Blogging around the world with Karolyn from Distant Drumlin

I have been dipping into Distant Drumlin a blog by Karolyn Cooper for quite a while now as there is a fascinating journey behind it and Karolyn has led me into the world of many other excellent international expat experiences and bloggers.

The creator of Distant Drumlin returned to the UK after living in India and China for an extensive time a return journey which has open her eyes to many finer details of life back in her home. Today she splits her time between her city home in Marylebone, central London and her country home in County Down, Northern Ireland.

It was great to shoot a few question over about her experiences as an expat and blogger.

Karolyn's blog Camden Town

You have returned to the UK after living in India and China. How long where you living overseas? And how have you found this ‘reverse expat’ experience, was it difficult to get back into the swing of life in the UK?

My husband had a role in a large company managing software developers in China and India. I quit my job in London and joined him. We spent most of the last ten years overseas, first in Dalian (Liaoning Province, in the cold north­east of China), then Shanghai (warmer), then Bangalore (finally, blue skies and tropical sunshine in south India) . At the end of 2013 we came back to the UK. We’re happy to be back home.

Name five things we should see and do in India and China based on your experiences there?

See the fireworks at Diwali in India, and then see how they compare to the New Year fireworks in China. Do some yoga in India, compare with tai chi in China, see which makes your leg muscles ache more. Learn how to use chopsticks properly: it’s easy!

What should I defiantly taste/eat in India and China?

In India, you must taste the mangoes, bananas and cardamom. I thought I knew those flavours, but they were so much more intense in India.

In China, try everything unless it’s still alive (drunken prawns) or cruel (shark fin soup). You never know, you might love the jellyfish and Shanghai dumplings (I did) or the sea urchins and sea cucumbers (I really did not).

Now getting back to your present situation, if I was coming to you to do this interview where would we meet and what would we be drinking?

Well that depends on whether you catch me in the city or the country. There’s nowhere finer in Northern Ireland than my own garden with a view of the County Down countryside and the Mourne Mountains, so I will make us a pot of tea. If we’re in London, let’s drink espressos at one of the trendy Marylebone cafes.

Do you ever miss your expat experience?

Only in mango season.

Did you have much of a problem with learning the language, what advice do you have for English speaking expats?

In India I didn’t learn anything, except to distinguish which of the local languages I was failing to understand. I am equally clueless in Tamil, Telugu, Kannada and Hindi.

We were much better in China. My husband and I both took lessons in Chinese. Our first teacher gave us a good grounding in Pinyin. That allowed us to learn some basic vocabulary. Then we learned how to look up Chinese characters in a dictionary, using the radical and the number of strokes. Those skills demystify Chinese…slightly. It’s still a hard language for English­speakers to learn. I learned Chinese vocabulary best when it came as part of a whole phrase that I could repeat, parroting the correct tones….so I am a fan of DVDs and podcasts. And the words that stuck best came with some emotion. Play a sport, and you soon learn to count the score, ask for the right golf club, and call shots in or out, just because you really don’t want to lose the game.

What do you appreciate the most about the UK now that you’ve been away from it? And what do you dislike about the UK and would change in an instant?

After eight months back home, I still appreciate clean water and reliable electricity. What would I change in an instant? Dark, grey, damp days.

Karolyn's blog street sign

What kind of blogger are you is it all about having a zillion followers or is it therapy?

I only had a zillion followers on one day, when a London college publicised the blog to the zillions of students who attend the college. The excitement wore off when none of them came back for the next post, so now I’m back to blogging as therapy.

How would you describe your blog, tell us about it …

It started as an expat blog, as a way to keep in touch with family and friends when I moved to India. I was enjoying it too much to stop when the expat posting ended. Most of my posts are photo–heavy, light on text.

You always have the best shots on your blog, so tell us what camera do you use and perhaps a little advice on how to get a decent photo.

I love taking photos for the blog, because there’s no pressure. You’ve never seen my photos of the pheasants who live on our farm, because the birds flee from me every time. I only post photos on the blog when I’m proud of them….I don’t announce them in advance.

Sometimes the iPhone is good enough, but I also have a Panasonic Lumix G3 and a Nikon D90. The Lumix is the best for blogging because it’s so small, and easy to carry around. I often wish I had taken more time over my photos. If someone­ my driver in India, my family or friends – is waiting for me, I rush to take a few photos and move on. When I’m in London, I fear that people will think I’m odd if I stop in the street for too long with a camera. But I’ve learned the hard way that it’s always worth taking another minute to get a better shot. Unless you’re looking for pheasants, in which case it’s too late.

Books can take us places without leaving home, do you have a favourite travel book which you think best describes a particular place or the art of travel in a particular way for those who are unable to travel.

I’m in the middle of reading “The Old Ways” by Robert MacFarlane – a wonderful book about walking.

For China, Peter Hessler’s “River Town” was my favourite.
For India, Katherine Boo’s “Behind the Beautiful Forevers” is impressive, but will make you cry in its depiction of life in the slums of Mumbai.
And the best recent book about London, with the longest title, is Craig Taylor’s “Londoners: The Days and Nights of London Now ­ as Told by Those Who Love it, Hate it, Live it, Left it and Long for it” .

Have you discovered any other wonderful travel/expat blogs that we should be reading?

Kim is an American woman living in Fiji with her family, blogging about the animals, plants, people and culture of Fiji. The blog is called Flora and Fauna Weekly Report. The content is so much more interesting than the title! Weekly posts keep the whole thing fresh, and Kim’s photographs bring it all to life.

Karolyn on yoga mat in India

Cheers to Karolyn for taking a moment to answer some questions and the lovely images.

Be sure to pop over and see her at Distant Drumlin for some fine images and reflections on life in the UK.

If you want to see more of Karolyn check her out on Twitter and Flickr .

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Blogging around the world with Tiana Kai in Florence

There is no doubt that expat blogs from Florence are probably the most popular around, there are literally hundreds of them, but there are few which are able to make themselves stand out and original like Tiana Kai in Florence. Tiana combines her love of travel with her curiosity and knack with photography to explore Tuscany, Italy and Europe at large.

I was surprised when she managed to find a moment in her busy schedule to answer my questions and I am happy to share our conversation with you all.

Ponte Vecchio and Valentina
Tiana’s faithful bike Valentina enjoying the a Florentine icon, the Ponte Vecchio.

 

Do you consider yourself an expat and if so did you make a conscious decision to live the expat life and how did you end up living in Florence Perhaps you can describe exactly where are you living in the city?

Well, I’m definitely not a local, so expat, immigrant, visitor all work! I have been living in Florence for two years now. I rekindled with my ex (a Florentine) whom I dated back in the US from 2001-2003. We got back in touch and next thing I knew he bought me a ticket to visit him for two weeks. The rest is history! 

How would you describe Italy to someone who has never visited? Are the people welcoming to foreigners?

Oh wow, what’s not to say? The coast, the mountains, the land, passion, food, wine, vineyards…I can go on and on. Every corner is picturesque and every passerby is a moving piece of art. I think Italians are very welcoming. I travel a lot around Italy and the people I meet are so incredible, open, fun and curious. Sure, Americans are easier to get to know, but so are Italians if you are willing to open yourself up. 

Name five things I should see and do in Florence?

Climb the Giotto tower to see the incredible view of the city and an up close shot of the Duomo.

Walk up to my favorite viewpoints: San Miniato al Monte Church and Piazzale Michelangelo. The best time is right before sunset—linger around for a few hours while the pink hues seep in. 

Tour the many gardens! My favorite is the small rose garden inside Boboli Gardens and the Rose Garden to the west of Piazzale Michelangelo. There are so many that I still have a few on my list to see.

Visit a fashion museum besides the Uffizi, I prefer Ferragamo’s museum to Gucci’s. 

Eat like crazy! Grab a panino at All’Antico Vinaio, snack on a lampredotto sandwich on the streets, rip your teeth into a bistecca fiorentina and have wine at Il Santino. 

What should I taste or eat in Florence?

As mentioned above you definitely need to eat a bistecca fiorentina. Juicy, raw and flavorful. Finish dinner with a light dessert like Vin Santo (dessert wine) and cantucci (tiny biscotti) dunking the cookies into the wine for an excellent finish to the evening. 

Gelato, yay! There are a handful of artisan gelaterias who always have a changing menu depending on the season, so you’ll sure find unique and unforgettable flavors. 

If I was coming to you to do this interview where would we meet and what would we be drinking?

I would meet you at Il Santino. I have tried many bars around town, but this place feels like home to me. It’s small, the owners are cool and the quality of the food is unsurpassable.

You are originally from the States and are now living full time in Italy, is there a terrible culture shock or do you find your culture has something in common with your current adopted home?

I find a lot of things similar to life in Miami since Miami is not really “America”. That being said, Italians are still different from Latin Americans, so there was a bit getting used to. Getting things done, paying pills, stores closing for lunch where the main issues I noticed. I used to kiss everyone once when I said hi and bye, now I kiss twice when I say hi…not always goodbye. There are many tiny details that I have shifted in my life now that I live in Italy.

Do you ever suffer from homesickness and how do you cope with it?

As close as I am to my family I always enjoyed being away and doing my own thing. The main things I miss are close friends from the States (thank God for Skype and Facebook) and my two little brothers. I have two older brothers too, but my heart just melt for the youngsters—they’re practically my babies. 

Being married to someone I’ve known since I was 20 helps since I feel like I can talk to him about whatever’s on my mind and no one knows me better than he does. Having close girlfriends never hurts either when you need someone to listen to you and who knows what you’re going through (expat-wise or not). 

What’s been the most rewarding/high point and then the most frustrating/low part of your time in Florence?

High points have been settling in and feeling like myself here—routines can help! I’ve been busy getting to know people and traveling, so that’s kept me happy and busy. 

Low points were more in the beginning when I didn’t know which new “friend” to trust and spend my time with, and the let’s not forget the legal paperwork which is always a dream!

What do you think about the expat life? Why do you think so many people choose to be expats?

Some people may think that life is better somewhere else, that they need a change. Others see it as an adventure to share with their partner or on their own, living a life dream and good for them! I think everyone should live abroad at least once in their lives to see how other people live and gain other life experiences. 

Growing up in Miami I always met people from other countries and thought it was so amazing that they packed up and took a chance in a different country. 

Did you have much of a problem with learning the language, what advice do you have for English speaking expats? 

Ha, I’m bad at practicing! My husband and I speak English since he’s amazing at English and we met speaking English. I speak Italian to locals, but I find it incredibly odd to speak Italian to an American. 

What led you to the world of blogging?

I had a blog in Miami a year or so before I moved here focusing on my business and Miami happenings. Once I moved here I noticed an intense social media presence from other expats and travelers, so I wanted to share my story with them and most importantly with my family and friends back home. 

How would you describe your blog, tell us about it …

My blog is a place where you can find tips about Italy and my personal experiences with many many photos! When someone is coming to Florence I want to provide them with the best of what they can do and EAT, so that they have an incredible time here. Since I’m more than just someone living in Florence I like to focus on other travels and expat life in general, so you’ll find a few things that may connect to you on a personal level. 

Have you ever had negative experiences with blogging? Tell us about it, how did you handle it?

Maybe a few pompous comments, but I always think that they must not be very nice to anyone not just me. 

What kind of blogger are you, is it about getting a zillion visitors/subscribers, selling your books or is it all therapy?

I let blogging take me where it takes me. I don’t want a blog filled with advertising and I don’t want to over sell myself, so it’s more about my stories and photography. Many use it as a business and for now I use it as a great tool for work, travel, keeping in touch and sharing my tips and experience with whomever is reading. Who knows what future plans I may have for my blog down the road.

You have quite a good following on your blog, any advice for the rest of us?

Connect with others and be yourself! 

You always have the best shots on your blog, so tell us what camera do you use and perhaps a little advice on how to get a decent photo.

I have a Canon Rebel that doesn’t always see the light of day because of the size, so you’ll find me with my Canon Powershot and iPad mini. The mini takes pretty great shots, less pixelated (and lighter!) than the iPad 2. 

Complete this phrase: I travel because …

life without it is bleeh.

What are the five things you would never leave home without …

Camera, iPad mini, Tod aviators, comfy loafers/walking shoes, my grandpa’s gold bracelet.

Books can take us places without leaving home, do you have a favourite travel book which you think best describes a particular place or the art of travel in a particular way for those who are unable to travel.

Born to Run made me want to explore more of the southwest of the States/Mexico. That book was incredible and if I didn’t give it to a friend I would read it several times over. The landscape in the book really spoke to me, I wouldn’t mind spending a few nights there in the middle of nothing with my husband, dog and camera. I grew up traveling a lot and no matter how fancy shmancy the hotel, my family always was extremely active, so I really love doing something sporty and getting dirty! 

So what’s coming up on Living in Florence that we can look forward to …. Have you discovered any other wonderful travel/expat or writing blogs that we should be reading?

I’m focusing on some side projects that let me be creative and challenge me a bit. As for blogs that I read, I actually read more about marketing and technology, but I find that I’m always cracking up when I read Married To Italy!

Tiana Kai in Florence
Tiana Kai in Florence

Tiana was born in Hawaii, raised in Miami and now lives and works as digital marketing consultant in Florence. TianaKai.com shares travel tips all over Italy and abroad plus expat experiences that are sure to make you laugh. Her main passions besides travel are photography (check out instagram.com/tianapix), her yellow labrador Macintosh and her husband who cooks some mean ribs. 

If you want to see more of Tiana check out her social media links: Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest and her really fun photographic project NOT MY NONNI which offers some candid images of elegant elderly people in Italy also on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.

It was fabulous to have Tiana Kai from Living in Florence to visit on Unwilling Expat and I look forward to her insights on life from one of my favorite parts of Italy.

In bocco al lupo (good luck and happy blogging to you!)

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Blogging around the world: Mozzarella Mamma

 

One of the most inspiring expat blogs I’ve come across in Italy must be Mozzarella Mamma which is the creation of Trisha, an American journalist who has been living and working in Rome for the past two decades. She’s an inspiration simply because she has managed to juggle being a professional, bringing up three children, life in the eternal city and has become fluent with Italy on many different levels. It was a real pleasure to fling a few questions at Trisha via email, here’s our interview.

Trisha the gal behind Mozzarella Mamma
Trisha the gal behind Mozzarella Mamma

Do you consider yourself an expat and if so did you make a conscious decision to live the expat life and how did you end up living in Rome?

I do consider myself an expat. I didn’t make a conscious decision to lead an expat life. I met my Italian husband while we were both in graduate school at Columbia University in New York. We met in the US and married in the US and agreed that we would live the first five years of our marriage in Rome and then spend the next five in the US and try to go back and forth. We figured we both had pretty movable careers. I am a journalist, he is a professor economics. When I moved to Italy with my new husband it was a bit of a culture shock. It was only then that I began to grasp the whole Italian men and their Mamma business. In the end we have remained for 20 years living in Rome (near his Mamma) and only returning to the US for holidays. I would love to spend a few years in living in the US, but I have finally accepted that that is not going to happen.

For a more colorful explanation, you can check out my blog post How I ended up in Italy.

How would you describe Italy to someone who has never visited? Are the people welcoming to foreigners?

Italy is a fabulous place ­­ filled with art and history, fantastic food, gorgeous cities (Florence, Venice, Ravello, Perugia etc etc). Italians are blessed with having both mountains and sea ­­ there is the Mediterranean and Adriatic coasts with magnificent beaches (Cinque Terre, Amalfi Coast, Sardinia, etc etc), and the spectacular Italian Alps. The Italian people are probably the best part ­­ they are friendly and welcoming eager to share their language, culture, history, food and their country with anyone who is interested.

Name five things I should see and do in Rome?

Well there are the standard tourists spots that one must see: The Coliseum, the Roman Forum, The Campidoglio. I love all the Roman piazzas ­­ Piazza Navona, Piazza del Popolo, Campo Dei Fiori, Santa Maria in Trastevere, the Trevi Fountain, The Spanish Steps.

I also am a huge fan of Caravaggio, so I would suggest hunting down the Caravaggio masterpieces in the Roman churches. Here are a couple of my blog posts on that:

Cooling down with Caravaggio and Caravaggio and Women.

Of course you can’t visit Rome without seeing the Vatican, and the Sistine Chapel. I suggest to people­­whether or not they are Catholic­­ that they try to catch the Pope’s Weekly audience on Wednesday’s or his Angelus from the window of the papal apartments on Sundays. It is fun to be a part of these events and to see the new Pope Francis.

 

St Peter's unmistakable dome, Roma
St Peter’s unmistakable dome, Roma

 

What should I taste/eat in Rome?

Oh gosh, everything. I guess I would start with the coffee ­­ espresso, cappuccino, Caffe Latte, and of course have a cornetto with that. Moving on to lunch ­­ pasta in a Roman Trattoria, then an apertivo sitting outdoors at sunset watching the pinks, orange colors on the ancient Roman monuments. For dinner there are so many restaurants ­­ Rome’s Ghetto has some fabulous places. One of my favorite restaurants is a bit out of the way, is called Ristorante Caprera and it has fantastic fish dishes.

 

If I was coming to you to do this interview where would we meet and what would we be drinking?

We would meet at the Tree Bar ­­ a little restaurant/bar in a park near my home. I would be drinking a pro secco or an aperol spritz.

 

Do you suffer from (US/Italian) culture shock or do you find there is something common ground with your current adopted home?

I have suffered from much culture shock in Italy. I get frustrated at the insane traffic, the pharmacy, the food rigidity, the pressure on women to be beautiful and sexy, the constant need for bella figura. I will copy some blog posts of that below. I think the common ground is always humor. I laugh at myself, Italians laugh with me, not at me, and they are easily able to laugh at themselves.

See Nico’s Traffic Rules, Fumbling in the Pharmacy, Espresso, Corruption, Murder and the Bella Figura, Linguini and luscious legs, Something Fishy in Rome, The Fine Art of the Christmas Broth.

 

Do you ever suffer from homesickness and how do you cope with it?

I miss my family in the US a lot, but I talk to them regularly on the phone and communicate on email on a daily basis. But there is no time for homesickness. I have a job, an Italian husband and 3 Italian­American children plus a blog that occupy my every waking moment.

 

What do you think about the expat life? Why do you think so many people choose to be expats?

I am different from many expats in that I don’t lead an expat life, hanging out with other expats and doing American things. I am fully inserted with my Italian husband into an Italian lifestyle.

 

Did you have much of a problem with learning the language, what advice do you have for English speaking expats?

The great advantage in learning Italian is that Italian’s are so nice about it. They don’t care if you make mistakes, they are happy that you are trying. I have had a lot of difficulty with some aspects of the Italian language ­­ the subjunctive, the Lei formal tense, the imperative­­ still I always muddle through.

Here are some blog posts on that: Lei ­ Language Confusion and Swallowing Toads and Seeing Green Rats

 

What’s been the most rewarding/high point and then the most frustrating/low part of your time in Italy?

It has been very rewarding working as a journalist and covering events in Italy and the Vatican. The experience of traveling with Pope John Paul II, covering his death and funeral, traveling with Pope Benedict XVI, covering the election and the Papacy of Pope Francis has been extremely satisfying. In addition I have covered everything from Italian politician Silvio Berlusconi to immigrants arriving on the Italian island of Lampedusa and the Venice Film festival. I love all the news I get to cover. You can see from my blog that I often write about my experiences working in the field. I also have been given contracts with Italian television to serve as a political analyst during the US elections commenting on Italian TV explaining our the political system works in the US. It is satisfying to me to be able to explain US politics to Italians in their language.

You have been living in Italy for 16 years where you have worked as a journalist and brought up three children. How on earth have you managed that?

It is actually 20 years now, I came to Italy in November 1993. I don’t know how I’ve managed it. A couple of key things ­­ I’ve learned to drive in Italian traffic and don’t get upset when stupid jerks on mopeds yell and curse at me. I don’t let myself get cut off by people in fancy Mercedes of BMW’s­­ my little Fiat is a fighter. I’ve learned to argue and gesticulate in Italian. My life is a big juggling act and I always have a lot of balls in the air ­­ they fall all the time, but I try to laugh, pick them up and start again.

Do you feel more American or Italian these days?

I always feel American and very proud to be so. Many people say I speak more like an Italian now (talk fast and gesticulate a lot) and tend to be more argumentative, and I tend to dress more like an Italian (no sneakers and sweats), but my heart and soul will always be American.

See blog post: Sweats at the Supermarket.

 

Epic, timeless Colosseum of Rome.
Epic, timeless Colosseum of Rome.

Since you are a journalist and write about events in Italy I simply have to ask you a few quick questions about current affairs in Italy, if you don’t mind:

A) What do you think of Renzi?

I like Renzi. He is young and ambitious and doing everything he can to bring Italy out of its economic crisis and I hope he succeeds. I did not like the way he stabbed his fellow­party member and former Prime Minister Enrico Letta in the back to get where he is, but perhaps that is they way Italian politics works (a tad Machiavellian).

B) How do you think Italy will manage to come out of the Economic crisis?

No clue. You can ask my husband that question. He is a professor of economics at the University of Rome Tor Vergata. His blog is www.gustavopiga.it

However, my gut reaction is that Italians always muddle through ­­ as I said above they have great food, an amazing cultural patrimony, and a gorgeous country. There is also a combination of the black market business and traditional Italian attitudes of family safety net that help keep the economy from sinking.

C) Do you think there is a solution for the refugee problem? And why do the Italian and international press exchange the word ‘migrant’ for ‘refugee’ so easily?

I have no idea what the solution for the “refugee” problem is, but I think the way it is being handled right now is not working. Italian Navy and Coast Guard ships are fishing hundreds of “migrants” in rickety old boats out of the Mediterranean every day (I get their videos sent to me every day in this period when the weather is good). I think the key is giving more aid and investment directly in the countries that the migrants are coming from. “Migrants” and “refugees” are different. Migrants are people who are coming usually for economic reasons, refugees for political reasons. I have seen hundreds of North Africans arrive who are mostly looking for work, and hundreds of Eritreans and Sudanese escaping from dangerous political situations. But among the North Africans some can be political refugees as well. It is impossible for a journalist or rescue workers to know in one boatload who is a migrant and who is a refugee­­ that takes days of interviews to sort out.

I have also done a lot of blog posts on Lampedusa and the refugee situation.

Ceramics Santo Stefano

Tell us about your book “Mozzarella Mamma: Deadlines, Diapers and the Dolce Vita,” how’s it coming along?

My book is now officially going nowhere. I’ve given up on it. Most of the best parts are already in my blog anyway. I’ve decided to dedicate myself to my blog and I will wait until I retire to write a book. However, if a publisher contacted me and offered to publish my book, I would re­work it, but that is highly unlikely to happen and I do not have any free time to get into the act of trying to find an agent and get published, that in itself is a full­time job.

What led you to the world of blogging?

I started my blog as a way to attract a publisher for my book, but as I said in the answer above I have now given up on the book and the blog has taken on a life of its own. I now consider my blog as a way to keep a diary of both my professional and personal interests and experiences ­­ this can all be eventual material for a new book.

How would you describe your blog, tell us about it …

Well, my blog is all over the map. It started out being funny tales about trying to be a working Mamma in Italy then it has evolved a bit into background descriptions of news stories I am covering. However, I think my best posts are the humorous accounts of trying to be a good Mamma and maintain the Bella Figura in Italy.

Have you ever had negative experiences with blogging? Tell us about it, how did you handle it?

I really have not had negative experiences with blogging, it has been all positive for me. I have had so many contacts with wonderful people from around the world ­­ Australia, India, Turkey, and the US ­­ to name a few. My blog has opened up a new world for me.

Actually there is one small negative aspect ­­ blog guilt. Once you start blogging you feel like you need to do it all the time and you start feeling guilty when you don’t post. Sometimes I am just too tired, or too wrapped up in personal things, or just don’t have anything to write about, but I still feel guilty for not posting. But there is also the reverse side of that, when I do a post that I feel is really good, the writing is sharp and the pictures are strong, it gives me enormous satisfaction.

What kind of blogger are you, is it about getting a zillion visitors or subscribers, selling your books or is it all therapy?

As I was saying above, I am not aiming for getting visitors or subscribers and am not aiming to sell books. It is not even therapy for me. I consider a diary of my life.

You have quite a good following on your blog, any advice for the rest of us?

I am not sure I have such a great following on my blog. My only advice to other bloggers would be try to enjoy it, do not give up, do not worry about who is following you or numbers of visitors or subscribers. One of the best parts of blogging is the friends you make­­ enjoy the comments on your blog, respond to them all, and try to read other blogs and comment on them. I have a lot of fellow­ blogger friends who I have never met in person but I feel fond of them, I enjoy reading their blogs and commenting on them, and I am pleased when they comment on mine. It is hard though, for many people blogging is a full­time job and they have more time to blog and comment on other people’s blogs­­ for me it is an effort, but an effort that is worthwhile.

Books can take us places without leaving home, do you have a favorite travel book which you think best describes a particular place or the art of travel in a particular way for those who are unable to travel.

I am not really into travel books­­ I do love historical fiction and biographies that take me to another time and place. I just finished reading “Catherine the Great” by Robert K. Massie which I loved. One of my favorite books is Louis De Bernieres’ “Birds Without Wings” which takes place in Turkey at the beginning of the 20th century. Another favorite about a childhood in Africa is Alessandra Fuller’s “Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight.”

As far as books on Italy are concerned, here are some of my favorites: “The Agony and the Ecstasy” by Irving Stone, “Umbertina” by Helen Barolini, Naples’ 44 by Norman Lewis and Alexandra Lapierre’s “Artemisa,” Lynn Rodolico’s “Two Seas” and the Italian classic Luigi Barzini’s “The Italians.”

So what’s coming up on Mozzarella Mamma that we can look forward to …

Yikes, not so sure what is coming up on Mozzarella Mamma. I am going on the Papal plane to the Mideast with Pope Francis at the end of May and I will definitely blog about that. I am also doing some research of Livia, the wife of the Roman Emperor Augustus and will eventually blog about her. I am also contemplating a couple of silly posts, the first on dealing with my teenage (now 19­year­old son) and the complicated questions of when the girlfriend sleeps over, and another one on Italian with­the­dog­in­the­park culture.

 

Have you discovered any other wonderful travel/expat or writing blogs that we should be reading?

About Turkey: http://archersofokcular.com/

About Renovating in Italy: http://www.renovatingitaly.com/

Hilarious accounts of being an expat in Italy: http://marriedtoitaly.com/

Stunning sunset in Rome bathing the monuments in golden light.
Stunning sunset in Rome bathing the monuments in golden light.

Thanks so much to Trisha for taking a moment to answer my questions. I wanted to thank her for her blog apart from being an inspiration for me Mozzarella Mamma is a wonderful mix of observation, current affairs and culture shock with a pinch of humor and irony.

Trisha has the answer to one of the most difficult questions a female expat can ask. Mainly: ‘how does a woman adapt and change to meet the demands of one society while trying to maintain her core beliefs, values and cultural traditions? [Her] own answer to this question has always been, with good friends, humility and a sense of humor.’

Words to live by.

Much gratitude and good karma to you Mozzarella Mamma, I look forward to hearing more about your journey in ‘Bella Italia.’

 

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Blogging Around the world: Surviving in Italy

This week on Blogging Around the World, we are back in ‘Bella Italia’ to be specific Florence and a sassy American gal called Misty and the struggles she describes on her blog  Surviving in Italy.

Now there is plenty of blog action happening out of Florence but you aren’t going to find anything quite like Surviving in Italy, with it’s mixture of humor, satire, keen observation and capybara obsession. Above all Misty gives you a pretty realistic portrayal of the life and randomness of Italy and the culture clashes you will come up against if you move to this complicated and beautiful country.

I have begun blogging together with Misty and other like-minded expats in a group freshly baptized C.O.S.I  (Crazy Observations by Stranieri in Italy.) I did this interview before the fun began and I think it’s a great way of getting to know this prominent expat blogger.

So let’s talk with the girl behind Surviving in Italy.

 

The ultra talented Misty Evans
The ultra talented Misty Evans

Do you consider yourself an expat and if so did you make a conscious decision to live the expat life and how did you end up living in Florence?

Hmm, that’s a difficult question. I have always wanted to leave the US and live abroad. I love San Fran and New York but most of the other places are just too “plastic” feeling for me. Everything is a chain, the food is horrible, bad quality, high crime, etc. I love aspects of the US, the ambition, the drive, the career possibilities, but other aspects are suffocating. I moved to Italy in 2009 for an art program in Florence, met a guy, started writing and designing and stayed.

How would you describe Florence to someone who has never visited? Are the people welcoming to foreigners?

Florence is magic. People fall in love with the feeling, the mood, it’s a very romantic city in a way. It’s very walkable, calm, and obviously beautiful. There are a lot of transplants in Florence so it’s hard to say if people are welcoming. The Italians from Florence? No, not at all. Florentines are not mean but they are known for being very closed, reserved, and they often keep to themselves and their tight friend groups. There are always exceptions though, and the non Florentine Italians can be more open.

Name five things I should see and do in Florence?

I’m not much for tourist stuff. Honestly, a perfect day in Florence is a panini from Due Fratellini, a glass of wine, long walks through the back alleys to avoid tourists, and in the evening a bottle of wine on the steps or on the benches in Santa Croce. That’s heaven for me.

What should I taste and eat in Florence?

There is a restaurant outside of the center called Giugello. It’s very authentic, delicious, and only like a 10 minute cab ride from the city center.

If I was coming to Florence to do this interview where would we meet and what would we be drinking?

I love grabbing a drink at Finnegins on San Gallo because they have a great outside patio and it’s not right in the tourist area. I also really like antipasto and wine at Dante’s. It’s IN Piazza Duomo which is incredibly central and where most of the tourists are, however, for some reason this place is mostly frequented by Italians. Sant’Ambrosia is also really nice for a cocktail outside.

You are originally from the States and are now living full-time in Italy, is there a terrible culture shock or do the two places have something in common?

Italy and the US couldn’t possibly be more different. I found more similarities in Thailand than in Italy. I’m in a perpetual state of culture shock, in Italy and then when I return to the US. It’s confusing. Do I bag my own groceries? Are you going to bag my groceries? Do I buy vagina soap? No? WHERE AM I!?

Do you ever suffer from homesickness and how do you cope with it?

Of course. It’s not that I miss the US exactly, but I miss my mother­tongue, I miss my friends and family. Italy would be ideal if I could import some of my long time friends or my sister. SISTER, MOVE TO ITALY.

What’s been the most rewarding or high point and then the most frustrating or low part of your time in Florence?

This question could basically be my book. Attending a creative institution in Florence was AMAZING. I would send my own kids to do it, it was such a brilliant time and I grew a lot as a person. The lowest points have always been dealing with my husband’s friends and family. They were not welcoming. It is a very cliché story of “Italian boy meets American girl and the parents go INSANE”

Did you have much of a problem with learning the language, what advice do you have for English speaking expats?

I write full­ time in English. It still makes speaking Italian fluently very difficult. People say, “Well you just have to speak!” but my response is usually, “When?” After 12 hours of writing in English, one hour of maybe speaking Italian with my husband just isn’t enough. My Italian isn’t horrible, but I still can’t speak it like an intelligent creature. I couldn’t talk about the stratification of American society, for example.

Do you think the world is becoming a smaller place? Why or why not?

The internet is making the world a tiny place.

What do you think about the expat life? Why do you think so many people choose to be expats?

It’s different for everyone. Some people simply love Italy, others were running from something, some are searching for something. For a lot of people it comes down to love. You call in love and getting an Italian away from their family can be nearly impossible so it’s easier for many to stay. It’s a struggle on some days and lovely on others. It’s difficult to explain because Italy is so beautiful but day-to-day life isn’t very easy. Theres no money, business movement is nearly impossible, the family is overbearing most of the time. It can be stressful and exhausting. It’s certainly not like you see in the movies.

What led you to the world of blogging?

Honestly? I was having a really difficult period and I needed to write it down. I’ve always written things down but I also hoped that I could find other people who might relate. It worked. Most expats can relate to some degree with struggles under the Italian sun.

How would you describe your blog, tell us about it …

I’m so bad at this. Uhm, let’s see, I wanted to blog honestly. I wasn’t aiming for a mood, I didn’t want a travel blog or a lifestyle blog necessarily. I didn’t want to make people jealous with my amazing and luxurious Italian life, I just wanted to describe my experience, what I see, how I feel. I wanted a platform to talk about social issues, things that people misunderstand, and of course the good things. I met my husband in Italy which is a great thing because he’s fantastic (even if he’s insanely irritating a lot of the time). People usually come to my blog for a laugh, or because they can relate, or probably to think “Oh thank god I’m not her.” Some probably come for the Capybara pictures.

You’ve had some of your posts go ‘viral’ how did that happen and how did you find that experience?

I have had some viral stuff. Most often (but not always) things go viral when you piss off the Italians. They only tend to share things that irritate them so if you REALLY piss them off you’ll see your stats jump for a month or so. I’ve never tried to intentionally irritate anyone. Oddly, the post that received the most attention was a post that humorously listed things I’d learned about Italy that month basically from articles online or friends. That really got to them (25 Things I’ve Learned About Italy) but it’s also because Italian humor is very, very different from ours and they didn’t really understand that while I was posting stats my responses were very tongue­in­cheek. My Italian friends who have spent time outside of Italy found it amusing. The other viral stuff was humor like “The ten Reasons I’m Surprised That Someone Married Me” or the “How To Surviving Being An Expat.”

You have also had some negative comments, tell us about this, how did you handle them?

All bloggers with a decent audience get nasty comments. At first they’d bum me out but then I just started being funny about it. If someone writes something just TRYING to be mean, I often make their comment a blog post and respond to it. If people are just being trolls I change their comments to say funny things. One person wrote, “I should shoot you with your own guns stupid americans!,” and I changed it to “I wish I could live in your pocket.” She responded back with, “LIAR OF DEMOCRACY!” And I changed it to, “Long live the USA!” She was pissed.

You have also won an award for one of your posts, tell us about that? Do you think awards help boost blog readership?

I did! I won the “Best Blog Post” Award from Italy Magazine. It was for my post How To Survive Being An Expat. It does boost readership but more importantly it’s cool to write, “Award winning blog” in my bio. WINNING!

What kind of blogger are you, is it all about getting a zillion visitors or subscribers, selling your books or is it therapy?

Literally it’s therapy. I started writing after my college psychologist recommended it. I tend to obsess over things and writing helps me to put my thoughts to rest. If you’re OCD at all, it really helps! It also helps with depression. I like that blogging can also help other people through hard times. I get a lot of emails and comments every day from people telling me that they are struggling and I made them feel better, made them laugh, or made it easier for them to be abroad. In fact, in my other blog I talked about depression and suicidal thoughts and I had a lot of emails and comments from people saying that they actually googled “suicide” because they wanted to die, they found me, and felt better. How many careers can you say, “I made someone rethink the value of their life?” It’s awesome.

You have quite a good following on your blog, any advice for the rest of us?

I’d recommend reading a lot of blogs and making friends, updating every other day or as much as possible, and being honest. I find that people even enjoy my posts that seem like they were written by a drunk animal as long as they were written honestly.

Books can take us places without leaving home, do you have a favourite travel book which you think best describes a particular place or the art of travel in a particular way for those who are unable to travel.

A dear friend of mine, Lee Foust, has written a wonderful book about travel, place, etc. It’s called Sojourner and it’s available on Amazon. I’m also a HUGE fan of David Sedaris and his essays on living abroad.

What would be your dream trip?

Right now I’m obsessing over the idea of tree house hotels. There are a few in Europe and Hawaii. I REALLY want to go and stay in one and just spend a week with my husband (and probably my hysterical poodle) in the trees. We don’t get a chance to be around nature enough. It’s probably good for me.

What are the five things you would never leave home without …

My wallet, sunglasses, dog (who has separation anxiety and goes EVERYWHERE with me, sadly), my notebook and my iphone. I take a ridiculous amount of photos with my iphone, and my notebook is important for writing down random ideas during the day.

So what’s coming up on Surviving in Italy that we can look forward to …

I just started a project where I’m doing group posts with other well­known Italy expats. It’s really fun and the first one goes out this friday (you should get on board). We pick a FAQ or a theme and then all respond to it. I’m also creating a photo book with humorous notes about the place. That will be on sale this summer. I’ll also be posting some longer content about how I got my husband a Greencard for the US and other bureaucratic stuff because I’ve been getting flooded with questions lately about it.

Have you discovered any other wonderful travel/expat blogs that we should be reading?

There are a lot of expat blogs that I follow. I really like your blog Unwilling Expat, Married To Italy, Rick’s Rome, Girl In Florence, Expat Eye On Latvia (she’s hilarious), and many, many others. I could list like 50 that I adore.

 

I had to include this shot of Misty with her adorable dog Oliver ... you guys are so cute!
I had to include this shot of Misty with her adorable dog Oliver … you guys are so cute!

Thanks ever so much for the conversation!

Apart from being a fab bloggess Misty is also talented visual artist, business woman, model and columnist, be sure to keep an eye out for her upcoming book.

She is currently in the States and has been quite talkative lately recently doing a couple of great interviews one here on Girl in Florence and this one on US based blog Thoughts from Paris be sure to take a listen.

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W​hat to do With 10 Days in Western Australia

Today we have a lovely guest post by Jessica from The Turquoise Compass

 

Western Australia
Conto Beach

After spending 6 weeks on Australia’s East Coast, I couldn’t leave without getting a taste of the West Coast as well. With only 3 months in Australia (relatively speaking), I can’t do it all (even though I want to), so I had to pick and choose. Australia is a gigantic country with so many exquisite destinations. I decided that I would spend most of my time on the East Coast, since most of my dream bucket list destinations are on the East including the Great Barrier Reef, Whitsundays, Fraser Island, Magnetic Island, Noosa Everglades, Sydney, and beyond. Although Eastern Australia is my focus on this first trip (I am hoping for more future trips), I decided to see other regions as well. Although I won’t have the same amount of time to explore the West Coast and South Eastern Australia I thought I should still get a taste.

 

Perth
Perth

Ten days in Western Australia doesn’t seem like a lot of time, but if planned correctly you can see quite a bit. As a hyperactive traveler I like to stay busy throughout most of my journey. Planning things to do in each destination that I visit is exciting for me. The more I can squeeze in the more excited I get to go and explore. I still try to make sure that I have some time to relax every few days, but generally speaking I stay quite busy bopping around each place of venture.

 

Sculptures by the Sea
Sculptures by the Sea

 

Cottesole
Cottesole

I didn’t know what to expect when I flew from Cairns to Perth. After spending so much time in Eastern Australia I think I was expecting to see a similar landscape. How much different can the West really be? The beaches can’t be that different can they? Boy was I in for a pleasant surprise when I landed in Perth. Western Australia has an entirely different look and feel. It’s refreshing to be able to travel within one country, yet get different experiences in each region of the country.

 

Rugged Coast
Desert Like Terrain

 

Sunset Coast
Sunset Coast

The dryer, Mediterranean-like temperature was a gift from heaven. The cities are slightly more spread out with more natural unspoiled views in between. Very few hotels line the sunset and turquoise coast as many do in Eastern Australia. The rough coast rests along the surprisingly crystal clear turquoise waters. The desert-like terrain greets the sand dunes along the beach with welcoming arms. A change of scenery was exactly what I needed to recharge my vagabond heart.

 

Rugged Coast
Rugged Coast

 

Wild Animals
Wild Animals

Although I don’t have to worry about deadly jelly fish in the ocean like I do on the East Coast. I now have to worry about encounters with deadly sharks (yes, that would include the Great White Shark among others) and snakes. While swimming at Conto beach outside of Margaret River, just shortly after my friend and I got out of the water all of the surfers were quickly swimming to shore and flagging down other surfers to get out of the water. I asked one of them if there was a shark and he responded casually with “yes, a big one“. Oh my goodness, and I was just in the water with a shark! To be in a beautiful destination means that there are risks to be taken to enjoy the environment. Knowing these risks I continually tempt fate by exploring more and more in Australia. Am I crazy?

 

 

Redgate Winery
Redgate Winery

 

Margaret River Landscape
Margaret River Landscape

10 Busy Days on the West Coast:
Fly into Perth
Kings Park
Perth CBD
East Perth
Northbridge
Fremantle
Cottesole
Sculptures by the Sea Art Display
Scarborough
Sunset Coast (beaches South of Perth)- Scarborough Beach, Brighton Beach
Turquoise Coast (beaches North of Perth)-Mullaloo Beach
Margaret River
Winery Tour
Gnarabub Beach
Surfers Point & Southside
Rivermouth
Eagle Bay
Meelup Bay
Conto Beach (we had to get out of the water because of the shark in the area)
Fly to South East Australia: Melbourne

Bucket List Adventures on the West-
See wild kangaroos for the first time
Bodyboarding at Redgate Beach
Spelunking in Giant’s Cave
Indian Ocean Beaches
Drink Australian wine at an Australian winery
Hamelin Bay to see the wild dolphins

Redgate Beach
Redgate Beach

Have you been to Western Australia or recently started planning your Western Ozzie adventure? I’d love to hear from you to know what you have done and plan to do!

About our most pleasant guest blogger:

Jessica from Turquoise Compass is a teacher at heart, but her true passion is traveling (especially to turquoise beaches), adventure, and trying new things. She has been to 17 countries and she is ready to see more. She has completed over a hundred items on her bucket and encourages others to live life to the fullest, while taking advantage of every opportunity that comes. As you can tell, this hyperactive traveler loves visiting beautiful turquoise destinations.

Thanks so much to Jess for this delightful guest post and her great ideas for visiting my home Australian state of  W.A. It makes me feel a little closer to home and some of the places she mentioned, I still haven’t visited yet!

Be sure to check out Jessica’s fab Travel Blog and also link up with her here on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram.

 

Jess from Turquoise Compass
Happy travelling to Jess from Turquoise Compass!

 

Blogging around the world: Multifarious Meanderings

Next up on the Blogging Around the World bandwagon is a delightful chit chat with Joanna from Multifarious Meanderings who enlightens us about family, humor, life and misadventures in the Hérault region of France.

Joanna says on her about page that: Multifarious Meanderings is simply an opportunity for her to write up and share a few moments in life, the odds and sods, the bits and bobs, without any ambition other than to enjoy writing and interact with other bloggers who share the blogging bug.

I think she’s being too modest! M.M is witty, sharp, hilarious, observant, truthful and filled with joie de vivre all at the same time. I was happy to have some of these qualities visit my blog even if only for a brief interview. So let me introduce you to this great ‘bloggess.’

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A rare image of camera shy Joanna from M.M. Aptly playing with her helmet!

Do you consider yourself an expat and if so did you make a conscious decision to live the expat life and how did you end up living in France? Where exactly are you living?

Yes and no. I consider myself a true expat in so far that I still obsessively squirrel away any British produce that crosses my path – imagine Gollum with a tin of baked beans. On the other hand, I feel very much at home here, having spent most of my adult life in France. When I go home to Britain I scare people off because I get too close, talk too loud and keep prodding them and squeezing them like fruit at the village market. I live in a small village in the Hérault valley in the South of France. 

How would you describe France to someone who has never visited? Are the people welcoming to foreigners?

Coo, this one is hard. It’d take me an entire blog post to cover. (MM scratches head and reaches for bottle of rosé). Hmm. Adjectives. France is feisty. Sunny. Snowy. Spacious. Multicultural. Delicious. Passionate. Sometimes opinionated. Sensitive. Complicated. Proud. Historic. Beautiful. A tad precious at times, but endearingly so.

I haven’t had any bad experiences here – as a general rule of thumb, if you do your best to learn the language and adapt to French living, the French will reward your efforts. As in any country, you have a number of people who hate difference – but don’t let that put you off. If you want to read more of my ramblings about living with the French, I wrote three articles on Expats Blog that describe working and living in France.

Name five things I should see and do in France?

1)Visit the Alsace region, in the East of France, and discover fabulous scenery, scrummy food, and people with a big heart and real pride for their roots.

2) Fill in a French income tax form. If you come through the experience without crying, pulling your hair out by the roots or going mad, you are fit for life in France. 

3) Check out the huge parties the French have for the 14th of July. 

4) Christmas food – the closest you’ll ever get to a five-star restaurant meal without even leaving the house. 

5) Treat yourself to a huge motorway traffic jam in the middle of summer, caused by demonstrating lorry drivers, and surprise yourself with the impressive stock of 100% French rude gestures and bad language you have learned since you arrived with your good behaviour so many years ago. 

What should I defiantly taste/eat in France?

Defiantly? Nothing, unless you fancy being booted out of the restaurant by an angry cuistot. But you should definitely taste EVERYTHING. Starting with Munster cheese, the Rottweiler of the cheese plate (don’t let the smell put you off; its bark is worse than its bite). The galette des rois is a must – a sweet pie served for epiphany, made of flaky pastry filled with an almond – butter cream. Gratin dauphinois – the most moreish potato bake ever (and yes, I know that ‘most moreish’ isn’t English. It’s MM –ish). Saucisson, jambon cru and crunchy baguette pulled out of a picnic bag on the top of a hillside, shared in good company and washed down with some Châteauneuf du Pape red wine. Hungry yet?

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MM with a lollipop from Pezenas

Tell us about your perfect/average day in your part of the world?

Pain au chocolat and coffee at the bottom of the garden in my PJ’s on a Sunday morning, after a balmy night listening to the nurse toads and owls partying outside. Then a walk with Smelly Dog and Candide the Canon in the vineyards, lunch in the garden with PF and the tadpoles, a siesta, baking a cake with Little My, then reading a book in the bath, bread and cheese in front of a Pixar cartoon, then blogging, reading or writing in bed. Parfait.

If I was coming to you to do this interview where would we meet and what would we be drinking?

At the bottom of my garden, with a chilled bottle of rosé and a truckload of peanuts (I’m a peanut addict. There, I said it.)

You are a foreigner now living full-time in France, is there a terrible culture shock or do you find your expat culture has something in common with your new adopted home?

No problems at all, bar seeing the French dunk their baguette and jam in their bowl of coffee and watching the butter melt all over the surface like an oil slick. Yuck. I’ll never get used to it. 

Do you ever suffer from homesickness and how do you cope with it?

Yes, sometimes. I get over it by Skyping my family whilst downing a G&T or three. Generally it happens at ‘key’ family moments, like Christmas and birthdays, or when my LLS (Littlest Little Sister) posts on Facebook that she’s having a bacon butty then going to the pub for a pint, a game of pool and a packet of salt and vinegar crisps. The worst time was when my grandmother died, and I wasn’t at home to cuddle my Dad – I got myself a plane ticket home, and got in hot water because I turned up at the airport with my son’s toy pistol in my handbag. 

What’s been the most rewarding/high point and then the most frustrating/low part of your time in France?

Most rewarding high point? Ho de hum. Everything is good about my life here. I’d say that the most fabulous feeling was to be accepted and welcomed, particularly by PF’s Grandmother, who at first would have preferred to gouge her own eyes out with a blunt spatula than see the family DNA diluted with foreign stock. Being elected as the first non-French town councillor in our previous home town was a magic experience, too. Low? When a little old lady at the bus stop elbowed me in my very pregnant belly in her hurry to shove past me and get the last remaining seat on the bus. But that could have happened anywhere… and given the speed at which she ran, at least it proved that the French health system works well.

Do you think the world is becoming a smaller place?

Only if you let it. 

What do you think about the expat life? Why do you think so many people choose to be expats?

I chose to live in France because I was intrigued by it as a teenager, then fell for the place hook, line and sinker. I don’t think expats have the same reasons for living away from home – some do it for professional reasons and live the experience very much as expatriates, some start off like that and fall in love with the country they went to, some go to the ends of the earth because they have fallen in love, others need to get away from their routine and try something new. What’s important is to be happy. 

Did you have much of a problem with learning the language, what advice do you have for English speaking expats? 

Not really, because I was only interested in French at school, so I put all my energy into learning to speak French rather than mastering less important, boring things like maths, geography and science. I regularly make mistakes when I have drunk too much rosé, but the tadpoles (my “Frenglish” offspring) correct me immediately. I also confused my apples and potatoes once, hence describing the most unusual toffee apple ever to a wide-eyed French audience.

Advice? Forget the evening courses, DIY French CD’s and text books, and get stuck in. Get out and about with your workmates, invite your neighbour around for a coffee, and stick at it. The French will reward your bravery with encouragement and will correct your French to help you along.

The French are infamous for defending their language, perhaps you can tell us about how you cope with this linguistic French snobbery? 

I think that it’s more a question of pride than snobbery – the French have a beautiful language and as a grammar fiend in my own language, I wholeheartedly approve of their belief that it should be treated with respect. I have a nasty habit of taking pictures of the spelling mistakes I come across, proving that many French people mistreat their language. My kids quake in their boots every time I find one in case I tell someone off. The most recent example was today – a solicitor who mistyped the verb ‘determine’ in her email, and informed me that she was going to ‘terminate’ my husband instead. 

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The Grammar Girls had struck again. Prince Charming would no longer be scribing ‘PC rools the world’ on the castle walls.

You also blog in French, do you get many French readers, how challenging is this for you?

The French blog is still a baby – it’s doddling along. I don’t get the feeling that blogging is as popular in France – it seems to be a more personal project for many in comparison with the busy blogging community I have seen on the English-speaking platform. I mainly have French readers, many of whom are expats themselves. I enjoy reading their blogs too, and love seeing how those who live in Britain experience expat life in my own country. 

 What led you to the world of blogging?

My lovely big sister. I love writing, and I was frustrated to leave it on my hard disk. Big Sis told me about WordPress, and I will never forget how I had my heart in my mouth when I pressed that ‘publish’ button for the first time just over two years ago. 

How would you describe your blog, tell us about it …

A big sweetie jar full of all sorts of fun jumble from MM’s life – if you’re looking for grown-up, serious stuff, you’re in the wrong place. Multifarious Meanderings is a humorous hotchpotch of parental palavers, run-ins with the evil Queen CERFA (aka the French administration), eternal mysteries of life such as the LSD (lost sock dimension), my hate – hate relationship with the sadistically smug Wondeure Woomane, my inability to become a Febreze Fairy, and the trials and tribulations of being a peanut addict. Learn how to embrace your inner bitch, deal with recalcitrant bathroom plumbing and get teenagers to adopt a Nike approach with the housework (i.e. ‘just do it’). There is also some serious stuff about Herr Hormone and his Henchmen, hunting down snakes in your home, the migration of the lesser spotted boob, and how to deal with cougars chatting up your husband at the bus stop. 

Have you ever had negative experiences with blogging? Tell us about it, how did you handle it?

Not really. Opinions have differed at times, but the people who comment are generally all intelligent grown-ups who know how to behave. Those who don’t are what I call bad fairies, and they generally manage to shoot themselves in the foot and nose-drive into blogger’s purgatory without any help from anyone else. I moderate all the comments on my blog to avoid any nasty surprises, because a blog should be a pleasant place to hang out, not a boxing ring. 

What kind of blogger are you, is it about getting a zillion visitors/subscribers, selling your books or is it all therapy?

I rarely visit my stats page (although I do admit I’m a sucker for reading the spam). I blog because I love writing, I love reading, and I never tire of the magic equation by which blogging + nice humans =  friendship. That’s all. Now, about my book… just kidding. For now. 

You have quite a good following on your blog, any advice for the rest of us?

I don’t think I’m really in a position to hand out advice, but for what it’s worth:

‘Be yourself – everyone else is already taken.’ (Oscar Wilde). Your posts are unique –believe in yourself. Aim for quality, not quantity. When people comment, answer, and welcome first-timers who knock on your virtual door – there’s nothing worse than feeling like you’ve gatecrashed a private party. Never judge the success of your blog in terms of whether you’ve been Freshly Pressed, or the number of likes or followers you have – a blog may have thousands of followers, but the proof of the pudding comes from the followers who actually comment on a regular basis. If someone, somewhere is happy to see your post pop up in their reader as they eat their breakfast, then you have succeeded.

How important are weekly writing challenges and collaborations for you and your blog? 

If I see a challenge that strikes my fancy, I’ll go for it, but I’m a gob on a stick, so I rarely need prompting to talk. I do enjoy interacting with other bloggers who set up cool projects like this one, too. 

Do you think ‘virtual friendship’ really exists? You mentioned in a recent post, that the blogging community is a helpful presence for you, it’s certainly a new phenomenon, how suspicious or open should a new blogger be?

It most definitely does. I feel like I’m rolling into the local pub for an evening out with the regulars when I blog, and that’s what it’s all about. When my Father-in-Law died recently, I put a note on the blog to inform everyone that I’d be offline for a while. The ensuing support and concern, both on the blog and even by email, was not only touching, but humbling.

I am careful not to put too much ‘sensitive’ information on line. I use pseudonyms for my family, and I don’t put photos of my family on the blog – you never know who could download that photo of your five-year-old in the tub, or how they could use it, whether or not you have copyrighted it. I follow my gut feelings for contact with people – just like in real life, you should never take sweeties from strangers. 

You liberally use Playmobile toys to illustrate your posts, what’s the inspiration behind this idea? 

I’m just a big kid (MM grins and runs off to find her toy chest). I love playing with Playmobils, and I think that a Playmo photo illustrates a post well, particularly if it’s original and contradicts the social ideals that are depicted on the boxes. Like Prince Charming hoovering the floor and looking after the kids whilst his erstwhile Princess, now an Evil Queen in a fleece and tracksuit bottoms, drinks tea with her friend on the couch. This actually winds children up – I was told off by a friend’s three-year-old son when I sent the Princesses mum up the ladder in a pair of dungarees and Birkenstock sandals to save her daughter from a life of drudgery with Prince Charming. As far as I know, the poor lass is still there.

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Cinderella’s Revenge, by MM.

Books can take us places without leaving home, do you have a favourite travel book which you think best describes a particular place or the art of travel in a particular way for those who are unable to travel.

Definitely. Peter Pan – a great guide to a place I’d love to visit, Never Never Land. 

So what’s coming up on Multifarious Meanderings that we can look forward to …

‘If I told you that, I would have to kill you’, as some super spy said in some film or other. No, seriously: I have absolutely no idea. I don’t plan anything; I couldn’t organise a shopoholics meeting at Harvey Nick’s Christmas sale. Generally, a random idea floats to the surface when I’m doing something, and I immediately start scribbling it down, then wake up what feels like five minutes later in a huge pile of washing, with an indignant husband glaring at me and the tadpoles baying for food.

Have you discovered any other wonderful travel/expat or writing blogs that we should be reading?

Apart from yours? Lots. I regularly read great blogs written by blogging pals in the Middle East, Turkey, Croatia, Serbia, Italy, the U.K.,Costa Rica, Germany, France, the U.S., Canada… and many other places. Check out my blogroll! 

Thanks ever so much to Joanne for running amuck on my blog, which may never be the same, but in a good way. I think we all need little more Playmobil in our lives to bring out the inner child which has been repressed for too long.

For future reference I will try to avoid using phrases like joie de vivre and stop trying to invent new words to express talented female bloggers (blogess doesn’t really exist) in a vain attempt to impress my guests.

I unashamedly invite everyone to visit the world of Multifarious Meanderings and relish it!

wcm0046

Blogging around the world: Tahira’s Shenanigans

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Tahira from Tahira’s Shenanigan’s hiking through Wadi Rum, Jordan

 

Blogging is about finding that right balance of personality, photography, fun and words to make others want to read and comment.

 

One of my favorite blogs which has found this harmonious mix is Tahira’s Shenanigans, which I accidentally came across while searching out travel blogs to inspire me and it is a real treasure.

 

Tahira is a cardiovascular critical care nurse from the States who is currently working in Saudi Arabia and writes about her travels around the world in amazing places like: Thailand, Italy, France, England, Scotland, Sri Lanka, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, and Jordan.

 

I was excited when she agreed to do an interview with me and she happily answered my questions about traveling and blogging:

 

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On top of the world in Scotland

 

You are a very well travelled person, tell us about the most fascinating place you have visited and why was it so fascinating?

I have two parts to answering this question.

While I have been fortunate to travel to a lot of different places, I must admit, the place where I have been living as an ex­pat these last two years, without a doubt, is the most fascinating. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is by far the most different and the most removed from anything I, as a Westerner from a free & democratic society, have ever experienced. For me to put into words, at this time, why it is so fascinating would take up way too much of our blog time and use up all of my word count as your Guest Blogger. So I will leave that for a different forum.

In the meantime the most fascinating place I visited, outside of The Kingdom, has to be Sri Lanka. Where the people were so friendly it almost tears one up, but at the same time they live with so little. It’s where my eyes truly opened up to the fact that one does not need much to be happy. That the material things in life were not the most important. Repeatedly I was overwhelmed by the Sri Lankans generosity. It was a solo trip I made and throughout the week or so I was there I came across countless people who opened up their homes to me, invited me to their dinner table, gave me their help and time in getting from one place to the next, all without asking for anything in return except my friendship and company. How amazing a feeling.

 

How do you plan and fund your trips?

I get lots of inquiries to this so I’m glad you addressed it here. I work full time as a cardiac critical care nurse in a hospital in Saudi Arabia. Not only do I get 52 vacations days right off the bat but I can also manipulate my work schedule where I have time off without using vacation time. Meaning I work, work, work, and save up my scheduled days off and then use them all at once and in turn not be dipping into my vacations days.

And as far as funding, I keep a little “travel fund” where I put a small portion from each salary into. Being in the Middle East is a perfect spot to be in because I feel I’ve been centrally located to be able to get to a lot of places that under normal circumstances would not only be very time­consuming and tiring but very expensive to get to were I traveling to them from the States, lets say.

And as for planning, there is not really a set pattern to my “planning”. Some of the places have been spontaneous and some have been planned way in advance. There are a lot of like minded individuals here in Saudi Arabia who I’ve gotten a lot of suggestions and tips from and I follow a lot of travel blogs where I’ve also gotten several ideas. So I’ll pull a little from here, a little from there, and somehow it all always just seems to work out perfectly.

 

You often travel alone, any advice for people who like to travel solo?

I get asked this a lot too. My biggest advice is to be open. Open to change, to new ideas, to cultures, to different ways of doing things. Change is going to happen no matter what and I’ve learned that that is magnified especially when one is traveling. Something is going to happen to throw a wrench into your plans. It’s inevitable. And when traveling solo things are magnified because you’ve only got yourself to rely on. Things that one thinks is a ‘big deal’ almost always turns out that it’s not really all that big of a deal. I have learned the true meaning of acceptance. Acceptance of change. Acceptance that just because you have an idea of what something should be like, does not mean that is how it will be. And let me also say that for the most part, these changes, these problems, these wrenches that have popped up in my travels have usually steered me to something even better. My second piece of advice is to get lost ­ and this kind of ties in with being open to change and acceptance part. Get lost out there, it’s when I’ve been lost that I have come upon the most beauty.

 

You have built up quite a following on your blog, do you have any advice for new bloggers?

Be yourself.
Unless you are really serious. Then don’t be so serious.
I think it is really important to not take oneself so seriously all the time. Or take their blog so seriously all the time. Leave some room for some fun.

 

Do you think the world is becoming a smaller place? Why or why not?

Yes and no. Yes, in the sense that we are so connected nowadays via the internet. Through blogging alone I have friends in all corners of the world that I’ve met and we actually have true friendships. And I have countless stories of bumping into folks I know in the most remote or random of places ­ The Irish Bar in Dubai. The TGV train from Paris to Toulon. The coffee shop in the Istanbul Airport. Hiking in the Saudi Arabian desert. And the list goes on.

But I’m going to say no as well. This world is so vast and big. I’ve only covered a very small portion of what is out there. It’s endless. Which makes all the possibilities endless.

 

What do you think about the expat life? Why do you think so many people choose to be expats?

Because it feels like you are on one long vacation. Even though I’ve been working (a lot) these last two years, I still feel as if I’ve been on a two year vacation.

 

What led you into the world of blogging?

I wanted a centralized way of keeping my friends and family updated of my status. Some of my friends/family were on Facebook, some on Twitter, some on neither. So I sent out the link to the blog to all of them and they had a choice to come and check­in and see what I was up to. Little did I know I would be introduced to an entire new world, the world of blogging and bloggers, and have an entirely new network of friendships from all over the world. And it’s been the absolute most positive experience. Once I realized just how supportive and encouraging and helpful the blogging community is I was hooked.

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A typical Saudi family ­ what the men wear and how the women are covered.

Do you have any culture shock related stories to share?

Well. Yes, most definitely. As I mentioned early Saudi Arabia is not exactly what Westerners are use to. It is the most conservative country in the world. They live and operate under a whole different set of rules. Outside of the Diplomatic Quarters women and men do not mingle, there is no alcohol, no bars, no cafe’s, men wear these long white robes and women are covered from head to toe in all black. And that is just the tip of the iceberg….

Tell us about your blog …

Well. It’s a cornucopia of stuff. It’s about my adventures, the traveling I’ve done, my evolving photography, it’s about where I’ve been and where I’m going. At last look I had just about 700 followers of the blog and I am so extremely grateful, but at the same time a bit perplexed, that people are actually interested in what I have to say. There are some moody posts, I share things I’ve learned, things that inspire me, things that make me happy, but in the end it’s mostly about the changes and the growth that I’ve gone through since moving to Saudi Arabia. As I looked back over the blog I saw how the blog has evolved and I realized I’ve evolved right alongside the blog. And I think that’s what keeps folks coming back for more and brings the new followers around as well.

Books can take us places without leaving home, do you have a favourite travel book which you think best describes a particular place or the art of travel in a particular way for those who are unable to travel.

I love this question. It got me to remember a book I read some years back that I simply adored. I just pulled it up and I think I’m actually going to re­read it now. Without Reservations: The Travels of an Independent Women by Alice Steinbach. A remarkable book written by a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist with the back drop being Paris, Oxford, and Milan. It’s almost like a book of postcards depicting her journey physically and metaphysically.

What would be your ultimate dream trip?

Ah. Tough question. I don’t really have a “dream” trip. It’s what I’m in the mood for at the moment. What calls to my soul. Being a beach­bum at one moment. Hiking mountains the next. I could be craving a hidden cabin deep in the Alaskan wilderness. And sometimes I need the pulse of a major metropolitan city, the feel of the underground and elbow to elbow with all the city dwellers. If I’m living and experiencing what my heart desires, I suppose at that moment that is my dream trip.

Complete this phrase: I travel because …

not only to understand other people and cultures but more so to understand myself. Travel far enough, you meet yourself.

What are the five things you would definitely never leave home without …

Camera, iPod, Kindle, travel size baby wipes, and a hat(s)

You always have the best shots on your blog, so tell us what camera do you use and perhaps a little advice on how to get a decent photo.

I have a Nikon 5100. Honestly, everything I know about taking a decent photo has been by trial and error. My advice, take a lot of shots, one is bound to turn out good.

So what’s coming up on Tahira’s Shenanigans that we can look forward to …

Perfect timing of this question. And it’s the perfect forum to announce that I will be leaving The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia within the next few months. While it’s been an amazing two years, it’s time to head on out and conquer other parts of the world. I am craving The America’s and everything American. I’m returning to North America and that’s all I’m prepared to announce at this time. But I promise there will definitely be more shenanigan’s and there is so much I am looking forward to. The options are wide open and endless….

Have you discovered any other wonderful travel or expat blogs that we should be reading?

There are so many wonderful expat & travel blogs out there. One of the combined travel/ex-pat blogs I simply love following is Journey Around The Globe.

It’s a blog by a mom of two, from the United States living in Belgium with her family and traveling across Europe (and Asia, and Africa.) I am all about Europe so following along on blog has been pure joy. The photography is spectacular and the writing is a class act.

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The South of France, Le Croix Valmer wine country.

Thanks so much to Tahira’s Shenanigans a totally inspiring travel blog. I must recommend taking a look at some gobsmacking fantastic photos as Tahira is sharing some images from her adventures every week, there are new photos with a pinch of wisdom to reflect on too!

wcm0046

Being a writer in Sicily

Ok, I know it’s a bit pithy but I think we are all writers in the way we create our own narratives and lives. The the endless dialogues we have each day, our own internal monologue and interactions are all pieces of writing.

As life progresses it gives us different masks to wear which allows us to create the different parts of our journey: son/daughter, student, sister/brother, girlfriend/boyfriend, wife/husband, lover, parent, professional, in-law, grandparent … our roles are endless.

The experiences we choose in life dictate the richness of our own unique narrative. The business of writing as a profession takes the natural ability we all have to a different level documenting and crafting each word on the page, whether it be on the virtual ‘page’ of a computer screen or scribbling in a notebook.

I love new ideas and writing helps me to explore different areas which in turn stimulate other interests and move me into other directions. It’s an addiction which gives me an appetite to understand this world. I don’t think I’ll ever grow tired of asking questions.

Sicily has become an extensive part of my story, it is a piece of my family’s history and speaks to me so eloquently.

Randazzo side streets, Catania

Moving to Sicily has been a challenge and I struggle everyday with the culture shock, but realistically it is a fantastic place to be a writer. Stories literally come up to you and introduce themselves, others slap you in the face or make friends with you doing a casual conversation. The slower paced life is conducive to reflection and the writerly life sits well with this place. In fact the island has produced many famous writers, who are an inspiration to me. Pirandello, Verga, De Roberto, Brancanti and Quasimodo are my favourites.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What are you writing with your life?