When you live abroad as an expat, you like to explore the areas around where you’ve ended up. Expeditions may turn out to be on the edge of hilarious and interesting at the same time; like the hotel owner’s dog that chose to sit at the breakfast table next to a British lady in Brazil, or the Alaskan town where everybody lives in the same building!
The first time we lived in Rio de Janeiro, we went to the most popular beach town, Buzios, for Easter. Just a couple of hours’ drive from Rio you find this charming old city with fantastic beaches. A hotel was recommended to us by a colleague, and it was great. However, not so great for a British couple, because every morning the hotel owner’s dog chose to sit himself at their table, just like a human being. My husband was on the veranda, looking down at the breakfast terrace and saw this hilarious tableau. The lady’s body language said it all…
The second time we moved to Rio, we went on a trip to Petrópolis, a nice town in the mountain range known as Serra Fluminense. It is a favorite getaway for Rio de Janeiro residents, with cooler weather, historic buildings and charming hotels. After visiting the summer residence of Emperor Pedro II which now is a great museum, we went for lunch at a restaurant built in an old stable. Did I forget to say that my husband and daughter, 9 years at the time, always play jokes with each other? No exception during lunch, when she flipped a small lump of rice towards my husband’s plate, which he directly passed on. And to my astonishment it ended up in the middle of the next-table lady’s lunch dish.
She apparently saw something flying through the air and land onto her plate, but since she also had rice as a side order, she couldn’t see what it was – or what had happened. Just something moving. At first I was mad, but when I saw my two family members struggling with an insane laughter, I had to look straight down at my plate to avoid bursting out in laughter myself. It could be added to the story that when Emperor Pedro II saw his wife to be for the first time, Dona Therese Christina, he was so disappointed that he built her a city of her own to stay in: Teresópolis.
Hollywood on film location
Living in St. John’s Newfoundland, we went to the city of Trinity, where they shot the movie The Shipping News, with Kevin Stacy, Julianne Moore and Cate Blanchett. The city itself is not the biggest or most vibrant one, and we ended up in a dark and gloomy diner for lunch, and out of the dusk the British actor Pete Postlethwaite emerged. He had one of the more characteristic parts in the movie and we started chatting. He was such a nice man and thought it was more hilarious for him to meet Norwegians in that isolated diner outside Trinity than him being a famous actor. And if you haven’t watched the movie, do it. I can promise you it will hit a nerve in your body!
During teambuilding over in Banff, one hour’s drive from Calgary, we brought our downhill skis and stayed a couple of more days. One day my husband and the company lawyer went skiing in Lake Louise. I had stayed at the cabin with our baby and went to pick him up. On my way I passed the hospital and thought – wow, it looks like a Spanish hacienda! I wouldn’t have realized it actually was a hospital if it hadn’t been for the heliport, with a chopper coming in. My husband looked kind of weird, with a clenched expression on his face, when I reached the ski area.
– I fell, and I think I broke my arm, he said.
–Oh, at least I know where the hospital is, I said cheerfully.
Two hours later he was in a cast. He had chosen to hit a ridge instead of crashing into the lawyer who had fallen face down in front of him. Noble of him? I’m not sure, but at least he wasn’t sued, and that was his concern! The next day we went skiing with our 17 months’ old daughter. She was dressed in red winter coveralls, muted with a pacifier, with the shortest skis ever imaginable and looking like Bambi on ice. I skied with her between my legs and my husband was going backwards with one arm in cast and a video camera in the other. One happy family – or at least that was what the bus load of Japanese tourists thought, swarming around us taking pictures!
While living in Alaska, we would like to show some guests around, and decided to go to the town of Whittier and take the ferry across Prince Williams Sound to Valdez. As it turned out, the only way to get to Whittier by land was to drive through a two-and-a-half-mile, one lane railroad tunnel, which you shared with the train… I have to say I was relieved when we came out at the other end in one piece!
But the surprises of the day were not over yet, as it turned out that almost all of the village’s 200 inhabitants lived in the same building – a 14-story former Army barracks built in 1956. The building, called Begich Towers, holds a police station, a health clinic, a church, and a laundromat. Rumor has it you can often find residents shuffling around in slippers and pajamas in the corridors. However, we boarded the ferry safely and saw walrus, whales and bold headed eagles on our way to Valdez.
The part that was not as enjoyable was passing the spot where the oil tanker Exxon Valdez slammed into The Bligh Reef 26 years ago and spilled more than 11 million gallons of crude oil into the cold, clear waters of Alaska’s Prince William Sound – one of the “last best places” on Earth. The oil charged through the Sound and out into the Gulf of Alaska, damaging more than 1,300 miles of some of the most remote, wild shorelines in the US. Let us never forget, and learn from the experience, as the Sound’s coastal ecosystem is permanently damaged. Though the oil has mostly disappeared from view, many Alaskan beaches remain polluted to this day, crude oil buried just inches below the surface.
However, our spirits rose to higher levels when we landed in Valdez and had dinner at the Fat Mermaid, real authentic stuff!
Who drained Lake Travis
Living in Houston, we wanted to see more of the areas around the state and decided to go to Austin, to stay at Lake Travis. The weather changed and we finally got there in pouring rain.
– But…, I said to my husband, – the lake is gone!
And it nearly was. It looked as somebody had pulled the plug, because the water was almost gone. Boats and docks were spread around on the former lake bottom. Unfortunately, the lake was actually a water reservoir on the Colorado River and it was at a historic low level.
-Oh well, let’s go the nice cottage place I found online, I said.
Arriving at Robin’s Nest, old nice-looking cabins spread around the property greeted us. However, I had to give it up as my house dust allergy sent me straight out the door with red, watery eyes. Well, well, we booked at room at Best Western and went to the outlet mall instead.
Who said vacationing is boring, and I have to admit that I sometimes feel like the Griswold Family movie-series, with Chevy Chase in the lead, even though it’s not that bad. To be continued ?!
Text and photos by Heidi Nesttun-Sunde, February 2015