when living abroad isn’t glamorous: a follow up

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A few days ago, I posted about how much of our life in Saudi Arabia is actually quite normal – not that different from our life in the US.  Yes, we do some really adventurous things and go exciting places more frequently than we did in the past, but most days, we still lead normal lives…maybe with a few more palm trees.

As proof, I spent a day broadcasting the things I did via my Instagram account.  If you missed my “InstaStory Day” about a normal Sunday in my life, don’t worry!  I saved all the photos and have compiled them to show what a normal day looks like for me.  Take a look below!

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I’m interested in your day and routines. What kinds of things make your day normal?  Share in the comments below.

when living abroad isn’t glamorous: a (normal) day in my life

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If you read our blog and follow us on Instagram or Facebook, you probably get the impression that we don’t work because it appears as though we’re always exploring a new place.  If only that were true.  I will grant you that we get to travel more than most Americans we know, but we still have to go to work in order to do so.

That got me thinking about our normal day to day lives – about how we still do all the normal things life requires: meal prep, grocery shopping, laundry, working out, studying, and the one that seems to take up the most time…going to work.

Therefore, I’ve decided to do a little “intentional Instagram story day” to show you just how normal our lives are on a day to day basis.  Follow me on Instagram to access my story as I post throughout the day tomorrow to see what a normal Sunday looks like for me!

5 Things You Didn’t Know About Polish Pottery

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I lived in Poland for a couple of years after graduating from college, and it was during this time that I was exposed to Polish pottery for the first time.  You can’t live there very long and not get the Polish pottery fever – especially if you work with a large group of expats who can’t get enough of the stuff.  In fact, they made sure my own collection began before I even stepped off the plane!

If you’re not familiar with Polish pottery, it is a durable, ceramic stoneware which is decorated with hand-painted / hand-stamped patterns.  The traditional pattern is one with blue and white dots – very simple, but over the years, the number and variety of patterns has grown to a seemingly infinite number of options!  The most common base color is blue, but over the last few years, I’ve seen some new patterns with red or green as the base color.

I mentioned that my collection began before I arrived in Poland, and I honestly have no idea how many pieces I own.  I know that I have 12 place settings with 7 pieces each, and I have a number of other random pieces from casserole dishes to jugs to a coffee grinder.  And all of these things are in different patterns!  Unfortunately, not much of our pottery made the cut when packing to move to Saudi Arabia.  The stuff is just too heavy, so nearly our entire collection is stored at my parents’ house.

I am certainly not an expert in Polish pottery – more of an enthusiast, but here are a few things I’ve learned about Polish pottery in my years of collecting it.

1. Polish pottery was once made in Germany!

Ok, that’s a bit misleading, but it’s true.  Bolesławiec, where Polish pottery is made, is located in the Silesia region of Poland, which was at one time a part of Germany.  Apparently, Germans call Polish pottery “Bunzlauer pottery.”

Polish pottery has been made in this quaint little town for centuries, and fortunately for us, it’s still made there today.  You may wonder why this town of 40,000 people in southwestern Poland became the central location for creating and selling this unique stoneware, and as it turns out, there are a number of clay deposits in the area.  Without going into the scientific reasons (that I don’t really understand), this clay is apparently of a really high quality, making it great for creating durable stoneware!

2. You can stand on it! 

I said it was durable, right?

The shop we regularly frequented in Warsaw was a tiny little place just off a metro stop.  Anja, the shop owner, was so great about helping us order pieces in patterns she didn’t have and making sure we had everything we wanted.  Her shop was no bigger than a single car garage, but there were shelves along the walls jam packed with pottery.  That wasn’t nearly enough space for all she had to display, so stacks of pottery (usually plates, bowls, and casserole dishes) even lined the floors at the base of the shelves.  Sometimes there would be a piece you were interested in located on one of the top shelves, just out of reach.  If you mentioned it to Anja, she’d come out from behind the counter, stand on a stack of plates on the floor, and get the item of interest.  No big deal.  This happened at least once every time I was in the shop, and I never saw anything break!

3. You can tour the factories in Bolesławiec and see pottery creation in action!

While we were on our European Christmas tour, we made a one night detour in Bolesławiec to experience this place firsthand.  We had a chance to have lunch and take in the sights of old town, but our sole reason for crossing the Czech border into Poland was to experience everything Polish pottery.  One thing I learned in my trip planning research was that we could actually tour one of the factories where some of the pieces I’ve purchased were made!

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visiting Bolesławiec with my mom

One of the factories has something called the “Live Museum of Pottery” where you can sign up to see the stages in this process (with some of their secrets reserved, of course).  It was a great tour during which we saw all the work that goes into creating Polish pottery: from the time it is a hunk of clay to the way it is molded to the painting and glazing processes.  And for this to be something I was really looking forward to, it wasn’t very expensive: only 10 PLN ($2.60 USD)!

Notice the purple color in the bottom right hand picture? After it’s baked, that purple turns into a deep, navy blue (the traditional Polish pottery color).

4. The US is one of the major importers of Polish pottery.  

Something like 80% of the pottery made is exported outside of Poland, and a large majority of that is imported into the US!  There are little boutique shops around the US which sell Polish pottery, and if you’ve ever been shopping at TJ Maxx or Homegoods, chances are you’ve actually seen some random Polish pottery for sale there, too!

5. In Bolesławiec, you can shop till you drop!

If you love Polish pottery and have the chance to visit Bolesławiec to do some shopping, you won’t be disappointed!  It takes about 2.5 hours from Prague by car, and despite the fact that most of the drive is on 2 lane backroads, it was pretty simple to navigate. We spent one night in the town, and we spent the entire visit moving from one shop to another.  Here are links to a few of the shops we visited, but this isn’t all of them! Some of the shops we went to were ones we just stumbled upon!

Don’t be overwhelmed by the sheer number of things to choose from!  These shops have shelves upon shelves of beautiful dishes with unique patterns, and it’s a little overwhelming at first.  We probably went to upwards of 7 or 8 shops, and believe it or not, all of them have different stuff to offer! They have some of the same items (i.e. mugs) but the patterns varied by store.

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the newest additions to my collection (yes, we had to get all of that back to Saudi via luggage)

A couple of logistical items to help you plan your visit to Bolesławiec:

  • We stayed at the Hotel Garden, which is a cool old house turned into a hotel. Each room was different, and though the place was kind of dated, that was part of its charm.
  • After driving into Bolesławiec and shopping for a few hours, we had a traditional Polish dinner at Restauracja Opałkowa Chata.  It was delicious, and I was excited to get some of my favorite Polish dishes: żurek and potato pancakes.
To see more pictures from our trip to Bolesławiec, visit our Amazon album.
What do you collect?  Is it something unique made only in one part of the world? Comment below with your answer!

Global Bike to Work Day

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fullsizeoutput_1b31Today is Global Bike to Work Day.  The challenge is simple: use your bike to commute to school or work! This is a chance to get in a little extra exercise, and by not taking your car, you are making a small dent in that pesky pollution problem.

I know this is more difficult for some than others as your commute may be really long or on roads which are not suitable for riding your bike, and it is hard for some of us to get out of the comfort zone of using our own car.  But this global challenge caught my attention because I already do this every day!

In fact, there are a number of people at KAUST who bike to work every day. I know this concept is unusual for most Americans, but there are places in the world where it is not uncommon to ride your bike everywhere.  Actually, in some places (like Denmark) the infrastructure for riding your bike across the city is spectacular, so it makes sense to use your bike all the time.

At KAUST, the nice roads and lack of heavy traffic provides us with a great place to commute by bike.  You might be wondering about the heat and humidity here, and I have to admit, as it gets hotter, riding my bike anywhere becomes less and less appealing.  Nevertheless, I always take my bike to work…which isn’t exactly a monumental feat seeing as how I live about 8 houses away from work!

For those people who don’t take a bike or walk to work, there are other forms of transportation around here.  Some people have cars, trucks, or SUVs just like you would see anywhere (and also some really fancy cars, too).  Other people have scooters that allow them to zip around campus and find parking generally anywhere they go.  Still others have more unusual forms of transportation like dune buggies, golf carts, skateboards, and I know of one person who rides a motorized unicycle!  For those people who don’t have any form of transportation (except their feet), KAUST also provides free bus services all over campus.  The buses run every 15 minutes, and there are 7 or 8 lines that go to various parts of campus.

So, generally speaking, it’s not difficult to get around KAUST, and if you live here (or anywhere else where it’s feasible to ride your bike today), ride your bike to work! Though it’s not necessary to actually join the challenge to participate, if you want to, you can join the challenge by visiting Strava’s website!

A Day in Bratislava

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One of the amazing things about traveling in Europe is the ability to hop from country to country as easily as it is for Americans to jump from state to state.  Depending on the state (and obviously your location within the state), Americans can get in the car, drive a couple of hours, and be in a new state with new things to see.  In a similar fashion, Europeans can board a train in the capital city of one country and end up a couple of hours later in a completely different country. The comparison breaks down when you think about how moving between countries means there’s often a switch in language and sometimes in currency.

Which brings me to a day trip we took while visiting Vienna.  Vienna (the capital of Austria) is about an hour’s train ride from Bratislava (the capital of Slovakia). Travel between these cities is extremely easy and rather inexpensive, so it was natural that we wanted to take advantage of our time in Vienna to also explore Bratislava.  We took the train from Vienna’s main train station, and it took about an hour on a packed commuter-type train.  It costs about $15 USD for a roundtrip ticket on any of the trains leaving the main stations throughout the day (they run every 30 minutes), and this ticket also includes all the public transportation in Bratislava – a pretty good deal, if you ask me!

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Unfortunately, most museums and tourist sights are closed on Mondays (the day we were there), but we knew that in advance.  This was the best day for us to take a day trip from Vienna, so we decided to simply amuse ourselves by wandering around the city center.  We wanted to see the city even if we couldn’t go into the museums or other sights.

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As we do in most European cities, we used our trusty, dusty self-guided walking tour by Rick Steves to wander around old town.  By doing so, we saw all of the old town area – the medieval entrance gate, several statues, the remaining medieval walls, an old church, and a Jewish memorial on the site of the old synagogue.

After wandering in the cold all morning, we stopped in for lunch at a Slovak restaurant creatively called “Slovak Restaurant.”  The food was very similar to what we had been eating in Austria, so it was delicious.  And the atmosphere was quaint and rustic. We also stopped in at Cukráreñ na korze to get dessert and hot chocolate (think less Swiss Miss and more melted chocolate bar).

That was the extent of our time in Slovakia.  It was well worth the trip!

What are some of your favorite day trips? Tell us in the comments!

 

To see more photos from our short trip to Bratislava, take a look at our Amazon album.