A walk into the Old town

One of the perks of being an Expat is living like a tourist everyday, or on a tour without a tour guide.Sightseeing is absolutely free, unlimited and you’ve got full access to discover the less-touristic areas which makes a place special.You can explore the neighborhood and outskirts like a curious tourist and be amazed of the hidden gems around you, without the rush.Of course there would come a time that you’ll get used to seeing the buildings and structures around you,and suddenly it all becomes a normal sight. You won’t think of it as worthy of a second look, but then, it is because you have discovered something else. Something even more grand, something worth of admiration.

And the best way to do this, is by foot- walking, at your own pace.

 

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The Old Town (Altes Rathaus )  of Ingolstadt : neo-Renaissance  style by Gabriel von Seidl in 1882 which serves as the seat of the Lord Mayor.Also known as the Four Houses in One simply because 4 old houses were joined together.

For the past months that I am doing lots of walking, (both figuratively & literally) into my new town, I have found so many interesting history and tales that is way beyond the written reviews in Trip advisor or any tourist site in the net about this place. It is not as big as Munich or Berlin, but it has its own identity, and rich cultural heritage. No wonder there is so much mention in this place. In this little old town of Ingolstadt, that certain” Bavarian ” spirit is in the air, everywhere. From the locals who walk the streets  in their traditional Lederhosen and Dirndls, up to the details engraved in their beautifully restored gabled houses, picturesque Architectural ensembles in different periods and up to their imposing gateways.

One particular Bavarian character of this city  that I noticed ever since I step on this place is their impressive fortifications, which, I can say that has become the Old’s town’s charm. The “Schanz”( a series of fortifications) has a reason why it has been built and preserved up to this day.  Indeed, Ingolstadt is a Medieval city of towers and gateways.

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Details of the Altes Rathaus

The church Liebfrauenmünster or also called the Minster to our Dear and Beautiful Lady  is definitely a must-see. I love its exterior and even more the details found inside. When I spent a day on top of the Pfeifturm, the town’s watch tower, which stands beside the city’s oldest parish church, of St. Moritz, the prominent roof of the cathedral stands out.It is one of the largest late-Gothic church of this kind in the whole region of Bavaria, even in Southern Germany.According to records, about 7,000 tree trunks were used in its construction.

 

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The Liebfrauenmünster 

 

Do you like the Audi car?

I’m telling you, Ingolstadt is a city more than just Audi. When you walk down the street, you can see that the locals really loved their cars, their sleek  Audi cars as they loved their Bavarian beer. Of course Audi is a prominent landmark in this town, where almost everybody drives in style. With 566,646 cars built in 2015, the Ingolstadt parent plant is the Audi Group’s largest production facility and Europe’s second-largest car factory. Globally networked, Audi Ingolstadt is the company’s flagship plant in terms of its technological prowess. This is where the Audi A3, Audi A4, Audi A5, Audi Q2 and Audi Q5 car lines are built. One of the biggest magnet for this city is the Audi Forum, which attracts more than 400,000 visitors each year.

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Stone and Bronze architectural detail

Another distinctive detail I saw in this town is the Bronze and Stone façade. From the memorial plaques in the Franziskanerkirche, valuable and unusually well-preserved memorial plaques adorn the walls,the pillars, and the side chapels. This old town is home of the impressive Asam’s Church of Maria de Victoria. This hidden church boasts of the phenomenal ceiling fresco by Cosmas Damian Asam , the most famous Bavarian Baroque artist. His phenomenal creativity  is shown in the largest flat ceiling fresco in the world at 42 m X 16m which can be admired by walking round it. I could stare at this ceiling for hours. When I walk, the image seems to move, simply amazing.Now I know what is perspective painting means. If you want to know it, you’ve got to see the ceiling fresco of Asam’s church of Maria de Victoria or the Asam’s church in  Munich which is also work of the Asam Brothers.

 

Another treasure found in this church is the  Lepanto Montrance– a filigree work of art, set in gold and silver, which represents the Christian’s victory over the Turks in the sea battle in Lepanto. It is a unique battle portrayal on the most valuable monstrance in the world.

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Then there’s the impressive Neues Schloss, (New Castle) a fortress type castle which stands in the middle of the city centre. It is built by Duke Ludwig the Bearded in the first half of  15th century. I love the picturesque view of this castle when I am on top of the bridge above the Danube river. Inside this castle is the magnificent vaulted, elegant interior that accommodates the Bavarian Army museum where it displays the historical weapons, armaments and tin soldiers.Outside this castle are the decorated 17 richly decorated cannons,the Scherer and the Schererin which guards the Neues Schloss. It weights more than 9 tons each.  Right in the castle courtyard  you can also view the Baroque Clocktower. This location is a major touristic area along Paradeplatz  square where the fountain and statue of Ludwig the Bavarian can be found.

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The face of the Cannon in the courtyard of Neues Schloss 

 

 

 

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Beautiful gable Borgeuois town houses

 

My walks have also took me to the outside of the medieval town walls as far as the Taschenturm tower, which used to be one of the minor gates in the Town Wall. The city’s most famous landmark-  The Kreuztor, is the most beautiful of all the preserved gateways that leads from the west into the old town. Four small corner towers and sparingly used limestone decorations embellish this red brick gateway tower from the late 14th century. It’s name came from the leper house with its chapel “to St. Cross” that used to be here outside the town.

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The Taschenturm Tower
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Narrow fronts,high gables of the Bourgeois town houses located in the city center

As I continue to explore the city, I admired the beautiful architecture of the narrow gable houses. They are colorful, unique and has a distinctive feature that really makes this city a worth while to see. If you’ve seen the gable architecture where Amsterdam is famous for, then you know what I mean. It certainly gives an identity to the city. The houses of the old town, in which councilors,guild masters and professors once lived, and which have been witness to a great deal back in the old days, are still full of life up to this day. I wanted to photograph each one of them because every single house is unique.

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Beautiful architecture in the old town of Ingolstadt

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It is very obvious that Ingolstadt is a city with strong fortifications. These Schanz were built by Leo von Klenze have resisted many attacks over the centuries. That is why these fortifications are still so visible, intact and well maintained up to this time. At any given time, you can see the unique, open-air museum of German fortress architecture especially if you walk through the Rose Garden of  Klenzepark where you can see the Turm Triva, which is the home of the Bavarian Police Museum. It is right inside of the lush green oasis with the view of the River Danube.

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The Turm Triva, the home to the Bavarian Police Museum

I was wondering what is Turm Triva when I first saw it. At first I thought it was an open air arena, but then I didn’t realize that it was part of the Bavarian fortifications. Then I’ve learned that the wall complexes, with the Baur and Triva round towers (Turm Baur & Turm Triva)  and the Reduit Tilly in the classical style build just at the bridge head of the Danube river were built for the refuge for the Royal family.

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A display of a Bavarian armor along the Anatomiestr.

For a fact that apart from all of these architectural sites, Ingolstadt also is very green. I can say that its one place for a lover of nature and for someone who wants to walk and enjoy the slow pace of life. Over the few months, I began to adapt to my new routine in this city. I knew now why the locals love outdoors and when its sunny and nice, everyone just hop on their bicycles roaming around the city like crazy. There’s always something to do and see.

When I did the walking tour to find all the Stolpersteine here in Ingolstadt, I appreciate this old city even more. For me, the best way to explore a small, traditional city like this is by foot.  Not only that I feel belongedto it as I walked around , smiled, greet, and nod to the old folks whom I found to be so active, and to the busy people in the streets, but also, I can easily feel the beat, or the vibe of the city. So all in all, it was always a great walk around the old town.

Have you’ve been to a walking tour?  How was your experience?

 

 

5 Reasons why hand made greeting cards makes a lasting impression this holiday season

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Christmas project 101 : Personalized and hand painted Christmas greeting cards

There’s something about receiving greeting cards, either by hand or by mail. I couldn’t explain it,  but for me, I find it sooo special to receive a card through snail mail or express. It really becomes a lasting impression. A special memento, a keepsake that is treasured. Traditional greeting cards beats all the technology that we have in right now.Receiving cards is totally different from e-cards,and mobile messages that we can send through internet.Call me traditional but I can never trade the crisp texture of an envelop containing a card than swiping my fingers in my iPhone.

It’s Christmas time once again and one of the things that floods the shops and bookstores are wide arrays of Holidays greeting cards. There’s so many designs and styles to choose from.From family to friends, to business and for general media, you name it, there’s always a card for any occasion.Back then in Kuwait, I couldn’t have this lifestyle because the mailing system is so crazy that there is 99% that mails got lost into doom land. There were numerous times that our mails were lost and it’s so hard to track. Now that we live in Germany where the local postal system is just right at our doorstep, I find another excuse.

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My Christmas greeting cards project this holiday season

 

If receiving cards gives a lasting impressions, how about making and giving it instead,yourself?

This year I wanted to make something special. I wanted to make a craft project that I can really do and not compromise. I needed to squeeze my tight schedule for a craft time for drawing & designing cards. So instead of buying dozens of Christmas cards to be sent out to our dearest  friends and family, I decided to make them instead.

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Holiday Craft project : Watercolor painted greeting cards
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The materials are simple and very handy : Watercolor, colored pencils, construction papers or  parchments, a creative mind and  a lots of love!

Why personalized and handmade greeting cards make the lasting impression this Holiday season? Here’s my  FIVE (5)  reasons ;

  • It shows your style – The type of card, design and the content you share always shows  a bit of who you are.Your personality is delivered through your drawing, handwriting, and even on the choice of materials  you used.Remember, every card is special.
  • A bridge to connect with someone special – As an Expat, we are very good in connecting to far away friends & love ones.But almost all of them through our phones. There’s No better way for me to bridge the gap between love ones and friends than making an effort to send a message to them. This also depends on your location and accessibility to make this happen. Sending mails and cards can be expensive too but it all depends on your budget and lifestyle.
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Few of my personalized greeting cards, all hand made, designed and drawn by me.
  • It has the unbeatable element of Surprise – There’s no undeniably bad reason for having a big surprise when you receive something that is totally unexpected. That moment when you receive a greeting card from a friend that you haven’t spoken for years, that family or relative that live across the other side of the world..It’s all about the element of surprise. It’s a priceless gift and oftentimes, unforgettable!
  • It’s really the thought that counts – Okay , so if you’re not feeling creative or crafty and your artwork sucks? Never mind, for what really matters is the thought of giving. I once received a card for my daughter that is drawn by a 3-years old, it only shows smears and dots made out of colored pens, more like a scratch. But for me, I find it so special.
  • It shows that you care – The act of making it,and picking out a design to make cards shows that you care and you are willing to give a fraction of your time during the busiest time of the holiday season, and that is enough reason to make someone else laugh, smile and feel loved.

Do you still need more reason?

To make cards and to give them away  is simply because its Christmas! and who doesn’t want to feel loved this time? I have learned this mantra : You cannot give what you don’t have.

Have a little love, have a little artwork, spread a lasting impression!

“There’s something about the tactile nature of receiving a card,” says Shelley Patenaude, product manager for season cards. “It says that someone cared enough to pick out a card just for you, hand-write a note, and place it in the mail or deliver it by hand. Unlike a message that shows up on your computer or mobile phone, greeting cards make a lasting impression. You can display a card on your mantle for all to see or keep it forever as a memento. And with the hustle and bustle of the season, a greeting card provides that moment of peace that’s just between the sender and the recipient.”

Do you like to send someone a card this Christmas?

If you like my designs of cards in photos above and you want to receive a FREE hand-made & personalized  Christmas card,just write your thoughts in the comments or you can email me at justbluedutch@gmail.com!

 

 

 

It’s not this Time of the Year without Christkindlmarkt

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Beautiful hand painted Christmas ball ornaments

The long wait is finally over!

Finally, I have made my very  first visit and seeing a real German Christmas market–the Christkindlmarkt ! The great thing about being an Expat is exploring things like a tourist and enjoying it like locals do. I am so grateful that my Expat Life had brought me so much new cultures to learn and different stories to share with you. I am sure that you’ve heard about Germany being  famous worldwide  for its beautiful Christmas markets &meaningful  traditions and now I know why…

This year is our first taste of Christmas in Germany and as I finally became a resident here, I wanna share with you my whole experience through Germany’s Weihnachten, after all, it’s  my favorite time of the year,the Christmas season.

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Christkindlmarkt in Ingolstadt

After almost 8 years of Christmas in Kuwait, where celebrating Christmas is confined into the insides of our flat, this year’s gonna be a whole lot different for me personally. I am seeing lots of new things, and various exciting things as we look forward for this holiday season. Even away from the Netherlands, my daughter is so ready to celebrate Sinterklaas version or the St. Nicholas Day (Der Nikolaustag) on Dec. 6. Again, for the first time as well, I have made our own Advent wreaths (Adventkranz) and pine wreaths which I decorated to hang in our doors. It’s so different to have a real wreaths made out of twigs and pines.Traditionally, German families gather around the wreath on each Advent Sunday to light the candle, sing Christmas carols and eat Christmas cookies. For me, I needed to pay extra attention when the candle is lit because I have a frenzy toddler who wants to play  with the pines and ehmm..blow the candles.

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Handmade, crafted and sculptured Christmas figurines and the Old man’s look.

Last Wednesday, November 23, at 5pm, the Christkindlmarkt in Ingolstadt opened with sparkling lights and putting up the giant 14- meters Christmas tree (Weihnachtsbaum)  in front of the Town Hall (Rathausplatz) signalling the start of this year’s  Frohe Festtages.The whole city center were transformed into a winter wonderland and I was really amazed by how efficient the local organizers have put up the whole set for the next 31 days. Everything looks like a page in a book of  Winter Wonderland. The Christkindlmarkt here in Ingolstadt along with all other Christmarkets all over Germany  lights up the city from November 23 up to 23rd of December 2016, some even lasts until 8th of January next year.

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A window full of ornaments I spotted in Christkindlmarkt

I was looking forward to see Ingolstädter Krippenweg. For me, it’s the  highlight of celebrating Christmas as well as Filipinos observed the “Simbang Gabi“or the Night Mass observed for 9- nights from Dec. 16-24. I remembered having our Nativity set placed under our Christmas trees. This year, we have our hand- crafted Nativity set from Kenya, a gift from my parents in-law. But here in Germany, they have  the city’s Trail of Nativity and there’s a special tour  for tourists- the “ Kumm,geh ma Kripperl schaugn” for visitors who wants to see the unique ‘cribs’ that can be found here in Bavaria.  I have seen 2 of them already  and I look forward to see the largest nativity in the Spitalkirche on the next  days. Ingolstadt is a home of  famous “cribs”as early as 1594.

Stay tuned for my detailed post about the historical cribs in different  periods and styles displayed in various places and churches  spread in this old Bavarian city and of course, the Polish artist from Opole carving the wood cribs.

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Christmas lanterns adorn the restaurants and gives warmth to outdoor lounges.

As shoppers flocked everyday in the busy city center,the shops along Ludwigstr. adorned their windows with colorful, festive and holiday displays which gives delights to all ages. The whole city is adorned with Christmas decorations . Everywhere I looked, I see  decorated wreaths and  cafes have become even more cozier with their winter lounges and warm decor. I felt like I am really in a different world. Along the streets, the little ones get crazy with the carousels (Kinderkarussell), trains (Kinder eisenbahn) and the Weihnachts Märchenweg. There are Story telling- booths with statues and moving puppets for famous fairy tale stories like “Der Frösch-Konig”, “Rapunzel“, Hänsel und Gretel”,”Rot-Käppchen”,”Schnee Wittchen” and many more. Such a fun way  to engage the little ones!

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Christmas Gingerbread cookies

Outside, I observed that most  trees gradually lost their colored leaves, some are already bare, it seems to be getting colder from day-to-day and the hedges starts to freeze. I wonder when will the first snow fall here in Bavaria? Schokonikoläuse and gingerbread have long adorned the shelves of supermarkets, a clear sign, the year is drawing to a close. I can’t believe that 2016 will soon get over…another brand new year to come.

Also I noticed that Germans ( also Bavarians ) celebrates this holiday with style and lots of Uhmm.. sweets and  threats, such as the Advenkalendar. While I was doing our grocery shopping, I noticed that there is a huge pile of these colorful boxes, some in edgy shapes, with Christmas stories and designs. The German Advenkalendar madness had begun. Germans surely have a way to spoil themselves ( and little ones!) with lots of chocolates even before the calories add up on Christmas dinners and parties! For the 3 visits we’ve made, my daughter was showered already with lots of Scholonikoläuse, bonbons, and sweets..for this I need to be tolerant. The Weihnachtsman inside the shops are so generous!

In addition to so many sweet and hearty treats, a lot of punch, mulled wine and Feuerzangenbowle, and the aroma of Glühwein (“glow wine”) are served. These drinks will warm you up even before you actually drink this German version of hot mulled wine.Germans really know how to keep the chill away.

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Ogling and drooling over these bonbons

Outside the confines of shops, this place is packed with so many great gift ideas in displays.We strolled inside the Christkindlmarkt and found many tempting food stalls. There’s the German rolls and  brötchen with sausages and Bratwurst, grilled meats in buns, or with crispy pommes, the Stollen (Fruitcake) and lebkuckens even French crepes!

There are huge stall for decorative glass wares, candles made out of beeswax, toys, arts & crafts, Christmas decor to adorn the Weinachtsbaum (Christmas tree), yummy threats like Ginger breads , Lebkucken,Schaumküsse, and lots of tortes and chocolate bonbons! My favorite was the shop with all the hand painted Christmas balls. They all looked so beautiful!

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The city was transformed into a scenic festive place as well the arcades of the old town hall, the Winterlounge opens again . An oasis of peace, where you can relax the day with a mulled wine or punch. This is also a perfect place to socialize and just enjoy a cozy night out with friends.

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Ice Skating rink in front of New Castle

The fun continues when we saw another special thing about German Christmas market-the Ice Skating rink!  The whole area of Paradeplatz were transformed into a beautiful “Eis Arena am Schloss”. Imagine skating  in front of the beautiful Neues Schloss ( New Castle), for a true magical Ice skating experience. A 500- square meter ice surface is waiting for all ice skating enthusiasts and the adventurous ones. My toddler can’t keep her eyes from this place but she’s still too young to skate with all the big ones.

Beside the Herzogkasten,the Carraraplatz is transformed into a small handicraft space. On the four adventures, artists and artisans, in Christmas-decorated huts, offer their unique products. I realized that there are so many talented artists here and so many beautiful crafts! There is also the Kulturezeit,special treat for big and small ones. The tent moves from the Schlossinnenhof to the Herzogkasten. Story-tellers, artists and authors invite young and old to join in and listen.

What about you, how’s Christmas celebrated in your place? Have you ever tried Glühwein ?

So much already right? Germans really have a way to make every Weihnachten the best holiday time of the year and as an Expat, I can really say that “It’s not this time of Year without Christkindlmarkt”.

To think it’s only the first week,and  I bet there’s more to come. I will share them all in my next posts so  stay tuned for more  about celebrating Christmas the German way.

This post is in response to this week’s Photo challenge |It’s Not This Time of Year Without…

A Chinese girl’s journey to know the Florentines | Expat Mama in Italy

For our 9th series for our Interview-stories for our amazing Expat Mama around the World, I am so thrilled to feature  Sasha Wang, a Chinese Expat Mama who makes waves and living  La Dolce Vita with her Italian-Tuscan husband  and her 2 years old son  in the beautiful classical city of Florence,the capital of the Tuscany region in Italy.

Her story is a  closer look on another inspiring tale of a WMAF (White male, Asian Female) love story, who beats the odds of living as Expats in Hongkong , raising their bilingual kid and finally finding Florence as new home. But how does one Chinese lady explores Florence like a curious tourist and get second looks from the locals?

Is it because of her flamboyant fashion style? or is it because of her eye-catching Sunnies?Let’s get to know Sasha and her adventures as she falls in love with her new country with a beautiful smile while decoding the Gelato madness and chasing her frenzy toddler with style.

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Meet Sasha Wang – a stylish mama behind  Stai al Borgo

Sasha’s Profile :

Sasha is a full-time mom, as well as a Travel and Expat Lifestyle Blogger behind the Blog –“Stai al Borgo”. She loves Fashion,modern arts, road tripping, doing Blog tours and exploring the off beaten path destinations in her second home-Florence. She takes her passion for photography seriously and her Instagram feed is well worth of follow. Sasha is a natural food lover, whipping gastronomic delights infused with Asian & European influences such as her deconstructed Insalata de Riso or her own version of Linguini Carbonara!

From China to Hongkong and now in the heart of the Tuscan sun, in Firenze  she flairs with her own style and blogs on how to fall in love with Florence while raising her tiny human, with the best of both worlds.  Sasha finally claimed her place in the internet when her Blog  got shortlisted last May 2015 on the Italy Magazine for the Best Travel Blog Awards 2014 . She also appeared in one of the Locals I love interview from Girl in Florence.

Tell us About your Background

I was born in Shenyang, a city in the north-east China. I lived in Hong Kong for 8 years before moving to Florence. I met my husband, a Tuscan Italian, in Hong Kong. We used to visit Florence for holiday, and we both like the city a lot. In 2015 we decided to move and start a new life in Florence. “Amore” is the reason I am here now.

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Love for the Florentines

On view of  Florence from a Chinese curious  eyes

Florence is definitely a tourist ‘s place. It is considered as one of the most beautiful cities in Europe as well as a fashion hub. As a place filled with classical beauty, renowned Architecture, and great food, the real Tuscan food.The countryside is beautiful and definitely picturesque. The wine is fantastic and sitting in cafes can be a leisurely past time. Sitting in ancient piazzas and seeing beautiful works of art can be breath-taking.

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Florence : The beautiful city of Art & Architecture

One of the things making the life in Florence “La Dolce Vita” is the flexibility to travel around! Since we moved to Florence, every weekend we try to arrange something. Either meeting friends in the city for coffee or dinner, or me and my husband will drive to places nearby for a lunch or a walk, or we take a one or two-day trip to another city. Tuscany already has so much to be discovered and see, no need to mention other cities/ regions as adventures! Even with a toddler,  it did not stop me from traveling, exploring and getting into the local culture as much as possible. With great network of friends and fellow Bloggers, I was able to establish a connection with my new city through Blog tours, food tours, photo walks and other social meet-ups. It doesn’t mean that when I became a mother then I’ll stop to do my passion. Life has been more meaningful with our travels with our Little one.

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Sasha’s travels : What a violet day! Spent the whole day doing a road trip in Provence and visiting the lavender fieds.

On the Birth of  Stai al Borgo

Stai al Borgo came into life when I decided to share my Expat experiences as a curious resident and showing the beautiful side of Florence. In case you are curious what my Blog name means; Stai is the Italian word for Stay; Borgo refers to Borgo San Frediano.

We have a small apartment in Borgo San Frediano. The first time my husband and I lived there was the New Year’s Eve 2012. We were visiting Florence as tourists back then, but the experience brought me the idea of starting a blog writing about my life/trips in Italy. That’s why I named the blog Stai Al Borgo, because Borgo is where the inspiration came from.

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On top of the Doumo , in full spirit and pride ,claiming the new city of Florence!

It is interesting to live as an expat, because you are a tourist and resident at the same time. I blog about interesting places I visited as a tourist, also tips for daily life. For example my latest post is about my favorite items for home-cooking from supermarkets.Now we’ve put that apartment in S. Frediano to rent. I use the blog as a channel to promote the apartment and the lifestyle as a resident. If you are planning for a holiday in Florence, you might want to check out our Apartment for rent and I would be your willing host as I introduce you to Florence.

I am working on something related to Chinese tourists here. I’ve registered a website in China, and started my Chinese blog there. I hope to attract those Chinese, who travel independently in Tuscany, and show them different sides of the place, rather than the well-known tourist attractions.

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Florence : My second home

Share something about the current country you are living in and notable aspects .

On my Expat life in Florence

One of the best things of being an expat is that you live in a city with heart of a tourist. Florence makes my expat life so easy (so far) as there are lots of interesting stuff going on. I am constantly surprised by this city for all the new things happening. Last May 2015 we farewell our friends in Hong Kong, packed our past 10 years into 30 carton boxes, took our 11-month old boy with us on a flight, headed to our new home: Florence.

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Instant band playing in the corner of Borgo  San Jacopo

Florence and Hong Kong are two cities with completely different lifestyles and cultures. Starting a new life here can drive you crazy, especially when you are a non-Italian speaker who are used to fast life pace in a modern city like Hong Kong.

Bureaucracy here gives me the biggest headache. Thank God my husband is an Italian, and he is always so supportive and be there for us (me and our son) all the time. The first year, aka the transition period, was the hardest, but we managed to take it easy and settle things well.However being an Asian expat here, although I’ve been married to and lived with an Italian for 5 years, I am still adapting to the Italian (or should I say Florentine) lifestyle!

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The Best of my year 2015  flashbacks and snaps ( May 21015-April 2016)

On raising a Bilingual child

When we moved to Florence last May, our son was just 11-month old. The whole process has been easy for me, because he was too little to be affected by the different lifestyles. And I am happy about this move, as Italy overall is a much more family friendly place than Hong Kong.

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On Summer holiday with the Little one this year

Meanwhile the biggest challenge for me is introducing Chinese culture to my baby. I’ve been talking Chinese to him, and he seems to understand even though he replies me in Italian all the time. But I’d like to keep going and let him be able to talk & read his “second mother-tongue”.

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With Chinese Grandparents on a family trip in Bologna

Now our son goes to the local nursery during the day, and he develops the skills of playing and communicating with other kids day by day. It has been easy for him, and now he is turning into a little Italian man.

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Father and Son bonding – Sasha’s husband showing a photo that he took to his son

On getting around with a Toddler in Florence

I love my son and I love fashion as well so I am one of those mothers who made an effort to find the best and Unique Baby shops in Florence.I recently discovered an App called “BabyOut Firenze”. It suggests you places to go for the entire family, such as entertainment places, events, restaurants, even pharmacy, pediatric hospitals, etc. It is good to know what are the baby-friendly places around.I also love to watch Family Food Tube, where many parents sharing their baby food recipes. It is a good channel to get new ideas for cooking.

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Celebrating Life in Florence  : When Sasha’s son turned 1 and also their Anniversary

On the absence of Lifts/Elevators in buildings

For people used to live in a city like Hong Kong, lift inside apartment building is like bread, you have it! But as an antique city as Florence, especially in the city center, most of the building doesn’t. From my apartment hunting experience, I did visit one (only one) apartment in the city center with a lift! But it was soooo small. If it is only used by one or two persons at same time, it is still OK. But if more than three, you really need to squeeze yourself in! Well, it can be a good way to know your neighbors.

It is fine I feel exhausted after a long day at work, and still can spare little energy climbing some steps. But if I have my one-year old, his stroller, and grocery all at the same time, it is not funny! Luckily nowadays most of the supermarkets provide home delivery service, but before I get my Italian credit card and start shopping online, I still need to play it in the traditional way.

On the  Italian coffee culture 

I love coffee. Anytime of the day. But coffee here is too short. Here coffee by default is an espresso, even the “lungo” version is just in a small coffee cup. As  Chinese we don’t really have a culture of drinking coffee, but I used to have coffee from Starbucks while living in Hong Kong. Now I really miss those days that I could walk around the city with my coffee in a tall paper cup.

What’s even more shocking? My Italian husband misses the Starbucks too!

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Coffee in Italian way

The idea of Starbucks was inspired by a coffee shop in Milan, however there is not a single Starbucks in the whole Italy! I miss those days when I can take my coffee in a paper cup and walk from bus station to the office. Here everybody drinks espresso: bottom up, pay and leave. To me it is like taking shots: too fast and too strong.

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Florence as a place to raise kids where you can get close to nature as this.

On the course of Integrating into Italian-Tuscan Culture

I knew I can’t claim Florence by heart if I can’t speak the language so I decided to learn it. I  enrolled myself to a two-week Italian course which I found to be very beneficial & smart thing to do. The learning part was great, but the thing I enjoyed the most about attending language school was that I got to go out, meet new people, and built up social life of my own! I was not sure if attending school made me feel older or younger, since all other students in my class were around 20, but I was just happy every morning to pass Ponte alle Grazie, greet Ponte Vecchio and walk alone to Borgo Santa Croce. I started to feel Florence was my city.

Another thing that helped me to love my new country more was when I was invited to join “Tuscany Among The Star” blog tour organized by Fondazione Sistema Toscana. Together with other four content creators, we visited towns among Tuscany, had lots of special moment and experiences together, which was not only mind opening, but also made me falling in love more with this piece of land.

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With the fellow Bloggers on  Tuscany among the Stars Blog tour

 

On Italian’s love affair with their food

After living in Florence for one year, I find myself deeply missing the Asian cuisines: Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Thai, Vietnamese, all of them! Florence is wonderful for Italian dishes, but only Italian dishes. It is almost impossible to find good Asian restaurant here. Don’t get me wrong, I love Italian food, and I don’t mind to have pasta 5 days a week. However the Asian stomach calls for the taste of my origin from time to time.

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My little one in front of a table in Kyoto, Japan

Of course the only thing I couldn’t miss in Hong Kong was the great Chinese food! And among all the Chinese cuisines, the one I missed the most was the Sichuan Hot Pot! 三希樓 is my favorite Chinese restaurant in Hong Kong. They specializes in Sichuan cuisine, which is famous for the spicy taste. In Winter, the hot pot in 三希樓 is a must-try if you visit Hong Kong!

I love cooking, and we most of the time eat at home enjoying my dishes.I adore Italian cuisine,and I’ve practiced presentable skills in making pasta and pizza at home.Meanwhile I also prepare Chinese dishes for my family.My husband and my son both like rice with sauteed vegetables dishes for meal.

Our rule is : eat alternately ,eat diversely.

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Raising my son in two different cultures

What is your opinion about raising your kid as a third culture kid? ( TCK means a third culture that your child is growing up with compared to the culture of your husband/spouse

Our son is not considered an expat kid, as he is half Italian. However we are unlike a typical traditional Italian family, which me and my husband are both very happy about.

Both of us have expat experience, and we know how important it is to have the opportunity to know different culture. That’s why I keep talking Chinese to him, and hopefully to involve him to more Chinese cultures while he grows up.

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On being a trendy Mama : Sasha in her signature Sunnies who always get her a second look from the locals!

How do you make an impact as an Expat Mama in your country of residence?

I am not sure at this moment, as it is too early to say. Rather than me making an impact, the country is making a big impact on me on how to raise a new life.

Growing up in one-child family, I almost knew nothing about what it is like to raise multiple children by one couple. I’ve seen many Italian Moms taking care of their kids, bringing them around, taking it easy when it comes to problems, etc. It encourages me and gives me confidence to expecting a (potential) bigger family in the future.

Thank you so much Sasha for sharing  your wonderful metamorphosis as a Mom, woman, Writer, Adventurer, Stylist, Creator,and becoming the inspiring person you are right now.Indeed, with your style, confidence, and happy vibes about life, you are so deserving to be one of the Locals that Florence could be proud of…and now , an Expat Mama!

To me, clothing is a form of self-expression–there are hints about who you are in what you wear. ~Marc Jacobs

P.S. All photos and fine print in this post are owned and personal photos of Sasha Wang/ Stai al Borgo. Should you wish to use it, please inform her accordingly.

If you got inspired by Sasha and wanted to follow her Expat Life in Florence, you can follow her Instagram, Twitter, and add her as a friend  in Facebook.

 

Have you enjoyed this post?  Make sure to check out our other Expat Mamas & Papa stories in The Netherlands, Kuwait, Philippines, Thailand, Berlin , Saudi Arabia , China and of course, how a German-Finnish Expat Papa take on how to Raise a Kung Fu Baby in Germany .

Make sure to follow Justbluedutch & Pinays in Germany  for more of my  Expat stories  and Hey, if you are an Expat Mama, you might want to be featured in this Blog for our series on Expat Mamas around the World! Drop me an email at justbluedutch@gmail.com.

Are you on Twitter?  follow me on my  Twitter  and my Instagram  for more updates on my Expat Life in Bavaria.Thank you for reading friends!

Modern nomad

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A Day in the life of a vegetable vendor in Kuwait

Typical sight inside the Souk Mubarakiya in Kuwait, during the not-so busy times inside the wet market. Almost half of this old man’s life is spent as Expat in Kuwait, inside the souk working as a vendor and rumbling in the streets of Kuwait City. “Baba”  whom I fondly called him as I haggle for the fresh vegetables he is selling. Like the story of one Tea Boy ,life goes on like this, counting the days where a certain “magic”could happen and change the course of his routine, in his life spent as a modern nomad , or also known as Expat.

Do you like visiting wet markets? What fascinates you the most?

 

 

Hot Dog and Chicken Nugget Eaters in a Dumpling World | Expat-Mama in China

For our 8th series of amazing interview-stories of Expat Mamas around the World,we are featuring Suzanne Zulauf, an American Expat-Mama who lives in Shanghai with her husband Andy,  her son, Lee (9 yrs.old)  and her daughter, Mara (6 yrs.old) From their kaleidoscope  life in New York  as a Jewish family, Suzanne shares us to her new-found Expat-Mama adventures and bravely raising her 2 American kids in the Dumpling capital of the world,and probably the most populous city in the  world– Shanghai,China.

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Meet the Zulaufs : Suzanne, Andy , Lee & Mara – Hotdogs & Chicken nugget eaters in the land of Dumplings

How does an American Mama cope in the land of Dumplings when her daughter only eat chicken nuggets, mac & cheese?

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Postcard from New York – view of Central Park, the world that the Zulaufs left behind
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A pie chart representing the percentage of the population that effing loves dumplings!

Suzanne’s Background 

2016-08-24_063931466_7c025_iosSuzanne is literary coach and a middle school Language Arts teacher by profession. A super-mom of 2 kids, and adores Broadway from the moment she moved to New York. A true American by heart, she admits she can’t live without the real gooey McDonald’s sundae,peanut butter & Cheerios! Having lived in one of the most fast-paced city-Manhattan in New York, she’s hooked into running the west side of the Central Park and her passion for fitness got her into doing a half marathon and a ten-mile run.

As a huge introvert,she loves to read and find comfort in writing.  For someone who is passionate about food and a good old margarita, she enjoys simple pleasures in life,like having a drink in her porch with a neighbor.

 

Suzanne is the Blogger behind the Blog Zulaufjourney which is a personal lifestyle Blog.  A firm advocate of “Remember your roots and Trust your Wings” as randomly  incorporated in her parenting style and outlook in life.

Expat Mama in Shanghai : Hotdog & Chicken Nugget eaters in a Dumpling World

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Pudong Skyline
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Shanghai’s local sightings

On first impressions of Shanghai 

Shanghai is gigantic; much larger in space than New York City, and for a foreigner feels widely inaccessible.Shanghai is basically divided into two sections, East and West of the river. West of the river is called Puxi (poo-shee)  and East of the river is Pudong. The financial district and Andy’s office are in Puxi, but we will live in Pudong. The airport is on the East coast of Pudong (and all of China) so it makes sense for us to live in Pudong since Andy will be traveling so much (both internationally and within China).Cars do not stop turning, even when walkers have the light.Within Pudong, we found that a huge number of expats live in Jinqiao (gin-chow), which is also called Green City. It felt the most like a suburb, with shopping centers and restaurants. Several of the other areas we looked at felt secluded and were often a 15-20 minute drive to groceries or other stores.

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Shanghai’s skyline at night

Shanghai’s skyline is beautiful and also in a constant state of change.  If you look at photographs of the last several years, several buildings have been added to the skyline.  Most famous is the Oriental Pearl Tower, which gleams purple during the day, yet is the star of the nightly light show between 6-11pm.

On  the undeniable air pollution & Hygiene

Bad air quality – This is a real thing. When there is a blue sky, its like a miracle.  When the rating goes above 150, I feel real physical symptoms (scratchy throat, stuffy nose, fatigue). My kids can’t go out for recess, and I worry about the long-term effects for them.People spit everywhere all the time. More Expats say that Spitting here is not a bad habit, it’s brilliant.

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Lee & Mara’s drawing of China

On living in a “Bubble”

The language barrier is by far going to be the most difficult challenge.We live in Jinqiao , literally means “the golden bridge” but locally  often referred to as “the bubble”. It seems that most people native to Shanghai do not speak English. This will be a challenge.Hearing a foreign language all the time, everywhere you go is mentally exhausting. We’re all taking Chinese lessons, but it is difficult to learn and harder even when local Chinese can’t understand us when we do try to speak!

Internet is blocked by the government, so we have to use a VPN, which causes all sorts of issues with our banking and other accounts we need to access. Also with children, it is nice to have the creature comforts of favorite television shows, etc, and the shaky internet perpetually threatens our access to those comforts.

On Split pants culture for babies & Squatty potties

In China, babies wear the “Split pants”and potty training comes early. The call of nature comes by command from parents either through swift whistle and children poop or pee.This might come as a shock from a country whose definition of potty training includes hours & tedious discipline for training your child to seat on a potty  decently.Chinese children (and sometimes grown men) urinate on the street or really anywhere they want to.

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To Squat or not to squat : Source

Often, public toilets will be “squatty potties” (or, a hole in the ground) without toilet paper readily available, so be prepared.

On having  a hired  help 

It is normal for expat families to have an Ayi  and driver, so raising unspoiled children is tricky.Living as an expat, we will be very fortunate to employ a driver to help the accessibility issue.The expat community is a “helper” culture, as is much of Asia, so we will also most likely have an “ayee,”  ( same as Nanny ) who will help with grocery shopping, cleaning, cooking, and taking care of the kids. This is a luxury that will take getting used to, and I hope that I can navigate this set-up in such a way that my children do not become spoiled rotten, entitled, or without  a sense of personal responsibility.

I need to say that I’m still uncomfortable talking about “my driver,”  “our ayi”  and “Andy’s assistant” to people living outside China because I’m still uncomfortable with what feels like unnecessary privilege, even though it is a way of life here.  We have always been self-sufficient and never had family employees.  (Andy’s assistant is a KPMG employee and while he has always depended on support staff for work, his assistant here is literally getting us through life!) In these past few days I’ve realized just how grateful I am to have our driver, Yu Jian, our Ayi,Lauren, and Andy’s assistant, Terry, because I would otherwise be paralyzed with the overwhelming differences of daily life. That being said, here is how these few days have gone-with enormous help from Yu Jian, Lauren, and Terry.

Share something about the current country you are living in and notable aspects .

Shanghai is supposedly that “least Chinese” city in China, but I feel very much the impact of living in this corner on the world.  None of the ‘rules’ of life seem to be the same:

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Surviving traffic in Shanghai

On Shanghai’s crazy traffic

You can ride your moped on either side of the road in the scooter lanes, but cars won’t stop for you to cross an intersection even if you have the green light. Drivers in general don’t follow lane lines, yet will slow down at every government camera along the highway.Road signs just don’t make sense.Families of four or more while ride on one moped as their main form of transportation. No seat belts. No car seats (in cars, either).

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Integrating as much as possible

Zebra crossings do exist in China, but don’t serve much purpose, as drivers will rarely stop when you are near one or indeed inside one, so never take this for granted.Many car drivers in China are quite inexperienced, as Chinese tend to buy their first car and get a driver’s license much later in life than Westerners.

On the unexplainable typical  Shanghai  culture 

Since there is 0 unemployment in China, there will be 6 workers in an empty store all playing on their cell phones, but not one will help  you when you come in the store.Chinese love to take photos of Western children (especially blonde ones).There is no concept of lining up for things, even at a cash register at a store.You have to have your produce weighed and get a price sticker BEFORE you go to the cash register at grocery stores or you cannot purchase your produce.At restaurants, food comes out at different times for each person at a table, so don’t expect to eat with your family members or your food will be cold

The greatest shock for me–The vanilla ice cream at McDonald’s tastes different. That is all.

 

On  importance of education and access to International schools

Dulwich’s Early Childhood curriculum moves quite quickly and there is but there is a surprising huge difference between USA/ NYC Kindergarten and Dulwich Year 1.  Those students (who would be considered Kinders here) are NOW in January writing complete sentences, sometimes paragraphs. Their penmanship is spectacular! I’m not sure what their secret is to such great academic success because we know that young students need a print-rich environment and that they thrive on having choice in their book selections.

Our tour guide from the admissions office told us that the early years students are more advanced than at other schools, but that they all level out in the upper years. I’m not quite sure what to make of this.  I actually worry that students who have been with  Dulwich since age 2 might totally overshadow my girl.

On Bridging the gap from families abroad

Talking about time difference, we have a 12 hour (13 with daylight savings) difference from one side of the family and a 15 hour (16 at daylight savings) difference from the other side of the family. So having quality calls or FaceTimes are hard.

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Grocery shopping in Shanghai

On Food 

We can’t drink our tap water, so adjusting to bottled water is just one more thing to get used to. My son has been very open to the food our Ayi cooks, but my daughter really only will eat chicken nuggets, mac & cheese, cereal, and yogurt. Luckily there are several groceries that carry Western items, but you pay the premium to have those things because every food item has to go through China customs.

On beating the Shang-lows & re potting the Uprooted child

file_000-19As a first time Expat,the best way to pull out of those low days and to move into a more accepting mindset is to stay busy. We ventured into our new Shanghai routines from  weekend soccer games, play dates, and birthday parties and exploring the city.I would say there is plenty to make us feel happy in Shanghai, especially for Lee, who has earned a spot on the Dulwich Earthquakes, a team housed at the British school, but associated with the MLS San Jose Earthquakes. With soccer, the SAS swim team, and the freedom of riding his scooter around the neighborhood to his new friends’ homes, he’s feeling mostly settled. Mara also has plenty of activities: gymnastics, Wednesday swim club at school, and will soon start some fun after school activities (Junior Olympics and recycle art).One other China bonus: our backyard! The kids, especially Lee, love that we have a space
where they can run around and Lee can now play soccer. In our yard!

Thinking that my kids have been uprooted from our old  New York lifestyle , its great that they are slowly being repotted, the Shanghai way.

What is your opinion about raising your kid as a third culture kid?  Are you happy that you are raising an Expat Kid?

I LOVE that my kids are learning a new language and that they are learning to accept a new normal. They are making friends with kids from all over the world. I know that raising my kids as expats in going to give them invaluable skills later in life. They are resilient and adaptable, and while they have their struggles missing family, friends, food, and their “old normal,” they are for the most part learning to appreciate a whole new part of the world. I couldn’t be happier we made the decision to come here.

How do you make an impact as an Expat Mama in your country of residence?

I would love to find a way to continue coaching teachers and helping to bring top-rate instruction to our expat kids. I would also love to work with Chinese schools who want to improve their English instruction.  I think the best thing I can do, though, is to continue and study my Chinese so that I can show each Chinese person with whom I interact that I appreciate their culture, that the ways of life here are rich with custom and history and deserve a chance to be experienced in native tongue.  I think I can make an impact on other Expat Mamas as I continue to branch out and try to speak Chinese in public. I can be an example of trying embrace this life, even if I do live in ‘the bubble.’

Thank you so much Suzanne for sharing your story with us! If you want to follow the Expat adventures of Suzanne, make sure to follow her blog- Zulaufjourney !

Have you enjoyed this post?  Make sure to check out our other Expat Mamas & Papa stories in The Netherlands, Kuwait, Philippines, Thailand, Berlin , Saudi Arabia and of course, how an Expat Papa take on how to Raise a Kung Fu Baby in Germany .

 

 

Follow Justbluedutch & Pinays in Germany  for more of my  Expat stories  and Hey, if you are an Expat Mama, you might want to be featured in this Blog for our series on Expat Mamas around the World! Drop me an email at justbluedutch@gmail.com.

Are you on Twitter?  follow me on my  Twitter  and my Instagram  for more updates on my Expat Life in Bavaria.Thanks!

 

Atmospheric optics

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The view from our Kitchen this morning.

After grey skies and rain almost everyday, I was surprised to watch something different this morning. The colors of the sky is just too beautiful for me to ignore. While everyone was still sleeping and the cold wind is creeping into my pyjamas, I put on my jacket, get my camera and through my sleep deprived-eyes– I watched in silence as the sky shows its atmospheric optics. I began to take some photos,and savor the fleeting moment.

Watching this particular sunrise made me wonder what is Atmospheric Optics? Red, orange and pink clouds occur almost entirely at sunrise and sunset and are the result of the scattering of sunlight by the atmosphere. I have written about my amazement when I witness an hour of Fireworks display but this one beats that Guinness world record, mainly because this one is natural, uncontrolled, raw, and genuine work of nature. As every sunrise is different everyday, a beautiful sunrise is already a  Priceless world record.

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Beautiful sunrise today right in our neighborhood
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Priceless world record : Atmospheric optics today Nov. 18,2016

I have already shared many times  my reasons why I love sunrises and sunsets, and even now that I’m living here in Germany, I still do. It is my habitual habit to always look from the window and check the skies. I would always get up early just to witness anything like this. It’s really worth it, because some things are really not!

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My own private party in the sky this morning

I feel sluggish waking up so early but this beauty is so overwhelming. It’s like a free slideshow, doesn’t cost anything, and all I have to do is get out there and witness it. What If I decided to wake up til my alarm goes up? For the past days I am feeling gloomy because of the weather and today I had been out for a treat. I don’t know about you but gazing up and sun-gazing provide healing for me–not in a way that I am sick, but it just made me feel better, about myself, and of the world. Now I know why our ancestors worship the sun for so many reasons.

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The tiny houses looks out-of-place from the beautiful trivalent backdrop caused by atmospheric optics display.

What’s the first thing you do upon waking up and before going to work? If you respond by taking shower then you are definitely missing out on something.

Take time to look outside from your window–even for a brief moment,your inspiration might be there. I just did.

Goodnight my friends and thank you for stopping by to read! Hoping that you all have a wonderful weekend!

 

 

Magical Evergreens

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Magical  Evergreen – the only plant that has leaves that stays green all throughout the year.

Christmas waves a magic wand over this world, and behold, everything is softer and more beautiful. ~ Norman Vincent Peale

The days are getting colder & colder. I am now enrolled in the course and art of layering. There’s a sharp chill that I am not used to but I am getting through it beautifully. I grew up in a tropical country and spent almost a decade in one of the hottest country in the world, so cold is not something that I am not familiar with. The same thing with real Evergreen plant, or the tree used for famous Christmas trees or as Germans called it Weihnachtsbaum or Christbaum. We all know that Christmas is one of the biggest holiday celebrated by Germans and now I know why.

I didn’t know that there are so many types of pine trees here in Germany– right in front of our garden stands a giant one, almost every 400 meters I see  beautiful shrubs, line of  Evergreen conifers, my favorite so far, and there’s the spruce, pine, fir and all others that I don’t know the names! Among all the bald trees now in the woods, they stand proud, lush, resilient, like a wizard who awaits for his time to shine.Its leaves stays green all through out the year,no matter what the season is.I remember arriving in Germany last summer and these Evergreens already enticed me. Seeing them for real is like walking in the field of dreams.

Now my dreams are slowly coming into reality.

The market square slowly turning into a magic land– building the Christmas stalls and ice skating rink, all in preparation for the upcoming Christkindl Markt or Christmas Market. Call me crazy but the sight of these and pine trees gives me pure excitement like a kid.When I looked into the shops last week, I ogle and drooled at the beauty of the ready-made Christmas tree and decor displays, all so gorgeous! So hard to choose, and also so  very expensive.

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Finally, our Evergreen conifers

But now, I love the fact that we can have real Christmas tree, I can make my own wreaths, and garlands made out of real Evergreen conifers and pine cones. There’s something about its needle-like leaves, its scent, and the feel beneath my fingers that I haven’t experience before.

Pine trees, Evergreen shrubs or the special  Weinachtsbaum, or whatever you call it, during this holiday season, they become special and transform into something magical.

When was the last time you had a magical moment with  SIMPLE things you have seen for the first time?

This post is in response for this week’s Daily Post photo challenge |Magic

Did you enjoy this post? Let’s hang out, make sure to follow me in my Instagram to follow my Expat life in photos in our first Christmas here in Germany! Thanks!

Inspiring Spire: Liberation Tower

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Kuwait’s Liberation tower against the vast blue skies.

The spire of the Liberation tower in Kuwait looks so small against the vast expanse of the Kuwaiti skies. More like a tiny needle. Tiny as it may seem compared to world’s super tall structures, at 372 m, the Liberation Tower is the world’s 38th tallest free-standing structure, by pinnacle height. It is standing proud & big symbolizing Kuwait’s liberation from Iraqi invasion.

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Kuwait’s Liberation tower

Climbing this tower is one of the significant experience I had while living in Kuwait.While up in the viewing deck of Kuwait Towers, I had feasted my eyes on the azure blue seascape of the Arabian Gulf,but not so with the Liberation Tower. Since it’s situated in the middle of the city, the views are different of course. The views above the revolving sphere is phenomenal if you really like to see Kuwait in a different angle. Kuwait has a promising Skyline though surrounded with a flat, urban dwellings. Up above, looking down at the brown desert landscape makes me think that Kuwait is indeed a tiny place,scarce with natural resources , but incredibly diverse.

Are you afraid of heights? Do you find it interesting to climb towers ?

 

If you like this post and want to waste more time, don’t forget to  follow me on my  Twitter  and my Instagram  for more stories about my Expat Life Thanks!

 

Making memories in the Arab World | Expat Mama in Saudi Arabia

For our 7th series of our amazing Expat Mamas around the world interview-stories, I am  excited to have the chance to feature Abeer— A jetsetter Mama conquering life abroad and making memories together with her husband Aetesam, his son Hamza ( 4 years old) and Azaan (1-year-old) in the land of the liquid gold, the birth place of Islam and Arabs, in the oil-rich magnificent desert–Riyadh, in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia!

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A portrait of the true essence of being a Woman

So how does one Expat Mama braves the desert life, sandstorms and living in modesty in the Land of the Two Holy Mosques? Here’s Abeer’s story of sharing inspiration and everyday life in her happy corner.

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On Life raising Two Boys

Expat Mama Story : Making memories in the Land of Arabs

 

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Happiness radiates in her

Abeer’s Background

Abeer is a Muslim Expat Lifestyle Mama Blogger behind This Happy Corner. She was officially baptized into the Blogworld when she starts to become Contributor for the magazine and online Parenting site  ExpertParenthood.com  with her article “Travelling with the Littles “. She has a degree in Electrical Engineering and worked in the corporate world before she was promoted to become the SuperMom 24/7 of two boys. She’s a fast driver as well as a Crafty  Stay at home Mommy. She have a wanderlust for travel , DIY projects and a talented Freelance Photographer.She’s a budding chef with her signature dishes”Traditional Greek Moussaka ” and Spinach Ricotta Cannelloni“.

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On Life in Saudi Arabia as an Expat  Woman

Although she’s of Muslim faith,life in the Kingdom is different from Abeer’s home country,Pakistan. “Women do not drive, we cover our bodies, we sit in the “Family Section” of restaurants (single or groups of men stay in the “Men Only” sections). We become “dependents”, hereon “sponsored” by our husbands, who are in turn sponsored by their companies, and we cannot leave the country without an exit visa.Thursdays and Fridays are the official weekends. The stifling heat and lack of cultural activities drive people into malls, encouraging endless shopping for clothes that would go under an Abaya anyway. Fitting rooms in boutiques are nonexistent, so taking the same item in different sizes and returning the ill-fitting ones is the shopping norm. There is also a glaring lack of saleswomen – making you chuckle at the paradox of a man helping you select sexy underwear in Saudi. The prayer times become as normalcy. Shops close five times a day during prayer times, sometimes 25 minutes or longer. Grocery shopping can be a very stressful chore because of this.

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A day in the life of an Expat Family in Saudi Arabia

On incidental way of fitting-in to Arabian lifestyle

Its been a while  for us in Riyadh now and we are getting used to the dry desert environment and the cautious set of rules that govern this part of Middle East. There have a been a few surprises and bummer along the way, like the time when we had to sit on the road side and eat our fried chicken as I wasn’t allowed to sit in that restaurant due to a lack of family space.We celebrated Eid here with a nice lunch together at some friends’, drive around the city and amazing fireworks later in the night right next to our place

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Babywearing while amazed by the stunning Wazir Khan mosque-Androon, Lahore

On being a mother of two Boys

I had my first baby boy and then I took a break from work, always imagining to go back once he is a bit older. After a couple of years, I had my second one and my hands got full of them! I not only got super busy, but I also changed around that time and realized that I never actually want to go back to the corporate world, it was doing nothing for me as a person. Whereas staying home with my boys all day, gave me small windows of time to find out what my real interests in life are. I started capturing my babies and our everyday life and soon photography became a passion. I would stay up late at night for many hours taking up online courses and learning what tricks my camera could do to improve my photos. And then practice on my kids in the light of the day. I discovered my passion for cooking different cuisines, particularly Italian. And I would make the daily dinner my practice session. I started celebrating the everyday life. And then my blog happened, and i started pouring my heart out on it.

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On looking back at life in Pakistan

Me and the husband lived 5 long years in Karachi .. It’s where both our kids were born so we will always have a special connection with the city. Karachi is a big, thriving, bustling city full of glamour, political drama and all kinds of highs and lows of life. The people in that region have a street-smartness edge over the people of the rest of the country. They are fast. they are clever. They are always two paces ahead of you.
Our life in Karachi was perfect, but the security situation of the city was the real deal-breaker for us. Two times in one week while all our family was in the car, a gun was pointed at us and our bags etc were snatched. Both times, I had a baby in my arms and we just couldn’t accept this kind of life for us anymore where we can’t guarantee the safety of our kids from street crime. And so we decided to move! My husband started applying for jobs in the Middle East and soon we were on our way here! We do miss Karachi sometimes, too many memories and fun times.
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Expat thoughts : Road less traveled
On the exciting and exhilarating road to Expat Life
Living in the Arab Land is very different from back home. The country is dominated by religious rules and the culture is restricting for sure. Women have to wear Abayas whenever they head out and cover themselves properly. Being a muslim, I am totally cool with wearing the Abaya and the hijab although I do feel how restricting that must feel to non-muslim expats. The thing that I really had to work to get my head around was the rule that women CANNOT drive. This was almost a deal-breaker for me as I love to drive and have been quite independent all though my life therefore waiting for husband to take me out every time was a big adjustment. Now that I have lived in the city for a while, I can easily hail a cab and be on my way whenever I want so it’s not so bad after all.
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Holidays in Australia
On embracing the Arab Culture
Weather here is scorching hot for most part of the year although it does get pleasant come evening due to desert all around. Which also makes for an extremely dry weather and drastic steps have to be taken to maintain your skin and hair.
The city is home to a number of big and small beautiful parks, lined with elegant and swaying Palm trees. I have had such a crush on these trees that I still look at them like a kid looks at candy.
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Madina travel treasures
On the family oriented  values of the Saudi locals
One of the things that fascinates me the most is how the Arab culture is so family oriented! Extended families in large groups are always having picnics in parks together. They bring their rugs and chairs, they bring their food and tea, and just plop down on the ground for hours, sharing stories and love, while their kids are busy building sand castles or riding their automated cars/bikes which they always make sure to bring. They come prepared to enjoy the park! Not like us, who often forget to even bring the ball LOL!
On “When in Saudi, do as the Arabs do ” norm 
 The typical Saudi Arabian woman only wears black Abaya and they cover their face. I was told before moving here that although women do wear colored Abayas in rest of the country, but as Riyadh is the capital and hence more strict, here only black Abayas are allowed. Although that is not true now, I have seen many women wearing different colored Abayas around, for me navy blue Abaya with a colored scarf is as bad as i get !
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Covered but not controlled
Mall culture is huge here! There are so many of them and I haven’t been to even half of them yet. The Arab women are up to date on their fashion and style. Even hidden under Abayas and Tarhas, you can spot that their eye makeup game is the strongest among all 😉
Malls loaded with every imaginable brand and cafes definitely is a big attraction for everyone here, but sadly for me, my boys (all three of them!) don’t behave well in malls, the younger ones being too hyper active, and the older one (also known as husband) rolls his eyes too many times that i fear they will get stuck inside his head.
On a serious note, I am not a fan of mall culture as I think it just promotes materialism, and one cannot come out of it without spending 10 times more than one intended too. those never-ending sales. those motorized kids cars, those flashing and blaring humongous play areas, and all the stuff that you eat that you never would have eaten had you not stepped inside one. We prefer to take our kids to parks or anything outdoors, it’s better for the pocket and general well-being .
On Muslim’s Salah (prayer)  times
One thing worth mentioning over here is that for Muslims, praying five times a day at specific times is compulsory. Here in Saudi Arabia, business closes five times a day whenever prayer time comes. Shops, cafes, everything. It has definitely helped us get more punctual with our prayers. But at the same time, if you are in a shop about to head to pay counter and prayer times comes, it can be slightly annoying cause then you will have to wait for another half an hour or so. In the start we were so bad at it, and would always reach a place when it was already or was about to be closed for prayer, but with time we have up-ed our game and through careful analyzing of prayer time slots, we can usually plan our outings better .
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Travelling with kids
On re-potting the uprooted kids into a new culture
We are lucky that our kids adjust well to a change in environment, house etc and once they were here, they never asked to go back and never gave me a tough time about the new place and new everything. They get super excited in new places so it has been good for them!
After a couple of months, we enrolled our elder one (who is 4) into kindergarten and the experience has been awesome so far! I am in love with his teacher who I believe is really helping him and bringing out his best qualities and polishing his strengths, at the same time, taking care of his weaknesses in a remarkable way. His classmates come from different countries and backgrounds, and i think he will hugely benefit from this exposure to different cultures. I am definitely happy that he has been given this opportunity to study and interact in a foreign country.
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On the life of brothers & siblings
On thoughts on Motherhood 
Motherhood is cuddling, squeezing and smooching at every chance possible. Motherhood is waking up a little too early and going to bed a little too late… Not to mention the countless wake ups in between. Motherhood is a monster bag filled with diapers, wipes, snacks and toys. Motherhood is the worry, anxiety and stress about every cough, sniffle and sneeze. Motherhood is questioning yourself about every decision, big or small. Is he eating right? is he sleeping enough?
Motherhood is absolutely and undeniably hard. So hard that some days end in tears, some mornings also start with tears.Life with two kids is pretty challenging and messy and chaotic and down-right exhausting, but it’s also everything I have ever wanted.
How do you make an impact as an Expat Mama in your country of residence?
Some of my most precious memories were made during this last year. Believe me when I say that it’s not double the work with two little ones, its FOUR TIMES the work. You have to take care of them individually and also their relationship towards each other in both directions. Its non-stop, never-ending and it makes you longingly look back on your single baby days. But  I still won’t have it any other way. If I am given the chance to do it all over again, I would maybe have them closer in age but not further apart. The joy of it all trumps the hardships any day by miles.
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The perfect place- their Happy corner!
And this is the kind of impact I wanted to be remembered–touching the lives of my sons, shaping them for their future, and I, myself being transformed into a better version of being a wife, mother, sister, friend that I could ever be –and best of all, being the woman who chose the HAPPY CORNER of this so-called Life!
Thank you so much Abeer for this wonderful interview. Good luck and best wishes for your next Expat Mama adventures!
P.S All the photos in this post is courtesy of Abeer and her personal property. Should you wish to use it , please do inform her as courtesy.
Make sure to follow Abeer’s life in photos in her Instagram page and connect with her in Facebook.

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