All posts by Ms. Hala

Travel Link Up – Favorite Staycation Spots

Travel bloggers come together monthly for the Travel Link Up, a fantastic way for bloggers to come together to write and share posts of a particular theme. Even though I’ve been behind, I try to join whenever I can. This month’s theme is “favorite staycations” and I just had to take the opportunity to brag a bit about my hometown region and a far away favorite. 

Staycations are like adding a fun boost to the weekend that’s usually set aside for family, laundry, errands and TV binge. When you are in need of a vacation but can’t go so far or for so long, it’s good to hop in a car, a train, or even a short flight to enjoy a quick break from the mundane.

Here, I’m going to focus on two of my favorite staycation spots since I’ve lived in two different parts of the world. One being in my hometown of the Bay Area and the other being from my expat life in Qatar.

Let’s go far then bring it back home.

Muscat, Oman

IMG_20161209_112439-01.jpegDuring the five years of my expat life in Qatar, I was lucky to be able to go on weekend trips to near by countries like the UAE and Kuwait. Many of which literally meant time with family and friends or at a hotel spa getting a well deserved pampering session. I got to do a little bit of both with some adventure when friends and I headed to Muscat in 2016 for a long birthday weekend.

Barely an hour flight away (think SF to LA), once I landed, I went straight to the hotel where I indulged in a mani-pedi pampering session before chilling on the warm private beach with a good book. Yes, Muscat in December is like a sweet summer day in San Francisco. It’s seriously perfect beach weather, warm but not too humid, light breeze and clear skies for the most part.

As an IHG member, I got a sweet deal at the Crowne Plaza Muscat. It’s very much a chill out hotel that I’d go back to again. Great spots to eat, excellent services and did I mention they had a private beach?

IMG_20161209_165408-01.jpegOnce my friends caught up though, we went exploring! Headed to Bimmah’s infamous sinkhole and clear beaches before driving out the city to the canyons of Wadi ElSham. This is a trek everyone should do once in their lives, absolutely beautiful and breathtaking.

Canyons are no joke and as an out of shape person, it wasn’t too hard to trek through some of the rocky narrow parts. And if you’re a swimmer, you’ll love the varying spots where you can take safe dive, come back up and trek some more. I went as far as I could before the path was too narrow for me and alas, I’m no swimmer but I still enjoyed exploring and watching the waters ripple below.

Nature truly beckons here in Muscat, where you can lose yourself in awe of your colorful surroundings.

Monterey Bay, California

I’ve been a tourist in my hometown since repatriating back home over a year ago. There is still so much for me to rediscover as I eat my way through town and see the changes that have happened over the course of my absence. I did get to rediscover an old favorite for a few staycations, including a birthday weekend late last year (I know, I’ve developed a pattern! =P ). On a good day, it’s a short hour and a half drive to this small historical beach town.

IMG_20190331_134903-01.jpegOnce a mainstay for sardine fishing and canning, Monterey has become a hub for marine preservation and exploration. My brother got his scuba diving license there before we took my nephew to his first aquarium adventure. He got to see all the different kinds of jelly fishes up close before finally seeing his favorite, the hammer head shark, swim by.

Just a half hour away, one can head to Moss Landing for an afternoon of dolphin and whale watching. It’s an absolutely glorious experience, highly recommended!

Make it a true girls trip and head to the Monterey Plaza Hotel for a beautiful room, a day at the spa and dinner by the sea. The hotel even offers perks and packages, especially if they know you’re there for a special occasion. They were sweet enough to offer us freebies from my favorite coffee spot there, Tidal Cafe -home of the best chocolate scones, EVER!- as a birthday gift.

So tell me, where are your favorite staycation spot(s)?

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Ramadan Kareem!

May God bless you all during this holy month with much reward, goodness and joy.

Ramadan Kareem to one and all!

.اللهم بارك لكم في هذا الشهر المبارك بالثوب، والعز و الهنا

!رمضان كريم عليكم جميعاً

SF Sundays – Spring is in the Air

I apologize for lagging behind on my SF Sundays rants over the last several weeks. I hadn’t realized until recently that it’s one of my most read rant series! I’m so glad my peeps are really interested in the happenings around town. As a thank you, I have something special for you all so keep reading.

Spring is in the air! The rains may subsided but Karl is still overlooking the city. The flowers are in full bloom, pollen is in the air and my antihistamines have gone up in price. Ha! Like that’s going to stop us from enjoying this nice change of weather and all the happenings that come with it.

This is my favorite time of year in the city because so much is going on and we are truly spoiled for choice. From local art galleries and festivals to international races and eats, you have no excuse to not come outside and play!

HAPPENING AROUND TOWN

Next week on May 6th, Ramadan, the holiest month in the Islamic calendar, is expected to begin. This is the month where Muslims around the world fast from dawn till dusk, reflecting on their faith and spirituality. During this time, there will be several activities happening across the Bay Area, such as “Fast-athons” and banquet iftars, where all are welcome to join, learn and participate.

The Bay Area Grand Iftar, hosted by the Islamic Relief USA, is happening May 12th in Fremont. A four star charitable organization I hold near and dear for the amazing work they do around the world as well as here at home. They were on the scene during last years devastating California wild fires, supporting victims in need. Ticket sales benefit the organization’s charitable programs while bringing the community together for a great cause. Speakers for the evening banquet will include Imam Khalid Latif and activist Linda Sarsour.

You know, our city is home to some of the largest and most beautiful museums. Sometimes though, it’s the small galleries featuring local artists that grab my attention the most. In search for a local gallery to check out, I came across a San Francisco Examiner story on local artist Kurt Schwartzmann.

Kurt, who is visually impaired in his left eye, dedicates his most recent series of sketches, Yellow Line, to the kindness he found with an SF MUNI bus driver when he found himself homeless back in 2008. Spending some time sketching other MUNI drivers, Kurt’s collection is now being exhibited at the Lighthouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired through May 2019.

Yellow Line Second Panel by Kurt Schwartzmann
c/o lighthouse-sf.org

Time to get your groove on, peeps! Bay Area Dance Week by ODC is happening now through May 5th. Celebrate dance in all it’s glory with the local community of dance artists. Take free classes in Rhythm and Motion, Afro-Haitian, and Contemporary. Events are free but pre-registration is required. So what are you waiting for?

And if you’ve got your allergies at bay, this summer’s Free Outdoor Movie Screenings has already started. Woohoo! Running through September 5th, movies on the roster to be screened include Bohemian Rhapsody and Crazy Rich Asians. Yes it’s free but you best reserve your spots because they go so fast.

A few more fun things to consider planning ahead for:

  • On your mark, get set, sail! The second annual SailGP in San Francisco races May 4th and 5th, with spectator tickets still available at varying prices.
  • Broadway’s all time favorite Hamilton is still happening now in San Francisco through September. Get your tickets before it’s too late.
This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is a01959a290d87b1c64a1b97491288b5180a767c4.jpg
c/o carnavalsanfrancisco.org
  • The 41st annual Carnaval San Francisco festival is on Memorial Day weekend with Los Tigres del Norte headlining May 25th. Themed “La Cultura Cura” (“Culture Heals”) this year, expect the festival to be colorful, beautiful and joyfully loud!
  • The line up for the free 82nd Stern Grove Festival starting June 16 through Aug 18th have been announced. Seriously, what a line up! Even though it’s free, you can reserve your picnic tables now.

THANK YOU!

I have recently revamped my humble boutique, adding some beautiful new products and even gave it a fresh logo. Seeing that my readers here love this rant series where I get to show off my hometown and to celebrate the return of Game of Thrones, thought what better way than to have my first ever blog giveaway*? Yaaay!

I’ll be giving away three beautiful necklaces inspired by the GOT house sigils that I found during my time in Europe. Pendants such as the Lannister’s golden lion, Stark’s dire wolf or the Targaryen’s three headed dragon, are made to look medieval, Gothic and vintage in dark silver and bronze colors.

To enter the giveaway, all you have to do is comment below on what your most favorite thing to do or see or eat in San Francisco. Not in San Francisco? Comment below on what’s your San Francisco wish list for when you do visit. I’ll randomly pick three individuals and announce the winners right here on May 12th.

Spring is here, so let’s celebrate!

*Terms and Conditions: No purchase required to enter, one necklace per winner thus three winners total. Must be 18 or older and a resident of the US . Entries must be made by May 10th with a valid email/account. Comments with no images/profiles, multiple entries or spammers are disqualified. Winners will be announced on the next upcoming post May 12th as well as on the social media handles of Ms. Hala’s Boutique (@mshalasboutique).

Disclaimer: This rant was not sponsored or paid for by the events or restaurants listed. If you’d like me to check out a happening around town or a yummy eatery to rant about, please email ha@mshala.co.

I Jumped Off a Plane, Willingly!

Under the sun but above the clouds. Floating with the wind until your feet touches the softest patch of grass. The entire experience of it all, from beginning to end is absolutely surreal even as I write this rant.

Who hasn’t put skydiving on their bucket list? Who hasn’t thought about it a few times but never really motivated? That was me. I’ve always wanted to go but never really motivated until my brother’s birthday came up. He wanted to do something wild and skydiving was one thing my siblings and I said, “let’s do it!”

Lots of anticipation, excitement, fear, and anxiety builds up between the three of us until we got on that plane. I can’t imagine going up 13,000 feet without those two with me, let alone jumping before me. Totally not jumped in the order we planned, I’m a good big sister, I swear. But before processing my brother’s over the shoulder look or my sister’s scream, I looked down -yikes!- and willingly jumped off the plane!

A few seconds of disorientation before I’m synced, remembering the instructions told to us just a few minutes ago. Part of which is spreading your arms when you get tapped since you’ve got to hold the harness for the jump. I catch Brad, my flying camera dude, in my sights. With fists in the air, I scream, “Oh my God!”

The hardest part for me was the parachute pull, it’s a backwards jolt that caught me by surprise. Think of it as a hard break while driving 120 miles per hour. Again, it takes me a few seconds before I’m synced and I’m literally just floating. My tandem dude, Toshi, makes sure I’m good and comfortable before maneuvering the parachute to allow me a 360 degree view of my surroundings.

The Bay Area can fit in my hands. Mount Diablo, the highest mountain in California, is just a mole. The entire world below is so small, but oh so beautiful. Our planet is beautiful, peeps. In that moment, there was a sense of peace all over me. By the grace of God, I breathed in the cool air breeze, I couldn’t close my eyes, I spread my arms as if they were wings and had to be conscious enough not to kick poor Toshi. Ha!

Before I knew it, we were slowly descending towards our landing point. My short self finally got to shout, “look out below!” as we landed on a soft patch of grass. Brad came up to me to capture my thoughts. “That was fucking awesome!” was my first response. Did I just fly? Did I just land? Wasn’t I just on a plane? Oh my God, I jumped off a plane!

Before you go on your first skydiving adventure, please do your research. Note that you will be signing waivers because you are taking a risk when you go skydiving. My experience may not have been what I expected, may not have been perfect but at the end of the day, when you go with a good crew, your experience is all the more better. We went with Bay Area Skydiving in Byron, California. Per our research, they’ve been flying for over 25 years so it made sense to go with them for our first jump. While there is room for improvement, the team deserves props because they actually enjoy what they do and share in that excitement of flying with us rookies.

I’ve officially crossed “Skydiving” off my bucket list!! Have you? Share your thoughts with me in the comments below or via Twitter.

Quote of the Day

Stay busy doing you and living your best life. #JustSaying

Forty Days

One of my favorite pictures of Mama with my aunties and grandparents a few years ago. Today marks 40 days since my grandmother’s passing. This is how I’ll always remember her, smiling.

May she rest in God’s eternal peace and light… ameen.

Picture of the Day

Sometimes when you just take a moment to appreciate your surroundings, a beautiful blue jay will come to appreciate you. And allow you to capture it’s beauty. 🐦