market - such a colorful, open-air market, and then checked out another Gaudi work, Palau Guell - but it was under construction so we could not see much.

We walked along and visited the church of Santa Maria del Mar and the monument behind it. At this point we were so close to the sea, that we walked along the Barceloneta and onto beautiful beaches - it was too cold to swim, but there were people swimming! Still it was gorgeous and gave us all the more reason to plan another trip to this great city.  Our final stop of the long weekend was to take the funicular and gondolas to the top of Montjuic, where we walked around a bit, grabbed a snack, and took lots of photos of the amazing views the the city.

What a wonderful way to spend Christmas when you cannot be at home with your families! While we did not see everything we wanted to see in Barcelona, 3 days was the perfect amount of time to see the major sights and get a feel for this beautiful city, and to also convince us that we WILL return!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Baby, It's Cold Outside...

The holiday season is here for sure, and we know this because it is COLD in England!  We got about 3 inches of snow here in Cambridge over the weekend, and although that may not sound like much, you have to understand that England does not have the infrastructure to handle snow and ice.  So many flights were canceled this weekend, roads were icy, and trains were stopped.  Hopefully, the worst is over as we have trips to Spain and Scotland planned this week.

We didn't make it to York due to the snow, and also because we were both pretty drained. We spent the weekend catching up on some much needed sleep and American television and movies :)  It feels so weird that its Christmas and New Year's and neither of us will see our families this season.  I think this may be the first holiday that I have not seen my family, and its a bit strange.

We didn't decorate our home, and we didn't buy any presents - but we are traveling - and I am learning that our travel experiences are really worth way more than any gift we could give each other.  As we make memories and create stories to tell our little ones (in a few years),  I am reminded that the holidays are not about how much money we spend, but how much time we spend with the people we love.

Wherever you are this season, I hope you are with at least one person that you love,  and that it's time well spent.  Safe traveling and stay warm :)