Turbulence. (#Algiers #Algeria)

Finally. It was time to go.

I booked this flight about 6 months before departure. Accommodation sorted. At least 1 tour sorted. Basic foundation was already set.

But since this is me we’re talking about, nothing goes smoothly. So of course, bulls*** started just a few hours before my flight. Money, of course, because why not. But I wouldn’t let it deter me. It’d been almost 2 years since my last proper vacation (and I still have to finish those blog posts from that trip… so ashamed of myself.). Yes, there have been a few short jaunts in between, but nothing as long and far away as this. So no matter what, I was leaving. I needed a break from work, from life.

From New York City to Paris, France; a 5 hour layover there; then from Paris to Algiers, Algeria. I know that going through customs in a different country is annoying, but it’s to be expected everywhere and I deal with it. However, I wasn’t expecting to be interrogated by Algerian police.

You read correctly. I was interrogated by Algerian police.

I handed over all of my travel documents at the customs desk and thought that all was well, until I was told to “hold on for a moment”. I knew that some bulls*** was bound to happen because again, that’s just my luck.

Here we f***ing go…

Along with being exhausted, tired/sleepy from limited sleep, and in some pain, I was also angry and kinda scared. My French language skills are very limited, despite my attempts to practice before I left for this trip, and I don’t have any Arabic language skills. So while an officer was telling me that I’d be fine, my face clearly showed that I knew otherwise.

(As an aside, it “helped” a bit that another American woman – a government worker at that! – was also being interrogated. She said to me, “This is terrible, isn’t it?” I nodded with a scowl on my face.)

They opted to interrogate me outside of the officers’ quarters. A female officer who spoke English interpreted & translated for her fellow officers, and asked surprisingly specific questions about why I was in Algeria, what I do for a living, who I see and the age range of the population, etc. ad nauseam. Thank goodness, I didn’t have any reason to lie and was also smart enough to have access to certain things on my mobile phone to prove myself.

TIP: if your mobile phone allows, store your most important documents on something like Google Drive, and make those documents available offline while traveling. It may make a big difference for you in case of emergency.

After what seemed like forever, they let me go. One of the officers hailed a taxi for me and I went to my hotel. But alas, as is my luck, there was more turbulence ahead.

To be continued…

Anchorage, Alaska. (#Anchorage #Alaska)

Alaska is a state I’d wanted to visit for a long time. So when I found out about a flight that was somewhat affordable, I figured I’d pounce on it while I had a couple extra coins. I went from October 4-9, 2018 (arriving home October 10) and frankly, I wish I’d stayed longer. The nature and the history alone took up more than enough of my time and I wanted more time to explore. But alas… real life and reality.

Anyway, here are a few photos from my mobile phone. I took most of my photos with my real camera so sorry, folks… without a proper computer/laptop, I can’t share those at the moment. Those photos are even more amazing. (NOTE: all or most of the following photos are unedited and unfiltered.) However, whether by mobile phone or regular camera, photos don’t do this state any justice in showcasing its incredible beauty.

 

ChugachChugach
Potter MarshPotter Marsh
City view across Cook Inlet.City view across Cook Inlet.
Earthquake ParkEarthquake Park

 

 

Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center

Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center
Brown bear.Brown bear.

The state has some good food.

The state has some good food.

Like this spot.Like this spot.
Reindeer sausage.Reindeer sausage.
Halibut tacos.Halibut tacos.

 

I look forward to visiting again, hopefully sooner rather than later. And I hope you enjoyed this short post. May you soar into 2019.

Off we go.

Good day, readers. By the time you see this blog post, I’ll be in the air on my way to Chicago, Illinois… en route to Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates for a week. I’ve held this in for 2 months, and I was about to burst. 😐 I’m so grateful to finally get back to traveling, and I’m so excited about this trip. I’m going with 2 other people, and they’re probably even more excited than me (LMAO).

Expect a few posts about this trip sooner than later. Until then, see you later. 🙂

Desert is where we'll be.
Desert is where we’ll be.

 

Montenegro 06.29.2013.

Montenegro is a tiny country situated in southeastern Europe. With a little over 632,000 people, 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 it was a day well spent.

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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.

On the road again.

So by the time you read this, I’ll be heading to…

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It has been a while since I’ve taken a proper trip anywhere. Don’t get me wrong… going home is always great, but it isn’t a vacation. The last time I went anywhere besides home was a little over a year ago, when I went up north to the Lake District for a short weekend. (I still need to write about that trip. *hanging head in shame*) Oh yeah, there was also that day trip to Bristol that didn’t turn out quite the right way.

Despite my current financial challenges, I knew that it was well past time for me to go somewhere. So just like with Portugal, I paid for this trip little by little, and I’m going with the same travel Meetup group. (For now, it’s easier that way because the group founder made the arrangements – flights, accommodation, side trips [included or optional], etc. – and due to being so busy, I didn’t feel like doing tons of research for deals like I normally do.) This is a trip I would’ve taken last year but unfortunately, finances held me back worse than they do now. I’m glad that I got a 2nd chance.

So by the time you read this, I’ll be heading to Dubrovnik, Croatia (Wikipedia link) for a few days, with a side (day) trip to Montenegro. Since I don’t have the best track record with writing up my trips (*hanging head in shame again*), I’m considering blogging about this trip with photos – a few words about each photo, while hopefully the photos will speak for themselves. Photo-blogging isn’t necessarily easy, but it’s easier, if you understand what I mean.

I’ll see you on the other side.

Take off.
Take off.

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.

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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.

Time off & out.

I’ve not been home since Xmas and I’m well overdue for a visit home.

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I’ve not been home since Xmas and I’m well overdue for a visit home. I miss my close family members, friends, hugs & kisses. So by the time you read this, I’ll be on my way home. I’ll have a post or two scheduled for you during my time off; otherwise, I’ll be back to blogging later this month. Until later.

Take off.
Take off.

Related post: 2nd home sweet home.

Home (sweet home).

Happy holidays.
Happy holidays.

It’s that time again…

I’m heading home for a little more than a fortnight and will be on a plane by the time you get this. I’ve got a couple of posts scheduled to keep you reading whilst I’m away, so please stay tuned.

This time will be a little different, though. This will be my 2nd Xmas at my 1st home while working in my 2nd home. Many of my insights are the same, but there are some that are definitely different. I don’t know how these new insights will affect my time back home, but I’m anticipating the outcomes once I return to my 2nd home. Here are a few of my new insights:

– My friendship group has gotten smaller. It comes with the territory of being an expatriate. Rather than mourning the losses, I’m gonna try appreciating the ones who are still around.

– My definition of friendship has changed. It’s hard to explain and, therefore, I’ll test things out while I’m home.

– My definition of family has changed. A wise friend told her husband that “there is a difference between family and relatives”. That’s one of the best insights I’ve had this year and goes with my edited version – “blood is not (always) thicker than water”. Contrary to popular belief, one can choose one’s family, and that’s powerful.

I almost stayed here for Xmas for financial reasons. But I decided to break away from the usual Spinster and take care of my Self first. I can’t control everything, so I’m allowing the universe to take its course for once. I wanted to go home, so I made choices to make it happen, and I think that that’s what the universe wanted. I’m looking forward to seeing my loved ones & getting some rest/recovering from jet-lag because things are hectic at work & I haven’t had a proper vacation since June. With so much vacation time in Europe, that’s a long time to go without self-care and time off. Perfect timing from the universe.

I wish all of you a Merry Christmas and happy holidays, no matter what you celebrate (or don’t). To those of you traveling, I wish you a safe journey to your destination(s) and a wonderful time when you get there. Be mindful/careful and have fun. Relax, take a chill pill… whatever you do, just enjoy.

10 Things I Like About You.

Since I shared my hate list (which is by no means finished), next up is my list of 10 things that I like about this country.

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http://twitter.com/#!/spinstercompass/status/97743377071742977

If you check(ed) out my last 2 posts (here & here), you’ll see that I reached 1 year since my move here. Looking back at the past year is amazing because it went by so fast. I’m taking a little time to think about my overall experience here, then put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard). Please bear with me, as it may take at least 2 posts for me to get through this. Since I shared my hate list (by no means exhaustive), next up is my list of 10 things that I like about this country.

Taxes
In my “10 Things I Hate About You” post, I complained about the heavy taxation imposed on everyone, including myself as a foreign citizen legally working here. It annoys the hell out of me for a few reasons, but like many things in life, it’s a double-edged sword. With heavy taxes come universal health care, extremely low prescription medication costs, and things as miniscule as almost commercial-free TV programming. Speaking of which…..

Television

I don’t watch much television but when I do, I appreciate the fact that there are very few commercials (if any) during TV programs. See, since people here have to pay for a television license once per year (TV licenses in the United Kingdom), the funds from the licenses go towards TV programming. Therefore, we don’t have to sit through tons of commercials because of corporate sponsorship like back home. As a matter-of-fact, the only shows here on which I’ve seen heavy commercial presence are on American shows. Any other shows – very few commercials, if any at all. It’s nice to watch a TV show straight through to the end, all because we the people fund it and, therefore, don’t have much need for corporate sponsorship (which can control what people see on television, instead of people controlling what’s on television).

Universal health care

What more is there to explain? Universal health care over here in the United Kingdom is alright by me. So far, I’ve not had to pay for anything except prescriptions, and all prescriptions come with one flat (and cheap) fee. My colleague’s husband had surgery and didn’t have to pay a dime. The NHS is far from perfect (the same goes for universal health care in general), but I think that the positives outweigh the negatives.

Diversity

Living here reminds me of home in terms of cultural diversity. My downstairs neighbors are Scottish; my acquaintance/friend J (featured in this link & that link) has Indian roots but was born/raised in Mauritius as a Muslim (and still practices Islam); there are Indian & Nepalese & Nigerian & Italian & French (and other) restaurants within a 5-mile radius; there’s a Islamic center across the street from a Seventh-day Adventist church; and the list goes on & on. I always appreciated the diversity back home & appreciate it here also.

Class (ism)

This looks strange but hear me out.

Coming from one of the most racist/race-conscious countries in the world, it was nice to get here & meet people who don’t care what a person is in terms of race/ethnicity/skin color. That does not mean that racism doesn’t exist here, nor does it mean that I’m naive about it. (My parents, especially my father, made sure that I learned this early on.) But to make acquaintances with people no matter their race/ethnicity/skin color was like an extra burden lifted from me. I’ve not had to worry much about ulterior motives with people who I’ve dealt with so far….. well, with the non-Americans. The Americans (save for a very small handful) are a different story but I digress.

Anyway, it’s been nice to be free from some of that. But another issue comes into effect here: class(ism). Anywhere one goes in the United Kingdom, it’s a matter of haves vs. have-nots. Does it lessen the possible effects of race/ethnicity/skin color? Probably not. Does it bring different people together to fight against the many austerity measures coming down on us? Probably. And while all or most isms are negative, I prefer this particular ism over racism/prejudice. That’s very sad yet true (for me).

Proximity

The United Kingdom is just a quick plane/car/train ride away – hop skip jump – from the mainland. As an example, I got to Italy in about 2 hours via plane. Belgium & France are 2-5 hours away via train (depending on where one goes within those countries), probably shorter by plane. There are also ferries that go to a few nearby countries. The Isle of Wight, Isle of Man, Channel Islands, and the English Riviera are just a hop, skip & jump away. It’s also a decent distance away from a few African countries, the Middle East, etc. While I can’t afford to travel as much as I’d like, at least the options are there….. and many of them are pretty damn cheap. I hope to take advantage of at least 1 more before 2011 is over.

Fresh food

No longer do I have to worry about turning into a mutant radioactive half-woman half-dugong….. well, not as much as I used to since I grew up in the States with its chemical & preservative-filled foods. Genetically modified (GM) foods, 22 pesticides, bovine growth hormone (rBGH), chlorinated chicken(s), Stevia natural sweetener, and synthetic food colors are banned in the European Union (EU) (see this link). Food contact chemicals, such as phthalates & bisphenols (chemistry & definition[s]), are under stringent regulations in the EU, and any chemical suppliers must prove their additives safe or they’re banned. (Source: http://www.treehugger.com/files/2009/04/7-foods-banned-europe-available-us.php#ch05) Much, if not all, of the reason this happened in the United Kingdom (and the rest of the EU) is because people protested like hell about these things. And speaking of which…..

Fighting spirit

Since moving here, I appreciate the protests & riots that happen. Folks will mobilize for all kinds of things. A recent example is the march against public service cuts, where about 500,000 people marched in central London (pictures). That night, some troublemakers (probably anarchists) rioted, causing damage to some businesses (and to a small extent, ruining what was a peaceful protest). Luckily, 98% of the day was peaceful & successful, with no incidents aside from what happened later that night.

I wish that my fellow countrymen (and countrywomen) had the fighting spirit that the citizens of the United Kingdom have. With so many inexcusable things happening back home, including the impending budget default, I’d love to see the country stand up for what they believe in like the state of Wisconsin (and New York to a smaller extent).

Religious tolerance

It’s great living somewhere that doesn’t insist on people being part of a religion (especially in my “community”).  While England is a Christian nation via its constitution, most people practice whatever (if any) religion with no communal or societal pressure.  While I’m not atheist, this link from the Friendly Atheist is pretty spot on about religion (or lack thereof) in the United Kingdom.  Having been here for over a year now, I can confirm that the person who wrote the Friendly Atheist post is spot on.

Things to do

The list of things to do here seems endless.  Pubs, movies, restaurants, clubs, lounges, architecture, museums, travel within & outside of the country, country dwelling, city hopping, theatre, arts, concerts, nature preserves, civic action, volunteering, shopping, history… Too much to list here.  I hope to see all or most of it in my lifetime.

Bonus like: vacation time (known as annual leave in the United Kingdom).  Europeans take their vacation time very seriously.  France has the highest amount of vacation time with an average of 35 days per year.  The average minimum in the United Kingdom is 20 days, including part-time workers.  The 20 days don’t include the average 8-9 bank holidays per year.  Believe it or not (viewing this with an American lens), the United Kingdom’s allotment is (considered) the worst in the European Union!  Oh dear adopted country of mine, if only you knew how bad it is back home.  Depending on a few factors, the most in the United Kingdom can go as high as France’s average.  Here’s a BBC account from an American expatriate living in the United Kingdom, and here’s a 2007 link for EU countries that’s still pretty accurate.

This list isn’t by any means exhaustive.  Are there any expatriates that can relate & have a top 10 likes for your current location?