Urban Travel with a Twist: 5 European Cities in the Spotlight

August is arguably the most popular vacation season all year round. While it might be a bit too late to book this year’s trip, this travel-themed post will hopefully serve as inspiration for 2015.

According to the UN World Tourism Organization, Europe is still the most popular tourist destination worldwide. With a share of 52% in terms of international visitor arrivals in 2013, it beats all other continents by far.

European landmarks, collage Within Europe, in turn, the following five countries emerge as clear winners when it comes to counting heads: France, Spain, Italy, Germany, and the UK.

They are the holiday destinations par excellence; coincidentally, all five are listed among the UN WTO’s global top ten as well.

Of course, the beautiful beaches of the Mediterranean might just have something to with that. However, the ITB World Travel Trade Fair states that the volume of city trips has been continuously growing for the past few years.

We’ve therefore decided to put five European metropolises in the spotlight.

Are you looking for urban travel with a twist? Then check out our suggestions!

Paris: Underground

Don’t bother with the sheer endless queues for ascending the Eiffel Tower. A look at the famous City of Lights from down below provides a different perspective.

For tourists, becoming a true cataphile might not quite be recommended. Those (in)famous urban explorers enter forbidden parts of the Paris catacombs, as well as some of the city’s sewage tunnels, illegally.

Parisian metro sign Obviously, you needn’t break the law or run the risk of getting trapped in an abandoned passage in order to share a bit of that thrill. Les catacombes are partially open to the public, being a well-known visitor attraction in their own right.

However, few tourists know that you, too, can book guided tours through the métro (including a visit to a disused “ghost station”) and explore the history of les égouts – the city’s sewers.

Not only is there an official sewage museum, but you can also follow the waste-water tunnels on metal walkways. Having a strong cold could come in handy, though…

Barcelona: Quirky

When you start a shopping spree in Catalonia’s capital, you’d better ignore the typical chain stores close to the Porta de l’Angel or even the so-called “Quadrat d’Or” near the Plaça Catalunya. Unless you have a platinum credit card – then knock yourself out in the designer boutiques of the “Golden Square”.

For visitors with a less flexible budget, Barcelona rather impresses by virtue of its quirky or old-fashioned stores. While the traditional Mercat de la Boqueria has become a veritable tourist magnet, the covered market is still very much worth a visit. InterNations Expat Blog Urban Travel with a Twist Pic 2

And don’t forget to check out the somewhat shabby Carrer de le Riera Baixa: It’s one of BCN’s top addresses for vintage clothes and second-hand bargains.

If you enjoy rummaging through small stores in search of something less than ordinary, this is the place for you. Also stop by at the Els Encants Nous flea market and the curiosity shops in the neighborhood.

Last but not least, bibliophiles shouldn’t miss out on La Central. Generally considered to be Barcelona’s best bookshop for Spanish and Catalan titles, it also offers a (somewhat limited) selection of foreign language books. The big Raval branch houses a nice café as well.

Rome: Tasty

Yes, we’ve all seen Eat Pray Love and are well aware that culinary explorations of the Eternal City’s earthly delights have long gone mainstream.

And yet – Rome just overwhelms you with its embarrassment of artistic riches and religious sites. If you are looking for something a little less cerebral and spiritual, what better option is there than Italian food?

Various agencies offer guided walking tours around the city’s markets, specialty shops, and traditional eateries. However, if you prefer doing your own thing, you can probably cram this foodie program into one day.

Tiramisu Start out at the National Museum of Pasta, lovingly dedicated to nine centuries of noodles. Then you can spend the afternoon admiring (and tasting!) the world’s most famous tiramisu at Bar Pompi and/or eating your way through assorted gelaterias.

If you still have the stomach for it, you can unwind over an early evening aperitivo. In many bars, you’ll even get free fingerfood to go with your cocktail.

Munich: Sporty

When you think of Munich, the first thing to come to mind is probably beer. But let’s just forget about the awful “beer mobile” – a strange, bike-like contraption for sightseeing-cum-drinking tours, as well as an obvious tourist trap for soon-to-be tipsy backpackers.

In fact, Munich isn’t merely home to various breweries and beergardens. If you rather want to see Munich’s more active and sporty side for yourself, there are plenty of ways to do so.

The local surfing community (yes, you’ve read that correctly) that frequents the Englischer Garten is a must-see for curious visitors. But you can easily get a bit of exercise yourself!

InterNations Expat Blog Urban Travel with a Twist Pic 4For instance, you could go for a swim or just a couple of hours in the steam room of Müllersches Volksbad, Munich’s oldest public pool, with its elegant art déco interior from the early 1900s.

Unsurprisingly, the city boasts several indoor climbing locations, where you can practice your abseiling skills before you head out to the Alps.

If you don’t have the time for a detour to the mountains, there are also guided tours for climbing the tented roof of the large stadium from the 1972 Summer Olympics. Not quite the Zugspitze, but still fun!

London: Outdoors

A quasi-rural atmosphere with plenty of leafy greenery and a flourishing wildlife isn’t exactly what buzzing London is internationally famous for. But if you should ever stay in the city during the summer months, just join the locals on Hampstead Heath.

The 320-hectares public park in northern London was used as common land on the outskirts of Victorian London until the late 19th century. Today, it’s a great spot for urban ecologists interested in its amazing biodiversity, for long-distance runners looking for a suitable practice ground, and even for fearless swimmers.

Its erstwhile water reservoirs have all been turned into ponds, three of which serve as natural outdoor pools. Take note, though: The water temperature in summer usually ranges from 18°C to 20°C – but you can even use two of the ponds all year round. Brrr…InterNations Expat Blog Urban Travel with a Twist Pic 5

In case you’re more the arty than the outdoorsy type, Hampstead Heath is home to the freshly refurbished Kenwood House: The stately 18th-century villa boasts a small but select art collection.

It is also the setting of a recent costume drama. The biopic Belle (2014), starring Gugu Mbatha-Raw, focuses on the unusual story of Dido Elizabeth Belle, an illegitimate mixed-race member of Kenwood’s aristocratic family.

Aficionados of English literature may know that Keats House, the erstwhile home of Romantic poet John Keats, is close to the Heath as well.

While Keats is buried on the Protestant Cemetary in Rome, other famous writers have been laid to rest on nearby Highgate Cemetery – such as Victorian novelist George Eliot and German exile Karl Marx.

The lush and verdant graveyard is truly peaceful, rather than morbid – urban legends about ghosts and the mysterious Highgate Vampire notwithstanding.

(Image credit: iStockphoto.com)

From Trailing Spouse to Trailblazing Spouse!

Today I am going to spill three “dirty secrets” of trailing spouses, and I suspect that many of you will be glad I did. I am talking about things that you or your fellow trailing spouse likely wouldn’t admit in public, but chances are, you can relate.

InterNations Expat Blog Trailblazing Spouse 1 Don’t worry: After the cat is out of the bag, I will share three proven steps to do less trailing and more living. This insight is based upon years of experience training and coaching trailing spouses from six continents – complimented by my own expatriate experiences in Switzerland and West Africa. Three “dirty secrets” most trailing spouses won’t admit in public:

1. “I am a bit lost.”

You would never guess it by talking to them at the school’s drop-off spot or over a cold drink on a Friday night. However, there are a significant number of women who, while confident on the outside, feel stuck. Self-doubt sits like a small but irritating weight on an otherwise happy heart.

Don´t get me wrong — these are strong, productive women. At the same time there is a part of them that feels lost, in doubt or simply down. Ironically, most are slow to even admit this to themselves. This somewhat subtle yet uncomfortable reality is a signal of an inner desire for change.

2. “It is not enough just to be with the kids.”

What mother in her right mind would admit this in public? We all agree children are a gift. Children can add depth and joy to our lives that is unparalleled. Yet, all too often there is an undertone of shame when women do anything but put their children’s wishes ahead of all else.

One of my workshop participants said it beautifully: It is like negotiating at a street market when you propose a price and the seller responds: C’est bon, mais n’est pas arrivé. It is good, but it’s not enough.

InterNations Expat Blog Trailblazing Spouse 3 The women who feel this way are amazing mothers. They are dedicated, available, measured in their discipline and generous with their love. They love being a mom. It is meaningful to them.

At the same time, these women are hungry for a purpose outside of motherhood and beyond supporting their partner. They are talented and eager to make a contribution to the world. They have underutilized skills and talents that are bursting at the seams to be shared.

3. “I want control.”

No, they don’t want to control others. They want some sense of control over their time and things that are meaningful for them.

A trailing spouse can easily have her day filled up for her with school and home obligations – especially in some countries where “getting things done” can be far more complex.

Ok, the truth is out. You can see these are actually not dirty secrets but pure realities for women who are hugely supportive of their children as well as their partners.

Business woman with the globeFor those of you who feel like I have just spoken to your soul – I invite you to begin the journey of going from trailing spouse to Trailblazing Spouse™.

By my definition, a Trailblazing Spouse™ comes clean of these “dirty secrets” by taking charge of her own life. Here is how she does it:

* She has projects that are fulfilling and in alignment with her future goals.

* She is happy – and when she is not, she can recognize it and has solid strategies to make things better.

* She has a community of like-minded individuals whom she can call upon for personal and professional support.

* She has resolved the identity dilemmas from the relocation.

* She has found balance between the needs of her family and her own.

A Trailblazing Spouse™ has found joy in her life abroad and is committed to making the best of it.

Here are three steps that will help you get there: up, back and forward.

1. What brings you up?

Get crystal clear on what lights you up. Name two things you know you´ve always wanted to do or experience. Make a commitment to get started on one of these within the next three weeks.

2. What holds you back?

Make a list of the excuses you tell yourself. Name what scares you most about doing the things that bring you joy. Lonely girl with suitcase at country road.

3. What is so appealing that it will move you forward?

Identify one small step forward on your trail. Bribe yourself with something so amazing that it is irresistible to take the first step. Celebrate this accomplishment and repeat liberally.

Just get started today. Your adventure is waiting.

The author, Sundae Schneider-Bean, is an experienced coach and intercultural specialist who helps trailing spouses transform their lives. She offers programs and coaching for trailing spouses to live in better alignment with their passions and skills.

(Image credit: iStockphoto.com)

Playing for a Change: The InterNations World Games 2014

By now, the FIFA World Cup counts as old news, and even the euphoria in the wake of the German victory has died down.

However, at the InterNations office in Munich, we now have another soccer-related reason to celebrate: The first InterNations World Games series has just finished!

What are the InterNations World Games? – The local soccer tournaments in several InterNations Communities are part of our Volunteer Program.

InterNations Expat Blog World Games 2014 Pic 2“Why not give our members a strong sense of purpose in their Local Community?” InterNations founder Malte Zeeck describes the motivation for introducing the Volunteer Program in the first place.
“We can leverage our huge member base to make a difference on a global scale.”

Where and when did the InterNations World Games take place? – Our volunteers organized these fun activities in seven cities around the globe: Dallas, Dubai, Madrid, Moscow, Munich, Vienna, and Zurich.

The kick-off happened in Munich, as early as mid-June, just in time for the grand opening of the “official” World Cup. The finale, so to speak, took place in Moscow last weekend, on July 27.

Why did we come up with this idea? – With the InterNations World Games, we hoped to accomplish three goals that really matter to us:

– We wanted to increase awareness of the InterNations Volunteer Program in general.

– We intended to show a positive example of multicultural team spirit. We didn’t just want to do something for people in need; what’s also very important is to be inclusive and do it with them.

InterNations Expat Blog World Games 2014 Pic 1The refugees supported by the Volunteer Program in Munich and Vienna, for example, were invited to form their own teams and join in the competition. The Vienna World Games thus ended in a well-deserved triumph for the Caritas mixed squad from Nigeria and Afghanistan.

– Last but not least, we also planned to raise some funds on behalf of the local NPOs that our various Volunteer Groups cooperate with.

“The World Games activity was perfectly timed. It served as a great platform for promoting our recently formed Volunteer Program in Dallas and the fund-raising efforts underway.” Looks like our three Group Consuls from the Dallas area, Sanjeeb, Shalah, and Doaa, scored a hit with their tournament!

Who benefits from the InterNations World Games? – As mentioned above, every Volunteer Group works together with a local non-profit which they provide with regular and sustainable support.

InterNations Expat Blog World Games 2014 Pic 3In the seven World Games cities, the respective NPOs include household names like Caritas or the Red Cross; they aid refugees, orphans, or homeless families, as well as impoverished children or kids with special needs.

On behalf of these people and the entire InterNations team, we’d like to thank everyone who made this victory possible.

A special thank you goes to our local sponsors in Madrid (Schindler Group), Munich (Sat 1 / Club Padel München / Sony Music & Entertainment), and Vienna (Sportanlage KSV Siemens Grossfeld), who provided us with t-shirts for our youngest participants, great prizes for our winners, and the gracious offer of a free venue for the day!

Of course, heartfelt thanks go to our Group Consuls in all the InterNations Communities who got involved, to the volunteers who helped to organize the tournaments and made sure they ran smoothly, and to the over 300 attendees who came to participate, cheer on the players, and have fun for a good cause.

And unlike the FIFA World Cup, the InterNations World Games will hopefully return next year. Here’s to 2015!

You haven’t been there? Just have a look for yourself!

InterNations World Games 2014 from InterNations on Vimeo.

(Image credit: 1) Arun Amirtham 2) InterNations 3) Franz Schnedl; video credit: InterNations)

What Not to Bring: The 3 Most Random Items for a Desert Island

What would you take with you to a desert island? When we posed this question in the InterNations office, answers were predictably diverse, but not always serious. Here’s a look at some of the funnier suggestions on what (not) to take with you.

Prompted by the changeable summer weather, quite a few InterNations staffers have found themselves dreaming of crystal clear waters, sandy shores, and calm island life instead of working in a busy city.

Which got us wondering: What would we take with us to a desert island? You may have already had a read through our more serious list of suggestions.

However, among knives, sunscreen, and building equipment, there were also some less serious answers to be found. Here are the InterNation team’s top 3 things (not) to bring to a desert island.

Your Whole LibraryInterNations Expat Blog_3 Random Things for a Desert Island_Pic 1

True, bringing a book with you for entertainment and survival purposes is generally not a bad idea. Even if you get tired of reading the same old text, paper can at least be used to make a fire.

The range of reads suggested by the InterNations staff, however, surprised even the bookish members of the Editorial Office. From books on reincarnation (to feed the imagination) to Daniel Defoe’s famous novel Robinson Crusoe (“He managed somehow!”), there seems to have been something for every taste.

But let’s be honest, would you really schlep The Complete Works of William Shakespeare with you to a remote island? Our alternative suggestion: someone develop a solar-powered eBook reader, please!

A Monkey

InterNations Expat Blog_3 Random Things for a Desert Island_Pic 2 Life on a desert island is bound to get lonely at one point or another. Having company, even if only in the form of a pet, is not such a bad idea.

One of our colleagues even had a very particular species in mind: a monkey! Her reasoning? “It can not only entertain me, but also get the bananas and coconuts off the trees for me.”

Thinking about it, this really does sound like a good idea. And who knows, if you are already proficient with training animals, you may be able to get any native monkeys to do the same. King or Queen of the Monkeys has a nice ring to it.

BatmanInterNations Expat Blog_3 Random Things for a Desert Island_Pic 3

Looking at the various answers, you could usually tell very quickly how serious a person took the task.

Mini-bar, ice-cream machine, and an X-Box are realistically not going to help you much after a shipwreck. Better bring a knife, medication, and a rescue flare!

Or go all out and take Batman along with you, as one InterNations staffer suggested:

“Batman is always good at getting out of situations. I figure he’ll help me.”

DC Comics may disagree, though.

(Image credit: 1) 1623 Shakespeare First Folio edition, public domain 2) Bali: The Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary by flickr user William Cho 3) Batman Artwork by Wikimedia Media Commons user Nicholas Gemini)

The Mercer Cost of Living League Table 2014

Same procedure as every year: the latest version of Mercer Consulting’s annual Cost of Living Survey is making the rounds again. The yearly report takes a look at expatriate expenses, from housing over food to leisure, in more than 200 cities around the world.

Just like last year’s top ten list, the 2014 ranking shows a sharp divide: The paradoxically cost-intensive capitals of two rather poor countries contrast with various affluent cities. Once more, the list unites the boomtowns of Asia and the consistently high living standard of stable Switzerland.

InterNations Expat Blog Mercer Cost of Living 2014 Pic 4 The 10 Costliest Destinations

• Luanda, Angola
• N’Djamena, Chad
• Hong Kong
• Singapore
• Zurich, Switzerland
• Geneva, Switzerland
• Tokyo, Japan
• Bern, Switzerland
• Moscow, Russia
• Shanghai, China

A Closer Look at Luanda and N’Djamena

Luanda still ranks at the very top of the Mercer table, while N’Djamena has moved up a little from #4 in 2013.

However, if you have a look at the world’s gross domestic products by state, neither Angola nor Chad count among the wealthier countries by any stretch of the imagination. Their GDPs, as compared on a purchasing power parity basis, rather imply very low living standards for the average resident.

Why then are they such expensive destinations for expatriates? And why do expats keep moving there? While most people will hardly think of either city as a premier destination, both Luanda and N’Djamena do have a well-established expat community. InterNations Expat Blog Mercer Cost of Living 2014 Pic 3

In N’Djamena, the foreign community mostly consists of diplomatic staff, employees of humanitarian organizations, and corporate assignees. Since 2003, the lion’s share of Chad’s national wealth has come from the petroleum sector; international companies, mainly from the US and China, have invested there.

Oil is also one of Angola’s key income sources, and both countries boast other natural resources as well, such as diamonds, gold, or uranium. Moreover, unlike unstable Chad, Angola has now put an end to almost three decades of violent unrest and civil war (1975-2002).

The development of Angola’s damaged and much neglected infrastructure requires plenty of qualified personnel, including hire from abroad. The Eurozone crisis makes the former Portuguese colony, with its fast-growing economy and construction boom, pretty popular among youngish immigrants from Portugal.

But life in these cities comes at a price. In places where a significant percentage of the local population lives under the poverty line, adequate accommodation, security measures, and imported consumer goods are all luxuries, which force you to dig deep into your pocket.

From Singapore to Switzerland

The rest of the list requires far fewer explanations for the casual reader. Hong Kong and Singapore have long been (in)famous for their elevated costs of expat living. In the two city states, space is limited, which leads to lots of high-rise buildings as well as soaring real estate prices.

Furthermore, in those meccas of capitalism and global finance, government aid for lower income groups is frequently limited to locals and long-term residents. Plenty of expats who move there for a career boost thus receive competitive salaries, but they are definitely going to need the money!

InterNations Expat Blog Mercer Cost of Living 2014 Pic 1If Singapore is often called the “Switzerland of Asia”, then Switzerland should perhaps be considered the “Singapore of Europe”: a relatively small country with a highly skilled labor force, a well-developed service sector, a strong finance and insurance industry, and a general reputation for prosperity and stability.

All these factors spell “excellent standard of living”. Alas, it also means paying the equivalent of five US dollars for a simple cup of coffee in beautiful Zurich (and we’re talking just coffee, black or with milk, not a big blended caramel frappuccino).

The Impact of Fluctuating Currencies

Speaking of US dollars: Some of the changes in the ranking are simply due to currency fluctuations. New York City (#16) is used as a base of comparison, and the prices are also compared in USD. Any year-to-year change in exchange rates is therefore reflected in the study.

This explains why both Tokyo and Moscow have dropped a few ranks since 2013. InterNations Expat Blog Mercer Cost of Living 2014 Pic 2 When measured against the US currency, both the Japanese yen and the Russian ruble are now slightly weaker than they were last year.

The Chinese yuan, on the other hand, has strengthened. Therefore, Shanghai – indeed one of China’s most expensive places – is the first city in mainland China to move up among the Mercer top 10.

(Source: Mercer.com; image credit: 1) Hong Kong Skyline: A Symphony of Lights by flickr user WiNG) 2) Delapidated apartment building in Luanda, Angola by flickr user Martin H. 3) Zürich and Lake Zürich by Wikimedia Commons user MadGeographer 4) 100 ruble banknote 2013, public domain)

InterNations Relaunch: Follow-Up on Networking Feedback

After our beta testers were invited to try out our new networking features, they sent us lots of positive and helpful feedback.

    Many of you let us know that you’d like to see your sent pending contact requests, as well as those that you’ve received. Therefore we will be adding a sent contact requests page to the feature.Thank You
    Plenty of InterNations members shared their suggestions on enhancing the usability and design of our messaging interface. We will release an updated version of that feature at an upcoming stage in our ongoing relaunch. Your feedback will help us in making it as user-friendly as possible.
    Last but certainly not least, you also contributed to helping us fix some bugs, thus ensuring that the networking features are ready for the general roll-out among all InterNations members.

A big thank you to all our beta testers! If you’re interested in joining them, you can still sign up for our beta testing program!

InterNations Relaunch: Networking Now in Beta Phase

Have you already signed up for our InterNations beta testing program? As a beta tester, you will be part of an exclusive group: the first members to see and try those parts of our website that are going through a major relaunch.

Today, we have just released the first round of changes to update an essential part of the InterNations website — the features that help you manage your international contacts and network with other expats and global minds.

New Networking Experience for Beta Testers

Here’s what our beta testers can try out:

InterNations Expat Blog Beta Test Networking * Connecting with other InterNations members is now a lot easier. You can add them faster to your network. You may still add a personal message if you wish, but this part is now optional.

* The page for contact requests sports a brand-new look: The design is sleek and simple, and more importantly, we have increased its general user-friendliness.

* It really matters to us that all our members feel comfortable and safe when using our website. Therefore, we have added a new functionality to networking on InterNations: You can now block another member from twinkling you, as well as sending you a contact request or a personal message.

Give It a Try and Have Your Say

We hope that the first installment of our site relaunch will enhance your InterNations user experience. Just check out the screenshot in this entry, or try out the new features yourself on InterNations.

If you aren’t a beta tester yet, there’s still time to sign up for the beta testing program!

Got any suggestions regarding the new networking functions? Need to ask us some questions about this part of the relaunch?

Feel free to leave a comment below!

Please understand that we may not be able to reply to everyone individually. However, we will indeed read every comment and do our best to accommodate your input and clarify open questions.

Thank you for your support!

(Image credit: InterNations — To see a full-sized version of the new contact requests page, please click on the small screenshot included above.)

Founder’s Diary: InterNations Goes Madrid

When I described saying good-bye to Catharina, our long-term Local Ambassador in Madrid, a few months ago, I promised to be back with exciting news concerning our InterNations Community in the Spanish capital. This time, my visit to Madrid was again a very special one.

In March, after Catharina stepped down as InterNations Ambassador to move back to Germany, we found our very first Community Manager to support our expat members on location. After a thorough recruiting process (we received more than 300 applications!), we finally welcomed Christoph to this new position.

Meet Christoph, our New Man in Madrid

Christoph was born in Mainz, a historical German city in the Rhine-Main area, famous for its carnival celebrations. After finishing secondary school, he moved to nearby Wiesbaden to do his one-year community service in a home for people with disabilities – an experience that left a lasting impression. He spent some time in Wiesbaden, but became increasingly sick and tired of everyday life in Germany.

InterNations Expat Blog Community Manager Madrid Pic 2In search of adventure he escaped literally to the ends of the earth: He packed his bags and went to New Zealand for six months, long before the Internet and staying in touch across the globe became a thing. He enjoyed meeting the relaxed and friendly “Kiwis”, as well as exploring New Zealand’s amazing scenery.

“Down under”, he figured out what he wanted to do in the long run: Returning to Germany, Christoph graduated in Cultural Studies and Management from the University of Leipzig. There, he started his career as an intern at the Leipzig Opera House – and eventually became the Executive Director of Leipzig Ballet.

Since Christoph married a Spanish expat woman, the couple decided to leave Germany for Madrid in 2005. Once arrived, Christoph was very busy behind the scenes: First, he worked as the Executive Producer of big musicals like Chicago or The Lion King, then as the Executive Director of the Spanish National Ballet.

In 2013, however, he took off a year from work to spend more time with his family, after so many years in 24/7 jobs, exciting though they were. Fortunately for us, Christoph was looking for a new challenge when we were looking for our first Community Manager!

InterNations Community Manager: a Short Profile

The reasons for introducing this position mostly come down to this: We’d like to offer our InterNations Ambassadors and Group Consuls more direct, hands-on support, thus creating an even more vibrant local life for our Madrid Community.

InterNations Expat Blog Community Manager Madrid Pic 7 Christoph’s responsibilities include selecting and supporting the Ambassadors and Consuls, organizing all official InterNations Events, and coordinating the InterNations Activities in our highly dynamic group section.

With more than 21,000 members, Madrid has now established itself as one of our Top 10 InterNations Communities worldwide. Every week, another large InterNations Event takes place in one of the city’s top locations.

It is now Christoph’s task to organize these huge gatherings, with over 300 attendees each, and to ensure that our expat crowd in Madrid can attend various great event venues. Recently, they’ve explored several locations with rooftop terraces to make the most of Madrid’s mellow summer nights.

In addition to our Madrid Events, there are around 60 InterNations Activity Groups in town, which organize at least one activity per month. Our Albatross Members in Madrid can, on average, choose among two different activities each day!

InterNations Expat Blog Community Manager Madrid Pic 1 Theresa (our Head of Community Management) and I met up with Christoph on the rooftop terrace of the Círculo de bellas artes for a business lunch. We wanted to talk to the venue’s manager about organizing an InterNations Event there, and we needed to discuss the Group Consul kick-off meeting scheduled for later that night.

The views of the cityscape were amazing, and a few light showers of rain couldn’t scare off the patrons. Everyone just held up an umbrella while continuing to eat and talk and relax outside.

Kick Off! The First Group Consul Meeting in Madrid

At 19:30, the Consul kick-off session (the first of three) started at Macadamia. The informal tapas bar with its relaxed ambience was perfect for a presentation and casual networking among global minds.

What was the idea behind this meeting? It was quite simple, really: Get all Madrid Ambassadors and Group Consuls together to introduce them to Christoph, as well as each other.

InterNations Expat Blog Community Manager Madrid Pic 5 We could explain our global mission and vision, and they had the chance to tell us what drives our Group Consuls, what they like about InterNations, and what’s bothering them. Over Spanish fingerfood and delicious drinks, everyone could share their personal story about why they’d decided first to join InterNations and then to become a Group Consul.

The 20 Group Consuls in attendance all agreed that they’d started or taken over an Activity Group because they just like sharing their hobbies with other international people. They are all socially active people who believe in the idea of InterNations – to bring members from various cultures together.

As happens so often when I get to meet our members, I was hugely impressed by the diversity of interests, backgrounds, and personalities.

For example, there was Asel from Kyrgyztan, who runs the “Follow the Silk Road” group, aiming to bring the culture of various Central Asian countries a little closer to Madrid. One member, Jorge, organizes an impressive five groups in total: He’s the Consul of both the popular “Madrid Singles” Group and a variety of Activity Groups for sports enthusiasts.

InterNations Expat Blog Community Manager Madrid Pic 4Anna from Moscow is one of the Consuls for our Volunteer Program Group, which cooperates closely with Soñar Despierto, an NPO supporting underprivileged children and their families. Two of our three Madrid Ambassadors also joined us: Joy, the polyglot in charge of “Language Exchange”, and Roberto, one of the global minds behind the “Global Nomads”.

These are but a few of the people I met that night: There are Activity Groups for dogwalkers, for salsa dancers, for expat women, for hobby photographers, and many more.

The Future of InterNations Community Life

The Group Consuls had something else in common: Once Christoph finished his presentation, they all had tons of questions to ask and lots of experience to share. The brainstorming effect of that initial session worked out really well.

InterNations Expat Blog Community Manager Madrid Pic 6 Oftentimes, they were able to answer their fellow consuls’ questions and give one another tips. They invited one another to their upcoming InterNations Activities, and plenty of contact details were exchanged.

However, one common concern arose that evening: Most Group Consuls are rather bothered by the tendency among certain members to sign up for various InterNations Activities, but never show up. As soon as money is involved (e.g. for concert tickets, restaurant bookings, etc.), this becomes a major problem.

As a next step for finding best-practice solutions to such issues and just having a good time together, Christoph suggested a monthly “Stammtisch” for Group Consuls: an informal meet-up to discuss their experience and catch up with one another.

InterNations Expat Blog Community Manager Madrid Pic 3The following morning, during our team breakfast at the Hotel de las Letras, the three of us were really thrilled about the positive community spirit that characterized our first meeting with the Madrid Group Consuls.

By now, we’ve found a Community Manager for Munich to further test this model, and we are currently thinking about adding a third city. Who knows? Maybe there’ll be community managers and InterNations offices in all our top communities one day…

(Image credit: Malte Zeeck / InterNations)

Celebrate Your InterNations Community!

It’s time to celebrate! In July, InterNations will be scheduling special Events and Activities to honor our nearly 400 vibrant Local Communities around the world.

This month’s theme is “Celebrate Your Community!”, so don’t forget to thank and toast all the amazing people who are spreading the InterNations spirit across the globe: InterNations Expat Blog Celebrate Your Community

• our Local Ambassadors, who regularly host so many great get-togethers for their international guests
• our Group Consuls, who create countless Activities for other expats and global minds with the same interests
• the participants in our InterNations Volunteer Program, who give back to less privileged people in their communities
• all the InterNations members who enjoy getting connected online as well as offline

In addition to fêting our active community life, the theme is also supposed to provide a local twist to the ideas that our InterNations Ambassadors and Consuls come up with. This is the perfect opportunity to get creative and provide especially our expat members with a local-style experience or treat.

For example, in Lugano event attendees can take advantage of the Ticino’s warm summers and picturesque lake: They will be chilling under the July sun at the Lido di Agno, aka Golfo di Sole, one of the region’s most popular public beaches.

The San Francisco Community has decided to combine their international event with the 4th of July celebrations for Independence Day in the US. Thus, they can all watch the fireworks display over the waterfront together.

800px-Fireworks_in_San_Jose_California_2007_07_04_by_Ian_Kluft_img_9618 And a bit further to the north than sunny California, the InterNations Malmö Community explores one of the most charming and authentic corners in town, the quaint historical neighborhood of St Gertrud, which now hosts a conference center, several pubs and restaurants, and a quiet courtyard.

These are only three upcoming gatherings from our InterNations Event Calendar for July. Just check our site to see how your Local Community celebrates!

Of course, our Activity Groups also have plenty of fun in store. Social Nations Malta, for instance, will attend the local Marsovin Wine Festival, dedicated to Maltese vintages; Dinner Nations Oslo tries some traditional Norwegian cuisine, and one of our groups in Istanbul invites you to a Turkish weekend brunch with a splendid view of the Bosporus.

Yes, in July there’ll be indeed plenty of time and reason to celebrate, no matter where you are. Enjoy!

(Image credit: 1) InterNations 2) Fireworks in San José, California, 4th of July 2007 by Wikimedia Commons user Ian Kluft)

A Summer without Soccer?

Right now, football fever has plenty of fans worldwide firmly in its grasp. But what about those folks who don’t care much about the FIFA World Cup 2014? (Yes, they do exist.)

What should they do to keep busy until the big finale on July 13? And what have the footie fanatics got to look forward to once the spectacle is over?

So, here’s our list of five fun activities for all expats who think there’s more to summer than soccer!

1) Attend an open-air concert.

No matter where you are living at the moment, every major town has at least a couple of music events that take place outdoors. Smaller, local ones are often for free, whereas large international festivals are tourist attractions in their own right.

InterNations Expat Blog 5 Summer Fun Activities Pic 2The younger generation in particular will be flocking to the many rock and pop events around the world: to Glastonbury in the UK, Roskilde in Denmark, or Vienna’s Danube Island, to cite but a few famous venues. There’s even an annual rock festival at the foot of Mount Fuji in Japan!

However, if you’re like me, you may think that your days of camping in the mud and sharing clogged showers with drunken teens are rapidly coming to an end. More mature music lovers might prefer enjoying their favorite arias or classical masterpieces in a spectacular setting – for instance, in Verona’s amphitheater or on a floating stage on Lake Constance.

If you’re in the UK, don’t miss out on the popular “proms”. Though they are held indoors, mostly in the venerable Royal Albert Hall, it’s an entire summer chock full of classical and contemporary “serious” music. The anything but serious Last Night of the Proms can also be watched outdoors on gigantic screens in Hyde Park.

2) Go fruit-picking.

Right now, it’s still strawberry season here in Germany, and every single food magazine available at supermarket checkouts seems to be advertising their most popular berry recipes. Just check what’s literally ripe for picking in your area and plan a daytrip to the countryside on the next weekend!

InterNations Expat Blog 5 Summer Fun Activities Pic 1If you like planning in advance, you may also consider a mini-break in late summer or early autumn when the local harvest season starts. Depending on your location or destination, it’s then time for gathering apples, grapes, olives, and more.

Quite a few agricultural estates offer visitors the chance to participate in the harvest. It’s an excellent opportunity to get some exercise in the fresh air, buy fresh produce, and try your hand at a local recipe or two. Have fun!

3) Enjoy star-gazing.

What could be more romantic than sitting outside on a mellow summer night, watching the sun set and the stars appear slowly in the night sky?

InterNations Expat Blog 5 Summer Fun Activities Pic 3 This summer – especially the month of August – is also a good season for hobby astronomers: It should be easy to observe several fascinating phenomena like the closest and largest full “supermoon” of the year, or a conjunction of Venus and Jupiter, the brightest planets in the sky.

To truly appreciate such astronomical events, you should take a trip away from all major cities and larger towns. The “light pollution” from urban areas is usually too much of a distraction.

For the same reason, the very best places on earth to look heavenward are actually found in Chile’s deserts and mountains. There’s even such a thing as “astronomical tourism” to Chilean observatories for the truly dedicated astronomy geeks.

Even if you aren’t much of a science nerd, you shouldn’t miss out on the Perseis Meteor Shower on August 12 and 13. Just count the falling stars and make a wish for each and every one!

4) Never go to bed at all.

If you’re in for the exact opposite of star-gazing, then look for northern places where the sun doesn’t set. In midsummer, from around June 12 to July 1, you simply need to cross the Arctic Circle to soak in the midnight sun.

But even somewhat further to the south, the so-called “midnight twilight” is pretty widespread at this time of the year. In Saint Petersburg, the long hours of sunshine are known as “White Nights”, giving their name to one of the city’s most popular arts and culture festivals as well. InterNations Expat Blog 5 Summer Fun Activities Pic 5

If you would rather combine the midnight sun and the rugged outdoors, you might plan an adventure holiday in such destinations as Alaska, Iceland, Greenland, the North Cape, or Svalbard.

The latter – a Norwegian archipelago in the Arctic Ocean – is home to seven national parks, nearly two dozen nature reserves, and about 3,000 polar bears. So you might be rather careful when you go hiking, fossil-hunting, kayaking, or horse riding there!

5) Get soaking wet.

If you want to have some fun in the cool water, your next summer holiday could be a good opportunity to explore one of the world’s most beautiful beaches.

Die-hard football fans who are already in Brazil should rejoice: The pristine Baia do Sancho, on the Fernando de Noronha islands off the north-eastern coast, isn’t only a UNESCO World Heritage Site; it also ranks regularly as the loveliest beach around the globe.

InterNations Expat Blog 5 Summer Fun Activities Pic 4Fortunately, there are beautiful coastlines in less remote places as well. For instance, Rhossili Bay in Wales and Sicily’s Rabbit Beach have their ardent admirers, too.

But what if there’s not enough time or money for a beach holiday this year? A stay at the nearest waterpark can be just as fun.

Thrill-seekers might be interested in locations in Brazil or the Bahamas. Those amusement parks offer the world’s allegedly tallest and fastest water slide, or a transparent tunnel through a shark-infested lagoon, respectively.

But the largest indoor water park is actually not located in an especially exotic place. “Tropical Islands” occupies a former aircraft hangar in the countryside near … Berlin, Germany.

And what’s on your to-do list for this summer?

(Image credit: 1) Glastonbury Festival 2011 by flickr user jaswooduk 2) Fresh Strawberries from Sanok, Poland 2013 by Wikimedia Commons user Silar 3) Perseis Meteor Shower by USDA Forest Service, Coconino National Forest 4) Midnight Sun in Finland by Wikimedia Commons user Catrin1000 5) Baia do Sancho, Brazil by Wikimedia Commons user CCintra)