Friday, 27 February 2015

The international festivals you should be at this year

Without doubt, festivals are one of the best ways to have some fun and escape for a short while.  And with many festivals taking place each year around the world, they are a great way to meet friends in your local area, or a fun, ice-breaking experience to have with new friends you have made since becoming an expat.  Festivals are no longer just about no sleep and not showering for 4 days; the festival scene now offers everything from glamping to yoga, food, to poetry.  Here is our pick of the best international festivals which will be taking place around the world in 2015, for whatever you are into!

For culture: Rio Carnival, Brazil
One of the most unique festivals of culture celebration is Rio de Janeiro Carnival – Brazil’s ultimate carnival has inspired endless street parties and around the world, and is internationally recognised for its celebration of the Brazilian culture through its lively and vibrant atmosphere which is impossible not to get stuck in to!  The carnival, which takes place over Easter, promises 5 days of samba dancing, incredible costumes, non-stop partying and caipirinhas – be prepared!

Image Source: Creative Commons/Google Images

For food: Mésamerica Festival, Mexico
Food festivals are becoming increasingly popular for self-confessed ‘foodies’, and are a fantastic occasion to meet with friends and try new cuisines and delicacies.  Food festivals not only offer you the opportunity to try a range exciting foods, but a chance to learn new culinary skills and learn tips from the world’s best chefs.  The Mésamerica Festival, which takes place annually in Mexico, is consistently ranked as one of the world’s top food festivals, and offers live tutorials from Mexico’s top chefs. 

Image source: Creative Commons/Wikipedia

For stories: PEN World Voices, USA
Literary festivals continue to grow in popularity as a way to experience stories and debate new ideas and schools of thought, whilst meeting like-minded people.  One of the biggest is the PEN World Voices festival which takes place in New York, and guarantees captivating stories and compelling debates.

For comedy: Edinburgh Fringe Festival, Scotland
Each year, many of the world’s best comedians and comedy-lovers flock to Edinburgh for its three week long celebration of laughter.  With hundreds of stages and acts, you will surely find some excellent entertainment, whilst having the opportunity to explore the beautiful city of Edinburgh. 

For music: Bestival, Isle of Whight

Often referred to as Glastonbury’s younger sibling, Bestival is consistently rated as one of the UK’s top music festivals.  With live music to suit all tastes, whilst being on a smaller, less overwhelming scale to Glastonbury, if Bestival offers one thing, it’s a whole lot of fun.  With a comedy tent, outdoor exercise classes in the mornings and a closing day carnival, Bestival is not to be missed.  And to those not so keen on camping, Bestival offers VIP glamping and showers!

Image Source: Creative Commons/Google Images

Thursday, 26 February 2015

Exploring the barrios of Madrid

As the third largest city in Europe both by size and population, Madrid is one of the most diverse and fascinating capital cities. This, coupled with a restless history, pleasant climate (if not downright sweltering in the summer) and relaxed culture, makes it one of the top European destinations for expats and tourists alike. With the help of a Madrilenian ex-expat, here’s a roundup of the city’s most exciting neighbourhoods, or ‘barrios’, and what’s not to miss in each!

Image source: creative commons / Fermín Rodríquez

Madrid’s most exclusive neighbourhood sits just to the north of the tranquil Retiro Park. Head here for all the top designer brands from Spain and further afield, fine restaurants and charming squares. One thing not to miss when strolling around this part of town is the impressive Plaza de Colón, with its tribute to the Spanish explorer Christopher Columbus (and one of the biggest national flags you’ll ever see!)

Malasaña has to be the coolest neighbourhood in Madrid… if not all of Europe. Just north of Gran Vía, the city’s main artery, it is Spain’s answer to London’s Shoreditch or New York’s Brooklyn, full of  independent bookshops, cafes, vintage clothes shops, theatres and bars. This part of town is full of surprises in the form of tiny and unassuming doorways that lead to hidden gems or underground bars and restaurants! For this reason, by far the best way to explore is on foot.
Malasaña really comes alive at night. In the summer especially, people crowd into the neighbourhood’s many plazas to have a drink, chat and relax in the warm evenings. The best squares for this are Plaza Dos de Mayo and Plaza de San Idelfonso.

The area surrounding Plaza Chueca is one of Madrid’s liveliest, youngest and most inclusive neighbourhoods. It’s well worth checking out this part of town for this atmosphere alone, but the Mercado (market) de San Antón is a must-see. Spread over four floors, it’s a foodie’s heaven – buy top quality ingredients, sample tapas inspired by cuisine from every corner of the world, and sip a cocktail on the roof terrace.

La Latina
Some of Madrid’s oldest streets snake their way through this typically Spanish neighbourhood. Come here for tapas in their native environment and to visit the kilometre-long flea market every Sunday morning! Also worth a visit is the Mercado de San Miguel – a typically Spanish food market in the heart of the city. Sample paella, croquetas, rioja wine, chorizo and other mouth-watering treats!

Sol and Gran Vía
Sol is the city’s central square, and from it stretch out countless pedestrianized shopping streets leading up to Gran Vía, Madrid’s largest street and Spain’s commercial heart. Don’t miss the giant department stores around Sol for cosmetics, clothes, electronics, furniture and more!

Image source: creative commons / Carlos Delgado

One of Madrid’s main attractions is its world-class museums. Three stand out from the crowd and are together known as the “golden triangle of art”: head to El Museo de la Reina Sofia for an enormous dose of twentieth century art, El Prado for everything Renaissance, and the Thyssen for everything in between.

So… after all that footwork exploring old and new, it’s probably time for a cold drink and a sit down! The jewel in Madrid’s crown has to be Parque Del Retiro – a beautiful and sprawling park of perfectly manicured and shaded lawns, leafy avenues and an enormous public boating lake! 

Madrid has so much to offer to tourists and expats alike. As the locals say, ¡de Madrid al cielo! 

Friday, 6 February 2015

Planning for a new life abroad – Five expats share their top tips

Packing up your whole life into suitcases is literally a life changing task. Where do you begin to plan for the trip of a lifetime and what do you really need once your reach your destination?

There are the basic elements of moving house that everyone will be aware of, but how do you know what you will really need when that move is to a house in another country?
A great bonus of becoming an expat is the international network that you are joining is full of people who have made the move away from home. There will always be someone who has already asked the same questions that you are asking now. Getting the insight of someone who has been there and done it and can give the best advice and inside knowledge - can be invaluable.

Our Expat Hints & Tips tools contain thousands of tips written by expats, for expats. Here are five of the best for making the move and adapting to your new life abroad:

1.       “Learn the language and see how things open up for you”- Berno

Not being able to speak the language is perhaps one of the largest barriers to feeling settled in a new place, but you’ll be surprised how quickly you can pick up a couple of phrases. It’s a daunting prospect, but worth throwing yourself straight into it. Start with a phrase book or take a look at the different language learning apps that are available, and take every opportunity you can to practice – whether that’s inviting a colleague for lunch or requesting something specific the next time you’re out shopping.

2.       “Walk as much as you can – it’s the best way to get to know a city” - Steph

By relying on public transport you will be missing out on getting to know the area you are in which could have many hidden surprises. By going for a stroll rather than jumping on a bus you will be able to discover a range of new places to eat, visit, hang out and it will give you a better bearing on your new local area. The thought of getting lost can be scary, but go prepared with a map or advice from your new neighbours and it becomes a great opportunity to explore and see what is right on your doorstep.

3.       “Go to the local coffee shop and talk with the people – this is a great way to get a better sense of the neighbourhood. Do your homework, and don’t just decide on a place because of…”

The local community are going to be by far the biggest asset in terms of finding the best that your local area has to offer. If you have moved to expand your business, join a local business networking group and offer something for free to get to know other businesses. This is a good way to establish yourself initially as a trusted and friendly business. For parents, make contact with a parenting group and schedule a play date for the first week before you even arrive.

4.       “Write down actually make a written list of what it is your looking for in your new country. The pros and cons. Location of property, local amenities, etc. If you have a partner…”

If you are moving with your partner, make sure you are moving as a team. If they have any worries, talk about them before you leave so that you have everything organised. It can be a great adventure to become an Expat couple so make the most of the opportunity by finding out what there is for both of you in your new destination and what you can do together. Be clear on what you are both hoping to gain from the move. Don’t jump into any big commitments until you have settled down and decided that the move was right for you.

5.       “Talk to locals or people that have lived there in preparing where to live etc. Always better to speak to people with local knowledge to help shape your opinions of places to live.”

Do your research and get second and third opinions, they will all help in not only building your new home overseas but in getting your new life abroad up and running.  Learning from those who also started from scratch just like you, will be an invaluable source of information and helpful tips. It’s also a fantastic way to start making new friends and creating new networks. If you are nervous about making the move on your own, see our blog here on making new friends abroad. 

Thursday, 5 February 2015

Packing your life up: where to start?

Everyone has experienced the stress of packing a suitcase to go on holiday. How to fit everything in, deciding what you really need to take and if you do get it all in, is it the right weight to get on the plane?!
So what do you do when packing isn't just for two weeks in the sun, but is instead for your new life as an expat.
Even for seasoned travelers, it’s important to take stock and prioritise what you need before the big move!

Start with the practical

Pack with arriving in mind. Put essentials in one box e.g. towels & bedding so they’re easily accessible when you arrive. Label boxes and keep a plan of what needs to go where which will make unpacking easier. Start with the practical essentials but don’t forget your sentimental items.  You will probably be able to find everything else you need once you’re settled in your new country but it’s good to have the basics ready when you arrive.

 Get it from the horse’s mouth

If you already have friends abroad, they will be the best point of reference on what you will be able to get once you arrive which should free up space in that overflowing suitcase you have been imagining. Explore your network to see if you know anyone who’s already there or who can give pointers about what to expect, what to bring, weather, and the availability of your favourite items in shops.

Be ruthless

Do you need to take everything? Even the kitchen sink? Moving is a good opportunity to do a clear out, start fresh – think about what you will need to take vs what you might need to buy. If you can’t face parting with things then consider storage options or offload to a friend/family member for safe keeping. Now is a great time for a big de-clutter so you can start afresh!

Plan, plan, plan

Scope out moving services early on and if you’re moving abroad with work see what support they have in place that could help things run smoothly. For anyone who enjoys making lists, now is a great time to start thinking of different aspects of your current life that will need to be transported and what you will need to put in place to help the move go smoothly. It can also help to research online and take a trip to your new home country before you move for good. 



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