The longer you stay an expat…



Belem, Portugal // JessOnThames

The longer you stay an expat and the more you travel, I like to think…

…the more your curiosity grows.

…the more your grammar might suffer (am I speaking French French? Belgian French? Swiss French? England English?)

…you may realise, in the hierarchy of being able to dish out wit, Americans are not the highest ranking nationality on the planet.

…you will have sudden waves of homesickness.

…you laugh differently. But that’s not a bad thing.

…you keep making mistakes. Of the directional, linguistical, cultural, or other variety. But it builds character.

…you will have sudden urges to jump on a plane and go somewhere new.

…you’ll have moments where seeing something for the first time literally stops you in your tracks (and not only on safari when its natural…)

…your priorities will probably change.

…you will get overwhelmed.

…you will probably find perspective.

…you won’t take as much for granted.

…you will have eye-opening-perhaps-slightly-drunken conversations at 11pm in the middle of a dinner party where you try to defend the fact that you do not own a kettle, despite the fact that you live in England.

…you will then be shocked to discover others find this truly shocking…

…you may then, no less than 30 minutes later, learn some distant nationalities didn’t think chipmunks are real.

…you create your own versions of holidays which may just trump the usual ones (coming soon: a glimpse into #SinterThanksgiving)

…you learn new things. And you ask questions.

…you’ll look at home in a different way and both appreciate it and critique it more than you did before.

Either way, with all of its ups and downs, I can only come to one conclusion: expat life is a good thing.

This rather old-person-y reflective post kindly brought to you by a lovely weekend spent in the company of expats.

Photo taken in Belem, Portugal (JessOnThames)

Double-decker tea



BB Bakery afternoon bus tour tea

Last month, the lovely Jacintha from Urban Pixxels asked if I wanted to join her for a rather unconventional afternoon tea. A moving one. One in a red double-decker bus.

We were the guests of iDBus (or what I am now calling “the mode of transport I wish had existed when I was a poor student living in Paris”…) who hosted an afternoon with French BB Bakery to give a group of bloggers a preview into their alternative way to travel across the Channel to France and beyond. Run by SNCF, iDBus has direct services from London to Lille, Brussels, Paris and Amsterdam – and from there you can travel on to Italy, Germany and beyond. After 10 years living in Brussels, I’ll admit I’ve been spoiled by my beloved Eurostar. But thinking back to when I was a student scraping together the funds for a ticket, I would have liked to explore an option like iDBus. Some buses have electrical sockets and wifi, and can get you to Brussels for around £60 roundtrip.

Now before going any further, I have to state for the record, taking pictures on a double-decker bus with a full tea spread in front of you is tricky. And laughter-inducing. The whole trip was a riot. And bumpy. Hence why you see many black and white pictures in this post (everything looks better and less fuzzy in B&W, n’est pas?)Westminster from the Afternoon tea bus

Taking pictures on a bus is tricky

On the BB Bakery Afternoon Tea bus

As far as afternoon teas go, if you are a veteran, I will warn you, its not as polished as you have come to expect. But that really isn’t the point. This is a fun option for a newcomer to London who is looking to get a first glimpse of the major sites like Westminster, Buckingham Palace and the London Eye while eating some delicious nibbles.

The sandwiches and pastries were tasty and there was a nice offer of seconds on the sandwiches (you won’t come away hungry… that is for sure). I loved the little lemon meringue tarts. There were some fun touches like suction cups to hold your cupcake plate to the table, cup holders for plastic bottles of orange juice and Christmas carols playing in the background. Glasses of champagne were offered soon after we departed and everyone started to figure out how to eat on the move, which just set the laughter going even more.

Lemon meringue tart on the afternoon tea bus

Mugs for the Afternoon tea bus

I wish we’d seen the tea and scones a bit earlier. We’d demolished entire platters of sandwiches and cakes before the scones appeared (at which point many of us didn’t have room anymore). Our tea (served in adorable travel mugs everyone wanted to take home with them) was served quite close to the end of the trip. But I imagine logistics aren’t quite the same on an old double-decker bus and our BB Bakery host, Jean-Philippe, was hilarious enough to make it worth the wait.

The view of Trafalgar Square from the BB bus

Views from the Afternoon Tea Bus

The London Eye from the Afternoon tea BB bus

View over the Thames from the Afternoon tea bus

The Afternoon Tea Bus Tour costs 45 per person and lasts around 1h30, departing from near Trafalgar Square and making a circle from Westminster down to South Kensington, up towards Notting Hill to Piccadilly and back again. Seasoned Londoners will recognise the sights and might be confused by the order in which the tea is served, but it is a fun activity I would recommend to families and visitors to the city who are looking for a fun afternoon, especially if its a cold, rainy day.

We were offered the afternoon tea for the purposes of review – as always, opinions expressed here are my own. iDBus also kindly gave us vouchers to try one of their trips! Should I manage to find the time between now and March, stay tuned for further adventures!

The trials and tribulations of an expat Minnesotan in winter



Aurora Borealis in Alaska // US Air Force

London, I’m a bit upset with you.

You are so darn photogenic – do you have any idea how beautiful you would look with some snowfall?

These are views that some may find crazy but I’d like to think they are the natural thoughts of a Minnesotan-turned-expat.

When you live in Minnesota, you love the first snowfall. Because its usually more than a simple flurry that disappears overnight. (If its just a little flurry it doesn’t even count.) You wake up to a winter wonderland. You wake up to air that’s lost its noise. Everything’s muffled or crunchy when you walk on it. You see little tracks where critters have run across the back yard and you watch birds poke through the snow to get at pickings on the ground. You watch steam come out of chimneys across the neighborhood. And you brace yourself for a long winter.

Because that feeling quickly wears off after you’ve shoveled the driveway a few thousand times and you realise you’re still wearing a parka in early May.

Once you leave Minnesota, however, everything changes and you want nothing more than snow all the time. The air starts to cool, Thanksgiving is over and you are pulling out the Christmas lights… And that brings the challenges out for the Minnesotan expat.

Exhibit A: In which the Minnesotan believes its snowing on Oxford Street on December 1st

True story. Coming out of a quick work meeting around Bond Street, I was strolling down Oxford Street, passing the HMV, when I SAW THEM. Little specks of white floating gently in the light of a street lamp. Pretty sure I gasped out loud, jerked around wildly looking to see if anyone else was seeing what I was (thankfully, they were…) and immediately scribbled a text message to a work colleague (in all capital letters) proclaiming that it was SNOWING IN LONDON.

I wanted to declare a school day, heck – call a national holiday and think about sledding down Primrose Hill. (Side note, Brits, the word “sledging” just sounds wrong, sorry)

And that’s when I realised stupid Boots pharmacy had a really realistic snow machine going…

Exhibit B: Above manifestations of excitement about the potential of snowfall will inevitably lead an expat Minnesotan to wax lyrical stories about winters which will have all non-Minnesotans picturing scenes like the above.

Which is actually Alaska.

Minnesota is beautiful. But its not “Alaska beautiful”. And its pretty tough to see the Northern Lights except when they are extremely active up North.

Exhibit C: You find out its even snowing in Brussels of all places on December 2nd

And then you just feel life is unfair.

I jest of course (well, I wish I was joking about the Oxford Street incident), but it has struck me how years away from Minnesota has left me pining for a proper snowfall for the holidays. One that preferably doesn’t involve me launching myself down an Alp on skis. Just a good old, wake-up-in-your-own-home snow to watch over a cup of coffee in your pajamas. Snow to turn on some Christmas tunes to and decorate your Christmas tree.

COME ON London, do a girl a favor. Please :)

This post is part of the always fun travel link up hosted by Kelly, Emma, Rebecca and Sam – with this month’s theme being celebrating the holidays. I have not so much talked about celebrating holidays as I have ranted about snow… but aren’t holidays better with snow?

Photo credit: United States Air Force photo by Senior Airman Joshua Strang

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