Welcome to the Expat Partner’s Survival Guide

“I wish I’d had this book when I first became an Expat Wife”

Brigid Keenan, author of Diplomatic Baggage and Packing Up

Welcome to the blog that accompanies my book, the Expat Partner’s Survival Guide. Here you will find many posts about expat life and, in particular, about life as an accompanying spouse. If you are not sure exactly what I mean by an accompanying spouse – also known as an expat partner or “trailing spouse” – then a good place to start would be this post I wrote for the Expat Focus website: Accompanying Spouse – What is It?

But if you pretty sure what this term means and you are looking for more information, then an even better place to start would be with my book.

From what to pack to how to cope in the event of an emergency, the Expat Partner’s Survival Guide is a light-hearted yet supportive book which uses the experiences of more than 70 contributers to help guide you when you move abroad. Aimed initially just at accompanying spouses, since publication I have had a lot of very positive feedback from all sorts of expats – and hope it will be of use to anyone, anywhere moving abroad.

click here to buy the book

The Blog

As well as information about general expat life, you can also read posts about some of the issues that have come up again and again during my research for the book and for the blog. This includes more specific information just for expat partners,  the important topic of expat depression, and what life is like for male trailing spouses.

As well as writing about expat life, I also enjoy writing about travel and, in particular, about our adventures in South Africa.

I hope you enjoy both the blog and the book – do get in touch if you have any comments, feedback, ideas, topics you would like me to cover or if you would like to write a guest post.

Post Referendum culture shock

Yes I am devastated. I am also angry. Depressed. I feel like a car crash is happening in slow motion in front of my eyes and there is absolutely nothing I can do to stop it. Welcome to the world of post-Brexit Britain.

It’s been a month now since we voted to leave the EU. A vote that should never have been put into the hands of the people. It has become clear very quickly that no-one really understood what they were voting for. And by that I mean people on BOTH sides of the vote. After all, how were we meant to understand about tariffs and subsidies and trade negotiators? Bank passports and freedom of movement. Access to the single market. These are all very technical matters that very few people really get. And the people who do are the ones we know as experts. The experts who were warning us of the consequences of our actions, but that were apparently ignored by a small majority of those people who actually voted. The consequences that we are now starting to see slowly happening although, if you read many of the social commentators, they aren’t happening at all and this country is a much brighter, happier place. I personally think these people are deluded.

There is so much I could write about here. We have had an incredible roller coaster of news over the past few weeks. Blink and you would miss another resignation. The biggest “suprise” was the appointment of Boris Johnson as Foreign Secretary – although many still think this is part of a clever game that Teresa May is playing. Time will tell.

But putting aside the news, I’ve been thinking about how this weird period in time feels very much like another thing – it feels like we’ve just landed in an alien country and it feels like we are collectively going through the culture shock cycle.

I have written about culture shock many times and discussed the cycle in the Expat Partner’s Survival Guide. For those who haven’t read the book it goes something like this:.

Culture shock could be defined as disorientation on moving somewhere unfamiliar, a rollercoaster of emotions. It is said to have four phases and each phase is described differently by different people but generally speaking they are: wonder/honeymoon, negotiation, adjustment and acceptance. You can move between the four phases in order or back and forth between them; you might skip some of the phases or not experience any of them.

So here we are, in a new, angry world and it feels very much like culture shock.  First is the honeymoon period. In my book I do also discuss the grief cycle and in fact at this stage, what we are going through/have been going through is much more like grieving than anything else. So whilst some of us did experience a sort of honeymoon stage (a weird “high” of the excitement of the first day or two), many jumped straight into the second stage which is denial.

Probably the most obvious way people have indicated their refusal to accept that this has actually happened is with a petition calling for a re-run. More than four million people have signed this petition even though it is very unlikely to happen (and there would probably be civil war if it did). But it was the only thing we felt we could do. This couldn’t be happening. This shouldn’t be happening.

Denial was mixed up with anger and frustration – which has led to a huge rift opening up in this country. I had already seen this happening before the vote and wrote about it here, but since the 24th June things have descended into a place I never thought I would see in this country. As well as a horrible rise in reports of racism on the streets, the comments sections of online newsites is not a place you want to be. I am seriously upset by the vile that is being spat out across the internet. I just want to turn back time and wish it had never happened.

But what comes next? It should be adjustment and I guess that is what we will slowly have over the next year or two. At the moment we can’t move on because we don’t really know what we would be adjusting to. I am still very hopeful that sense will prevail and even if we leave the EU we will still retain close links to our neighbours including access to the single market in return for freedom of movement If nothing else, I truly, truly hope that our ability to live and work and study in Europe will still be there when my children grow up. I also hope all my European friends in the UK are able to stay and live their lives happily – as can my British friends in Europe. It is a worrying time for a lot of people.

Eventually comes acceptance. At the moment I seriously cannot see how this is going to happen. But I know that eventually we will have to accept whatever the outcome of this debacle is. Or at least we will have to accept the new terms under which we will be living. We won’t have much choice unless, as many probably will, we leave permanently to live in another country. An awful lot of people are currently looking into gaining citizenship of another EU country at the moment.

So here we are stuck in the awful culture shock/grief cycle that has followed the referendum. I feel no better about things than I did straight after the vote but I realise that partly this is because my life is slightly in limbo at the moment anyway – we are still on holiday in the UK so I don’t have the normal distractions that would keep me sane. I recently read an excellent article about how to keep us level at times like this (which you can read here) and I will certainly be following some of this advice – in particular building a supportive community and getting out into nature (eg dog walking when we return to Pretoria).

But for now I continue to plough on, writing to my MP, answering mis-informed views on social media, talking to people about why they voted the way they did. I can’t do nothing, this is too big just to “let go”. We all have a duty to our children’s futures and I for one don’t want to say I didn’t step up when my they ask me in thirty years what I did to try and stop the madness.

In the meantime, all of you Americans need to prepare yourself for what you will be going through in November should Trump be elected. I suspect it will make post-Brexit shock look like a walk in the path…..

A Day in My Expat Life -Sweden

Welcome to the latest look at a normal day in an expat life and today we move to Europe and Sweden where we meet Lisa Ferland and her family. Lisa is a U.S. citizen who has lived in Sweden since 2012. Together with her husband, they have embraced the Swedish lifestyle and according to Lida are currently “raising a five-year-old Lego-lover and a two-year-old Pippi Longstocking fanatic”. Lisa also recently published the anthology about birth and parenting as an expat called Knocked Up Abroad featuring a chapter by yours truely and can be reached on Facebook and Twitter@knockdupabroad.

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Lisa 1

7:45 am—8:00 am Our morning began with a deer sighting in our backyard. The kids did their best to scare it away but this deer was experienced in the ways of shouty children and stayed to munch on our grass.

Lisa2

The golf course behind our house has a herd of sheep grazing in a fenced-off section of grass. We decided to go check them out before school.

Lisa3

No fish are in that pond. My son checked it out—all clear.

lisa4

I’m not sure if the kids were impressed or bored with the sheep. Things got fun when the kids started shaking their rumpas at them. The sheep were a bit nervous with the display.

Lisa5

Very nervous sheep.

Lisa6

8:15 am – 8:30 am Time to head to school

Lisa7

Every bridge must be inspected for trolls. Troll-checking is a time-consuming activity but it’s for our safety, so it must be done.

Lisa8

Nope. No trolls here. No snakes either, despite a sign clearly depicting the presences of snakes. The kids were a bit disappointed.

Lisa9

Finally, we are on the way to school. A moped drove by and we stopped to wave hello.

Lisa10

Finally! After a long walk of touching every slug in sight, we make it to school relatively on time.

Lisa11

With the kids at school, I need to run some errands. First up—filling up the gas tank with diesel fuel. This is always a costly errand but we only use the car once or twice a week.

Lisa12

Total cost: 720.90 SEK for 55 liters (equivalent to $6.04/gallon—much cheaper than the $8.50/gallon we saw when we first moved to Sweden.)

Lisa13

Acquiring a Swedish driver’s license is incredibly difficult and expensive (for non-Swedes and Swedes alike). This sign says that you can park for 3 hours M-F 7 am-11:30 pm, Saturdays 7 am– 7 pm, and Sundays and holidays, 7 am – 7 pm. You must display a P-skiva on your window shield.

Lisa14

The P-Skiva

Lisa15

I received this notice that I had a package arrive and I can only retrieve it at the local post office, which is near the grocery store in town. Unless the package can fit within the dimensions of your mailbox, every package is kept at the central post office regardless if you live in a house or apartment.

Lisa16

The outdoor center of the shopping mall.

Lisa17

Inside the shopping mall—stores don’t open until 10 am, except for the grocery store and post office.

Lisa18

Ah, this box was larger than I anticipated. I had to carry it awkwardly through the grocery store while I did my shopping. Oh well.

Lisa19

I always check out the pastry section when I’m in the grocery store. I can’t help myself.

Lisa20

Delicious fikabröd or pastries for coffee breaks/fika

Lisa21

Due to my one arm being full of awkward box, I left with a pastry, a Swedish table top maypole flag (midsummer is coming up), and fun bandaids for my kids who like to use them as body art instead of covering cuts.

Lisa22

Swedes remove their shoes in the entryway. Sock fashion is very important in the winter.

Lisa23

9:30 am – 3 pm Sitting at my desk in my home office with a little treat and some coffee and I’m ready to work on my writing.

Lisa24

3:00 pm – 5:30 pm I picked up the kids from school at 3 pm and we are ready to go off in search of new playgrounds.

Lisa25

We pause at a construction site because they are dynamiting the granite rocks and the kids love the big booms

Lisa26

A new-to-us playground is nearby in a newly constructed neighborhood. This one made excellent use of the local rocks and they are perfect for climbing.

Lisa27

To reach the swing at the top, kids must climb up the hill.

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A fun little hut that housed many spiders so the kids opted out.

Lisa29

Banana break in a shelter at the next playground

Lisa30

The last stop on our afternoon adventure was an outdoor exercise space that is the epitome of Swedish training. It is situated among the woods with a horse riding school nearby and people train by lifting logs on a fulcrum system.

Lisa31

The climbing wall was still under construction but we tried it out anyway

Lisa32

This exercise made me a bit dizzy as the logs went quite high.

Lisa33

Hey there, horsey. The local horses are always fun to watch.

Lisa34

More climbing

Lisa35

And dancing on rocks

Lisa36

On the way home, we saw a cat sitting in the woods. Cats are given free range in our neighborhood and we see them all over.

Lisa37

5:30 pm – 6:00 pm So, what was in that large box that I picked up earlier? A wireless keyboard courtesy of my mother. Now I can get to typing up my second book!

Lisa38

6:00 pm – 8:00 pm For dinner, we had stir fried rice with eggs from our neighbor’s chickens. The entire day was spent outside playing in the beautiful weather. The kids were exhausted and collapsed into bed around 8 pm. Tomorrow begins another day of more of the same.

Thank you to LIsa for that glimpse into her life – those pastries in particlar look delicious. I am loving the fact that so many of these Days in an Expat Life have so much in common eg walking to school, yummy food and working at a lap top – even though they are all in very different places! If you want to see more posts in this series please click here, and if you would like your own day to feature then please comment below or email me clara@expatpartnersurvival.com.

A Day in My Expat Life -Saudi

Welcome to the fourth post in my blog series looking at an average day in the life of an expat. Today we are off to Saudi Arabia, where we hear from the Ersatz Expat. It’s always interesting to hear about life in some of the places we might think of as “difficult” – only to realise that actually it’s not so different from anywhere else. Read on to find out more….

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Clara sent out a call for guest bloggers a little while ago.  I have been meaning to write a post about the normal day to day existence we have as expats in KSA (Saudi) and it seemed to be a good fit for a guest blog.  With that in mind I kept my ‘phone with me for Thursday 9 June to document my normal day.

We have been living in KSA for 2 ½ months and really starting to settle in and get into a routine.  We are still, however, in the transit house (we hope to move soon), are expecting our shipment imminently and are still waiting for our pets to arrive from Malaysia so I fully expect the routine to change shortly.  Indeed I hope it does as I can’t wait to get the pets here and it would be lovely for Mini EE to have her own bed in her own bedroom and not have to put up with the travel cot in ours.

Ramadan arrived last week which has also had an impact on our daily routine.  The children have a later start at school,  a much more civilised 08.30 compared to the awful 07.30 and shops, restaurants etc are shut until after sunset in theory and after 21/22..00 in reality.

06:30

Mr EE’s day starts a little earlier than ours, he has to be in work for 07.20, he will usually bring the children in to school with him (he is their Headmaster) but there is little point in them going in early to sit around doing nothing.  Instead they can get up a little later and have breakfast at home.

Nerissa 1

08:15 Once the older children have eaten, tidied and made their lunch boxes Master and Miss EE help Mini EE to put her shoes on and pack her bag for ‘school’ (she goes to the school Crèche every day).

Nerissa 2

The school is next to our compound and the two are connected by a door so the older two children can come and go as they wish and I don’t need to wear an abaya when I do the miniscule school run. Master and Miss EE sometimes take themselves to school in the morning but they often prefer to walk with Mini EE. They are desperate to be allowed to take her to school on their own, perhaps when she is 4 years old….

Nerissa 3

08:45 After dropping Mini EE at crèche I aim to fit in some exercise. This is an activity that is often more avoided than engaged with, but I have been pushing myself to do more. Some days I go for a swim, the compound has two pool areas and both are quiet, other days I take myself to the gym and go for a run. I prefer to run outside but the only suitable space is the school athletics track which is out of bounds during the school day (for obvious reasons). This morning I went for a swim, I have been doing about 30 lengths a time but the pool is only short so I aim to get this up to 60 and then 100 in the next few months.

09:45

After my swim and a wash and dress I tidied the house and put the laundry on.  The older children are responsible for keeping their rooms tidy, Miss EE does this rather more successfully than Master EE but the rest, other than the two days we have someone in to help, is down to me.  We are hoping to employ a full time maid in due course but this is a long way down the list of things we need to sort out.

Nerissa 4

10.30 After cleaning and tidying I hung up the washing and then allowed myself a 5 minute coffee break before starting work. I would love a job here in Saudi but with all the hassle of the move and all the things still to sort out I decided to wait until after the summer to search for a job and, of course, a work permit. In the interim I freelance through Upwork and get paid into our UK account. The transit house has no space for a home office so I tend to work at the dining room table, it is not really ideal but much better than perching the laptop on my knee. If we move to a larger house I will be able to get a desk, either in our bedroom or on the upstairs landing. Malls open at about 10 so I sometimes get a taxi to one of the many close to our compound if I need to pick up essentials, I won’t bother during Ramadan as daytimes are a little dull.

Nerissa 5

12:00 At around lunchtime I start preparations for the evening meal. This house has no stairgates and Mini EE has learned to climb out of her temporary play pen so prepping early gives me a chance to get everything set up and ready to go later on in the day. This means that if the older two decide to go out I am not cooking while keeping an eye on Mini EE. Today I made a tomato and mozzarella salad and put some chicken breasts in the oven to roast. I often need to pick up some extra bits and pieces (milk, eggs etc) at the compound shop and if I do I generally go about this time.

Nerissa 6

He stocks a basic range of vegetables, fruit, dairy products and snacks and is handy for top ups between big shops. I rarely eat breakfast or lunch during the week so will often pick up a biscuit or bar of chocolate when I go over. They stock my favourites, Stroopwafels, a Dutch caramel biscuit and I eat far too many of them to be healthy (you can see a pack behind my computer).

Nerissa 7

The compound is teeming with cats (I even wrote a blog post about them here). Most of them are semi feral. Some are friendly but they are all endearing. A stunning Van style cat lives near the shop and will often come over to say hello when I pop over, probably in the hope that I will drop a morsel for him.

Nerissa 8

I bake a loaf of bread fresh every day, flat Arabic bread is lovely but useless for sandwiches or toast and while there are very good French bakeries that do lovely bread, I can’t get there on a daily basis. I can get plastic sandwich loaves in the corner shop but I don’t like the taste or texture so I brought my bread machine back from a recent trip to the UK. I have been working my way through the various different recipes that came with the machine. So far the thumbs up have gone to the plain loaf, the pesto and pine nut loaf, the cinnamon raisin and the tomato focaccia. The soft rolls (which mix in the bread maker then cook in the oven and which I stuff with feta and herbs or olives) are another particular favourite.

Nerissa 9

Today I simply made a garlic pizza bread to go with supper and then put a plain loaf on to bake. In between I was able to do a little more work.

Nerissa 10

14:00 By the time I finished preparing the supper and the second batch of bread the children were due back from school. I usually walk over to get Mini EE from crèche about 14:00. By the time we have said our goodbyes to the teachers it is around 14:10 or school leaving time. We walk back past Master and Miss EE’s building, sometimes we catch them, sometimes they are waiting for us at home. The older two like to take about 30 minutes to relax, have a drink of water and play with Mini EE before getting changed and doing their prep or any extra work that I give them at home. Miss EE has reading every day and will often read her assigned books to her younger sister. I didn’t manage to get a photograph today but here is one from a few weeks ago (when, for some inexplicable reason she decided to do her reading in her bedroom).

Nerissa 11

I love baking and Miss EE enjoys helping me. Sadly the oven in our last house was an absolute disaster and made baking a near impossibility. The oven here is a little slow but is a great improvement and means that we can enjoy cake again. I usually bake a loaf cake so that the children can take slices to school in their lunch boxes but today I decided to do something different. I had seen a Betty Crocker Ramadan advert for rose and pistachio cupcakes (made using something called cake mix!) and thought that with a bit of playing around I could emulate those with a normal homemade cake batter. The experiment worked first time, the cupcakes were a great success and something I think I might add to my regular baking repertoire.

Nerissa 12

17:00 The cakes had cooled enough to be iced and sampled (with a pot of rose flavoured tea of course).

Normally Thursday nights are our heavy grocery night.  Mr EE finishes work on time and we get his driver to drop us off at one of the big malls.  We usually grab a burger (Hardees, an American chain, are our current favourites) during sunset prayers then we pop into the supermarket just before night time prayers and browse in relative calm (the supermarket does a ‘lock in’ during prayers).  We can also pick up any clothing items the children need, browse for new books etc in the other shops in the mall.  Ramadan has put this Thursday ritual on hold.  As luck would have it, Mr EE and I had been invited to a goodbye party for someone from another company that he has been working closely with so we would not have been able to get groceries anyway.

Nerissa 13

18:00 The babysitter arrived. I dressed the salad, warmed the bread then cut the pieces of chicken I had roasted at lunch time before putting them into some pasta with pesto and cream to make supper for the children then quickly got ready to go out.

Nerissa 14

18:45 The party was off site (you can just see my abaya over my left arm in the picture). It was a good chance to catch up with Mr EE who had been very busy at work, he was hardly home all week and due to be working most of the weekend. It was also a good opportunity to meet some more people. I am always keen to extend our circle beyond work and our immediate compound wherever possible.

Nerissa 15

19:15 The party was not far away but Thursday nights are the start of the weekend and the roads are normally crazily busy. A week before we had gone to the same venue and the journey had taken us almost an hour. This time around the roads were almost deserted for iftar (break of fast at sundown). A few people were handing out or selling water for those who had not made it home on time. Most of our friends who are fasting say that not eating is not a problem at all but they find the not drinking very, very difficult. Our journey was so quick that we arrived early.

Nerissa 16

22:30 Tired from a long week we left the party early (Jeddah is a night life city and gatherings and parties, particularly during Ramadan, can go on until the not so early house). The event was quite close to one of the Jeddah landmark hotels which the children and Mr EE think looks like Avengers HQ. The lighting is certainly quite spectacular although my ‘phone did not do it justice.

Thank you to the Ersatz Expat for this glimpse at her daily life – that bread from your breadmaker looks so familiar from our days in Pakistan! I also love the look of those cupcakes…. Please check out the other posts in this series by clicking here, and in the meantime if you would like me to feature a day in your expat life please leave a comment below or email me clara@expatpartnersurvival.com.

A Day in my Expat Life – the Netherlands

Welcome to the latest post in my series about ordinary expat life. Today we hear from Lucille, an expat mum who moved to The Netherlands with her husband and their two boys a year ago. Her husband works for a multinational company and this is their fifth international posting. Lucille and her kids have three nationalities, The Netherlands being one of them, and so are happy to be practicing their Dutch and eating stroopwafels.  

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5h30

5:30am – I’m an early riser, a habit I formed when we lived in South Africa and would go running at 5:15am! In The Netherlands I still try to get up very early so I can work a bit in peace. In the summer it’s light fairly early, and by 7 the sun shines through the window on our top floor…if it decides to shine that day

7h30

7:30am – The kids wake up and come downstairs. I make them breakfast and they sit and eat at the kitchen island while I make their school lunches so we can chat. The school days are so long in The Netherlands – 8:45-3:15 – so these morning chats are an important part of our day.

8h15

8:15am – My brother Jake is visiting from Australia, and so the kids don’t want to get ready for school, and would rather listen to his stories.

8h40

8:40am – We’re off to school, late as usual. Even when my brother is not visiting we are usually late. I am actively trying not to nag my kids in the morning, not to hustle and shout and bribe them out the door. The result is that we are nearly always 5 minutes late for school, but we are relaxed and happy so who cares! When we moved to The Netherlands I decided not to get a car, and to only cycle. My 6 year old cycles, my 4 year old goes in the Bakfiets.

9h15

9:15am – I’m off for a run. I try to go at least three times a week, even if I’m super busy. It’s important to schedule exercise into my week. There are the most beautiful trails around our house. I can run through forests, farmland or to the beach through the dunes which is my favourite run. The weather isn’t always this good!

10h00

10am – This is the beach I run to. It’s sandy and wide and on a sunny day is lovely. It’s 10kms there and back, perfect.

11h30

11:30 – I’m home, have showered and eaten, and it’s time to work. Work is my freelance writing, posting on my blog, or working on the copy writing business I’m starting. I don’t run everyday so usually I start work at 9 after cycling the boys to school. You’ll notice the kitchen is still a bit messy from breakfast this morning, it just has to stay that way for a few more hours! If I don’t start work now, I don’t get enough done by the time I fetch the kids.

2h30

2:30 – Once a week the kids finish school at 2:30pm instead of 3:15, so off I go to fetch them. They attend the American School of the Hague and it’s in a lovely green area. The cycle is really lovely, and only five minutes from our house

2h45

2:45 – On early release days I usually pack a snack and we cycle to a forest (there are a few to choose from) and go for a walk. It’s so important to me that my kids relate to the natural world, I think I’m winning because they get so excited when they see a blackbird or magpie or some cowslip!

4h00

4pm – Monday is football practice. That’s the new American Consulate being built in the background.

5h00

5pm – If (and only if) I’m super organized I don’t need to go to the supermarket after football, but sometimes we stop on the way home to buy dinner. The main supermarket chain is called Albert Hein and it’s pretty fantastic with fresh produce and a wide variety. It doesn’t really compare to Woolworths in South Africa, but I don’t think anything can!

6h00

6pm – Straight home to Uncle Jake who is here from Australia to landscape our garden and who has been working hard all day! I make dinner while the boys play or watch TV. I cook separately for the kids because my husband only gets home late and we eat then. Weekends are our family meal times. That’s the reality of an hour-long commute to the office unfortunately.

6h30

6:30pm – Playtime, bath and story. We all get into one bed and read a story. We just finished The Lion The Witch and the Wardrobe, and the boys were utterly enchanted. Now we are reading James and The Giant Peach which is such a great book. I love reading these books for the first time in almost 30 years!!

8h00

8:00pm – That’s it, days done. The boys have been asleep for a while already. I’ve cooked, my husband arrives home and we eat. If I need to finish up some work I do, but we usually watch an episode of something, maybe Outlander or Game of Thrones. I’m usually in bed by 10pm so I can get up early and do it all over again!

Thank you Lucille. The Hague was one of the places we applied for when we got this posting to Pretoria and although I love my South Africa life I can’t but help feel a little envious of this wonderful day with its cycling through greenary and runs on the beach!

Don’t forget to read the other posts in this series by clicking here.

Stories from Blogging Africa #2

Welcome to the second Blogging Africa link-up – this time hosted by my friend Frances over at her blog Africa Expat’s Wives Club. We were so pleased to have so many great posts on the last link-up and hope we can repeat this success this time.
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Beautiful African jacarandas in Pretoria

If you are blogging from this continent and would like to join the ‘party‘, then please click on  http://africaexpatwivesclub.com/?p=2699 .  All you need to do is click on the blue froggy to add a link your post (with a photo). Then grab the image code to place the Stories from Blogging Africa image link on the relevant post on your blog.
As you know, the idea is that we share the love by reading each other’s stories and leaving nice comments. This way we share/boost each other’s traffic and raise awareness of one another’s fab websites!
Please do let me know if you need anymore info, if not, see you there!

Exploring the Delightful, Dramatic Drakensbergs

A couple of months ago we took a wonderful African road trip to the Drakensbergs. Located a few hours south of Pretoria in Kwa-Zulu Natal (known colloquially as KZN), this region is renowned for its stunning scenery and mountainous terrain and it certainly did not disappoint. It wasn’t a long trip – just a few days to take a rest from the demands of city life – but the area was so beauiful we felt completely refreshed at the end of our break.

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We stayed at a quirkly little place called Antbear Lodge – where the rooms were all carved from wood but the views were as stunning as they come. We had originally booked this place because it was dog-friendly and we thought we might be able to bring our new puppy with us. But in the event he was too young for his first holiday so we left him behind (in good hands:) ), and enjoyed not having to get up at the crack of dawn to let him out for a pee. There were however other dogs on the property, as well as sheep, ducks, geese and -most exciting of all – horses for riding!

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We didn’t have a fixed agenda but were keen to explore the area a little as we hadn’t yet ventured to this part of South Africa. As it was, we found plenty to do – and the children just enjoyed the freedom to run around on the lodge grounds without restrictions of bars, fences, gates and locks…

One of the days we drove to an well-known paragliding site for my husband to chuck himself off a cliff. The drive turned into a bit of an adventure as the road up to the site was the narrowest, rockiest, steepest and downright most terrifying drive we have yet undertaken in this country. The panorama from the top was wonderful though and as my husband even managed to get a flight in, definitely worth the hassle to get there as this meant his mood was much improved:)

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Another day we drove to the Giant’s Castle reserve and walked up to look at some of the cave paintings – something that has been on my “to do” list since we got here. Since I managed to injure my ankle quite badly a few weeks before we went away I was quite nervous about the walk even though it wasn’t more than about one hour to get there. But by taking it easy and wearing “sensible footwear” I was fine and so glad that I did as the paintings are very special. They date back hundreds of years, with some a lot more recent – but are a great reminder that while life has been going on here for centuries, it’s only relatively recently that man has started to dramatically changed the landscape to what we know now. The views from the walk to and from the caves were also magnificent – the whole area reminds me of some sort of “garden of eden”and I can understand why it is such a popular hiking spot.

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As well as exploring nature we also made sure to have a bit of fun. On one morning we rode the lodge’s horses through the fields, admiring the view from a different angle and enjoying the fact that thanks to months of riding lessons this was the first time we could ride as a family without worrying about anyone falling off. Another day we visited the attractions on the famous “midlands meander” – a mix of local craft shops, fun things for the kids to do (candle dipping; archery etc) and foodie places to stock up on things like cheeses and biltong. We particularly enjoyed the chocolate dipping at Chocolate Heaven – seriously, what was there NOT to like about this place? It was a plateful of strawberries, biscuits, marshmallows, bananas, dried fruit and even chillis and biltong should you so wish – all dipped into suprisingly good Belgian chocolate. We walked away feeling a little sick but totally happy. We came to the Drakensbergs for the views; we found amazing chocolate. What more could we possibly ask for?

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Well there was one more suprise and this was something we hadn’t expected. At the end of the “meander” is a place called the “capture site” – the place where Nelson Mandela, masquarading as a chauffeur,  was finally captured after evading the apartheid forces for more than 17 months. The site has been turned into a small museum which was interesting enough on its own. But it is the extraordinary sculpture of Mandela’s head that only reveals itself to you as you take the “long road to freedom” path down the slope towards it that really made the stop worthwhile. Reading about the scultpure online I see there is all sorts of signficance to the number of steel bars used to make it etc. But really it doesn’t need explanation as it speaks for itself.

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And so ended our trip to the Drakensbergs – a wonderful, refreshing, beautiful area of the country that so many just rush past on the way to the coast. I hope we get the chance to return – it’s relatively close to Pretoria (relative being the size of the country) and we still want to try and drive up the famous Sani pass into Lesotho. But if we don’t make it back we will have many good memories to sustain us. Of beautiful views, magnificent sculptures and of course of delicious chocolate!

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As an expat, why I am voting to STAY in the EU

My country has been split over the past few months. Split by an issue whuch has revealed a fault line through the middle of the United Kingdom – a fault line which many of us didn’t even realise was there until this year, and a fault line that the whole country seems to be sliding into with a huge furour of anger and hatred and fear. It has not been pleasant and I would not wish an EU referendum on anyone.

But what it has done is make me take a long hard look at this institution we are fighting over, this huge behemoth with all its defects but also its benefits – the good, the bad and the ugly side of an institution I had assumed we would always be part of. An important part of – as one of the largest economies in Europe, we play a full and vital role in shaping the way the EU is run. A role we will no longer have if we leave, although we will still be affected by the decisions made by those who remain.

So the debate has raged – back and forth. The economy, immigration, faceless bureaucrats telling us what to do. How much we pay to the EU every week, what we could do with that money. The affect on businesses. What sort of a role we would have on the world stage if we left. Personalities and politicians taking sides. Friends and family split by the arguments – others turned off by the whole thing. But in the back of our minds, all knowing that this might be collectively the most important decision of our lifetime.

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So I know all the arguments. I have read as much as I can get my hands on. Right from the start I have always said that we don’t really know what will happen if we leave – this is an unprecedented situation and the claims from both sides are only based on best guesses. Economics is more of an art than a science and we can’t predict how people will act if we withdraw so there are still a lot more if, buts and maybes than definites in this debate.

But beyond the economics, the question of migration, the laws on bendy bananas and all the other nonsense that has been thrown at us over the past few years there is an issue which as an expat seals the deal for me. And that is that I want to be part of the world.

I realise I am luckier than most in that I have been able to travel all my life. I took my first plane ride before I can remember and I have lived on every main continent. I have visited more than 70 countries and that includes, as a wide-eyed teenager, the obligatory inter-railing trip around Europe.

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I love Europe. I love the beauty of Italy, the food of Spain, the efficiency of Germany. As a child we took holidays in the south of France, canal boats linking up towns where we could cycle to pick up baguettes for breakfast and practice our schoolgirl French. As a student I took part in sponsored hitch-hikes to Paris. I have stayed in Germany with old family friends, lived in Spain and Gibraltar, taken the children on holiday in the Netherlands. I once took a ferry to France for the day to stock up on wine. Another time I did an overnight boat trip to the Hook of Holland just because we could.

Like it or not, Europe is a part of us and I don’t want to lose that. But more than that, as a global citizen I don’t want to belong to a country that looks to the outside world like it is pulling up its drawbridge and isolating itself from everyone else. I love my country but I know it is not perfect – there is so much else out there, so much we should be part of. From food to culture to trade, we need to stay connected or we will be left behind. Not just economically but every other way as well. And it’s a two-way thing – we have so much to offer the rest of the world, why should we put up the walls and say no, we don’t want you? Because to the rest of the world this is what it will seem like we are doing if we vote to leave. In my expat life here in South Africa I am friends with people from all over the world. Many of these friends are Europeans. Proper friends, friends I am sure I will remain in touch with for the rest of my life. I have as much in common with them as I do with my friends back in England. To leave them, to symbolically tell them them we don’t want to be part of you – well, to me that is unthinkable.

This is why I (thanks to my proxy back home in the UK) will be voting to remain a part of the EU this week.