Tag Archives: abroad

Post-holiday Blues

29 Mar

Since I have arrived back, I have got a bad case of the Post-holiday Blues. I honestly wasn’t ready to come back. I thought after five weeks of moving from one place to another would be enough but I could have carried on travelling for at least another few weeks.

I don’t start my new job until next week and I had more than good intentions that this week I could get X,Y and Z done and use the time wisely and productively. I have no idea when I will next have to opportunity to spend a week doing what I want without any outside pressure.

So far I have only been able to find the motivation to download my photos (but not sort them or make them into a photobook) and to wash all of our clothes, which took the best part of a day.

To cheer myself up, I have decided to make a list of reasons why it is better to be back at home rather than on the road.

1. No daily application of suncream

I don’t need as long to get ready in the morning because I don’t need to apply suncream to every exposed part of my body before going out. I did go out once in Bolivia without suncream on and I was almost burnt to a crisp, even though the sun was hidden behind layers and layers of clouds. In fact, the only part of my body that is remotely brown are my feet. How am I meant to show that off in the office.

2.  I know where things are

On the road, I was constantly searching for things that I needed that had managed to find their way to the very bottom of my bag. It would take me five minutes to find the charger for my Kindle. Broadly speaking, at home I know where things are and they haven’t moved around during transit.

3. I have clean clothes

My bag was organised by using three plastic bags: one for clean clothes, one for “wearable” clothes and one for dirty clothes. At the end of the trip, I was nervous about opening thing bag with the dirty clothes. It really did stink. I was thinking about incinerating it when I got back home because I wasn’t entirely sure if I would be able to cope with the collective smell at the end of five weeks.

4. No mosquitos

Mosquitos are one of my pet hates. The ironic thing is that they really, really like me. No, I mean it. If there is one mosquito within twenty miles of me, it will find me and bite me. I’m like a walking-buffet for insects. This means that every early afternoon/evening I was reaching for the DEET, anti-mosquito wristbands and any other method which is remotely proven to keep mossies away. I don’t have that problem in Switzerland. At least not until the summer…

5. Toilet paper

This seems like a strange one but in a lot of South American countries you aren’t supposed to put toilet paper down the toilet. There is always a waste bin beside the toilet that you are meant to use. My problem with this wasn’t that I forgot to put the toilet paper in the bin but the fact that in public toilets this is just not so hygienic, although I get that the sewage systems in these countries aren’t so good and paper being flushed down the drains would increase the likelihood of blockages. I’m just glad that I no longer have to use a toilet paper bin.

6. Food

Although I did find the food amazing, there are always things that you miss when you are travelling, things that you can’t buy abroad. So it is nice to be back to essential foodstuffs that you are used to. In South America I was surprised by how few vegetables there were. It could have been the time of year that we were there but I’m glad to be back in a place where there is a greater variety of vegetables on offer.

7. Tea

Other countries just don’t go an English Breakfast tea right. I have been drinking coffee, which is not like me at all, and juices. There were “tea” options but the one time I tried it, I was bitterly disappointed. I saw on the menu that they served tea with milk. Perfect! Nice cuppa in the afternoon. Below is what arrived. I just didn’t know where to look. Lesson learnt: lay off the tea until you are back home with a Tetley teabag and just a splash of milk!

That’s the list. Now that I’ve written it, I do feel bit better. Experiencing amazing things each day makes you forget the little things that you miss. What do you miss when you are on holiday?

The demise of the humble postcard

17 Mar

On our travels in South America, I’ve been slightly shocked at the demise of the humble postcard and the Post service in general.

In Bolivia, we were keen to send a few postcards back home but, no matter how hard we tried, we weren’t able to find any at all in Santa Cruz and Cochabamba. In fairness, these two cities are definitely not tourist destinations in the true sense of the word and we hardly saw any other tourists. So perhaps it wasn’t so surprising.

In La Paz we found postcards and stamps. Hooray! My general rule is that if you find a shop that doesn’t sell stamps to accompany the postcards then don’t buy them. You’ll end up forgetting to find a post office and end up carrying them with you for the whole time and then bringing them home with you. I also used the sneaky trick of asking the hotel to post them for us rather than look for a post box (and I have no idea what colour they are in South America, so it would take me ages to find one).

In Uyuni we found more postcards but no stamps. As I said before, my rule is if you can’t buy both together, don’t buy at all! But I was overruled. We found the post office but it was “closed for a week for a public holiday”. That seemed slightly suspicious to me as no one could tell us what public holiday it was and everything else seemed to be open.

We still had the postcards in Oruro. We found the post office but two days previously it had gone into administration!

We still had the postcards in Iquique, Chile. We found a post office that was open! So we now had Bolivian postcards with a Chilean stamp on. That wasn’t part of the plan and some people at home are going to be a bit confused if they study their postcard in detail.

We thought it would be good to buy some postcards of Chile at the post office because they had some on display. But it turned out these were for display only and they had none to sell us. In the rest of Iquique, we didn’t find any other postcards and now we have sort of stopped looking.

It is perhaps no wonder that people are sending less and less postcards because the stress of finding a stamp to send it home means that you need to plan another holiday for all the time you have spent looking for a post office.

I wonder how long it will be until postcards are no longer printed. I hope they continue for a long time to come. There is something quite lovely about receiving a note from someone you know who is in a far away land and marvelling over the pictures on the front and trying to decipher handwriting. This is a holiday tradition that I would hate to see no longer with us.

Travel update

9 Mar

Greetings from Iquique in Chile! A few of you have been in contact and have been wondering how we have been getting on in South America so far. I will write more when I am home (I have been keeping my diary up to date) but so far, so good.

I did have a few really bad reactions to mosquito bites in Iguazu and Sao Paulo and a bit of sunburn in Boliva, but apart from that healthwise, we are both fine.

Here is a short summary of what we have been up to so far:

Buenos Aires, Argentina

I arrived here in what seems like an age ago. Markus was very excited to see me and promptly walked the legs off me, showing me everything that he had discovered in the seven weeks previously. We will be back again to Buenos Aires at the end of the trip but my first impressions were that it is a really nice city. It’s not quite was I was expecting, with large open spaces and lots of public areas. It will be nice to come back here at the end of the trip.

Iguazu, Argentina and Brazil

I love waterfalls and I am slowly ticking off the biggest and the best in world one by one. We had heard differing reviews about which side is the best side to see the Falls from, so we saw it from both. Water is such a powerful, beautiful thing. Unfortunately, when we were there, the weather wasn’t great and we did get a bit wet but we would have got wet from the spray from the waterfall anyway so it didn’t matter much. Plus, as a Brit, I never leave home without waterproofs!

Sao Paulo, Brasil

This stop-over was never part of the original plan but we stopped here because the route was easier to take. The problem was that Portuguese and Spanish are quite different languages. We had no idea what people were saying most of the time. I was pleasantly surprised by the city. There seemed to be quite a lot to do and there is a lot of history surrounding the city. Unfortunately, there is a huge problem with homelessness here.

Santa Cruz, Bolivia

We hardly saw any other tourists here (maybe 3 other couples?). There were some interesting things happening in the main square and the colonial past of the city was quite apparent. We visited a wildlife centre where you could really get up close to exotic birds, butterflies and tarantulas, which I loved.

Cochabamba, Bolivia

Most tourist only visit Cochabamba to see the statue of Jesus Christ which overlooks the city. It is in fact bigger than the statue in Rio, on which it is modelled. We also visited the market, which is the largest open-air market in the whole of Latin America, and Laguna Angostura, where we enjoyed a nice lunch of fish and chips on the lake.

La Paz, Bolivia

Arriving in El Alto airport at 4,000m above sea level feels like you have been slapped around the face with a brick. It took me a while to adjust to it but I was glad of the cooler temperature for a few days. Here we took a free walking tour where we learnt a lot about the city and the politics of Bolivia. I was amazed that instead of trams, you have to take a cable car. What a commute that must be!

We also saw traditional Bolivian wrestling which was an experience. As we were up in the mountains and there was a Swiss Fondue restaurant, we had to indulge a bit in some home food comforts.

Uyuni, Bolivia

Another bucket list was ticked off my list when we visited Salar De Uyuni. I have wanted to go here for longer than I can remember. Armed with wellies and a camera, we set off to explore. It was like being on another planet – so calm and dream like. It far exceeded my expectations. We also waited there until sunset; just magical!

Oruro, Bolivia

This is THE place to be in Bolivia for Carnival time. We were obviously a bit too late for carnival but we did manage to see the statue of the Virgin Mary (which you can’t really miss) and some silver mines. We actually went into the silver mine with the president of the cooperative. It was a bit unnerving and I spent most of the time wondering if they had passed a health and safety inspection so that tourist can visit. Answer: definitely not. There is more to explain about this experience and I will promise to update you soon!

And that is us about up to date. As I said we are now in Iquique in Chile, enjoying the warmer weather and the amazing seafood on offer.

I will write again soon to let you know that we are still alive and enjoying life.

Until next time, or as we say here, Hasta luego!

Singapore: the first 48 hours

22 Oct

My trip to Singapore crept up on me. I booked the flight in February when Swiss had a sale on and a couldn’t resist a bargain. I admit I hadn’t done as much research for this trip and I was feeling a bit nervous about it.

It didn’t get off to the best of starts. For a couple of weeks, I have been suffering from an upset stomach off and on and my body decided it would be funny to see how Lyndsay would deal with this on a 12 hour flight to Asia.

Luckily, if I go anywhere further than the local supermarket, I always take my passport, toothbrush and Imodium. This is the first time I have had to use the latter.

When we landed and I managed to get to the hotel via public transport, I was looking forward to relaxing and lying near to a toilet that I didn’t have to share with 200 other people. That didn’t go to plan.

The hotel declined my credit card three times. The receptionist was really rude and demanded payment immediately and said it must be my credit limit and that’s why my card provider have declined it blah blah blah. I asked for them to get my credit card company on the phone so I could talk to them. The nice man at the credit card company assured me that they had done nothing of the sort. The issue was something from the hotel‘s side. Nasty hotel receptionist denied this and finally the payment went through (when he used another machine).

After that I popped to the supermarket for water and something plain to eat and got lost in the shopping complex! These things are massive. I had been walking around for ages and everything just looked the same. I had to admit defeat and asked the customer information desk how to get back. That was enough for one day. I went to bed hoping the next day would be better.

No such luck. I had booked on a bike tour of the city. These are normally a great way to orientate yourself in a city and to ask a local about what life is like. Again I struggled to find the meeting point and when I finally got there, I was the only one who had turned up. I offered to come back on Sunday because I thoughtcrime would be more fun to be with others and not just alone with the group leader.

Having no idea what to do, I picked up a MRT map (subway) and decided to head for the Botanical Gardens. The Gardens are incredible. Although they are primarily a place for difference plants to be showcased, they are a huge outdoor space which is utilised by locals for yoga and meditation. An interesting mix!

The Gardens are home to the National Orchid Gardens, which are well worth the 5 dollar entrance fee. It was really tranquil and lovely to see do many varieties of my favourite flowers.

And then the Heavens opened. Being from the North West of England, I know about rain more than most. Singapore rain is something else. Luckily I did have an umbrella with me but it didn’t help too much. I was soaked to the skin. I headed back to the hotel to use the gym while the storm passed.

Early afternoon the weather was much better and I headed out to explore. A friend had recommended a place to eat in Little India, so I headed there.

The eating experience was more of a challenge if I’m honest. The restaurant has a „Wall of Fame“. If you eat a curry of a certain spice strength without joghurt based accompaniments or drinks, they give you a clothes peg to write you name on so hang on the wall. My friend had tried this on his trip to Singapore but failed miserably. I managed to complete the challenge and get my very own peg. I think I could have possibly eaten a few levels hotter, but no one likes a show off, do they? Based on my problems 24 hours before, I feel like my achievement is in the epic category. I had a few celebratory drinks which meant the bill was pretty hefty. Oh well, I’m on holiday.

After that I wandered around Chinatown for a bit and then went to Marina Bay Sands and walked back to the hotel. The views are simply stunning and more spectacular than photos can ever convey.

The next day it was Bike Tour take 2! This time the tour was on. We biked for about 20 km over 4 hours with a stop for coffee and refreshments. The tour was interesting. We went through the Financial district and Chinatown. In Chinatown we went to the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple. I hadn’t visited this the previous evening. The temple is almost completely made out of gold. The security is tight because of this. On the top floor is a relic which is meant to be the tooth of Buddha. All I can say if that was Buddha‘s tooth, his dentist bills must have cost a small fortune. It was huge. It was interesting to see. It’s can be hard to understand relics from the point of view of a non-believer but it obviously holds a deep meaning for followers of this faith.

Later we went by Marina Bay Sands, but we did a different route to the one I had done. Then we went to the hipster district which is an interesting mix of Middle Eastern cultures and has a huge mosque in the middle of it. There are so many faiths in Singapore and there seems to be very little racial tension or discrimination. I wonder what their secret is?

We stopped for coffee and were treated to some staple breakfast foods, which were yummy. We needed the energy for the next part. We actually road down the Singapore Formula 1 track! It was such a surprise. I think I was by far the most excited by this. It takes 4 months to put up the infrastructure and stands and 3 months to take it down. Incredible stuff.

After the tour, I had a swim in the hotel pool to cool down and I decided to go back to Chinatown. The leader of the bike tour had recommend a place to eat which was a hawker stall but had been awarded a Michelin star. Cheap Michelin started food? I was in! Only I wasn’t. I found the place and it was closed. I will have to go back another time. I had dumplings from another stall instead which were cheap and delicious. I then tried a Singapore Craft Beer called Simply Blonde. It cost about half the price of Buddha’s 6 monthly check-up.

I headed out to the Zoo for the Night Safari: the world first nocturnal animal park. It’s a good idea because not so many animals are active during the day when most zoos are open. It took a long time to get there, about 1 and a half hours. Although I had booked a ticket for 9.15pm admission, I managed to get in an hour earlier. I was glad of this because I was worried about missing public transport home.

The safari itself was good. We saw all of the animals apart from the wolves who were hiding somewhere. What was annoying was people who were talking the whole way through (not the thing to do on safari) and people using flashes on their phones to take pictures. I didn’t managed to get any photos because we were on a moving tram. As I wasn’t using the flash, I was trying to take a picture with the aperture open to let in more light. However, the camera needs to be completely still or the image is blurred. This was a shame but I did managed to see some cool animals up front! I managed to get the public bus home and it only cost me 1 dollar 27!

What’s in a name?

16 Nov

In case you were wondering how I came to name my blog ourgirlinzurich, it is a reworking of the title of the Graham Greene novel Our Man in Havana. It is a satirical work which pokes fun at the intelligence services, especially the British MI6. It is a very good book, if you haven’t read it. Greene also wrote famous works, such as Brighton Rock and The Quiet American, which I think were both made into films. Our Man in Havana also has a film version.

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I guess I used this title as opposed to any other because, in a strange kind of way, I feel like my move abroad was a bit like going undercover and into the unknown and the description of the language barrier in the book, if I remember correctly, is also apt. At one time I was actually thinking about applying for a job at MI6 (or was it MI5, I can never remember the difference) but I didn’t even make the application because I didn’t make the selection criteria.

It turns out that a) I am too tall for a woman (meaning taller than average) and b) I have blue eyes (only about 10% of the population have blue eyes) and this would mean that I would be too memorable and, therefore, not suitable for tasks such as surveillance. I did want to argue that I can talk to someone for hours at a party and 5 minutes later the same person would have difficulty in picking me out in a line up but it probably wasn’t worth the effort.

What I have only just found out (isn’t Google amazing?) is that Graham Greene died and is buried in the French speaking part of Switzerland. So it would seem that my reworking of his book title has somehow come full circle.

There are a surprising number of famous people who have died and are buried in Switzerland. Charlie Chaplin and Audrey Hepburn are also buried in the French speaking part of Switzerland.

On one of many of my to-do lists is to visit the grave of James Joyce, who lived and died in Zurich and is buried at Fluntern Cemetery. It is in the centre of the city and I know exactly where it is but it feels a bit weird to go and visit the grave of someone that you never met seems to be a bit morbid. But I think in some sort of strange way, if I do go and visit the grave I might be inspired to read Ulysses finally. Because this is something else that is on a to-do list somewhere…

Article about expats moving home

24 Oct

I read this article on BBC news website today and, although I have no plans about moving back to the UK, I can fully imagine that it would be difficult to leave Switzerland and move.

Over the years I have read a few articles that document this problem that expats face when moving home. To begin with, it seems like a strange concept. It makes sense that emigrating to another country and all the would be difficult with settling in, language barriers and other problems which I have mentioned in passing in some of my other posts but it does seem silly to think that moving back to your home country would prevent similar problems. This is the culture you were brought up in so how could it possibly be hard to go back.

If I think about moving back one of the problems (apart from all of the benefits and advantages that I would lose from moving) that springs to mind would be friendships. I am still in contact with friends from home but inevitably, due to distance and time, the nature of some of these friendships has completely changed. I don’t mean this as anyone’s fault but just physically not being in the same country as someone does has an impact on your relationship. I noticed in the first months and years that relationships had fundamentally changed. People mentioned new people that were now part of the friendship group and had stories that I didn’t understand and I felt strangely excluded from the conversation. Now four years on, friends have moved, had babies etc and I can imagine that things would be different because of how completely they have changed.

I also recognise that my personality has changed and the person that I am today is not who I was when I sat nervously in Manchester airport clutching a one-way ticket. Of course, I would have changed if I had stayed in the UK and never made the decision to leave. I believe in the phrase that travel broadens the mindand if merely travelling to a place broadens the mind, then living somewhere abroad also transforms the mind but in a way that is far more than broadening; though I can’t quite think of the way to describe it.