Montenegro 06.29.2013.

Montenegro is a tiny country in southeastern Europe that’s bordered by Croatia to the west, Bosnia & Herzegovina to the northwest, Serbia to the northeast, Kosovo to the east and Albania to the southeast. With a little over 620,000 citizens, its population is one of the smallest in Europe. During my short trip to Croatia, I had the privilege of going on a day trip to Montenegro, and I had a nice day.

From our base in Dubrovnik, the Croatia-Montenegro border is about an hour away and, therefore, easy to reach by car or tour bus (we used a tour company).

Croatia-Montenegro border.

Croatia-Montenegro border.

Montenegro has a storied history, but those of us familiar with the country’s recent times may know about the turbulence it experienced during the 20th century, especially toward the end of the 20th century. I won’t go into it on this blog, but you can read about it on Wikipedia (more accurate than many Wikipedia links). Montenegro declared its independence from Serbia on 3rd June 2006 and reached European Union candidate status in 2010. Montenegro used German marks for currency at one point – it never had its own currency – but now uses the euro.

Montenegro borders the Adriatic Sea to the southwest, which affords it a nice coastline – 183 miles (295 kilometers) – with temperatures averaging over 80º Fahrenheit (27º Celsius) during summer months. It was hotter than average when I went. Our tour bus drove along the coast, and the photo below shows one of the first towns we stopped in to take photos. I can’t remember the exact name, but it was close to Herceg-Novi, near the Croatia-Montenegro border.

Lots of water.

Lots of water.

We took a short break on the way to a guided tour. Check out the view.

Our guided walking tour was in the old town centre of Kotor, Montenegro, situated on the Gulf of Kotor. It’s recognised as a World Heritage Site and chock full of history. It’s now popular with cruise ships; when we went, there were many ships, boats & yachts docked in port. Since Montenegro shares the Adriatic Sea with Italy (among other countries), visitors interested in history will notice the heavy Venetian influence embedded in Kotor’s architecture and overall atmosphere.

Sitting at the dock of the bay, wasting time.

Sitting at the dock of the bay, wasting time.

And check out the view from the top – an outside restaurant & bar.

After leaving Kotor, we drove along the coast to Budva, which is making a name for itself as a Riviera town. Before we got to Budva city proper, though, we made a quick rest stop to photograph the following beautiful sight on the Riviera – Sveti Stefan town-hotel.

The Budva Riviera is popular during the summer months; there’s plenty of sun, sand & sea mixed in with casinos & vibrant nightlife. Montenegro, in general, is popular with Russians, and this is more so with Budva. There are signs translated into Russian, and Russians finance a sizeable amount of house (and other) construction projects along the Budva Riviera.

I couldn’t get many photos of Budva because my main camera died :-| but at least I have memories. For you the readers, however, here’s a snapshot of my late lunch in Budva.

I know how to pronounce the name of this meat-based dish, but can't find it anywhere on the internet. Either way, it tastes as good as it looks, in my opinion.

I know how to pronounce the name of this meat-based dish, but can’t find it anywhere on the internet. Either way, it tastes as good as it looks, in my opinion.

We made our way back to Croatia soon after Budva.

I enjoyed myself, especially in Kotor since I like history and old structures. I’d consider returning to Montenegro on my own, staying for no more than 2-3 days to explore historical sites. If you’re more into sun, sand & sea vacations, consider staying anywhere along the Budva Riviera for longer than that.

Pin It Forward UK.

Pin It Forward UK 2013

I received an e-mail a month ago from Tina over at Pinterest, asking me if I wanted to be part of the new Pinterest United Kingdom campaign. It surprised me because I didn’t think that anyone paid much attention to my Pinterest boards, but it was a pleasant surprise. Since I like Pinterest, and since a little extra blog exposure is also nice, I said “yes” to participating.

I’m often late (on purpose) when it comes to any & all trends, so when I began seeing people talk about Pinterest on different social media websites, I didn’t jump on it straight away. (This is from someone who didn’t join Facebook until 2008 (I think) and ignored Twitter until very late 2009.) But then, I got lots of invitations to join and since my inbox got filled with invitations, I said to myself, “To hell with it. If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.” Lo and behold, I was pleasantly surprised.

Recipes. Do-it-yourself tips. Home decoration. Fashion. Beauty. Health & wellness. Quotes. Food. Food. Food. Did I say food? Travel. Travel. Travel. Did I say travel? Expatriate stuff. Child-free stuff. Whatever you’re looking for, it’s there in living color.

Pinterest is a tool for collecting and organizing the things you love. You can “pin” things from around the web on boards you create, on any topic you’d like. I pin about a few things, but for my blog’s sake, I especially pin things about travelling & expatriation. I have a board devoted to cities or countries I want to visit, interesting sights to see, and anything relating to expatriation.

What’s so great about pins is that I can go back to my boards and, say, find a recipe to try for dinner, or dream about a country or city on my travel/expatriate bucket list. The pins also link back to the source so I can get more details about that recipe I want to try, or that country or city I want to visit.

I’ve used Pinterest for a few months now, and it’s pretty decent. Once you see things you like, you’ll start building up your boards & dreams/wishes/fantasies. Follow me over there, and if you don’t have an account yet, start pinning by clicking on my registration link.

While you’re exploring your newfound addiction checking out Pinterest, check out a Pinterest UK trailblazer – Emma Rose Black of Gohemian Travellers (Pinterest page).

Welcome to Pinterest, inhabitants of the United Kingdom. :-)

Pin It Forward UK 2013

Sankofa.

Sankofa: “We must go back and reclaim our past so we can move forward; so we understand why and how we came to be who we are today.” (Wikipedia)

04.02.2013

Today is an old friend’s birthday.  We’ve not spoken in a very long time.  Our friendship never really ended; life happens – work, marriage, kids, military, etc. and our lives took different directions.  Like everyone else addicted to connected to the world-wide web, I got on Facebook and got an alert reminding me about my friend’s birthday.  His settings are such that no one can write on his wall, but can send a private message instead, which I did.

I rarely view other people’s walls or pages, but I decided to be nosy skim through his friends list.  I don’t know 98% of the people on his list, but I recognised a couple of old, familiar faces.  I didn’t click on their names, but it got me thinking about where I was then, and where I am now.

I wonder about those people not because I’m nosy (well, I’m usually not nosy), but I wonder how they’re doing and if they’re still in the same place, physically and otherwise.  I look back and I’ve changed a lot since then.  Back then, I was deep into church yet filled with anger & negativity.  Those people, looking back, were ultra-religious and ultra-conservative.  Now granted, I had some good times with those people – hell, one of them wound up being my longest relationship ever – but that part of my life, and those people, can stay back there.  If I remained where I was, physically and otherwise, I wouldn’t be where I am today.  

I’ve done so much since then.  I’ve been through so much since then.  I live in another country, a life-long dream fulfilled.  I’m now agnostic, and aside from my friend, his wife, his sister and another friend, I don’t speak to any of the people from that time in my life.  I’ve seen different places, done different things, met different people, made many mistakes, learnt many things.  And while I don’t miss that part of my life, I appreciate that era for keeping me focused, out of trouble, and on the straight & narrow.  I take those things and carry them with me… not to stay stuck, but to sustain me as I move onward & forward.

Here’s to looking back on life.  Here’s to dropping dead weight distant memories of those who are in your lives for a reason and a season, no matter how short the season.  Here’s to being insane crazy scared brave enough to move to another country.  Without looking back every once in a while, one can’t move forward to new experiences, people or places.  And I’m glad that those things landed me where I am today – in the United Kingdom and in a whole new world.

Cheers.

Image

How have your experiences in the past led you to where you are today as an expatriate?  Did you ever think that you’d be living in another country?  

Been a while.

Yes, I know… but please hear me out.

The last time I wrote a full-on blog post was when I was going through some transitions.  (I wrote a couple after that, but they were either photo challenges or more like short notifications.)  While I’m still transitioning, I think I’m getting into more of a routine now, enough to write this post.  (Plus, I’m off today.)  What was going on, you ask?  Here you go:

1. At the end of July 2012, my team merged with another team in a new building, not too far from my original building. They told us that due to austerity measures and a more streamlined service, things were better this way.  We were skeptical about it, but glad that we’d still be a team within this new consolidated team; we worked together and got along very well as a team for the over 2 years I was there.  

Sometime between the end of July and October 2012, the director of the new team said there’d be more changes, but never gave any hint about the changes so we could prepare.  So while we knew that extra changes were in the works, no one expected the news on October 1st that our team would be completely deleted.  Individually (and as a team but especially individually), it affected each of us more than we thought it would.  Word got out to the rest of the teams in the borough, and they were just as surprised as us.

Between October and November, we were in limbo.  We had to decide whether we each wanted to remain with the other team… but there were caveats – all the new positions are for unqualified (unlicensed, in U.S. terms) workers, and the pay is lower.  The few positions (maybe 2 or 3?) available for qualified workers were already earmarked.  While that wasn’t explicitly stated, we already knew in our minds what’d happen.  We had to make difficult decisions in a very short time. 

October 31st was our last day as a team.  We’d soon be split up for good.  My supervisor left.  We were officially out of work, even though we had to come to the office daily; we still got paid, but it just wasn’t the same.  I got home that evening and slept for at least 12 hours.  While I put on a brave face at work, every thing clearly took a toll on me (same for my team members).  

While this was going on, I looked elsewhere, in & out of the borough.  I soon realised that I didn’t want any more long-term work, holding cases for months at a time.  Before my supervisor left, she suggested I join a team that, while challenging, has less case-holding responsibility and quick turnover.  I thought about it, it made sense, and I approached the service manager of that particular team on my own.  We met, spoke for 1/2 hour, and I decided to try it.  While we met, I felt a sense of calm wash over me; I knew that I was making the right decision.  A week later, I shadowed a worker on the new team.  The week after that, I met with who would be my new team manager and my new supervisor.  And about a week and a half after that, on December 10th, I started on the new team in my original building – full circle and right where I started when I moved here in the first place.

2. A few days after starting with the new team, I found out that my maternal great-aunt passed away.  She was 85 years old and lived a long life.  However, everything since October 1st took a toll on me so when I found out, it was the straw that broke the camel’s back and I lost it.  (Also, out of 10 sisters & brothers – my grandmother included – her passing leaves just 2 sisters.  It drove home even more that my maternal descendants are closer to leaving us.)  I couldn’t attend the service, which hurt even more (and is a negative aspect of being an expatriate).  I also thought I wouldn’t get home for Xmas due to financial difficulties (I lucked out 5 days before Xmas). So all of that, coupled with possibly not being with loved ones during the holidays, made the last 3 months of 2012 feel like a whole year.

OH!  I forgot to mention:

  • My dear friend’s brother developed a serious and potentially life-threatening illness.  (It has since been dealt with, and is still being dealt with.)
  • Another friend’s niece was stillborn.
  • My uncle’s grandmother, who raised him some of his life, passed away a few days after my great-aunt died.  (She was either 101 or 102 years old, but it hit him hard.  And when he hurts, I hurt.)

I’m almost sure I’m forgetting a few other terrible things that happened between October 1 and December 31, 2012. So yeah… I wasn’t in the mood to write a damn thing.  I just wanted to be away from this country and with my loved ones.  I posted a few photo challenges on here (which also took lots of energy), but aside from that, I couldn’t do it.

While I’m still observing & learning things on the new team (Rome wasn’t built in a day), and while other changes are afoot throughout the borough (you can thank the government for that), I’m just glad to have a job that’s in very little to no danger.  I’m also glad that I’m usually diligent about things like ensuring my credentials, especially since all qualified workers in my field must be registered as of December 1, 2012 otherwise one cannot work in my field without doing so.  I also learned a little about my rights as a worker and legal resident non-citizen.  And whether I like it or not, trials take forever to go away, but somehow or another they will pass.  

My new work responsibilities are quite time and energy-consuming, which is another reason why I’ve not posted lately.  But I have drafts sitting in my WordPress dashboard, and I hope that I can settle into enough of a routine, with enough energy & time, to blog weekly again.  

Happy holidays.

By the time you read this, I’ll be in transit to the United States. I usually book my ticket well in advance but this time, I couldn’t so I thought I wouldn’t get to visit. But for some reason, I wasn’t worried. I just felt that I’d be able to find a reasonably priced ticket, even though it’d be a few days before my desired departure date. Sure enough, I bought my ticket 5 days ago and the price exceeded my expectations.

With the transitions I’m dealing with now (if I feel so inclined, I’ll write a post about some of it in the not-so-far future), I needed this visit and I’m thankful that I found an affordable ticket on such short notice. I’ll be gone until mid-January, and hopefully this visit will ease the challenges these transitions give me, giving me refreshed eyes, mind, heart & spirit.

I may write a post at home, who knows. But if I don’t, surely you’ll understand. For those of you who blog, I hope that you’ll take a break too. You deserve it.

Happy holidays, whether you celebrate or not, and I’ll see you on the other side.

Santa Claus.

Keep calm and drink tea. Happy holidays.

Keep calm and drink tea. Happy holidays.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Happy.

For more about how the Weekly Photo Challenge started, take a look at this link. For more about this week’s Weekly Photo Challenge, click here.

Lectures. Because I'm a nerd. Kofi Annan (left), 10.07.2012.

Lectures. Because I’m a nerd. Kofi Annan (left), 10.07.2012.

Food. Glorious gluttonous food.

Food. Glorious gluttonous food.

Unsung heroine.

October is Black History Month in the United Kingdom. I like it more here because it’s longer than in the United States (February – 28 days long, 29 days long every 4 years) and, in my area, there are lots of things going on during the month to celebrate, reflect & remember. For example, I had the honour of hearing Kofi Annan (Wikipedia link) speak earlier this month, and I’ll see another international figure of Black heritage speak later this month. But for now, I’d like to highlight a Black history figure who hasn’t received (well overdue) attention until recently, within the past few years.

I learned about Mary Seacole (Wikipedia link) about 9 months after moving here. An art gallery hosted an organisation, focused on raising funds to build a statue in her name, to talk about this little-known woman who made a big impact in Britain. She was the Black equivalent of Florence Nightingale.

I took photos of the painted portraits of Mary Seacole during the discussion, but unfortunately I can’t find them. If or when I do, I’ll add them to this post. In the meantime, check out Mary Seacole by going to the link below, expand your knowledge & learn you something. ;-)

October is Black History Month – Mary Seacole

Consider donating to the Mary Seacole Memorial Statue fund.

Mary Seacole.

Mary Seacole.

Rock the vote.

In transit.

In transit.

Are you a U.S. expatriate who wants to vote in this year’s elections? If so, check out the following information sent to me about voting via absentee ballot. For best accuracy, I’d suggest checking with your home state and your local embassy in your resident country for details, as it’s possible (I’m not sure, don’t wanna give out incorrect information) that different embassies in different countries have different instructions.
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Absentee ballots already delivered to overseas voters: Every U.S. citizen who requested an absentee ballot and selected the fax or email delivery option should have received it by now. Please cast your vote and take steps to return your completed ballot promptly so that your vote will count. See instructions below.

Returning your ballot by mail: Place your completed ballot in a U.S. postage-paid envelope containing the address of your local election officials. Place the completed ballot in a sealed envelope and take it to (my local embassy). We will send it back to the U.S. for you without the need to pay international postage. If it’s easier for you to use the (resident country) postal system, be sure to affix sufficient international postage, and allow adequate time for international mail delivery. If time is tight, you may want to use a private courier service (e.g., FedEx, UPS, or DHL) to meet your state’s ballot receipt deadline.

U.S. citizens can submit their completed ballots to the (resident country) Embassy’s Consular Section between the hours of (check yours locally), Monday through Friday, with the exception of (resident country) and U.S. holidays. No appointment is necessary. Please bring your ballot in a sealed envelope, and your U.S. passport. Your ballot will be sent to the United States via pouch, which takes approximately 10 working days.

Returning your ballot by email, fax, or upload: Some states allow these options, but may also require you to mail in the signed paper ballot. To find out more about your state’s specific requirements, visit the Federal Voting Assistance Program website at www.FVAP.gov.

Haven’t received your ballot yet? Use the emergency write-in ballot: U.S. citizens who requested an absentee ballot but haven’t received it should go to www.FVAP.gov to complete a Federal Write-in Absentee Ballot. Follow the above guidance for returning your ballot. If you later receive your regular absentee ballot, vote and return it immediately. Local election officials will count just one ballot per voter, and will use the regular ballot if received by your state’s ballot receipt deadline.

Forgot to register or request an absentee ballot? Act immediately! There are three options:

Option #1: Register and request a ballot today using the Federal Post Card Application form at www.FVAP.gov. Select the electronic ballot delivery option, include your email address (and fax number, if applicable) and send it to local election officials in your state. Almost every state lets you submit a ballot by email or fax. Once your application is processed they will send you your ballot via fax or email depending on your state. Vote as soon as you receive the blank ballot. Registration deadlines vary and some are as early as October 7, so check your state’s requirements carefully.

Option #2: Follow the instructions in Option #1, but also complete and send in a Federal Write-in Ballot at the same time to make sure your vote is counted. This option may be the best one for first-time voters if your state requires you to submit your Federal Post Card Application by mail. Vote and submit your regular absentee ballot if/when it arrives. Local election officials will count just one ballot per voter, and will use the regular ballot if it’s received by the ballot receipt deadline.

Option #3: Voters from the following states can use the Federal Write-in Absentee Ballot as a combined voter registration form, absentee ballot request, and absentee ballot: Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Delaware, District of Columbia, Georgia, Hawaii, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Virginia, and Washington. (NOTE: This form must reach your local election officials by your state’s absentee ballot request deadline or voter registration deadline, whichever is first.)

Returning your Federal Write-in Absentee Ballot by mail: Follow the guidance above for returning your ballot by mail.

Returning your Federal Write-in Absentee Ballot by email or fax: The following states allow voters to email or fax their signed, voted Federal Write-in Absentee Ballots back to local election officials: Arizona, California (fax only), Colorado, Delaware, District of Columbia, Florida, Indiana, Kansas, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Montana, Nevada, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Utah, Washington, and West Virginia. (NOTE: see instructions at http://www.FVAP.gov for faxing or emailing your voted ballot.)

Confirm your registration and ballot delivery online: Learn more at the Federal Voting Assistance Program’s (FVAP) website at www.FVAP.gov.

Fashionably late.

09.22.2012

I actually was “fashionably late” due to missing the train. I’d say that my style reflects New York City, but… well… suffice it to say that no one asks me for fashion tips.

Pardon, I’m rambling.

Anyway, I attended my first ever, bona fide fashion show with 3 women. (Meetup is the best.) But before you see the photos, I’ll briefly open a window (just a bit) into a small part of my life.

Before moving here, I was small. Throughout my life I was either teased for being too skinny, or told “I wish my body was like yours” (or some variation thereof). I could eat almost anything I wanted, in any amount, when I wanted. Freshman 15? Never happened to me. I was never overweight. In spite of this, I didn’t like myself.

Fast forward to now, and I’ve gained weight since moving here – never been overweight in my life until now. You never miss what you had until it’s gone and in my case, I wish that I appreciated my health & body more. I’m not used to it and it affects me a lot, negatively. (NOTE: This is not about looking down on overweight or obese people, so don’t pen any hate mail.) Being unable to fit most of my old clothing, yet not knowing where to find affordable & fitting clothing, made me look & feel slovenly (along with any other negative feelings). This was especially so in 2011.

Toward the end of 2011, I re-evaluated many things in my life and decided that working just to pay bills wasn’t worth it – mentally, financially, physically or emotionally. I resolved to make myself more of a priority in 2012 and beyond, and I’ve done alright so far. However, figuring out clothing sizes & cuts & colours & etc. was/is still a bit of a challenge. I also sustained an injury that has made it hard for me to work out & lose weight. (Getting older isn’t much help with weight loss either.) I found out about a stylist’s Meetup workshop and got a free ticket. Her tips gave me some ideas about where to start, as fashion has never really been my forté.

Little by little, the tips are helping, along with attending the show. Not only did I see women of different shapes & sizes (dressed better than me, no exaggeration), races & ethnicities, I also got a look into some of the latest trends. I know that I’ll never be a true fashionista (mostly because I generally hate shopping), and I may never dress like a true European (of any race or ethnicity), but I’m developing my style and now have an idea of what’s classic, current & fitting for me. I’m trying to work with what I have, no matter my size.

Alright… enough about me. I and the 3 women had a nice time; we wandered around for a few hours & each got something to bring home for ourselves. One even scored a great DKNY denim jacket for a decent price. Check out a small sample of the show’s offerings.

MariaFrancescaPepe. http://www.mfpepe.com/

MariaFrancescaPepe. http://www.mfpepe.com/

Free (and purchased) goodies.

Free (and purchased) goodies.

The following photos are from the ALICE by Temperley catwalk show. ALICE by Temperley is a collection under the Temperley London line.

Caroline Flack, host for ALICE by Temperley catwalk show.

Caroline Flack, host for ALICE by Temperley catwalk show.

And here’s one of my small purchases from Kat & Bee.

If you’re a fellow expatriate, have you experienced body changes? How did they affect you (if at all)? How did you adjust to the changes? Are you pleased with the changes, or are you learning to work with what you have?

Bristol Hot Air Balloon Fiesta 2012.

08.11.2012

Well, we didn’t see any balloons. :-|

I went to Bristol (Wikipedia link), United Kingdom for the first time with a photography Meetup group to see the Bristol Hot Air Balloon Fiesta. There were 6 of us – 5 of us went in the group leader’s car, while another member drove there on his own. Group leader let me sit in the front because of my injury, and on the way there, all of us (except group leader of course) fell asleep. It was a nice day as far as the weather & temperature – nice, sunny, blue sky, pretty warm. There were thousands of people, plenty of amusement park rides, and lots of food trucks & vendors all over the grounds.

Unfortunately, the wind was an issue. The Royal Air Force (RAF) did a group skydive, and it was obvious that the wind was quite strong. As a result, the organisers decided to cancel the hot air balloon part of the fiesta. We were very disappointed, and since none of us wanted to get on rides since we specifically came to photograph the hot air balloon evening/night programme, we decided to leave early.

So unfortunately, we didn’t get to see the fiesta or Bristol proper. I did, however, get a few shots of the RAF parachuting down. Check ‘em out.

2 of the balloons that never were.

2 of the balloons that never were.