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…

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.

Rate this:

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.

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.

Chocolate Festival 12.09.2012.

Here it is again. I won’t write much because the Chocolate Festival is pretty much the same every time. Just check out the photos and related links below.

Rate this:

Here it is again. I went solo this time. I won’t write much because the Chocolate Festival is pretty much the same every time. Just check out the photos and related links below.

Galeta.
Galeta.
More from Galeta.
More from Galeta.
Naan bread topped with chocolate.
Naan bread topped with chocolate.
Pistachio Rose. Home of the chocolate naan bread.
Pistachio Rose. Home of the chocolate naan bread.
My piece: chocolate & pistachio.
My piece: chocolate & pistachio.
Jaz & Jul's.
Jaz & Jul’s.
Jaz & Jul's chocolate powders.
Jaz & Jul’s chocolate powders.
Making mine.
Making mine.
Finished product.
Finished product.

IMG_2495

My friend's name in chocolate.
My friend’s name in chocolate.
Anna Mae's Texas beef chilli and macaroni & cheese.
Anna Mae’s Texas beef chilli and macaroni & cheese.
Texas beef chilli over macaroni & cheese. The chilli was subtly flavored with cocoa.
Texas beef chilli over macaroni & cheese. The chilli was subtly flavored with cocoa.

Related links:
December 2011 festival https://spinsterscompass.wordpress.com/2011/12/20/ukchocolate-festival/

April 2012 festival https://spinsterscompass.wordpress.com/2012/04/01/miym-cf_030412/

Expatriates! File your taxes with Derren Joseph, CPA.

It’s annoying enough to file taxes in the United States. State taxes, federal taxes, city taxes, oh my. But moving to another country as a U.S. citizen makes filing taxes even more annoying. So when I happened upon someone’s profile on Meetup in February, offering help to U.S. expatriates who need to navigate the murky sea of tax filing, I contacted him via e-mail as soon as possible to enquire further.

Derren Joseph responded immediately and worked with me every step of the way, even when I asked stupid questions & forgot deadlines. He was even patient with me when, in the midst of life happening, I forgot to keep him posted with my progress; he’d often contact me to see how I was doing with the paperwork. His patience, work ethic & gift of deciphering numbers are such that I wanted to share the wealth (pun intended) with other expatriates, and this blog is a good way to get the word out.

Mr. Joseph is a certified public accountant in the United States & the United Kingdom – a bonus for those of us who can’t understand either system. I highly recommend him and hope that you benefit from his services as much as I have. Contact him (see below).

Derren Joseph
E-mail
: Derren@htjosephcpa.com
Phone: United Kingdom 07554905143, U.S. 305-651-5580 (international dialling codes)
Web: http://www.htjosephcpa.com

Remembering the Victims of London’s 7/7 Bombings

There really isn’t much else to add to this. As with September 11, 2001 in the United States, July 7, 2005 is a day that’ll never be forgotten in the United Kingdom, and I think that the original blog post & my tags on this post speak for my thoughts about today.

Here There Everywhere

Today 7 years ago tragedy struck the capital.  The day before London had been announced as the winner of the 2012 summer Olympics.  When I moved here in September 2008 the bombings were still in my mind.  I wasn’t scared of being in London (if I was I wouldn’t have come) but riding the tube did make me feel a bit anxious.

7_July_Memorial_-_Hyde_ParkSource

One of my first memories of the tube was riding the escalator out of Kings Cross, looking around and thinking that something here was amiss.  There was damage everywhere.  It didn’t click for me, not until months later when I went to the Museum of London and came across a Book of Tributes.  As I flipped through I read about the events of 7/7/2005.  I read about the 52 people who died that day and the 700 injured.

In the run up to the anniversary this week there was…

View original post 230 more words

Spring is in the air.

https://twitter.com/#!/spinstercompass/status/187650936309682176

Well… it’s supposed to be. But England’s weather – a topic of countless conversations in this country – changes as much as certain celebrities change romantic partners, so I’m not sure when there will be true spring weather. In the meantime, I took a few photos of what’s blooming for the season.

Bug.
Bug.

Melts in your mouth (again).

https://twitter.com/#!/spinstercompass/status/186528533475110912

I wrote a post about the Chocolate Festival a few months ago. Well, it’s back in a few towns again and unlike the last time, I went with a friend & met up with 3 people from Meetup. I also got to buy myself a couple of treats this time (no laughing ATM for now). Rather than write the same things that I wrote in the last festival post, take a look at a few new photos instead. In the meantime, I’ll have a bite of my brownie with white chocolate chips & a bite of my piece of red velvet cake, please & thank you.

Churros sprinkled with cinnamon & sugar (R) with melted chocolate (L).
Churros sprinkled with cinnamon & sugar (R) with melted chocolate (L).
Chocolate vodka chillies.
Chocolate vodka chillies.
Black River (Jamaica single origin).
Black River (Jamaica single origin).
Rabot Estate (Saint Lucia).
Rabot Estate (Saint Lucia).
Hotel Chocolat quail eggs.
Hotel Chocolat quail eggs.
Chocolate porter (beer).
Chocolate porter (beer).
Chocolate liqueur. (One can easily get drunk from this, it tastes that good.)
Chocolate liqueur. (One can easily get drunk from this, it tastes that good.)
Demarquette.
Demarquette.
Seashell.
Seashell.
The Pancake Bar.
The Pancake Bar.
Easter eggs (Philip Maes).
Easter eggs (Philip Maes).
More Easter eggs (Philip Maes).
More Easter eggs (Philip Maes).
Philip Maes chocolatier.
Philip Maes chocolatiers.

As an added bonus, here’s some beef chilli flavored with dark cocoa and topped with pico de gallo & shredded cheese. It was surprisingly good.

Beef chilli.
Beef chilli.

And these are for me. Sorry, no sharing. 😐

Brownie with white chocolate chips.
Brownie with white chocolate chips.
Red velvet cake.
Red velvet cake.

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.

Melts in your mouth.

What does chocolate remind you of? Does it bring back childhood memories?

Rate this:

What does chocolate remind you of? Does it bring back childhood memories? Does it bring back adult memories? (*evil grin*)

When I think of chocolate, I reminisce about being a kid and drinking Nestle Quick chocolate milk. I remember learning how to make S’mores in home economics class. I reminisce about the different varieties of chocolate chip cookies that my mother would bring home – Chips Ahoy, Keebler, Pepperidge Farm, Mrs. Fields, Sean’s cookies, local grocery store bakeries. I think of my all-time favorite ice cream cake, Carvel, with the layer of chocolate ice cream and chocolate cookie crumble. Baskin Robbins ice cream cakes aren’t too bad either.

The memories. *drool*

While I’m far from a chocoholic, based on my nostalgia I can understand how millions of people worldwide have such unconditional & undying love for chocolate. So when I found out that the annual Chocolate Festival was coming back to town 12.09-11.2011, I decided that unlike last year – when I was more lazy & colder than I am now – I’d definitely attend to see what the big deal is. I wanted to go with at least 1 person, but life doesn’t work out the way that I want it to so I went solo. And as usual, it was nice.

(Well… except when the cash machine laughed at me when I tried getting cash to buy some chocolate. Maybe that’s a good thing for my health.)

The Festival was held for a full weekend and took place on 2 levels – street level and inside a venue. I didn’t feel like going into the venue so I stayed on the street.

Street level.
Street level.

For someone who isn’t a die-hard chocoholic, that was enough for me. Check out these photos to see why:

Red velvet & chocolate cakes.
Red velvet & chocolate cakes.

Santa Claus.
Santa Claus.
Pretzels.
Pretzels.

Along with buying ready-made chocolate products, one vendor sold kits for people to make their own chocolate and has a program specifically for 16-24 year olds to make & sell their own chocolate – entrepreneurship at its best. One of the partners, Kieran, said that he & his business partner are available to visit schools to showcase the business. In this terrible economy, I applaud them for giving others the opportunity to make a little legal change.

Click me & make your own.
Click me & make your own.

Although I couldn’t buy anything, I took many samples and collected many business cards. I plan to give 1 or 2 of them my business in the future.

Chocolate sesame.
Chocolate sesame.
Chocolate with raisins & etc.  I HATE raisins but didn't know until afterwards that there were raisins inside.  That's how good it was.
Chocolate with raisins & etc. I HATE raisins but didn't know until afterwards that there were raisins inside. That's how good it was.

Did you miss the Festival? Don’t worry… it’ll be back and it might be in your area when it returns. In the meantime, check out the long history of chocolate (Wikipedia).

Thanks for coming.
Thanks for coming.