Category Archives: Travel

Moving Abroad: Milan, Italy

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Ever dreamed about moving abroad but don’t have a clue where to start?

With so many countries to choose from, considering a move abroad can be overwhelming. From visa requirements and researching new job markets to finding friends and assessing the cost of living, jumping ship can seem pretty intimidating. But it doesn’t have to be.

That’s where Gazing Girl comes in.

In a series of short interviews with guys and girls like us who have moved abroad to France, Spain, Singapore, Australia and beyond, we hope to give you the push to follow your dreams.

Over to you, Karolina…

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Can You Tell Us A Bit About You?

Hi there. I turned 26 in January and got my first white hair this week!

Born and raised Croatian, I moved to Milan in 2011 to do a Master’s degree in Cognitive Science (a fancy name for psychology) – at least, that’s what I told my parents. My main motivation for moving to Milan was actually to to be with my Italian love! After a year, though, heartbreak pushed me to Madrid where I met two new loves: a new guy and entrepreneurialism. And now, after 2 years of Spanish adventures, another heartbreak has pushed me back to Milan where I’ll be staying until…another heartbreak I guess?!

As for what makes me tick – I love quality, processes, people and stream-lining products and services to maximise growth. Career-wise, I sing opera, work with start-ups, design webpages and attend jewellery fairs (the latest being in Basel, Switzerland – tough life!) My dream job would be a professional mingler.

Anything else you should know about me? I’m a dog person. Woof!

What Inspired You To Move Abroad?

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(Un)fortunately I’m from Croatia, which though rich in beauty, doesn’t have a great deal more than that. I was raised in a happy family of internationally active opera singers brought up to think outside the box (and the boundaries of one’s native country). My upbringing has had a huge bearing on what drives me in terms of love, education and travel.

How Big Is Milan?

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Big enough, I’d say. The city itself has around 1 million people, 5 million including the outskirts which makes it just a bit smaller than Madrid. Milan is the 5th largest European metropolis.

How Did You Manage The Change?

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Actually, if you know the language, you’re at home. Milan is almost not “abroad” for me – I have an amazing network of friends there and I know the majority of the city’s secret pockets. However, in my experience, a successful transition is enhanced by keeping busy and throwing yourself in.

What Are The ‘Must-Sees’ In Milan?

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  • Anadima Bistrot – The ravioli with zuchinni is a must-try – absolutely mouth-watering.
  • The Old Tavern – Try the donkey meat ragù… incredible.
  • Osteria Conchetta – Traditional Milanese cuisine which is delicious and inexpensive.
  • Bastianello – A patisserie serving outstanding brioches and cornettos (similar to croissants).
  • Luini’s PanzerottoThe tomato and mozzarella panzerotti (savoury filled pastry) is, quite simply, unforgettable.
  • Deus Cafe – Think burgers, pancakes, sandwiches, fresh juices – you honestly can’t find one flaw in this place.

Cocktails

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  • Pinch – Cocktails to die for in a buzzing social area. 
  • Rita – If you’re looking for some seriously good drinks to kick off the night, Rita is brimming with a young, hip, good looking crowd and is almost always full.
  • Nombra De Vin - A seriously cool, vaulted wine cellar with lashings of atmosphere and sex appeal.
  • Ugo Bistrot - Ugo is a snazzy bar with mainly gin based cocktails located along the canal in the south of Milan. Very classy.

Must-See Sites

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  • Duomo rooftop - The stunning Gothic cathedral took nearly six centuries to complete. The 5th largest church in the world and the largest in Italy, the Duomo is well worth a visit.
  • Da Vinci’s Last Supper – Housed at the Dominican convent adjoining the church of Santa Maria delle Grazie, this is Italian art at its best.
  • Pinacoteca di Brera – The main public gallery for paintings in Milan, it contains one of the foremost collections of Italian paintings.
  • Museo del Novecento – Located in the Palazzo dell’Arengario, this a public venue dedicated to Milan’s collection of Twentieth-Century Art.

What’s Been The Biggest Highlight?

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Spring – no question! Seeing magnolias and cherry trees blossom in the Parco Sempione with the Arco della Pace at one end and the Sforzas’ Medieval Castle at the other is breathtaking. And that’s not the end of it.

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April is also the time when Navigli, the ancient canal system, fills up with water and the whole neighbourhood lights up which makes you forget you’re in the centre of a metropolis. Everyone is out on the streets, there are all sorts of flea markets, festivals, concerts, performances and exhibitions. It’s magical.

What’s Been The Biggest Challenge?

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I call this the Slav paradox.

Croatians and everyone East of the Italian border are generally considered “those who clean and serve”. It’s no accident that the Italian word for slave (schiavo) comes from Slavo (Slav in Italian). Although we’re talking about hardcore stereotypes here, I sometimes felt I had to make an extra effort to avoid being stigmatized, especially during first encounters. In terms of what I mean by the Slav ‘paradox’ – most Slavs in Italy are actually more international than those inclined to stereotype ;)

What Has Surprised You Most About The Country?

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The rent. You could get a seaside villa in Croatia for the price of a Milanese flat! In other words, it’s not cheap. I’d say most accommodation in the centre costs between 550 and 800 euros a month.

What’s Your Favourite Aspect Of The Country?

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As always… the people. Obviously, Italians are so easy to approach. By the time you’ve thought about how to make the first social step, they will already have introduced themselves, everyone around them and invited you to their home for some of Mamma’s pasta.

What’s Your Least Favourite Aspect Of The Country?

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Italians love words and communication in general. Which is a great thing unless applied to areas which are supposed to be quick and efficient. Basically, if Administration was a marathon, Italians would be a dead turtle.

What Other Cities Are Near Milan?

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Milan is surrounded by beautiful places from Lake Como, Lake Garda, Genoa and Florence to Lugano in Switzerland – all within a two hour radius. And if a long weekend away skiing is your thing, Chamonix in France is just 3 hours away!

What’s The Biggest Difference To Croatia?

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Food etiquette. There is a completely different culture behind the way food is selected, prepared, combined, enjoyed, admired, served and talked about in Italy. It’s an art form.

How Did You Find Making New Friends?

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Easier then the easiest. But do make an effort to speak Italian because the soul of these exceptional Mediterraneans will never fully sing unless you touch it with the right music.

What Is The Foreign Job Market Like?

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I’m not really sure but instinct tells me that Madrid, for instance, is more international then Milan. 

Do You Get Homesick?

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When I do…

Seeing my family  is a 4 hour train ride away. It’s super comfy and only 30€!

How Hard Is It To Get A Visa?

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I’ve never tried as Croatians don’t need to. But getting the residency permit requires a few hundred Euros for the health insurance and some administrative efforts.

What Would You Do Differently Looking Back?

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Nothing. Maybe just.. not having hugged those I care about before leaving Madrid.

What Advice Would You Give To Someone Thinking About Moving Abroad?

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Becoming an international person is the closest one gets to living more then one life only.

So if you have nothing to do, it’s better to have nothing to do abroad then at home.

And if you do have something to do, challenge yourself and grow.

What’s Next For You?

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Life.

How Can We Contact You?

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Karolina@sober.hr 

And if you’re in Milan, more likely you’ll find me at Pinch, the best cocktail bar in the City ;*

What’s Your Favourite Quote?

“I have no favourites. No favourite colours, songs, animals, quotes… I’m learning to embrace my horizontal and versatile personality and to admit that I have as many “favourites” as moments of life.” 

Karolina Sober, just now

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Top 5 Café-Bookshops In Madrid

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If you’re an adventure-loving Madrileño or Madrileña with a twist of the bookworm about you, check out my article, The Top 5 Café-Bookshops In Madrid here in City Life Madrid, a super cool company created to help young, international people in Madrid get settled, meet people and create a new life of their own. So grab yourself your favourite book, make working that little bit more fun and try out these beauties :) You won’t regret it!

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#SharedSpace

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#LifeEnhancers

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25 Roof Terraces You Have To See In Madrid!

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And I thought I was the Queen of roof terraces in Madrid… Apparently not! Who knew there were a full 16 more roof terraces than the 9 I frequented last year?

If you’re also happiest sipping rose a-top one of Madrid’s beautiful buildings at sun down or if you’re new to the mile-high club, check out these stunnning roof terraces in this beautiful article from Inspiramemadrid.

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6 Sitios Donde Comer, Beber y Comprar

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Calling All Arty Madrileñas!

If you’re an adventurous little thing looking for some super cool new joints in Madrid where you can eat, drink and buy artwork, hats or vintage furniture, read this awesome article in Harper’s Bazaar, Espagne. It’s like candy to a child for artistic types and is seriously making me wish I was still there!

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Moving Abroad: Madrid, Spain

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Do you ever contemplate moving abroad but don’t quite have the confidence to take the leap?

With such a variety of options to choose from whether Europe, Indonesia or Australia, considering a move abroad can feel like a minefield. From assessing the cost of living, sounding out new job markets or wondering about the likelihood of making new friends, upping sticks can seem as scary as it can exciting. But it doesn’t have to be.

That’s where Gazing Girl comes in.

In a series of short interviews with guys and girls who have moved abroad to France, Spain, Singapore, Australia and beyond, we hope to give you the push to travel where your heart takes you.

Next stop, Madrid! Over to you, Leah

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Can You Tell Us A Bit About You?

Of course! My name is Leah. I am a 23 year old Canadian girl who loves to travel! I grew up just outside Toronto where I eventually went to school at Seneca College for Early Childhood Education. As with most people my age, I am currently questioning whether it was the right field for me! I’ve been giving writing a try over the last few years and I really quite enjoy it. I lived in beautiful Roma for 4 months in 2012 and since then I have spent every summer abroad. I am currently spending my first full year in Madrid, Spain!

What Inspired You To Move Abroad?

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I was bitten by the travel bug early on. My whole life I surrounded myself with photos and books of faraway places that I wanted to visit. I spent all my time reading about the histories of civilisations around the world. I knew right away that I wanted to experience a lot of cultures in an in depth way. I pictured myself on adventures like Indiana Jones or Laura Croft.. you know how they’ve been to so many places and have the ability to just immerse themselves in the world they happen to be in that day? That’s what I wanted.

How Big Is Madrid?

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Madrid is the capital and largest city of Spain. The population of the city is almost 3.2 million and that of the Madrid metropolitan area, around 6.3 million. It’s the third-largest city in the European Union after London and Berlin and the city spans 233.3 square miles. But unlike some capital cities, its pace is relaxed and welcoming despite its size.

How Did You Manage The Change?

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I worked on my first trip abroad for about a year before it actually happened, so I felt incredibly prepared for it. I didn’t plan my every step but I created an outline for myself so that I had some form of stability while over there. When I finally arrived I was so over the moon with my new environment that some of the plans went out the door as I gave way to spontaneous acts. I think the most important thing for a traveler is to completely rid yourself of any expectations. These can easily hinder an experience. I went overseas ready to fully absorb the cultural differences and to take things as they came. 

What’s Been The Biggest Highlight?

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Where to start? I’m going on my fourth summer abroad and even though I have visited many different places in that time I’d have to say that one thing they all have in common is the amazing people I’ve met along the way. I’ve done a lot of growing up during my travels and have learned many life lessons solely due to meeting people from so many different walks of life. It’s amazing – there are so many different opinions, religions and lifestyles out there. We all happen to cross paths magically at the same place and same time. It’s very serendipitous! 

What’s Been The Biggest Challenge?

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The biggest challenge of living abroad has to be the disconnection that has grown between myself and my life back in Canada. The longer I am over here, the less familiar my idea of home becomes. Madrid feels like my home now. It’s sad really as I love Canada and my family and friends back home but at the same time I have really grown up here – I have created a life here that I want to continue. I feel a strange guilt admitting that sometimes.

What Has Surprised You Most About The Country?

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The Spanish have a universal reputation for being lazy but I’ve come to realise that it’s not about laziness at all. The pace is slower here than other capital cities and that’s perfectly fine! In fact, I find the people here in Madrid are extremely active! They are always out and about, always taking advantage of what this amazing city has to offer. Perhaps a better way to describe the difference in approach is that unlike other capital cities such as London where the culture is more live to work, the culture in Madrid is more work to live. The climate and food in Madrid are beautiful and Madrileños place great importance on enjoying them! Some may call that lazy, others may call it joie de vivre or being ahead of the curve!

What’s Your Favourite Aspect Of The Country?

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The history is by far my favourite aspect of Spain. Honestly, I am such a history freak and there is not one dull event in the history of Spain. Everywhere you go there are elements of the past that is still a part of daily life. Not to mention that each of Spain’s provinces is incredibly unique.

What’s Your Least Favourite Aspect Of The Country?

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Sometimes I feel like there are inconsistencies here. When dealing with legal issues and government offices there never seems to be one straight answer for any particular issue. It all depends on who you talk to on what day. It can be incredibly demoralising for someone who genuinely wants to legalise their stay here and become a resident.

What’s The Biggest Difference To Canada?

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Though the weather is an obvious answer, it has to be the biggest difference. In Canada we are accustomed to extreme cold weather and the cities stay fully functional even with 20ft of snow on the ground. Over here their definition of cold is, in my opinion, silly. Outdoor activities close way earlier in the year and take longer until they open again for summer. The same goes for us in reverse – I haven’t yet gotten used to the summers here. The 42 degree heat and the scorching sun gave me my first ever heat rash last year. I don’t know how they do it! It’s particularly hot in August when most residents flee the city for a month in search of shade!

Did You Have A Stereotype Of The People In Your Mind And How Did Reality Reflect This?

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As I mentioned before, the stereotype of laziness was what I was expecting. The Spanish also have a reputation of being difficult and rude. This was indeed the case when I first arrived but eventually I began to realise that while their behaviour may seem ‘rude’ by our standards, it’s perfectly fine here. The Spanish don’t use empty “pleases” and “thank yous” - I think there’s a mutual understanding between everyone.

How Did You Find Making New Friends?

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Madrid is an extremely international city. All you need to do is meet one person and have them introduce you to their friends and you will have an amazing, diverse, group of people surrounding you. I find that I have become less of a social butterfly over this year. I’ve been trying to focus on work and living a healthy live rather than a life of partying. But if I wanted to go out and meet new people I know that it would be incredibly easy! 

What Is The Foreign Job Market Like?

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If you want to live in Spain and work it can be a little bit difficult depending on the sector…

I don’t fall into that category as I did a TEFL course here (Teaching English As A Foreign Language) and have had no problem finding work teaching English. There is huge demand for English teachers here despite the recession as speaking another language is a way for people to differentiate themselves in a competitive market. There are new jobs every month whether teaching business English to adults or general English to children! This can be a great option if you’re looking for time-out from a city job or something more permanent.

For other lines of work, I’m not so sure. The country is still recovering from the financial crisis and  I know it can be difficult to find a company willing to spend the cash on foreign employees and the legal work that comes with hiring them. That said, I know English lawyers and financiers working for international companies who have transferred over here and are having  ball! Speaking Spanish isn’t always a requirement.

How Hard Is It To Get A Visa?

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Oh Visas.. this is one of those topics that no one seems to have a straight answer to. It all depends on the Visa type and why you want one. Student Visas are quite easy to obtain for most people around the world. Once you start to tread into the working Visa pool though, things get hazy, confusing and very circumstantial. For those looking to live abroad I suggest getting a student Visa with permission to work.

What Would You Do Differently Looking Back?

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I would have saved more money. Being someone who lives in the moment means I don’t think always about the consequences. I came home completely broke two summers in a row despite the fact that I was working while overseas!

What Advice Would You Give To Someone Thinking About Moving Abroad?

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My advice would be to DO IT and do it 100%. You can’t half-ass a huge trip abroad. I have met so many travellers over this past year who want a lot of the work done for them. What’s the point? You won’t learn anything from that. Travel isn’t about how many cool selfies you can take in front of famous buildings. It’s about the fun, scary, stupid, exciting, dirty, complicated, life changing moments you experience along the way.

What’s Next For You?

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I am planning on applying for another year here in Madrid and hopefully qualifying for residency in a few years! I also have many plans for the coming year to visit some new place in Europe and the East. Here’s hoping!

How Can We Contact You?

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You can contact me through my website, This Road Is Life

What’s Your Favourite Quote?

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Tell Us Something We Didn’t Know About You….

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I am strangely obsessed with the entire Real Housewives franchise… I don’t know how it all started but I find it wildly entertaining!

Some Of Madrid’s Best Bits In Pictures…

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Retiro Park is one of the largest parks in the city (350 acres) and one of Madrid’s premier attractions. Belonging to the Spanish Monarchy until the late 19th century when it became a public park, it’s a tranquil paradise away from the hustle and bustle of the centre.  A stone’s throw from the famous Prado Museum, it is truly magnificent, filled with sculptures, monuments, galleries, crystal palaces and a peaceful lake.

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Casa de Campo is Madrid’s largest park (and also one of Europe’s) with over 1700 hectares of land, including a lake, a zoo and amusement park.

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Tapas, sangria and tinto de verano (a delicious mix of red wine and lemonade) are the perfect way to while away an evening in a plaza or park… Best of all, the cost of living is seriously low so meals out seem bargainous compared to places like London.

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Experience the best of Madrid’s gastonomy at one of its indoor food markets or roof terraces overlooking the cityscape. They’re truly magical.

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Moving Abroad: Montpellier, France

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Ever dreamed about moving abroad but don’t have the foggiest where to start?

With such an array of choice from Europe to Indonesia and beyond, considering a move abroad can be overwhelming. Whether immigration requirements and researching new job markets to making new friends and the cost of living, upping sticks can seem a real minefield. But it doesn’t have to be.

That’s where Gazing Girl comes in.

In a series of short interviews with UK guys and girls who have moved abroad to France, Spain, Singapore, Australia and beyond, we hope to give you the push to follow your dreams.

Over to you Jess…

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Can You Tell Us A Bit About You?

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I’m 31 years old. I moved to Milan (Italy) after Uni, then to Montpellier (France) the year after that in 2007, and have been here ever since.

I’ve been working as a fitness instructor since 2009 after having done a training course here in France and also teach English at the architecture university. I studied languages (French and Italian) at Birmingham University in the UK.

What Inspired You To Move Abroad?

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My parents have always brought us on I holiday to the South of France (they are retired language teachers) and my elder sister has loved in Montpellier for about twice as much time as I have.

I started thinking about living in France when I was a child. I’d always seen myself living here, but can’t really explain why. Happy childhood holidays probably have a major part to play in it and I also love the idea of living somewhere where I am ‘different’. I also love speaking a foreign language and even though my French is now fluent, I still learn new things.

How Big Is Montpellier?

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Montpellier is the 8th largest city in France and the fastest growing city there in the last 25 years. Located on the south coast on the Mediterranean sea, it’s the third-largest French city on the Mediterranean coast after Marseille and Nice, with a population of around 600,000 people.

How Did You Manage The Change?

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The change seemed quite natural for me as I had always seen myself living in France or abroad. I already knew the south of France pretty well and already knew that I loved what it had to offer; the views, smells, tastes and activities…

What’s Been The Biggest Highlight?

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In Montpellier I would have to say the weather is probably the best highlight. It’s a particularly sunny region. I also fell in love for the first time ever…

What’s Been The Biggest Challenge?

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The break up of said love…

What Has Surprised You Most About The Country?

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The amount of undeclared work that is available even in quite well-placed job positions (lawyers, pharmacists, dentistry…)

What’s Your Favourite Aspect Of The Country?

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The language is gorgeous and once you begin to master it, it’s magical.

The French are very proud of their country and rightly so. Across the country there is such a huge and spectacular variation of landscapes and this aspect goes even further when we consider French territories such as Guadeloupe, Martinique, La Reunion and Corsica.

I also snowboard as the Alps are a mere 3 or 4 hours away and the Pyrenees more or less the same. However, as a snowboarder I definitely prefer the Alps. From Montpellier you can drive to Spain in about 2 and a half hours.

During summertime I have the choice of the beach or the river!

What’s Your Least Favourite Aspect Of The Country?

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The French elitist attitude that for something to be good it has to be ‘made in France’. Maybe also the number of people who smoke, although this does seem to be decreasing.

What’s The Biggest Difference To The UK?

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The mentality of the French is maybe a little less open-minded than in the UK. People can be quick to judge and be critical on appearance.

In the UK it is far too easy to buy junk food. I’m not saying junk food is hard to come by in France but it is much harder than in the UK. I definitely consider this a positive difference!

The social scene is also totally different. The French don’t drink in the same way as people in the UK and going out starts much later – around 9pm onwards depending on the event and time of year. Nightclubs only get busy from around midnight until 4 or 5 am.

How Did You Find Making New Friends?

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I already had my sister here so knew some of her friends and then met the English speaking crowd of Montpellier.

After about a year of this group of people, I found that these people weren’t really ‘right’ for the lifestyle I wanted and I was sometimes ‘friends’ with people simply because we spoke the same language in a foreign country. After a while I realised that this wasn’t necessarily enough for me to base true friendships on and gradually broke away from that circle and made my own friends who are mainly all French.

I find that in Montpellier it can be quite difficult to find true friends. There are too many people who are here for a short time so just as you become great friends, he or she is off to another destination.

What Is The Foreign Job Market Like?

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Montpellier in particular isn’t great for jobs. There are few well paid jobs and a lot of job seekers but Montpellier is one of the fastest growing cities in France. This means that while there are more people, the number of jobs hasn’t grown at the same rate. France also requires a lot of French qualifications and doesn’t always accept foreign diplomas or qualifications. The system is quite rigid which means that for foreigners, depending on the sector, it can be hard to find work.

As a fitness instructor I have 3 long term contracts and as an English teacher I have a long term contract which can be hard to come by.  English teaching on a long term and well paid basis is hard to find here.

Do You Get Homesick?

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Flying home to the UK (Southampton, in my case) is fairly easy with an airport in Montpellier with low cost flights to Gatwick and Stansted. Nimes and Marseille are other possibilities. Nimes is a 40 minute drive from Montpellier and Marseille is approximately 1 hour 20 minutes. I’ve also flown from Beziers and Carcassone to Bournemouth on low cost flights. However these routes only operate during summer periods.

How Hard Is It To Get A Visa?

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As a UK national, no visa is required to live in France.

What Would You Do Differently Looking Back?

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Nothing!

What Advice Would You Give To Someone Thinking About Moving Abroad?

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Do it!

Don’t be afraid of the language barrier. It’s something that can rapidly change over time and as English speakers it is rarely a major problem and can in fact often be an advantage. However if you are planning to move for a specific job, make sure your qualifications match up to the job you’re planning on moving for or that they are recognised in France. This includes university degrees.

What’s Next For You?

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I think I will be staying in Montpellier for at least the next couple of years and probably in the same jobs. I hope to buy a place instead of renting but I have to work my way round the banks first!!

How Can We Contact You?

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Via email (jessa83@hotmail.com) or Facebook (Jessica Cole).

What’s Your Favourite Quote?

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10 Of The Most Colourful Places On Earth

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From stunning purple lavender fields in France and candy coloured homes in Italy to Senegal’s bubblegum pink oceans, here are 10 Of The Most Colourful Places On Earth, brought to you by Pure Wow.

#Relax

#Unwind

#SavourTheBeauty 

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Mountain Healing

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A Starry-Eyed Sight

I have a ‘wow’ moment every Saturday evening driving back from Geneva to Chamonix.

The mountains are spectacular by day but even more so by night, I’d say.

What Gives Mountains Such Dreamy Drama?

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Maybe it’s their snowy peaks illuminated against the night sky or the stars sparkling a little brighter against their sleeping summits. Or maybe it’s the way they wrap themselves around you, imposing and protective all at once as you drive through the valley towards your cosy bed – almost indiscernible but definitely there – stillness and drama combined.

How Do Mountains Nourish The Soul?

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Whatever it is, it’s sublime – and a relieving reminder of how small we are in a big world.

Happy Monday All :)

#mountains #nature #peace

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Paris In Pictures

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Check out Paris In Pictures here through Carin Olsson’s beautiful shots for Conde Nast Traveller. A talented Swedish photographer who left Sweden to stay in Paris for a few months, it’s clear to see why she couldn’t tear herself away…

Carin’s blog @parisinfourmonths can be seen here.

#paris #romance #beauty #love

Amsterdam In Pictures: A Playground Of Pleasure

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A City Of Sin?

What’s the first thing you think of when you hear ‘Amsterdam’? Tulips, canals, drugs, naked girls in shop windows or none of the above?

The capital and most populous city of The Netherlands, Amsterdam’s vibe hit me round the face like a breath of fresh air. A bit like Madrid in energy varieties, it’s buzzy and relaxed all at once, but it feels quite a lot kookier.

A Different Kind Of World…

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I’d previously put Amsterdam in a weird sub-category of topsy turviness quite apart from the rest of Europe - an ethereal, alternative world filed away with the likes of Alice In Wonderland and Charlie And The Chocolate Factory. And though it certainly has an other-earthly feel about it with its distinctive and slightly wonky canal-side apartments, it’s the best kind of unique.

A Cool Kind Of Kooky…

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A bit like stepping into a pop-up story book like Hansel and Grettel, it has a quirky visual layout which I simply haven’t found in other European cities bar Venice, with its plentiful canals giving it a peace and spaciousness which is quite sublime. Yet at the same time, it’s also seriously civilised, housing the headquarters of some major international brands such as Nike, Heineken and ING, with bars, shops and markets befitting a major European hub. So whether you’re a shopaholic, culture vulture or a lover of illicit substances, there really is something for everyone here.

Amsterdam’s Best Bits

1. Artistic Aesthetic

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The shop windows are a sight to behold, with an artistry to most facades which is truly striking. With bespoke, boutiquey appearances, the shops are often small and quaint with detail befitting mini museums. The insides are pretty cool too – check out the urban-chic lamp above! #want #one

2. Canals Everywhere

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The canals are plentiful, giving the city a wonderful sense of space and peace. If you’re seriously lucky, you may even have a riverside view from your home, otherwise it’s not hard to find a cafe or bar with a view. You can even take a tour of the city on a canal boat if you have good water legs.

3. Bikes, Bikes And More Bikes

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Forget four wheels, bikes are how everyone rolls here. Creating a wonderful calm and classlessness which unites prince and pauper, I’m a particular fan of the Minty number above. If I was a bike, I’d be that ;)

4. Tulips

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Whether in florists or markets street side, tulips are never far away, adding a touch of purity to the seedier parts of certain suburbs…

5. Shops

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Whether mainstream or vintage is your thing, there’s a great array of shops here from treasure chests stacked full of old jewels to modern gems like Nike.

6. Cafés

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Cafés bedeck the streets in Amsterdam with cakes and drinks galore to pour over of an afternoon. Amsterdam coffee shops, not to be confused with cafés, have been a part of the city since the 1970s, when the Dutch government made a clear distinction in the law between ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ drugs. So if you fancy more than afternoon tea, find yourself a “coffee shop”.

7. Markets

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Whether it’s cheese, flowers, silly hats or sumptuous fabric you’re after, the markets in Amsterdam are amazing! And if sausages are your thing, you’ll find more here than in a brothel at midnight.

8. Gastronomy

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Whether sampling the cracking eggs benedict at Scandinavian Embassy, Amsterdam’s speciality apple and cinnamon cake or a range of treats from De Food Hallen, (an incredible indoor market with the likes of sushi, burgers and pretty much every type of food your heart could desire), Amsterdam is a greedy girl’s paradise. There’s even a gin and tonic bar with every kind of gin and fruit accompaniment you could imagine in the latter! Words fail me…

If that’s not enough, swing by the Grand Cafe at De Balie, a cool, kitchy café adjoining a theatre and centre for politics, culture and media and try the traditional, battered balls which go by the name of ‘bitterballen’. These are a savoury Dutch meat-based snack, typically containing a mixture of beef or veal, beef broth, butter, flour for thickening, parsley, salt and pepper. Or as my egg-obsessed friend put it, Amsterdam’s version of the scotch egg. They go really well with a pint of Heineken (I’ve heard) - one of the best Amsterdam products going.

9. Bars 

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I stumbled upon this magical little bar escaping from a snowy blizzard (which put Chamonix snowfall to shame). A bit like stepping into an animal’s grotto in Narnia betwixt a tree trunk, I’m sure you can see why I loved Papeneiland so much. A cosy lover’s paradise :)

10. Culture

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If you like Van Gogh, you’re in for a treat. Amsterdam houses his largest collection of works at the Van Gogh Museum, featuring masterpieces such as Almond Blossom and The Bedroom.

You can also visit The Anne Frank Museum where you can see the place where Anne went into hiding and wrote her diary.

If you prefer chilled live music or concerts, there are plenty of treasures to unearth come nightfall.

11. Street Art

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You’ll often stumble across vibrant displays of colour which betray Amsterdam’s zany undertones. A feast for the senses if, like me, you like a bit of rainbow :)

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