July 30, 2015

Where is Gaeta?

We were on a roll during our last visit to Napoli. After 20 years my husband decided to exchange the endless family dining table sessions with some excursions to local sites. After spending a glorious day in Positano, one of the most romantic spots in Southern Italy, he decided to whiz me up North for the weekend. 

Gaeta is a fishing seaport in Southern Italy, but you won't find it in many guidebooks. That's because Gaeta lacks only one thing - a train station. In spite of this, it's an extremely popular summertime destination about 90 miles north of Naples on the coast road.

The Gaetani speak a dialect of Italian that, while similar to the nearby Neapolitan, is one of the few Italian dialects to preserve Latin's neuter gender. The locals embrace visitors partly thanks to their unique history with Americans. The reasons date back to WWII, when American soldiers liberated the town from German occupation. The US Navy's Sixth Fleet was stationed there for many decades and until this day NATO maintains a base of operations at Gaeta.

Personally, I enjoyed the stroll through the old town before we sat down to yet another delicious Italian meal on a terrasse right next to the Carabinieri station.

Statue of the Santa Maria Ausiliatrice overlooking Gaeta

Where is the Godfather?

The famous bell tower of the Cathedral of Assunta e Sant'Erasmo
in Arab-Norman style, dating from the 12th century

Climbing the staircases through the old town

A stunning wedding location

A typical Southern Italian touch

The nostalgic car to go with the romantic couple

The fastest way to get around town

 It's a tough life

What's missing in this photo? 
The washing being hung out to dry!

The Carabinieri are the national military police and 
one of the four Italian Armed Forces
Do the colours of the wall look like ice cream flavours to you too?

July 24, 2015

My global Paris connection

The other morning driving along the highway a thought struck me: what if I listed all the places my new-found friends - the ones I have met over the past four years in Paris - have moved to and went on a world trip to visit them?

Paris is an extremely fast rotating platform when it comes to expats in the International community. The average "turnover" at the kids' school is two to three years. My closest "new" soulmate left after only nine months, most of my Flaneuses companions left after the second year and by year number three all but a handful of mums were left.

This year, none of my partners in crime who began their Parisian adventure back in 2011 with us are left. My number of Facebook friends has gone up accordingly and it is a fantastic and efficient way of keeping in touch.

I venture every year to meet newcomers, although the effort decreases as the years go by, I must admit. I have made local friends knowing that I will be sticking around for a while. I have further come to terms with being the welcoming committee  - with a big smile - for all of those who come back to visit.

Michigan, New Jersey, Ohio, California, Muscat, Istanbul, Stockholm, Stavanger, Luxemburg, Milan, Rome, Tel Aviv, London and Zürich all have taken on a meaning other than just begin a city or a state on the globe. Someone now lives there who has taken a piece of Paris with them and by doing so has also carried a tiny piece of my heart with it. Many a new chapter is being written as we continue to live our lives in different places but for a brief moment we happened to be in the same chapter and by spending time together I like to think we have contributed in shaping the course of our individual novel leaving an imprint on each other's stories.

July 22, 2015

Let's Groove in Madrid

What images flicker through your mind when I say: Earth, Wind & Fire? Yes, I am talking about the band that changed the sound of black pop in the 1970s and early 1980s. As a teenager my favourite dance hits included "Reasons", "Fantasy", "September", "Let's Groove" and "Boogie Wonderland".

Well, last night, my Madrid BFFs and I got to hear them all again... LIVE! And boy, it was a flashback. At the time my friend and I were big Snoopy fans, were just beginning to date and actually danced to these same songs together all those years ago. I will spare you the details from past decades, let's just say, we had more than one common memory that flowed back to our minds.

Mamita Cubana managed to get us front row tickets and thanks to the free standing open air stage planted in the middle of Madrid's University Botanical Garden, we were at an arm's reach from the performers. Of the original band, only one member was left but the other 12 artists did a great job in rendering the contrasting vocals of falsetto and tenor and various instrumental solos as close to the original version as possible. Admittedly the stage shows weren't as energetic and elaborate but given that the temperature was 38ºC at 10 pm, this was understandable. Or were they just a wee bit over-aged and over-weight?

Nevertheless, the audience was ready to party and dance, no matter how hot it was and after we were told that the band had travelled all the way from LA to see us and that it would be a shame if we just stayed seated in our chairs, we were all on our feet boogieing like old times.

When after 90 minutes the band left the stage, we all gave our best and loudest "Olé, Olé, Olé" in true Spanish style and the artist all came out again to join the chant in improvising on their instruments. I am sure that was a first for Earth, Wind and Fire!

Today I am listening to their songs trying to convey to my children the importance of EWF's music in my life when I was their age. It is a lost cause and so be it. This bands remains linked to many memories in my years growing up in Zurich and last night I was 16 years old at heart again and grooving in Boogie Wonderland...if only for a little moment!

A free standing concert stage just like in the good old days

A tinto de verano is just what we need to set the mood

Let the show begin

Yesssss, bring on the disco music!

Al McKay, (left)
the original member born February 2, 1948, in New Orleans 
and still going strong

July 21, 2015

Do you ever feel depressed?

A friend asked me last week if I ever feel depressed. Stunned about this question I actually had to sit back and reflect. Honestly, I had to think real hard. Depressed? Me? I might be sad, I might be mad, I might be upset but depressed? I cannot say I can recall ever being so desperate that I could not see a way out. I am a firm believer that everything happens for a reason. As the saying goes: "When one door closes onto you, there are many others that will open" ... or something along those lines.

The question, however, has stuck to me and I kept on thinking about it.

My answer today is: I have nothing to be depressed about. I appreciate every minute and every day of our expat life. Sure, there are moments of sadness and fury, longing to be home (not knowing exactly where that might be), memories that make me cry and patches of emotional ups and downs (especially during a move) but the only way is forward, so there is no use in looking backwards... I am not heading in that direction!

While I'm not necessarily always in a good mood, I do let my enthusiasm about the opportunity for adventure get the better of me all the time. "The world is out there for you to discover. Make the most of it!", I keep on telling my children. It is not always an easy life, but there’s no disputing it’s a good life.

Today I read in the WSJ that: "According to a report published in 2009 by the Permits Foundation, which polled 3,300 trailing spouses and partners in 117 countries, 75% of participants who weren’t working in their new country wished they could."

Well, do I dare to admit that I am part of the 25%?!? Yes ... and very happily so!!!

July 20, 2015

A long overdue drive to Positano

My life long friends know I have always had a faible for Italy and everything that goes with it. When I married my gorgeous Neapolitan hubby my Dad just said: "You asked for Italian now you deal with Italian". He was the proudest man on earth when is Italo-American grandson was born in Argentina!

Anyways, we periodically return to Naples to visit family and I always complain that all we do is sit around the table and eat for days on end. Admittedly, if I were a total foodie, this alone would be worth the trip. However, after being with my hubby for 20 years, I have still not seen Positano, the most romantic village in Italy. I am a hopeless romantic at heart!

So, this time he decided to surprise me and whizz me down the Amalfi coast in an open sports car to uncover the mythical town of Positano. What had been a sleepy fishing village is now a swanky destination popular with the jet set and common travelers alike.

It is the coast’s most picturesque and photogenic town, with steeply-stacked houses tumbling down to the sea in a cascade of sun-bleached peach, pink and terracotta colours. No less colourful are its steep streets and steps lined with wisteria-draped hotels, smart restaurants and fashionable boutiques.

The fashionista history runs deep: Moda Positano was born here in the '60s and apparently the town was the first in Italy to import bikinis from France.

They also say that it's International fame is thanks to the Americans who "discovered" Positano during the Second World War, after driving the Germans out of Italy.  Their base near Salerno made it easy for soldiers and officers to take their R&R in the town. My Dad would surely agree...

July 19, 2015

Madrid window spotting

Everyone knows Paris architecture is spectacular thanks to Baron Haussmann, the Prefect of the Seine Department, who was chosen by the Emperor Napoleon III to carry out a massive programme of new boulevards, parks and public works, commonly called Haussmann's renovation of Paris.

But have you ever been to Madrid's city center? The architecture has preserved the look and feel of many of its historic neighbourhoods and streets. It reflects a number of styles from various historical periods: Medieval and Renaissance, the reign of the Habsburgs and the Bourbon era.

So come and have a café con leche before we take a stroll through the Salamanca area of Madrid.

July 10, 2015

When a blog post hits home

Like many others, I follow the daily news and will voice my opinion on certain developments in the world if I feel I know enough about the subject. As an expat the world does become slightly smaller as you start identifying with countries and cultures that you have lived in and experienced first hand.

When it comes to Greece, I am lost. Admittedly I have not followed the happenings very closely until last week. We have been to Greece several times on holiday, one of my best friends lived in Athens for nearly a decade, so we kind of knew the country's position is not brilliant but neither is the rest of Southern Europe's.

Then, last Tuesday, in the heat of the Greek crisis, I came across a fellow blogger's post and it all started making sense. It was written straight from the heart and it struck a cord inside me that made me write a comment on her blog, like it on Facebook, share it with all my social media friends and even send it via mail to people I felt would appreciate reading this first-hand insight of a Greek living abroad.

Next thing I know, a day later, The Huffington Post, had published it on their site.

I spent the rest of the day with a smile on my face. I told my husband and my kids about it, which NEVER happens. All this, because I am truly thrilled for my blogger friend for having written such a wonderfully touching post and being rewarded by it being published on Huffington Post. Bravo Katia. I just hope it goes viral and many fellow Greek compatriots (inside and out of Greece) will read it.

Take the time and click here. It is worth the read:

July 8, 2015

A celebration cruise on St. Martin

Every year, when the school year comes to a close our dear friend Mona organises a grand boat tour along the Seine or the Canal St. Martin. So why would we sign up for the same tour every year you are wondering? Easy, it a chance for the parents to gather all together once more to reminisce in past adventures and exchange future addresses while the kids are wrapping up their school work. It is sort of a goodbye tour without officially ever been named such.

Someone brings snacks along, others something stronger but it is always more of a happy celebration of our little international community within Paris rather that a sad goodbye cruise. Of course, we never pay much attention to the actual tourist attractions along the river bank - tells you how spoilt we all are - but rather we try to get that last conversation in or just plain let each other know how much we enjoyed meeting and how different it will be in September when half the bunch will have moved on to new destinations.

So thank you Mona for your diligent and perfect organization in bringing us all together and making these cruises an integral part of our Paris experience. It would not be the same without your dedication and passion to share the beautiful sides Paris has to offer.

No matter from which angle you look at her, 
La Grande Dame is always impressive

The bridge of love locks has gone all pink!

A late-comer who hopped on with a little help and lots of loud cheers

Notre Dame from the "other side"

Entering the Canal St. Martin and the first canal lock

Even the metro line looks picturesque in Paris

Graffiti somewhere in the 19th arrondissement

July 5, 2015

My personal reading list

One of the great perks about blogging is the more you blog the more you read. However, often I don't have time to read the entire article and just skim through it, then add it to my reading list.

My Facebook page looks more like a news agency hub than a friends' page but the info is mainly on the subjects I am passionate about so I enjoy curiously flicking though the posts. The best contributors to my morning blogroll must be my cousins in the US. Thanks ladies, you aways make for an interesting and eye-opening read!

Eventually, when I get through my reading list, I tend to pin some of the articles I like and keep them for future reference. You never know when something might come in handy.

Of course, I also use Pinterest for more frivolous inspirations such as my dream flat in Paris or my other imaginary life in sunny, surfing California, not to mention my love for shoes and the colour pink.

Today, I thought I'd give you some reading material to keep you busy on a hot, sweltering Sunday:

July 2, 2015

Let the sun shine in

It is my yearly pilgrimage... our trip towards the South. It takes me two days to get here and over 1200km of highways but the sun and hot weather are worth every minute's driving.

It is guaranteed sunshine for two whole months; this weekend I even get a special bonus, it seems, the thermometer will be climbing up to 45 ºC... all I can say is bring it on!

Madrid used to be our home and we have left a big part of our heart here, we therefore decided to make it our base. Neutral family territory, so to speak, is always a good solution and every Swiss would agree with that.

It is our home away from home where we still feel very much integrated with the local network, we celebrate our birthdays here, we invite our friends from France, Italy and Switzerland to spend a mini-vacation, we trick or treat in Spanish at Halloween and usually go on an Easter egg hunt. Our neighbours know that August 1st is Swiss National Day when all the lampions around our house go up, the red table clothes and white-crossed napkins decorate the garden table and Swiss flags are hung at the entrance.

Today is the first day of our long summer holidays. I am enjoying the feeling of being in my home and ready for a tinto de verano!

The Osborne sherry company erected large images of bulls
starting in 1956 to advertise their Brandy de Jerez
When you spot one of them along the highway, you KNOW you're in Spain!

Pit stop in San Sebastian, 
a costal town that lies on the Bay of Biscay, 
20 km from the French border.
It will be the European Capital of Culture in 2016.

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