Immigration Anxiety

This time last year, I had just moved to England and was barely getting settled in. My passport displayed a freshly stamped, shiny new visa sticker and I was a few days away from picking up my BRP card – giving me the right to live and work in the UK for two years.

When you just moved halfway across the world to finally be reunited with your long-distance boyfriend and that everything is new, exciting and scary, two years feel like a very long time. It’s not.

I have been in the UK for 408 days – which means there are exactly 293 days left to my current visa. More time has passed than there is left to go, yet there are still days when I feel I have just landed here. We moved into our house in July, I only started working full-time in November and I’m just now relaxing into a semblance of routine but with less than a year to go on my visa, it’s already time to apply for a new one.

In a pre-Brexit world, this seemed like an annoyingly necessary but standard procedure; post-Brexit, it doesn’t feel so simple. I am applying for a FLR(M) visa as unmarried partner (for now) of a British citizen. It is valid for merely 30 months and costs a mighty £1,800 – that’s on top of the £3,500 I have already paid to move here: visa, biometrics, flights, custom fees, etc. Not only do I have to pay for the right to live here, I also have to pay a NHS surcharge for every year I do. Tell me again that ‘immigrants pay nothing but get everything’? Moving to a new country – and remaining in said country until you can apply for citizenship – is extremely expensive; and you can only hope not to be rejected.

In the post-Brexit and increasingly anti-immigration world we now live in, applying for a visa renewal is stressful. What if you are rejected? What if the life you spent two years rebuilding is suddenly snatched from under your feet? What if you are told to pack up all your belongings, say goodbye to your other half, your new friends, and get on a plane back a country that you can’t call ‘home’ anymore? Immigration anxiety at its best.

In order for me to obtain a Further Leave to Remain, I have to prove all sorts of things – my worth as a member of the society – mostly – and that Edward and I are in a real relationship and were prior to me moving here, and that we have lived together for at least two years. We have to gather all sorts of evidences: payslips, joint account statements, electoral cards, letters from witnesses, date-stamped Facebook posts, gas and electricity bills, photographs… Then, we will have to fill several complicated forms and drive down to London where we’ll spend a day waiting for my demand to be processed.

Loving each other is easy but proving to complete strangers that we actually do is another story. It’s hard work.

As much as I understand the immigration process and its necessity, as a Commonwealth citizen I cannot help but find it a bit unfair. For years, there have been talks in favour of free movement within some of the Commonwealth countries (namely Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the UK) but nothing has been done toward it. Yet, I’m fairly certain it would benefit everyone involved. Those countries share similar values, political and healthcare systems, economy and quality of life – and in my opinion, skilled and willing workers moving freely from one to the other can only be a good thing.

But until the governments come to an agreement* and until my new visa is (hopefully) approved next January, I will have to live with the anxiety that comes with an unstable immigration status. And I’m one of the lucky ones: young Commonwealth citizen, educated, skilled and employed. I can only imagine how difficult it must be to seek asylum or a refugee status…

*If you wish to help the cause move forward, CANZUK has started a petition and need to reach 200,000 supporters; you can sign it here.

The Little Things

Today is the International Day of Happiness so I thought I’d celebrate by sharing some of the things that make me happy. I put together a list of the little, everyday things that bring me joy because I believe that we often underestimate their importance…

The Little Things - Quote ACD

Listening to Edward play the guitar in the next room as I write this.

The first sip of cold water after a hot, hard, sweaty run.

When the cat naps on me.

Jumping under an almost intolerably hot shower after a long day out on the bike.

Coming home after a difficult first week at work and realising that Edward has spent his extra day off cleaning and tidying up so I don’t have to worry about it.

The post-barre class ache. Or the ache that follows any workout for that matter.

Receiving letters and parcels from my friends and family back in Canada.

Sunny lunchtime walks around the Cathedral Quarter and the Arboretum.

Yoga, whether it’s to start the day or finish it. It always makes me feel good.

A tasty bowl of spaghetti bolognese after a 20-mile hike in the Peak District.

Slipping back under the duvet after my morning shower to cuddle with Edward for a few minutes before we have to get ready for work.

Skype sessions with my best friend in Montreal.

Having flowers delivered at the office by a romantic boyfriend.

Speaking to my little sister on the phone, even for a few too short minutes.

Taking a shower in my own bathroom after a few days abroad.

Witnessing a beautiful sunrise and/or sunset.

Running first thing in the morning whilst everyone is still asleep, and the feeling of accomplishment that comes with it.

New buds and leaves in the trees, and new flowers growing on the patio.

Cuddles with a loudly purring cat.

Seeing Edward’s excitement when we summited the Old Man of Coniston and he felt that we had finally climbed a ‘proper’ mountain.

Sitting by the bedroom window and watching the birds after we’ve filled up their food.

Meeting our friends’ newborn son for the first time and having him sleep in my arms for hours.

Nanaimo bars from The Canadian Cottage.

Anytime I visit the Lake District; being surrounded by mountains makes me feel ‘home’.

The first run with a new playlist.

Obviously, the list could go on forever; life is full of those little sources of joy. It’s easy to focus either on the big things or on the negative ones, but the ‘big’ stuff doesn’t happen every day and being pessimistic or bitter is hardly the way to happiness!

Today is a good day to focus on the little things.

Happy Happiness Day!

Save

Save

February Books

February started quietly and I hoped to squeeze in a few more books, but the quietness didn’t last. I sometimes seriously wonder where does time go?! The second half of the month was spent organising our trip to Ireland, where we were photographing a friend’s wedding, and I ended up reading more hotel reviews and lists of places to visit than books. Which is fine, really… Planning new adventures is always exciting! And this month’s round-up certainly fed my wanderlust envies.

february-books

Travelled Far: A Collection of Hiking Adventures | Keith Foskett
This thru-hiking memoir certainly made me want to hit the trail! The author relates with many details and in an often humoristic way some of his hikes across the South Downs in England, El Camino de Santiago in Spain as well as the Appalachian, Continental Divide and Pacific Crest trails in America. I especially liked his comment on how altitude doesn’t  always guarantee the best hike… As much as I love the Peak and Lake Districts in England and plan to visit Wales and the Scottish Highlands later this year to satisfy the ‘mountain calling’ that has been plaguing me since I moved to the UK, it also made me want to explore the south of England and some ‘flatter’ trails. I truly enjoyed this book and added more from Keith Foskett to my to-read list.

Brooklyn | Colm Tóibín
I decided to read this book after stumbling on a few lines from it whilst looking for quotes about immigration and expatriation – the words called to me. It was indeed a good novel, exceptionally well-written, but I would have taken more. The author spends several pages at the beginning describing characters and situations that have nothing to do with the rest of the story, but the end is cut short (in my opinion). I would have loved to know what happened to the heroine after making such a life-changing decision in the final pages; maybe not several more chapters, but an epilogue would have been welcomed. Despite the abrupt ending, I enjoyed reading Brooklyn and would certainly recommend it.

Happy reading!

Save

Hike Across Roaches, Hen Cloud & Lud’s Church

I became enamoured of the Peak District the first time I visited England, almost two years ago. Edward took me for a surprise weekend in Baslow and we stayed in a beautiful hotel on the Chatsworth House estate. The landscape was stunning with its rolling hills covered in purple bushes and the occasional mountains with rocky faces. There was something so peaceful about the whole place, I couldn’t help but fall in love. I often tease Edward by saying it was his plan all along to get me to move over here!

Fast forward to February last year, I am newly expat in the UK and missing the Canadian landscape… I have always been a keen hiker – when I was a kid, my stepdad owned a cabin in Charlevoix and hiking was a regular family thing – so after a few months in flat Lincolnshire, I was longing for some hills.

The Peak District is easily accessible and boasts some of the best walking routes in the UK, so it became our go-to place when ‘the mountains are calling’. We hiked there countless times in the past year and are especially fond of the areas around Kinder Scout, Mam Tor, Lose Hill and the Great Ridge but last weekend, we wanted something a bit different. After browsing The Walking Englishman‘s website, we chose a 12-mile walk across Roaches, Hen Cloud and Lud’s Church.

hiking-1

We pulled in Gradbach car park around 8.30AM and immediately set off. The walk started on a path through Gradbach Wood and 2K in, we encountered what was supposed to be a small stream but looked more like a proper river. We walked along it for a while but couldn’t find a bridge so we decided to cross by jumping from rock to rock. Edward miraculously managed to do so without falling; I didn’t have the same luck. I was worried I’d get water in my boots and I didn’t want to spend the whole day with wet feet, so I went the ‘Canadian way’ by taking them off, rolling my trousers up and crossing in the water. It sounds like a good idea, but not so much… My shoes made it to the shore relatively dry but I stumbled and got my jeans and socks (I was holding them in my hands) soaked. It’s obviously only after I changed socks and put my boots back on that we noticed a bridge in the distance…

hiking-2

The path took us deeper in the woods following the river. Birds were singing, water was flowing softly nearby and the scenery was absolutely bucolic – in my opinion, there’s no better way to spend a Sunday.

The further we walked, the more we were reminded of our first hike together in Québec. The English mountains often offer a barren, rocky landscape but La Belle Province is renowned for its lush forests. The path later took us through more ‘characteristic’ parts of the British countryside but for a few minutes there, our surroundings felt familiar to me.

We came to a fork in the road and, as usual, took the wrong way. Taking the wrong path has somehow become an habit of ours… It sometimes makes the adventure more adventurous, as it was the case last Sunday. I headed right as I was told to by Edward and found myself on an ever-narrowing path, which soon transformed into a tiny slippery ledge over a ravine with nothing to hang on to but a few plants. Looking back, there was probably no danger. It was small dip and the ground was soft but at the time, I felt a little nervous. There was no way we could walk back, so we had to keep going. We finally reached a field and were able to rejoin the original path.

hiking-4

From there, the route was pretty straightforward and it took us only a few minutes to make it to the first rocky range, starting at the Hanging Stone and crossing over the Roaches. The view from the top of the stone is absolutely worth the climb. We walked all the way across the ridge, stopping only to dig some apples from our backpacks.

After coming down from the Roaches, we crossed yet another muddy field before reaching the second range of hills. Edward threw himself on the first available rock, mumbling and grunting. It seemed like an appropriate moment to suggest a halt… We found a nook away from the wind and refuelled on homemade croissant sandwiches, carrots and a handful of peanut M&Ms – a favourite when hiking.

We hit 14K just before starting the climb to Hen Cloud. The summit was blanketed in a cold, thick mist and I was glad I had put on an extra layer during our break. After a few minutes on the ridge, the wind rose and uncovered the fields below. I have visited the Peak District many times already but I don’t think I’ll ever tire of a view like that…

hiking-5

After Hen Cloud, the route took us along an unnamed road. We had planned to climb a third range of hills but decided against it and cut short around it instead (I say we ‘cut short’ but it actually added a good three miles to our walk). We walked a couple more miles on a farm track before reaching what we thought would be the last climb of the day. I literally ran up the hill; I was impatient to get back on the road and assess where we were.

The tarmac was a nice change from muddy fields but it didn’t last long as we had to turn onto another, ever muddier field. The difficult terrain slowed us down but we made it back to Gradbach just before hitting 21K.

We were faced with the actual last climb of this hike, and that’s when the second mishap of the day happened… As I reached the top, my laces got caught in thorns and I fell into some spiky bushes. I hopefully was able to turn ‘in flight’ and landed on my butt instead of my face. Edward even commented that I did so gracefully, toes pointed and all!

hiking-6

We finally reached the car – with sights of relief – and my FitBit informed me that we had walked a total of 24K, taken 33,370 steps and that I had burned 1841 calories in the process.

I like the tiredness that comes after a good hike; feeling drained but recharged at the same time. What is even better is going home to a hot shower, comfy PJs, delicious food, a cosy sofa and several episodes of House of Cards to binge-watch… Truly the best way to spend a Sunday.

hiking-3

* I apologise for the quality of the images. I am switching from a DSLR to a mirrorless system (more about that in a future post) and currently in-between two cameras, so I only had my iPhone on me. But ‘the best camera is the one you have with you’, right?

Festive Getaway to Berlin

After the disaster that was Paris in August, it took me a while to get back into a travel mood but wanderlust hit again – and hit hard – in November. That’s when I spontaneously said to Edward that we should book a trip somewhere soon, and randomly suggested Berlin. He enthusiastically agreed and after a few lazy Sunday mornings spent in bed planning and researching flights and hotels, we were all set and ready to go.

We flew from Gatwick to Schönefeld on Boxing Day, only a few days after the Berlin attacks. It was never an option for us to cancel our German escapade but I was slightly apprehensive of the atmosphere in the city… I had no reasons to worry; the Berliners seemed untroubled and were very welcoming.

Berlin Intro.jpg

Day 1 | Brandenburg Gate, Holocaust Memorial & Deutsches Historisches Museum

After some confusion and much queuing, we finally picked up our WelcomeCard from the airport touristic information desk and headed for our hotel. We stayed at the TRYP Berlin Mitte, only a few minutes away from the busy Friedrichstraße. It was perfect: modern, clean, quiet and very comfortable.

We dropped our bags and decided to start the afternoon with a quick lunch at a nearby coffee shop, Café Balzac. We took our time to finish our drinks as we waited for the rain to subside. The Grey City wore its name well that week – it was rainy, windy and very cold!

Our first stop was Pariser Platz and the Brandenburg Gate. The Christmas tree was still up and a mini-market was taking place just down the road on Unter den Linden. The gate itself is very impressive; not only because of its size, but because it has been at the centre of so many political and historical events.

From there we walked to the Holocaust Memorial, a dramatic structure consisting of 2,711 uneven steles of plain concrete. The maze-like arrangement looks a bit like a very bland cemetery. It is a rather strange sight…

Our final stop was the Deutsches Historisches Museum. It was late afternoon and we were tired so we just strolled lazily through the exhibitions. We visited two, both quite interesting. The first one was about colonialism (I had no idea Germany had colonies in Africa!) and the second one covered German history until 1994. I particularly liked seeing old calligraphy, army uniforms and posters from the 30s, 40s and 50s.

We ended the day perfectly at the Supreme Burger Grill & Bar. The bar had a quiet but funky hip-hop atmosphere, and the food was divine. We both had ‘dirty’ burgers served with the best homemade fries I’ve ever had, and some drinks – a sparkling strawberry-lime mocktail for me and a stein of German beer for Edward. We were exhausted and after the craziness of the festive season, it felt amazing to just relax and enjoy each other’s company.

Berlin Day 1

Day 2 | Panoramapunkt, Reichstag, DDR Museum, Alexanderplatz & Fernsehturm

We had planned to spend the morning exploring the Christmas market at Charlottenburg Palace but it was being dismantled when we arrived, even though it was supposed to be open for a few more days.

We headed to Potsdamer Platz with the idea of walking to the Reichstag from there but we decided for a quick stop at the Panoramapunkt first. It was a clear day and the view of Berlin was stunning. It was very windy so we didn’t stay long, but this totally unplanned visit ended up being one of the highlights of our trip.

After a lunch of traditional currywurst and brockwurst, we finally made our way to the Reichstag. The structure is impressive and its walls and columns are shockingly still showing damages from bullets fired during the Second World War. We photographed the building but decided not to go in; it was one of the only places with reinforced security measures and the queues were insane.

We finished the afternoon with a walk by the Spree and a visit to the DDR Museum. It was a bit crowded but totally worth it. They recreated an East German flat filled with products of that era – there was even an old TV showing news and archives from communist Germany!

Once again we ended the day in the most perfect way, this time with a visit at the Fernsehturm. We had ordered our Fast Track tickets online a few days before our departure and it was truly worth it; we waited only a few minutes before going through security and being escorted to the top of the tower where we were lucky enough to get seated places at the bar. We stayed there for a couple of hours, savouring our drinks and admiring the view.

There is this one ‘weird’ thing I like to do every time I travel… Visit a local grocery store. So after leaving Alexanderplatz, we stopped at a little supermarket on Friedrichstraße to buy some fruits and drinks, and explore the aisles full of foreign products. Edward was excited to find food from his childhood (he grew up in Germany) and we ended up bringing back home all sorts of German treats.

Berlin Day 2

Day 3 | East Side Gallery, Checkpoint Charlie & Berliner Weihnachtszeit

The East Side Gallery is the last part of the Berlin Wall still standing in its original place; it was our first stop of the day. We travelled East early morning and as we got closer, the gap between the two sides of the city became more apparent. The architecture and atmosphere were very different.

The Wall itself calls for respect. For nearly thirty years, it was the only thing standing between two divergent worlds – separated only by ideologies. It is a must-see in Berlin, and a good (scary) reminder of what fear, hate and intolerance can lead to…

Our next stop was the famous Checkpoint Charlie. Unlike the East Side Gallery, it has no soul and felt more like a tourist trap than anything. It is disappointingly surrounded by a Starbucks and a McDonald’s, and there is a disinterested actor dressed a soldier (who spent the whole time looking at his own phone) standing in front of the building for selfie opportunities. Honestly, it was a total let down.

Thankfully, our next destination was much better!

When travelling to Berlin in December, it is compulsory to visit one of the many Christmas markets scattered around the city. Since we had missed the one in Charlottenburg the day before, we decided to go to the popular Berliner Weinachtmarket at Alexanderplatz. It was early afternoon and relatively quiet so we were able to enjoy the stalls. It was a truly magical experience; the fairy lights, the handmade nutcrackers and baubles, the traditional music… Just like in the movies!

We had planned to spend the rest of the day and the evening photographing the city, but the cold and heavy rain deterred us. We opted for a cosy night at the hotel instead.

Berlin Day 3

On the fourth and last day, we spent the morning on Unter den Linden shopping for postcards and souvenirs. We had planned to visit the Tiergarten but most of it was closed to prepare for the New Year’s Eve celebrations. Since we were both exhausted, we decided to skip lunch and headed for the airport early instead. It was a pleasant train journey watching the sunset over the suburbs and listening to the German chatter around us.

Unfortunately, the rest of the journey wasn’t as pleasant.

Our flight back was delayed for several hours after we boarded so we were left to sit on the runway. To add to the pleasant atmosphere, there was a baby crying the whole time. We finally made it to in London – three hours later than expected – and were greeted with frost and the thickest fog I have ever witnessed. The drive home took us nearly five hours instead of the usual two and a half… We couldn’t see a thing!

This trip was different from any of my previous travel experiences. Maybe because Berlin is not as photogenic as New York, Paris or London? When I visit a new city, I usually explore and photograph it to the point of exhaustion and end up needing a vacation from my vacation. Berlin was different… We took the time to ‘chill’ and enjoy each other’s company without rushing for the next best shot, and it was truly relaxing. I came back home actually feeling rested and reinvigorated, and ready for the next adventure!

Save

My First Year in the UK

A few days ago, on the commute home, we drove past that spot where we used to go to watch the sunset when I first arrived and we were still living with my in-laws. It reminded us of what life was like a year ago, before I moved here – the endless phone chats, the snaps and selfies we would send each other through the day, the date nights on Skype, etc. – and the first couple of months after I did. It’s amazing what difference 365 days can make!

I would be lying if I said it was easy – moving from one country to another is everything but easy – but I still believe it was the best decision I’ve ever made. It was a challenging year for sure, but a rewarding one too. And, as cliché as it sounds, I think I got out of it stronger.

Do you know what a foreign accent is? It’s a sign of bravery.
― Amy Chua, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother

I landed at Heathrow twelve months ago with nothing except for my cat and two suitcases… I had no house, no job, no support network. To be honest, I felt absolutely lost and that feeling lasted for months. In June, I decided to see a therapist and it helped a lot. With her help, I regained some confidence in myself and learned to redefine who I am.

This is something nobody tells you when you move halfway across the globe… Your identity changes. You remain the same person but those ‘tags’ that were always associated to you back home suddenly disappear and you are surrounded by people who have yet to give you a label. It sounds good in theory – a new start, a blank slate – but it’s actually quite difficult. It felt like being no one and it was a struggle at first, but I try to embrace it now. I also had to accept that, for many people, I would remain ‘the girl with the pink hair’ or ‘the girl with the accent’ and that’s okay.

She was nobody here. It was not just that she had no friends and family; it was rather that she was a ghost in this room, in the streets on the way to work, on the shop floor. Nothing meant anything.
― Colm Tóibín, Brooklyn

There were many other challenges – finding a job, building a solid relationship with Edward whilst living with his parents and dealing with his divorce, learning to drive on the wrong side of the road – but they only make me more grateful for what I have now.

I do miss ‘home’ sometimes but I don’t think it will ever feel like home again. Despite all the difficulties of moving to the UK and building a new life here, I have not once wanted to go back. I will certainly visit from time to time, but ‘home’ is here now. Somehow, even on the days when I feel the distance and curse my foreign accent, I cannot imagine moving back to Canada. I still define myself as French-Canadian, I laugh when people say it’s cold outside (though the English cold is so unpleasant, I’d take a Canadian cold any time instead) and I have an unhealthy obsession with maple syrup but a big chunk of my heart belongs to England now.

It’s said that you can never go home again, and it’s true enough, of course. But the opposite is also true. You must go back, and you always go back, and you can never stop going back, no matter how hard you try.
— Gregory David Roberts, Shantaram

I celebrated my first ‘UK anniversary’ a few days ago and I felt proud to do so; I overcame many fears this past year, I became more confident in myself and as Edward puts it, ‘I kicked butts’.

Life has changed a lot since February but only for the best. To this year, and to many more!

January Books

January was as busy as December, if not more. Since mid-December, we’ve had plans every weekend: gathering with friends, a photography exhibition, hiking trips to the Lake and Peak Districts, date nights, birthday dinners… I still found the time to squeeze in a bit of reading, though not as much as I would have liked.

I also recently rediscovered Goodreads and I am really enjoying finding new books and adding them to my to-read list – a list that grows daily. For those interested, you can find me here.

So far, February has been a quiet month and I’m hoping to tick a few more books off that reading list!

january-books

Edge of Eternity (The Century Trilogy) | Ken Follett
It took me several hours to get through this one, but every minute was worth it. I read the first two books in French and was waiting for the translation of this one but after visiting Berlin in December, I cracked and downloaded the English version to my Kindle. Edge of Eternity is a perfect novel for history lovers; it follows five interrelated families living in the United States, Germany, England and Russia from the early sixties to the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 through many historical events. It is amazingly well written and makes you feel as if you were there. I don’t think it is necessary to have read the two previous books to understand this one, but it’s always a bonus – Fall of Giants and Winter of the World are also remarkable novels.

Hidden Histories | Mary-Ann Ochata
A beautiful hardcover offered to me by my mother-in-law for Christmas, and totally the kind of book you leave on your coffee table to read a few pages from when you have a minute to spare… It explains the rich history of the British landscape: its hills and mountains, castles, forts and ruins. An interesting read for anyone who likes to walk or hike in England.

Let’s Explore Diabetes With Owls | David Sedaris
A funny collection of essays and short stories, and a good read if you like sarcastic humour. David Sedaris is an American writer and comedian living in England and travelling the world of which he has a very ‘biting’ vision. I laughed out loud while reading some stories but honestly, some of them were a bit boring… It’s not a bad book but I wouldn’t read it twice.

Happy reading!