Gwen's Adventures in the Foreign Service

Just another weblog

A Quiet Spring in Brussels June 3, 2020

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After our busy first eighteen months here in Belgium where we took advantage of all the cultural activities and travel that we could fit in the last three months in isolation have been a quiet time of only spending time in our neighborhood and close surroundings here in Brussels. I have been teleworking from home since March 16, mostly only venturing out for groceries. We did take daily walks in our beautiful neighborhood and got to know this area and our neighbors as we watched spring develop. The last few weeks things are opening up with stores and museums open again and restaurants and bars to follow next week. The borders will soon be open again to nearby countries too. It has been a time to remember.


Exploring Europe August 18, 2019

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    In June 2018 Gene and I arrived in Brussels from Casablanca. There is a Tri-mission here with Missions to NATO, the European Union, and to Belgium. I work at the Mission to Belgium in the Pol-Econ section. It’s a very well-run place and we have been enjoying our time in the ‘heart’ of Europe with easy access to other countries. It’s also been nice to have family visit, as seen above with our grandson at the Grand Place in Brussels.

    This will be my last tour with the Foreign Service as I will be retiring in March 2021 so we have been taking advantage of seeing parts of Europe that we have always wanted to visit before we settle in California. So far we have made trips to Edinburgh, Luxembourg, Naples & Pompeii, Vienna at Christmas, Amsterdam, The Hague, and other parts of the Netherlands, and in July we fulfilled a longtime dream of taking a Baltic Sea cruise to St. Petersburg, Russia. We have also been all over Belgium. I will add a few photos below.



    Binche, Belgium

    Hallebos, Belgium.

    Trip through the Atlas Mountains January 4, 2018

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    In December Gene and I went on a guided tour in the Atlas Mountains of Morocco which was partly to look for birds that are only found here and partly for the cultural experience.  We had a guide and driver and we were happy not to be driving ourselves on some of these winding mountain roads.  We went as far as the sub-desert regions near the Anti-Atlas in Boumalne du Dades and saw many birds in a dump there along with a pack of dogs.  We also stopped by Ouarzazate, the Hollywood of Morocco where films such as Lawrence of Arabia and Game of Thrones were filmed.  We ended up in Marrakesh for our last night before heading back to Casablanca.


    High Atlas Mountains


    Kasbah Ait-Ben-Hadou


    May 2017 May 21, 2017

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    Tanger view


    We are now eight months into our assignment in Casablanca. Our apartment is well set up, although we had to get rid of some things as we didn’t have the space for them. We have some plants growing on our balcony, we also set up our fountain from Harare there and Gene has been waging a war on the pigeons who like to hang out nearby.

    My boss, the Consul General just completed her three year tour here so changes are happening. The next CG arrives in August so this seemed like a good time for us to take our R&R.  I need to have cataract surgery on my right eye and Gene’s daughter Andrea is getting married in June so all of this came together for our trip.  We had to wait until early May to make arrangements for our tickets though because the Continuing Resolution under which the government was operating expired on April 28 so the State Dept. wasn’t authorizing any new expenses after that date until the budget was extended through the rest of the fiscal year.  This added to our stress since I had to schedule my surgery in advance.  Welcome to life in the State Dept.

    We have done a bit more exploring in the area visiting Fez in February on what I believe was their coldest weekend of the year.  Then in early April we took a driving trip to Tangier and then onto the ferry across the Strait of Gibraltar to Spain where we visited Cadiz, Seville, the Algarve Coast in Portugal, and parts in between.  It was nice to be able to drive there in our own vehicle and getting into Spain was a breeze.  On the way back though one of the ferries was canceled because of high winds so everyone had to go to the larger ferry which was overwhelmed.  Customs on the Morocco side for the return was very slow and a mess; long lines of cars, no movement, confusion as to what anyone was supposed to be doing. I hope this isn’t the typical experience.

    We are looking forward to being back in California soon and seeing family there.

    iPhone 5 photos 995


    Habbous market

    Habbous Market, Casablanca.



    A New Beginning January 3, 2017

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    Paris Ferris wheel

    Paris Ferris wheel

    After being in Casablanca for over three months we finally received our household shipment on December 21, two days before leaving for Christmas with friends in the Basque country in Spain.  Needless to say we left a mess behind which we just spent New Year’s weekend unpacking and setting up house again.  In this case the delay was due to my former post in Harare where the shipment sat from our pack out in late June, until late October when it finally headed our way via first a truck to Durban, South Africa and then by ship to Antwerp, Belgium and then onto another ship to bring it to Casablanca. Once it finally arrived here we had it within the week. Lesson learned is to start checking on shipments while still on home leave and not wait until getting to post.

    We went on a whirlwind of trips to Europe at the end of last year spending Thanksgiving in Lisbon, making a trip to Paris in mid-December, and then Spain at Christmas.  The Paris trip came up at the last minute when we received an unexpected two day local holiday making for a 4-day weekend. There was an art exhibition at the new Louis Vuitton Foundation that I wanted to see this winter, plus the holiday party at my former post at USOECD made it hard to resist going. The holiday lights and displays were also fun to see. Christmas was spent in Irun in northern Spain near St. Sebastian.


    Adjusting to Casablanca October 23, 2016

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    We arrived in Casablanca in mid-September and are trying to get settled in.  It is a big city and we are living in the heart of it in the Gauthier district within a 5-10 minute walk from the American Consulate.  It is nice to have just a short walk to work but it is taking some adjustment to get used to the many activities, noise, and messiness.  In Paris we lived in a quiet suburb.  In Algiers we were also in a residential area and the same in Harare.  It is nice to be close to many small shops and restaurants within walking distance, especially since our vehicle has not arrived yet, or rather it arrived last week but is waiting clearance from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.  It took about 4 weeks for our air shipment to be released even though it arrived at the airport a few days after us.  The MFA seems to operate a bit arbitrarily here.

    We were assigned a modern apartment on the sixth floor of a large apartment building. It has a large balcony so I have been acquiring plants to fill it up. They are supposed to install awnings soon so it won’t be quite so sunny.

    Over the Columbus Day weekend we took the train to Marrakesh and stayed near the old Medina.  It is an interesting place with many great restaurants but even though there are many wonderful shops there filled with handcrafted items I found it difficult to shop with mopeds zooming at will through the very narrow passageways.  I did fall in love with the Majorelle Garden though. This garden was first created by the expatriate French artist Jaques Majorelle and when he died in 1962 was taken over by Yves St. Laurent and his partner Pierre Bergé. St. Laurent’s ashes were scattered here after he died. The blue here known as Majorelle blue was allegedly inspired by the uniforms of sanitation workers in France. (more…)


    Another Publication Available June 14, 2016

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    My daughter Delphine has a mini book out with the theme of her mother (me) touching wild animals here in Zimbabwe.  You can find out more here:


    Looking Ahead April 3, 2016

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    After going through the bidding process last year I received a handshake for the position of Office Manager to the Consul General in Casablanca, Morocco.  We will be leaving Harare in July. After a brief detour through Germany on the way we will stop in Washington for three weeks for training.  Then it’s on to Sacramento for five weeks of home leave. We plan to arrive in Casablanca in mid-September.

    There is still much to see and do here in Zimbabwe.  We have also had family visit these last two months. It’s quite a trip to get to southern Africa so I’m glad they could make it.  We just made a trip to Victoria Falls last weekend with my stepson and his family.  Here is a photo of the falls, now at full force, from above.

    Falls from above


    May in Harare May 25, 2015

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    Gwen at Imire

    Gwen at Imire

    We have now been in Harare for about seven months and are finding our way around.  This is the end of the rainy season and there has been little to no rain during the month.  The rainy season did leave many potholes in the roads which they are very slow to repair here.  That combined with very few working street lights can make driving treacherous, especially at night.  The country is essentially broke so there are many power cuts and you can see where dilapidated streets lights have fallen to the ground and been left where they fell, others have lamps hanging by a wire.  Fortunately some of the highways to other parts of the country have been redone and are in good shape and a revamp of the road to the airport which has been in process for a number of years appears to be newly finished with a row of solar street lights.  That’s a relief at least.  We do have a generator so we don’t experience power cuts but feel bad that it sometimes runs for most of the day.

    We took our first R&R visit to California in April which was a welcome break. We were able to see family and catch up on things at home.

    We have also visited a nearby game park and bird sanctuary near Harare recently.  Life continues and we try to make the best of it.  Even though it is now late fall here the weather has been nice with highs during the days in the 70s, at night it does down to the 40s now and can get chilly as the homes are not insulated.  We have been running out AC/heater units in some of our rooms at night to stay warm.  I can’t complain though.  It also almost always sunny, a nice change from Paris in that regard.


    Interesting times in Harare, Zimbabwe December 31, 2014

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    Gwen at Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe.

    Gwen at Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe.

    It’s the last day of 2014 and I realize that I have not posted much for this year, mostly because it has been a busy time for me.  We left Paris in August and had six weeks of home leave in California during which we managed to see our children and families in San Francisco, Arizona, and Oregon.  After a week of training in Washington we headed for Harare via an overnight in Amsterdam.  We have been in Harare for almost three months now and find it a fascinating place.  It’s a bit of a dilapidated capital as far as infrastructure but you can find most things that you need here and there are some pretty good restaurants.  We waited two months for delivery of our air shipment and household goods but now that they have arrived we feel more at home.

    During our brief time here we have managed to take both a Thanksgiving trip to Cape Town, South Africa and the Wineland, and also to Victoria Falls shortly before Christmas.  I highly recommend both trips!  During our 3-day sojourn in the Winelands we managed to visit roughly fifteen wineries and several really good restaurants.  We also took a tour down to the Cape of Good Hope and stopped to see some African penguins on Boulder’s Beach.  We flew up to Victoria Falls and splurged on a nice resort there which also featured wildlife drives where we saw all kinds of amazing animals including black rhinos, giraffes, water buffalo, and an elephant among others.  The falls were also amazing even though not at full volume at this time, you could see how large they will get by the end of the rainy season which has just begun.

    We have a nice house and yard which is looking better now that the rains have begun and planted a garden which is starting to produce things like lettuce, kale, and green beans now with more to come.  So far we have been enjoying the post and I have two great people to work under in the front office here.

    Water buffalo

    Water buffalo

    zebras, mother and colt

    Zebras near Victoria Falls

    giraffe bottle feeding 2A

    Gwen bottle-feeding baby giraffe at Wild is Life Sanctuary near Harare.