Kristine wanders

The musings of a wanderer......

Month: June 2016

Feeling Very Conflicted…

I’m currently in the midst of a trip to my 2 homes of Canada and Seattle, and while I’m super happy to be home, I’m also feeling very conflicted. You see this last month I’ve been processing a lot of emotions. My time in Saudi is coming to an end. And while a big part of me is ready to leave, there’s a part of me that feels like I have unfinished business there. There’s still a bunch of places in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia I would like to visit. Farasan Islands. Taif. Hail. I work with a great bunch of people at work, and for the most part I enjoy my job. Truth be told, it is by far the easiest nursing job I’ve ever had. Far easier than any bedside nursing jig I would get in Canada or the U.S.. Since I work on a VIP unit here in Saudi that’s not to say that dealing with VIP patients doesn’t present a whole world of other challenges to caring for this type of patient. But most days I really don’t mind it.

As I’ve already mentioned I will be leaving Saudi in mid September, flying to Paris to meet my dad and then together we will make our way to the village of St Jean Pied de Port which is on the French side of the Pyrenees mountain range. From here we will embark on a 40 day trek/walk to the Spanish city of Santiago de Compostela some 800km away. We are not camping, and will have a warmish place and a bed to lay our heads every night. We will be packing very light. This will be an incredible challenge for me as I’m only taking 2 pairs of clothes and a set of PJs. I’ve decided not to bring my nice camera with me which will be difficult as I love to take photos, but I just can’t justify carrying the extra weight. I am taking my iPad mini though as I want to have a way to blog on a regular basis about this journey. Once in Santiago we will make the decision to walk another 100km to the coastal town of Finisterre which was believed to be the edge of the world in the Medieval times and is still referred to as such by Pilgrims of the Camino de Santiago. I’ll then make my way to Paris where I’m planning on staying for a month. Then I’m toying with a couple weeks in the UK and then flying back to North America via a stopover in Iceland. Then comes the difficult part……

After Christmas I may keep traveling for another few months. Mexico is calling to me. As is Chiang Mai in Northern Thailand and Laos. But eventually, I will have to make some semi permanent decisions. So here’s the conflicted part……I literally have no idea what to do after that. This will horrify many of my friends and family alike, but the truth is I’m not leaning any one direction over another. I could go back to Saudi for another year. I could move back to Seattle. I could move to Vancouver. I could do any number of things, and this is the first time that my gut is letting me down. When I try and really think about it, or make a plan, because I know that’s what sane people should do (is have a life plan) I just get anxious. And mostly, that’s when I start to think about doing another year in Saudi because the job is easy, the money is decent, and if I stay another year there, I delay having to make any concrete real life decisions. Which I realize isn’t that healthy. Here’s what I do deep down know though- my days of being a bedside nurse are rapidly coming to an end. I’m becoming burnt out of nursing. The thought of returning to the stress that I left at my previous job in Seattle doesn’t interest me. Nor does the rotating day shift/night shift schedule I would have to work if I returned to bedside nursing in Canada. This I know for sure.

The other thing that I know deep deep down is that I want to set aside time just to be. I want a couple months to spent just reading, writing, and doing yoga. I’m sure to some people this sounds like a hugely selfish luxury. And mostly I’m ok with that because I learned a long time ago that I’m not living this one precious life of mine for anyone else, or to meet other people’s expectations. I’m ok with going against the grain. Doing the exact opposite of what society tells us we should be doing. This coming week marks my 20 year graduation from high school. 20 years. How the hell did that happen? I got an invite to the reunion, but it was too last minute for me to change my travel plans and make the trip to Calgary so I’m not going. But I did spend some time looking at (stalking) the Facebook profiles of my fellow classmates. Many of them that I haven’t thought of in well over a decade. While part of me would love to catch up, a big part of me realizes that I’m truly a minority amongst my peers. To be 37, unmarried, never married, living abroad and childless is by far the minority compared with my fellow high school grads. Sometimes I feel like I’m just adrift in the world- since besides having some belongings in storage I truly have nothing to my name. No house, no car, no home to come back to. And while sometimes when I process that it makes my scared or uneasy, more often then not I think of how fortunate I am. Looking back 20 years that young girl who graduated high school could never, ever have envisioned that she would end up spending 3 years of her life living in Saudi Arabia. That she would visit more than 50 countries, and have a deep yearning to see more. That she would become very comfortable with the uncomfortable. It makes me so very curious to see what the next 20 years will bring.

But enough about reminiscing about the past and talking about the future. The present day me is gearing up for this walk across Spain. Researching hiking poles, and rain ponchos and 3 in 1 shampoo/soap/conditioner. The present day me is soaking up this time being home with my friends and family, and thinking about what I can fit into the 2 months I have left in Saudi. I’m sure that 40 days spent walking across Spain will provide me with introspection and answers for the decisions I’ll need to make in the upcoming year. Or at least that’s what my gut is telling me……

 

Salzburg Austria

Back in April I met my mom in Munich for a whirlwind tour of Austria and the Czech Republic. We had only 11 days to pack in Salzburg Austria and then making our way up thru Czech to get back to Munich so we could both fly out. Originally, we had planned to include Slovakia in our itinerary but we decided to cut Bratislava out as if was too much to pack in. The more I travel and the older I get the more I know that I get extremely cranky if I have to move hotels every night and if a portion of everyday is spend on a bus or train. I have become very fond of slow travel. The kind of travel where I get to see the sites but also where I can sit in cafes and sip cappuccinos or have a glass of wine while reading a book or people watching. I’m also not a huge fan of only seeing bits and pieces of a city. If I go some where I want to see all the things I want to see. That way if I love it I can always come back, but more likely than not I’ll be inclined to go somewhere new. I don’t like having unfinished business with a city.

We both arrived in Munich within a few hours of one another. Mom late morning, and me early afternoon. We had decided to bypass Munich all together as there was a festival going on the weekend we arrived and hotel prices were like $400 a night, and also I had been in Munich in the fall for Oktoberfest so I was happy to head for Austria. Conveniently, Postbus has a bus that leaves from Munich airport terminal 2 and goes directly to Salzburg airport. It takes just under 3 hours and they serve wine and beer on the bus so I’d say it’s a pretty great score! The only thing is once you arrive at Salzburg airport you’ll have to grab a taxi or take a local bus to get to the city center.

We had 2 nights in Salzburg, but really only one full day since we arrived late in the afternoon. We decided to get tickets for the Hop on Hop off bus since that was the best use of our limited time. Be forewarned. Salzburg is beautiful. We really could’ve used another day there. I would have loved to explore the surrounding countryside, but alas, we didn’t have time. The hotel we stayed at which wasn’t that impressive so it shall remain unnamed was located very close to Mozart Square- which is a very walkable area, and coincidentally it’s also a stop on the Hop on Hop off bus. So we boarded the bus. Initially we had some difficulties with the headsets given to us. Neither mom or I could figure it out until a kind passenger showed us that what we were attempting to plug the headsets into was actually a screw hole, and not in fact the socket for the headsets. You can’t be smart all the time.

First stop on our quick as lightening visit to Salzburg was Leopoldskron Palace. It’s nicknamed the “Sound of Music Palace” as some of the movies outdoor scenes were filmed here. Am I an awful person if I admit I don’t think I’ve ever seen the movie? Like seriously. Don’t hate me. I always hear girls say how this is their favourite movie. Maybe after being there this will give me a reason to watch it. Regardless, the Palace is striking from the outside. The only thing is that it is not a public building, it’s actually a private hotel. We just waltzed up (not literally although it would’ve been fitting) and the gate was open so we made our own little tour. Only to realize upon leaving that there are signs outside saying no entrance unless you are a hotel guest. Whoopsie. So if you go, maybe pretend you didn’t see the sign like we did and hope that the gate is open!

Next stop was the Hellbrunn Palace, which if you do nothing else this is what you should see. This Palace was built in the early 1600’s and was intended as the day residence for the Prince-Archbishop of Salzburg from that time. In fact there was no bedroom built at the Palace to prevent overnight sleepovers. We wandered thru the well manicured gardens and past the large decorative pool which cast beautiful reflections in the mid-morning light from the statues alongside the pools edge. We also passed by the glass Sound of Music Gazebo. If you are a fan this may thrill you, I was quite honestly underwhelmed. The main thing that the Palace is known for though are its trick fountains. Makes you curious right….like what the heck is a trick fountain? Honestly we had no idea, but we happened to arrive when an English tour was leaving so we joined it. As it turns out the Palace’s original owner was quite the trickster back in the day, and he installed many water features throughout the area behind the Palace to entertain, and often surprise his unsuspecting guests. As was common for Palaces of that time there are lovely fountains, but the Archbishop installed hidden jets and streams of water that would shoot out in every direction and soak his visitors. He even had an outside wine bar type area where guests would be soaked as jets of water would shoot up from the base of their stools. Everything is original and water powered. One of the separate grotto type rooms was the “Bird Room” where when you walking in the water moving within the walls gives off the sounds of multiple birds singing and clucking. There were several miniature scenes where the pieces moved- again all powered by water. I found it really fascinating but watch your electronics if you go. Put them away if you don’t want them to get wet. Because, trust me, you’re going to end up wet!

 

 

 

 

 

 

From here we hopped back on the bus and got off at Mirabell Gardens- a very well maintained and colourful garden with the Fortress in the backdrop. We then made our way back towards the hotel and took the funicular up to Hohenzsalzburg Fortress. This fortress is one of the largest medieval castles in Europe and is a great vantage point from which to be wowed by the stunning views of the surrounding countryside. Construction of the fortress began in the late 11th century. The fortress resembles a small city with different levels and courtyards. There are some interesting exhibits within the walls, but really the whole point is to take in the views. We had a late lunch at the restaurant there that surprisingly had good food and wasn’t super expensive given how touristy it was- we only ate there so we could gaze out the windows as the clouds rolled in and changed the lighting on the nearby hillsides while we stuffed our faces.

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The rest of our limited time in Salzburg was spent wandering the many churches and visiting St Peters cemetery which is back up the hill towards the Fortress. In this cemetery are catacombs and you can climb up to see the caves of this church that is built into the rock. Mom was not super keen on it, but she rallied and was quite the trooper. She didn’t cry once and actually made it to the top! I was very impressed! We also walked along the Salzach river which cuts through the city. From the opposite bank of the river the nighttime views of the Fortress are spectacular. And that pretty much wrapped up our time in Austria. The following morning we took a shuttle into the Czech Republic where we spent the rest of our trip. More on that soon……..

 

Florence Italy

Florence Italy may hands-down be the most romantic city I’ve ever been in. More romantic than Antigua Guatemala and that place was dripping in romance. More romantic than that time my Kiwi sidekick and I crashed other peoples honeymoons in the Maldives. The language is romantic, the people are beautiful and the architecture is straight out of a romance novel. I was floating on cloud nine the entire time I was there. Even though I was traveling solo…..

I quite smartly booked to stay in the center of town at a budget-ish place that had great reviews and balcony views of the Duomo. My room was a single room so it felt a little bit like a monks cell, but then I would throw open the balcony door and take in the awe inspiring view. It literally took my breath away and I giggled like I’d won the lottery for at least the first hour after checking in. Best part- because I was several floors up I was overlooking the street below which meant that the very talented violin street buskers who were playing below gave me my own private serenade. The music, a glass of wine and the magnificent view of the Cathedral and Duomo as my backdrop gave me immense joy. I pretty much skyped or FaceTimed everyone I could get a hold of to show them my good fortune. In hindsight this is kinda a dickish thing to do, but delicious Italian wine convinced me otherwise. It was a delightful start to my 4 nights in Florence.

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I took the train up from Rome. Italian trains are easy and decently on time. And pretty fast. In less then 2 hours I was in Florence. I spent my time in Florence taking in the main sites and eating my daily dietary requirement of gelato. I also developed a bit of an obsession for caprese salad and pretty much ate that at least once a day. I’m not really impartial about things. When I like something, then I really like it. Like go big or go home kinda like it. There’s just something about having caprese salad in Italy that makes it taste so much better than at home. To be fair though, I’m currently typing this from Warsaw Poland where…..you guessed it……I had a caprese salad for lunch. I might need a 12 step program.

Anyways, enough about nonsense. So what is there to do in Florence I’m sure you want to know. Like besides eat and drink delicious wine? As you would image there are a ton of churches, squares or piazzas, fountains and museums in Florence. And the top museums get crazy busy so I would recommend having your hotel or hostel call ahead and get you tickets. You’ll pay a bit extra, but basically you’ll be given a set time to go and you just pick up your ticket and bypass the huge line….sometimes for a significantly smaller line or hopefully no line at all. My favourite things in Florence were: the Galleria degli Uffizi which houses the works of Botticelli, Leonardo, Michelangelo, and Rafaello to name a few. (The artists. Not the Ninja Turtles just to be clear.) From the Uffizi museum there are stunning views of the River Arno and the Ponte Vecchio the decorative bridge that crosses it. The large Cathedral and Duomo in the center of Florence (the beautiful one I had a balcony view of) is called the Cathedral di Santa Maria which is enormous but not especially striking on the inside, but if you go downstairs there’s a basement museum with well preserved bits of mosaic floor and tomb markers. The Galleria dell’Academia is where Michelangelo’s David sculpture is located. If you do nothing else but sip wine and eat caprese salad you must see the David statue. Seriously. You have an idea of what it looks like in your head, but trust me it is a true work of art. I was mesmerized. The veins and the details especially to his right hand is amazing. I probably spent at least 20 minutes walking round and round. You could bounce quarters off David’s ass. That’s for sure. Although as a medical professional I’m not certain that every bit of him is to scale, if you get my drift. Just off the room that David is located in is a huge room lined with statues and busts which I thought was also pretty dang cool.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The other things I did while in Florence was join a day trip that hit the highlights of Tuscany. Yes, it was another big bus tour, but this trip was much friendlier than the one I did to Pompeii earlier that week. I even met a sweet couple from Texas who were my dinner dates a night in Florence and then when I returned to Rome. So the highlights of Tuscany included a quick trip to Pisa to see the Leaning Tower. Coincidentally, the day of our tour coincided with a day that marked 100 days until the college students graduate and there was a party in full swing. We got there around 10am and the square was packed with drunk college kids. After the obligatory Leaning Tower selfie I was ready to hightail it out of there. Drunk college kids are super annoying when you’re not drunk with them. From Pisa we drove about an hour to the UNESCO village of San Gimignano which is adorable. It’s known for its many towers. Basically the higher your tower the richer you were. We then stopped off for a lunch and wine tasting at a Tuscan winery. It was on this trip that I developed a taste for Chianti. Specifically Chianti Classico which carries a special label as it can only be made in the Chianti region of Tuscany. Lucky for me I found a bottle in the Frankfurt airport and I’ve been drinking it on my trip here in Warsaw. Again, once I like something I really commit to it! Our day tour ended with a visit to the city of Siena. Interestingly, because of the Black Death in the 14th century where almost 3/4’s of it’s residents died, many of the buildings were left unfinished. This is very apparent when you visit the Cathedral and Duomo there and see the massive unfinished arches.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So that wraps up my time in Italy. I have no doubt we will cross paths again. There’s so much left I want to see, and so much more Chianti Classico and caprese salad to be consumed. Arrivederci.

Coffee Mornings

A monthly past-time for expat ladies here in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is to attend one of the Coffee Mornings hosted by one of the many western compounds. These mornings are a great way to meet other expats, have coffee, and shop. I’ve long wanted to attend, but have been scheduled to work or am away traveling every time I’ve been invited before. Until this month. I even got asked to work that day but said “Hells No” because I’d really been looking forward to going. Generally these events are by invite only, although I think really any expat woman can go. As with going to any compound you will need to submit a copy of your Igama or passport to get on the security list and you will need to bring ID with you to get into the compound.

We booked a driver to take us to the compound. Once we passed thru security we boarded a shuttle bus filled with other expat ladies to take us to the recreation area. Outside there were some food vendors selling kababs and such. Inside where rows of tables with outside vendors as well as expats selling everything from crafts, abayas, books, souvenirs, artwork, lotions and candles, pottery, and other knick knacks. There were also a bunch of food stalls including Starbucks, Dairy Queen, and vendors selling fresh vegetables and bread.  It was fun to browse the stalls and chat with the other women that attended.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I ended up buying some beautiful pottery from Saudi Arts and Crafts. The pottery is handmade by local artisans and has decorative gold coloured Arabic writing on it. I also bought a unique mosque tea light holder which makes a great souvenir of my time in Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arts and Crafts has a permanent store on Ishbilia Compound and for the upcoming month of Ramadan they will be showcasing their pottery at the Sheraton Hotel. Along with the pottery they carry unique jewelry, books, bags, and artwork. Perfect for gifts. If you want to find out about coffee mornings follow them on Facebook to find out about upcoming events!

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