Not only do I get to say “I’m moving all the way across the whooooole world come July” without it being an exaggeration; I’ve also mentioned that I’m lucky enough to have lived in several different countries already. I thought it might be a good time to bring you up to speed on the places I’ve called home so far in my life. We’ll do it the old-fashioned way, and by that I mean in chronological order. Ready, set, go!
Once upon a time in the year 2006, right before Facebook happened and just as Nelly Furtado stopped being a folk singer and started shaking her booty to hip hop beats and being ‘Promiscuous’, I moved away from home for the first time to be a foreign exchange student in the US. I ended up in a small town called Tiffin in the northwest corner of Ohio.
I can’t imagine a more perfect place to put a foreign exchange student because being a teenager in Tiffin was exactly like being a teenager on American TV shows. The jocks. The geeks. The drama kids. The cheerleaders. The town fair. The football games. The prom. God, it was amazing… It was a dream come true for me seeing as I grew up a little bit obsessed with American culture, and I was blessed with the most including, warmest, loveliest host family a girl could ever ask for.
Being away for a year at the tender age of 16 was a life-changing experience. It feels like a lifetime ago, and I’m certainly a very different person today than I was back then. But more importantly, I wouldn’t be the person I am today without my high school exchange year. Tiffin, I love you and miss you! Who knew a Norwegian could ever feel at home in a place as overwhelmingly flat as Ohio? I wouldn’t have guessed it. But I have nothing but love for that place, and I’m forever grateful for how it welcomed and embraced me.
In the fall of 2009, having graduating high school and after an unhappy stint as a student in northern England that only lasted a month, I decided I wanted to let my Peter-Pan-Syndrome flag fly and I got a job as a tour guide. My mission? Giving myself a much needed break from being so ambitious in terms of education when it was so obvious that I didn’t really know what I wanted to do with my life. The only thing I knew for sure was that, a) I didn’t want to live in Norway, and b) I’d always been good at oral presentations. Throw in some beaches, a young and fun work environment, and a healthy dose of wanderlust, and that’s how I ended up as a tour guide.
Winter 2010 I was stationed in Tenerife, the largest of the Canary Islands. Tenerife is home to Spain’s highest peak (the inactive volcano Teide), the stunningly beautiful green landscapes of the Masca Valley, family favorite animal park Loro Parque, and a crapload of drunk British tourists. Then there’s the Scandinavians, who in my opinion are slightly more charming than the drunk and sunburnt British, but no amount of charm can hide the fact that they’re just as pink and tipsy. I had a lot of fun.
I came to Tenerife mid-season and there was an endless amount of things to learn without much training, but I wore my “rookie badge” proudly and was eager to take on new challenges. It was here I did a bus excursion for the first time ever; a half-day guided tour to Teide and the Las Cañadas national park. I acted pretty calm and collected on the outside, but inside I was going, “Oh my God, I have found my CALLING. I was born to do this job. Can I please do this every week, all the time, please please please please?” It was a turning point for me. I’ve been known to hang on to the microphone of tour buses as if my life depended on it, just because it makes me so damn happy to get to sit there and tell stories to people and get them excited.
Tenerife was great. So great, in fact, that I couldn’t even get myself to leave when I was supposed to. That might have had something to do with a volcanic ash cloud from Iceland that paralyzed all of Europe’s air traffic back in April 2011, but we’ll save that story for another time…
I hate to make my other homes jealous, but there is one place that really did steal my heart and I’ve never been able to recover from it… Crete.
My love affair with the largest island in Greece (and birthplace of Zeus) began in the spring of 2010. I’d been there once before on a two-week family vacation when I was a kid, but I didn’t even come close then to discovering all this place had to offer. This time around I worked as a ‘children’s host’ at one of our company’s family resorts on the northwest coast. While I loved working with kids and enjoyed the occasional water pistol fights and face painting sessions, I was dying to get back behind the mic of excursion buses. So I managed to talk my boss into giving me a shot at Knossos, the “heaviest” excursion we offered on Crete with lots of history, mythology, and archeological facts. You know. The kind of excursion only high school teachers get genuinely excited about – and me. I loved Every. Single. Second of those day trips to Knossos and Heraklion, and did the excursion every Monday for the whole summer.
If I was forced to try and sum up the reason why I love Crete so much (which is kind of what I’m am forcing myself to do now), it would look something like this:
+ The diversity of what the island has to offer in its nature. Crystal clear blue water and sandy beaches. Majestic mountain ranges and ravines. Soft hilltop landscapes with olive tree orchards as far as the eye can see. Crete is so visually beautiful; its combination of mountains and beaches is my idea of perfection.
+ The cuisine and the love and pride they put into their cooking traditions
+ The enchanting little mountain villages
+ The fact that the island is so big which means that there’s an endless amount of places to explore and you never feel like you’re stuck on an island
+ The irresistible charm of the Old Towns in the larger cities
Those 6 months also stand out because I met some truly wonderful people that summer. Some of my most treasured friendships in life were born there in Chania, and that definitely contributes to my immense love for the place. Let’s just say that Crete and I get along really well and I’d be more than happy to spend the rest of my life as a world ambassador for the place. I’d promote the bejeezes out of that island, and ask for nothing in return except for maybe a free glass of freshly squeezed Kriti orange juice once in a while. Or a monthly supply of raki. Either will do.
As soon as the people back at headquarters realized that they’d found an employee who was freakishly fond of historical excursions, they figured it was a good idea to send me to Egypt.
I moved to Hurghada in October 2010 and embarked on what was to become 4 of the most exciting months of my life. I spent most of my days holding welcome meetings and guiding excursions for our Scandinavian guests. For those of you who didn’t know, Egypt is huge. For instance, it takes 6 hours to drive to Cairo from Hurghada, and an extra hour (at the very least) to pick up all the different guests at the hotels. That means the bus driver would usually pick me up at around 1 AM and then I sat in a bus all night until we arrived in Cairo sometime in the morning. And then my workday would actually start. I usually got home after these Cairo excursions around 11 PM (yes, that’s right – a 22 hour workday, basically) and would immediately shower and go meet up with my friends at our favorite bar. Where we usually stayed until the sun came up. I still, to this day, have absolutely no freakin’ idea how we pulled it off. It must surely mean tour guides are super-humans. Right?
It was intense, at times exhausting, hectic, and absolutely amazing. The community with my colleagues in Hurghada – both Scandinavians and Egyptians – was so special, and I have to say: I think out of all the places I went as a tour guide, I had the most fun in Egypt. I’ve also never felt happier with my job (with any job), and it was all because of the excursions I got to do. The more demanding, the more fun. People don’t go to Egypt and and pay lots of money for a 2-day trip to Luxor and the Valley of the Kings to have a tour guide that says, “Yeah, I don’t really know whose grave that one is. Umm… I’ll look it up and get back to you.” They expect you to know. And you better know some entertaining story about that random pharao, too.
The wonderful added bonus is that you never ever tire of watching people’s eyes light up as you reveal to them something like the Cheops pyramid for the first time, or surprising them with a sunset boat trip on the river Nile. This is something they’ve dreamt of all their lives. And to know that I got to be a part of that memory for so many people… it makes my heart sing!
I was supposed to stay in Egypt for a few months longer than I did, but guess what – the revolution of 2011 happened and we were all evacuated out of there. I’ll tell you more about that some other time, if you want 😉
Surprise! I moved back to Crete after they forced me to get the hell out of Egypt.
I just couldn’t bear the thought of being somewhere else from march-october, so I returned to my most favorite home away from home only this time I lived in Rethymnon instead of Chania.
And finally, in the winter 2011/2012 I lived in Cuba. For someone who gets as excited about history as me, Cuba was pretty much the only thing that could ever measure up to Egypt. When I found out I got the job in Cuba I basically went “back to school” and swallowed every book I could find, especially biographies. I was completely enthralled by the history of Cuba and the “how’s” and “why’s” of the Cuban revolution, and I was fiercely dedicated to becoming as much of an expert as I could be, given the short time I had to prepare.
(Okay, I’ll admit it. It was a bit of an obsession, and I do acknowledge that if someone hadn’t put me on a plane and whisked me away from my note-taking, I could have easily buried myself in those biographies forever until I inevitably became an old cat lady).
To this day, I swear, you can wake me up in the middle of the night and demand to know what year Fidel Castro graduated law school, or the names and occupations of all of Che Guevara’s kids. I’ll be able to answer you half asleep.
Living and working in Cuba was…. an insanely fast and fun roller coaster. There were such high highs and such frustrating lows, and the whole place is just so different from anything familiar. It’s not comparable to any place else, and so it’s very difficult to explain to people. I miss it a lot, I really do, and I am 100% planning on going back in a few years to visit again. But I will never, ever, ever voluntarily go to Cuba for work again. Ever.
Instead, let’s look at how pretty it is!
So that’s my little home-away-from-home roundup!
Next up is Australia, and I cannot wait to see what kind of a home I’ll be creating over there.