Hannah Drake

The Expat Diaries, Vol. 15

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In my last edition of The Expat Diaries, I talked about how quickly the last two months had gone by, but this time, it feels like it’s been quite a slow two months.

The biggest change in my life abroad since early January has been that we finally got our first foster kitten. When I lived in Colorado, I fostered over 60 kittens and 2 puppies from 2009. After I moved, I tried to find a charity that would allow me to do the same type of volunteer work, but I never found anything until last autumn when our friend mentioned he was going to start fostering with a cat charity in town. I applied and got approved at the end of November, but we didn’t want any kittens before the holidays and we’ve been waiting ever so impatiently since the new year to get the call that there was one available.

In mid-January, they asked if we could take two kittens who were a bit older than what we wanted, but we wanted to get our foot in the door so we said yes. Almost immediately, they said they no longer needed them placed. In February, we got another offer to take in one kitten who was even older still, at seven months. Again, we were eager to get any four legged friend, so we said yes. I was a bit worried about his temperament because they said he was brought to the charity because the family who also had his sister didn’t want him any more because of his personality. They said he was timid and skittish and wanted us to socialise him the best we could and help them with a recommendation for what type of home he should be placed in when he gets adopted.

We picked him up on the 16th of February and we could immediately see that he was in fact scared and shy. We decided to keep him in the living room, where he could have plenty of space, a big window, and where we spend most of our time. It would give him the opportunity to get used to our usual traffic through the living room but also spend time with us on his own terms. Within a few hours of him getting to our house, we could see what a cuddly sweetheart he is. He curled up between us on the couch as we watched Game of Thrones and by the end of the night, he was purring loudly. He made strides quickly to get more comfortable with us and the space, but if he has the opportunity to hide under the bed or behind the couch (which we tried to prevent, but sometimes he was quicker than us or knocked down the barriers we put up), he takes it. Even now. Basically we spend our time with him trying to convince him that being with us was a lot more enjoyable and less stressful than hiding. He did great when we had people over this last weekend and he seemed comfortable enough to be around them in our front room, even though we don’t normally hang out in there and aren’t normally that loud. He also likes eating people food, especially if it’s salty. But he also has an affinity for pumpkin apparently. Luke was not happy to find that he had eaten his pumpkin muffin off his bedside table the other night, especially because it was the last one. After that, he was going crazy trying to get into the bin for the wrapper off mine that I had thrown away earlier!

Over the last week, he has started sleeping on our bed throughout the entire night. It started with him curled up between our feet, but now he gets up after a little while to curl up between our bodies. Luke said he even caught him under the covers first thing in the morning on Sunday! A couple of times, I’ve woken up on my back in the middle of the night to find him asleep on my chest with his little head nearly on my pillow. It’s my actual kitten dream come true!

In a lot of ways, February 2019 was one of the hardest months I’ve spent abroad. Within a week, we lost my great-grandmother, my stepmom’s grandmother, and my dad celebrated his 70th birthday. GG was the first person to pass away in my family since I moved and it was strange not being there with the family or not being at the memorial. Then my dad had this milestone birthday that I wasn’t able to take part in, like I did for his 60th birthday. It certainly made me homesick and probably more than I care to admit. I’ve missed a family wedding and I know I’ll miss more this year, but this month was a clear realisation that things are different and I’m not able to be there for family stuff I used to be able to take part in, the good and the bad.

To not end on a total down note, I feel I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about the weather, one of the Brits favourite topics! We had quite a warm final week in February. Like people out in the parks or in their back garden enjoying the sunshine kind of warm! In fact, if it had been light out later, we probably would have even had dinner in the back garden a few times last week! It’s since become a bit more stereotypical for England with gloomy skies and lots of rain, but I just have to show these two photos taken almost exactly a year apart on walks around the park near our house.

The Best of February 2019

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I’m back with some of my favourite things from the last month! This is such a fun post to put together because I’m able to reflect back on the last four weeks in regards to what I’m blogging, what I’m buying, what I’m reading, what I’m listening to, and more.

Cupid's Sparkling Gin Cocktail

The most popular post on the blog from this month was my first instalment of my new monthly series, Cocktail of the Month. I started with a Valentine’s Day inspired cocktail with gin and sparkling rosé, two of my favourites! It’s delicious and refreshing and perfect for any time of year or any occasion, not just Valentine’s Day!

21 Psychological Conversation Hacks Buzzfeed

I can’t stop thinking about an article I read on Buzzfeed this month called 21 Psychological Conversation Hacks That I'm Honestly Disappointed In Myself For Not Knowing Sooner. It includes tips from the Buzzfeed community about how to avoid getting called on, how to deescalate a dire situation, how to answer tough questions, how to thank people, how to avoid repeating yourself, and 16 other tips. It’s so fascinating.

Thortful Cards

Last month I found the online card shop Thortful. It’s completely changed my card game and made it a lot easier for me to buy and send cards to my friends and family in the States. I’m able to chose a card from the hundreds they have online, add a personalised message, and send it directly to the recipient. The feature that’s made me a complete convert, though, is the fact that I can schedule the cards so they arrive on the occasion (or come with a sticker that says don’t open until this date). And did I mention that it’s actually cheaper than buying a card at a shop and mailing it myself?

Carruth - The Charlotte Observer

If you’re interested in true crime and/or football, you have to check out this podcast. I know a little about the story because Rae Carruth played football for CU in the 90’s and my dad told me about it. This podcast does a deep-dive of the life of the people at the centre of this crime, hosted by sports columnist Scott Fowler who has followed Carruth since his tenure with the Carolina Panthers. Fowler has since forged a friendship with Chancellor Lee, the child Carruth intended to have killed and Saundra Adams, Chancellor’s grandmother.

Pandemic Legacy Season 2

In 2017, we played Pandemic Legacy Season 1 with our friends Tom and Jenna. (Well, I joined in a few games in after I moved.) I had never played a legacy game before but it’s such a fun experience. The board, the objectives, and the game itself evolve as you play. You destroy cards and have new elements introduced as you go. We started season 2 in the autumn and played for the second time last month, though we didn’t do so well. It’s different from the first version and you just can’t replicate the excitement of getting to open new boxes and add things to the ever-expanding game.

Scott Bradlee's Postmodern Jukebox

Our friends introduced us to Scott Bradlee’s Postmodern Jukebox and I’m obsessed. They do old timey covers of current songs and it’s absolutely amazing. Just imagine what Outkast or Beyonce or Britney Spears would sound like at a Gatsby party. It’s going to change the way you play music at a dinner party, I promise.

5 Sustainable Swaps Worth Making - The Home Handcrafted

As you know, I’m trying to be more eco-friendly in 2019 and beyond. One person who has been an inspiration for me has been my friend Anne, who has been committed to making green changes for quite a while now. For one of her new Friday Favorites series posts, she shared 5 products you should consider swapping out with greener options. Check it out!

Fat Face Sussex Jacket

One of the ways I’m trying to be more environmentally conscious this year is to shop sustainable fashion and one of my favourite brands for that is Fat Face, a UK based brand committed to sustainability. It’s easily my favourite store in England and this month I made yet another purchase I love: the Sussex Jacket in Chocolate. It’s basically the women’s version of the jacket I got for Luke for his birthday, so we’ll definitely be matching. But it feels very long walks in the British countryside, don’t you think?

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Is Naples Worth Visiting?

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When we started planning our trip to Italy, knowing we would be flying into Naples, we weren’t quite sure how much time to spend in Naples. Originally, we had only planned to spend one night there, spend a night on Capri, and then go to the Amalfi Coast. Eventually we decided to just to a day trip to Capri and leave our luggage at the hotel. Thank goodness! But suddenly we had two days in Naples to fill. I had asked for recommendations for all the places we were going on Instagram and got exactly ZERO recommendations for Naples. When I spoke to a friend who had recently travelled through Europe, she said she skipped Naples because she hadn’t heard great things. It was a little off-putting and ultimately why we decided to do a day trip to Capri from Naples rather than the Amalfi Coast, but there were still things we were looking forward to visiting in Naples.

So the question of the day remains: Is Naples worth visiting?

THE PROS

P I Z Z A! All. Of. The. Pizza. Neapolitans know what they are doing with pizza. Some people believe that Neapolitans invented the Margherita pizza in June of 1889 in honour of the Queen of Italy, Margherita of Savoy, and the Italian unification. (The pizza is the colours of Italy!) However, it seems that style of pizza was around possibly as early as 1796. Honestly, it was kind of a bummer that we went to Naples first because no other pizza on our trip compared to our first meal in Italy. As soon as we were checked into our hotel, we set out to go to L'Antica Pizzeria Da Michele, as seen in Eat, Pray, Love, and apparently rated the best pizza in Naples. (I’m not sure who by, but a couple we met at the pizzeria told us they had done the top five pizzas in Naples and this was #1. We never heard how it compared because they were rushing to a flight to Sicily and took their pizzas to go.) It’s an absolute madhouse and it’s cash only, but it’s 100% worth it. When we arrived, there was a massive crowd outside of the pizzeria and we had no idea what was happening. A few moments later, that couple showed up behind us asking us what to do. I decided to go in to find out and the guy followed me in. An old man working the door handed me a square of yellow paper with the number 60 on it and told me they had just called number 9. FIFTY ONE NUMBERS AWAY! I asked him if that was to dine in or do take away and he said we could order take away at the till and get in the four person line. Um, duh! That explains why the street down to the pizzeria was line with people eating pizza on the sidewalk. We opted for that, so I waited in the hot pizzeria with the guy, who turned out to be from Denmark, while Luke waited outside with his girlfriend or wife. It took a while to get our pizzas since they had to change the wood out, but otherwise it probably would have been about a 10 minute wait. We got to talking with the guys in front of us too, who were from Brazil and South Africa and working on a cruise ship that was at port for the day. The brightly lit pizzeria was filled with the sound of diners enjoying their lunch and company and about a dozen sweaty Italian guys working the pizza oven and the tables. The take away line was dead in the middle of the front room about six inches from tables on one side and about two feet away from the flaming pizza oven. It was magical. When our pizzas came up, I passed them off to the Danish guy so they could get to the airport for their flight that was in 40 minutes and waited another couple of minutes for ours. I met Luke outside with two pizza boxes and two bottles of Coke and we found a place on some dirty steps to eat, next to the two guys from the cruise ship. (“Come share our table!” they said jokingly.) Our napkins had blown away the second I stepped outside and the Coke bottles weren’t twist off, but oh my gosh, it was the most heavenly meal of my life! The next day, after we had gotten back from Capri, our original plan was to stop by L'Antica Pizzeria Da Michele to share another €5 pizza, but we were both exhausted from our day on the island and it was a 20 minute walk from the port to the pizzeria and then another 20 minutes back to our hotel. In the end, we popped into another pizzeria we passed on the way back to the hotel and took it back to share in bed. It was amazing, but still not as good as that first one. And thus ends my love letter to Neapolitan pizza.

The views of the Bay of Naples is absolutely worth checking out. Our first night there, we hiked—and I do mean hiked—the streets to Castel Sant'Elmo. It was a gruelling walk, but it paid off in the end. The streets were much quieter than the bustling city below, but I cannot imagine having to do that walk every day. The whole way was lined with residential buildings! Regardless of the hard work required, it was a fantastic place to see the sunset over the city. From the top, you can see the whole of the Bay of Naples, including Mount Vesuvius, and it’s breathtaking. We didn’t make it in time to go into Castel Sant'Elmo, but the couple from the pizzeria earlier that day recommended it. Since we missed the entrance time, we instead wandered around (read: got lost in) the streets at the top. Like the climb up, it was much quieter, but absolutely stunning.

Our hotel recommended quite a few things to us, including some notable churches (she said the city has about 500) and museums (like The National Archaeological Museum of Naples), but we didn’t have time to visit any of them. Naples was seemingly cheaper than Rome. It had public transportation that got us where we wanted to go easily enough. And it was close in proximity to the other things we wanted to do at the beginning of our trip.

THE CONS

Naples is BUSY. It’s chaotic—or energetic, if you want to put it softly—the traffic is basically madness, and it’s kind of hard to find stuff. The streets are narrow, especially the side streets, lined with tall buildings, which made for great protection from the sun, but also felt a little claustrophobic. Walking down the side streets, we never had any idea if a car or a scooter would come down. It felt very like a cliche Italian city, with brightly coloured buildings that are a bit too close together with the washing hanging out to dry on the second level and people enjoying a coffee or lunch on the street below. It’s hard to describe exactly, but it just felt overwhelming in a way that Rome didn’t.

THE CONCLUSION

Like I mentioned, we didn’t spend a ton of time in Naples, so I don’t have much to offer about the city. Our first tour guide in Rome said she loves the energy of Naples, but people usually love it or hate it. There’s no such thing as being neutral about Naples. Truthfully, I didn’t love Naples. While we were in Italy, Luke and I agreed that we probably wouldn’t ever got back to Naples, but now that I’m writing this post, I’m dreaming about that pizza again. I’m glad we visited, and I really wish we had seen The National Archaeological Museum of Naples because of it’s proximity to Pompeii and the number of artefacts they have there. (They have a “Secret Cabinet” that houses some of the more explicit and erotic items found in the excavations of Pompeii and Herculaneum!) People say that Naples doesn’t feel safe, but you can find people who say that about pretty much every where, can’t you? Simply put, Naples isn’t really my speed, but it might be yours.

WHERE WE ATE

Of course I mentioned we ate at L'Antica Pizzeria Da Michele for our first meal in Italy. We agreed this was the best pizza of the trip and is well worth the wait. (Just get take away if you don’t want to wait for a table.)

We had dinner at Biancomangiare near our hotel that night. We ordered a bottle of wine, an antipasti platter, and cacio e pepe spaghettone to share. The restaurant was so cute; it was exactly what I imagined a little Italian place tucked away on a side street would be like! It was also the first of many times when we got to an empty restaurant and it filled up by the time our food came.

Both mornings in Naples, we ate breakfast at our hotel Relais Della Porta. I would definitely recommend the hotel, but don’t expect an all American continental breakfast. They had breads, pastries, different meats, hard boiled eggs, some different fruit (dried or preserved), and some cereal and porridge options. It was enough to tide us over and we usually ate a light breakfast in Italy anyway. Gotta save room for pizza and pasta!

Our last night in Naples, we got a pizza to go from a place called Claudio’s Pizzeria (I think). It was still a good pizza, but didn’t compare to the day before. We only chose the place because we passed it on our way back from the port to the hotel.

Later, we were back in Naples to catch the train to Rome and we both got coconut gelato from inside the station at a place called Eccellenze della Costiera, which I believe is a chain. Luke ranked it 4 out of 7, while I ranked it 6 out of 7. (Stay tuned for more gelato rankings!)

WHAT TO WEAR IN NAPLES

I decided to include this section for any ladies planning a trip to Italy in the late summer or early autumn. I was nervous about what to pack for Italy in way I don’t think I have been in the past. I asked my friend Laura, a native of Italy, what to pack and she gave me some helpful tips.

PIN FOR LATER!

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