How I spent my First Summer Break After Teaching Abroad

Super anxious to return to America after a full school year of living a dream, my 17 year old son and I buckled our seat belts, got comfy and prayed for a safe flight home.  After a mild flight across the Atlantic, avoiding the long custom lines, and quickly proceeding through the global entry kiosk, we were met with a welcome home sign by my nephew and husband.  It felt good to be home, in his arms (my husband that is) and in my familiar space.

My summer break back in the states was basically broken up into 3 distinct parts: The First 3 weeks, When new Friends Become Family and My 40th birthday celebration.  Yes, you heard me right, 40th, and proud of it.

The First 3 Weeks

...was spent loving my husband, shopping, and chillen.  I visited several of my favorite American stores either in person, online or in catalogues, (Macy’s, New York inc, Venus, and Marshals) and shopped for clothes, shoes, and other things to take back to Qatar with me.  I ate at some of my favorite restaurants and bars including (All the Way Live, The Pod, Chickies and Pete’s, The Raw bar, Chucks Alibi, Bonefish Grill).  I spent some time catching up with family and friends and we drank a lot.  I also purged, cleaned and got rid of a lot of items from my house since I would be renting it out to my sister for year 2.  Medical, dental and vision appointments also took place for me and the boys.  

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Strip club with friends, Sam, Luxy, Joe, April and hubby
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Old coworker turned friend for life, Theresa
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Welcome my new god-daughter Payton. And my son being silly in the background collecting a shopping delivery for me from the mailman

When new Friends Become Family

Darryl and I met up with my Qatar bestie, Jennifer and her boo Jermaine.   They drove up to D.C. from Florida and we drove down from Philly to D.C. to meet them.  They had never been to the capital and since we were both on the same coast we thought, road trip.  Together we visited some historical sites and grabbed some grub.  The next day we drove back home. 

A week later we boarded a plane to Las Vegas to attend their wedding.  We arrived just in time for me to attend the Bachelorette party, a party bus full of jovial people, bar hopping and plenty of spirits.  Darryl attended the Bachelor party the next day.  The wedding was on Friday and it was short and beautiful.  The reception was just the way I like them, good food, good music, fun people and good vibes.   The next day we enjoyed the Sunset hotel resort amenities like casino, restaurants and pool before packing up.

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The bachelorette party attendees.
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Darryl and I all dressed up for the wedding

 

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Mr. and Mrs. Dillard
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The beautiful bride and the beautiful friend

My 40th birthday celebration

I am a big birthday celebrator.  I usually like to spend the entire month of August celebrating my birthday, that is on the 8th but I only had 9 days in August to spend in America since school starts so early this year, so I didn’t have much time to do this.

My sisters Ericka and Michele kicked it off with a wine tasting at a Vineyard in New Jersey, then more drinks and snow crab legs (my second favorite food) at Chucks Alibi. We were supposed to go out dancing and some more drinking but one of us had a headache and two of us were tired so we called it a night.  This happens when two of you are over 40 and one of you is approaching 40.  I remember when I could party all day and all night but those days are few and far in between now.  It felt good chatting in the gazebo, listening to live music, man bashing, downing two bottles of wine after tasting 9 other wines, eating a block of cheddar cheese (which I don’t eat anymore, but it was nostalgic and felt good to cheat at the moment), telling them about my adventure overseas, taking pictures in the vineyard and pretending that time stood still if only for a few hours.  They get on my nerves but I love them.

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Chatting in the Gazebo over wine and cheese
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My sisters, Ericka and Michele

A few days later, my hubby and I hopped on a plane for a trip I desired for some time.   He was taking me to check CUBA off my list!  We flew into Miami, spent two nights there, then boarded our Norweigian cruise ship for 4 nights.  (Stay tuned for a more detailed post of all the adventures on our cruise) We spent the first night in the middle of the ocean sailing the open waters until we reached Havana.  (Stay tuned for a more detailed post on Cuba coming soon) The shipped docked there overnight.  The third night was spent on the open waters again until we reached Norweigan’s private Bahamian island Grand Stirrup Cay, one of the Berry islands.  On our last night we sailed back to Miami.  An overnight stay at Miami beach finished off our vacation as well as a seat in first class. (Stay tuned for a more detailed post of my experiences in First class) The trip was an epic gift from my husband and a great way to begin 40.

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Our home for 4 days- Norwegian Sky

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Cuba
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A day at the Beach in Miami

My son treated me to a pedicure and manicure and planned a dinner party for my actual birth day.  We went to Ocean Prime and 8 others joined us.  He planned it all by himself and I was so proud of him.  Even one of my oldest and best friends attended.  She had reached out to me before I came home and asked if we could hook up.  We met up before the Cuba trip and she apologized for past mistakes.  So her showing up for my my birthday was a big step in correcting past wrongs and moving on.  Anyway, my two sons, sister Ericka and my niece, nephew and his girlfriend attended the dinner and my friend and ex-coworker Angelic as well.  We had a great time and the food and drinks were tasty.

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My oldest and dear friend Ayana- We’re not perfect but we’re here
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Fabulous at 40

On August 9, I re-packed and hubby and I headed for New York for the long journey to Qatar.  I was one plus 1 person and short 2 others.  There are definitely some things I will miss about America as I enter year 2 abroad, but I was ready to return to the new place that I call home.  I missed it.  I missed my Qatar friends and my apartment.  I missed my bed and routines.  I was tired of spending money, although I enjoyed every penny of it.  I felt like I needed a detox from all the drinking I had done.  I was anxious to see what this school year holds for me.  There are so many things that I have grown to love about Qatar, but that is a post for another day!

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Answers to Questions for Teachers Preparing to Teach Overseas

As several people prepare for their journey to Qatar or elsewhere overseas, I’ve been receiving lots of questions lately. I have decided to use this time to answer some questions…

I’ve connected with several people via social media in regards to teaching overseas.  I’ve tried to be as helpful and as transparent as possible by offering suggestions.  As several people prepare for their journey to Qatar or elsewhere overseas, I’ve been receiving lots of questions lately.  And now since I have completed one full year and will be beginning my second year real soon, some of my previous suggestions may have changed.   I have decided to use this time to answer some questions that I’ve been asked and maybe others have the same questions.  Hopefully this helps.

From Lauren:

1. So now that you’ve finished a whole year, looking back-what teaching supplies would you recommend someone bring?  Did you have all the supplies you needed for centers? Would you still recommend a new hire to bring classroom decorations?

I can’t speak for all schools overseas, but I can speak about mine in particular.  There is an over-abundance of material there from centers to curriculum items.  Much of what we use in the states is there.  I generally like to decorate my classroom with a theme so I did purchase some decoration for that but I don’t recommend it and I won’t do that this year.  I say this because, the classroom is not yours alone.  Four other teachers came into the classroom to teach in the course of one day, so they needed space as well, wall space to hang things and space to store things.  The space belongs to the kids so it was a waste of money and time to get hung up on decoration.  However, I would recommend purchasing and or bringing specific things you can’t live without as a teacher.  I like order, even if I’m sharing a room, and I run a tight ship of independence, so there are certain things that I like that makes this easy.  Some examples are: seat sacks and grouping items (same color folders, books, table caddies).  I also purchased plastic sleeves for name tags and labeling bins.  Butcher paper and borders were provided.  I will also bring specific workbooks and teacher resources that I like to use, eg..Words their Way, Sight word work and Daily grammar spiral workbooks.

2. Is it easy to transfer money into your American bank accounts?

It is very easy to transfer money into your American bank account.  Once you get your bank account set up overseas, you can set up automatic transfers or individual transfers online.  The first transaction can take up to a week but after a few transfers, it only takes about 1-3 days.  The overseas bank or your home bank may charge a fee.  Find out what that fee is for your particular banks.

3. …would you say that it is best to bring king sized sheets? Any other household items?

You can buy most of what you want in Qatar.  You may have to hunt around and it will take time but you can find it.  IKEA is in Qatar and they sell the same things as in America but you know their sheets and stuff fit their products best.  I prefer to bring my sheets from America.  The king sheets fit the king mattresses there.  I am very particular about my sleep comfort and I like 100% cotton sheets and pretty comforters with some weight.  So I spent too much money on having them shipped via Aramex from Bed Bath and Beyond and had my husband bring some sheets with him when he visited.  This summer, I purchased more sheets to take with me.  This summer I also purchased melting waxes from Walmart and floating candles from Amazon, but before I left Qatar I did discover some melting waxes at one of the malls.  I also found floating candles but not the color I wanted.  Much of these items are cheaper in America.

4. Was it easy getting around before getting your drivers license?

My school provided transportation to and from work for the first two-three weeks.  They also provided transportation to the supermarket and malls at specific times as well as government offices to take care of important matters.  Uber is everywhere in Qatar and most people carpool as well.

From Nancy:

5. For work, bag or purse? Do you carry a laptop around? Lots of paper?

We were provided with a laptop and laptop bag.  It is heavy and bulky so I use a big Michael Kors handbag to carry everything I need for work.  You won’t be bringing a lot of work home so you won’t carry around a lot of paper.

From Leslie:

6. Does ____ have a policy against open toed shoes?

There is a dress policy in place.  They prefer you not wear casual flip flops but most people wear open toed Birkenstocks or other open toed sandals.

Other recommendations:

Take at least one piece of apparel that represents your culture, favorite sports team, and something for wacky days eg…favorite storybook character day, mismatched day (polka dots with stripes etc).   Bring some hometown knick knacks for kids, they love to get treats from the USA, eg… treasure box incentive trinkets, small birthday gifts, snacks. Although, I have found many spices in Qatar, some I’ve never heard of, many people recommend bringing your own spices.  Personally, I would recommend fine sea salt and ground black pepper, oh and don’t forget Vanilla Extract.  You cannot find real vanilla extract in Qatar, something to do with the alcohol content.   Bring your medicines because although you can get medicine in Qatar, it takes a while to get used to the names, you won’t find the brand ‘tylenol’ but you will find an equivalent.  Take specialized toiletries with you.  I use Secret clinical strength deoderant and I haven’t been able to find it there so I stock up in America and pack it, enough for a year.  I also use Aveeno cream because I have eczema (Aveeno is very expensive in Qatar), so I stock up on that and I buy Shea butter and essential oils and make my own body butter and body scrub to bring.   Bring wash clothes, or get them at Ikea.  I have found hand towels but not wash clothes anywhere else except Ikea.  Also bring kitchen rags, same issue.  Buy work clothes and shoes before going.  The shoes in Qatar are European sizes and don’t fit me well but if you don’t have an issue with this than forget I said anything.  Also Qatar has many malls but I prefer to shop at places I know, like New York and Company and Venus for work clothes.  You won’t find these stores there. Do bring a few cold weather items, eg… sweater, jacket, rain boots, sweats; yes it is hot in Qatar but it gets cold for about 2 months and if you plan to travel, keep your destinations weather in mind when packing clothes. You know those bags of white cheddar cheese popcorn and peanut chews that you gotta have, well bring those, you probably won’t find them in Qatar and if you spot them there, you may never see them again.  So in short, bring the snacks you love, until you learn to love the snacks that are there.

Don’t take big electronics, in fact outside of your Personal laptop, phone, and IPad, buy your electronics there.  I can’t begin to tell you about the whole blowing things out, that I went through in the beginning.

That’s all I can think about right now if you have any more questions feel free to leave a comment and I will try my best to answer.

My advice: Have an open mind, try new things, be flexible and by all means enjoy yourself.

 

Did I Keep my Promise?

Remember the pledge I made to you….

Back in May 2016 I made this pledge to my readers, and I wanted to know your thoughts on how I did?

I promise to always be honest

I promise to not sugar coat what life is REALLY like for an Expat living in Qatar

I promise that despite how anxious I am about moving abroad I will always keep it real

I promise to blog at least once a month

I promise to include the pictures I am allowed

I promise that if I don’t like it there I will admit it

I promise that if I love it there I will admit it

I promise to share the good and the bad

I promise that one of these promises I will probably have to break

I promise not to get over there and forget why I am there

I promise not to get over there and forget who I am

I promise to keep an open mind and remember that Qatar is not America

I promise not to forget that I am a visitor to their country

I promise to try it for at least a year (as long as we are safe)

I promise not to forget that I am an African American Woman

I promise to return home at some point to visit

I promise that I probably forgot something and will add it later

Looking back on my first year in Qatar

In all this was an amazing year. Despite all the hiccups and stress, I don’t regret anything.

A year ago, I was nervous about my new adventure.  I had received my flight information and reality was beginning to set in.  I was shopping and packing, preparing to fulfill a dream of mine.  I was fearful but wanted to feel free.  I quoted Nina Simone, “I’ll tell you what Freedom is to me. No fear.”  But I’ve learned that real freedom is not the absence of fear but the ability to not be enslaved by that fear, and the courage to keep it from holding you back!

Well I didn’t.  I conquered my fear and survived teaching abroad, in Qatar, as a black American. That sounds so stupid to me because I wouldn’t say survived or black or American, but these are some of the words people used when I first announced this as my plan.  I would reword it to say:   I fulfilled a dream, lived and worked abroad in Qatar and it was absolutely amazing!  The experience was like no other and totally liberating. Now don’t get me wrong, I’d be lying if I said it was easy.  It was hard and some days I asked myself, what was I thinking.  It was filled with happy and sad moments.  There were things that I loved and things that I hated just like in Philly.   But I feel so accomplished and so much wiser than I was almost 1 year ago.  A lot can happen in 1 year.  Here are some of those things…

Happiest moments:

Visits- The happiest moments I had there were when my husband and sister came to visit.  I felt like a giddy child every time and very sad once they left.  I felt like a tour guide when they would come, showing them around my hood.  They seemed so happy to see me and the boys.

Traveling- Who would have ever thought I was afraid of flying the way I traveled this year?  I’ve been to places I never even heard of, before I left.  Life outside the U.S. bubble is truly something to experience.

Conversations- Having conversations with people of different backgrounds than yourself is truly life changing.

Hardest things I had to deal with this year:

3: Moving to a new country is a big adjustment.  I always thought I was a person that easily dealt with change.  Guess what, dealing with change is not that easy.  I’m not going to lie, sometimes it was hard.  I really love living in Qatar, but it took me all year long to feel this way.  There has been so much change this year.  I’ve lived in two different accommodations, both with their own quirks but I had to accept that none of these quirks were earth shattering.  CHANGES! I’ve never worked with so many people with so many different backgrounds, and so many different views.  CHANGES!  I’ve never gone to a supermarket and been so overwhelmed in my life.  CHANGES!  I’ve never been surrounded by so many strangers without anyone I know.  CHANGES!  I’ve never felt so lost in my life. CHANGES!  Etc. Etc.

2: You will lose people along the way.  Nothing I read, before I moved overseas, and I read a lot, informed me about this.  And to be honest I don’t think, anything could have prepared me for that.  I have lost ‘friends’, and family not thru death (thank God) but in life.  I have learned the true meaning of ‘reason or season’.  I know that people have lives and sometimes life gets in the way but it can get lonely living abroad.  It is important for expats to feel missed and loved.  Be prepared as much as possible to lose people and to gain people along the way.  Know that you may have to take this journey alone.  Your dreams are your dreams and yours alone, do not expect others to embrace it so easy. APPRECIATE THE ONES THAT STAY!  Know that I appreciate you, you know who you are.

1: My youngest son said he wanted to go back to the U.S. to live with his dad: After all I had done to make the best life for my sons.  Traveled hundreds of miles and spent thousands of dollars to give them something I never had and afforded them an opportunity of a lifetime.  Took them to countries many children in the U.S.A never even heard of.  I raised him with the help of his step-father and minimal help from his biological father, put him in several charter schools and then struggled with tuition in private school for years because he actually liked it after only attending 1 year of public school, which was awful. Then he lied and said he wanted to go back because the school here was too hard and his brother was bullying him only to finally fess up and admit that he only wanted to go back because he missed playing his video games with his friends online.  Talk about a smack in the face.  No matter what I do, in his eyes, I could never compete with his love for gaming.  It was completely selfish and I was hurt, angry and sad. But I granted his wish. Why, for several reasons.  One: sometimes as parents, we have to make hard decisions and choices that we may not like. Two: Kids need to learn lessons, not just be told, the best lessons are those learned through experience.  Kids don’t believe that shit stink until it’s under their noses.  Third: My son was miserable and he did not care to hide it and I refuse to allow anyone to steal my joy, even my own kids.   I also believe that everyone deserves to be happy even if I don’t agree with their path to happiness.  I’m sure his dad felt like he had won.  Despite all my degrees and his lack of, despite all my money and his lack of, despite all the attention to school I gave my son, and his lack of, despite my desire for growth, and his lack of, despite all the opportunities my son had with me, and the lack of these with him, one of my sons, his boy, chose him.   This broke my heart.  I mean this was my baby, my 13 year old son, who was choosing to take a game over me and his brother, after everything I had done for him.  To me this was the ultimate betrayal and I didn’t know how to deal with the betrayal of my own child.  He is so much like his dad and it kills me that he would throw all of this away for what… I knew it wasn’t personal but it sure felt personal.  And it still hurts as you can probably hear the tone in my words.  I had lost friends, even some family members by taking this huge step but never in a million years, did I think I would lose my baby boy. It felt like someone broke up with me and never explained what I did wrong.  On top of that, once he went back, we only spoke three times and those times were within the first month.  It’s like out of sight out of mind.  Am I wrong for not calling him?  I mean he left me.  He chose to go back.  Does this make me a bad parent?  I literally went through four stages of emotions after he left: Hurt, Sadness, Anger, and finally acceptance.  Yes, I finally accepted that he chose to leave me to go back to America and live with his dad.  It is what he thought he wanted.  I accept my part in this whole thing.  I took away the one thing he loved the most in life, games.  But life is funny like this sometimes, no regrets. Now that I am temporarily back in America, he has not left my side, yet.  I love my son.  I will end this here.

Trips I’ve taken in order, You can read all about them in past posts by clicking them:

Qatar

Dubai

Bahrain

Muscat, Oman

Maldives

Cairo/Luxor Egypt

Paris

Porto/Lisbon Portugal

Back to the U.S.A

Things I loved:

All the people I’ve met- I have met some very smart people this past year and made some friends.  It felt great being surrounded by like minded people with similar goals.   The expat community is a tight knit group of people because we are all we got.  People look out for each other.

My job- I love my job.  This teaching year has been one of my favorites.  It has indeed been the most un-stressful teaching year.  It wasn’t perfect but it wasn’t stressful either. My students were good and the workload was light.  When I was finished at work, I was finished working for a change.  The amount of work days with no days off were a bit much but I would take that over teaching in Philly any day.  In fact, after this year, I don’t know if I will ever teach primary school in Philly again.

My kids and parents- I had the sweetest group of students ever.  I would have looped with them, were I not the only first grade teacher staying at my school.  I was the newbie this year and everyone else that taught first grade had been there 3+ years, so they all moved on at the end of the school year.  Next year, I will be the only veteran.  I’m actually excited about that.  Anyway, my parents were great too.

The weather- No Snow period

The food-  OMG! Well you read all my blogs about my food experiences in Qatar, hopefully.  I’ll leave it at that.

The safety- I’ve never felt so safe in my life.  There were nights that we slept with the door unlocked.  There were no news reports of guns or violence.  Islam means Peace, did you know that?

Things I hated:

The weather- No Snow also meant no snow days.  Hot everyday and cover down to your knees and your shoulders, need I say more.

Dressing- I am a closet nudist, so being covered, is not really my thang.

Being in the middle east during a diplomatic crisis- which is still going on with no indication of an end in sight.  I hope they find peace and soon.

Things I’ve learned about life:

No matter where you are in this world, people are just people

There are shysters all over world, people trying to get over. People will try you, don’t underestimate them. Don’t think just because, you are in a safe country that someone won’t try to rob you, they may just be a little more slick about it.  Watch your back and don’t let your guard down!  On the contrary, be a good person, because I believe there are way more good people than not in this world.

Everyone is not your friend

Don’t allow everyone into your world.  Watch and then choose a few.  Everyone gossips. There will always be haters and people trying to drag you down and get you in trouble. There will always be people that feel threatened by you and try to steal your joy and shine, don’t let them.  And if they are successful, because we all are imperfect, let it only be for a short while, and don’t stoop to their levels, things always have a way of working out. Stay focused on your purpose!

To experience is to truly know

If you have never lived in another country than you haven’t lived.  If you haven’t traveled, you don’t know shit.  That may sound strong but anyone who has traveled will say the same thing.  You can never learn from a book what you will get from first hand experience.

Things I’ve learned about me:

Chill and be still

For the last 14 years of my life, I’ve been on a fast pace.  If I wasn’t in school, I was at work.  If I wasn’t at work, I was at home cooking, cleaning, taking care of kids or doing homework or work for work.  I was tired all the time and always moving.  It was difficult for me to just do nothing some days.  As much as I craved this for years, I didn’t know how to to do it.  I felt like I was cheating.  But I have now learned that it’s not cheating, I was cheating myself for years.  I believe that this year has added a few more years to my life because I have learned that it is okay to just chill and be still.

Patience

I’ve never been a very patient person.  Maybe it’s because I grew up in the city.  But there you don’t have a choice but to be patient, patient with people, patient in traffic, patient with paperwork.  Losing your patience won’t make things happen any faster.   I’ve learned how to stay calm in what could be stressful situations.  I’ve also learned that things are usually escalated because of our own lack of patience and agitation.  It goes along with learning to just chill and be still.

Reflective

Along with being patient I’ve learned to be reflective of myself.  When a situation turns sour, I think of ways I could have handled it differently and what part I played.  I think of how to find silver linings amongst clouds.  I’ve learned that I am an impulsive reactor.   I react so quickly sometimes without thinking first, my blood goes up and I lash out. Acknowledging this fault of mine is the first step, I think, in changing it.

In all this was an amazing year.  Despite all the hiccups and stress, I don’t regret anything.  I am looking forward to year 2 in Qatar.  For now, I am enjoying my summer back home, meeting up with old friends, chillin and being still, being half naked outside, enjoying a drink outside of a hotel, spending time with my husband, son and few family members, shopping for next year, eating at my favorite restaurants, watching HGTV, cleaning, creating some DIY projects and making appointments and plans.

I will end this post with advice for anyone considering taking this journey:

“I’ve learned that fear limits you and your vision. It serves as blinders to what may be just a few steps down the road for you. The journey is valuable, but believing in your talents, your abilities, and your self-worth can empower you to walk down an even brighter path. Transforming fear into freedom – how great is that?”      Soledad O’Brien

 

Portugal: Cobblestones, Cod and Cork…

…and so much more.  I don’t know where I heard or read that Portugal was the seafood capital of the world, but every since then, I knew I was going to visit this country.   And now that I have, let me tell you, there are so many other, better, reasons to visit Portugal!

After spending 3 days in Paris, my son and I took a short and cheap flight on Vueling Airlines over to Porto, Portugal, where we stayed in Ana’s AirBnb right in the heart of everything.  I highly recommend staying on Rue De Flores street.  The picture above was the view from the flat.  I adore the red-thatched roofs on the top of the houses.

We saw a lot of Porto in the two, too short nights spent there.  Porto is beautiful and we were lucky enough to stay right near the river.  On either side of the river you can watch the boats, enjoy wonderful wines, eat tasty food, listen to the live music, feel the cool breeze and cringe at the youngsters jumping off of the Luís I bridge into the cold deep river.  On the west side you can tour the wine cellars, if Port wine is your thing.  I’m not a big fan.  While meandering through some of the shops I noticed lots of items made from cork.  I didn’t know cork was a hot commodity in Portugal.  You can get purses, coasters and many other things made from cork.  I purchased some cork, wedge sandals.  They are quite comfortable and I can’t wait to wear them but not in Portugal.  I would probably break my ankle because there are cobblestones and hills everywhere.  They are slippery too.  I got quite a work out walking up and down all day.  Portuguese people have great legs.  I truly don’t know how they do it everyday but I guess like anything, you get used to it eventually.

You can find Cod on almost all restaurants menu’s, made several different ways.  Squid is another food you can find almost anywhere.  I was able to indulge in both and although cod is just okay to me, I thought the cod in Portugal was better than average and after getting up the courage to eat some squid, I actually enjoyed that too.

I booked a hop on hop off bus tour as well as a boat ride down the Douro river for Zamir and I to see as much of Porto as we could in our 1 full day.   We were able to see the blue painted tiles referred to as azulejos, on buildings, homes and walls of the train station. Blue is my favorite color and I found azulejos to be absolutely beautiful.  We saw the beaches and visited some of the famous landmarks: Ribeira and the Luís I Bridge, San Fransisco Church, Clerigos Church and Tower 3E.  Unfortunately, the Mercado Do Bolhao was being renovated so we missed that, we didn’t get a chance to ride the tram car and we didn’t get to try the food at Madureira’s restaurant but Zamir did try out the famous Francesinha dish, but he wasn’t a fan.

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Our favorite spot to eat was this little shop across from our flat called, Nut Porto.  The desserts there were delicious.  My favorite was a cookie and cream waffle with nutella and whipped cream.  We also really enjoyed the Sangria that we purchased for 2 Euros right on the the west side of the river.   I found the Portuguese language very interesting because it is a mix between Spanish and French.

On day 3, we packed up and purchased two train tickets at the famous Saõ Bento train station, for 60.5 Euros, to Lisbon, Portugal.  The train station was within walking distance from where we were staying, although it wasn’t easy dragging heavy luggage up hills and cobblestones.  The Saõ Bento walls are covered in azulejos.

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Outside of the Sao Bento train station
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Azulejos on the walls of the train station

We took the next train to Campahna station and boarded another train to Santa Apolonia station.  The train ride was rather comfortable and took approximately 4 hours.  Our seats reclined, there was space to put our larger luggage and staff members came through the cars with food and beverage carts with items for sale.

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Santa Apolonia train station

We stayed in Paulo’s spacious Airbnb in Lisbon.  We had to walk a ways to get to any action from this Airbnb but it is very close to the train station.   My first impression of Lisbon was, it is not as beautiful as Porto.  This may be because the area near the train station is very famous and was undergoing a lot of construction.  We walked around and noticed that this area is also where the cruise ships dock.   We stopped for some food and got ‘Lisbon-boozled’. Apparently in Lisbon, after you order your food and are waiting, the waiters bring you bread, cheese, butter and croquettes and after you are finished your meal, you notice several extra charges on your bill.  Remember that bread and butter you ate and that cheese you picked over, oh yeah, you have to pay for that.  Surprise!  This created a distrust and dislike for me for Lisbon.

It seemed like I wouldn’t get to the places I wanted to see in Lisbon on my own, so I booked us a full day of tours for the next day.  I found Portuguese for a day tour company on Viator.  It was really short notice to book a tour and this company was the only one that had space available.  Filipa was our tour guide and the owner of the company.  Zamir and I and 2 other couples set out to tour Lisbon.  It was small group and it was nice.

We toured Sintra.  Sitting atop of a hill, overlooking all of Lisbon, sits this beautiful, colorful, fairytale castle called Peña Palace.

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We toured Quinta Da Regaliera, a 20th century-built gothic looking palace and garden with underground passages.  It is here, where we happened upon the Initiation Well that I saw all over the internet, beautiful in pictures, wonderful in person.

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We also visited Cabo Da Roca- the westernmost part of Europe and Caiscais (pronounce catchcize)- a coastal community and the richest municipality in Portugal.

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We had lunch and picked up some souvenirs after a full day of Lisbon beauty.

At the airport I picked up a Lisbon inspired Pandora charm to add to my travel bracelet, because no trip is complete without a momentõ.

Our trip to Portugal was short and sweet.  Portugal is a beautiful country with lots to see. The weather is also very comfortable and in summer the days are long; it doesn’t get dark until after 9pm.  Porto is older and maintains a lot of it’s rooted charm.  Lisbon has more to see but is also more touristy.  In Porto, the area I stayed in was perfect.  If I were to revisit Lisbon, I would opt to stay downtown or in Caiscais.  I plan to visit Portugal again for a longer stay in another one of its regions.  I feel like I didn’t get to experience the food, wine, beach or culture to it’s fullest.

So, Obrigada Portugal (thank you in Portuguese), I will be back.

Headed to Paris-What to pack?

Just left Paris after spending 3 full and 2 half days there.  I must have packed and re-packed at least 6 times to prepare myself and still forgot some essentials.  It was my first time, so I wasn’t really sure what to expect and even though I did a lot of reading ahead, I still feel like I could have been better prepared.  Hopefully my experience will help you.

Here are some suggestions of what to pack to get you through:

  • Pajamas
  • Toiletries including wet wipes (make sure your toiletries are travel sized if you plan to only take a carry on bag and don’t forget your toothpaste)
  • Undergarments
  • Camera
  • Portable chargers
  • *Universal converter (I forgot mine and couldn’t charge anything until I purchased one)
  • A face cloth (I find that European and Middle Eastern countries usually do not supply face cloths, it’s like they don’t use them. They will supply you with hand towels and bath towels but where are the wash clothes to wash your body and face with, anyway)
  • Comfortable shoes for walking eg.. Birkenstocks or hiking sandals (Do not make the mistake I made and pack only flip flops and converses or shoes for looking pretty. Take your ugly, worn shoes.  You can always crop them out of your pictures)
  • A cardigan to tie around your neck or waist and to throw on when it gets chilly
  • A small cross-body handbag or passport holder with pockets. A cell phone cover with pockets would work too.  (I’m pretty sure you’ve heard about the pickpocketing there.  I’m pretty sure I was pick pocket proof)
  • A dainty silver or gold necklace, bracelet, earring studs
  • A fitness watch (You’ll want to track all the steps you take. I reached my step goal x2 or more each day)
  • An LBD (can be dressed up or down, worn alone or with a shirt over it) (FYI: Little Black Dress)
  • A long white button up shirt (can be worn alone as a dress or over your little black dress tied in the front, now you have 3 outfits instead of 2 plus a bathing suit cover up)
  • A swimsuit if staying in a hotel
  • A pair of skinny jeans of course
  • 2 graphic t-shirts
  • A special Parisian outfit to wear for those pictures under the Eiffel tower (I ordered a black bubble skirt from Etsy that could be worn long or buttoned-up to be short and purchased a ruched sleeved white shirt from H&M, and finished the look with a black and gold head scarf as you can see in the picture above)
  • Sunglasses and a hat

That should be enough for at least 5 days.

You can use your credit cards in Europe and your debit card to access Euros from the ATM.  Check with your banks on the foreign transaction fees and inform them of your travel plans.

As far as phone apps go, download Yelp, Google Maps offline and Google translate. Trust me they will come in handy.

What are some essentials that you pack when you travel?

 

3 Days in the City of Love

I mean if you see the Eiffel tower, you have to journey to the sommet, right? 

Unlike many people that I know, I never had a desire to visit Paris.  I am not a very artsy person and when I thought of Paris, that’s what came to mind.  The site of the Eiffel tower did nothing for me, neither did the thought of seeing monuments, statues and art museums.   This may seem odd, as I am a teacher and all, but it was my truth.

My son, however was passionate about experiencing Paris.  He studied French for 4 years in school and wanted to exercise his skills outside of the classroom in a genuine French setting.  On our way back to Philadelphia for the summer, I decided to plan some stop-over vacations.  Since Paris was on the way and Pegasus airline had tickets for under $200, I planned our trip.

Pegasus airline is a no frills airline, no free food, no movies, no wifi, one equal class, but we were quite comfortable especially since our seats were reassigned to the first row. GO US! We had ample leg room and the seats were pretty comfy.  My coworker and his family who was flying to Germany was also seated in the first row across from us.  We were allowed one checked luggage and a carry on.  We were sure our bags were over the limits but we had no problem checking them in.  They served us cheese and chicken sandwiches, which I apparently, accidentally ordered online while purchasing my tickets.  I gave mine to a gentleman sitting beside us.  I got in some zzzz’s while the captain and flight attendants made several announcements in French.  I couldn’t understand one word they said but after 5 hours we landed safely in Istanbul.

While in Istanbul I realized that my credit cards were not working.  I called the bank before I left Qatar to inform them that I’d be traveling to Paris and Portugal but it never dawned on me to inform them of my layover country of Turkey.  The banks in the U.S. would not be open for several more hours, so I called my bank in Qatar and notified them.  Advice #1: Be sure to call your banks and tell them where you are traveling and include your layover stops in case you want to buy something there.  Four hours later we hopped on Pegasus for the connecting flight to our destination, Paris.

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Our checked luggage arrived with us to Paris.  I hate checking luggage because I am always fearful of it getting lost and I hate waiting to retrieve it but because I was going home for the summer, I had to take more than what would fit in a carry on.  We grabbed a taxi and headed to 20 Rue de Vertes (click here if you want an airbnb just for sleeping in a good location). Since most accommodations in Paris are small anyway, I figured this was a good opportunity to try out an Airbnb.  I’ve always wanted to try one out.  I settled on one in the 4th arrondissement of Paris, close to the center, but not too touristy.  We were pretty close to metro stations and could get around easy.  One cab ride later, our host, Jean, met us at the Airbnb.  He showed us how everything worked and left.  It was small but it had everything we needed to rest comfortably.

We were so tired that we took a short walk, and found Le Potager du Marais, a small vegan restaurant, to have linner (lunch/dinner).  I had lasagna and my son had a salad.  On our way back to our place we spotted this gem, Hanks Vegan pizza.  We were definitely going to try it out during our stay.  Close-by was this vegan market that we stopped in for snacks.  I was in Vegan Heaven.

The next morning, we headed to breakfast.  I used Yelp as a guide and found Bob’s burger, yup you guessed it, another vegan restaurant, where we enjoyed breakfast. 20170617_102757 I’m mad I didn’t get to go back for lunch to get a vegan bowl.  They sounded scrumptious but weren’t available for breakfast.  Advice #2: Download Yelp on your mobile device to find eateries, especially if you follow a special diet.  This place does not have a sign on the door, in fact we walked right passed it but thanks to google maps we backed up and went in.  Advice #3: Download google maps on your phone if you don’t already have it.  It gives directions to every where via walking, car or public transportation.  

A coworker of mine strongly suggested we check out MontMarte.  We looked it up on google maps and decided to walk there.  During this 47 minute walk, we were able to take some cool pictures around Paris.  It was also during this walk, that I realized, my choice in footwear was not good.  I mean I know that converses are not the most comfortable sneakers but they do go with almost anything and I didn’t think about the amount of walking we would do exploring.  Despite this, I really enjoyed our walk.

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MontMarte is situated high on a hill.  You do not have to go to the top of the church to take in some good views.  We didn’t go inside either.  We just enjoyed the views and took some great shots.  Click here to learn the MontMarte’s history.

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Next, we hopped on the Metro.  I purchased a two-day pass for the both of us.  It cost 70 Euros.  A day pass cost approximately 35 Euros.  I probably would have saved money by purchasing individual tickets, but I paid for the convenience of it all.  I did not want to have to purchase a ticket for every time we rode the metro or use my credit card for each purchase and acquire an international fee each time or dig through money to purchase a ticket every time or wait in line every time. Taking the metro was pretty easy too and in my opinion better than taking a taxi or Uber everywhere.  That gets expensive, so I saved money this way.  Advice #4:  Opt for the metro or walking over other means of transportation and if convenience is important to you, purchase a day pass for how ever many full days you will be in Paris.  

The Louvre was our next stop. When you get off the metro, you walk into a mall.  From the inside of the mall you can see the top point of a triangle, upside-down, made of glass.  When you get outside, you will see the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel across from the Louvre.  The Louvre is diamond-shaped, made of glass and protrudes from the ground.   Beautiful architectural buildings surround it and small fountains.  We did not go inside the museum.

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After a short ride on the metro, I decided we should get off and explore some more.  I found a small shop that sold Pain au Chocolate, a Paris sweet, Danish with chocolate inside.  I had read about these so I tried one.  It was good.  We continued walking and came across this gigantic piece of metal standing on four legs.  It was the Eiffel Tower.  On this day, we decided that tomorrow we would go to the top.  I mean if you see the Eiffel tower, you have to journey to the sommet (summit, but this is how it is spelled in Paris), right?

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We took some pictures and headed back to our Airbnb.  On the way back, Zamir spotted a statue of liberty.  This was pretty cool, since I had read that there were several throughout Paris.

We stopped at Hanks for vegan pizza for dinner.  We both had a slice with potatoes, red onions and vegan cheese.  Zamir also had sorbet and I had a salad and a cookie.

I have to mention that we discovered this drink by Schwepps called Agrum, that is absolutely devine.  Dare I even say, it is better than Pepsi, strong and tasteful.  We wished we had brought some home.

Something really strange happened the next day while visiting the Eiffel Tower.  We got up early and started our trek around 8 am.  The Eiffel tower area doesn’t open until 9am and they don’t start letting people up until 9:30am.  Since we didn’t purchase tickets online, we chose to get there first thing.  The line was long when we arrived but we waited anyway.  The wait was about 1 hour between waiting for the gates to open, purchasing our tickets which were approximately 29 Euros for the 2 of us (tickets are discounted for 12-24 year old youth), and waiting in line to go up.  People who purchased tickets in advance still had to wait in a line, a shorter line but still waited nonetheless.  Advice #5: If you are not with a tour guide, you will wait whether you buy your tickets online or not, so I suggest going early in the morning before the gates open to cut down on the wait time.  The view from the sommet of the Eiffel is breathtaking.  You can see Montmarte, The Arc de Triomphe and many more monuments if you know where to look.  It’s not scary either.  When we decided we had had enough of seeing Paris from 1,000 feet in the air, we went to look for the elevator down, but were told we could only go down the stairs.  Once we were on the second level of the sommet, we waited for the elevator and waited and waited for an elevator that never came.  Then we also noticed that the steps were blocked.  This is when everyone began to stare at each other with curiosity.  No-one was being allowed to go down.  Zamir looked down and noticed that everyone on the ground was leaving the park and the police were blocking the street to the Eiffel.   Then a worker announced that they needed everyone to move to the west side of the Eiffel due to a matter of security.  There wasn’t anything we could do but wonder and wait.  I called my husband just to be cautious and to see if he could find anything on the news.  He found nothing.  After approximately 20 minutes, we were all allowed to leave and the park was re-opened.  We never did find out what the scare was about but we were happy we made it safely down.   We took some photos in the park and made our way to the Arc de Triomphe.

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The Arc de Triomphe is literally in the middle of the street and after going to the top of the Eiffel, it seemed pointless to journey to the top of this monument.  We strolled the infamous Champs-Elysées street and stopped in Leon de Bruxelles to eat.  Here we enjoyed the best mussels ever.  Advice #6: Stop here for lunch and enjoy the delightful mussels.  We attempted to see the catacombs this day as well, but the line was around the corner.  One of the things I wanted to do in Paris was some boutique shopping.  I was hoping to find some unique Parisian clothing or shoes.  I read about Rue de Charonne, so we took the metro there.  Unfortunately, I didn’t take the day of the week into consideration and all the shops were closed because it was Sunday.  Needless to say I was very disappointed but it made me want to return to Paris even more.  We moved on and saw Notre Dame but the line to go in was too long here as well.  I wore my flip flops out on this day.  My feet hurt so bad and so did my calves.  Advice #7: When considering shoes for Paris, go for comfort for walking over everything else.  Oh how I wished I had bought my ugly Birkenstocks with me.  Another trip to Hanks for pizza and salad ended our vacation in Paris and the next morning we were back in the airport, on to our next adventure.

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In the street in front of the Arc De Triomphe

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I have come to accept the fact that if a vacation spot’s food game is on point, I’m sold.  Paris did not disappoint.  The vegan choices where we stayed were in abundance as were other food choices.  There were other things that I liked about Paris too, the ease of getting around and the freedom.  I actually enjoyed seeing couples in PDA, which is a far cry from Qatar.  I mean what’s wrong with showing the world how much you are in love or in lust with the one you’re with.  I would like to plan a return trip to Paris.  Why, to EAT of course, amongst other things.  I would still like to check out the boutiques, cruise down the Seine, visit the Paris Sewer Museum, check out the covered food market and street market, go inside the Louvre and see the catacombs.  Before going to Paris please note, people smoke cigarettes everywhere and if you are not a smoker, this can get very irritating.

For now, it is off to Portugal.  Until next time Paris.

Au Revoir!

P.S. The day after we left Paris, a police cruiser was rear-ended by a man in a car full of explosives on Champs-Elysées street.  The whole area was cut off from the public.  The man later died.  The police officers were not hurt.  This coupled with the events that transpired when we were at the Eiffel tower just makes me thank God even more that my son and I were able to visit Paris unscathed.  I really wish people could just be good. I pray for peace. Click here to read about the incident.