One Week in Provence

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You may have remembered that I mentioned earlier in the spring that my sister and brother-in-law would be living in Geneva for the summer while she finished up her master’s degree. I’m happy, so pleased really, to report that her master’s is completely finished, which comes as a tremendous relief, I know. But, it’s also such a shame because it means she and her husband are no longer in Switzerland and I’m left moping about wondering what in the world we are going to do on the weekends now that they’re no longer here. Honestly, it’s not that bad, but saying goodbye to them a couple of weeks ago sure wasn’t pretty.

To cap off our summer together, and to truly celebrate both Courtney and Jared graduating from their master’s programs, we decided to go to Provence for a week with our parents.  The theme for the week was “relaxation” and we made sure to find an Airbnb with a big pool and lots of areas in which to lounge and nap. We liked that the location was quiet and removed from a big city center. But it was still easy to plan day trips to nearby hill towns and even the sea.

Overall it was a really, really lovely week. We read books, swam in the pool (my dad is the biggest water baby!), played Uno, cooked dinner, went out to eat, shared breakfast in the mornings on the patio, explored and relaxed. We talked about the babies and wondered aloud what it will be like when they arrive, everyone excited for two new family members with which to share all this fun and love. Thinking about that week makes me a bit weepy (not a challenge at all these days) because I love and miss my family so much. Spending such quality time with them was priceless.

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For every nice picture of Courtney and me there are always three that don’t make a whole lot of sense. Adam calls them “outtakes” but we call them “magic.”

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After a long drive from Geneva we decided we wanted our first full day to be spent at the house enjoying the amenities. We slept in and had a long breakfast on the terrace before parking it poolside for the rest of the day. We did venture out that evening for dinner at La Table d’Yves, a fancy restaurant on a vineyard that sits right next to Fayence’s famous aerodrome. You can sip a glass of wine on their beautiful covered patio and watch the gliders land. The food was delicious even if the staff were a bit stuffy.

The next day we drove about 45 minutes to Saint-Raphaël, a beachside town in between Cannes and Saint-Tropez. It was too hot to explore the old town so we spent most of our time at the family-friendly beach. There is a good stretch of public beach—and nearby Frejus has a lot of open sand as well—but we opted for an organized beach with loungers and umbrellas. The staff was very accommodating and we had one of the best beach lunches I can remember. The water was perfect for frequent dips and it proved to be a relaxing day at the beach, ending with a ferris wheel ride!

A quick note: cars proved essential for this trip. We rented them in Geneva and drove the whole way instead of taking a train there and picking up the car in Cannes or Nice. Public transportation among the small towns is unpredictable and infrequent and you’ll be limited to bigger tourist hubs if you opt for this option. I’d recommend renting a car instead and tailoring your countryside trip to include exactly what you want to see and allow for last-minute changes and additions. Just make sure you have navigation or google maps handy on your phone!

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Um, matching hats?? Yes, please!

The next day we went to Fayence, which was a ten-minute drive from our place, for their weekly market–a recommendation from our Airbnb host. We got there early not only to beat the heat but also the crowds and we all left with lots of local treasures and gifts. It’s a really sweet town and I’d recommend stopping there for a visit if you’re in the area.

We had our best meal at Le 8 and I urge you to stop there as much for the fun and gracious company of the hosts as the French food. The menu is limited to five or six dishes but they are all fantastic and the location is charming, to boot.

That afternoon we were all pooped from walking around so we relaxed–where else?–by the pool before grilling that night for dinner. In case you’re wondering, I read Among the Ten Thousand Things while we were there and really enjoyed it. A good, if slightly bleak, summer read.

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We spent a full day in Cannes and had fun trolling the old town and sipping very swanky cocktails (or, er, alcohol-free beer) at a ritzy hotel when the heat became too much. We wanted to go out on a boat this day but it was too breezy and they canceled all the trips. I’d recommend exploring Le Suquet for beautiful views of the sea and harbor and admiring the high-end shops, at least from the street. Before heading back we took a walk to check out the yachts and each picked out our favorite–maybe for Christmas this year!

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Our last full day was spent close to home. Courtney, Jared, and Dad explored a nearby hill town for lunch, while Adam, Mom, and I stayed back to read and swim. Of course, once everyone got back it was time for a little burst mode action by the pool. I need to find a way to get all the images into gifs because scrolling through them is one of my new favorite pastimes. I love the energy!

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That night we drove back to Fayence for dinner at Restaurant Le France, how typical! We had an excellent dinner here and celebrated our parent’s 35th wedding anniversary exactly one month early. It was fun to hear them talk about their wedding day and some of their favorite moments throughout their marriage. We also talked a lot about our childhood and it is so funny to hear what everyone remembers–it’s often so different from what is crystalized in your own memory. I would highly recommend this place for dinner, and snag a table outside if you can.

That was Bastille day, July 14th, and we purposely stayed close to home that day and night to avoid crowds and traffic. We woke up early the next morning to hit the road and were devastated by the news that 84 people had been killed in Nice the night before. It was heartbreaking and incredibly sobering after an idyllic week spent together. The world is a very scary and confusing place right now and it’s hard to imagine a time when we won’t be bracing for the next tragedy. It was a chilling reminder to hold your loved ones close and not take for granted all that we’ve been given.

Three Days in the Cotswolds

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After a few days in busy London we made our way to Oxford where we picked up a rental car that would get us further into the Cotswolds, a rural area of rolling hills, thatched-roof homes, and endless charm, where we would stay for a few days. The drive was smooth (if not effortless–thanks Adam for braving the “wrong” side of the road!) and beautiful and we were so happy to arrive at The Lamb Inn in Burford.

I cannot recommend this little bed & breakfast highly enough. It was located on a side street, meaning it was extra quiet, and all the quaint touches around the inn made it feel so special and cozy. In the sitting rooms two fires were regularly stoked each day (despite temperatures in the 60s and 70s…we didn’t mind!), and it was full of over-stuffed chairs and sofas perfect for nursing a pint of local brew or a cup of tea and reading a good book. There was also a pub with delicious food and a restaurant that would be a perfect spot for a bit of a fancy dinner. I loved the cheery and comfortable rooms and the staff couldn’t have been more lovely. Can you tell I loved this place?! I would go back in an instant.

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After a late lunch of fish and chips and bangers and mash, we all went out for a walk through town to check out the adorable cottages and shops that were already closing up for the day. That night we ate at The Highway Inn, which is a local favorite. Unfortunately they were out of all the best things on the menu but overall it was a pretty good dinner.

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The next day we took some recommendations from the staff and headed to Stow-on-the-Wold, Chipping Campden, and Broadway—all little villages dotted throughout the countryside. We took our time in each spot and enjoyed window shopping, walking the narrow streets, and stopping in pubs and cafes for a break. It was a leisurely day with little agenda; I loved it.

A few snaps from Stow-on-the-Wold:

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Taller than Adam for once!

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One tip would be to bring rain gear wherever you go. A sprinkle or mid-day rain is not uncommon and it’s best to be prepared with a rain jacket or umbrella. Also, comfortable shoes are a must, as are layers. English weather has a tendency to turn drafty and cool so come bearing layers.

Also I would srecommend you rent a car for a proper visit. There are a handful of tours you can take that will stop off at many of the towns in the Gloucestershire area, but it was so nice to have our own car and to make our own itinerary. You’ll just need to remember to keep to the left!

And a few snaps from Chipping Campden

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We ate dinner in Broadway that evening at The Swan, which was tasty. In fact, I wish would could have spent a little more time there as it looked very cute and full of fun shops. But there are so many little towns in the area that it’s hard to go wrong with any of them.

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The next day we drove to Stratford-upon-Avon, the birthplace of Shakespeare and I’m sorry to say that this was one spot that actually did disappoint. For such a small place it is so overdeveloped and cheesy that I didn’t actually enjoy walking around there too much. It might have been nicer to spend more time walking along the river but the pouring rain drove us out of town early. Of course if you are hoping to see something from the Royal Shakespeare Company then it is worth a visit, otherwise I’d recommend skipping it.

That afternoon I had tea and scones in our room while Adam explored Burford a bit more and we had a nice (anniversary!) dinner at The Bull (order the rarebit as a starter). We took off early in the morning to catch a bus from Oxford to Heathrow and made it back to Bern in time for summer to arrive! Boy, we are so happy to see the sun here. It’s like a different place.

I’d love to come back to the Cotswolds sometime and imagine renting a place in the country for a couple weeks with family and friends. It was so relaxing and peaceful and everyone was so friendly. Have you been? I’d definitely suggest going there for a country holiday after a bustling London tour.

Foggy London Town

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Last week Adam and I spent a week in England with Adam’s best friend Kyle and his wife Katie. We hadn’t seen them since we attended their wedding last October (in which Adam was best man, ahem) so it was a treat to catch up with them overseas. They are both so funny and easy going, which made traveling fun and low-key. We passed around a bit of a summer cold (that actually knocked me out all this week…), but despite feeling under the weather at some points, we had a great time exploring London and the Cotswolds.

While in London we stayed in an Airbnb in the Notting Hill/Kensington area, which was beautiful and quiet. Our flat was pretty close to Portobello Road with all its markets, shops and restaurants. We did some poking around in the area and had a great meal at e&o on our first night. I’d highly recommend ordering just about everything on the starter menu and the fried brown rice with whatever unique main you choose.

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We also gobbled up very juicy burgers covered in American cheese and something called “freddar” from a chain called Byron. It’s certainly unexpected and not at all sexy to get cheeseburgers in England, but a really good one (washed down with root beer!) is a rarity here so we like to grab one while we’re out of the country. It turned out to be great fuel for moseying around the British Museum in the afternoon where we saw ancient Egyptian artifacts and dozens of very cute little British children in matching uniforms.

Of course no tour of the city is complete without popping into a dark, carpeted pub in the middle of the afternoon. We found a cozy one in the Lamb’s Conduit area and spent an hour there catching up. Resist the urge to sit outside, even if it is lovely. The whole point is to belly up to the old wooden bar or hunker down in a corner booth : )

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We also spent a little time around some of the bigger highlights, such as St. Paul’s Cathedral, the Tower of London and Tower Bridge. One could spend a lot more time at these places than we did, but there is just so much to see in that gigantic city and we wanted to keep moving.

I do wish we would have spent more time in the east part of the city, which is apparently “where all the action is”. But we did get an afternoon to walk the streets of Shoreditch and I liked seeing all the people knock off work with a beer and spill out onto the sidewalks during happy hour. We found a lush beer garden through an alley, which proved a popular spot for locals. There are cool boutiques and restaurants in this area and I think it might be a fun place to stay should we visit the city again.

That night we had the best dinner at 8 Hoxton Square and I can’t recommend that place highly enough. It was the perfect evening to sit outside and share some small plates before digging into bowls of pasta, juicy steak and perfectly cooked sea bass over panzanella.

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Our time in London felt very brief and honestly I’d like the chance to return for a longer period of time with a more condensed itinerary. I felt overwhelmed with all there is to do and see!

Have you been? What was your favorite part of the city? And what would you recommend for others planning a trip?

Easter Weekend in Copenhagen

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Over Easter weekend, Phil, Adam and I, along with our friends Paige and Bryce, went to Copenhagen for the long weekend. Phil was the only person who had been there before so it was a treat for us all to see a new city together. It was cool and modern and bustling compared to Bern. I loved the architecture, those beautiful bike lanes, and the friendly people. Also, we ate such good food while we were there!

You may remember that we went to Amsterdam over Easter weekend two years ago and were pleasantly surprised by how alive the city was during the holiday weekend. Copenhagen was a bit different, and I think we were all surprised to find how seriously they took the religious holiday: stores were closed all day Thursday, Friday, and Sunday (though that’s normal), and though we left on Sunday night, it appeared as if they would be closed on Monday as well. So! That’s all to say, if you’re planning on a religious holiday weekend there, be prepared for a lot to be closed.

IMG_3850IMG_3854IMG_5237IMG_5241IMG_5243After checking into our Airbnb, which was on the border between the Frederiksberg and Nørrebro neighborhoods, we rented bikes and cycled to the Nyhavn port. The beautiful old port house have since been renovated into touristic restaurants and shops, but it’s fun to see some of the old ships lined up. This is also a great spot to start a canal tour if that’s something you’d like to do.

We found a couple of nearby trampolines for a quick bounce before heading to Christiania, a self-proclaimed autonomous district in the center of the city. Here you will find commune-style living, wooded pathways, cheap beer, and a “green light” district. It’s a quirky (and popular) place to visit during the day.

After a long day of cycling and walking around we had dinner at Thai Pan, a cozy restaurant right around the corner from our apartment. It has a view of the pond and I imagine it would be a great place to sit outside when it’s warm. I can say, however, that their food was excellent if you’re looking for delicious Thai.

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Friday was cool and drizzly so after a slam-dunk brunch at Mirabelle we cycled over to Den Blå Planet, Denmark’s national aquarium to escape the less-than-pleasant weather. Everyone, and I mean everyone, had this exact same idea and the aquarium was absolutely packed. I think we were the only adults there without children, and it was certainly an experience to visit the place during peak hours on a cold and rainy holiday. There were a few tanks of note (I loved watching the sea otters groom themselves), but it was really too crowded to enjoy much.

We headed back into town (note: you can take your bike onto the metro during all hours, except during rush hour, 5-7pm) and landed at Mikkeller for some tasty Danish beers. It’s a very cozy beer bar and brewery and we stayed here, mostly to enjoy an adult-only atmosphere, for a couple of rounds. Øl & Brød, the restaurant by the same group, is located next door and the menu looks fantastic if you’re looking to stay in the neighborhood for dinner.

That night we had a special dinner at RADIO. It’s a modern and relaxed restaurant located near the Forum metro stop, and three blocks from our apartment. Jesper, the head chef, once worked as a sous-chef for Noma, which was named the best restaurant in the world three years in a row. One can choose either a three- or five-course dinner, with optional wine or juice pairings. The three of us opted for five courses and loved it. I think we all agreed it was one of the best meals we’ve ever had: warm squid and celeriac “pasta”; cod with fried chicken skins, grilled romaine, and lumpfish roe; beetroot with dehydrated olives and smoked cheese; free range pork (so good it will make you weep) with grilled leeks; and carrots with camomile ice cream, caramel and meringues. The menu changes every two weeks so you’re always eating the freshest ingredients and they take such care with it all. It was a gorgeous presentation in a very comfortable restaurant and we’d highly recommend the experience.

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Our friends Paige and Bryce arrived from Geneva on Saturday at noon so we met at Torvehallerne KBH, a giant food hall located just outside the Nørreport metro stop. Inside each of the markets are dozens of food stalls carrying produce and ready-made items you can enjoy on the outdoor seating. Four of us went for Vietnamese, mostly because it’s something that is both delicious and impossible to find in Switzerland, and the bahn mis and steamed buns did not disappoint. Phil got fish and chips, which were just as delicious. We actually ended up here twice and it could easily serve as a meeting place or just a fun spot to relax and sample lots of local fare.

After lunch we walked to Stroget, a neighborhood packed with shops and boutiques. My friend Paige was specifically hoping to visit Royal Copenhagen’s flagship store and we managed to walk around inside and each pick up a matching vase. I had never heard of the gorgeous china before, but I’m happy to have a new, unique pursuit : )

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Lots more cycling ensued over the afternoon–we really earned all those treats– and we ended up at Warpigs Brewpub in the meatpacking district. The pub is a sort of sister restaurant and brewery to Mikkeller, so you’ll find a lot of the same beer flavors and vibes. What is totally unique to this place is their Kansas City barbecue! We sample some ribs and pimento cheese with hushpuppies (damn!), but they had loads of delicious-smelling barbecue on the menu and it would have been so fun to try it all. They have four different sauces–Carolina Gold, Kansas City, Alabama White, and Texas–and we were proud to discover they refill the Kansas City sauce the most. Obviously!

Dinner was just around the corner at Paté Paté and it was another big hit. They specialize in modern European dishes, served in a small-plates, tapas style. We went a little nuts and ordered a bunch of different plates for the table (smoked salmon, turbot, oysters, lamb, Danish mozzarella), yet still managed to finish it all, plus two desserts. Everything was outstanding, but we especially love the vibrant, boisterous atmosphere. It’s hard to find a place in Switzerland (at least in Bern) that has a young, hip energy, where you can be loud and a little ridiculous. It was fun to just have a big night out, which makes us sound like a bunch of old farts, but whatever ; )

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Phil flew out early Sunday morning, so the four of us went to The Standard for a fancy brunch, complete with edible flowers and a view of the canal. Technically we ate at Almanak, one of the four restaurant/bars in The Standard. It had a contemporary and cool interior and great views.

Afterward we walked through the botanical garden and geological museum. As I mentioned earlier, not much was open on Easter Sunday so there were actually quite a lot of people walking through the garden and park, which was nice. We had wanted to go to the Arken Museum of Modern Art, but didn’t budget enough time. We’ll be sure to check it out, as well as the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, on our next visit.

Adam and I flew out that evening and arrived back in Bern around midnight–long day! But, Copenhagen, we loved you! What a fun city with so much to do. I’d love to go back in warmer weather and enjoy sitting outdoors and maybe visiting the seaside.

Have you been? What else would you recommend? It’s such an easy flight from Zurich and I can definitely imagine visiting this city again, perhaps as a part of a larger Scandinavian tour.

A couple of helpful guides:

Skiing in Innsbruck

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We did it! We survived skiing! There were no wipeouts or tears, no blown-out knees, no hard feelings. There is still some lingering soreness, however, and we crashed hard after our day of skiing. Did anyone realize how much work skiing is?! ; )

Overall, we had a great trip to Innsbruck, Austria–though technically we stayed in a nearby suburb, Hall. Our hotel was very comfortable and had an amazing spa that was included in the stay. It had multiple saunas, steam rooms, aromatic showers, and relaxation rooms. My favorite room had four lounge chairs suspended from the ceilings, creating the most comfortable swing you can imagine. We opted to get massages on Saturday afternoon and they were just we needed to work out all the junk from skiing the day before.

(A word on European spa etiquette: it’s customary to visit these co-ed spas completely nude for sanitary and practical reasons, though that may sound counterintuitive to our American sensibilities. Since we were with friends, we decided to don our swimsuits, but don’t be shy to do as the locals do and go bare.)

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Our friends Nat and Nicole are expert skiers and they were incredibly patient with Adam and me. They reminded us of a few techniques and waited for us while we got our sea legs back, so to speak. The mountain had really good snow and the pistes were just right for our ability. And with cooperating weather, we really had the perfect day on the slopes.

But after a few hours we were beat. By mid-afternoon it got really crowded and I think we all started to get anxious with how many skiers were out there. We relaxed at one of the mountain restaurants with a couple of much-deserved après-ski treats (specifically big beers and Germknödel).

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Nat skied on Saturday but the three of us, and their young daughter Cora, walked around Innsbruck and enjoyed a big, delicious lunch at Stiftskeller, a beer hall serving hearty Austrian and German fare.

After our decadent spa afternoon we walked to Goldener Löwe, a restaurant in Hall’s old town. We would recommend this place for dinner, and encourage you to ask for the cozy booth in the corner.

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We got back on Sunday afternoon and after unpacking I got started on my new Sunday ritual. There were just enough chocolate chips for one big batch of my cookies, lucky us! I have to say, it was nice to have the apartment smell so delicious, and the cookies themselves turned out pretty darn tasty. They were the perfect end to a very fun weekend.

Is it cheesy to say that I’m proud of us? Regardless, I am. I’m glad we got up on skis and did something that made us both a little nervous. Everything—the weather, our energy level, our enthusiasm—coalesced into a feeling much like fun. I’m not making any promises, but I might not wait five years to try it again : )

Committing to Life Abroad

IMG_4824 (1)I was asked about a million times while we were in the US how long Adam and I plan to stay in Switzerland. It’s a tough question to answer, and even tougher to deflect politely, but the short response is we don’t know. Initially, our plan was to stay here three to five years and that still sounds reasonable, but neither of us is interested in setting an end date at the moment. We’re really happy living here and that feels sustainable for where we are right now.

That said, committing to life abroad is a mental game and it takes work to maintain a positive attitude. I recently read this blog post about making friends and finding a community in London and the writer’s final notes really struck me:

“Maybe all of this advice is obvious. I’m not sure it was to me when we first arrived. A couple of years after we got here, an older/wiser expat said something that changed the way I was looking at life… He told me to fully live here, I had to give up the 3 C’s: Comparing (“Well, back in Texas…”), Converting (Stop thinking in dollars. It’s a loosing game and I’m living in the land of GBP now. Embrace it.) Complaining (Stop complaining. Deal with the hassles or go home.)”

The 3 C’s! They are deadly, man. For a while Adam and I compared the food scene here to the dynamic explosion of restaurants in Charleston and it was constantly depressing. There were so many (affordable) choices in Charleston! And they were all within walking distance! In Bern you can find good Italian and decent Thai and Indian, but otherwise our culinary exploits have been rather tame. But, we’ve learned to counter that by cooking delicious and inspiring meals at home (and saving loads of money, to boot.)

I am always converting Swiss francs to dollars and not even thinking about it: “Lunch was twenty bucks”; “I got this such-and-such for only one hundred dollars–what a steal!”; etc., etc. It’s very easy to think in dollars and cents, but Adam is paid in Swiss francs and that’s how we should be thinking of our expenses.

Lastly, complaining: we can’t do laundry on Sunday; the Swiss aren’t very friendly, therefore we don’t have any real Swiss friends; everything is expensive; everything is gray; my family is so far away; etc., etc. It is ridiculously easy to fall into a Swiss-shaming spiral with friends or even at the dinner table. But it is catastrophic for my relationship with Switzerland.

I really liked thinking about these three deterrents for a happy life abroad and how I can shift my own thinking. I’ve given up on a lot of complaining because it is so worthless and energy-sapping. Instead, I’ve tried to find the positives within those perceived restrictions. For example, it no longer bothers me that we can’t do laundry, cleaning, or shopping on Sunday because that day has become a dedicated time to relax. We feel completely guilt-free for lounging in our pajamas all afternoon or escaping to the mountains for a hike because there is nothing we could really be doing around the house. It feels wonderful to have that time. The inflated prices of nearly everything has made me a more savvy shopper and shown me that there is so much I can live without.

We can’t fail to mention how much stress this can inevitably put on your health and relationships with others. Giving up comparing, converting, and complaining is not only good for a life abroad but it’s also good for life.

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One final thought: I went to a coffee morning last week with some women in my American women’s club and one of them asked how long I had lived here. When I told her I had been here two and a half years she laughed a little and said, “Oh, well, that is nothing.”

I understand what she meant by this–two and half years is just a blip in a lifetime. But to me it has not been nothing. A lot has happened in that time and I’ve done a lot of growing and changing over the past couple of years. I didn’t want her idea of commitment and time in a country to stifle my own experiences and sense of accomplishment, and I would encourage you, if you are an expat, not to allow others to let you feel that way either. If you’ve moved somewhere new, whether you’ve been there one year or ten, you are doing a good job and you are putting in a lot of hard work. It’s a challenge, but you’ve got this.

I’ve talked about this idea before, but it’s something I think about regularly. I think Adam and I are doing a good job of being present in our life here. It’s good to have goals and I would say one of mine is to try to keep avoiding those 3 C’s. If you’re living abroad (or even in a new place), what has helped you transition and fully commit to your life there? How do you make a new place home?

Travel Wise: Grippy Socks

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When Adam and I were lucky enough to be upgraded to business class last year we received little Tumi travel bags. They were full of flight necessities like tissues, sanitary wipes, ear plugs and an eye mask. Inside, there were other little luxuries like hand cream, lip balm and these genius grippy socks that I’ve used for every flight since. Unfortunately, I left them on the plane when we returned from the US last month and I’m on the hunt for another pair.

The grippy socks were a revelation. My feet are always ice pops and they get especially cold during flights so it’s nice to have an extra-warm layer around my toes. The grips are important, though, so don’t overlook them. Thankfully, I’m very flexible so I often put my feet up on the back of the hand rest in front of me (careful not to let me toes or feet creep onto the actual hand rest). It’s like a seated fetal position and it helps me get sleep on the long-haul flights. The grips keep my feet from slipping and waking me up while I’m getting those critical hours of rest.

Here are a few options if you’re looking for something similar:

If you go to Bar Method classes then you may already have a pair or at least be familiar with these kinds of socks. Here’s another use for them!

I want to start a new series here where I share some of my favorite travel tips and products. We’ve done a lot of international flying, as well as domestic, and I’ve honed some of my traveling skills over the years. I know what I like in my carry-on and have a few tricks for getting around the airport. I feel like I’m still learning though so I’m open to all your suggestions and tips!

(image via goop)