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.
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, booking.com 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.
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 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.
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.
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 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.
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.
Welcome back y’all! We are headed into week two over here and it’s going pretty well I am not sure if I mentioned this or not in my first issue, but I feel like I am fasting too. Here’s why.. Everything is closed during the day. Although I cook dinner most nights (except Thursday… never on a Thursday), the option to grab something is just not there until after sunset. The Eid holiday has been officially announced to begin June 4th. That means we get out of school one day early. This past weekend felt a little tough, but I did keep myself occupied by writing Saturday. Well folks, this is what happened this week:
Sunday May 12th
It’s Mother’s Day in the United States. Do you know how unbearable it is to look at social media today, yesterday and tomorrow? My timeline will be flooded with all kinds of shout outs to mama’s, grandma’s, aunties or whoever surrogate people refer to mother. Moving on…. I just love this schedule. I have never been a morning person so this really works for me. I went in this morning with a mission- to complete all of my grades and comments in Powerschool. And that’s just what I did. The really nice thing about this time the team can cover each other’s class while the other knocks out end of year tasks. I also chased some kids down to finish some work because after seeing their final grade, well I had mercy on them. Maybe I am not teaching them management (an ATL), but I see student failure as teacher failure. At least where I come from admins are going to ask what you did to support the student? I’m just covering my bases incase I am asked. I was also able to get all of my reflections in Managebac, which is the system used to store MYP/IB/DP units. Basically, I had to go in and write about my thoughts on 7th grade units- how we thought they would go, what happened and how to change in the future. The last project that I started was a swimming handbook. As a department we would like to clearly outline swimming expectations for students and parents. I also think it will help us enforce policy when it is written. By that time the day was over. I came home and took a nap while Suits on Netflix was watching me. After napping I food prepped a few items for the week. Cooking always makes me feel good. Because Coffee Bean is closed on campus life has been difficult without caffeine. So, I ran out to Starbucks. Guess what? It is open 6 PM – 3 AM. I did pick up some pods for my Nescafe so that I can make iced coffee in the mornings.
In this midst of writing this, I was tagged in this quote. Thanks to the friend for checking in on me.
Monday May 13th
Today I thought I would do nothing, but as it turns out my grades were incomplete. Needless to say my on the job training for putting grades in Powerschool was a crash course prior to having access to Powerschool. So it’s kind of like the blind leading the blind and the blind asking other blind for help. Anyway, all boxes are filled in for S2 and Final Grades so I think the coast is clear. I am ashamed to say this, but I have been reading “Becoming” by Michelle Obama since December. It sat on my nightstand every night and I picked it up minimal times. I wouldn’t consider myself an avid reader, but just for enjoyment. I guess I don’t enjoy it enough. Anyway, I have one more chapter before finishing. But speaking of reading, I was listening to the podcast Rachet and Respectable with Demetria L. Lucus last week and her guest Damon Young, co-founder of Very Smart Brothas and author of “ What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Blacker”, made the point of noting that strong writers are also avid readers. With that said, I will finish the book this week and start “Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? by Beverly Daniel Tatum. That’s actually a question I’ve had all my life as a student and educator. Additionally, I ordered Young’s book. This should keep me busy through the summer.
Tuesday May 14th
I’ve decided this will be my last week journaling my Ramadan experience; unless something crazy exciting happens. I taught my first class today at 12:40 and I left at 1:30. So for four hours I was trying to keep myself engaged in work. I mean that’s not what really happened. I was actually searching Dresslily and swimsuitsforall.com for all for swimwear this summer. Adnaloy came by and we gossiped for about an hour or so. It was good catching up. If you remember, she is my neighbor and the first friend I made here. I was telling her that it’s so crazy how we didn’t really get to see each other during the day at work. Another highlight was my old boss texted me a picture of my business card he found in his office. I had so many business cards and didn’t know what to do with them. So Megan and I hid them all over his office. It’s like the gift that keeps giving!
Wednesday May 15th
Nothing exciting to report.
Thursday May 16th
I told myself that I would finish “Becoming” this week and that’s just what I did today. Such an inspiring book! Regardless of your political affiliation, race, and other variables it’s a great read for women around the world. Without giving too much away, my biggest take away from the book was her discussion about the “swerve” in life. You must read it to understand and identify your swerves.
The second exciting thing is I requested to be the chaperone for a trip to Croatia, which is half service, half tourism for 6th and 7th grade. I was asked to be the trip coordinator! This is exciting for me! I love doing things like this, especially with students. I am sure that my experience coordinating the Jr. High field trip at my previous school will come in handy.
Finally, I am all packed for my weekend getaway. When I booked this ticket I thought I might need a trip to break up Ramadan. So, watch my instagram or Facebook to see where I check into next.
I am glad that you asked. I’ve received quite a few inquires over time about the process for planning my trips. So here is a sneak peek.
I have a million apps on my phone that support my travel addiction. My go to are Hopper, Booking, Viator and Trip Advisor. Hopper is an application that I can search flights and in my experience they are cheaper than the airline websites. What I love about Hopper is I can input the dates of my trip and it will tell me if I should purchase or wait for a better price. One of the things that I do when it tells me to purchase….is purchase. But I keep the search set up after purchase to monitor if the fight drops. This is just my way of reinforcing my choice, sort of a check and balance. Even if I don’t know where I am going initially, I can set up trip alerts to all the places I want to go and as soon as a ticket seems reasonable I will purchase. I don’t think Google Flights has an app yet, but they have feature called explore map. Within explore you don’t have to set your destination. However, you can select price range, dates, stops, and flight duration. I actually used this for my trip this upcoming weekend. Then I went to Hopper and purchased the trip lower than advertised on Google Flights and airline website.
Once I have secured a ticket, my next step is to peruse the Booking app for hotels. Now listen, I have tried hostels here and there but I am always mad at myself when I do that. In fact, I have checked out a hostel before. Like, I couldn’t bring myself to sit on the bed. I just knew I would walk away with bedbugs. Simply put, I am hotel girl. I need a four walls with a door, windows, bathroom, shower, bed… a room to my damn self. Also, if you want a single room at a hostel the rates are always higher than hotels. I grew up as an only child so I might have loner characteristics. I feel like hostels are for people who need other people around them.
Here are a couple of my mandatory filters on Booking:
Breakfast Included (optional as I struggle to eat breakfast)
Property Type (Hotel)
Airport Shuttle Free (optional)
Only show available properties
Once I set up my filters then I am ready see what properties are available. As I scroll through, the ones that seem to stand out are Today’s Value Deal, no prepayment needed and free cancellation. Also, when the taxes and charges are included in the price listed, that’s a winner. My next step is to look at the map and determine the distance from airport, center city, main attractions and public transportation. The best feature is the detailed reviews from travelers. For most of my travels I am filtering what other solo travelers had to about their stay. My main questions are as follows: Is it clean?, Is it in a safe neighborhood?, Is it convenient? I can usually narrow it down to about 4-5 properties that meet my standards based on the reviews. The next step is to go to the official website of the properties and determine if the Booking price is similar to their published price. The official website gives you a really good glimpse or feel for the hotel. If the price is cheaper on the hotel website, then that is where I will reserve instead of Booking.
At this point I have a flight (or multiple depending on trip) and hotel(s). The next step is to determine transport from airport to hotel. The time that I am arriving does impact my final choice. If it’s night I do not use public transportation as a safety precaution. I don’t really care how safe the place is considered. Application based transportation is great because I can typically share my trip with my dad. He can see the route and when I arrive at the hotel. I first look to see if there is a bus, subway or sky train and the closest stop to the my hotel. If that does not make sense, I will check out other options such as Uber, Welcome (which I love!), Taxi Beat, It Taxi or Pick Me which are all app based. My last choice is the local taxis. Honestly they tend to over charge. Speaking of that, while I was in Athens I used Beat (dirt cheap). I was about to get into my car and a yellow taxi, which was in an area where you would hail a taxi, rolled up on my driver and straight cussed him out about picking me up. My driver was trying to explain that I was a Beat customer. I was just standing in the middle of the two cars like WTF! My driver was like get in the car! Just know there are many options for transportation. Additionally, I download any mass transportation apps for offline use (this is valuable).
Itinerary and Travel Inspiration
Over the next few days I will try to build my itinerary. This is where the real work and research happens. I’ve found that there are many travel groups on Facebook. With the search feature within a group it is very easy to locate your travel destinations. People are out here traveling and sharing their knowledge of do’s and dont’s, where to go, what to eat, how to pack, etc. I really appreciate that and I reciprocate it much as I can. So here are my favorite travel groups and where I draw inspiration for my itinerary:
Black Travel Movement
Sisters Traveling Solo
Up In the Air Life
Girls Love Travel
Curvy (Girls Love Travel)
Black Americans Living Abroad
People in these groups share their drivers, tour operators, hotels, sights, excursions and Amazon links to their outfits. Yep, that’s how I am going to find the perfect dress for a special vacation this summer. You can plan a whole trip based off the suggestions listed in those groups for free! When I tell you that one of my trips this summer was solely planned based off the numerous recommendations of a driver people used and how he scheduled everyday for pennies on the dollar….You can’t beat that.
As far as Instagram, I follow quite a few travelers, bloggers, and influencers. They always have dope content with great places to visit. So here are few people to follow:
@thecatchmeifyoucan (by the way she has almost completed her journey to visiting every country in the world)
I know that’s a lot but they all bring a valuable perspectives to travel. Some are for location, others hotels, solo travel, photography and so many other factors. Without them I wouldn’t even think of or know about some places to visit. Once I have itinerary ideas from Facebook and Instagram, I go to Viator and Trip Advisor to look for tours, day trips, wine tastings, cooking classes etc. Most recently I’ve started to look for in home dining through EatWith. If you want authentic food and conversation, check out the website or app. Also, believe it or not doing a pub crawl on your first night in a new city is the best way to get acquainted with your surroundings. The Hop on Hop Off tour is a mandatory for me if it is offered. That’s the easiest way to see major sights.
I have a travel notebook and this is where I write out each day that I will be in a location. I start to write in what I may want to do based on the research and recommendations. I need to know how long it would take to get to a location, suggested time to visit and number of hours needed. There is a lot of back and forth during this time because I really trying to build the best trip experience. After I feel like it is a solid itinerary, I transfer it to a Google document and share it with my dad. He likes to keep up with me! If you are a solo traveler, please share your itinerary with someone. If you don’t have an itinerary, let someone know the general area.
I tend to overpack, but I am doing a lot better. I have four options:
The option I select is based on the number of days I will be gone and the cost of checked baggage. I go back and forth because sometimes I just don’t want to be bothered with luggage while sitting in the airport. Other times I just want to get off the airplane and go to my transportation. But, since moving abroad I have found that many airlines give two free checked bags off the top. Budget airlines will always nickle and dime you. I probably start to pack about three weeks before my trip. This gives me time to put items in, remove and then put them back again. It’s a process. I look at the the forecast during my trip. I also add the location to weather on my phone.
In Flight Entertainment, Snacks and other Necessities
Here is my checklist of items needed for a smooth flight:
Ipad (with plenty of games, music, podcasts and e-magazines)
Portable Charger (20,000 mah, 10 hours with two USB plugs)
Current Book (ebooks do not work for me)
Gum, Mints, Crackers and other goodies
Stainless Steel Insulated Water Bottle
Melatonin (overnight flights longer than 3 hours)
Neck pillow and eye mask
Personal Seatbelt extension (Airlines cut damaged seatbelts, so there is not a standard size.)
I am intentionally not talking about budget. When it comes to money, I think that is personal to each of us. All of us have different means to travel. What I can do you may not be able to and what the next person can, I may not be able to do. So travel the way you can afford to travel. I would say the one area that I really lack in planning is travel insurance. Recently I have been looking into Travel Nomads and Allianz or using my credit card to book trips since it will cover emergencies or cancellations. Speaking of credit cards… I don’t use my credit card to pay for flights, hotels, tours, etc. Maybe I’m old school, but if I don’t have the cash in my checking account, then the trip is not for me. With that being said, moving abroad supports my habit. I am much closer to many destinations…. and well I no longer have a mortgage (or pay for housing) and a transport and coaching stipend on top of my salary makes it much easier.
Final thoughts about travel
The last three apps that I love are Countdown, FlightView and XE Currency. Countdown is a neat way to keep track of how many days left to my next voyage. Within the FlightView app I can keep all my flights in one place. XE Currency allows you to get the most up to date currency conversion rates.
Additionally, don’t forget your international plugs. I have one that covers every country and USB slots (ahhhmazzing).
I have included as many links as possible for you to access the resources I use. My hope is that this will help those of you who really want to get out there and see the world, but have no idea where to start.
In case you stumble across my blog, feel free to follow me on Instagram @jetsetmelanin2018. I try to my best to keep the content travel related, but you will catch glimpses of my life and thoughts as well.
I’ve decided that I need to make the most of this time or otherwise I am going to sleep my life away. And….. I’ve been slacking on writing. I did as much research before relocating here so that I could understand my new life. I remember the school informing us last spring that during Ramadan we probably wouldn’t hear a lot from them because the working hours would be shortened. Per the government we can only work five hours per day. That means that most days I work 8:30-1:30.I went to a session provided by the school to get better understand of Ramadan from an expat perspective. How to handle the students and what life looks like during this time. Now, as much as I felt prepared for this…. I don’t think I really was and I don’t know if I will survive.
Photo Credit – @pngtree
The students are fasting and due to this we have changed what they do in physical education. We have completed all of our units and grades for the year. It’s May 5th. The last day of school is June 4th. So for the next four weeks they will come to PE with the following options: table tennis, badminton, football (dependent on energy levels, work on other assignments or “rest” on the mat. So the kids have been very low key the last two days.I am bored out of my mind.
So what is Ramadan?
There are about 1.8 billion Muslims that will be observing Ramadan. The Crescent Sighting Committee at the Ministry of Awqaf and Islamic Affairs in Doha are responsible for monitoring and announcing the start and finish. During Ramadan, Muslims fast, which is one of the pillars of Islam ( I know this because I teach Qatar history). The fasting period is for the duration and begins at sunrise through sunset. Not only are Muslims fasting, but they reflect, pray, do good deeds and get gather with friends and family.
If you would like more information on Ramadan take a look at this QTip from Mr. Q.
At sunset, after prayers, they break the fast and participate in in Iftar. Additionally, right before dawn there is Suhoor. So you can imagine there is a lot of eating that takes place between sunset and sunrise. Also, that means there is not a lot sleep happening. Hence, the shortened day.
So here’s what’s been going on with me:
Monday May 6th: My Ramadan schedule began today. I arrived at work around 8:10. The kids were still not feeling the effects of fasting. Some played while other sat around. The day was pretty smooth. I left work at 1:30. I came home and watched Netflix for a while and then I went to bed. I woke up around 7:30 and had dinner.
Tuesday May 7th: Today I heard a few kids talking about being thirsty. But overall, they seem to be holding up pretty well. On the other hand, the Coffee Bean on campus is closed so I have not had a iced coffee in a few days, but I’m surviving. I came home and took a nap, waking up around 7:00 pm to cook dinner. I also needed to find some coffee, so a trip to Caribou Coffee was needed. Headache solved. Today is also the day that I decided to journal my Ramadan experience. Hopefully, this will give me something to do, allow future expats of Muslim countries to understand ways to cope during this time and Americans to understand the Muslim way of life.
Wednesday May 8th: Just another day in Ramadan paradise. The day goes by really fast. I am in the middle of trying to get all of my grades done. It’s seems to be a little bit of task, but I will survive. I was able to leave today at 1 PM. I met Leslie at Santa Monica Breakfast Club for lunch. That was a real treat since we don’t typically get to do things of that nature during the our regular schedules. We have been to SMBC for dinner before and I wasn’t very happy with food. I have to say that this time around the food was good. Maybe we will have a weekly lunch if our schedules work out. In other news, I have been binging on Lauren Lake’s Paternity Court via Youtube. I am not even sure why I watch other than I am shocked at the cases. The episode I am watching right now features a young woman who has had relations with her mother’s boyfriend.She gets pregnant and he might be the baby daddy. Like why? I probably need to find something of substance to watch. I digress at times. The verdict just came. He is not the father, but the damage has been done. The mother suggests that they all get counseling. The mother’s boyfriend said we can help her. The judge asked with the most outrageous thing I’ve ever heard. It was followed by, “Can you help her and keep your hands off of her at the same time?” Weird. Next episode started…. girl has been there previously and tested two men that were determined not to be the fathers. She brings back more. I’ll stop now.
Thursday May 9th: I survived the first week and I pray that my students are doing well with the fasting. I dressed casual today, which felt amazing. A romper, birkenstock and a cardigan. This is non Ramadan related, but I got a maid today. I just didn’t want to clean myself. Also at 35 QR ($9) per hour for 2 hours of cleaning is well spent money in my book. Anyway, school went well but I can tell the kids are just worn out after four days of fasting. They are quiet and just roaming around. I am not fasting, but I find myself hungry and thirsty because I don’t have easy access to eating during the day. I decided to go to IKEA while my villa was being cleaned. This was the best trip ever. IKEA is typically busy with families all over the place. You can barely move through the store. I mean I strolled through the store for a good two hours. I even sat down in the clearance area and read an article, played a game and checked my email. But guess what… I couldn’t get a cone of ice cream so I had to run over to Monoprix and get a drink. The drink had to stay in my bag until I got in the car.I made it home safely, but do know Ramadan driving is a little insane. I guess everyone is trying to get somewhere to rest.
This has been my first journaling and reflection of Ramadan. I will continue to jot down my thoughts during this time and share them weekly. I stepped away for a while, but I’m back and it feels good to be writing again.
I’m almost to the end of my trip with a stop in Milan before I return to Rome for New Years Eve and finally Athens for my return to Doha. I always find it interesting how people will sit in your seat and insist that they prefer your seat over the one they purchased. So here we go….
Me: Sir… That’s my seat right there..
Him: I like this seat.
Me: I like the seat I paid for.
Him: Something along the lines of please sit in my seat.
Me: No thanks, I like the window. That’s why I purchased it.
Him: Moves to correct seat.
The remainder of the train ride was uneventful. Except for when his daughter peed her pants and my Clorox wipes and baby came in handy.
Ranata +2, Stranger on the train-2.
So I made it to Milano Centrale and in my mind I wanted to take public transportation to the nearest stop to the hotel. It was cold as hell exiting the station so I scraped that plan. I also was not immediately excited about what I saw. I’m not sure why other than it didn’t look like the pictures. I also failed to download the taxi app (itTaxi)and get money out of the ATM. I went back to terminal, no ATM in sight, but I downloaded app and added credit card. I had to walk a block to get the app to work. Somehow I finally got a ride to the hotel.
I arrived to the hotel with ease. The outside reminded of the brownstones in New York. Hotel San Francisco seems to be situated in a residential neighborhood. The receptionist provided me with all relevant information to check in. I went to my room which was quaint, but I had a street view. I did like the shower. Since I was cashless, I set out on the hunt for an ATM. Never in my life have I been to a city where an ATM was difficult to locate. I literally went every direction from my hotel until I found one in a plaza.
Finally with money I caught an Uber to Viveca Pizza and More. Somehow I failed to eat today, but I’m sure a missing meal here and there doesn’t hurt me. When I arrived there were four guest seated. I was a little nervous. Maybe the ratings were wrong on TheFork. However, at 7:30 this place became vibrant with music blasting and all the tables full. And people kept coming and going. I enjoyed my meal and the service was exceptional compared to some of my experiences in Rome. I had a great dinner and was full on wine as well. I headed back to the hotel for some rest and relaxation before my busy day.
Sometimes it can feel lonely in this solo travel lifestyle. While I love the idea of being able to travel where I like, create my own agenda and things of that sort, a dinner here and there to share conversation would be nice. While doing my research for this trip I found an app called Eatwith. The concept is locals invite people into their homes where they share stories over homemade cuisine. Eatwith was founded in 2012 and I’m sad that I just stumbled upon concept in tourism. So earlier this week I scrolled through the options on the app and decided I would dine with Fabio and Rocco. Not only did the menu look enticing, but the reviews were fabulous.
So I caught a cab to their place and was greeted with warm smiles, hugs and kisses on the cheeks. I was the first of three guest to arrive. While waiting I admired the artwork and holiday decorations of the flat.
They had great soundtrack of holiday music playing to set the mood. A little Mariah, “Oh Happy Day” by Lauren Hill, I even think I heard some Temptations in the mix. Koko and Myrrh arrived shortly and we began our dinner. Fabio and Rocco have a patio area off their flat that is enclosed. It’s actually a great area because in the warmer months you can open the door or add tables to extend area for larger groups. The space was intimate for the five of us.
We started with the choice of red or white wine in addition to Crostini con paté de fegatini di pollo and di olive. The olive was my favorite. This was followed up with Pasta all’ Amatriciana. This dish is similar to rigotoni with tomato sauce, bacon, percorino, cheese, garlic and wine for seasoning. I had two servings and stopped myself to save room for the secondo piatto. It was Polpette al sugo or meatballs and tomato sauce and Insalata mista. This was appetizing as well. We ended our meal with Crostata di amarene, which is a homemade cherry tart. After finishing our meal we had more wine and limoncello (quite a few cups for me).
The food was wonderful, but the best part was the organic conversation that was created with our various backgrounds. The conversation evolved from the current political climate to travel to grandmothers keeping money in their bras. It was a respectful and safe environment to have conversation. I thoroughly enjoyed listening to Myrrh and Koko talk about their recent engagement and sharing professional photos from their recent trip to Barcelona. You know I had to share mine as well. Koko is a designer and Myrrh is a stylist for celebrities.
Rocco and Fabio are equally exciting. Once again I was hit with the harsh fact that I need to know multiple languages. Rocco is limited in English and while Fabio translates for him when needed, I wanted to engage with him more. He has a sweet disposition and embracing smile. Before I knew it we had spent five hours talking, eating, drinking and enjoying each other’s company.
Rocco and Fabio sent us away with a to go box of cherry tart. It was excellent with coffee the next morning. Fabio emailed me a walking tour that I will be doing today. As a local he was able to provide me with destinations off the beaten path.
I encourage you to experience Eatwith wherever your travels may lead you.