Part 2: Bratislava sounds like bratwurst- An Eastern European Christmas Tour.

Posing at the Christmas tree in front of City Hall.

You are probably wondering where Bratislava, Slovakia is located or what would even possess a person to go there. Well, according to the map, reviews and blogs that I read, it’s cute city and a natural stop as you move through Eastern Europe. Additionally, I was on the search for the best Christmas markets. Bratislava is situated along the famous Danube River and shares a border with Austria and Hungary.

Busy Christmas Market in the center of town.

Upon arrival at the bus station it felt like this cold, sleepy, haunted place. By the way.. the Flix bus is the business. Because I arrived an hour before check-in, I had a beer on the patio and tried to look up things to do. When I finally got checked in and made my way to the room, something was weird. I looked around and the clothes seemed to belong to men or boys. I called down to the desk and she confirmed I was assigned to a mixed gender room. Yea… Negative ghost rider. I came back to lobby and returned the keys. It was a whole $17 for the three days and she told me it was not refundable. Umm… you can keep that as a donation because I am not staying here. I used my app to search for a reasonable accommodation. And to be honest, I am quite funny about where I stay. That’s why I invest time to find a place that fits my style. I’m not sure if I dropped the ball, but I went back through my booking and I couldn’t find where it stated I would be in a mixed gender room. I was nervous with it being the holiday season that I wouldn’t be able to find something within range of my disposable travel funds. Just in case your wondering, I have a budget for spending, but I also have money that is considered emergency/disposable. I would say this was a situation that made it okay to use that money. I found the cutest accommodation called Bluebell B & B at a great price. The rating score for the B and B was in my preferred range, so I booked. I must say that the hostel in general was clean, included a lift, laundry room, large storage room, patio and kitchen just to name a few. As a solo female traveler, I’m just not comfortable enough to room with men I don’t know.

My comfortbale, cheap, spacious and warm room at the Blue Bell B and B.

When I arrived at the B and B, I could tell it was situated in a prime area- adjoined to the Czech embassy and Kuwaiti right across the street. Later as I walked around I noticed the United States Embassy on the opposite side of the B and B building. That equated to a very safe neighborhood with security close. The room was large and clean. I settled in and took a walk towards the music and lights around the corner. Less than 500 feet was a Christmas market with ice skating, mulled wine and food! It was the feeling of you scream, I scream, we all scream for ice cream. I roamed for some time while sipping pipping, hot mulled wine in the cold air trying to determine what I would have for dinner. I finally settled on grilled cheese, teriyaki gyoza and potato dumplings. Oh my goodness!!! Completely amazing choices. The grilled cheese is literally a thick piece of cheese melted on a hot griddle. It is browned to perfection and served with a small piece of bread and topped with cranberry jelly sauce. I had more than one. Gyoza was traditional in nature and drenched in teriyaki. I retreated to my room after one more mulled wine. I hope you can see the theme that is developing.

L to R: Grilled Cheese, Teriyaki Gyoza, Mulled Wine and Potato Dumplings.

So I found this cool app and I am not sure if I mentioned if before, but Free Tours is the business. Don’t ever get on another Hop on Hop off tour if the city you are visiting is listed on the app. It was a rainy Monday and part of me wanted to stay inside, but I also wanted to explore the city. So I soldiered on and went on the tour…. in the rain. Along the way we visited Old Town, City Walls, Cathedral, various city statues and discussed how communism and monarchy impacted the country. The highlight was ending at the Bratislava Castle. From the castle you are given a panoramic view of the city. You can see the Danube River for as far as the eye can see. The UFO of Bratislava is right across the river. The cathedral is right in front of the castle area. The neighborhood leading to the the castle is called the Bermuda Triangle. People are known for bar hoping, drinking too much and getting lost. I found Patrick, our tour guide to be very knowledgable about not only Bratislava, but the surrounding countries and their impact.

At the gates to the Bratislava Castle.
View of the cathedral on the way to the castle.
UFO Tower

But just a heads up… The Bratislava wind is no joke. My umbrella broke into pieces and I had to buy a poncho that was thinner than a trash bag to survive the tour. Afterwards, I went to Ramen Kazu to warm up for lunch. I made a quick stop by the room and then headed to the UFO tower to get a magnificent evening view of the city for miles in all directions. Patrick suggested a visit to the only brewery on the river. As it turns out it was closed, but worth the walk for the carbs I needed to burn. I decided to continue walking until I ran into the major mall. I found a few things and then walked home. I do have to say the people were very nice. I got up the next morning and walked to Starbucks. Afterwards, I packed my luggage and caught a Bolt to the bus station. The ride to Vienna was about an hour. It was a smooth ride on the Flix bus with internet and heating. It probably seems like my time was short in Bratislava, but it was meaningful. The Christmas market was fantastic. The B&B was a nice retreat from the hostel life and the food was satisfying. Additionally, I found a hot tea infused with vodka. Honestly if you are looking for an off the beaten path, European country to explore for a short time, I highly suggest Bratislava.

Trying to stay warm during the tour.
Artwork outside the African American Museum.

Last but not least, this is also the day I realized that that I booked my hostel for Prague back in November and the date had passed. Only I would do something of that nature. Not sure what I was thinking. Either way, I spent my ride to Vienna searching for hostels that could possibly meet my standards. Fingers crossed and as you will find out later, I found an amazing place!

Welcome bear in Bratislava.

Part 1: Buda and Pest- An Eastern European Christmas Tour.

Parliament in Budapest on Danube River.

Sitting in the laundromat in Vienna is probably a good time to catch up writing.

Leslie and I have created a tradition of going to get beers before I travel. It wasn’t the best idea to leave at 9:30 PM and get back home after midnight when you have a flight at 4:30 AM. But hey, you only live once. I slept for one hour and got up to prepare to head to the airport. I love me an aisle seat. It might be a control type of thing. I put my satin eye mask on and I was sleep before we took off. I flew good old Pegasus. Think the Spirit airlines of the Gulf region. I finally awoke when we were about to land in Turkey for my four layover.

You’re wondering what one does for four hours. Well I spent about 30 minutes roaming duty free. It seems as though the prices were high in comparison to other airports. Nothing peaked my interest. Afterwards, I went to an Italian restaurant and had pizza for breakfast along with a glass of wine. Don’t judge me… I’m on vacation. While I was there I wrote my first journal entry for Becoming. It’s a guided journal meant to help you find your voice. Then I realized I had the app called Lounge Buddy. Basically it shows all the airport lounges worldwide that you can access for a small fee. That’s when I realized I was close to a lounge that was decently priced for 16 Euros. I could have unlimited snacks, beer, wine, water and Wi-Fi. So I spent the remainder of my layover in the lounge sipping Efes beer and munching on treats. Before I knew it, ISG Lounge had fulfilled all my needs and I was ready for my short journey to Budapest- in which I would continue my nap.

*As a side note, I wondered what was up with the bald, red, crazy looking scalps of men the last time I passed through Turkey. Apparently, it’s the hair plug capital. And I mean every man is getting the hook up here.

A short flight and I landed in Budapest. Before leaving I read that you could take to 100 E bus to Deak Square with no stops or the 200 E in combination with the subway. I’m not sure what possessed me to take the 200 E. It was about 2 euros for either one. For future reference, take the 100 E. I mean I was all over the damn place. And finding the subway wasn’t easy with luggage. Also I had to transfer to a bus and then finally the subway.
*Side Note: Google maps app is your best friend.

For this trip I decided I would try the hostel life. I did lots of research to determine which was the best and cleanest. For Budapest, I choose The Hive which is considered a party hostel. I checked into my room which had 8 females, two showers and two restrooms. It was very clean and quiet during the day. It was in a lively area and it seemed to be a varying demographic. The neighborhood in general was booming with traffic, coffee shops, restaurants and bars.

The first evening I had already reserved a night tour on the Danube River with a beautiful view of the parliament. Because it was night I wasn’t interested in figuring out public transportation. I took a Bolt, similar to Uber over to the pier. At first it seemed as if no one was there and then the boat was full before I knew it. I was welcomed on board with a glass of champagne. It was a beautifully narrated cruise. Afterwards I went to the Ice Bar Budapest because I had never done that before. My ticket included three shots. All of them were great, but I was in there 10 minutes tops. It is extremely cold.

Having a few shots at the Ice Bar.

I was able to actually walk back towards the hostel with the assistance of Google Maps. I stopped and had a great burger and beer for dinner. I was actually surprised by the number of burger and BBQ joints. The next day I did the Hop on Hop off tour. It was probably the worst day to do it. It was cold, cloudy and raining. Honestly, I only do those to get a feel for the city. I have nothing good to say about the tour. What I did find was several Christmas market and mulled wine. I also had my first and last langos with cheese and sour cream. While it was good, something about the combination turned me off. So I just got more mulled wine. I seemed to be pretty drained, so I was sleep by 6 PM.

So, your probably wondering why I separated Buda and Pest. Back in the day Budapest was two cities separated by the Danube River. Buda is the Castle Hill district or royal area with plenty of natural baths. On the Pest side, you have the Parliament building.

I also took a day trip on the train to Szentendre, which is about 40 minutes by train outside of Budapest. It’s nice, quiet and has a Christmas market. I met a very nice guy that made a lunch suggestion while I was visiting.

The next morning I got up and rode the subway to the Parliament area and to see the Shoes on the Danube River Memorial. It is a memorial in remembrance of Jews killed by militiamen during WW1. I hung around for some time and I was able to see a performance by the soldiers at the Parliament which is right across the street. Afterwards I went to find Soul Food Budapest. It was right on time. Because it was so cold, I had the Jambalaya. It was amazing and hit the spot. It was actually in the neighborhood of my hostel and I didn’t even realize. After lunch I rested for a while and then went to the local laundry place to clean my clothes as I would be leaving the next morning.

Shoes on the Danube River Memorial

I decided that it would be a good idea to check out the night life my last night in Budapest. I signed up for Bingo Bar Crawl through the hostel. It’s was pretty cheap considering it was unlimited drinks at the first bar for one hour. The second bar gave us a shot upon entry and I participated in karaoke. The third bar was okay along with a shot. We ended at Instant nightclub. It’s definitely the party scene there and I highly recommend it if you want to have a great time. Around 2 am I decided it was a good idea to head in since I needed to be at the bus station by 9:30.

Bingo Bar Crawl

Overall, I really enjoyed Budapest. I spent a great deal of time walking around and just discovering Christmas markets, shopping, food, bars and historical sites. The one thing that I did not do is check out a thermal bath. The most famous are Szechenyi and Gellert Thermal Baths. The pictures look soothing, but I just couldn’t see myself doing this in the winter. It seems like a spring or summer activity. Budapest is a very walkable city and public transportation is easily accessible.

I wanted to switch this trip up by using a combination of air, bus and train. If you’ve never traveled by Flixbus through Europe, give it a try. Clean, orderly, comfortable and free Wi-Fi. I was able to successfully catch the subway to the bus and arrive at the international bus terminal on time. Bratislava, Slovakia… here I come.

One last thing.. If you would like to see all of my pictures from Budapest, visit my Instagram profile @jetsetmelanin2018 and watch my stories.

Kuala Lumpur always reminded me of koala bears, but I didn’t see any.

This morning Agung picked me up from Dash around 9am and we made the 45 minute journey to the airport. When I arrived and I payed my bill for the week and gave him a tip. He thanked me for the week and told me to send all my friends. He is a man of few words, excellent navigator and very sweet. I checked in my luggage and made my way through immigration to grab some lunch. Shortly after that I boarded my flight to Malaysia. I was quite surprised about spaciousness of the aircraft. I am flying Malindo Air. The inside reminds me of a Southwest plane. I survived boarding and there is a seat in between us! Typically I select or purchase my seat beforehand. I like the aisle seat because if I don’t move, no one moves. Also, I buy a row that has the window purchased but not the middle. No one intentionally buys the middle unless they can’t help it. I listened to the most recent episode of Ratchet and Respectable by Demetria L. Lucas. 

Welcome sign at airport.

It with a smooth ride with a chicken snack and water. Upon exiting immigration I caught a Grab. It was about an hour ride to the city. It’s beautiful with tall sky scrapers. I can spot the famous buildings. We arrived at KL Journal Hotel. It’s a boutique hotel and has an appealing lobby. I was checked in and provided all pertinent information along with two welcome drink vouchers. I went up to the roof top which has a bar and pool to have an iced latte. Afterwards I returned to my room to settle in by unpacking, pulling out outfits, plugging in electronics, storing valuables in the safe and showered to have my first evening out. I seem to be in the mix of everything. Also there are rats the size of cats here. I walked over to the shopping mall and found some cute pieces in H&M. And they are cheap as dirt. The exchange rate $1 to RM 4. For about $13 I got a dress and some pants.

Sign in the KLJournal.

I was originally looking for the Museum of Illusions, but stumbled upon the Selfie Museum. While standing in line to pay the girl in front of me spoke. After a brief introduction we decided to be picture buddies. I had left Trey by tripod in the room (again) and didn’t think I would need it. Jess (@thewayfaringdiary) and I had a great time making our way through the dessert themed rooms, snapping photos and enjoying ice cream. We exchanged contact information and went our separate ways.

Selfie Museum
Museum of Illusions

I dropped by Sephora looking for some Nars products (no luck) and wandered the streets before settling on some Lebanese food at Al Amar Express. I had cheese rolls, Hommos with chicken shawarma and of course Gin and tonic. I roamed the streets for a while checking out performances, vendors and henna art. I think my most surprising thing is the number of Muslims visiting and seeming to live here. I am sure they think I’m crazy because I keep smiling at them. It’s natural because that’s just me and my current environment in Doha. On the way home I spotted a 24 hour laundromat next to my hotel. Score!

Dinner at Al Amar Express.

This morning I got up early and took care of my dirty clothes. I despise traveling with dirty clothes and it adds ounces to luggage. I made it down to breakfast this morning. It was a mixture of toast and dim sum. This was my first time trying it. It’s a bread/dough cone shaped food with a surprise in the middle. Not sure if I’m fan yet, but it’s not bad. I’m not finding this hop on hop off as good as other cities. While it is air conditioned, there is no wifi or headphones with a narrative of what you are seeing. I made stops at Petronas Twin Towers and KL Tower Observatory first. While at the observatory it began to rain and storm so I used this time to grab lunch. I’m actually thankful I didn’t go to the Eco Forest because I would have been soaked and mad. I finally made my way back to the bus. I must have been sleepy on the ride because I  took a nap and when I woke up I thought I missed my stop and was doing the loop over. Upon arriving back I walked around town a little and then took a great nap. I left around 9:30 to grab dinner. I went to the same place as last night. It’s quick and really good. Tonight I had the chicken shawarma platter. 

Petronas Twin Towers
KL Tower Sign
KL Tower

I slept in today, because it’s vacation and I’ve found that I don’t like to pack in too much on the end of a trip. I headed up to the roof for an iced latte and some lunch before heading out to the Batu Caves. It seems to rain everyday around noon. Hopefully it will pass by 2 so I can catch the bus. I purchased an umbrella. No need to be mad when I get wet and it could have been avoided. The brochure says it’s 11 km out of the city. However, it was nice to take in sites. It wasn’t a really bad ride. If there were no traffic it would be much faster.  The Batu Caves is home to Kuala Lumpur’s most frequented tourist attractions. It is a limestone hill comprising three major caves and a number of smaller ones… And gangsta monkey’s. I saw a dude sit in the ground and the monkey came up to get a snack. First of all, I would never sit on the ground there. Unless you plan on climbing up the steps, there’s nothing here to really do. There are plenty of vendors and henna art. After getting my photos, I went ahead and got a henna design. In the past when I’ve tried it, it didn’t take. This must be really good! It turned out great. We headed back to the city for drop off. 

Batu Caves.
Henna Art.

After a long nap I pulled myself together for a last night out. I really wanted to check out Changkat Bukit Bintang area. It is filled with restaurants, bars, clubs, loud music and people. I found a cute dress in a LARGE at H&M and a cross body that reads “BLACK” in white letters. I walked the streets and settled on Brix for some food, drinks and shisha. After getting here I realized I would have been sad if I would have slept the night away. It was a good night out. 

Out and about in Changkat Bukit Bintang.

Tomorrow I will grab a latte and sit by the pool before catching my flight to Doha. It’s been real y’all. Traveling is all I ever wanted to do and I’m making dreams come true. Until the next trip around the globe. ✌🏾️

Side note – I now eat fries with mayo. Don’t judge me. 

Bali Dreaming.

For as long as I can remember I have wanted to visit Bali. All I could see was images of lush green settings, monkeys, swings, rice fields, temples, massages and pools with floating breakfasts. Well, I finally made it there. It was definitely a dream come true.

Daydreaming on Bali road.

Here is how the dream starts…..

Every time I travel I learn something new. I traveled on Qatar Airways for my trip to Kenya. The best service, comfort, entertainment and food in the industry. Remind me next time I’m planning trips to leave Philippine Airlines alone. Just in the boarding process I knew I had fucked up. It was a million people. They were shoving and pushing to board as if we were going to miss the flight. Issa no next go round, but I’ll deal with it this time, obviously. The flight wasn’t the worst, but it could be due to the glass of wine and one melatonin I had right after taking off. It gets me every time. Remind me to never take an offer to move closer. You know those seats in the front with lots of legroom on the 3x3x3 planes? Well the agent asked me if I wanted to get closer. Sure. I also asked if it was the seat that you can’t really move in she said no, #lies. My hips are not made for that seat, but what it did do was allow me to keep my feet elevated above my heart the whole flight. 

Overall, I wasn’t impressed with Philippine Airlines. I thought the passengers were somewhat rude. Also, never in my life have I seen passengers stand up as soon as the plane hit the ground. I mean like stand up and open overhead bins, ready to go! The flight attendant had no control. I made my way through immigration and customs. I found a place to store my backpack and get cash. Did you know that when traveling you should always complete a pin transaction first? If you were to run your card as credit it flags the bank of potential fraud. Someone getting your exact pin is much harder. Close to the airport is Resorts World. You can catch a air conditioned bus to an area with hotels, restaurants, shopping and the casino for free. I grabbed some sushi and gyoza soup for lunch and sat in Starbucks for a while before venturing out. The interesting thing about Starbucks is they only really sold tea and fraps.

Airport chronicles – while waiting for my flight, this older lady named Minga sat next to me because she wanted help posting to Facebook. She needed to let her family know she was here and then headed to Hong Kong, then Switzerland with a final destination of Germany. She was very sweet, but clueless about technology.  Just like people, airlines can redeem themselves. Upon boarding the last leg of my flight to Indonesia, I was warmly greeted by the flight attendant. She showed me my seat and told me to have a wonderful vacation. The overall feel on board was different as well. The food was even better. I love me some avocados, so when I was given some ice cream to try I was delighted.

I made it in around 2am and my driver picked me up and took me to b Hotel and Spa. I was greeted warmly and I was taken to my room. It’s very cute and I love the shower. My view is right down to the pool. I know it sounds crazy but I ordered room service. I had a turkey club and fries. I’ll be working out all of July. I’m glad a built in a day of rest because I didn’t awake until about 1 pm. I got up and settled into my room and prepared to go explore a little. 

b Hotel Spa Lobby

My first stop was the Upside Down Museum. It’s actually really neat. All the furniture is placed on the wall or ceilings. The best thing about this place as a solo traveler, for a tip an employee will accompany you and tell you how to pose to get the best results. Once they take the photos they are flipped for you. I would recommend a visit. Next I went to Kuta so I could catch the sunset and do a little shopping at the Kuta Arts Market. It’s basically wooden stalls with people selling overpriced items. Since Rita taught me how to negotiate last week in Kenya I was ready to go toe to toe to get some deals. I purchased a few items. I made my way over to The Stadium Bar at 5:53 pm. I could tell the server wanted to be like happy hour is over, but I got my buy two get one free cocktails. I headed back to the hotel to get ready because I was going to meet Richard, one of my colleagues, for a drink or five. He suggested a place called Red Carpet Champagne Lounge. Great place in the middle of action with clubs and restaurants nearby. I really enjoyed the samples of their food that they give out while drinking. He left and I stayed out a little bit longer before retreating back to the hotel. 

Upside Down Museum
Richard and I at Red Carpet Champagne Lounge.

My agenda today consist of Bali Swing, Ulun Danu Bratan Temple, local lunch and Ayana Rock Bar. My driver Agung, through Discover Bali Driver, was waiting for me in the lobby. Upon getting in the car he gifted me a handmade purse. We started our journey through the city and continued for some time. I was impressed and unimpressed with Bali Swing all at the same time. The cost was $35 and includes lunch. The vegetarian lunch was excellent. There are 15 swing/nest options. I found that I enjoyed the bed swing the most and could have stayed there the entire time. What I will say is don’t go there solo. I left my Tre (my tripod) at the hotel and this is probably the one time that it would have been beneficial because Agung didn’t go in with me. You can purchase a photographer package for 175,000 rupiah (or $12) or they say an employee will use your camera to take photos. #lies. It was difficult to find someone and when you did, they would take one and leave. Moral of the story is buy the package. 

Swinging through life at Bali Swing.

Next we made our way up the mountain to Ulun Danu Bratan Temple. There are many temples and it is situated on a lake. The temperature was very cool in this area due to the elevation. Afterwards we struck out on our journey to Ayana Rock Bar. Two hours that is. I just read an article last night about not planning your excursions and going with the flow. I’m caught in the juxtaposition of wanting to do nothing and see everything with a schedule. I could have skipped Ayana Rock Bar and so should you unless you are staying at the resort. 

lun Danu Bratan Temple

Agung stopped at Starbucks for me and that was a lifesaver. I made it back to the hotel and took a little time to rest. I went to dinner at Los Gringos because I really wanted some Mexican food and they had a special. 99K for unlimited salad, tacos, quesadilla’s, burritos and enchiladas. Also 150K for unlimited margaritas and Pina coladas. I found the quesadilla’s and Pina coladas to be the best options after my sample round. I’m not huge on buffets or all you can eat, but I was hungry and wanted Mexican. I caught a Grab back to the hotel and rested for the night. 

Agung picked me up this morning to head to Ubud. It’s only 15 miles, but according to Waze it will take an hour to get there due to the traffic and slow roads in general. According to my schedule I will be visiting the Sacred Monkey Forest, Tirta Empul Holy Water Temple, and a coffee/tea plantation before checking into Artotel. Evidently at monkey forest there is a gangsta monkey to take a picture with. In the way to Ubud, Agung suggested riding ATV’s to the rice fields. At first I was like I don’t know, but then my senses kicked in and I was like why not. It took the dry package, because I didn’t want to get dirty. Not a mistake; so much fun. Thankfully I had on shorts and tennis shoes and applied sunscreen this morning. 

Riding ATV’s on the way to Ubud.
Breastfeeding monkey.

What a busy day I have had. We arrived in Ubud and went to the Sacred Monkey Forest. It’s a nice attraction you can tell it’s there home and we are just guests. They pay no attention to the people. Also, there is a cremation area within the forest. Families bring the deceased to have them cremated and perform rituals. I wasn’t able to find that meme-able monkey. However, a breastfeeding monkey might make you cry. Afterwards I stopped for lunch at a local spot Agung recommended. Then I went coffee and tea tasting. There was a very nice variety, but I feel in love with the avocado coffee. It already has a creamy consistency and is sweetened. I purchased a bag to bring home. Just a heads up… I will never go tea/coffee tasting at a place that makes coffee from Luwak’s. I am not per se an animal rights activist, but that’s just not right and I found out afterwards. We finally made our way to the water temple. I had every intention of getting in, but the water was just so cold. I finally made it to Artotel. Such a cute place. It feels very green and modern. I settled in my spacious room and I took a walk out to town and grabbed dinner and drinks for the room. 

Tirta Empul Holy Water Temple
Coffee and Tea Tasting

I had a great breakfast at Full Circle, adjacent to the hotel. I selected the Breakfast Butty sandwich with watermelon juice. Today seemed a little boring. Like I could have slept in and explored Ubud. I saw a traditional Balinese dance, batik and silver making, art gallery visit, butterfly park and Elephant Cave Temple. I skipped Tegenungan Waterfall because I didn’t want to get muddy. Typical me. I cut the day short and hung by the pool to drink and read. I accidentally took a nap after the pool and woke up around 9. I got up and went on the hunt for some sushi. I found a great little place and I had three different types of sushi while lounging in the patio. It seems as though everything shuts down around 11pm and the streets are dead. I walked back to my hotel and it seemed relatively safe. 

Breakfast Butty at Full Circle.

Agung suggested that we leave at 5 am this morning. I wasn’t very happy about the idea of getting up at 4 am, but I did it and we made our way towards Lempuyang Temple referred to as heaven’s gate. I watched several episodes of Mr. Iglesias on Netflix (good watch for educators) while we drove up the steep mountain towards the volcano. We arrived shortly after 7. Ladies are required to cover their shoulders and both genders wear sarongs. Listen, I thought I was climbing the steps and hills to heaven. Upon arrival at the top I got in the cue and was advised I was at the 2 hour mark. I’m not a huge picture taker and I just couldn’t understand why it would take so long. Sigh. After about 2.5 hours it was my turn. The guy takes your phone and says pose 1, pose 2, pose 3, and pose 4. I would say within that you get about 20 or so shots.  And I was done. I still couldn’t comprehend why four poses at about a minute took so long. The line behind me was insane. However, when got my phone back and saw the pictures, I realized it was all worth it in the end. 

Lempuyang Temple

Here is the funny thing about the experience. I’ve viewed pictures before from Lempuyang Temple and I thought you walk up the steps and there is water in front of you. I guess I thought that the person is on the other side of the water taking the pictures. That’s all in my creative mind. In actuality there is no water. You give your phone to the volunteer, he places a reflective mirror below your flash and walahh! On the way back we stopped at Tirta Ganga Water Village to see Koi fish in the pond. It’s a very calming and relaxing place. I had a bite to eat, chicken satay with rice and an iced coffee. We headed back to Ubud before noon so I could get some pool time. 

Tirta Ganga Water Village

I made a reservation at Room 4 Dessert based off the recommendation of a colleague. The pastry chef/owner is an expat from New York. He rocketed to fame with his avant-garde desserts, but moved to Bali and uses fresh cocoa and vanilla along with other fruits and vegetables local to Bali. To properly describe this experience it should be a blog of its own. But I will give you the “quick and dirty”. I was greeted by Josh from Boston. He took me through the garden and point out the many items they have planted and use in the restaurant. They use a seed to table concept. Afterwards I was seated at the bar  with a gin and tonic. Josh described my first seven tastings and each server brought out a new one providing more information. I was then moved to the second tasting of dessert like items that can be paired with drinks. This was my favorite. By the end of this I was done and couldn’t go for the last seven. Overall, I would give this place a 10, especially of you looking for a place to celebrate a special occasion. The service is top notch, variety of tasting, good music and mood. 

This morning Agung dropped me off at Ubud Art Market where I did a little shopping, walked around town and grabbed some Starbucks before heading to Tegalalang Rice Fields. Also, it was hot as hell today. Agung knows me so well by know. He was like we can walk along the terrace and take pictures in the nest and what not. I sat at one of the restaurants and had a beer and we just leisurely walked around. We stopped for lunch in the area before by 2 hour massage and flower bath at Ubud Orchid Spa. I highly recommend this place. She began with a full body massage. At one point she standing on the table using her foot on my back. Afterwards, she applied some type of body scrub and allows it to stay on body with sheet covering about 10 minutes both sides. Then she scrubs the body with a milk substance. I took a shower then soaked in my flower bath. When I left that place I thought I had a new body. 

Tegalalang Rice Fields
Ubud Orchid Spa

I had breakfast delivered to my room this morning. One last Breakfast Butty from Full Circle. Agung picked me up around noon and we headed to Dash Hotel in Seminyak. I absolutely love this hotel of all of them. It’s very funky with silhouettes, spray paint and decals. The room is spacious and includes a balcony and garden tub. I’ve been carrying around a bath bomb from Lush and a facial from Sephora that I will make sues of tomorrow night. After settled in I walked around to explore Seminyak. I was actually looking for the “I love Bali” sign. The street art work is plenty and lots of eating options.

I found the “I love Bali” sign.

I found a pair of sunglasses that I negotiated down to $7 since I broke mine. Richard suggested that we meet at KU DE TA for drinks and to watch the sunset. Great ocean view, drinks and sunset. Well after many drinks I headed back to the hotel, but not before stopping at Sisterfields for dinner. I had a delicious burger and fries. You may be wondering if I’d had any Balinese food while here. The answer is no. I don’t have time for Bali Belly. While on vacation I tend not to eat local cuisine. My stomach has a mind of its own. 

Dash Hotel
Richard and I taking in the sunset at KU DE TA.

This morning Agung picked me up at 6 to catch my speed boat to Nusa Penida. I was a little sad when he said I was going alone and a new driver would pick me up. He’s prompt and I like that, but I’m sure we could have left at 7 and made it in time. I have a nice seat on the deck of the boat catching the breeze, sun and waves. I will be visiting  Broken Beach, Angel Billabong, Crystal Bay, and Kelingking Beach. 

Broken Beach

Putu picked me up from the docks and we headed out. He warned me that the road was bumpy. I told him about my trip to Kenya on that bumpy road for hours. No need to worry, I had training. These bumps were minor. But hey, to see beautiful sites you might have to endure something uncomfortable. We had good conversation. He explained that his English was not good, so you know the teacher in me gave him some ELA strategies. He asked about my hair and was very enthusiastic. I showed home some pictures from before. He didn’t like that I cut my locs. He said I should grow them back. 

Our first stop was Angel’s Billabong and Broken Beach. Then we went to Kelinking Beach. Both of these places are really scenic for pictures. You can go down the steps at Kelinking to a beautiful beach area. Just remember you have to climb back up. We stoped at a local restaurant for lunch. I had Nasi Goreng (noodles with seafood). I’m always nervous to eat food out places; especially after I’ve seen the bathroom situation. The food was excellent, but it didn’t sit well with me. We started our journey to Crystal Beach, which was about an hour away. 

Kelingking Beach

So here is my suggestion for Nusa Penida. Travel and stay for three days. Complete Angel’s Billabong and Broken Beach day one. The next day get up early morning and take the hike down to Kelingking Beach. Spend your last day relaxing on Crystal Beach and catch the 4pm speed boat back to Sanur. 

Well, it’s my last night in Bali before heading to Kuala Lumpur. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my time here. It was everything I thought it would be. If you are looking to go to Bali, I suggest Discover Bali Driver to handle transportation and transfers. Ask for Agung if he is available. Spend the majority of your time in Ubud and Nusa Penida. Those will definitely be two of my stops if I ever return. 

Agung and I from Discover Bali Driver at the Rice Fields.

One last thing…. Don’t ever sit on the corner of the speed boat. At first I was like it’s just a little bit of water I don’t need to move. By the time it was all said and done, I look like I had been swimming. 

Keep dreaming and as always you can find me on instagram @jetsetmelanin2018. On my profile you will find stories with more pictures of my travels in Bali and other destinations.


Motherland Diaries

I have arrived in the motherland and I feel at home. My colleague Rita asked if I wanted to go to Kenya and after reviewing my schedule I had some time to spare before heading to my other destinations. We arrived around 2 pm and I got a Uber to Ibis Styles Hotel Westlands. From the Uber driver to the hotel staff the hospitality has been welcoming. I was able to get checked into my room, settled and wash off what I call “airplane dirt”. In front of the hotel was a little market with ladies selling various items. I took a peek and of course they were all catering to me for a purchase.

View from Ibis.

Next I went up to the roof top bar for happy hour and a light snack. I got a beer called Dire and Straits Pilsen. Very much like a wheat beer with a refreshing taste paired with a Greek salad and fries. I plan on spending my time here relaxing and preparing to leave for my safari to the Maasai Mara tomorrow.

My driver arrived 45 minutes early this morning. Good thing I got up extra early, but I missed breakfast. The driver proceeded to pick up two other guys from Minnesota that would be making the trip with me. A few miles down the road we were transferred into a safari jeep with six others. While waiting to get the safari loaded, I was overwhelmed by the number of homeless Kenyans in the area begging for food and money. We were given a short briefing by our driver Isaac. He explained that we would be headed to the Great Rift Valley where we would pick up another person and take a picture. Upon arriving to the area it was covered in fog and light rain. No pictures here. Also, it is winter here so the temperatures are a little cooler.

Fog in the Great Rift Valley.

We began our five or so hour trip. Isaac said it would be bumpy and it sure was. We stopped for lunch before our last two hours. When we arrived we let the first group out at an eco camp. It was cute, but not my type of place. We continued on and dropped the rest off at camp that was tented. Thank God I didn’t select this place because I probably would have had a nervous breakdown. Isaac asked if I was willing to check in later since mine was a little further and we could get going on the game drive. I agreed. I mean that probably would not have been nice to the others.

A short distance up the road we entered Masai Mara National Reserve. As we entered it was like a scene out of a movie. Animals everywhere, and a variety. It’s currently migration season for wildebeest. They have completely taken over the reserve. Within a small area there were hundreds and it continued the whole drive. I also saw lions, monkeys, zebras, Mara flamingos, birds, cheetahs and elephants from a distance. It was totally worth every penny and lived up to the pictures.

I was dropped of first as a courtesy since I forfeited earlier. Masai Mara Sopa Lodge is my type of living. I know what I can and can’t take when it comes to lodging. I need a door, four walls and my own bathroom. The check in briefing was nice and I was taken to my personal lodge. After settling in, I went to the main lodge for and drink and the buffet dinner. Either I was starving or the food was good; most likely a combination of both.

Afterwards I settled in for the night. I was supposed to be ready at 6:30 am for an all day game drive. Needless to say, when I heard knocking on my door at 6:45 and I knew I had messed up. I said go without me. I had already seen lots of animals yesterday. So I slept in, read, slept some more, watched When They See Us (which turned into crying for hours), slept more and then had a late lunch. I figured it’s my vacation and I’ll do what I want to on my own schedule.

While hanging around the lodge I had an opportunity to chat with a worker. He had served me the previous night. Alex came and talked with me to inquire where I was from and how I was enjoying my time. He came here to work from Central Kenya and loves it. I appreciate the time he spent to talk with me about the country and his love for the place. He really is a great server and I wish him the best.

After lounging around this afternoon, I had dinner before preparing for the Maasai Mara tribe performance. Alex even pointed out the best seat in the house. Meanwhile, I spoke to security about a wake up knock (never saw a phone and no Wi-Fi in rooms) since I can’t afford to miss my ride back to Nairobi tomorrow.

The performance.

I just found my heart here. Anytime I’m traveling I try to do something that culturally enhances me. The performance was wonderful and truly heart felt. Afterwards it was explained that the dance they performed was a ritual after coming out of the bush and earning their next step in tribe. In this moment, I can’t find the words to describe the performance or feelings. One thing I do know is I am a better person for being able to experience this in all of its authenticity.

I got up on time this morning. We went on a game drive and I was able to see elephants and baby cheetahs. Baby cheetahs are too cute. It was really cold this morning, so it was a little difficult for me to really get into the drive.

Afterwards we shuffled around some people into different vans and started making out way to Nairobi. On the unpaved road coming out of the Mara, there were many times I just thought we were driving through the woods. Like this is not a real road. I slept most of the way there, so I missed a lot of the scenery. But what I will say, is it feels like a place that is half on the grid and half off.

You have some accommodations like mine that seem to be resort like and others that are full-fledged camp grounds. And then you have the homes of the Maasai Mara people that are shacks. It’s very eye opening in terms of the have and the have nots. I wonder if they are happy people? Do they want more? Do they have a desire to leave and pursue higher education? I guess I’m trying to get a grasp of how the feel or see themselves. I know they are a proud group.

Well, safely made it back to Nairobi. I stayed at Azure Hotel, which was very nice. I settled into my room and went to the restaurant to have a late lunch/dinner. It was okay, not my favorite. I went back up to my room and prepared for the next day. The front desk told me I should leave at 6am since it was a work day to arrive at the airport on time. Rita confirmed the same as well. I drifted off to sleep pretty fast. I caught my uber to the airport. The traffic situation feels like a get in where you fit in type of thing. Also, anytime I’m in a country that drives on the left side of the road it automatically feels dangerous.

Never in my life have I ever had to get out of the car upon arrival at the airport and walk through a security room and then get back in the car to proceed to departures. There is a first time for every thing I guess. The Uber driver drops me off and points to my terminal. It’s about a football field away. As soon as I start walking, this guy in a suit jacket and jeans informs me he is an airport employee and he would lead me. I was like “Where is your name tag?” He turned and walked the other way. However, as I was waiting for my friend, I watched traveler after traveler get dupped by this whole ring of guys. The funny part is the unsuspecting ones that didn’t realize they would have to pay for the walk over to the terminal. Some agreed, others were like nope. I mean I can drag my own suitcase for free.

Rita arrived at the airport and we checked in our luggage. I had exactly 23 kilos. We had breakfast at a restaurant called Paul Caffe. I’m not going to write the whole business off, but service was bad and the food was subpar. We finally boarded our flight to Mombasa. It was only 45 minutes, but we had great conversation. By the way we work together, sit next to each other and team teach randomly. I’m so thankful that she encouraged me to visit her country and was willing to spend some time with me after being away from her family for 10 months.

Because she is a native to Kenya, I was able to unpack my feelings with her about my observations. I think as an educator she was able to help me understand what it looks like for teachers and students in Mara. She said the board of education places the teachers there that are new to the profession. It’s a remote location and maybe after a year or two they can request a transfer. I was also curious if people want to leave there. Like do you know that a city is in reach with a university and you could potentially get an advanced education and prosper outside the tribe. Well, she explained that those who escape or run away for more become an outcast. The girls are meant to marry older men and continue to live life there. They are actually already spoken for before they can probably make a decision. This completely breaks my heart, but I also understand tradition.

As a side note, after Qatar I want to head to South East Asia and then my final stop is an African country. I don’t know which one yet, but I’m going to do some research and an African tour one summer.

As always, if you visit my instagram @jetsetmelanin2018, you can find more pictures in my stories.

Mombasa is All Inclusive – That’s everything…. Like everything.

Upon arrival we went straight to the bar and started to enjoy our vacation. And by enjoy I mean I’m about four beers in. We spent our day by the pool sipping nonstop. This morning I was eager to get up and head to the gym. I got in about 30 minutes on the bike. Afterwards I went to breakfast. Boabob Resort is all inclusive- three meals, snacks and all drinks. After showering we went to spend the day by the pool. I participated in a 45 minute water aerobics class and then I played volleyball later in the evening. We also took a walk along the beach where the locals are selling various items, excursions and services. We scheduled a Kenyan massage and boat ride to snorkel and visit the reef. I would have to say this was great day. We ate so much today that we skipped dinner and went to sleep pretty early.

Boabob Resort

We got up this morning and had a quick breakfast before heading to catch out boat. There was definitely an overcast and rain off in the distance. We made it out to the island and a few people jumped off and went scuba diving. We stayed on watched the fish being fed through the glass bottom. Rita was afraid to touch the star fish and sea urchin that was brought up. Then we made our way to the final stop on the island. We both jumped out for a photo op and climbed back over into the boat.

Upon arriving back we walked along the beach heading to the small hut for massages. In two individual rooms we were rubbed down with coconut oil. This is where it gets good. So I’m funny about bathrooms. I knew good and well I had to use the bathroom before heading for the massages. Picture a wooden shack off the beach with four walls. No other amenities. My stomach started rumbling and somehow I thought I could make it another 30 minutes. That wasn’t the case. I informed the masseuse that I needed to go to the bathroom. She said I could go around the hut. I was actually game for this, but it was a two for one special and didn’t think that was fair. So, I threw on my clothes and ran down the hill, along the beach (all while being heckled) back to the closest resort restroom. Heaven. I went back and she finished up my massage.

We made our way back to the resort pool and spent the rest of the day relaxing under the sun all while indulging in Gin and Tonics and Tusker, the local beer. Like we stayed out all day past dinner. Michael (Baraka), one of the activity workers who taught water aerobics stopped and chatted with us for a while. We ordered some double shots of rum and Coke, more gin, Whiskey Sours and beer. We finally found our way to the room around midnight. Rita insisted that we type out our schedules for the next day to maximize our morning. We finally went to sleep, but I was up around 3 because a mosquito drank all my sweet blood. I sprayed myself down and applied some ointment before drifting back to sleep. They moved on to Rita since I was protected.

We had a final breakfast and lounged around before catching an Uber to the airstrip. Before we knew it, we were on a plane back to Nairobi. Our plan today was to drop our luggage off and go shopping at the market. What I can tell you is I would not have been able to do the shopping without her negotiating for me in Swahili. From the time we walked in the sellers were all on top of us. It was almost like they smelled an American, English speaking person. At one point I had to ask my newly found security to back all the way up. We spent about an hour and a half eyeing things I liked and she was the negotiator. All in all, I came out with lots of things I really wanted for myself and others.

This is when we sadly parted ways and I headed back to Azure Hotel. The receptionist was happy to see me and called me by name. She had my room ready and escorted me upstairs. I took some time to relax and then headed to dinner at Charlies, a place Rita recommended. I also was able to strike and deal with the Uber driver to shuffle me around until I leave tomorrow. Score. So I end up ordering an Uber because Emanuel can’t make it happen. I get in the Uber and the driver ask me if I have a preference on the route. I’m like I can’t win for losing. The good thing for me is I have a good internal GPS and I can remember routes because I look at everything when I’m in a car. So… I gave him directions. I should probably get a side hustle as an Uber driver. We made it to Charlies in good time. I’m excited to see this place because it looked really nice in the day time.

As a side note, the last time I had an iced coffee was the day before I left Qatar. I’m coping well, but I guarantee you it will be my first stop.

I perused the menu at Charlies and settled on the following:

Drink: Barbados Skyfall (super strong, afraid to drink anything else)
Appetizer: Mexican Nachos Grand Beef- very good, but drizzled in a barbecue sauce that was sweet; very different)
Main Course: Hulk Burger (since I never found one at the resort
Dessert: Blueberry Cheesecake (to go, I’m full)

All in all Charlies Bistro is a great place. Low lights, music, street view and a menu with American, Mexican, Lebanese and seafood options. My waiter Dennis was sweet and on top of his service. Back to the hotel I go.
I learned a few Swahili words –
Asante – Thank you
Taka taka – Trash
Jambo – Hello
Hakuna Matata – No worries
Karibu -Welcome
Kwaheri – Goodbye
I also know how to count Kenyan Shillings in my head for US dollars conversion. Here is an example: 8,000KS is $80.00 USD. How do I know that? You just move the decimal two places to the left.

Last but not least, this whole business of getting out at the airport entrance to walk through security is really a false sense of security. It’s not like they are making you take luggage through. It’s a waste of time.

This has been an amazing trip. There is nothing I would change. In a span of nine days I experienced the reserve, city and beach life that Kenya has to offer.

As always, if you visit my instagram @jetsetmelanin2018, you can find more pictures in my stories.

Reflections from my first school year abroad.

I’ll make this short and sweet. This time last year I was packing and cleaning my office for a new person to step in and fill the space. I never wondered if my decision to go back to the classroom after 10 years was right or wrong. All I knew was I was ready to go. I was sincerely happy and if I ever go back to Arizona, I would go back to Legacy. But, I needed a change of scenery and pace. In all honesty, my biggest concern was will I be able to do all the things I expected teachers to do. After many years of coaching and guiding teachers on how to create sustainable classroom climates, managing classroom behaviors, implementing positive discipline, working with difficult parents- how would I do this as a teacher again?

This is what I will say. My teaching load consisted of about 95 girls. Of that group, four of them gave me a run for money (at least it’s good money). I mean I bought a flight to Oman after leaving class with these girls and having a drink Tuesday and Wednesday was a common activity. But in the grand scheme of things, that means about 95% did not have any behavioral issues besides tardiness, no PE kit and late work here and there. What more can you ask for? What this did allow me to do was focus on learning how to teach again and more specifically the MYP PHE curriculum. It’s a beast, it’s different. You don’t tell kids to just run out there and play. You have to know very essential parts. Now that I have a grasp of the kids and the curriculum, I can really shift to professionally developing myself again.

As a reflective practitioner, I love that I had a deep dive in ELL strategies and this learning will continue next year. However, in browsing next year’s professional learning opportunities, I’m looking forward to the following :

1. Positive Discipline in the Classroom

2. PALME- Program for Aspiring Leaders in Management and Education (this looks really interesting)

3. International Principal’s Certificate

But the most exciting opportunities of all… Last week I was at the pool and I complimented a lady about her swimsuit. Long story short, she is a principal of a new school and she is looking for professional development for her staff in the area of classroom management, school safety and accreditation for the new schools. We exchanged contact information. I’m very excited about the possibilities and new growth potential next school year.

In the mean time, here’s to summer fun!

In Memory of the Last Day of School.

For as long as I can remember, I have loved the ending to the school year. My grandmother was guidance counselor for over thirty years. I remember spending many summers at Forest Heights and Lowell Elementary school. My mom was at Steele Creek Elementary in South Charlotte. While I tried my best to avoid this whole being an educator for life thing, I really do love being in a school setting. Previously, the build up to the last day of school has been akin to a volcano about to erupt. Kids and teachers are being naughty because they just need a break after 10 months of hard work.

In my previous school setting, the last days of school meant academic awards, athletic banquets, perfect attendance medals, meet next year’s teachers, cramming out master schedules, open house for enrollment, parent volunteer breakfast, talent shows, PRIDE days, field trips, class parties, promotions and graduations, yearbook signing, cards, pictures and gifts. The list could go on forever about how we celebrated the end of the school year.

However, working internationally in a different context this last school year really has flipped my educational experience expectations (that’s a mouthful) upside down. The one thing I remember from my interview was that flexibility was key to make it internationally. I will say I have adjusted nicely, but there are still things that are very hard for me to accept……. Like no real official ending to the school year.

It is currently month of Ramadan. It started around May 6th. Because I teach PE, our curriculum ended that day to facilitate rest for the students. In the long run, they would not probably be able to perform while fasting. During this time, the students could rest, play table tennis, football or shoot hoops, or work on other assignments as they prepared for finals. The first week, they were slightly engaged in the activities, but as the days went on the engagement and attendance dropped. All curriculum was completed on May 16th and this in when it really started to look like a ghost town around the school.

There just seemed to be no official ending to the school year with the kids after pouring into them for 10 months. I believe that all of the activities I listed above create school culture and climate.  Without them, then what are you really doing?  There was no ending. It just stopped. This is my new normal and now I know what to expect next year.

On a side note, the last day of school was scheduled for June 4th. However, we received an email yesterday saying today was the last day of school due to the Eid holiday.

In the comments section, if you are an educator, I would love to hear about the neat activities that your school does to bring the year to a close in style.

Yours in Education, 

Ms. Davis

Maafushi, Maldives-

This place is the thing that dreams are made of. I am not sure why I was struggling to finish this blog, but it’s finally here.

Leaving Maafushi by speed boat.

When I was planning my trip for Spring Break, I noticed how close the Maldives were to Sri Lanka. I couldn’t resist checking to see how much the tickets were to the cluster of atolls. As it turns out, a round trip ticket from Sri Lanka to the Maldives will cost you about $120. I mean there is no way I could pass up that deal. When you think about traveling to some exotic places from the United States at times it seems out of reach. For me the Maldives was in the list of places like Fiji and Australia. I mean I would like to go, but it might cost me an arm, leg and organ!

After purchasing my ticket, I went to my favorite website, and searched for hotels. I knew that I wanted to stay on Maafushi. I read a blog a few months back that named this as an up and coming atoll that was reasonably priced. I didn’t necessarily need the over the water cabana but I was looking for ocean view rooms, clear, blue water and white sand. With my flight landing at night, I would need to get a hotel in Male and then catch a speed boat the next day to Maafushi. In Male, I stayed at H78. It was about 10 minutes from the airport. The next morning I woke up to beautiful blue skies and the ocean right across the street. I got dressed for a morning at the beach and had breakfast as it was inclusive.

I then walked over to the beach and sat out for a while before I needed to get dressed and head to the boat landing.  By the way, it was extremely hot on the beach. Hot like none other. The hotel took me back to airport, where the boat landing is located. On the way, the driver said he was going to stop so I could get a good view of the water. Holy moly! I have never seen water this blue. I’ve been to Cartagena, Aruba, Mexico, Dominican Republic, Isla Mujeres, Hawaii and Puerto Rico. Nothing compares to this water. Not only is a different blue, you can see straight through in certain place.  Also, the distance that you can walk out into the water is pretty significant. When I got out of the van, I literally cried as I soaked up the goodness of what I was viewing. I was finally able to catch my speed boat after what seemed to take forever to gather passengers. It took about 45 minutes to arrive in Maafushi. A bellman from the hotel meet me at the boat landing with a trolley to take my luggage. It was about a 5 minute walk to reach Kaani Grand Seaview.

Picturesque view of water in front of airport in Male.

Honestly, this part of the trip was meant for rest and relaxation. I had been running all over Northern Sri Lanka for the last 5 days. The only thing I did in Maafushi was sit on the beach, read, eat and sleep. I was still recovering from the terrible cold that I picked up in Sri Lanka. Also, the only way you can access alcohol is to take a party boat out in the ocean and I just wasn’t up for that. While I was checking into the hotel, the attendant talked me into doing a day trip the following day to another atoll. However, I woke up the next morning and just couldn’t do it. So I spent the next 2 and a half days completely relaxing. Overall, this was great addition to my break. I felt completely rejuvenated and ready to return to work in a few days. My final morning in Maafushi, I took the time to explore the whole atoll. You can walk it in about 30 minutes. It is one of the largest measuring .79 miles in length and .16 in width. There are 3,000 inhabitants including foreigners. I even saw little kids getting ready for school. There is a lot of construction on the atoll and I can tell that someday it will probably be out of my reach financially. So, if you want an affordable trip to Maafushi, now is the time to visit.

In front of Kaani Grande Seaview

In terms of looking for a place to relax, I would absolutely recommend Maafushi. While I didn’t find the food to be good, the sunsets are priceless. 

View of sunset from my hotel room.

Living it up in Lebanon.

I didn’t really know how Ramadan would be, but from all the rumors I was told it’s kind of like a ghost town. With that in mind, I started to think where could I travel to in under four hours, non stop and a decent price. I used Google flights explore feature to find a few options. They were Oman (already been), Kuwait, a few places in India and Lebanon. I thought Lebanon sounds cool; I’m game.

So I caught a flight out of DOH non stop to Beirut Thursday after work. I took Middle Eastern Airlines. This was my first time and I have to say the service was not that bad. I had a great dinner on board consisting of chicken picatta, mashed potatoes, green beans and carrots. The gin and tonic completely knocked me out after the meal. Before I knew it we were landing.

As a US passport holder I qualify for a tourist visa on arrival. Packing only a backpack made exiting the plane and airport pretty simple. I read that Uber is available but I had no phone service at the airport. In fact, I had no phone service the duration of the trip unless I was on WiFi. Therefore I had to catch a taxi to The Beverly Hotel.

Sidetrack- While I was going through passport control I noticed a very large (75 or so) group of African, Indian and Asian women standing in line for work visas and health screenings. Obviously they have been brought to Lebanon to work in the service industry. The most striking thing, while I’m trying not stare or look them in their eyes, is you could see a longing for home or as if they were physically there, but not mentally. I can’t even imagine being in the position of leaving home to provide for my family and kids. And we already know it’s pennies on the dollar. I pray that all of these women prosper in Beirut.

Another side story:

Taxi Driver (old Lebanese man) – You from Africa?

Me- No Sir.

Him- I love Africa!

Me- I’m headed there this summer.

Him- My two sons are in Gabon.

Me- That’s great!

Him- You want a cigarette?

Me- No thank you.

Him- As he lights cigarette… You’re people are from Africa. (not sure if this is a question or statement)

Me- Yes sir, they are.

Him- Welcome to Beirut!

I safely made it to the Beverly Hotel after bargaining with the taxi driver. He said $35 and I told him that read online that it should only cost me $20. We settled on $25. By the way, on my return to the airport, I was able to catch an Uber for $11. The hotel staff was friendly and checked me in with a welcome drink. It was a strong gin and tonic so I ordered a second and third one.

I had four gin and tonics before I even headed to the room to shower. The attendant suggested Beit Halab for Sohuur. I had hummus and meat with Tabbouleh. This place is amazing! It’s right across from the beach. I cant see it, but I’ll be back at daytime.

The next morning I got up and had a traditional Lebanese breakfast the hotel and then I caught an Uber to Samir Kassim Square. I found this app called Voicemap which allows you to purchase audio walking tours of various cities. At $3.99 I thought I couldn’t go wrong. I was stepping out of my comfort zone from the hop on hop off tour.

I saw some beautiful places such as Martyr’s Square, Mohammad Al- Amin Mosque, which has gorgeous blue domes and they are a replication of those at Mecca. I also saw The Egg which was intended to be the largest mall and theater of the Middle East when it was built. The audio also discusses the dilapidated buildings due to civil unrest. I walked for some time, but found it to be a bit boring. Not sure if I would recommend this tour.

Mohammad Al-Amin Mosque across from Martyrs Square.
The Egg

Because I have good internal GPS, I decided to turn around and head back to where the tour began. This area seemed to be bustling with people. The most interesting thing to me is its Ramadan and everything is open. People eating and drinking on the streets. Businesses are open, it’s a Friday and nothing has stopped. People are not dressed conservatively; as I had packed for the weekend. In my next blog I will go into detail about all of my misconceptions and new learning about Lebanon. The country has very interesting past. I came to understand the country is not predominately Muslim. Hence, it being a normal running day.

I stumbled upon this area that had a huge clock tower in the middle and was surrounded by street cafes. It sort of reminded me of Rome or Madrid. I stopped at a cafe to have some assorted pickles and cheese rolls. While seated there and walking around, I noticed a number of people begging for food and money. This is just not something I see in Qatar and you almost forget the needy and homeless population exist. My awareness of the Syrian population residing in Lebanon was also clarified.

After my snack I went on a mission to find the souks and I love Beirut sign. The souks are very upscale. Not your typical, winding paths that you would tend to get lost and completely turned around. But, I somehow found the sign. It’s gorgeous! Bright and bold colors. After that I caught a taxi to the Rauche Rocks. They really are two rocks..that’s all folks. Afterwards my taxi driver took me to the National Museum. On the way I saw a beach and so I inquired. He said the Lebanese do not use it, they go to Tripoli or other surrounding beaches. Only the Syrians use it and it’s dirty. I probably need to do some research on Lebanese – Syrian relations. We went through an area that was crowed with people selling pampers on the street. He explained it was a huge Syrian population in Old Beirut.

I love Beirut sign.
Raouche Rocks

I wasn’t impressed with the National Museum or City Center Mall. I caught an Uber back to the hotel. Did I mention it’s hot as hell, but not as hot as Qatar. I’m slowly learning that adventures don’t always require a full schedule. So, I went back to my room and watched four episodes of Jailbirds on Netflix. All I have to say is people incarcerated are part genius and part crazy. I finally decided that it was time to venture out for dinner. Zaitunay Bay is an area with lots of restaurants, coffee shops and shopping. It’s about a 5 minute walk from my hotel and is pretty busy on a Friday night with young and old. I decided to have Italian at Al Forno on the bay. The patio had a nice ambience and cool breeze.

Sculpture at the National Museum.

After dinner I walked along the bay and stopped in a few shops. I decided to call it an early night since I had a busy day scheduled for Saturday. I booked a tour for Anjar, Baalbek and Kasara with wine tasting.