People who live in small places: Guernsey

I haven’t had a People Who Live in Small Places post for a while, although those I have done still get a lot of views. I have been focused on other things (specifically my series on depression) but couldn’t resist when Liz – who runs the Island Girl Writing website offering writing and editing services got in touch. Liz lives on an island just off the shore of my home country and one with a fascinating history. So please welcome Liz from Guernsey.

Hagen and Liz at Vazon Beach

Liz and husband Hagen

 

Hi Liz and thank you for being part of this series. First of all please tell me a bit about living in your small place.
I live on the island of Guernsey, a British crown dependency that lies approximately 25 miles from the French Normandy coast. In fact, on a clear day, you can see the French coastline with amazing clarity. Guernsey, along with Jersey and some lesser islands, make up the Channel Islands. Although Guernsey is a crown possession, the island has its own government, stamps and currency.

It also has a heavy French influence, owing to its historical association with (and proximity to) France. Official signs appear in both French and English, and many street names are French, too. It is definitely helpful if you speak French or can at least pronounce French words. I can do neither and this has resulted in some entertaining situations when I try to say my address to people.

There is also a local patois, called Guernésiais, that originates from an old Norman language. This patois is spoken primarily by the older generations here. Unfortunately, like most old languages, it is slowly dying out. Given my utter lack of success with French, I don’t have any immediate plans to be the lone individual to carry on the patois tradition.

View of Petit Bois Bay

View of Petit Bois Bay

Guernsey has several “claims to fame.”

• Victor Hugo took refuge in Guernsey when he was exiled from France. He wrote several of his best works here, and there is now a museum in the house he called home during his time on the island. The writer in me loves the local tie with literary greatness.
• Guernsey, along with the other Channel Islands, was the only British territory occupied by Germany during World War II. You can still find extensive evidence of this occupation around the entire island, in the form of abandoned bunkers, tunnels and the German Underground Military Hospital.
• Many corporations and wealthy individuals flock to Guernsey to take advantage of the generous tax breaks the island offers. Although Guernsey was traditionally an agricultural-based community, today the island is considered a tax haven and financial services represents one of the largest employment sectors on the island.
• During the reign of Queen Mary in the mid 1500s, three local women – one of whom was pregnant – were burned at the stake after being accused and convicted of heresy. These unfortunate women, whose guilt was rather questionable, represent the Channel Islands only known deaths directly attributed to the violent and gruesome reign of Bloody Mary.

And what are the good, and not so good, things about living there.
To understand both the good and bad about living on Guernsey, you have to start by understanding how small the island is. At just 30 square miles, with a maximum speed limit of 35 MPH islandwide (yes, you read that right) and a population exceeding 60,000, things can get quite crowded – and occasionally frustrating – here. Yes, we often have traffic jams on this quaint rock.

But let’s start with the good!

Guernsey is one of the safest places I’ve ever lived, and is the ideal place to raise children. (After all, it’s not like they’re going to sneak off to the big city…or pretty much anywhere else…without you knowing about it!) Not once since moving here have I been concerned about walking anywhere late at night or forgetting to lock the doors of the house.

The people are also, generally, quite helpful and polite, especially when they hear my American accent. They seem genuinely curious to know how an American ended up on their tiny rock, and they ask. All the time.

Guernsey also has stunningly beautiful scenery. From the rugged, towering cliffs on the island’s southern coastline to the soft, sandy beaches along the west coast, there is no shortage of scenic landscapes to enjoy. You can hike the cliff paths, take a dip in the invigorating water of a number of secluded, sandy coves or simply head to the beach and set up shop for the day.

The water here is deceptively Caribbean looking. Amazing shades of turquoise, cobalt and every shade in between sparkle and shimmer in every direction. Unfortunately, this beautiful water is also really cold! While I see other brave souls swimming here year-round, I’ve never made it past wading in up to my ankles – and that was in July. Still, relaxing at the beach on a sunny, midsummer day is a really lovely way to spend time.

Guernsey Cliffs With German Bunker

Guernsey Cliffs with German Bunker

But everything is not perfect here.

The biggest issue is the cost of living. I’ve lived on other islands, and understand that most things need to be shipped in (and that costs money), which increases the price of goods to levels not seen on the mainland. However, living on Guernsey goes beyond anything I’ve experienced before.

The primary driver is the cost of housing. Guernsey operates a two-tier housing system – differentiated as local or open market. While anyone can buy or live in open market housing here (and the price reflects this freedom…rents and sale prices for open market housing is significantly higher than local market houses), only “qualified residents” can live in or buy local market housing. The stinger is that even local market housing is shockingly expensive. I find housing prices overall to be on par with central London or Manhattan.

Besides the very high cost-of-living, it can also get very boring here. Especially in winter, when the skies are perpetually grey and it rains a lot. The inside joke here is that, on the weekends (especially Sundays…when most things are closed), the biggest decision you have to make is which direction to drive around the island, clockwise or anti-clockwise. We tend to alternate each week to keep things fresh. I wish I were kidding.

What do you find to do to occupy yourself in your spare time?
Besides the aforementioned tradition of circumnavigating the island each Sunday, we try and take advantage of good weather when we have it and explore the outdoors. We hike along the cliff paths, put on wetsuits and go standup paddle boarding, or just go for long walks and explore the quiet, quaint lanes. There is a lot of very pretty architecture to look at here, especially the old granite and stone cottages and manor houses.

St Peter Port

St Peter Port

How easy is it to “get away” and where do you escape to? Do you feel the need to escape?
It is both easy and difficult to get away. There are six direct flights daily to London Gatwick, as well as daily ferry service to both southern England and St. Malo, France. So getting off the island is not the problem, weather permitting. Fog or heavy seas tend to disrupt travel quite often.

Unfortunately, time and money are factors in how often we can actually get away. We don’t get off the island as often as we’d like. Ideally, one weekend off the island each month would be perfect to stave off island fever. A quick trip to London is pretty common here, as is taking your car on the ferry to France and then exploring the continent.

We managed a long weekend in Paris in the fall, a trip to the southwest coast of England, and a few trips to London since moving here. In a pinch, we sometimes hop on the local inter-island ferry for a 20-minute boat ride to Herm Island, a tiny, sparsely populated neighboring island with beautiful beaches, walking paths and a fun pub. When you are on Herm, it seems like a million miles away from Guernsey, yet you can be home by dinner time, refreshed and rejuvenated.

Guernsey and Herm Aerial

Guernsey and Herm ariel view

What is the local community like? Have you felt welcomed?
I feel that, overall, people have been welcoming to me. Perhaps this is because I’m somewhat of a novelty, as one of the few Americans living here relative to overall population. It also helps that my husband was born and raised here, so he knows a lot of people and I sort of integrated naturally. I’m not sure if I would have experienced the same thing had I arrived here without him.

I do find people here to be more reserved than people in other places I’ve lived. While I know a lot of people, I still haven’t found those one or two really good friends that I usually find quickly when I move someplace new.

What advice would you give to someone thinking about moving to your island or somewhere similar?
First and foremost, make sure you have enough financial resources to live at your desired standard of living here. Things are expensive, more expensive than you may imagine. Feeling trapped here or being limited in what you can do because of a lack of resources is a fast way for the island to quickly lose its luster.

Also, be sure you can live with the limited options for entertainment found here. You won’t get first-run movies in the theater here. There are not too many plays or concerts where you’ll see international performers. The few museums here are more concerned with local history than acquiring or displaying exhibits of famous works. If you prefer warm, sunny weather for your outdoor pursuits, you will be hard-pressed to get that most of the year.

If, however, you are looking for a slower, quieter, simpler lifestyle and you don’t mind occasionally feeling a bit isolated, then Guernsey might be the perfect place.

Kitesurfing in Guernsey

Kitesurfing in Guernsey

Can you tell me a bit about yourself and why/how you came to be living in your small space.
Originally from a small town in the Midwestern United States, I became an expat in 2011 when I moved to the Southern Caribbean island of Bonaire. One day shortly after moving to the island, I met a guy on the beach who told me he was from the island of Guernsey.

Before he could explain where his home country was, I confidently stated that it was the place where Guernsey cows come from and that there was probably another island nearby called Jersey, where Jersey cows come from. My years growing up in farming country finally paid off! Apparently, he found my bovine knowledge impressive and asked me on a date. The rest is history, I suppose. We got married in 2013 with dreams of growing and old watching Caribbean sunsets together.

Unfortunately, family circumstances demanded we return unexpectedly to Guernsey. So in 2014 we packed up our breezy, sun-filled Caribbean house, shipped a container north and settled into a new life in the Channel Islands. Despite being perpetually cold and pale, we are enjoying our time on this little rock.
About the Author: Liz Wegerer is a writer, wanderer and self-professed citizen of the world. After growing up and pursuing a traditional life in the U.S., she gave it all up to travel and experience life outside her comfort zone. After four years kite surfing and scuba diving in the Southern Caribbean, she headed north to a tiny rock off the coast of France to test the waters there – she discovered they are…cold. Not content to stay in one place too long, her backpack and passport are always ready for the next challenge. After all, as long as she has her trusty Macbook, she can write from anywhere.

You can follow her adventures at www.lizwegerer.com.

People Who Live in Small Places #10: Roatan

I am so glad I started this series because I am finding out about so many interesting and beautiful places – and have so many people I can now look up if I ever decide to visit! The latest Small Place is a teeny sland off the coast of Honduras. Known as a holiday and diving destination extraordinaire, it’s certainly on my list of places to get to one day. Contributer Deb blogs at Mermaid on a Raft and has this to say about herself:
I am a 60 something retired banker. I used to wear fancy clothes and high heels every day. I used to do my job work at home because there wasn’t enough time in the day. When our kids were grown and on their own, we flew the coop and moved to a small island. We came here for vacation for 7 years, then finally made the move. It’s not always dolphins and gorgeous sunrises but it’s pretty damn good. Life on a rock is always different and interesting.
By the way, I wear as few clothes as possible now, no more fancy bras (only wear one in public because I must) and no high heels, ever again. Most days you can find me in flip flops (I have 7 pairs) a short cotton skirt and the loosest shirt I can find. I often only wear a handful of clothes for weeks on end..Life has changed.
I’ve wanted to be Ariel the mermaid since I can remember, so living here and being able to fulfill my “mermaid fascination with the sea” on a whim is pure magic for me.
Rock life is not for everyone BUT it may be for you..
So now we know a bit about Deb, let’s hear about her island:

First of all, can you tell me a bit about your “small place.”

We have lived on the island of Roatan Honduras since October of 2013. The island itself is approximately 40 miles off the coast of Central America and it is about 35 miles long and 5 miles wide at the widest point. The island is surrounded by the 2nd largest barrier reef in the world, the Meso-American reef, which makes Roatan a divers paradise. There are well over 80,000 people living on this rock. There are no chain stores, except Ace Hardware, no chain restaurants and the shopping is mainly tourist related items as we have 2 cruise ship docks. During the winter months there are often 5 cruise ships here on one day, adding 10-15,000+ more people A DAY. Cruise ships are a huge part of the islands economy.

And what are the good and not so good things about living there?
The good things about living here are the slower pace of life, the gorgeous sea and reef that surrounds us, the nice island people and the simpler lifestyle. It’s so different from living in the states where everyone dresses to impress, drives big flashy cars and spends more money than they make. Living here, the only place we spend a lot of money is buying groceries and dog food. The bad things about living here are the slower pace of life (yes I said it was a good thing but not when you are trying to get someone to finish a job for you), the limited items in the grocery stores, fresh peaches, yummy strawberries, never..Often times it is very difficult to find the simplest things, and when you do find them they are 4 times the price that they were in the states. Overall, the good outweighs the bad. You learn to make do or do without.

 
What do you find to do to occupy yourself in your spare time?

I have very little spare time; to begin with I have 3 four month old puppies, a 9 month old puppy, an almost 3 year old dog and another dog that has 3 legs, maybe 3-4 years old and is the mother of the puppies (she had 7 but I found homes for 4). She was pregnant when I rescued her, had to have her leg amputated then she blessed us with the pups. All of my dogs are rescues. I also have a cat. I spend a lot of time cleaning up dog poop and feeding and cleaning up after the dogs.

I am also very involved in a group here on the island called Because We Care. We provide food and Christmas gifts for over 1500 families during the holidays, we fit over 9000 pairs of TOMS shoes this year so far to needy school children, we give out school supplies and back packs and we also raise money for school desks. The government does not do anything for the schools, many kids have to stand for classes or sit on big bags of beans or rice. Today we are delivering more desks to a school and passing out flip flops to the kids.

I also am a volunteer for Helping Paws Across Borders. They are vets and vet techs from all over the US, Belize and the Bahamas who come here and do free shots, spay and neuter, flea and tick and mange management and treat all other type of medical situations for animals. This last trip they even neutered a pig! They left their meds here so a friend and I have been setting up shop weekly and we do shots, clean ears, remove ticks, de-worm and treat for fleas and mange and ringworm. The vets were here in Feb., July and are coming in November again. I also volunteer on art days at a school called Cattleya. It is for mentally challenged or physically handicapped kids. They have downs, autism, some can’t walk well or talk, it’s a great school. They even take them to Zumba classes, so much fun. And last but not least I volunteer for the Bay Islands Visitors Association as a greeter at the International airport. I work two, sometimes 3 Saturdays a month and am the first person people see when they enter our immigration building. It’s great fun getting to meet people from all over the world. When I do have spare time I am kayaking, snorkeling and am waiting for some extra spare time for my dive refresher course so I can start diving again.

How easy is it to “get away” and where do you escape to? Do you feel the need to escape?

I have been back to the states only 3 times in 2 years, to see my elderly parents. We actually are very limited to where we can go because of the animals. Either my husband or I have to be here to take care of them, so escaping is not something we do. At this point in the game, we don’t feel the need to escape, it’s pretty serene here. That could change in a few years but if we have had a hectic week or two we go to the beach with some beers and chill.

What is the local community like? Have you felt welcomed?

There is a huge, well connected ex-pat community on this island. We have friends from the west end to the east end. (we are middle islanders) There are several ex-pat hang outs and everyone is welcomed. The east-enders have Mondays Don’t Suck days at a beach, Fridays it BJ’s where the Banditos play music and people dance and enjoy each others company. There is a lot to do, but we are usually too busy to do all the partying stuff. We have also found the islanders to be fabulous people and are very close to many of them. They are warm, kind, happy people who live very simple lives but would still give you the shirt off of their back if you needed it. We are very proud to be able to call some islanders our best friends, people we totally trust. The woman who runs Because We Care is an islander and one of the most incredible women I have ever met, I adore her.

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What advice would you give to someone thinking about moving to your small place or somewhere similar?

RESEARCH, RESEARCH, RESEARCH. We have several friends that built or bought homes on one end of the island but they prefer the lifestyle on the other end of the island so they spend a couple hours each day driving to where they would rather be. Visit the island for a few weeks, stay in resorts in different locations, talk to people, go to the ex-pat hangouts, look at the different areas of the island and what they offer. Island living is certainly not for everyone, many think it is paradise but after a few years are disillusioned, unhappy and they leave. It is what it is.

Can you tell me a bit about yourself and why/how you came to be living in your small place?

After out 2 sons were grown and on their own my husband and I began traveling to different islands for a few years. Once we were PADI certified for diving we traveled more, to Mexico, the Caribbean and the South Pacific for several years. We considered a few places in Mexico but the difficulty in actually owning land there was an issue. I have always wanted to live on an island, I love everything about being near the water. In 2007 on a whim we came to Roatan.

I had been reading and researching the island for a long time and was interested in retiring there. We contacted a reputable realtor, met him the second day here and traveled up and down this island looking for land or a house. He took us to a piece of land and we fell in love with the view. After seeing more properties and homes we kept coming back to this one piece of land. We made an offer and it was accepted before we went home.

My husband and I both had very stressful jobs in corporate America, working 45-50 hours a week was normal. Fast forward to November 2012, I had hand surgery and was no longer able to do my job so I retired and I moved to Roatan alone with my cat for 4 months to get a feel for the island. We were at the point of starting to build our home so the groundwork began. After 4 months on the island, I went back to the US with my cat and a dog I had rescued down here. We sold our home on 30 acres, our cars, dump truck, tractor, airplane, most of my husbands tools and all of our furniture. My husband made 10 crates filled with the things we wanted to bring, clothes, artwork, tools, things that meant something to us and we shipped that down by boat from Texas right before we were leaving.

On October 26, 2013 we packed up 2 dogs and a cat, 5 checked bags, 4 carry-ons, drove to Seattle, boarded a plane and moved to the island. We rented right next to where we were building and in March of 2014, we moved into the first floor of the house and July of 2014 we moved upstairs, there are  much better views of both sides of the island from the second floor. We also have a rooftop deck with amazing views of sunrise and sunset. The lower level is a guest condo. The house is a work in progress, still have some kitchen shelves to build, we are building a workshop for my husbands tools and a pool for me to do my mermaid thing in. I also blog at www.mermaidonaraft.com. My blog is filled with my take on our island life. As the saying on the rock goes, “You can’t make this s*it up”.
Thank you Deb for another fantastic contribution to my series about people who live in small places. If you want to read more in this series then do click on the tag below. And if you live somewhere small (an island, a village, a rock…) and would like to feature on this blog, then do get in touch 🙂

People Who Live in Small Places #9: St Croix

Following my previous Caribbean-related Small Places post (about the tiny island of Virgin Gorda), I was contacted by several other Caribbean-island dwellers keen to tell their own stories. To date, only one has come up with the goods – although I am still hopeful I will eventually hear back from the others; I just assume they’re all working on “island time”. So today’s post comes from Marina, who lives on the enigmatically-named St Croix in the US Virgin islands. Marina has her own blog – St Croix Beach Bum; but if that hasn’t sated your appetite for finding out more about this intrepid adventurer, she was also featured in the local island rag. In the meantime, over to Marina to tell us more about life in her Small Place:

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First of all, can you tell me a bit about your ‘small place’
St. Croix, US Virgin Islands is 28 miles by 7 miles and it is actually the biggest of the US Virgin Islands. With 50,000 people who live here, the island is warm, breezy, beautiful and very friendly. Owned by seven different nations, the Danes owned the US Virgin Islands for almost 200 years right before it was sold to the United States in 1916, so there is a lot of Danish history here as well.

And what are the good, and not so good, things about living there?
The people of St. Croix are warm and very friendly so making friends is very easy. It’s hard to walk down the street without having a full conversation with a stranger or seeing at least a few people that you just met. The sun is always shining and the beaches are always beautiful and the water is always clear.

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I’s hard to think about things that aren’t so good but we don’t have a lot of stores so if you need to have a Starbucks or Dunkin Donuts in the morning, that’s not happening here because these stores just don’t exist on the island. The same goes for most clothing chain stores and chain restaurants. But there are plenty of local bakeries and local clothing stores.

What to you find to do to occupy yourself in your spare time?
There is so much to do here that sometimes living here is exhausting. There is always a new beach to explore and snorkelling to do. There are also a lot of ruins on the island so I discover new ruins that I haven’t seen before daily. And there is also horseback riding, animals that just stroll on the side of the road and tons of crafting and street fairs going on weekly. Locals and tourists alike think of watching the sunrise (at the Eastern most point of the United States) and watching the sunset on the west side of the island an activity in itself (I do it weekly).

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How easy is it to “get away” and where do you escape to? Do you feel the need to escape?
My move here was my escape so I just want to stay here and I never feel like I need to get away. But when I want to be awed, I go watch the sunset on the west side of the island and then I watch hundreds of stars shine in a sky not touched by city light.

What is the local community like? Have you felt welcomed?
The locals are extremely welcoming and happy to invite visitors and new residents alike to see the island through their eyes. Even the new locals try very hard to make everyone feel comfortable and happy to be on island. It’s hard not to enjoy island life when the locals are so friendly and helpful.

What advice would you give to someone thinking about moving to your (small place – eg island, village etc), or somewhere similar?

Enjoy your new home for what it is and don’t try to make it into a better version of what you left behind. It’s really important to accept the culture and surroundings of the new place because if you can’t do that, the whole experience will become really frustrating quickly. I accept the quirks of this island and I laugh them off because there are so many great things about living here and I can’t imagine not having this experience.

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Can you tell me a bit about yourself (and your family if you have one with you) and why/how you came to be living in your small place?
I was living in Illinois and working as an attorney when I felt a strong need to change my life. Once I started researching, I felt a pull for a better quality of life and St. Croix came up as one of the first candidates in my search. When I came to this island to visit, I knew that I belonged here and I have been having the time of life ever since.

Thanks Marina for this insight into your life on a small island. I hope you continue to enjoy your life – it’ll be interesting to see how things go for you in the coming months and maybe even years! Do come back and check in with us again at some point 🙂

Please let me know if you live in a Small Place and would like to feature in this series. In the meantime, use the People Who Live in Small Places tag to find out how other people live in their Small Place.

TingNewBlue

People Who Live in Small Places #8: Brunei (and no that’s not next to Dubai)

Huge thanks to Liz at Secrets of a Trailing Spouse who has kindly volunteered details about her life in the small country of Brunei for my occasional series People Who Live in Small Places. Brunei is one of those places that many have heard of – but few could place on a map. It sounds like it belongs somewhere in the Middle East whereas in fact it’s very firmly in South East Asia. So, to find out more, over to Liz:

Thanks for being part of this series, Liz. First of all, can you tell me a bit about your ‘small place’

Brunei Darussalam is a small country nestled between two Malaysian states on the island of Borneo. It has a population of around 400,000 and a land mass of 5675 square kilometres. Brunei has an equatorial climate and is mainly covered in rainforest. Many people have no idea where it is, and often think I live in Dubai

And so what are the good, and not so good, things about living there?

Brunei’s nickname is the ‘abode of peace’, and on the plus side it really is tranquil here: things move at their own pace, there is little crime, few crowds and a great sense of community. There is some beautiful primary rainforest, and very little tourism so you can really feel alone in there (apart from the wildlife). It’s sunny all year round and the whole of South-East Asia is on our doorstep – we have had some fantastic travel opportunities since moving here. The cost of living is fairly cheap so there’s plenty left over for some holidays of a lifetime!

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Brunei consists mainly of rainforest

I’ve always preferred to live in a ‘quiet’ place, yet this took on a whole new meaning when we moved to Brunei! It is such a small country that it takes less than two hours to drive from one end to the other (and would take even less time if the roads were better). Most of the expats live on camp in close proximity to one another so there is a real sense of community, although it can get a bit too close sometimes – when I got pregnant pretty much everyone knew because I stopped drinking, although they were kind enough to not ask me about it until I was ready to announce the news.

The small population means that there is very little to do in terms of anything – shopping, entertainment, culture… In Brunei you have to make your own entertainment, which brings me on to the next question.

What to you find to do to occupy yourself in your spare time?

There are many other ‘trailing spouses’ here; due to restrictions with work permits it is very difficult for spouses to legally gain employment, but as a result there are numerous clubs and societies to reflect the diverse interests of an international community. Pre-baby I spent a lot of my time volunteering, and I still help out with the Brownies (Girl Guides aged 7-10) as well as chairing the library. There is a club for the expats which has an outdoor swimming pool, gym, restaurants and events held by the different sections. There are also a large number of exercise classes, and a lot of very fit people around!

Entertainment is self-made but there are people here from all walks of life and with all kinds of qualifications, which means that there is a lot going on.

Enjoying a beer in a ‘bar’ – the fact that this photo is several years old shows how rare an occurrence that is in Brunei!

Enjoying a beer in a ‘bar’ – the fact that this photo is several years old shows how rare an occurrence that is in Brunei!

When my son was born it was a bit like moving here all over again as I swapped my old routine for one full of baby groups and playdates. It is a bit more restrictive now in terms of getting out and about; due to the very high temperatures and mosquitoes I do not spend nearly as much time outside as I would like to. But there are plenty of activities for the little ones to attend.

How easy is it to “get away” and where do you escape to? Do you feel the need to escape?

Yes, I certainly feel the need to escape! Living in Brunei is wonderful, most of the time. But the longer I spend here, the more I start to miss things like theatre, music, eating out in good restaurants, going to a bar… And the need to escape builds up. Sometimes just a weekend away to Singapore for a culture binge is enough, other times a longer holiday to somewhere with nice toilets and good shops… My priorities have certainly changed since living here! Luckily it is pretty easy to get away, although usually you need to change flights at one of the main hubs such as Kuala Lumpur or Singapore, which makes the journey time add up. For a quick fix, we can drive across the border to Miri in Malaysia in one and a half hours for a weekend getaway. Our most recent escape was to Japan, but we are in easy flying distance to many beautiful destinations such as Thailand, Vietnam, Bali… Sadly too many places to visit on a four year posting!

Enjoying some time outside in Japan

Enjoying some time outside in Japan

What is the local community like? Have you felt welcomed?

The Brunians are tremendously welcoming, as is the rest of the expat community. I was nervous about moving initially as I can be quite shy and usually struggle to make friends to begin with in a new place. But it took only a couple of months before I had settled in here and made some good friends. Because the turnover of expats is quite high in Brunei, with most contracts lasting four years or less, friendships are much more fluid and tend to progress faster – it is not uncommon to be invited round to someone’s house after only one meeting, and the numerous clubs and societies mean that it’s easy to meet people without having to go out of your way. Although the official language of Brunei is Malay, most people speak English, which makes everything so much easier.

What advice would you give to someone thinking about moving to your (small place – eg island, village etc), or somewhere similar?

Try to manage your expectations. I know of some people who have turned up here and absolutely hated it because they have spent all their time comparing it to their home or previous postings. There are many challenges of living in such a small place, but you get used to it after a while and you can always ship anything that you can’t find. Lastly, the internet is a life-line when you live in a small place, but make sure you switch up and venture out of the house sometimes!

Monkeying around with the internet connection

Monkeying around with the internet connection

Can you tell me a bit about yourself (and your family if you have one with you) and why/how you came to be living in your small place?

My husband works for an oil company and we moved in 2011 when he applied for a job abroad and was awarded a post in Brunei. My son was born last year (in Brunei) and has just turned one. I used to work as an English teacher in the UK before we moved, but I found that I soon got used to being a trailing spouse and now you would have to persuade me to give it up and return to work! Our contract is up at the end of this year, so we will be moving on to a new (bigger) place soon if all goes to plan.

Thank you so much Liz! I’ve certainly learned a lot about a country I knew very little about. Good luck with wherever you move on to next! Please don’t forget to check out my other Small Places blogs by clicking on the tag below – and let me know if you live somewhere small and would like to be featured right here on this blog 🙂

TingNewBlue

People Who Live in Small Places #7: The *tiny* island of Virgin Gorda in the British Virgin Islands

I first came across Chrissann via her brilliant website, Women Who Live on Rocks. Maybe it’s something you can only really appreciate if you have been a woman who has lived on a rock (as I used to on St Lucia), but it was so reassuring to find out I wasn’t the only one living this crazy island life. Chrissann, who lives on a teeny tiny speck in the Caribbean surrounded by so few people I am guessing they all know each other pretty well by now, was happy to volunteer details of her life on such a small island. Small it may be, but they say the best things come in small packages and I am sure a few of you reading this will be dreaming of moving there right away. However, as all readers of this site know, living on a very small island – however beautiful it is – is not always a holiday! So, over to Chrissann to tell us about her island.

VG wall handstand

Thank you for agreeing to be interviewed for this series, Chrissann. First of all, could you tell me a bit about your ‘small place’

I live on the island of Virgin Gorda in the British Virgin Islands. It is 8 square miles with a population of around 3,000.

What are the good, and not so good, things about living there?

For me, they are one and the same: it’s a very small island. On one hand, I love the small size because it’s quiet, people are generally kind to one another (my theory: in large part because everyone knows each other, or at least with one or two degrees of separation), there’s never any traffic or congestion, and you never feel smothered by the sheer degree of people you’re typically surrounded by 24/7 in cities. However, with the small size comes its downsides – lack of variety (most of the restaurants all serve a similar menu; few boutiques to shop in, mostly just tourist shops with souvenirs) and lack of “real world” activity options (no coffee shops or movie theaters or fitness studios, etc.)

VG beach

What to you find to do to occupy yourself in your spare time?

I am fortunate to have a great group of friends on island who are a blast to spend time with – whether it’s hiking, paddle boarding, yoga nights, taking turns hosting dine-arounds, boating trips, etc. I also really enjoy my alone time to read, float in the pool, or do little artsy projects. My current obsession is my mermaid tail – it is pure magic to swim in it.

mermaid life

How easy is it to “get away” and where do you escape to? Do you feel the need to escape?

It’s relatively easy (though a bit pricey) to get in and out of this area. Island hopping nearby is always fun for weekend trips, with Puerto Rico being a particular fav due to it feeling more like a big city (Shopping! Great restaurants! Dancing!). For longer trips, I like to cure the “rock fever” and head to places with a greater variety of options not available on my island. I tend to seek out all the things I miss sometimes like going to the movies, the theatre, comedy clubs, etc. I just got back from a girl’s trip to NYC and it was so much fun to be able to walk everywhere and have so many activities to choose from at all hours of the day and night.

What is the local community like? Have you felt welcomed?

Overall, people are pretty friendly here. My boyfriend had lived here for years before we met and I joined him, so it was easier to make connections that he had already established. This country is pretty protective of its citizens, so working or doing anything entrepreneurial is challenging to say the least, which can be frustrating at times. But yes, I have felt welcomed mostly and I love this little community in many ways.

Paddleboarding

What advice would you give to someone thinking about moving to your island, or somewhere similar?

Just come into it knowing that it’s not for everyone. Keep an open mind and be kind to yourself if you struggle – you won’t be a failure if you decide island life is not for you, it’s certainly not for everyone. I think the people who tend to have the most trouble adjusting here are the ones who constantly compare it to what their life was like elsewhere. If you accept this place as a unique adventure and embrace all the positives it has to offer, you’ll have a lot more fun for however long you end up staying.

VG

Finally, can you tell me a bit about yourself and why/how you came to be living in your small place?

I am originally from the SF Bay Area in California. I used to work in sales for Marriott hotels and had the opportunity to move to St. Thomas in the US Virgin Islands in 2006. I worked there for a few years then, through some mutual friends, met and fell in love with my current boyfriend, David. I moved up to the British Virgin Islands to be with him, as he operates a resort here. Check out Saba Rock – a really one-of-a-kind slice of paradise!

Chrissann Nickel headshot

I am the Creator and Editor in Chief of the humorous island life website, Women Who Live on Rocks. I am also a freelance writer and yoga instructor. My personal website is chrissannnickel.com.

Thank you so much Chrissann for agreeing to be interviewed for this series. I think this may beat all the others in terms of population, if not size. Please check out the other posts in this series – including Mayotte, Gibraltar, a small village in France, the Seychelles, a small European town in the Netherlands, and the small Scottish island of Unst. And don’t forget to let me know if you live somewhere small and would like to feature in this series!

People Who Live in Small Places #6: The Scottish island of Unst

I’m so excited about this entry into my Small Places series because it’s in my own country! As I’ve posted this series, I have learnt so much about so many different places. But when you get a post like this you realise how many places there are really close to where you live that you just knew nothing about! To be honest, the northern islands of Scotland are as alien to me as some of my other “small places” (in fact, I have visited the Seychelles and lived in Gibraltar so they are a lot less alien!), which is what makes this post so fascinating.

A joint mother-daughter effort, this post about Unst, a small Scottish island, comes to you courtesy of Rhoda (mum) and Morag (daughter). Morag blogs at Wir Unst Family.

Please tell me a bit about your “small place”


Unst is an island in Shetland. It is Britain’s most northerly inhabited island and is closer to Norway than the mainland of Scotland. Often when you see a map that includes Shetland, it is in a box due East of Aberdeen, but that’s not actually where it is! There is a whole facebook group determined to get Shetland correctly on maps!

Unst has an interesting geology with multiple bands of different types of rock, all found in the area of Unst which is only 12 miles long. As a result of this diverse geology Unst has a wide variety of habitats giving a rich diversity of flora and fauna. Having said that, trees are not in abundance on the island, due to the combination of wind and salt air.

There is however, a small wood planted by a renowned Botanist, Dr Laurence Edmondston, in the mid-1800s which has a sheltering wall around it, and so the trees are a decent size. This attracts bird life that prefers trees, although there is a huge range of birdlife which arrives on Unst, some native, some migratory.Unst is often the first land mass they reach on the way south from the Arctic. Over the years we have also played host to some rarities that were blown significantly off course. As you might therefore imagine, Unst is very much a bird watcher’s paradise.

Unst is the home of some unique flora, one of which was discovered by Thomas Edmondston, and named Edmondston’s Chickweed . It only grows on the island of Unst, and no where else in the world. Unst, as with other places in Shetland, has a good population of Shetland ponies, and Shetland sheep. The Shetland breeds of ponies and sheep are smaller and hardier than their mainland counterparts, to better survive the conditions, especially the winter winds. The same has also been said of the people!

ShetlandPonies

Shetland Pony and Foal. Taken at Uyeasound, Unst

What are the good – and not so good – things about living there?

As I suspect may be true on many small islands, Unst is fortunate to have a thriving and close community which pulls together in hard times, and celebrates together in good times. This has obvious good points, the rallying spirit when things go wrong, recent examples include the community pulling together to protest the possible school closures; but also has some not so good points, because everyone knows your business.

Many facets of life have a good and bad side because of isolated island life. Take a simple thing like produce for example, on the one hand there are still many small-holding farmers (crofters are they are called in the Highlands and Islands) who grow vegetables, so you can get produce such as potatoes, cabbage, and turnips which were grown locally, but then, because of the isolation, other things that won’t grow in Shetland, such as fruit, costs more due to freight prices.This has encouraged the creation of a small business on the island, The Unst Market Garden, which produces salad plants, fruit and vegetables in a poly-tunnel.

Unst is an island in between the North Sea and the Altantic and so its weather is very much at the mercy of the elements. Due to being surrounded by the sea, the temperatures are mild, winters, although cold and sometimes snowy, are not anywhere near the harsh winters of the North East of the U.S.A., although the wind chill factor does makes it feel colder than the recorded temperature might otherwise advertise.

In summer we have long light evenings, the Simmer Dim as it is known, and around the longest day, the sun barely sets. We are at 60°North, on a level with the South of Greenland. The reverse is of course true in the winter time when children come home from school in the dark. The on-line shopping revolution has made a huge difference to isolated places such as Unst, so you can order things online that you couldn’t buy on the island. However, there are also some marvellous shops on the island that stock a whole range of goods, and islanders are very good at supporting these shops with their custom because we know that if we don’t support them, we will lose them.

What do you find to occupy yourself in your spare time?

The Oil boom of the 1970s saw Leisure Centres being built all round Shetland, so the island of Unst, with a current population of 600 people, has a Leisure Centre with a 12.5m pool, squash court, three badminton counts, and a gym which is actively used by the community and the school which is located right across the road. Each village on the island has a community hall which is used for events, agricultural shows, evening dances, weddings, and even regular fish and chips nights. These events are always well attended.

ShowVegetables

Winning Veg entry in the Unst Agricultural Show

Since retiring as Britain’s most northerly head teacher, Rhoda had become involved with the Unst Heritage Centre and the Unst Boat Haven which are run by volunteers on a trust. She helps with researching new topics for display at the centre as well as helping to create unique books about the history of the island and the knitting heritage. Many people come to the centre looking for family history information as well, and Morag is currently working on a complete Unst family tree to supplement what is in the centre for those visitors.

Once a week, Rhoda also runs a Fairtrade shop every Saturday afternoon. She says the rest of her spare time, which isn’t a lot (you’re supposed to be retired mum!) is spent reading, walking and visiting friends.

UnstBoatHaven

The Unst Boat Haven has a unique display of Shetland Boats

How easy is it to “get away” and where do you escape to? Do you feel the need to escape?

The north isles of Shetland (Unst, Yell and Fetlar) are linked to the mainland of Shetland by ro-ro ferries, which run regularly through the day. To take a day-trip to Lerwick, the capital town of Shetland, is about a couple of hours from Unst. To travel further afield, there is the choice of the overnight boat from Lerwick to Aberdeen, or the plane from Sumburgh, the southern-most tip of Shetland. In the winter, the seas can be rough, so beware sea-sickness. The planes can be affected by strong winds, but the pilots who man the flights to Shetland are quite amazing, and seem to be able to land them in all sorts of weather.However, Morag feels she has spent many extra hours in airports when travelling to and from Shetland in the winter, due to bad weather delays.

In the summer, seas and air flow is much calmer, but sometimes too calm and the flights can be disrupted as much, if not more, by fog in the summer, than any bad weather in the winter. When Rhoda traveled south for Morag’s wedding, they made sure there were a few extra days before the wedding in case of any summer travel delays. Rhoda still likes to get away from the island to see other places, mainly to visit friends and family. She does notice less need to escape than she had in her younger years. Internet shopping has meant that getting to shops is less of a draw than it previously was.

Puffins

Caption: Puffins come on land for only three weeks a year. Taken at Hermaness, Unst

What advice would you give to someone thinking of moving to the island?

The island of Unst has been very used to a flexible population for centuries. In the late 1800s the herring fishing season saw a huge influx of herring fishermen and herring gutter lassies for several months. The population swelled from 500 in the village of Baltasound to 12,000! More recently in the 1950s, there was an RAF early warning radar base on Unst, which brought a new population of RAF families to the island, increasing the population and filling the schools. This base was decommissioned after 2000 and the population decreased accordingly. Nowadays the population is a mix of native Shetlanders and people who have chosen the island life.

If you’re thinking about moving to the island, come to visit in the summer, but also in the winter. Island life draws many people because of the quiet, slower pace of life. Make sure you can cope with this slower pace of life. Winter weather is possibly the hardest thing to cope with for those who aren’t used to it.

WhiteSandyBeach

Caption: Skeotaing Beach – wouldn’t look out of place in the Med, a few degrees cooler though!

Can you tell me a bit about yourself, and your mum?

Rhoda has lived on Unst all her life, apart from attending school in Lerwick which required staying in the school accommodation for a term at a time, and a brief spell in Aberdeen at Teacher training college. She returned to the island as a qualified teacher and got a post teaching at the Baltasound school. Later in her teaching career she became Britain’s most northerly head teacher at the Haroldswick school. When the Haroldswick School closed, the building was re-purposed as the Unst Heritage Centre and Rhoda was back in her old stomping ground.

Morag is Rhoda’s daughter and also grew up in Unst (after being born in the hospital in Lerwick) and lived there until she went to school in Lerwick (which by this time was weekly boarding rather than whole term boarding as it was when her mum went). After finishing secondary school in Lerwick, she went to University in St. Andrews and then got a job in Hampshire. Although she doesn’t currently live in Unst, she is still in regular contact with friends and family who still live there, and is trying to put together a complete Unst Family Tree.

Thank you so much Rhoda and Morag for this fascinating insight into life on a small, Scottish island. I hope one day to visit! In the meantime don’t forget to check out my earlier People Who Live in Small Places posts: Mayotte, Gibraltar, a small village in France, the Seychelles and a small country in Europe. And if you live somewhere small, and would like to feature in this series, get in touch!

People Who Live in Small Places #5: The Netherlands

When I started this series, I wasn’t sure what I would end up with. I started with Mayotte, simply because I had never heard of it so thought it would be interesting to hear about life there from someone who actually lived there. But while in the process of putting together those first set of questions, I kept coming back to my own experience of living in a “small place” and how similar life must be in Mayotte as it was for me in St Lucia – despite being half a world apart. So the concept of People Who Live in Small Places was born. Since then, I have branched out to include a small rock (Gibraltar), a small village (in France) and a small series of islands (the Seychelles). And then when I spotted a blog called Small European Country I knew I had to ask the owner to contribute. It turns out the small country in question is the Netherlands – and Michael is the blogger. So here it is, yet another take on what it is like to live in a small place.

Small places Netherlands 1_1

Thanks for helping me with this, Michael. First of all, can you tell me a bit about your ‘small place’
I live in Rotterdam, a city of over half a million people which can hardly be called a “small place”. It is, however, in the Netherlands, which is a small European country, so you can say that I live in a small place. What I love about living in Rotterdam is that it is a no-nonsense city, where attitudes and poses are not appreciated, it is a rough-around-the-edges port city.

And what are the good, and the not so good, things about living there?
The Netherlands is a very colourful country to live in – the Dutch countryside still looks much like a classic Golden Age landscape painting, and the spring flower colours are amazing. The living standard is quite high, and its a great place for children – playground facilities are superb here! I love cycling so of course I enjoy the world-famous Dutch cycling infrastructure. The downside is that it is a very crowded country, with little wild nature. Especially in Rotterdam, where there is a lot of industry, the air is rather polluted and the roads are very congested.

Dutch cycling infrastructure is superb

What to you find to do to occupy yourself in your spare time?
As I mentioned, I like cycling, and in the weekends I often go for a ride. I am also a runner, and in the summer I participate in triathlons (not the full one, but the shorter versions). Writing is my creative outlet. Besides my own blog about the living in a small European country, I also write about my favourite spots in Rotterdam for Spotted By Locals.

I have two children one 2 years old and another 2 months old, and they of course keep me busy, so my spare time activities have in the past two years been more centred on playgrounds and petting zoo’s. We do go to museums and exhibitions together. The Netherlands has probably the highest density of museums in the world – there’s a museum here for everything! I have a so-called Rotterdam Pas, which gives me free access to museums in and around the city, so even if the children’s attention span is only half an hour, its still affordable to visit museums.

The Utrecht canals on a sunny day are packed with boats

How easy is it to “get away” and where do you escape to? Do you even feel the need to escape?
As most small European countries, the Netherlands is very well connected to the neighbouring countries and there are flight connections to every corner of the world, so yes, it is very easy to “get away”. As I mentioned, this small European country severely lacks wilderness, and it is of course known for its flatness. I love hiking in the mountains, so I do feel the need to escape the flat Dutch landscape every now and then. Fortunately, there is another small European country just around the corner – Belgium – that is more three-dimensional.

What is the local community like? Have you felt welcomed?
The first years after my arrival I spent studying at the Delft University of Technology. I jokingly say that Delft is a big university with a small town in it. As befits a technological institution, Delft is highly internationalized, so everyone’s accustomed to foreigners. I once checked the newspapers offered at the Delft train station and was a bit surprised to find no less than 9 in Russian – more than in Dutch! Of course, moving to a new place always takes adjustment, and I am not the easiest person to welcome, so my housemates sometimes raised an eyebrow about my habits and customs, but the Dutch have quite a few quirky habits themselves, so I’d say we’re even.

Small places Netherlands 4

What advice would you give to someone thinking about moving to your small place, or to somewhere similar?
Even though the locals, especially in North-Western European countries like the Netherlands, speak fluent English, making meaningful connections in the local community is difficult if you do not speak the local language. And since the locals speak English well, and generally do not understand why would you want to learn their insignificant and difficult language, it is rather challenging to learn it – and the vicious circle is complete! I am fluent in Dutch but local people still try to speak English to me as soon as they spot a slight accent, weird but true.

The Dutch climate is best described as ‘moist’, so be prepared. Especially people from more stable climates and drier places have trouble imagining how the unpredictable weather can effect your daily life. For example, winter temperatures of 5 degrees feel much colder in the wet, windy Holland than -25 in, say, dry and sunny Novosibirsk, where I was born. Sure, here in the Netherlands it can be dry, sunny and warm. But (almost) never all 3 on the same  day.

OK, so the Dutch have their wilderness - on the water

Can you tell me a bit about yourself and your family, and why/how you came to be living in your small place?
I am a “serial immigrant” – I was born in Novosibirsk, in what was then the Soviet Union, and when I was 12 we moved to Israel. I came to the Netherlands more than 12 years ago, to study Aerospace Engineering in Delft. The choice for Delft, and the Netherlands, was a bit random, in short, I could find arguments against studying in pretty much every other place but had no reasons not to go to Delft. I applied, was accepted, and here I am 12 years later, still studying in Delft (doing a PhD by now), married to a Dutch girl, with whom I have two children. My local friends now plague me for being the most assimilated foreigner in the country.

Thank you Michael for that insight into what looks like a really pleasant place to live (despite it’s petit size). Michael does include guest blogs from others living in small European countries on his blog so let him know if you’re interested. In the meantime, don’t forget to check out my review of Dutched Up if you want to find out more about living in the Netherlands as an expat; and to read my earlier posts on People Who Live in Small Places if you haven’t already done so: Mayotte, Gibraltar, a Small French Village and the Seychelles.