Expat Holland’s return to Oz

Its taken me awhile to write this post amid the teary goodbyes and the excited hello. The amazing memories of the experiences we had and the forever friends we made seem like a dream as  our little bubble has finally popped. It’s only been two months and the kids are loving school life. Our boxes have arrived and been unpacked but I have still felt slightly unsettled. Life goes on and this next year promises to again be a cracker, building our dream home will keep me busy.

Are your kids prepared for a Natural Disaster as an Expat?

This was the question that was on my mind tonight after things got a little scary with not one but two earthquakes detected in Korea only a 100 kilometres from our island home of Geoje.
Luckily we were all in a room together as we felt the effects of a 5.8-magnitude earthquake hit near the town of Gyeongju, as the building began to shake and rattle it felt like time stood still but in reality was probably only 10 seconds long. I can’t even begin to imagine how it must have been for the towns in central Italy that were reduced to rubble when hit by a 6.2 earthquake last month.
What scared me the most was that I wasn’t 100% sure where to go in an earthquake, doorways, under tables or just run down the stairs? Apparently a table is the safest place as it provides some shelter, so for the second earthquake the kids were prepared and headed straight for the table. Needless to say it was still scary for the kids and our youngest is sleeping in our bed tonight. The other two took quite a bit longer to get to sleep after a chat about the likelihood of it happening again and although I made light of it to the kids my brain hasn’t been able to switch of from flight mode.
It has taught me a valuable lesson though, to be prepared and not just here in Korea but wherever we travel, kids also need to know what to do in an emergency situation whether you are on holidays or moving to a new country. It doesn’t need to be a scary thing for them but more of a matter a fact just like we teach our children what to do in case of a fire. The kids reminded me of this tonight when we were chatting about what to do if it happens again, they said, ‘it was like when we lived in Texas and our school had drills for when a hurricane hits, they just need drills here for an earthquake.’
I know once the kids have gone to school tomorrow there will be a lot more questions and after doing a bit of research I have found a great website on how to help your kids understand natural disasters, hopefully by  chatting about it, it will help put their minds at ease.
Thankfully we live in the age of social media so you never need to be unprepared when travelling, here are a few of the sites I follow.

Flowers of Geoje Island

Geoje island would have to be one of the prettiest places I have lived in, when it comes to gorgeous blooming flowers.

From mountains to roadsides Geoje has little patches of green grass areas that come spring time are filled with flowers. The true beauty in this is that these fields of flowers can just pop up where you least expect them it’s just natures beauty reminding us all, what is lovely in our world and in a world that is as crazy as ours we need that.

So after a particularly busy day, coming up to summer and end of school year, I was dropping the kids off to soccer practice and right next door was this field of pretty pink flowers. I was rushing as normal but the pull was so great to actually take in this beautiful sight that I pulled over to take a photo. It was a gentle reminder to me to make sure that in my busy days that I just take a moment to not miss the beauty that is Geoje Island.

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Niseko, Japan

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My First snowboard of the day and what a view of Mount Yotei

I was not always a fan of the cooler months of the year, short dark days, windy wet weather and an overall feeling of gloominess, is how I would best describe my feelings towards winter. That is until I discovered snow in my twenties, soft white powdery snow, that make it seem like you are walking on clouds it’s so light and fluffy. Building Snowmen, Snow angles and snowball fights make winter just as delightful as the summer months.

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Snowball fights, just got easier with this snowball mould!!

Living so close to Japan it was a no brainer when were deciding on where to go for hubby’s 40th birthday. So in search of the best pow pow around we left our little island home of Geoje and headed over to Tokyo, Japan. Now like any place that is amazing it’s not always easy to get to but trust me so very worth it. We travelled with JAL from Tokyo to Sapporo but you can get a direct flight to Sapporo if you are coming from Korea, from there you can either hire a car or catch a bus to the township of Niseko where all the fun begins. Most people when they hear snow holiday they think it is too expensive and it can be depending on where you head to. Compared to places in Australia, America, Europe and Canada, Japan is on the cheaper side with lift and ski hire half the price of what it is anywhere else and the snow is amazing!!

Our two hour drive from Sapporo thru the Hokkaido region also known for its dairy farms and Sapporo Beer,  was mesmerising blanketed in snow making the  small farming communities with their rustic farm houses, visually stunning in its simplicity. When we arrived at our snow covered apartment we thought we had hit the jackpot with the amount of snow that covered the streets but Niseko is renown for its heavy snowfall during the winter months and we couldn’t wait to hit the slopes.

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We had pre booked the kids into a couple of days of ski school at the base of Hirafu which is well worth it if you plan on having a ski holiday most years. Skiing is a fast paced sport so if you don’t know how to ski and think you can just wing it, you are not only a danger to yourself but everyone else around you. Our children attended the Go Snow ski school, the instructors were fantastic and very patient while teaching the kids. Now most kids balk at the idea of going into any type of school while on holidays. I had the opposite, our kids were begging to go each day after I only signed them up for two days, the end results were they could out ski me on all the runs!!
With the kids at ski school we had the day to ourselves so after a refresher lesson for me in the morning we headed out for lunch on the mountain. We caught a lift up to Boyo-so which is a cabin like lunch hall with lots of Japanese dishes to choose from, we then spent the day taking in the breathtaking country side.
After a day of climbing thru knee deep snow and taking a tumble or two you will be in much need of a massage make sure you take the opportunity to unwind and relax as there is nothing better then a good massage, or if you are happy to get naked then immerse yourself in the healing power of a japanese Onsen that cater for men, women and families.

I found this site very helpful on etiquette when using a Japanese Onsen http://www.onsenjapan.net/onsenbasics.php

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You haven’t experienced a hot cocktail until you have entered the enchanting Bar Gyu (The Fridge Door Bar),  the setting for the Bar Gyu is old world charm and sophistication, where the cocktails actually taste how they read. After much deliberation over the mouth watering menu we decided on the Hot apple pie cocktail and it actually tasted just like granny had made it fresh from the oven but with a delicious kick 😉 So good was Bar Gyu, that we had return the next night.

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Niseko’s food scene is getting quite a bit of attention due to its fresh local cuisine along with some well known chefs bringing their expertise to the mountain top, check out An Dining and Ezo Seafoods Oyster Bar which was booked out during our stay.

Our favourite places to eat on Niseko Mountain:
Green farm cafe, best meat pies, curries, chia lattes and coffee on the mountain.
The Lava Lounge for home delivered pizzas when your body can no longer move from over doing it on the mountain.
Bigfoot Lodge, great pub atmosphere with wagyu beef burgers and if you get a chance head to the food truck area and take your pick of the different cuisines on offer.

As most of you know with kids it’s not always possible to head out for tea or get to a shop, so we used a service new to Niseko called honestbee great fast home delivery.

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The wonderful thing about Niseko is that you can  stay for a week and never actually strap on a set of ski’s. The town of Kutchan is a 15min drive away or you can visit the Milk Kobo (milk factory) famous for their cheese tarts and custard cream puffs. They also offer workshop’s in making your own ice-cream and tours of their diary farm.

Cooking classes in the art of  japanese cuisine are available, art and craft classes or mastering (i use the term mastering very lightly) the art of glass blowing which is what the girls and I decided to try our hand at. We took a 15min bus ride to the base of Mount Yotei where our workshop was held. Nestled in the snow we found the Doumu glass gallery run by the very talented Masako Kitajima and her daughter who welcomed us in with warm cups of tea. We had to choose a coloured glass and a pattern to stencil, after a couple of hours of painstakingly cutting out the stencils on our glasses we were ready for the sand blaster where we blasted all the colour off with a little bit of help from our teachers, who knew it would be so hard to get a straight line!! We were all very happy with our end results, beautiful glassware but I learnt that I don’t have the concentration span for this art, as it takes a very steady hand and a lot of patience.

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Mine, Linda and Jacqui’s first attempt at glass blowing.

 

We had such a wonderful time in Niseko that we are now planning a white christmas, it is one destination that we will be returning to.

If your dates are flexible have a look at the Sapporo Snow festival, with giant snow castles and ice sculptures it certainly looks well worth the visit.
http://www.welcome.city.sapporo.jp/event/winter/sapporo_snow_festival/?lang=en

Keeping in contact in Niseko is easy with free wi-fi at most venues unless of course you have an iPhone 6 like me and it constantly turns off due to the cold temperatures.

We booked our Niseko stay
lorenzo@theperfectsnow.com.au

We booked our Tokyo stay and flights thru
sarah.mtgambier@helloworld.com.au

We stayed with http://holidayniseko.com

Go Snow School
https://www.gondolasnowsports.com

Our equipment was rented at Rhythm Snow & Sports
http://skihirejapan.com/ja/

Glass blowing workshops
http://glass-doumu.com/top_english.html

http://www.gyubar.com

 

First Full Moon, Geoje

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Full Moon Harvest

It is not unusual to hear a loud speaker being played for all to hear in Korea, so this week when it continued for 5 hours with talking and singing, I had to find out what was going on. Not as easy as you think when you live in a non-english speaking country and you have only mastered five words . To be honest I’m pretty sure I’m not pronouncing those right, as I seem to be greeted with a lot of giggles when saying them out loud. Thankfully we have an excellent expat grapevine, where you can find out pretty much everything with just a click of the keyboard.

The huge grass stack that had been erected on the rice fields next to our apartments was for the celebration of Daeboreum which is a traditional Korean holiday, which literally means “Great Full Moon”. Celebrations are held as Koreans welcome the first full moon of the lunar new year. There are various traditions associated with this celebration across Korea. Koreans often brave the freezing temperatures to climb the mountains surrounding the island as it is believed that whoever sees the full moon first will have good luck for the remainder of the year. One of the more popular traditions is a game called geuybulnori. This involves the burning of dry grass on ridges between rice fields where children whirl around cans full of holes, through which charcoal fire blazes. It is believed that these cans fertilise the fields and get rid of harmful worms that might destroy any new crops.

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The kids and I were lucky enough to experience this wonderful tradition from the comfort of our lounge room not wanting to venture out into the night in minus degrees.You can see the children in the above picture with the cans of charcoal, unfortunately at the time of taking these photos I was not aware that the this was what they were doing, although my kids having free range to whirl around lit charcoal would probably have ended badly!!

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The First Full Moon tradition with the burning of the grass stacks is held in 7 different locations around Geoje island.

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The fire stack was mesmerising to watch and it was all finished off with a huge display of fireworks, there is no celebration in Korea that does not end in fireworks. I love all the wonderful traditions and celebrations there are living here and although I didn’t get to attend this one up close, I will be ready for the next one.

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Full Moon Harvest Fireworks

 

 

New to Geoje, find out all you need to know here: https://geojeinternationalcenter.wordpress.com

Travelling in Korea
http://english.visitkorea.or.kr/enu/ATR/ATR_MAIN.jsp

Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka is firmly placed at the top of my travel hot spot list, I have been dreaming of ancient ruins, stunning country sides and exotic tea trails that are wrapped up in a surfers paradise.

Sri Lanka seems to be the country on everyone’s lips at the moment, it is the latest must do country if you live in South East Asia and after seeing my *virtual friend Charley’s latest post on Sri Lanka, I decided to ask her a few questions and see if this little enchanting country deserved its place at the top of my list.

A:You have travelled to 87 countries, which in my mind makes you a travel expert!! What kind of Traveller are you?

C:I travel all the time for work so the majority of my travel is boring 5* hotel trips, so though no Bear Grylls  I tend to be pretty adventurous when travelling for leisure.

A:You flew straight to Sri Lanka, Kandy. What was your first impression?

C:This pains me but I was a little bit disappointed it was a pretty congested Asian town with a nice temple – I much preferred Nuwari Eliya and Hatton which are more in classic Hill Country.

A:What were your modes of transport during your stay?

C:We hired a driver for our entire trip which is very affordable in Sri Lanka, but took the train from Kandy  to  Nanu Oya , which is close to Nuwari Eliya and was really the highlight of our trip. We also took the odd rickshaw in Colombo!

A:I heard that you had to hangout the open door of your moving train to capture this gorgeous shot, you certainly captured the beauty of your surroundings plus had yourself a shot of adrenaline.

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Sri Lanka

A:What are your top tips for train travel in Sri Lanka.

C:Make sure you have snacks, there will be the odd guy selling fruit but certainly no British Rail buffet cars! Opt for first class it’s no Orient Express but only cost us around $8 each for the 4 hour trip  and guarantees you a seat. Bring tissues and anti bac for the toilets…..lastly breathe in the views!

Taken from the train between Kandy and Nanu Oya

Taken from the train between Kandy and Nanu Oya

A:What do you never travel without?

C:A head torch, always teased by friends for this but comes in handy for late night walks along beaches,  when hotel generators pack in or when  in Nepal and Myanmar and  power loading is the norm.

A:Favourite places that you visited?

C:Toss up between the bathing elephants at Pinnewala or blue whales off the coast at Mirissa!

A: I would love to take my kids on an adventure holiday, was it kid friendly?

C: We noticed lots of travelling families and with Elephants, boat trips, safaris, whales and turtles I’m sure there would be plenty to keep them engaged.

A:You also made your way down to the Mirissa beaches for some whale watching what did you think of the surf?

C:I’ve seen a few beaches in my time and to be honest they weren’t as amazing as i expected but only saw 3 beaches. They were much quieter than most holiday places i’ve been to…and no pedlars so very relaxing, oh and the odd cow wandering around to break up the scenery.

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 A: What was the accommodation like while travelling thru Sri Lanka?

C:The best value for money was a place called Weligama Bay Resort combo of villas and hotel good for families and small groups. Straight onto the beach and with a nice small family style ambience.

A:What do you wish you had of added to your list or taken off on your visit

C:I would have spent less time in Kandy and probably added a night in one of the boutique hotels in Galle.

A:Did you book thru a travel agent and would you recommend it?

C: Yes I’ve never used one before as I travel independently but multiple locations over a busy holiday period left me tearing my hair out so I used one that was recommended. He helped us save a lot on the same hotels we’d looked at, helped us with a route and most importantly booked the driver for us!

A: and lastly what is the one piece of advice you would like to pass on from your experience in Sri Lanka.

C:Book hotels thru a travel agent and book a driver for your whole time its cheap and you really need it between cities. Take the train between locations in tea country it’s not luxury but easier to view then in the car.

Demi comes highly reccommend after Charlotte's successful Sri Lanka

For a luxurious stay in Sri Lanka checkout http://www.teatrails.com

 

*Charley and I have never met in ‘real life’ but she helps me to run Travelling Expats on Facebook a wonderful community group that is just a wealth of knowledge on everything travel.

Villers-Bretonneux, France

 

Finding Tom, Roy Vane Thomas (tom) 14th February 1995-1916

I think its important that no matter where you end up in the world, you also no where you came from………..

History, heritage and generations past, this is where our journey of Europe took us. Many of you may not have heard of a small village near the township of Amiens, an hour by train outside of Paris called Villers-Bretonneux. I must admit until only a year ago I hadn’t either. I knew that Australians had a special tie with France as they fought valiantly to protect them in both world war one and world war two. The courage and fearlessness is remembered thru every generation of children that enter the Villers-Bretonneux school where a banner hangs with the simple words ‘Do Not Forget Australia’ this simple statement is ingrained in every child and even now writing this it makes me feel emotional that after all these years the french are continuing to say thank you, to the Aussies who fought to keep the germans from taking over their town. Every child that attends that school feels a connection with Australia and our efforts to give them a future, I certainly felt very proud to be an Australian at the moment.

This little french school makes sure every generations knows who protected their future.

This little french school makes sure every generations knows who protected their future.

Our visit to Villers-Bretonneux was not just a stop to pay our respects , it was more of an emotional visit for my mum who had recently discovered a diary written by her Grandfather Harry while he was stationed there in 1916. He and his two brothers Tom and Les enlisted to serve their country, unfortunately they did not get to stay together as they travelled to Egypt first and then on to France.

My great grandfather Harry in the middle, with his brothers Tom and Les

My great grandfather Harry in the middle, with his brothers Tom and Les

While in France my Great Grandfather reconnected with Les and later wrote of hearing that the 10th Battalion had arrived. Knowing this is where Tom was stationed, he set about to see him only to be told he was missing. I can’t even begin to imagine how he must have felt hearing that but he continued on looking for Tom, digging around for information. Harry Dowdell was not a man of many words,  and I will never know what he really felt when he was searching for his younger brother Tom, or how he felt to leave his new bride Effie at home who he often mentioned in his entries. I know that Harry worked hard whilst building the railways, that they were often bombed, that it was cold and he was often soaked to the skin from the rain, and that he spent over a year fighting the war in France.

We visited Villers-Bretonnuex whilst on our family holiday, to find  the name of R.V.T Dowdell who at 21 never returned home to Australia with his brothers. He was one of the 11,000 fallen heroes who also never made it home to there loved ones and who will always be remembered for their bravery on the battlefields.

R.V.T dowdell

 

The first thing I noticed as we arrived at the memorial site in Villers-Bretonneux was the beautiful lush countryside and the wild poppy’s flowering near the road side, as they bloomed in May I was not expecting to see any in July.

The countryside outside the Australian War Memorial

The countryside outside the Australian War Memorial

The Australian War Memorial, in Veillers-Bretonneux France, was officially opened by the Queen in July 1938.

Looking out from the tower of the Australian War Memorial

Looking out from the tower of the Australian War Memorial

Red flowers bloomed vividly at The Australian war memorial  which is a majestic structure that sits nestled amongst the farming communities, a tall three story tower stands flanked either side by single storey walls covered in the names of the fallen 11,000 diggers. The walls are adorned with the names our brave Australian heroes  that have been declared ‘missing in action’ these walls seem to stretch on forever filled with those that will never get to return to their homelands. Our guide was a knowledgeable British ex-military solider, who encouraged us to remember the name of an Australian digger, who had fought for our freedom and take his spirit back home with us. So that once again he could return to his homeland. Here is where we found my mothers uncle, private D.V.T (Tom) Dowdell of the 10th Infantry Battalion. We were the first of our family to come and pay our respects and the emotion of standing on the grounds where so many lost there lives is humbling. One of the men in our group sang an emotional Advance a Australia Fair and a touching remembrance pray was read out followed by a minutes silence. My children and I will always remember this day. I am forever grateful that we were able to experience this emotional journey, along with the sacrifices that the Australian diggers made for us.

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Ariella remembering the name of a fallen solider and taking his spirit home.

Ariella remembering the name of a fallen solider and taking his spirit home.

 

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We booked our tour thru sarah.mtgambier@helloworld.com.au

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Villers-Bretonneux

http://www.ww1westernfront.gov.au/villers-bretonneux/on-this-spot-australian-national-memorial.php

http://www.redcross.org.au