WHY YOU SHOULD TRAVEL EUROPE IN WINTER - THE PROS AND CONS

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Winter in Europe is different - in London it is cold and rainy and the sun goes down at 3 p.m. on certain days. If we have an off day when the wind decides to join the party. Ugh !

I have had the pleasure of traveling this continent in both winter and summer and while I will always been a sunshine no rain kind of girl; most of my travel across this continent has been in the Winter months and I will not have it any other way. There are a lot of advantages to choosing to travel this continent between mid-November and March. At the top of my list for why you should travel Europe in winter - the economics.

Flights and hotels are significantly cheaper in winter than in the summer. It is off peak season and due to less traffic, hotels are deeply discounted and already cheap flights are even cheaper. I have seen flights for as little as £9 on one of the low budget airlines.

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Less foot traffic. During the winter, there are usually less tourist; everyone is hibernating and staying indoors trying to stay warm. If you can brave the outdoors, you will rewarded with less crowds and shorter queues to get into tourist attractions. That said, certain attractions like the Eiffel tower or the London eye will likely have a queue year round. I was in Portugal in December and it was crowded. That might also be because Portugal is one of the warmer countries in the Continent this time of year.

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There is nothing like winter in Europe. While most of the continent is cold (and sometimes rainy); you do get rewarded with an excellent festive season. The continent transforms at Christmas - elaborate decorations; mulled wine and Christmas markets. If you have not experienced Christmas in Europe - it should be on your bucket list. I wrote a post about it - check it out here.

Access to locals. Due to less tourist, you are more likely to engage and interact with locals. I think that is a key to traveling - it not just about the sights but also trying to connect with the local. It makes travel a much richer experience.

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Winter Fashion. A little bit of vanity but winter fashion is very chic so pack your winter bests and come on down. While in Portugal, I saw several couples having a professional photoshoot done in chic winter attires as part of their holidays. I have to say I felt a twinge of jealousy at not having thought about doing that myself.

Certain cities are exceptional in winter. While we may fret about the freezing temperatures; there are certain parts of Europe that are worth visiting in winter. Just search for images of the Black forest in Germany in winter; Montreux and St Moritz in Switzerland; the region of South Tyrol in Italy or the Rhône-Alpes region in south-eastern France. These are great in summer but their winter ambience is the best.

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There are actually Cities and Countries with mild-ish winter temperatures. While a lot of the continent is cold and certain parts are covered in snow; there are also several cities and countries that have milder temperatures if you are craving some sun and warmth on your winter excursion to Europe. We visited south of Spain in December and we had sunshine and warmth most of the time we were there. Portugal in December/January was quite warm - I could have gotten by with just a thick jumper and scarf; you can lay beach side in south of France in November. Gibraltar is also another warm destination.

While I believe the pros outweigh the cons, it is important to know the downside of traveling this continent in winter as well….

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Days are shorter. The sun does not rise till about 7:15 a.m. in London and there are days the sun goes down by 3:30 p.m. so you will have shorter days. My advice to make the most of day light is to start off your days early and wind down early (if you so choose).

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Weather is unpredictable. Even in the warmer parts of the continent; it does not hurt to pack some winter options including a rain coat or umbrella; gloves; hat; boot; scarfs and coat. The weather is unpredictable and you can have sunshine; rain and snow in the same day or week.

Winter closures. Certain hotels and restaurants shut down for the winter. I have had to rethink trips to Santorini and parts of Croatia due to several hotel closures. There are also tours that close down for the winter. Take that into account when planning your trip. If you are not sure, call or email the hotels to confirm they will be open during your visit.

Plan some bad weather days. While in Paris last November - it rained non stop for twenty-four hours. That was not part of the plan. Thankfully, I always plan a bad weather day itinerary to ensure I make the most of my time in any city. That may include treating yourself (shopping; spas) ; museum hopping; catch a movie; see a play.

FROM BEACHES TO MARKETS - 7 MUST SEE AND DO THINGS IN LAGOS , NIGERIA

I am giddy giddy giddy with excitement to finally be able to share Lagos, Nigeria with you. This is home and home is where my heart is. I was born in Kaduna in the Northern part of Nigeria but moved to Lagos after some years and that is where I grew up and where I call home (forever). It is always disheartening when the first things I am asked when people find out I am Nigerian is about the “Nigerian Prince” scammers - Nigeria is a Country of also 200 million people who have (unfortunately) been tainted by the actions of a few. Nigerians are full of life and joy; they are resilient; smart ; creative; welcoming and incredibly hardworking and while the Country has a long way to go still; we have come a long way. If you get a chance to visit ; you will not regret it. In future, I want to plan a trip to Lagos like I do my other trips - research to the gawds and photograph as much as I do on other trips. I don’t take a lot of pictures in Lagos - maybe because it’s home or did not think of it as a destination (previously); I find I don’t reach for my camera as much - which makes putting a post like this together a bit of a challenge. There is still so much I want to see and do in Lagos, but here are seven things I have explored; researched or done while in Lagos and I think great adds to your Lagos itinerary.

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Visit a market. A Nigerian market is not for the faint of heart; dress comfortable; get ready to bargain your tail off and take in a piece of Nigeria. I particularly like visiting Oyingbo market - it is a food market and a bit of warning - there butcher shops here and at any given time, you may walk past a butchered goat head or other animal parts. I go here to shop for local food; spices; fruits; shea butter. I also like Balogun market but it is not for the faint of heart; it is very crowded.

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Stop by an art gallery. I am incredibly proud of the creatives in Nigeria and the art scene is growing and evolving and I love it. Start at Terre Kulture ; visit Alexis galleries ; Art Cafe (for food and art) ; Nike gallery. The local art in Nigeria is phenomal. I can spend a week in Lagos just hopping from one gallery to another.

Eat Local - Nothing like Nigerian food - whether it is suya ; roasted plantain and peanuts; zobo (Hibiscus tea); pepper soup or jollof rice - you will love the local delicacies. A few local restaurants I recommend are Ofada Boy in Surulere - get you some palm wine and ofada deluxe and enjoy the ambience; the harvest in Lekki - a local gastropub (try the lamp pepper soup); Cafe Jade and the tearoom Lagos in Lekki I with excellent brunch menu and decor.

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Elegushi Craft Market. You know how I said we were a very creative people ? There is no where that is more evident than at the craft market - jewelry ; art ; fabrics and leather goods. All hand made by Nigerian artisans.

Ice Cream at Hans and Rene at the Radisson Blu in Victoria Island. Depending on the time of day you arrive, be prepared to stand in queue but it is worth it. One scoop of ice cream with run you N800 ($2.50) and you can get traditional flavors and also very uniquely Nigerian flavors like zobo and agbalumo (aka African star apple).

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Attend a Nigerian wedding. Brazil has got Carnival and Spain has got running with the bulls. We have got weddings. Attending a NIgerian wedding is at par if not much higher than those events. If you have ever seen the CNN special on Nigerian weddings - you will completely understand this point; if not, here is a link to catching up. Don’t worry about potentially not knowing the couple; at least forty percent of the guests don’t either; dress to the tee in a traditional attire (if you can); get your money in hand to spray (aka money dance) the couple and don’t leave your dancing shoes at home. It is not one thing with Nigerian weddings; it is everything - the attire; the elaborate decor; the food; the change of attires. Go for all of it.

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Have a Beach Day. Lagos has some beautiful beaches ; however all of them are paid beaches but it is very reasonably priced. I have been told Tarkwa Bay beach and Oniru Private beach are excellent beaches to visit but I have not had the pleasure. The pictures though - wow. I have visited la campagne tropicana beach resort and it is beautiful. It is a bit of a drive from the Island but well worth it. Go early; pack a picnic; go with some music - spend your time lounging and enjoying fresh coconut water or partaking in one of the many activities including kayaking and horse back riding.

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There is still a lot I want to explore in Lagos including a visit to the Lekki conservation centre; attend a performance at one of the theatre; attend a concert

CHRISTMAS IN EUROPE 2018 - A PHOTO DIARY

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MERRY CHRISTMAS

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It is Christmas Eve !!! I hope you are spending the day away from work; sleeping in; drinking mulled wine; eating minced pie and spending time with family and friends. I love this time of year in London (and Europe). Spending this time of year in London, Paris, any where in Europe is an absolute must once in a lifetime. The cities transform and in spite of the rain and cold (and snow); the Cities are vibrant; beautiful and merry. From corners filled with elaborate; uplifting decors; to Christmas markets; Mulled wine; wreaths hanging from doors; carols. I am here for all of it.

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I was going to limit this post to Christmas in London; but we got a chance to visit Amsterdam; Paris ; Lille and Brugge in the last month and the sights and sounds of Christmas in all of those cities are worth sharing. I am yet to explore Berlin, Strasbourg and Alsace/Colmar during this season but I hear it is a must-see which means I have got three trips lined up for next Christmas.

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Every time I find myself in Europe this time of year, I always take some time out to explore and soak up all the Christmas bits the city has to offer; This year I took pictures and a few video clips. I am currently running a Christmas series on my Instagram page. You can follow along at #TSE12DaysofChristmas. The video clips are in my highlight tagged “Christmas EUR”

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London transforms at Christmas - Somerset house and National history museum is completely transformed and Hyde park becomes Winter wonderland. Oxford street and Carnaby street light up and the tree and reindeers at covent garden while traditions of this season; they still draw the crowd. Beyond that - there are Christmas markets serving up the best minced pies; hot chocolate and mulled wine. How could I forget the annual gift from Norway which is on display at Trafalgar square and special displays like the Diane Van Furstenburg tree of Love at Claridges and St Pancras International.

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Brugge, Belgium - There are day trips from Paris and London to the Brugge Christmas market. Brugge itself is a dream to explore and the Christmas market is the cherry on top.

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Lille, France - Honestly I was not sure what to expect from Lille but I was pleasantly surprised. Compared to London and Paris - the Christmas scene is not at an obscene elaborate scene but it is still worth a trip to explore the city and its market. There is an impressive Christmas tree in the city center.

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Paris, France - This is probably the only time I will gladly indulge Opulence. The window displays on avenue Champ elysees to the elaborate decors at galleries de lafayette and Le Bon Marche. Paris takes Christmas decor; and takes it up twenty notches - just look at the decor at Dior ; Louis Vuitton and the avenue. Feast your eyes on the opulence and beauty. of the window displays and decor.

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LIFE IN LONDON : MUSEUMS ; PRETTY CAFES AND THE MONTHLY VLOG

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You asked for it and it is here - the life in London segment of the blog along with a vlog. It has been in the works for six months now; I just did not have the content (or time). That was until a few weeks ago when I had a rare day off work. I had an appointment that was set to take all day but was done by mid-day. Perfect time to check things off my London bucketlist.

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Peggy Porschen

First stop - the pretty cafe that has graced your instafeed at least once (even if you live under a rock). I went in part for the pretty facade but also for the food. Peggy Porschen is known as much for this pretty facade as it is for its cakes and beverages.

I had the hot chocolate that was almost too pretty to drink and a slice of one of the signature cakes. The hot chocolate was divine but the cake was a bit too dry for me. I think it must have been the flavor I selected. No matter, the hot chocolate, and the pretty facade more than made up for it. London had a very atypical spring weather so I sat outside and enjoyed the city pass me by. I took a million snapshots of the cafe and my food so prepare for insta-overload.

After about two hours, I talked myself into leaving - there was still a lot of time left in the day, so I visitied the Victoria and Albert museum (which I one of my favorite museums. You know I got a ton of snapshots, but I also managed to vlog parts of the day (and the rest of that week). All in all an excellent way to spend an afternoon off. Watch the vlog of the day (and rest of that weekend via the link below and don't forget to subscribe).

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11 THINGS YOU NEED TO CONSIDER IF YOU WANT TO BE AN EXPAT

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As I have started (somewhat) settling into my new home, I am reflecting on what it took to get here. The cost to pack up my life in one Country to start up life in another. There is a lot I did not consider when I signed up for this expat position. Some financial; some personal and emotional cost of moving my life across the pond was more than I had anticipiated in some respects. Thought it might be worth sharing some of the costs I have incurred to become an expat.  None of this is intended to discourage you if you are considering a similar move, just something to add to the equation.                                                                                                         

1. Close out costs. When I threw my name in the hat for a position in a foreign location, I knew I will have to pay a fee to get out of my lease. I did not realize there were lots of add on to those fees that were not necessarily outlined in the lease agreement i.e. my apartment complex required a month rent plus eighty-five percent of one-month rents which they tagged as a reletting fee plus a fee for giving less than sixty-day notice.

2. Cost of living in your new home country. I knew moving to London was going to be more expensive than Dallas (obviously), but there was so much I did not consider in the budget. For example, council tax in addition to rent; and tv tax for owning a TV (say what ?). Thankfully, I had a few contacts who had gone through the process and were able to advise me before they move. They saved me from a very rude awakening.

3. The timing of paycheck. In contrast to the U.S., my paycheck is now monthly not bi-weekly. That one took some getting used to and proper planning to make sure I did not spend my paycheck before the bills came due.  Plus, my first paycheck (& moving allowance) did not get paid until the last day of my first month of work. That meant I needed to foot a lot of my moving cost and living cost. Thankfully, I got a decent price for my car to cover the moving costs. 

4. Store; sell; donate or move. Deciding which items to donate; sell or move with me was a tall order. I knew I could not take any of my appliances - the voltage and electric plugs are different. I was very attached to my possession, and debated storing some items - after doing the math for two years of storage vs. repurchasing the items - I chose to repurchase when I return state-side. Everything with value was sold - clothes; appliances; furniture; electronics - this was very handy to alleviate the stress of point three. Every item in my home had been carefully curated and several items held sentimental value. Having to part ways with those via donation/selling was hard for me.

5. The cost vs benefit analysis. I do this with just about every major decision. List out the cost and the benefit and decide if the benefits are worth the cost. Beyond the financial cost - there is an emotional and physical cost for packing up the life you have for the unknown and unless the scale tips in favor of benefits - it is hard for me to encourage pursuing the decision. In spite of the things I have had to give up to pursue this - I am hopeful the benefits personally and professionally will be worth the emotional; physical and financial toll (still too soon to tell).

6. Style Cost. I know this seems vain and odd to include, but hear me out. Working in the U.S meant business casual for work and jeans on fridays. In most other countries - the preferred work attire is business professional five days a week. In addition to the other cost highlighted above, I had to revamp my closet. Besides the work requirement, the weather also paid a major part in the wardrope change. The weather in London is drastically different from what it is in Dallas. My winter wardrobe needed a major overhaul.

7. Immigration Cost. You cannot ask too many questions  to the lawyer in this process. You want to make sure you are clear on any restrictions. If not, it might cost you some money. After getting here, I had to leave the Country for a few days to then return to validate my work visa. I got to spend a few days in Paris (so I am not complaining, too much). The cost of that trip was not anticipiated.

8. All The Deposits. I don't remember having to pay a significant deposit when I got my first apartment in Dallas. I may have paid $200 but that was it. Living in London, in addition to rental application related fees, most rentals require a minimum of six weeks rent as a deposit. Because it is London, you are looking at a minimum of $2,500. Thankfully, my employer has an interest-free loan program that came in handy with rent deposit.

9. Relationship Cost. I am a very guarded person and I don't cultivate friendships easily. It took over a decade to cultivate my community stateside. I think more than anything, the cost of losing my community of friends stateside has been the hardest bit and I fear by the time I find a community here, it will be time to pack up and head back to Dallas. 

10. Expectation vs Reality. To be honest with you, this move has not been a bed of roses. Lots of dashed expectations and if I can only give you one advise - it is this. Make sure you are clear on what you are signing up for. Get it in writing if you must. I had some expectations that are yet to pan out and that has been very dissapointing and difficult to manage.

11. Cost of starting over. To an extent, the expat life is starting over. I worked almost eight years in Dallas and during that time, I built a reputation of work ethic ; discipline; effectiveness etc. Taking the expat role has been (in a sense) starting over to build that reputation. Similar to the relationship cost, I fear by the time I have built the rapport, it is will be time to say goodbye.

Considering the expat life ? Leave me questions/comments - I will be happy to share my insights. If you have already been there; done that - your advice will be greatly appreciated.