Thursday, October 17, 2013


Geography is one of Dom’s strong suits...and not one of mine.  Ever since I’ve known him, he’s loved maps and atlases and he holds the belief that this world is meant to be explored. He knows strange places that I’ve never even heard of, which is exactly the reason we ended up going to Turkey for vacation. He wanted to see Cappadocia.

This place can only be described as a world wonder that resembles a life-size Smurf village. Trouble is, Cappadocia is not easy to reach. It’s in the center of Turkey and over an hour’s drive away from a few tiny airports that require numerous flight connections to reach. Alternatively, you could take a 12-18 hour overnight bus ride from the larger Turkish cities. Ugh. I wasn’t thrilled at the idea of spending so much time in transit. But then Dom found Oludeniz, a lagoon & beach rated among the top 5 beaches in the world. Ok, fine. I was in. We bookended Cappadocia with some beach days and crammed a lot into week-long Turkish adventure.

Here’s how it went:

We started in Oludeniz. The lagoon itself was beautiful but the beach was pebbly and Oludeniz itself was really disappointing. The ‘strip’ was a huge tourist trap full of fake designer bags and clothes, the food was terrible and it was full of chavy (translation: redneck) Brits.

One of numerous, beautiful (misleading!) online photos

Our sunset shot

One day we drove an hour outside of Oludeniz to Seklikent Canyon. This was one of my favorite days of the trip. We went rafting for 45 minutes and then climbed & waded through the rushing mineral water that still flows through the gorge.  It was a refreshing day in the water and in the sun and far, far away from touristy Oludeniz.

Do you see me there on the left?

We said see-ya-later to Oludeniz and went back to airport to make our way to Cappadocia. I was expecting a village, but turns Cappadocia is huge - the same size as the state of Kentucky! The crazy rock formations found there are due to thousands of years of water eroding away layers and layers of volcanic rock.

Cappadocia contains several large underground cities used by Christians as hiding places before Christianity was an accepted religion.  We visited one of these cities which went below ground seven stories. Archeologists have figured out where the kitchen was, where the animals lived, where they went to the bathroom and which area acted as the Church (easy enough, it was cross-shaped).  There were chimney-type holes used for ventilation and wells to transport fresh water.

A water well

We ended our day with a climb up to the castle, the highest point in the region. We got to the top, caught our breath, and caught a pretty amazing sunset too.

Making our way up to the top

A view well worth the climb!

Back to the airport. Onto another flight with a stopover. And over to our last stop: Dalyan. We picked Dalyan because it provided access to a 5-mile strip of protected, remote beach. We thought it could be a quiet end to our trip. Dalyan delivered.  We stayed in a little hotel right on the river that led to Iztuzu beach. There were also some tombs built into the side of the rock across from our hotel.  

The beach was long and sandy and quiet and just what we needed. It’s also home to loggerhead sea turtles, a highly endangered species. During mating season, people sit guard at night when these turtles climb onto the beach to bury their eggs. Scattered along the beach the next morning, you find cages ensuring nobody steps on the sand above their eggs.

Turtle egg cage

Fun with the camera

Despite the rough start in Oludeniz, and a little patch of “turkey tummy” where I couldn’t eat for two days, the trip was full of fun and adventure. We packed a lot in and, most importantly, Dom can check off one more of his never-been-heard-of travel spots. 

Saturday, September 28, 2013

The Engagement

Sorry it's been a while since I've been around. I feel especially bad because I got so many great comments on that last post. Thanks everyone for finding this little blog and encouraging me to keep it up. It's really fun to hear from people at all corners of the world (well, mostly the states I guess). Anyway, I have some news to share which should also explain why I've been MIA. Happy reading...

Well he finally asked.  To be fair, I really shouldn’t say ‘finally’ as it relates to Dom’s asking. We’ve been together for about 2 and a half years so it’s not really all that long in the grand scheme of things, especially when you’re talking about things that are meant to last a lifetime. But I say ‘finally’ because I’m 33 and I’ve been close to engagement before (or so I thought anyway) which have ended in dramatic heartache. But now, this time….it has FINALLY happened! They say good things come to those who wait. So it’s my time, I’ve waited long enough and Dom pulled through. The engagement story doesn’t disappoint.

Where to start….

About a month or so ago Dom asked which weekend I was free to take a little trip. We take lots of trips so I wasn’t exactly sure what he was up to but I knew I wanted it to happen sooner rather than later. So we settled on the first weekend of August. He promptly bought tickets to somewhere and I stuck the date in my calendar.  I didn’t think much of it then and we didn’t really speak of it again.

Then as the week approached I began to wonder what was up.  I asked a few questions and didn’t get much in return except I was to leave work around 5:30, pack a bathing suit, flip flops and maybe a casual dress. OK…that’s pretty nondescript for a weekend away in August.

The day finally came and as we headed to the airport, the destination was revealed: Majorca. We’ve been to Majorca once before and we fell in love with it. I was excited to head back and to see what this trip was all about.

Friday we walked into a gigantic hotel room and I couldn’t help but wonder....  In typical German-Dom fashion, there was an itinerary for every moment and Friday called for a few drinks at the harbor. Then Saturday we had a packed agenda: cathedral tour in the morning, paella lunch at our favorite spot from our last trip, sunbathing on the beach, a quick change and then up to the most gorgeous bar to view the sunset. I was wondering if Dom might make a move but nothing happened. Then we headed to dinner…a beautiful 5-course meal in an outside courtyard. Nothing. Went back to our harbor for some late night drinks. Nothing.

I woke up on Sunday admittedly a little disappointed and wondering what all of this was about. Why the big show? We threw on some casual clothes and headed out.  There was apparently one last activity. I drove our little Smart car while Dom navigated. We ended up at a vineyard called Santa Catarina.  We started with a wine tasting and after choosing between white, red or rose, the staff handed us a huge picnic basket. We took our bottle of wine, our basket and headed out into the vineyard to find a shady spot at a picnic table.  We poured the wine, sliced some cheese, cut the chorizo and grabbed the bread. And just as we were about to dig in Dom asked me to pass him his camera. And inside that camera bag was not his camera but a big red box. And sitting there in Santa Catarina vineyard with a picnic and the sun beating down, Dom proposed!!! And I, of course, said yes! 

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Moving Advice FAQ

I seem to be getting asked for advice via email and comments quite a bit lately so I thought I’d compile the Frequently Asked Questions and post all the responses in one place.

Q: Did you find the move was a good life move?
Definitely. Since moving to London nearly three years ago, I've satisfied my travel bug (I've now visited over 35 countries!), met a bunch of new people I now call my friends, gotten promoted at work, fell in love (with a German), started learning German, and have really grown as a person. It's been a highlight in my career and life in general. I think anytime you do something big and bold and outside your comfort zone, add a positive attitude and cross your fingers for a spot of luck – you generally don’t have regrets. I don’t. 

Q: What are the pros & cons of living in London?
Let’s be honest, it’s not all roses. Every city has its pros and cons.

Some of the cons:
  • The weather - it really does rain as much as they say. Maybe more. And it can become really depressing and un-motivating. 
  • Public transportation (or ‘Transport’ as they say) – This is both a blessing and a curse, but after a few too many morning commutes jammed under a smelly armpit, I’ve had enough. I miss my car! It’s not fun lugging groceries home via train.
  • It’s also wildly expensive, at least compared to Chicago. I currently live in a one-bedroom apartment and the rent is more than the mortgage on my 2-bedroom Chicago condo. You get used to being house-poor and if you’re just starting out, it’s not uncommon to live with 5+ other people.
  • Convenience - London is just not a very convenient place to live. Shops close early (Thursday is ‘late night’ when stores stay open til 9p –woohoo!) Which means your weekends are inevitably spent running errands. Grocery stores close at 5P on Sundays.
  • The Service – Don’t get me started. Just be prepared, it's nothing like you're used to.
  • The food – Traditional British food isn't so exciting: Fish & chips, steak pies, bland sandwiches. It just doesn’t seem to matter where you go or what you order, the food is just always average.

Of course you get used to most of this and it just becomes way of life. And it’s only fair now to mention the positives:
  • London is a great base to travel around Europe. With five fairly close airports, you can get just about anywhere and it usually won’t set you back to badly as there are plenty of budget airlines to go around.
  • London is a true melting pot – Due to the European Union and agreement with Commonwealth states, many people (Americans an obvious outlier here) are able to immigrate to the UK. As a result, there’s huge diversity, which makes life & work very interesting.
  • London is an A-class city – You can do just about anything in London huge music festivals, sports, top-notch theater, great sites - whatever you want, you can find it.
  • The markets 
  • The pubs
  • The parks – For a major city with a dense population, London has some pretty outstanding parks and green spaces. 
  • The architecture & the sites – There’s something to be said about being surrounded by old, beautiful buildings no matter where you go. 
  • The safety – Guns are nearly non-existent and for such a massive city (8M people), I’ve never once felt unsafe.
  • Vacation Days – 25 is standard!
  • The Royals – This isn’t really a “pro” per say, but it is unique and has been fun to experience the Royal Wedding, the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, and the soon-to-be new addition.

Q: How’s the dating scene?
I haven’t been in the dating scene for quite a while, but all my friends and I have done very well so I wouldn’t be too concerned. It’s worth stating that in general, the dating scene is very different than back home. The concept of ‘hitting on’ girls while out and about doesn’t exist whatsoever unless it’s the late hours and the guy has had hours of liquid courage.  Brits are reserved and as such they tend to meet at work, via friends or online. Online dating is alive and kicking here with lots of sites even beyond the standard and eharmony. My favorite is “for anyone who works in uniform or fancies those who do”!  But with so many cultures mixing in London, it’s hard to pin down any set rules.

Q: Do you have any tips on how to make the move? I know it’s really hard to get a job there as an American.
Getting a job in the UK as an American is almost as difficult as being a European trying to get a job in the US. I was lucky enough to move over on a Tier 1 visa which gives me the freedom of not being tied to a company – I’m allowed to stay in the country even if my job lets me go. But they’re not even offering this type of visa anymore as they’re trying to keep UK jobs for the native-born. Youth unemployment (for people under 25) is nearly 25%!

Based on my exposure to a large group of Americans living in London, the single best way to make the move is via a Tier 2 Company-sponsored work visa.  Almost all the people I know in London have secured this work visa via an internal company transfer – they started out somewhere in the US and got that company to move them over. If you’re looking to move to the UK, this is your best shot. Find a multi-national company and put in for a transfer a couple years later.

I can name one case where a girl came over for a week, interviewed like crazy and secured a job that would supply the visa. But this is hard to come by and I wouldn’t bank on this. I have seen several people transfer jobs into new companies who were willing & able to supply the visa, proving that once you get here, you do have some options. But on the other hand, I’ve seen a couple people who had to move back home because they weren’t able to find anything new.

If you have grandparent relatives from the EU, you can possibly finagle something too. I know two Americans here on an EU passport after proving their grandparents were Italian. I don’t know much about this option but it’s worth looking into if you’re a first or second born generation in America.

I believe there are programs out there that help people work abroad when they’re students or new graduates. Many of these programs stipulate that you have to be under 25 or have graduated less than two years ago. I don’t know all the details since I didn’t participate in these personally, but if you’re young, you may have more options available.

Best of luck & please keep the questions coming!