28/01/2016

The Fabulous Life of an Expat


You know that annoyingly amazing cosmopolitan life all of your friends suddenly start living when they move abroad? A few weeks in and their social media accounts are bursting with pictures of fancy drinks, interesting local people and exciting new surroundings. Everything in their new home country is so much better than at home that they have almost forgotten their native language already: it's like stepping out of the national border swipes them off their feet. All those hashtags like #expatlife and #wanderlust makes you see red. Who do they think they are? Do they think they are somehow better than the rest - the ones who have decided to stay?

... Or could it be that we all actually live in the illusion that moving abroad suddenly fills our lives with parties, sparkles and glamour? Our expat friends are likely to share a limited amount of information with us through social media, showing only the interesting parts - and thus leaving us to an illusion that their everyday life is nothing but adventures and exploration.

This is what I have personally done during the past few years. I share the stories that I think might interest my friends and family back in the good old Finland - no one needs to know if I forgot to do my dishes after work or ate poutine for lunch. I will come up with a concrete real life example by sharing a photo of me from the time I lived in Leicester, UK.

How it looks like:

This picture was published on my Facebook news feed. You can try to spot me! (hint: I'm the only one with a Finnish flag on my shirt) Looks fun, eh? All the "cool international people", many of which I miss very dearly. But on the other side of the coin....

How it really is:
This picture wasn't published anywhere. It's an unedited picture of me from the New Year's Eve in Québec a few weeks back: At midnight, I jumped into the closest pile of snow after drinking a bit too much Finlandia Vodka my mother had sent me. My cheeks are red from the cold (and intoxication...), I'm wearing my friend Sébastien's spare clothes and there is overall nothing exciting happening in here. But it is part of my expat life nevertheless.

Sometimes the 7-hour time difference makes it hard for me to keep in contact with my friends and family in Finland. Reading chat messages from them on Facebook is one of my favourite morning routines. However, many of these messages often start with phrases such as "I know you must be busy, but..." and "Do you have a moment to just briefly tell me how you're doing?" The assumed haste implied in such messages makes me reconsider my social media identity: is this how I appear to my friends now that I live abroad? Do I keep my loved ones on track of my everyday life, or have I fallen into the distant #expatlife category? Does anyone even know how it really is to live your life as an expat?

We are made to believe that a migrant's life is like an extended holiday: the party goes on and every day is yet another adventure. The idea of setting a remotely normal humdrum life in another country might seem too obscure to many, and making the distinction between migration and travelling falls into its own impossibility. By travelling, we subconsciously create a confrontation between our home country and "abroad": "abroad" is where fun, adventures and margaritas happen, and our good old homeland is for work, routine and settling down. It's a common misbelief to think that serious things cannot happen abroad, and often the expat's desire to leave his or her home country also gets misunderstood. The will to become an expatriate is seen as an attempt to escape the everyday reality and have that extended holiday.

As we see expats as escapists running from their routine life to an endless stream of parties and adventures, we also end up creating a skewed image of their reality in our minds. That is exactly when the aforementioned, apologetic Facebook messages happen: we want to know how our friends are doing, even if we are convinced they're busy having multicultural cheese 'n' wine soirées on a daily basis. We are afraid that their lives are too interesting to maintain a boringly normal friendship with someone from the old life. They must have better friends now, right?

A very touristic shot from Venice, Italy

The truth is something else. The truth is that an expat's life is just like any other life: we wake up to an alarm, we go to work, we eat a crappy lunch we patched up in the morning before running late to the bus stop. We come home from work in a crowded bus, sweat in our winter clothes, throw ourselves on the bed, exhausted from the day, and spend the rest of the evening watching New Girl. I might have just described my yesterday.

Living as an expat does not mean continuous visits to local tourist attractions, dinners in restaurants or strolling around with a camera hanging from our necks. On the contrary, it also isn't lonely, dark and meaningless wander from one day to another, without networks, comfortable routines or purpose. It is simply a life in another country. I hate waking up to my alarm at 6.15am, whether it happens in Finland or Canada. I'm happy to go and grab a beer with a friend after work, whether we will speak Finnish, English or French. There are good days and bad days. On some days I'm extremely busy running around from work to a bank to a grocery store to a pharmacy, and other days I lull in my bed until noon and won't even feel sorry.

The longer you stay, the less you care about attractions and activities in your new home country. As time goes by, you appreciate more your local grocery store finally stocking more of your favourite yoghurt, than squeezing yourself into an overly crowded museum downtown. Canada is my home, and I want to feel part of it - in good and bad. Despite some of the most amazing landscapes I have experienced in my life, I feel the most at home when I squeeze myself out of that rush hour bus and take a slow walk in the snow to our front porch, enjoying the silence. Canada is not my holiday, it is my routine.

As the cover picture of this post suggests, doing the dishes in a dirty kitchen is just as unappealing in England as it is in Finland. So every time I receive an apologetic message from a friend wondering if I'm too busy to answer, I sigh, look at the pile of dirty plates on my counter and think: "Yeah, she's right - I should be doing something else than procrastinating...."
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12/01/2016

Fairmont Le Château Frontenac - Québec's front page


There isn't a more iconic landmark for the city of Québec than the castle hotel Fairmont Le Château Frontenac. Try it yourself: type Québec city in Google search and you'll find your display filled with pictures of this very hotel. The hotel stands on a hill Cap Diamant, watching over the St. Lawrence river, and its silhouette can surely be seen from a distance between a few skyscrapers and other office buildings. But a hotel as the biggest attraction for a 400-year old city, isn't that a bit... odd? Let's find out!

Frontenac is the most photographed hotel in the whole world - and no wonder, since its appearance is straight out of a Disney movie. The castle fits perfectly into its milieu in the heart of the fortified Old Town of Québec. This hotel looks stunning from outside and is available for everyone to take photos, but its branding as a luxury hotel makes it a bit more tricky to get to enjoy it from the inside.

The plot twist of this iconic landmark is the fact that, despite the romantic appearance and historic surroundings, the building has never been an actual castle. Frontenac was built in the late 19th century by William van Horne, the General Manager of Canadian Pacific Railway (CP). The idea was to build a suitable place of stay for CP's customers. The architecture of the hotel got its influence from the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, and owes its name to the French governor Louis de Buade, Count of Frontenac. It's an obvious place of stay for any celebrity who pops by the city: former customers include the British royals King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, Ronald Reagan, Albert Hitchcock and Princess Grace of Monaco.

So how does the hotel look from the inside? I was lucky enough to get a close look of the settings inside the castle, and it's by far the most beautiful hotel I have ever had a chance to visit.

The entrance to the front desk

We visited the hotel in November, when all the Christmas decorations were already in place. Frontenac shines brightly on the inside with all its golden decorations and chandeliers, so additional Christmas trees were a cherry on top.

There are multiple elevators to the upper floors. We used the ones underneath to get all the way up to the 8th floor. The floors 9, 10 and 11 are reserved for exclusive suites, and need a separate keycard to be accessible.



The corridor of Frontenac's 8th floor surely looks different to those cheap-ass hostels I've stayed in during my travels... But how about the hotel rooms themselves?


This is a basic room with an extra bed. My favourite part of the room was the little windows opening us a view to the tower of the hotel, as well as the main entrance. However, the most curious I was about the bathroom - how does a toilet look like in an expensive hotel like this? There were some very special elements in it, one of which was the following:


The room service had kindly made this sort of bed for the toothbrushes during our day in the Old Town. It sure looks cozy!


Shower products were offered by the hotel, which is something that a budget traveller like me doesn't always get to experience.

The most peculiar feature of the whole hotel room must have been the double doors to the bathroom: they were too narrow to be opened separately, so both had to be opened to fit through the door.

The staff at the hotel is extremely polite and helpful. The housekeeper, Edith, surprised my little sister with towel animals every day after the clean up. Needless to say, Edith got a nice little drawing from her as a thank you.
Towel turtle
There is a restaurant, a bar and a Starbucks (yes, you read correctly) in the hotel, all of which have a stunning view to the St. Lawrence river. Frontenac actually offers some really nice viewpoints to observe the Old Town from above. The following picture features one of my favourite elements in the whole city: the mountain range in the horizon.


A view from inside the hotel towards the St. Lawrence river
Overall Frontenac is very beautiful and well kept hotel. A tip for a customer-to-be though: everything costs extra at Frontenac. Breakfast is not included (and costs an average of 68 dollars per person), wifi in the room is not included (15 dollars a day), and parking most definitely is not included - but your car will be driven to the parking hall for you.

Would definitely recommend, if you happen to have an extra few hundred dollars to spend!
Website: Fairmont Le Château Frontenac

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