Category Archives: Expat Life

Macarons and Nudges: Road-trip from Belgium to France

Being able to visit family who live thousands of miles away, incidentally also due to the oil and gas industry (which happens to run so deeply in our growing family) is undeniably one of the major perks of a rotation based schedule, especially as a trailing expat wife.  When we first arrived in Calgary, my husband was needed on site for a full four weeks. I decided to take advantage and travel to Qatar where my family is currently on assignment. From Doha, we headed to Europe to try to make a memorable vacation out of our time together. Mission accomplished!

Although it’s been more than a few months, I’d like to share some images of my experience before we get too far along in 2013.  My parents, 2 sisters (sadly the 3rd couldn’t join), and I took a week-long road-trip in September 2012 from Belgium to France, stopping along Brussels, Paris, Versailles, Bruges, and Zeebruges along the way and in that order (yes it was a round about kind of detour).  Other than hitting the typical touristy hotspots, here is a short list of must-dos if you ever find yourself in the area:

1. Cycling through Bruges – Bike rentals were at an all time low at just 2 Euros an hour compared to absolutely exorbitant prices in Brussels. (note – the cobble stones make for a beautifully scenic yet bumpy ride. But there’s no better way to get from delicious chocolate shop to chocolate shop over several canals in this quaint little city.)

Bruges, Belgium. September 2012

Bruges, Belgium. September 2012

2. Mussels in Zeebruges – They will be fantastic anywhere in Belgium, but do not miss out on eating this local delicacy by the beach at Zeebruges.

Mussels in Zeebruges, 2012

Mussels in Zeebruges, 2012

3. Windmills – Touring an ancient windmill that still functions as a working flour mill in the Belgian countryside will be a guaranteed unforgettable experience.

Belgian Windmill, 2012

Belgian Windmill, 2012

Cuddling Belgian Horses

Pretty horses cuddling in the shadow of the mill.

4. Parisian Cafes and Boutiques – Step away from the bustling attractions and experience local flare. Shop or eat at unique little places as you walk in the rain.

Parisian Breakfast

Scrumptious raspberry concoction for breakfast in Paris.

There’s something so sublimely joyful when, as an adult, you’re able to relive your childhood memories of fighting over an inch of leg room in the back of a packed car or whose job it is to man the iPod. I’ll never forget my fond memories of elbow nudges while munching over Ladurée macarons on this autumn trip.

I couldn’t help but think of my poor hubby thousands of miles away working on a camp site, forging forward with his career as I toured the sites. One of our phone conversations went a little something like this:

“We went to the Eiffel Tower today but I actually didn’t get a chance to go up…” 

“…I see.. So I guess we’re going back then?” 

“Honey, you read my mind!” 🙂 

Parisian Skyline

Parisian Skyline

Beautiful Brussels, 2012

Beautiful Brussels, 2012

Belgian Chocolates

Belgian Chocolates

Gardens at Versailles, September 2012

Gardens at Versailles, September 2012

Interior of our Boutique Hotel in Paris

Interior of our Boutique Hotel in Paris

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Home Sweet Houston

We have finally repatriated back to our humble abode. The last five months have been a whirlwind of excitement and self-awakening. I’m sorry to be closing this chapter of our lives, but I know there will be a longer saga of many expat assignments and adventures to come.

I hate regret. It’s a crippling train of thought that only leads you down a spiral of negativity.  But I can’t help but think about those few nights in Calgary where I didn’t take advantage of the city. As I sit nice and snug in my suburban haven on the outskirts of Houston, I wonder what kind of adventures I missed out on that I won’t get the chance to encounter again. Why didn’t we go ice skating or snow-boarding? Shouldn’t we have visited the Rockies one more time? 

I’ve spoken about how moving to a new city can provide a completely liberating experience. I’m hoping I can sustain this new-found sense of self throughout the coming new year.

Although we shouldn’t be leaving on any expat assignments until early 2014 (although the Company loves to surprise us!) I have an exciting year planned of my own. It’s my hope that I can take at least one trip a month. Stay tuned for posts from Montreal, San Antonio, the Carribean, Florida, Washington D.C., and a few over-seas surprises. In the mean time, I’m going to continue trying to find a French class which has proven to be a more challenging task than expected in Texas country. Go figure. I’ll also be getting used to living with my husband full-time again!

I leave you with my final images of my beloved Calgary, from our downtown views and a recent trip to the Calgary Zoo Lights. I’m going to miss my winter wonder land.

 

Calgary Zoo Lights 2012

 

Calgary Zoo Lights 2012 Giraffe

 

Calgary Zoo Lights 2012 Hippo

 

Calgary Apartment View

 

West Calgary View


How Skype Held Me Back

I was a Skype addict. And not just Skype, but all forms of new age communication tools. Blackberry, Whatsapp, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and even email. It took me a while to get over this mentally crippling and physically debilitating addiction. My smart phone turned out to be a real hero when it magically died on me and liberated me from its daunting chains.

skype

I’m seriously blessed to have many wonderful friends and family in my life.  When I first got to Calgary (and actually when when I first moved to Houston) my dear loved ones did their best to check up on me whenever they thought I’d be lonely.  They knew that at least in the beginning, before I had the chance to meet many people, that more often than not I would be alone. Either due to my husband’s long works hours or because of a rotation based schedule.  My three sisters, my parents, in-laws, grandparents, aunts and uncle, and not to mention a few of my beautiful friends all wanted to know about my new environment and what I was up to now in my crazy life.

More often than not, we’d have these conversations through Skype. It’s an amazing tool and I’m so happy to take advantage of it.  I loved these Skype sessions.  Day or night, each person made me feel a little less lonely and more in touch with the news I had missed out on.  I could see new hairstyles and party decorations.  I even joined in on family gatherings and girly getting-ready rituals before some sort of festivity from thousands of miles away.

snail skype

Turns out being in a brand new city wasn’t too bad at all.  I didn’t need to go out and make even more friends.  Between the several Skype sessions a day, and hours of text conversations, I had no inclination (or the time) to explore.

I became perfectly comfortable in my lethargy, chatting away with a muted television in the background. It actually started getting annoying to leave my apartment to go grocery shopping.  Who needed milk and bread? It’s remarkable how few supplies I was actually able to live on. And I’m not going to lie, more than a couple of days I didn’t really see the point of actually changing out of my pajamas.

Maybe this was my coping mechanism in dealing with my new expat life, but after a couple of weeks of living vicariously through my phone which was perpetually glued to my hands and the all-important Skype sessions, I started getting tired of my laziness. My back was hurting constantly, always tired, and I really missed any sort of intellectual stimulation.

Then a magical thing happened and I was saved. My Blackberry died. I was no longer connected 24/7 to the people I had inexplicably left behind. I even lost all my contacts, so when I got a temporary Canadian pay-as-you-go phone, I felt more than a little liberated. This little $30 old-time flip phone was my savior.

As soon as it happened I all of a sudden found myself going out more, feeling better about myself, and just lived my life instead of constantly talking about it. When I move back to Houston in a couple of weeks I plan on replacing my dead Blackberry with a more savvy smart phone. This was always the plan. But now I’m seriously afraid of a relapse.


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