Fare thee well

Fare thee well

Anyone who has been an expat knows it is a time of farewells. 

As you prepare to leave, you say farewell to your current life. Some say farewell more permanently by selling their home and many possessions. Others, like myself, move on temporarily with the plan to move back after a predetermined period of time.

You say farewell to your friends and family with promises to catch up during home visits.

Unknowingly, for some, you also say farewell to the person you were before the move. If you're lucky, or perhaps determined(?), the little bits of yourself that are unproductive or negative get stripped away and you remain with the core of yourself that you love and cherish.

You say farewell to your familiar shopping habits and favorite brands of food and clothing and cosmetics (ok, if depends, we live in a global corporate world and many brands can be found everywhere it seems).

You say farewell to your workout routine and eating habits.

You say farewell to being able to easily communicate thoughts and emotions and needs to nearly everyone you might meet in the street or in a shop or near the coffee pot at the office.

You say farewell to being able to call up your folks, basically whenever you want to, because suddenly you're faced with a 9 hour time-zone change.

If you move away from your loved ones you might be saying farewell to simple things you cherish more than you realized, like coffee and a walk with the dog every morning.

Saying farewell is painful. We've all seen that person at the airport standing there with tears rolling down their face watching a loved one roll through the security cue. Some of us have been that loved one standing in the line also crying to the point that a poor security guy hands you (me – wait did I just admit that…) a pack of tissues to wipe your face and blow your nose.

After you say farewell it's normal to expect a bit of a grieving time (but you'll be surprised by the grief because you're an expat and it's all supposed to be exciting and fun!) and during this time it's difficult to be open to new experiences or see the positives appearing before you. But, eventually, after the grief lifts and you've made yourself available for all the promise of your new life an amazing thing begins to happen.

You find yourself saying hello (Hallo, in my case) to the butcher behind the meat counter in your local Turkish grocery that you nervously walked in to hoping your first shopping encounter won't be a total disaster. Especially considering your limited command of the German language. And you discover that not only does he speak perfect English, but he deeply loves America!

You discover a local McFit gym that is just a 10 minute walk from your new flat and is open 24 hours a day for the cheap price is $19.99 a month! Then, you find an amazing yoga studio and hundreds of miles of bike paths and coworkers who also commute to the office by bike and happily bring you along the learn the route. Then through a series of events, you might even discover an entire new sport and throw yourself into it with so much passion that you proceed through level tests and have created an entire new sports hobby and network of friends that you never could have imagined.

You begin to make new friends – fellow expats from around the world. When you lock yourself out of your apartment you meet your neighbors, who are kind and generous and offer you a cup of tea and cookie as you wait for the locksmith to come and open your door. Then later over a glass of wine you exchange lively conversations learning about your respective country customs and politics. You get to know your new co-workers and neighborhood shop-keepers and your sports training coach.

And after a year or so, you are on a first name basis with many restaurant owners and waiters in your neighborhood and suddenly people are smiling at you with recognition on the street and you feel that you belong, maybe even more than you did back home.

Then, suddenly, it's time to go. And if feels strange, very strange, to look back and realize that somewhere along the way you have come to belong in this new place. And you need to remind yourself (convince yourself truly, because that old fearful feeling can begin to raise its head) that the new you will also belong in the old place.

The old familiar feeling of grief begins again (hey, at least it has lost the element of surprise!), but this time you're grieving your new life, that in the beginning was fun, then so difficult that you wanted to run away home, but in some way by fighting through and staying, now has become a field of victory. One that you will leave victorious and with tears in your eyes for the people you, again, leave behind.

As I sit here in my apartment with about 60 days to go, the guest room is prepared for my expat friend / traveling partner (and occasional therapist – hey, one of the most valuable things I learned out of all of this is that it's ok to ask for help from friends) and her husband will stay in my apartment for her last week in Germany. It will be a bittersweet time for us. We've been through this chapter together and it has created a bond that will never be broken, but I know that things will change for a bit as we morph back in to our previous lives. New patterns will be established and then we'll find time for a ladies shopping trip, or a coffee or maybe a BBQ with our families. For now, we will enjoy the moments in our last week in Germany before we both move on.

A new chapter in an old place. This will be a novel experience for me. In the past, every time that I've moved on it has been to a new place and never backwards. But I don't feel like I'm moving backwards this time. (Backwards – for some reason it sounds unproductive.) This time, I'm moving forward with a renewed understanding of myself and gratitude for the people in my life who tolerated my long absences and welcome me home with open arms when I return. I have learned (with occasional setbacks) to live the adage "don't look back, you're not going that way". I've decided that the only reason to look back is to harvest the learnings and then use them to improve your life as you move forward.

So, if you're considering an expat, be prepared for the farewells which will become a constant in your life. Don't forget to look out for the Hallos, which will sometimes (often) be hiding in the most unlikely of places and will shape you into a beautiful new creature if you're willing to respond to them with a warm smile and an open heart.

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10 countries in 10 weeks

10 countries in 10 weeks

As I sat in the cab, early on a Monday morning, traveling from Guarahlos airport to the center of São Paulo, I suddenly found myself very sleepy. I thought back on the past weeks and months, did a quick count, and realized I had visited 10 countries in 10 weeks. This was not my intention and the balance of the numbers made me smile a bit. I was sleepy after all…

I began to chat with the cab driver about my travels and I’ll share it with you now. 

To begin, my husband and I traveled to England (1) by car for a road trip through the countryside. What an amazing adventure! We took the eurotunnel from Calais, France (2) and on the way passed through Holland (3) and Belgium (4). But I couldn’t include this in the count because that made it 10 countries in 11 weeks and, frankly, that doesn’t have the same ring to it. Fortunately, I realized that we passed back through the same countries – although our route out of England was via car ferry from Dover. The Dover cliffs, by the way, you need to see them. Then we back-tracked through France (2), Belgium (3) and the Netherlands (4) – so they made it back into the count. 

Now, I know what you’re thinking – driving through a country doesn’t count! I agree!!! Lucky for me we actually made a pit stop at a McDonald’s in the Netherlands. In addition to suspiciously consistent french fries, they offer clean bathrooms in every corner of the world. Now to France – we did board the eurotunnel there, which was pretty epic, but I had a chance to return to this lovely country, and I say this with all honesty, on a quick business trip to the Cote de Azur. 

The first weekend of June, I decided to take advantage of one of our German bank holidays by popping up to Spain (5) to visit my college friend Christina, but you already know about that adventure.  

Hold up a minute here, what about Belgium? A drive through doesn’t count! Never fear, this count is legit! A couple of weeks after our trip to England, I rode the train over to Brussels for a quick visit to the EU parliament building. Quite an interesting place and got me to thinking about the fundamental roots of government that are different between America and the European Union. This explains a lot of our cultural differences.

Next I was off to Greece (6) to launch one of my new products – BioAct DC. We visited customers and held a workshop in Heraklion, the capital of Crete. I am in my happy place visiting with farmers and helping them solve crop pest problems! Of course the food and Raki after dinner was a bonus!

After all these euro-countries, it was time to head back to America (7) for a country music-induced reset. I flew in to North Carolina to visit my husband and join some business meetings at our North American headquarters. My husband flew back with me and we cheered on the racers at the Tour de France which, incredibly, departed from Düsseldorf, Germany (8) this year! But this experience deserves an entire post so that’s all on that subject for now.

On the 4th of July, we celebrated American Independence Day by heading to the airport and both flying west, but to different continents…hey, someday we’ll get this straight… my husband flew back to America and I headed to South America for business meetings in Buenos Aires, Argentina (9). Ironically, while I was in Argentina they celebrated their own Independence Day! Quite a bit more low-key then the way we blow off fireworks and barbeuqe in America. From Buenos Aires, I headed back north to São Paulo, Brazil (10). 

I wrote this post partly out of a selfish desire to not forget this coincidental travel run. When I planned all my trips, I had no idea they would roll up this way. Now, I think, it’s time for a break and I’ll settle in here in Germany for a few weeks. My whirlwind expat chapter is coming to a close, just about 60 days to go now. I found myself desiring to explore again all my favorite places in Germany before I leave my adopted city of Düsseldorf. 

About a year ago I was struggling living in Germany on my own and wondering about the choices that had led me here. I’m glad that I decided to “stop looking back because” as I saw on a tshirt recently “you’re not going that way”. Life is about moving forward, taking it as it comes and choosing happiness. 

My tour through 10 countries in 10 weeks reinforced my belief in the fundamental good of humanity. I enjoyed the kind hospitality of friends. I ran through quaint neighborhoods and parks and along beautiful beaches. I bicycled across London and Oxford and the island of Ilhabela. I dined on simple and elaborate foods while enjoying the company of smart and witty colleagues and friends. 

Everywhere I went I found beautiful things (some obvious and others tiny surprises) and met kind people who went out of their way to help me when I needed them. I was reminded that we are never alone. In every corner of the world you can find a quiet space, or a noisy environ. You can shape your experience because experiences are what you perceive. 

I was a bit amazed that I came through this marathon heathy and not (so) exhausted and I wondered how I managed in spite of the time zone changes. Here’s what I can say – sleep, eat healthy (ok 80:20 rule), exercise and be kind. Most importantly, BE KIND, it will make you (and the people around you) so much happier. I also realized that I paced myself along the way as I recently embraced the philosophy that life is a journey, not a destination, but I sure am curious to see what I will find at the next stop. Aren’t you?

Tapas in the rain

Tapas in the rain

To celebrate the completion of my Bachelor’s degree at UC Davis, my husband gave me a mountain bike. Of course, he needed to have one as well so I would have company on my rides. We went to a local bike shop – Steve Larsen’s Wheelworks in Davis, California – and shopped for a good price at the end of the season. I picked out a black and white hardtail specialized stump jumper. Steve, who was a former competitive cyclist and at that time competed in Xterra off-road races, was super-friendly and gave us a warm welcome into the bicycling world. As I made my purchase he told me – this is a race bike, you’ll be racing in no time! 

The first time I rode clipless I fell over no less than 5 times! I recalled Steve’s remark with amusement – no way was I going to be racing. But, mile after mile, my balance ability grew, I got in the habit of clipping out when I stopped, and I grew stronger and faster. Finally, one day, maybe about a year later, we went to our first UC DAVIS collegiate cycling club meeting. 

We didn’t have to try out, we just needed to start training and racing, and there we were – members of the racing team. Wow, it was fun and the best part is that I made two very good friends that I still keep in touch with to this day : Nicky and Christina.

Last month – on a long weekend in Germany – I flew in to Bilbao to visit Christina and her husband Robert in their home in La Rioja, Spain. As I sat on the flight, I realized that we had not seen each other in person for at least 10 years! I became a bit nervous. How would it be? Would we have things to talk about? But, I wasn’t too worried, my memories of Christina were few but fond. I could recall long road rides in the countryside and mountain bike races in Reno.

Christina and I always got along well because she was authentically happy. She was strong, tenacious and an adventurer. She was curious about the world and it wasn’t a surprise when she headed off to Spain to earn her Ph.D. I watched from across the ocean on Facebook as she posted pictures of mountain biking, camping and hiking in a northern region of Spain. Occasionally, we exchanged messages, where I promised to visit someday. 

Then, I moved to Germany and, suddenly, the hurdles to a visit were much lower, I only needed to select the time. So, it came to pass that as I planned my last 6 months in Germany, I picked a date, bought a ticket and passed a wild and crazy weekend with my college racing buddy in La Rioja, Spain!

I landed at the Bilbao airport and waited eagerly at the curb for a black Subaru carrying my friend and her husband. When they pulled up, they hopped out of the car and gave me a warm embrace. From the first moment, I knew it was going to be an amazing weekend! As we made the one hour drive from Bilbao into the famous Spanish wine region called La Rioja, we excitedly began to share a bit about what had happened in our lives in the 12 years (we did the math) that had passed. 

As we drove through the Obarenes-Sierra de Cantabria mountain range, I tried to speak a bit of Spanish, as this is Roberts native language. Boy, it was hard because the Spanish hides behind a solid wall of German words now! Our first stop was at the Vivanco wine museum to quickly immerse me in the history of this place. A beautifully curated museum, I quickly learned about the land and the history, and the vines that weave the people together. 

The museum contained many large wooden structures used in wine production. I snapped some photos for my dad who is a lumber jack and can make anything out of a felled tree. He loves inspiration! The implement below is a giant press for extracting juice from the grapes.

The museum contained many educational displays like this one that explained the varieties of grapes grown in the region.

The layout of the displays was elegant.

We found a beautiful collection of grape harvesting baskets.

A lower level room contained a multimedia display explaining how barrels are made.

Another giant press! I was amazed at the size of the wood.

Things started to get real when we found casks made from pig skin, and they looked like a real pig!!!

At the end of the trip I stopped by a local shop in Logronia and bought my own pair of La boteria decorated with local symbols.

One room in the museum contained an incredible collection of art and items embellished with precious metals and stones.

A strong theme in one collection was the nymph. An odd character that I have to admit I’d only encountered in “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” book series.

Our last stop was in the spacious wine cellar. It must contain thousands of barrels! Soft light illuminated columns and we paused for a group photo.The museum overlooks beautiful vineyards, but as the day was rainy, we piled in to the car and headed in to town for some tapas.

All of the wine region study had worked up quite a thirst so we headed in to Haro for my first experience with Saturday afternoon Tapas. This is something I was looking forward to from the moment I booked my flight! We arrived around noon which was a bit early for the Spanish crowd. We passed through a covered passageway that opened up into a large courtyard. People roamed the streets in cluster of three or four. Some gathered around tall tables outside Tapas bars. The windows and doors of the tapas bars were flung open and voices carried out into the streets. 

We stepped in to our first tapas bar and passed through the narrow entryway that opened up into a slightly larger gathering area bordering the central element – the tapas bar loaded down with dozens of types of tapas. People gathered in clusters near the bar that was crowded with small plates and glasses of wine. The top of the bar was loaded with platters piled high with beautiful works of art otherwise know as tiny bites of awesomeness!

Mushrooms appeared to be in season and they were a popular style – incredible flavors. Marinated in butter or olive oil. To wash down the tapas we shared a round of chilled Vermouth produced in La Rioja. This tipple was new to me and it nicely complimented the tapas which were indescribable combinations of meat, vegetables, cheese and spices often perched upon a toasted piece of bread all held together with a skewer. We popped in and out of three tapas bars – eating a small bite at each place.  Afterwards we roamed the town a bit to take in the architecture.

After lunch it was time to make our way back to the house but first we swung through Roberts’ hometown – Fuenmayor. A lovely place – we paused for a few moments next to the historical city spring.

The fountainheads looked like an interesting mythical creature.

Back at the house, I became fast friends with the resident cat Stinky Links (who for all the world looked just like a miniature Tony) and their german shepherd – Bear. We slipped into comfortable clothes and roamed the gardens – harvesting strawberries for a cake Robert intended to bake for breakfast. The tranquility was refreshing and restorative for my soul.

The clouds blew away and the rain cleared up for a bit as we struck out for a walk in the hills behind my friends countryside property. Bear ran ahead and Robert chased him. As the paved road gave way to gravel, I breathed a sigh of contentment. 

My friend, Christina, a naturalist and fellow ecologist by training, taught me the names of some of the plants and we even found a few interesting insects. The hillsides were dotted with wildflowers. We often stopped for a species identification and to learn how local people used the plants for cooking and healing.

After climbing down in to a ravine to check out the local creek, the sun sank lower on the horizon and we turned back toward the house. It was one of those moments when a cloudy sky enhances the contrast of the landscape. Someday I’ll learn to paint and immortalized these scenes on a canvas.

That evening we headed into an ancient fortress town for a traditional steak meal accompanied by fresh local cider. Our table was in the cellar with the cider cask filling the wall at one end. The way to pour yourself a glass was to pull open the spiquot with your left hand and hold out the glass as far as possible away in your right hand as the cider spewed out at high velocity. Then you pour just a bit because it needs to be drank quickly before the bubbles collapse and the flavor profile changes. It was quite an experience!
The next morning we woke up and drove in to Labraza for a rainy walk through the deserted city streets. The place was absolutely beautiful and there is something magical about walking slowly through an ancient place in a rain storm. 

I loved this wolf doorknocker!

The whole place had melded together over the centuries. Narrow pathways between the buildings where bordered above by leaning beams and slippery stone paths protected our feet from the earth below.

This little courtyard was one of my favorites!

We made one more left turn and suddenly my eyes were filled with the view of the vineyards tracing the surrounding hillsides.

We followed the narrow alley toward the vista. As I took in the old walls, I looked up and was amazed at the color of the ceiling!

It didn’t take long to walk every street in this tiny town and then we struck off down some gravel roads in search of, you guessed it, tapas!

A mist of rain clouds hung low above the vineyards obscuring the horizon.

Wheat fields provided a gorgeous contrast to the gray skies above.

We passed by gorgeous countryside villages that popped up in the middle of the fields. Every town was anchored by a large church.

We drove up a hill and parked the car outside a walled city. Then walked up a narrow lane toward the city square. I marveled at the contrast of bright red Christmas cactus blooms against the stone walls.

As we roamed the streets, Christina pointed out that most of the homes had the front door open giving passerbys a chance to admire the beautiful mosaic stone floors and sparsely decorated entryways.

Some of the entryways were paved with colorful tiles. It reminded me a bit of La Laguna in Tenerife.

Many homes had herbs hanging above the door, I could only guess it was a good luck bringing feature.

As we strolled toward the church, Robert recalled a time when they were running cows through the city for an annual festival and he hopped up and grabbed this ledge. Of course, we requested a re-enactment!

A huge church tower looms over the city and we decided to pay a euro to walk to the top and take in the views. It was worth the money!

When we were at the bottom, we noticed some people were exiting the church and dashed in for a few moments to marvel at the artwork.

By now we were hungry! So we popped in and out of a bakery and then had a lovely lunch at a series of Tapas bars.

We took off again for more countryside driving and paused at a winery that was designed by none other than Frank Gehry – the architect who designed the iconic buildings in the mediahafen in Düsseldorf.

I often asked us to pull over so I could snap a photo of the breathtaking scenery.

We headed to the house for a siesta and on the way passed through a town called Meano.

After a proper siesta we couldn’t resist the chance to take off on a hike on a mountain range that is locally called the Lions Head. Hiking into the mist was an intriguing experience – I never knew what would come next!

I found some cool yellow snails!

As we approached the top, the wind whipped and whistled around the edges.

At the top we celebrated with a snack of peanuts. Then beat a hasty retreat as sunset closed in upon us.

That night we headed in to Logrona for a traditional dinner of Jamon and cheese sandwiches.

Iberico Jamon is a regional speciality and it is incredible! 

The Jamon is cured for years before being served up in thin slices that just melt on your tongue. A salty treat that completely consumes your senses.

The next morning I packed up and flew back to Germany and I marveled at all the experiences of the weekend. I only described here what we saw and where we went, but what I didn’t mention is that we had a constant string of conversation going the entire time. I found myself wondering when our relationship had grown so deep and open. I only had flashes of memories from college. But then I remembered that our time was spent on long bike rides in the countryside. It is hard to top the depth of conversation in which I can indulge when I’m on a long bike ride or a hike. Doors in my mind open into rooms that I didn’t know existed! I suspect that Christina and I had those conversations on our long bike rides and this bonded us with a strong invisible thread – maybe it is spider silk? I know not, but what I do know is that the thread tying us together is as strong as ever and I look forward to our next weekend adventure, wherever it may be. 

Dawn Patrol

Dawn Patrol

I believe that many people consider me to be a spontaneous, adventurous person, and while that may be true, I’ve discovered that as I (ahem) mature, I have grown to love routines. 

When I find a good restaurant, I stick to it, and every time I go to that restaurant I’m likely to order the same thing. Take my local brauhaus for instance, it’s gotten to the point where my friend Tilghman just tells me to not ask for a menu because I’m gonna order the jagerschnitzel with an Alt. She’s right, I will. Hey, it satisfies me every time!

Today I’m indulging in one of my favorite routines: a dawn patrol walk. It’s Saturday, some people prefer to sleep in luxuriously, leisurely enjoy a cup of coffee and read a newspaper. Not me, especially when I head west, my body clock often wakes me sometime between 5:30 and 6 am and I roll out of bed, take a hit of Facebook (I confess I’m addicted), throw back a cup of coffee, and pull out a map to pick my first destination of the day. 

A quick glance out the window, verified on the weather app, helps me pick an appropriate outfit for the day. Then I’m off. My mode of transportation depends on two things: the weather and how far I want to go. Today, it’s rainy but not too cold, so I headed off in my Harley leather jacket and jeans, with an umbrella thrown in my bag. My outfit would be rather cool except for my tennie runners. Comfort above fashion today.  I estimate I’ll cover about 15 to 20 kilometers on my feet.

Facebook reminded me that exactly one year ago I was in Barcelona where I walked 25 kilometers in one day! Wow my legs ached the next morning, but it was a good kind of pain. I’m here in Buenos Aires for a business trip and my hotel is in a nice part of town called Palermo. Palermo is bordered by hectares of beautiful parks decorated with statues honoring the important people in Argentinian history. In many ways this place reminds me a lot of Barcelona. 

Of course the weather is different because it’s winter in Argentina – that’s a strange thing to adjust to – winter in July! Fortunately it’s not too cold. My first stop of the day – the city center – was about 8 kilometers from my hotel and since it was early and still dark outside, I hopped on the metro. Every time I hop on a metro in a new city I send up a thank you to my grandma Potje for taking me on BART to San Francisco when I was a kid. There is no metro that I cannot figure out. 

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not always easy to figure out a new metro, especially when you don’t speak the language, or like me, I know some Spanish but it’s lurking in a dark corner of my memory behind a grosse wall of German words! Wow, it comes to me slowly! 

I mapped out my plan on a nice printed map they gave me at the hotel, then asked the hotel clerk to verify that my plan was a good one. She pointed a dangerous neighborhood where I shouldn’t walk – very helpful – I exed it out on the map, then I told her I planned to take an uber (I took one last night and found them to be a safe, enjoyable and easy way to get around the city at night) and she suggested the metro. Just one thing, I needed to buy a Sube card and load it with pesos. Easy enough, I thought.

I walked to the metro stop, one block to the left, two to the right. Hmmmm, no metro station. It was still pouring rain so I walked up to a newspaper vendor and asked: donde esta el metro? He pointed up the road and there I walked and found the metro station. I carefully walked down the steps, geez one thing about this city is the surfaces are slippery! Lots of polished tiles and painted concrete, a bit treacherous in the rain. 

I found a man in a booth. “Yo quero sube”, I stated, and he pointed upstairs. So, I walked out a different exit, found an office and after some hilarious Spanglish dialogues with another cashier at the train station, found a little shop with a big sign outside that advertised Sube. I managed to pagar a Sube card and load it with 50 pesos. And, get this, it’s 7 pesos a ride, 7 pesos, this is about 50 cents!!! An uber would have run me about 100 peso!

I rode the metro to the end of the line -it’s a very clean efficient system by the way. The stops are nicely decorated with painted tiles of a variety of styles.


Exiting the station I roamed the city, taking in the buildings glistening in the rain and lit up by the street lights. 


As the gray sky lightened, I found a sweet little confiteria where I enjoyed my breakfast – a cortada (espresso with hot milk) and a pastry. 


It’s time for me to jump back in to the city. Don’t worry, more to come later. During the month of June I had no time to write as I was constantly traveling: Greece, Brussels, La Rioja Spain, North Carolina, then my husband and I had a staycation in Düsseldorf to watch Le Grand Depart of the Tour de France. Now I’m here in Argentina and next week off to São Paulo, Brazil. So, more to come, be patient Dad, I’ll catch up soon. 🙂