A Perfect Weekend in Sine Saloum

Summary: 1 night in a baobab tree and 1 night in a refined B&B to discover Palmarin and Joal-Fadiouth, the heart of Sine Saloum.

Day 1 – leave at 6:00 am from Dakar. This little sacrifice ensures you arrive in Joal (75 miles – 120 km) in about 2 hours, instead of 4 or 5. The road is well paved and it is straight after Saly and Mbour.

After Joal, you are on a dirt road for 20 miles where 20 mph is about the maximum speed you want to submit your wheels to. Take the direction of Fadial and Samba Dia. About 5 miles after Joal is the oldest and biggest baobab in Senegal:  over 850 years. You can climb inside … to see the bats and the open sky. Note: on the photo is a ‘baby’ baobab, I don’t want to spoil the surprise of the biggest one in Senegal.

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After Samba Dia, turn right (South) to reach Palmarin Ngallou. The Lodge des Collines de Niassam is well marked – sharp turn on the left and dirt road for less than a mile to reach the reception. They propose several types of accommodation and since we needed 3 rooms we tried them all: the baobab room (big bed), the Berber tent room (3 small beds), and the Laguna room (big bed) where your suite is on the water, on stilts. This place also has a small swimming pool and more details can be found on their beautiful bilingual website, www.niassam.com.

Tip: when you make reservation, be sure to let them know if you are a resident, since they have different prices.

After some rest, we drove to Djiffer, the end of the peninsula. There you can rent a pirogue to go up the Saloum river and into the mangrove. It is hard to get the price under 40,000 francs but it is for a tour of 2 to 3 hours for as many people as the pirogue can fit (10 comfortably). We reached the village of Falia where we took smaller pirogues to go into the mangrove. They rarely see “toubabs” (white people) in this village and were very excited and friendly.

There are only a few restaurants in Djiffer and they are extremely simple – you eat the take of the day basically. Between the hotel and Djiffer sits the Royal Lodge where you can indulge in Western comfort, if need be.

Day 2 – After exploring the small island in front of the hotel, reachable by foot or private pirogue, we left this charming place and went back to Joal.

We stayed at the romantic B&B Keur Seynabou, very well marked and on the beach with view on the ocean. The hostess offers 3 very well decorated big rooms (sleep 2 to 4) and a swimming pool surrounded by bougainvillea of all colors.

They organize trips in the mangrove, fishing trips, visit of Fadiouth, etc. In the afternoon we took a trip to the mangrove with their boat.

Day 3 – We went to Fadiouth (nice walk from the B&B). The catholic mass with djembe and chorus starts at 9h30. Even for non-Catholics it is a marvelous show. At the end of the mass you have hundreds of colorful people coming out, all with great dresses and assorted hats. This tiny island only accessible by a long wooden bridge or by boat boasts the tranquility of a no-car island where you walk on white seashells in the streets. We visited the market and went back to the B&B.

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Then we headed back. After 25 miles, we were in Saly for lunch. The restaurant Chez Marie has an innovative menu with reasonable prices. On the main road to Saly it is before the roundabout, just after Bicis and a big karaoke disco, on the left.

You may do it differently but this is how we did it and enjoyed it tremendously. To explore more of Sine Saloum if you have more time you could also go to N’Dangane (East after Joal and Samba Dia) to reach Mar Lodge by boat.

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Diplomatic Fair Budapest 2014

A very specific event that is usually unknown outside the diplomatic circle is the ‘diplomatic fair’ – although most of them are open to the public but generally poorly advertised outside this circle. Before joining the Foreign Service I had never heard of this type of event.

A Diplomatic Fair, as I had the pleasure to witness it four times already, is a fun giant bazaar recreating a mini world in one given place. It can take place in a big field in Africa or Mexico or a large venue in an international hotel. Imagine your school fair at the end of the year and multiply by 50 or 80 nationalities!

The association of the diplomatic spouses is the organizer of this event which is a fund raising event supporting one or several vetted charities among the ones that have more needs in a given country: children’s education, women shelters, orphanage or even a training center for dogs which will be placed with blind people.

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These fairs have at least two components: national booths selling specialties from a given country and a food corner either common or again divided by countries. The Diplomatic Fair organized by the Diplomatic Spouses of Budapest is by far the most complete of the fairs I have witnessed so far since it adds many more components to please and entertain longer a more diverse public:

  • All-day performances. Today it started by dances from India with four gracious ladies in colorful outfits; then there was a children’s choir; a folk dance from Europe; an energetic flamenco dance performed by mother and daughter; three muscular dancers from Nigeria who fired up the dance floor inviting people to dance with them at the tune of the drums; a folk dance from the Middle East which got everybody clapping; rock and roll and caroling from the United States (yes this was our team!) and many others that I missed because the place was extremely crowded
  • There was an instant raffle where you knew immediately if you had won a small prize from about $5 to $30 and then at the end of the day there were the results for the big tombola with dozens of big prizes which value was considerably above $200 sometimes even $1,000.
  • Second-hand corner. Used clothes, jewelry, DVDs, books, stuffed animals…
  • Kid corner. This is a great idea both for the child and the parent. Kid doesn’t like to be dragged, parent likes to shop in peace – perfect win-win situation.

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It was interesting to discover the empty room this morning at 7:00 AM. Some booths were entirely set up and decorated (which had to have occurred between 9:00 PM and 11:00 PM yesterday) and some were bare and some remained bare until 15 minutes prior to the grand opening. Different nationalities, different habits. Where it is truly a diplomatic event is that all countries exist, whether they have been recognized officially or not yet.

Soon the diplomatic spouses will gather and see who made the largest contribution. It is a matter of national pride to be among the top donors. I have a rather competitive spirit but for this occasion I would say: we all won because everyone who participated in this great even is already a winner, no need to count anything when it comes from the heart!

Climbing the highest mountain of Slovenia – Day 2

Comfort stops at our cozy bedroom. For 100 people, there are only three Turkish toilets in outdoor sheds and one of them is out of service. When it comes to running water, there is a really tiny sink with a stream of water so thin it takes more than a minute to fill a small glass. It is therefore hard to brush your teeth let alone wash anything else.

Some people have left before dawn to be able to see the sunrise from the summit. The plan of the day is to climb to the top then back down to Planika and continue on all the way down to the base. Depending on strength and people it takes one to two hours from Planika to the summit. In many places of the ascent there is only space for one person either going down or up.

Until Planika there are flowers of all sorts: ‘hairy’ cottony flowers, flowers in shades of intense purple or vibrant pink, simple daisies. Today the landscape is more lunar and arid.

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We meet all sorts of characters along our ascent. The mountain tribe with solid shoes, thick wool socks, pants with pockets, Gore-Tex parka and their accessories: walkie-talkie, carabiners and rope. The urban tribe with glossy black skinny pants like cyclist, fluo tops, walking shoes with neon stripes and their accessories: bandanna and golden tan. The ‘hotel rat’ tribe dressed all in black from cap to slim shoes, more ready for stealth theft than rugged mountains. The hip hop style tribe with tight pants covered with floral underwear and plaid shirts. We even cross path with a crazy guy who is actually texting, nose on his cell phone while going down on slippery downhill gravel. Our son is part of a non-tribe. He does not walk any more slowly because he wears regular jeans and a normal tee shirt!

The climb is steep at over 35% and there are many via ferrata cables to help ascend. We do not have the equipment with carabiners and harnesses but they are not necessary. We can just grab the cable with a gloved hand and make sure our grip is tight.

The first step is to reach the Mali Triglav – Mali means small. We reach baby Triglav in an hour, then we walk for about 20 minutes on the crest of the mountain and finally during the last ten minutes we have to climb a pure vertical 90-degree slope.

We finally reach the summit of Mount Triglav where a fantastic weather welcomes us and we can see very far. The plateau at the top is very narrow which makes it quickly crowded. All sorts of people have made it all the way up: from 6 to 80 years old! Hundreds of photos per minute are shot here and then it is time to go back to our base.

Our return is slowed by a large group of young children. The queue piles up behind us but we cannot pass since the ridge is too narrow. People are starting to growl and finally the chaperons push the children safely aside to let adults pass them.

Back at Planika we nibble and continue our descent to the Vodnikova cabin where we have a late lunch. The menu could not be simpler: cabbage soup with or without sausage. No more pancakes for dessert. After the meal, the descent becomes more difficult because it is sometimes quite steep which taxes the knees and toes a lot but also the thighs. We are trying to avoid slipping on the gravel. Walking eight hours in extreme conditions is tiring but to do so after a six-hour day of walking and climbing is another matter.

Our electronic apps tell us that our average speed ranged from 2 to 9km/h. My Withings pedometer showed 24,000 steps the first day and although we added almost three hours of climbing today, it shows only 23,000 steps! It apparently does not record climbing softly nor slow descent because it is not a steady pace. We finally arrive at our apartment in Bled where a hot shower is all we need.

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The next day a massive snow storm engulfed Mount Triglav!

Climbing the highest mountain of Slovenia – Day 1

Where is Slovenia? Between Italy, Austria, Hungary, Croatia and the Adriatic Sea. It is a very small and extremely beautiful country having it all: sea, mountains, sunshine, lakes, forests … Triglav National Park covers 84,000 hectares or just over 4% of Slovenia. The jewel is Mount Triglav, which at 2 864 meters (9,400 feet) is the highest point of the country. Reaching Mount Triglav is our primary purpose this weekend although we will also discover Bled and Ljubljana later, to rest!

Via friends known in Islamabad now posted in Sarajevo but previously in Slovenia we have a contact. Their former neighbor and friend Janez not only has proposed to brief us about the hike but to also accompany us. It is said that a Slovenian can only become a real Slovenian after he has climbed Triglav once in his life. At this rate Janez is at least 30 times a proven Slovenian!

Janez will be our guide in our reckless journey. I say reckless because we are not exactly sports fanatics, we do not exercise regularly and besides climbing easy hills in Pakistan for 2 hours every week we have no training for the mountains. Until 48 hours prior to the trip we did not even know if we could do it since the weather is a huge factor and changes fast all the time in these mountains.

We meet Janez near Lake Bled, one of the major tourist attractions of the country about three quarter of an hour from the capital, deposit our luggage in the rented apartment we will go back to the next day and follow Janez by car for about half an hour. We reach our base, leave the cars, gear up and off we go.

The base is at 1 360 meters, so there is 1 500 meters (5,000 feet) to climb under the sun with an ideal temperature of about twenty degrees (70F). We will actually not go all the way to the top today. It is possible for well trained and resistant people but it still would take them a good 10 to 12 hours.

The path starts in the forest and since it has rained yesterday the path is rather muddy and slippery. We also need to be careful about the slippery roots and branches. Eventually we emerge from the forest and discover Mount Tosc, the mountain we have to skirt around to see Mount Triglav.

So far the path climbs gently, sometimes a bit steeper but nothing too strenuous. The muddy path was soft for our soles but after two hours of walking the path becomes paved with sharp uncomfortable stones. When we finally see Mount Triglav, a cloud hides it partially. We pass a grassy plateau where friendly cows pasture peacefully. As we continue, the landscape becomes bare and rocky and some cables attached to the rocks help us get a better sense of security.

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In six hours, including a picnic stop and drink breaks we reach the Planika rest cabin at 2 408 meters. Sheep and goats welcome us. Planika is one of the closest mountain cabins to the summit. It is also the most comfortable and caters for ‘only’ 100 people, the nearby cabin welcomes 300 people.

After a few minutes of rest, the boys go for a beer while I use tiger balm to massage my thighs in a vain attempt to prevent cramps.Then I join Janez, my husband and our son for dinner. Our dinner is fast because the choice is excessively simple: goulash with pasta or polenta or only goulash or only pasta or only polenta! You may buy bread by slices if you wish to complement this.

By eight o’clock we are all in bed!

 

Foreign Service – Expect the unexpected!

Life in the Foreign Service brings many unexpected moments and crazy memories and this is the way I like it.

Nobody told me I would …

  • Pilot a Cessna over the Sine Saloum Delta in Senegal – I don’t even have a pilot’s license!
  • Glide from baobab to baobab like Tarzan near the reserve of Bandia.
  • Eat ‘yassa’ chicken with my hands, sitting on the floor in a tiny village near Joal.
  • Take West African businessmen and women to a trade show in Las Vegas and be their nanny 24/7.
  • Drive from Dakar to Bamako on the side of the road, in the sand, because it was safer than dealing with the potholes on the road.
  • Meet Madeleine Albright at breakfast during an American Chamber of Commerce event in Mexico City.
  • Take the kids to Acapulco and learn that, just near us, the narco-traffickers had chopped a dozen heads.
  • Meet and kiss Margarita Zavala, a federal deputy, wife of then president of Mexico Felipe Calderón.
  • Welcome musician and singer Seal at the consulate, chitchat and take photos.
  • Enjoy a lucha libre show with its masked warriors. Lucha libre is a very well-choreographed wrestling competition with heroes and villains. The fun was also among the spectators, for example grandmothers gesturing and yelling chinga tu madre and all other kind of nondescript foul language.
  • Meet and kiss vice-president Biden after his speech at the Embassy in Mexico City, and later receive a letter of appreciation in Pakistan, letter forwarded from Mexico even though it had a wrong address for the Embassy in Mexico.
  • Be car-chased by a crazy man in Chiapas where hubby had to remember and apply all his classes of Crash & Bang defensive driving.
  • Eat powdered ants in a wonderful Mexican dish.
  • Participate and rank top 2 in the first ever triathlon of my life in Islamabad at an age when some of us are grandmothers.
  • Climb the full size brass antelope in the Karachi airport on a dare given by my female boss – who did it too!
  • Be called daughter by a toothless Pakistani villager, thankful that via USAID we brought her electricity.
  • Hike the Margalla hills every week and befriend Pakistani girls in the mountains.
  • Become a designer and invent many unique dresses and shirts thanks to the sewing skills of my Pakistani tailor.
  • Sleep on the floor of the hut of unknown Thai mountain villagers.
  • Buy a beautiful and unique piece of embroidery in Thailand that the embroiderer consented to sell only because I was married.
  • Eat in bamboo plates from bamboo dishes with bamboo chopsticks that had all been carved in front of my eyes a few minutes before the meal.
  • Taste savory dishes of curly-haired pig during the Mangalica festival in Budapest.
  • Celebrate Valentine’s day in Bosnia (usually more synonym of war than love unfortunately).
  • Visit an exhibition in total darkness, led by a blind guide and experience like a blind person what life is like, dinner included.
  • Hike to the top of Mount Triglav, the highest mountain of Slovenia at 2864 meters (9,400 feet).
  • Eat foie gras in a special ‘Magyar’ McDonald burger, the libamajjal, where liba means goose, maj liver and the –al suffix with.
  • Climb a Via Ferrata for the first time in my life: the steep via Ferrata Hans-von-Haid-Steig trail to reach Mount Rax in Styria, Austria at 2 000 meters.
  • Learn a few words of Chinese because I am working as a TDYer in Beijing, China, in the middle of the summer – yet the weather is not as hot as in Budapest or Paris.

Some friends tell me ‘I didn’t know you were doing these kinds of thing’ and I answer ‘me neither’!

Discovering the US – Identity, Metric System, Driving.

I am not myself anymore.

I almost became schizophrenic. My husband’s former roommate was named Smith. The cable TV and phone subscriptions were in his name. The caller ID that appeared to others announced ‘Smith’. Therefore all the cold calls from telemarketing companies were easily identifiable. They would always start by ‘Hello Mrs. Smith”. After the first few calls which surprised me, I would just play around with them and take all kinds of heavy accents pretending that I didn’t speak English well enough to understand their annoying speech.

More permanent is the fact that one of my many given names is Minh. In Europe it is common in some families to have two or three middle names. When the consulate gave me my immigrant visa, they had no space to write Minh since the space is planned for a typical American person who has only one middle name. The last letter, the H, was truncated and all you could read was ‘Mini’. When the driving license service established my license in Virginia, instead of looking at the first page of my passport where my name is well written in full, they copied the visa page. My very official driving license, valid for ten years, bears the wrong name! Calling me ‘mini’ is nice but after breaking my back one week before the move and gaining a good 16 pounds due to the lack of exercise, I was not exactly ‘mini’ when I arrived in Virginia.

Metric system

When I shop, to find the price per kilo, which is my reference, I have to double every price because everything is stated in pounds. But the pound is no half a kilo here, it would be too easy, it only 450 grams. Once doubled, prices seem very expensive.

I have to remember a few basics: 1 gallon (3.78 liters) = 4 quarters (1 quart = almost 1 liter) and there are 2 pints in a quarter and 2 cups (cups) in a pint. So for those who have followed a “cup” is a little less than 250 grams and there are 16 ounces per pound. Instead of pinch, ounce, pound, quart, gallon, etc. it is so much easier to go 10, 100, 1000 grams or liters. The U.S. is one of only three countries in the world (others are Liberia and Burma) who has not adopted the metric system – why?!

And what about Celsius versus Fahrenheit? This is a tricky matter, not only for the climate but more importantly for bakers. When we travel with the Foreign Service sometimes the house is equipped with American appliances in Fahrenheit and sometimes not! We all need a conversion table near the oven.

Driving everywhere

We kept Anna and Lisa two friends of ours kids overnight. Anna was surprised to not find our daughter at 7:00 AM the next morning.

– “Where is she?” she asked with great concern.

– “Gone to school!” I replied.

– “On foot?!? ” she exclaimed indignantly.

I explained that her middle school bus was less than 100 meters (300 feet) away. This did not seem to convince her – a good mom would have driven her child and polluted the air to avoid the poor little girl a mere 2-minute walk.

Around 7:30 AM, when it was time for Anna, her little sister Lisa, and our son to leave for primary school, I started to walk with them. Anna thought we were probably going to get The Car. We had not walked for a minute yet when Anna exclaimed “you do not have a car?!” I replied that I had one but not for 500 meters (about 1/3 of a mile), thus less than ten minutes by foot.

“But my satchel is very heavy,” she grimaced. Without playing her game, I told her that it was the end of the school year and that teachers did not ask satchels to be full therefore they should not be heavy. I concluded by something like ‘a small walk is good for your health’. I think that these friends will not want to sleep at our home the night before a school day again!

Discovering the US – School matters

Arlington is a county and not a city (some counties are re-divided into cities) which has about 200,000 inhabitants (57% white, 21% Hispanic, 10% Asian, 9% Black) from of 128 countries speaking 105 languages. This is a true “melting pot”, perfect for a Foreign Service kid.

When we arrived in Arlington, there were 18,200 students, including about 4,000 who followed the English for Speakers of Other Languages/High Intensity Language Training (ESOL/HILT). Our daughter and son were raised in English but in the French system so they were first placed in ESOL/HILT. The integration efforts and many resources deployed are so intense that the Arlington county schools rate in the top 1% of the country.

Middle School Matters

Our daughter commented that it was great to learn in Virginia because the pupils were disciplined, more so than in France, and respected their teachers. I discovered that an elementary school teacher started his/her career at about $ 40,000 in the Arlington County while in France it is barely $ 27,000 (about 22,000 euros). Low pay for teachers is a well-known fact in France and does not help them earn the respect they deserve.

Another difference is that if a student performs well s/he will get into advanced classes, potentially even following 8th grade level math for example while being in 7th grade. It is a great idea until it becomes too much pressure and competition and discrimination. In 6th grade the math program was very similar than in France and our daughter was following so well that the teacher recommended her for an advanced level, even 8th grade level when she passed in 7th grade. Then she changed school (we moved after the summer) and the program changed. It was all about fractions which are not at all taught the same on either side of the Atlantic. In France we use decimals which reads easier than fractions (0.5 versus ½ and this one is very easy). Just like when someone who has an accent is often looked upon as if they were not that clever, the math teacher started to treat our daughter as a retarded person because she could not be in advanced math, even less in 8th grade level but had to settle for 7th grade level while in 7th grade and it was probably bad for her statistics!

I was surprised to learn that my daughter had cooking and sewing classes, known as Family And Consumer Science (FACS) in middle school since these classes have been dropped from the French curriculum in the 1970s. They have been dropped from the general curriculum followed by students who are supposed to graduate and study further. These classes are still given to students following a more manual or technical curriculum.

I was even more surprised when in ‘sex’ class, instead of talking about genitals, menstruation or other needed topics they dared make that hour about fellatio!!! In 7th grade! I was out of breath. I ran to my knowledgeable neighbor and asked who I was supposed to complain to: teacher, headmaster? She frowned and flatly answered ‘Bill Clinton’. Whaaat?! Apparently, according to the survey made after the annoying facts happened, A-student middle school girls had been talked into performing fellatio on their classmates because, you see ‘it’s not sex’. The school had thus decided to advance the class a few grades to prevent this from happening again.

Primary School Matters

Our son’s first teacher was called Ms. Brat in a school called Barrett – like the hair accessory. He felt weird about this. Then the school had fun games and a show where they brought reptiles at school, big long snakes that they could put around their necks so the school became a cool place again.

One day he had an anatomy course with focus on reproduction. The girls were in another room so everyone could ask questions without embarrassment. On his return, he seemed surprised to have discovered that his penis had other functions in addition to urinating.

Whenever they do a school picnic, they go for easy things like chips, buns and hot dogs. Balanced meal??? Unfortunately our son has never liked sausages of any kind, plastic-like nor gourmet. For him picnic meant a dry bun. About school picnics my husband had a sort of opposite discovery when he proposed to chaperon one of the school picnics in France. At lunch time, the teachers pulled a bottle of red wine and offered him some. When he told me this anecdote he was expecting me to gasp and me for him to give the punch line – it was such a common thing to see teachers drink wine at lunch!

Our daughter talked more and more English at home and our son, having forgotten the French word for apple sauce exclaimed, “that’s it, I’m losing my French!” He wanted to know if we returned to France on our next holiday. Our daughter, however, thought that everything was better in Arlington.

Pakistan – Islamabad Particularities: Green & Safe

I had read that Islamabad was the greenest city in Asia. Indeed, it almost felt like Northern Europe! Maybe it is one of the reasons I liked it so much there. I come from Paris which is a very green capital and France, also a very green country. In my street and all the streets of my neighborhood F7 there were trees and flowers. Less than a kilometer away there was the National Park of the Margalla Hills– we would hike every week in the hills and we still miss them a lot. I had never lived so close to nature and wilderness. We saw monkeys and boars besides beautiful birds in these rocky hills.

Islamabad has a very mathematical way of dividing its square neighborhoods because it is a very modern city, planned and built in the 1960s and settled only in the 1970s next to its much older sister city Rawalpindi. In the tiny village of Saidpur, between Islamabad and the hills, there is a very interesting photo exhibit showing Islamabad before it was developed. When Pakistan gained independence in 1947, Karachi was its capital. Planners have named the neighborhoods in Islamabad by letters from E to I – why not start by A is beyond me – and numbers from 5 to 18 – again, why not start at 1??? After 11 all the letters do not exist because it is still inhabited. Each square is divided into four smaller squares. When you gave your address it felt like playing naval battle: “I live in F7-2, one block from F8-3 … sunk!” Beyond Constitution Avenue, towards the north east, the area could be number 4, it comprises most of the public buildings: presidential palace, parliament, court of justice, etc. Beyond this, which could be number 3, is the diplomatic enclave, a little Fort Knox for embassies.

What is definitely a specificity of the Pakistani capital that I had never experienced before are the road blocks on every major roads: security check points that make cars zigzag and stop, show papers or car plate to a police officer, get approved and go on. It is like a permanent war and indeed when you think about it, the Taliban are definitely having a war. Someone had said something like ‘most countries have an army – the Pakistani army has a country’. While in Senegal everyone had diplomatic plates displayed where car plates are supposed to and Senegalese knew all the numbers by heart – number one for France, number eight for the United States and so on – here the plates are unmarked and it is not until arriving at a check point or entering the diplomatic enclave that the driver places the red diplomatic plate on the windshield, and promptly hides it again. Diplomats are targets.

Another very Pakistani specialty is the No Objection Certificate (NOC). Whenever we wanted to go anywhere outside the city boundaries, past I18, we had to receive a NOC first. The government had to issue a certificate stating that it did not object to our visit somewhere. We had to fill a bunch of papers explaining where we wanted to go and how, whether it was for a tourist or business purpose. If we rented a car we had to list the plate number and if we had a driver he had to give copy of his papers as well so if you had to fill the papers a month before the trip and he got sick, you were out of luck! Or if the listed car got in an accident prior to your rental and the rental company changed it … Indeed where it got complicated is that there were a NOC for ‘open’ places and a NOC for ‘closed’ places. The ruins of Taxila are ‘open’ so the NOC needed to be requested only 48 hours in advance; however the Murree brewery is a ‘closed’ place, so the NOC papers had to be processed at least 15 days in advance.

And yes there is a brewery which makes beer in a Muslim country, and whiskey, vodka, gin, etc.

Foods of Different Cultures

And Victoria will hopefully soon tell us all about bouye, ditakh, mad, bissap, and the wonderful lemon pie she knows so well how to make.

Life as a Third Culture Kid

As a TCK, you get to taste many different cuisines that come from different countries. Food is life ! Cooking is one of my favorite hobbies, and I love tasting new foods. It’s probably what I look forward to the most when I travel, or when I move to somewhere new ! The dishes that I am posting are either creations of mine, of my family, or from a neat restaurant.

#1 – Paella

This first dish here is a Paella. It is a dish that is originally from Spain. It takes a long time to cook, and many ingredients are needed too. This is a picture I took of my dad’s Paella. He had lived in Spain when he was younger, and he learned how to make this dish. Many people say that his Paella is one of the best ! My dad is a perfectionist when he cooks…

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Hotel Rant

Where to sleep in Pécs?

We love travels. We love travelling. We are not difficult. We can sleep in a hut if the type of travel mandates it – for example an eco-trekking we did in Thailand in 2012 (I’ll have to come back on this because it was fantastic).  We slept on the floor, just like our hosts. On a same trip in the same country we can go from hut to high luxury and hut again, it just depends on what is right at that time and what we intend to do: for example, meet local people in villages (Chang Mai region) or visit museums and palaces (Vienna).

Sometimes we find that the best fit for our family, when the four of us travel, is to rent an apartment. Actually sometimes we are five if we count our tiny Italian greyhound and more apartment owners accept dogs than hotels.  Since we like to cook it is also very practical to have your own kitchen. It also helps control the quality of the ingredients and the amount of fat that go in your plate.

As much as we look for practicality I always have an eye on aesthetics. I don’t like ugly, especially if the prices don’t match ugly. When we were on ‘home leave’– a specificity of the Foreign Service describing the extended ‘re-learning Americana holiday’ we take between two missions overseas – I was trying to get across the country for as cheap as possible. Every FS family will tell you that it can be costly to be in the U.S. for two months = 60 (even 61) days with no roof of your own. With a cheap hotel like $100 a night for four, this is already a whopping $6,000 – on only one salary. Not every FS employee has a house available, either because they are too young to have purchased one, or it is rented. Not every FS employee has parents with a mansion that can accommodate a long stay. Home leave can be nine weeks you know since the employee gains three weeks per year abroad. Some colleagues would argue that ‘yeah, but it’s impossible to take that long’. You can do it. We did it. Just negotiate!

Back on the notion of ‘acceptable ugly’. If I choose Motel 6 and Super 8 because I want to travel to major cities to show our kids the United States in all its grandeur, from Maine to California (Home leave 2013), and I don’t want to break the bank, I accept savorless hotels where we will barely spend a night. But when a hotel pretends to be ‘charming’ or ‘boutique’ with higher pricing associated with such adjectives, I really don’t appreciate that they look like having supplied their rooms with IKEA-like furniture (and at least this would have a clean feel to it), or worse that they are using old cheap 1950s furniture with a carpet so worn that you can’t tell which color it is, much less which color it was. The bed cover can also be repulsive and it is a much cheaper investment to make to improve a room.

So why am I all excited about this topic today? Well, I am planning for a trip to Pécs which is supposed to be the most beautiful city in Hungary after Budapest. I’ve asked my Hungarian colleagues and teacher about which cities not to miss and they all agree. Pécs comes first. Then there is a tie between Debrecen and Sopron. While I am dutifully making my research on Booking.com and Tripadvisor to cross-reference opinions I could only find abominable hotels in the loveliest city of the country!!! Some hotels might look good from the façade to the reception desk and dining hall, the rooms are still very mediocre. The one that dares call itself ‘boutique’ is among the ugliest one. At this point I looked for Bed & Breakfasts and they were all ugly as well.

My conclusion is if you are an entrepreneur: go open a real boutique hotel in Pécs because lovely city means romantic and romantic needs a proper nest!