Big News Part Two: Madagascar

Hi there, it’s been a minute hey? We’ll be back to regularly scheduled Greece posts shortly, however I’m behind on everything due to some Major Life Changes. As of last Thursday, I no longer live in London. I’m home in Boston for a few (amazing) weddings, and next week I’ll be getting on a plane and arriving three days later in Antananarivo. Why you ask? I’m moving to Madagascar.

The when

I fly out next Sunday night, and arrive midday Wednesday. The contract is for 12 months to start, which feels great professionally and long personally. This is without a doubt the most exciting, terrifying, adventurous thing I’ve ever done. I vary between confidence and fear, along with overwhelming sadness at leaving Gareth (OH GOD AND BRADY), both of whom I’ve already had to say goodbye. But it is an incredible career move – and in that respect I’m nothing but excited.

The What

I’ll be a Project Development Officer for Community Health in Fort Dauphin, which is on the south-eastern coast of Madagascar. I’ll be working on project design and development, funding applications, donor reporting, and implementation for three projects – HIV in both rural and urban settings and WASH in schools.

MPH

ALSO, I was accepted to begin my Masters of Public Health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. Classes are through distance learning, so I can complete the work online while living in the field in Mada. It’ll take 2-3 years to complete, and I’m honestly shocked my degree in writing/TV got me into LSHTM, as it’s one of the top programmes in the world!

So by this time next year, I’ll be halfway through a masters and have a year in the field as an Officer on my CV. I’ve felt this urgency to progress as I changed careers quite late, and haven’t been so pleased to still be an assistant at 28. But now (I hope) the ball is finally rolling and things are going to only get more interesting from here. These are two things I’ve been trying to do for years, and I am SO happy it’s all happening!

What next

I’ll be able to check off number 12 and 23 of my 30 before 30, which are probably the most important ones on there. I’ll be posting more frequently as this is definitely a time I’ll want to look back on years from now. I’ll be talking about how to survive long distance, the preparation needed before moving to a developing country, and once I arrive, all things Madagascar. I’m so excited for this next chapter!

Sunset, Greece

A Week in Greece Itinerary

Guys, the countries left on my 30 before 30 list are dwindling right down! When I made that list 3.5 years ago, I didn’t think there was any chance I would come close to visiting all the places on my list – and now I’ve just crossed off my third to last location!

I’ve wanted to go to Greece since about 2001, when Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants was first published. 17 years later and I finally made it!

We had 9 days and in that time we visited Athens, Paros, Santorini, and Crete. Due to an unexpected ferry strike, we had far less time in Crete (and much more in Santorini) than we had planned on – but I’d recommend following our original itinerary.

Athens

Athens Acropolis

We had just over 24 hours in Athens, and used that time to explore Plaka, climb to the top of Lycabettus Hill, and (of course) stopped by the Acropolis. I wasn’t expecting to love Athens, but I really did – it felt young and artistic but still quite traditionally Greek. Given our short time in the country we wouldn’t have traded anything out to stay longer, but Athens is definitely a city where you could happily spend a lot longer than 24 hours.

Paros

Paros, Greece

Paros, Greece

Our three days in Paros were the highlight of our trip, without a doubt. Before going, so many people had told me it was their favourite island, and now I understand why. It was the perfect size, was set up for tourism but not overcrowded, felt authentically Greek, and had some incredible beaches. While there we did a day long boat tour around Paros and Antiparos, rented an ATV and drove around the island, and hiked up to a gorgeous lighthouse. If you’re deciding which islands to visit, definitely include Paros on your list.

Santorini

Santorini, Greece Sunset Santorini, Greece

We originally planned to be in Santorini for just over 24 hours. I really wanted to go, but had heard it was extremely crowded, expensive, and commercial due its popularity. 24 hours would have been perfect, but we ended up being there for about four days due to a ferry strike – and that, to me, was much too long. I’ll explain why in my Santorini post, but it just wasn’t the island for us.

Crete

Elafonisi Beach, Crete, Greece

Our 4 days in Crete had become a day and a half, which was disappointing – especially once we arrived and realised just how beautiful the island is. I definitely want to go back to Crete and spend more time there, but I think we came up with a great itinerary for the time we had. The highlight was spending a few hours at Elafonisi Beach, with its amazing views, clear blue water, and PINK sand!

Greece was incredible. It lived up to my expectations and more – I wasn’t expecting to love the food so much. I’ve had Greek food before and enjoyed it, but it tastes so, SO much better there. I don’t know why – maybe the quality of the produce? But Greek yogurt, Greek salads – things I like but don’t love elsewhere were things I went to bed dreaming about in Greece. Honestly – I might like actual Greek food more than Italian food (never tell my dad I said that).

One of the best parts of Greece are the endless islands to discover. While I can’t really imagine anything topping Paros, I want to go to Folegandros and Milos – and spend more than a day or two in Crete.

Have you been to Greece? What were your favourite places? We only just returned and I’m already desperate to go back!

Safari in Kruger National Park

Kruger was the best introduction to South Africa. It was the most anticipated, dreamed of part of the trip, and even with sky high expectations, it didn’t disappoint. This post is more of a photo diary, but you can find my tips for going on safari in Kruger here, and a cost breakdown here.

We arrived in Kruger around midday, and spent an hour getting settled in to our home for the next few days. Our tent had everything we needed – even a full-size refrigerator and a wardrobe! It was hot, so the fact that we were in separate twin beds was not as tragic as it could have been.
Kruger National Park Permanent Tent

kruger day one: Guided Drive

We left a few hours later for a sunset game drive, one of the two guided drives we went on. It was a perfect start to an incredible few days – we saw four of the Big Five on that drive alone! This experience was different (read: better) than our second guided tour. Here, we were in a smaller truck with just 5 other people, who were all experienced and knew so much about the animals we were seeing.

Lions in Kruger National Park

Highlights were going off road (I guess technically not allowed!), and seeing four sleepy lionesses semi stalking an impala. We also got up close and personal with an elephant at sunset, saw a group of rhino, and quite a few buffalo. We didn’t see a Leopard (spoiler alert: we never did!), but otherwise saw so much. It was actually quite overwhelming. I was living out a dream I’ve had for so long, and it was even better than I had imagined. It didn’t feel real – here I was, a few feet from a lion, an elephant, giraffe! I settled in, but the dream-like quality lasted the entire trip.

Lions in Kruger National ParkYawning lion in Kruger National ParkRhino in Kruger National Park Rhino in Kruger National ParkGame drive in Kruger National Park

kruger Day Two: Self Drives

The next morning we slept in (for Kruger) until 6:00 am. We decided to drive to the Lower Sabie camp, because the route from Crocodile Bridge to Lower Sabie is one of the best in Kruger. We were alone with four giraffes, just meandering down the street, and an elephant that got so close we had to keep backing away. There was no one else on the road, and being alone with these animals was so cool and special. At one point when we were driving, I put on the song Africa, which I had always known I’d one day listen to while on safari, and maybe shed a tear or two at how incredible big and sprawling and beautiful everything was.

African elephant drinking water in Kruger National Park African elephantGiraffe in Kruger National ParkGiraffe in Kruger National Park walking giraffe in Kruger National Park

We then came upon a huge group of cars, probably the largest we saw the whole time we were there. It took ages to figure out what everyone was looking at, but finally we spotted it. There was a dead impala that had been dragged up a tree. Everyone was camped out, waiting to see if the leopard who had done it would be back. We waited for two hours, but never spotted her. However, she was there, just under the tree. The woman in the car next to us saw her lift her head, look around at the commotion, and go back to sleep. It’s hard work being a leopard.

Dead impala in a tree in Kruger National Park

We made it to Lower Sabie around noon, where we had lunch, a nap, and read a bit. It was a good place to hang out because from the desk we could see hippo, buffalo, and crocodiles. We’d already had such a busy few days with only one of the past three nights sleeping in actual beds, and we were feeling it.

hippo, crocodile, and buffalo in Kruger National Park

can you spot the crocodile?

After a few hours of blissful relaxation, we headed back out for a final drive before returning to camp. We saw a few more lionesses, and millions (approximately) impala and zebra.

Impala in Kruger National ParkKudu in Kruger National ParkScratching baby monkey in Kruger National ParkMonkey family in Kruger National ParkImpala and lake in Kruger National Park Hornbill bird in Kruger National ParkZebra crossing Zebra in Kruger National ParkLionness in Kruger National ParkKruger National Park

kruger day three: guided drive

The next morning we did a sunrise drive, meaning we had to be up at 4:30 for the 5:00 am start. This drive was less fruitful than the last one. The highlight was finding some baby hyenas, which were seriously cute. We also saw a rhino, some zebra, and an elephant, and some gorgeous landscapes.

Baby hyena in Kruger National Park Baby hyena in Kruger National ParkKissing impala in Kruger National Park fighting implala in Kruger National Park eating giraffe in Kruger National ParkAfrican elephant in Kruger National ParkKruger National Park River

kruger day three: self drive

We got back to camp and drove around looking for cheetah and leopards on our way to Skakuza. We didn’t see any, but instead had a fully grown male lion walk down the road right near our car! It was incredible! His lady was waiting for him in the grass nearby.

Lion walking down road in Kruger National ParkLioness in grass in Kruger National Park
We had lunch there (the steakhouse is delicious), and then headed back out. As this was our last day we wanted to see absolutely everything we could. A fun thing about this area of the park is that there are three camps fairly close to each other, and you bump into the same people over and over. After only three days there were so many familiar faces and people to swap stories with – the couple camped next to us had a leopard and her cubs cross right in front of them!

giraffes in shadow in Kruger National ParkGiraffe in Kruger National ParkAfrica elephant in Kruger National ParkAfrican elephant in Kruger National Parkbathing buffalo in Kruger National Parkwalking rhino in Kruger National ParkJumping Rhino in Kruger National ParkStomping Rhino in Kruger National ParkKruger Road

As we drove back on our final safari, the sun was setting so beautifully and we put Africa back on and it was one of our best drives. We saw elephant and lions and a rhino playing around. I was so, so sad our time in Kruger was coming to an end, but so grateful we got to experience it. I’m happy we did this first, because for the end of the safari to also be the end to our trip might have been too much – at least this way I still had our Garden Route road trip, Franschhoek, and Cape Town to look forward to!

How I got Italian Citizenship (and how you could too!)

Today is a year since I was notified my Italian citizenship application went through. I posted that it happened, but gave very little further detail. As it was a huge life moment, it’s beyond time I posted about how I became recognized Italian Citizen (and how potentially you could be too!).

I think perhaps the best way to start would be to go back to the beginning. It was 2010, I had just come back from studying in London, and was desperate to get back to Europe. It was my first time out of the country, and I had loved London, and my visits to France and Spain.

I did some research and quickly discovered I didn’t qualify for Irish citizenship, as my great grandmother was born there and it only allows you to go back to grandparent. (My mom, however, did qualify, and she’s in the process of applying as well!)

Then I looked into Italian citizenship jure sanguinis (by blood) and lo and behold – there was no generational limit! There were some other requirements though—my qualifying ancestor couldn’t have renounced his Italian citizenship (aka become American) before the next person in my lineage was born—otherwise he wouldn’t have had the citizenship to pass down to his child, my great grandfather. Yes, that’s right—I qualify because my great-great grandparents were born in Italy. It’s a tenuous claim, but a legal one nonetheless. Other technicalities include a woman not being able to pass on citizenship prior to 1948, however this is never upheld in court, so if you fight that you’ll win.

My first step was getting my great great-grandfather’s immigration paperwork from USCIS/NARA. It took quite a while to come, and wasn’t cheap, but when it finally arrived I had confirmation that I qualified for citizenship—Giovanni (my great great grandfather) declared his intent to naturalize in his 70s, but died before he could ever finish the process. Either way, my great grandfather was born well before the declaration of intent, and therefore the citizenship was passed, unbeknownst to us, “by blood” right down to me, born almost 150 years later.

Another requirement to note that is your ancestor must have been born after Italy became a country, which didn’t happen until 1861. My great-great grandfather came a bit close to this date, but was born in 1866. Lucky me! I’m the first generation that can really go back so many generations—my parents great great grandparents were all born before Italy existed—which I think confused the man who runs the Italian consulate in Boston. The first time I called, he told me I didn’t qualify and couldn’t go that far back. It wasn’t my favorite conversation, but obviously all worked out.

After getting the naturalization paperwork and confirming I was eligible, I began collecting documents. Exactly what you need varies from consulate to consulate, but I applied in LA and needed:

  • My great, great grandfather’s birth certificate – from Italy
  • My great, great grandmother’s birth certificate – from Italy
  • My great, great grandparents’ marriage certificate – from Italy
  • My great, great grandfather’s death certificate – from MA
  • My great, great grandmother’s death certificate – from MA
  • My great grandfather’s birth certificate – from MA
  • My great grandmother’s birth certificate – from MA
  • My great grandparents’ marriage certificate – from MA
  • My great grandfather’s death certificate – from MA
  • My great grandmother’s death certificate – from MA
  • My grandfather’s birth certificate – from MA
  • My grandmother’s birth certificate – from MA
  • My grandparents’ marriage certificate – from MA
  • My grandfather’s death certificate – from MA
  • My father’s birth certificate – from MA
  • My mother’s birth certificate – from MA
  • My parent’s marriage certificate – from MA
  • My birth certificate – from MA

After collecting everything, I needed to get all the certificates not from Italy Apostilled and translated into Italian. Not exactly cheap!

At my appointment with the LA consulate in December of 2014 I was accepted, paid my fee, and was told to expect to hear back five months later, in May of 2015.

Many, many months passed, and finally I heard back in May of 2016 that I was retroactively rejected. To be honest, I wasn’t completely surprised—I had a lot of errors in my application. My great grandfather was called Secondino Negrotti, Secondo Negrotti, and Andrew Negrotti on different documents. My great, great grandfather went by Giovanni, Joseph, and John. Dates didn’t match, spellings changed. But, I had expected to be denied back in 2014, meaning I could begin working on corrections. Instead two years went by and suddenly I was back at square one. Only worse, because I was halfway through year two of a long distance relationship and beyond ready to move to Europe.

I hired a lawyer to make the changes. The case was rejected, my lawyer took a few months off from responding to my emails, and finally on Christmas day, 2016, I heard she’d gone back to court and had success! I had the changes I needed and a much stronger case. I sent the court order to the LA consulate and on March 21st at around 3:00 am Spain time, I saw an email with the subject: ITALIAN CITIZENSHIP.

It had happened!

For anyone who is also thinking about applying for recognition of their Italian Citizenship, please see my tips and advice below.

  • As soon as you decide to start the process, step number one should be making the appointment at the consulate. These appointments are a year+ out at nearly every consulate, and it would be incredibly rare for it to take more than a year to gather everything (unless you need to make amendments, which can take a while).
  • The next step should be getting the naturalization paperwork, as this can take a few months. I ordered through both NARA and USCIS, as I wasn’t sure exactly how it worked, and they both sent me copies of the same documents, however NARA was much faster and the copies were much, much clearer. So in my experience, they are the better option.
  • At the same time, you should reach out to to your ancestors’ comune in Italy. There is a template you can use on the Facebook page, in case you don’t speak any Italian. I used that and google translate, and had a fantastic time with my comune. They sent me multiple copies of everything after I had some paperwork destroyed, each time for free.
  • A huge and costly mistake I made was getting all my vital records from city hall in my hometown. These versions aren’t accepted–they need to come from the state records (most people use Vitalchek to order them, but it’s quite expensive).
  • You can only have records Apostilled in the states they are from, another mistake I made. Give this a few weeks, as if you’re mailing it in it can take quite a while.
  • Make sure you use a translator that is approved by your consulate.
  • For more information about how to obtain Italian citizenship, go to your local consulate’s website. Additionally, there is a Facebook group which is an amazing resource—I don’t know how anyone could DIY it without them.

Please note  that this was just my experience from the requirements in LA. In 2015 they made me produce all my non-linear records, which weren’t required in 2014, though they didn’t need to be translated or Apostilled and could come from city hall. But requirements vary massively from consulate to consulate, and can change from one month to another.

All in it cost me about 3,000 — the application fee is 300 euros, and the documents, Apostilles, and legal fees were about 2,700 more. If your case is easy, with few documents and no errors, it could come to much less. If you apply within Italy using a service, it’ll be at least 1,000 more. Though at the time spending the money was incredibly stressful and felt quite risky, looking back I feel confident saying it was the best 3,000 I’ve ever spent in my life!

30 Before 30 State of the Union

Well, it’s been a minute since I’ve had an update to the 30 before 30 list, but as today is my 28th birthday(!!), I figure a little check in is probably in order. We’re officially past the midpoint to thirty, and I can’t lie and say I’m not totally freaked out at how incredibly quickly time is moving!

This year I didn’t accomplish as much as I had hoped, but I did get a major one out of the way—I am officially a recognized Italian citizen! And I’ve visited Italy not once, but twice, going to Florence, Venice, Pisa, Vernasca, and Cinque Terre!

30 Before 30

The remaining items on the list are:

6. Visit Buenos Aires
7. Visit Costa Rica
9. Visit South Africa
10. Visit Greece
11. Visit Egypt
12. Volunteer in Africa or Asia
13. Stay in Shakespeare & Co Bookstore
15. Fix my tooth
17. Be able to cook 5 meals very well
18. Do a pull up
20. Live in France
21. Learn French
22. Reach a B2 level in Spanish
23. Get my masters
24. Get published
25. Read 10 books every year
30. Go to a Patriots game

So! We have 17 items left and just over two years to go. Because this is about focusing on what’s important to me, rather than doing something just because 25-year-old Kristen thought it sounded nice, this list is ever evolving. As a result, some of these things just aren’t that important to me anymore.

For example, items 15, 17, and 18. I don’t much care about fixing my tooth, and Gareth cooks for me so I’m eating just fine without any culinary skills to call my own. Also I just don’t care enough to put in the work needed to be able to do a pull up. Oh well.

That said, the rest I still care about mightily, and I think I’ll have the chance to accomplish some in 2018!

# 9 and 11: Gareth and I recently booked tickets for two weeks in South Africa, with a day layover in Cairo! We’ve just booked our accommodation in Kruger, and are looking into stop over tours in Egypt. I’m so excited, it’s definitely the most adventurous trip I’ve ever planned!

# 10: We’re also planning on spending a week in Greece this summer, so that’s three of the final five travel related ones done in 2018!

# 21 and 22: My New Year’s resolution is to pass the B2 DELE Spanish exam, so that should hopefully happen this year, and I’m organizing French lessons through my work. I’d like to be at an A2 level of French by the end of the year as well.

#25: I’ve easily read 10 books a year. That one I wrote back when I was crazy busy working on Marco Polo, and hadn’t read a book in what felt like years. I got the 10 in each year while living in LA and Spain and since I’ve started my epic commutes to work in London, I’m averaging a book a week!

#24: As for getting published, to be honest I write less now. However, last year I worked for a travel magazine for a few months, and had a few articles put on their website, so in theory this one is finished—but now I’m being selfish and want it in print. I ended my time there when Gareth’s mom got sick, but still keep in touch and think it would be quite easy to get something published in their print magazine. That’s something I’ll try to do this year.

So, those are the ones for which I have a plan. Others have a much less defined plan, like living in France and the masters. Not to say I’m not working towards them, more that they are less in my control.

The rest, I’m less sure about. I have no idea when I’ll go to Buenos Aires or Costa Rica (except, mom, maybe next Christmas?!). Staying in Shakespeare & Co will tie into the next time I’m in France (see above), and volunteering is something I still quite want to do, but finding the time is proving difficult. Over the summer I applied and was accepted to lead a group of volunteers for three months in Tanzania from January-March of 2018, but had to turn it down for a variety of reasons, one being my amazing job where I work all around Africa improving sexual and reproductive health.

I think that leaves just the Patriots game, which is becoming more urgent as I am desperate to see Tom Brady play before he retires. I might try to go this Christmas Eve, but if not it’ll have to wait to next year (though I’ll be in Boston for 10 days in the fall of 2018 for weddings, so it could be then barring serious injury/knock on wood/Go Pats!/etc).

I’m also so proud of what I have accomplished on my 30 before 30 so far!

  1. Become Italian
  2. Go to Africa
  3. Go to Morocco
  4. Go to Italy
  5. Go to Iceland
  6. Go to Turkey
  7. Get LASIK
  8. Get an IUD
  9. Be in a happy/successful relationship for over a year
  10. Read 10 books a year every year
  11. Be Debt Free
  12. Have $15,000 in savings
  13. Have $5,000 invested
  14. Work abroad