Wednesday, January 28, 2015

An Expat Wife in Europe.

Our world has become a smaller and more accessible place. Flying to all corners of the earth on cheap flights and package holidays today to previously unreachable places is just a click away with the computer. Books like Lonely Planet have made ordinary folks yearn for distant shores and exotic destinations.
 Growing up in England in the 1970's I was reasonably well travelled for an average person in the UK. By the year I was married in 1984 I had already visited 4 countries but nothing prepared me for the life that was about to come and amount of travelling in my future.
After living in Michigan USA for 15 years we were suddenly transfered to Germany in 2006 by husband's employer I had absolutely no idea how drastically my life would change. I just saw it as a chance to escape my horrible job at a local attorney's office. I had absolutely no idea of what was to come and how my eyes and mind would be opened to so many possiblities in every aspect of life.

Suddenly I was living in the middle of Germany and had access to the whole of Europe. I spent the next two years meeting some incredible people that I would never have met had I stayed in Michigan. The Expat community in Frankfurt am Main was quite large. International companies such as GE, Proctor and Gamble, IBM, Samsung, General Motors as well as various international banks and Pharmaceuticals based themselves in the Frankfurt area.

I joined the American Women's Club and with them if I was given any opportunity I took the chance to travel throughout Europe on various trips to buy pottery, cooking courses and simply touring. Between 2006 and 2008 I visited at least 15 countries including Italy, Holland, Switzerland, Spain, France, Sweden, Poland and Luxemburg to name afew. That in itself is a remarkable opportunity.
After living in the USA where even a 50 year old building is considered "old" it was really humbling to experience all the history, culture, art and beauty of the countryside and architecture in Europe. I really began to admire people who value the past and do not immediately think everything from the past should be pulled down and rebuilt. Preserving the past is a duty for all f us so our children and future generations can appreciate what has come before them.
If there was a trip to an Italian or Polish pottery I was sure to sign up as they were usually very reasonably priced. I felt like if I didn't join the ladies on the trip and I had to move back to Michigan I would regret having the opportunity to travel, see another country and buy some cool objects from places like Vicenza in Italy or  Boleslawiec in Poland. I decided it was much better to do that than have to go to T.J.Maxx when I returned to Michigan. What was better than the chance to go to the actual factories where these items were being made? Infact at one factory I went to in Vicenza tnere were boxes filled with pottery that were bound for shipment to Marshalls in California!

Joining the American Women's Club of the Taunus meant we could take part in some very interesting    cooking trips to Tuscany, Italy and Provence in France. The one to Italy was based at a hotel in  Tuscany called Hotel Borgo di Cortofreda Reais in Tavernelle, Val di Pesa near Florence. From the hotel we had the most incredible views of the Chianti wine region. We were priviledged to have cooking lessons from the chefs at the hotel. We learned how to make traditional fresh pasta, sauces, meat dishes and desserts. What an amazing, unforgettable time I had! I would say it was one of the most magical times in my whole life!
I have to mention that these trips were organised by a wonderful German friend of mine and she would not only arrange for us to have a jam packed Tuscan cooking course but also visit local sights such as tours of Florence and historic homes belonging to the ancient Medici family.
San Gimignano
Some of the places we visited on the cooking tour were to San Gimignano which is a famous walled Medieval hill town in the province of Siena. We also went to the town of Siena with it's stunning black and white cathedral and the Piazza del Campo, toured all the famous spots in Florence, as well as wineries and olive oil farms.

One special trip AWCT took us to was to Villa Spoiano winery and olive oil farm next door to the Corte Freda hotel. It was an old Medici Mansion and run by a Swiss family which produces organic wines and organic olive oil. This hotel is still a great place to stay if you visit Tuscany.
Although I went to Italy 8 times in the course of my two years of living in Europe that first cooking trip to Tuscany stands out in my mind because it was my first visit to Tuscany and it was the confirmation of how charming and unique that part of the world really is. Of course it wasn't just the trip, the place and the opportunity to travel that makes a trip memorable but also the people on the trip and this was the case for most of my journeys with the American Women's Club of the Taunus.

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