Tag Archives: adventure

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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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.

Travel Link Up – My Travel Wishlist for 2018

Travel bloggers come together monthly for the Travel Link Up, a fantastic way for bloggers to write about a particular travel theme while reading and sharing each other’s posts. This month’s theme is one’s travel wishlist for 2018. This rant will be my first with the travel link up, finally!

IMG-20170909-WA0034-01.jpgOne of my goals for 2018 is to travel more than I did last year. This, in part, is sparked by two things. One, my plans from last year was put on hold because of my repatriation back home. And two, this year’s destination wedding season is in full swing and I couldn’t be happier! This is an opportune time for me to revisit favorites as well as discover new places.

So here’s my travel wishlist for 2018:

San Francisco Bay Area, California

I’ve been playing a tourist in my hometown since repatriating last summer. There’s so much for me to rediscover as I eat my way through the city and the Bay Area as a whole, really. Like trekking the hiking trails in Sausalito, crossing the Golden Gate Bridge on foot, checking out the latest exhibits at the Asian American Museum, observing the marine animals at the historical Monterey Aquarium and show some love to the businesses reopening in the Napa Valley areas.

New York Tri-State Area

DSCN0211-01.jpgI’ll be heading to the New York area in the early summer for my cousin’s wedding! After dancing the night away, I’m going to try to cross a few things off my list that I didn’t get a chance to do during my last visit. Like, go see a Broadway show. I mean seriously, how have I been to New York City so many times and not see a single Broadway show? Preposterous! This year, I must see a show and I’m spoiled for choice with new ones coming out as early as March 2018, wow! I’d also like to head to Hoboken, New Jersey. It’s been on my radar as I hear they’ve got a booming food culture there.

Sicily, Italy

IMG_20160723_131933-01.jpegLater in the summer, I’m heading to the magnificent island state of Sicily for my dear friend’s wedding! I’ve been through most of Italy in 2016 but not to Sicily. Thus, my friends and I are planning to stay about a week to check it out in all it’s glory once we’ve recovered from dancing all night or two long. I’m being told that Mount Etna is a must when visiting Sicily. This should be a good way to work out all the food I plan on eating.

Dubrovnik and Fort Lovrijenac, Croatia

Another trip missed last year was Croatia. As a history buff, I’m anxious to see the ancient coastal city of Dubrovnik. Of course, I can’t be in Croatia as a huge Game of Thrones fan and not head to Fort Lovrijenac, where it’s the setting for Kings Landing. The scenery alone is a great backdrop for this historical fantasy. Here’s to taking a seat on the Iron Throne!

Luxor and Aswan, Egypt

IMG_0180-01.jpegSince I won’t be far, seems a short trip to the Middle East is in order. It’s been a good number of years since I’ve been to Egypt and of the few times I’ve been, I have yet to visit Luxor and Aswan. As a history buff, these historic provinces have so much to offer and I’m still making a list of all the things I need to explore. I do plan on going with a tour guide of sorts as to not miss out on anything.

Bali, Indonesia

I was so close yet didn’t get a chance to go as planned for my birthday last year. I’m hoping to make it this time around and explore the bounties the island has to offer. Fingers crossed there won’t be another volcano eruption, otherwise, I’m checking out Mount Agung and the surrounding towns.

Paris, France

This country, specifically Paris, is a coin toss for me because as much as I’d like to go, the fact that hijabs and niqabs are banned in its many public places doesn’t put me at much ease. I’ve almost never had a problem outside of airports during my travels but that’s not the expectation I have for Paris. However, I’d do anything to just sit in one of the eateries facing the Effiel Tower and eat my heart out.

Do you have a travel wishlist for 2018? Do share!

Foodie Farewell – a Snapchat Story

Flashback to two weeks ago when Kamal and myself (aka foodie royalty) got a magnificent send off! Can’t thank the team at Nisantasi Baskose and my foodie friends enough for this lovely, unforgettable afternoon.

Happy Eating peeps!

Living the Confused Expatriate Life

Living the Confused Expatriate Life
Part 7 of a Few… Expat Expectations
By: Ms. Hala

Now halfway through my third year of living in Qatar, I’m asked over and over (and over and over), “When do you plan on going home?” “How much longer do you think you can stay here?” “Why are you still here?”

What if I don’t have a set time planned? What if I don’t know how much longer I’m meant to be here? What if it’s because I want to be here? What if… why? Why should I even be answering these questions?

Originally, I had planned what was expected, to work in Qatar for one year and go home. From my discussions with fellow expats, that’s the expectation for most people that take a job aboard for the first time; one year of work to make the dollars then take a nonstop one-way flight home. Yet I don’t recall reading that in the invisible book, “Expat Expectations”.

I’m a firm believer of, “you want and I want but God (swt) does what He wants.”

I moved with that “Expat Expectations” plan in mind. There was this management position that provided an awesome apartment with a view, a top of the line car and an unbelievable salary package waiting for me like it’s nobody’s business!

Snap! Snap!

Let me tell you, I ended up in the tiniest studio apartment with no windows, rented an ugly orange Kia Rio (it still hurts to think about that one) and was practically living out of my own pocket my first 6 months. I take a look back now and realize that my original plans and expectations were not realistic nor the right plans for me. God’s plans for me couldn’t have been better timed and executed.ExpatExpectations2

I’ve come to fall in love with this country – the region really – and after the first 6 months of testing the waters, I signed a long term contract with my current employer. No regrets. I’m weighing my options for my next move but the fact that I don’t know what that move may be yet, is all part of the excitement, the living spontaneously, the adventure I came seeking in the first place.

I’m not saying don’t be prepared for the worst or spend haphazardly or even to not have goal as an expat. Far from it! I’m saying one doesn’t need to abide by anyone’s own set of “expat expectations”. Live the moment on your own terms, period. I mean, if being an expat isn’t part of living on the ever expanding global horizon, what’s the point of being an expat?

Am I still a confused expat? TOTALLY! Would I have it any other way? Nope.

Snap! Snap!

New Chapter in Life, Flight Required

“إنت تريد وأنا أريد، والله يفعل ما يريد”

“You want and I want, but God reflects what He wants.”

It has been an exciting, stressful, joyful and challenging last couple of years. You think you have all your bases covered, plans A, B and C set in order but a moment in time truly changes it all. If I knew last year, last month, last week the adventures I would’ve had and continue to have, I may not have been able to appreciate these blessings being bestowed upon me as much as I do right this instant… Alhamdulillah (Praises to God)!!

I still stand by my many beliefs and convictions but I know today that I’ve grown to come a long way then where I was just in the past two years. Being in our 30s, as my wise cousin Nora tells me, is truly where the adventures begin. Nora, thanks! You’re advice has gotten me to realize what a blast I’m having thus far! You are without a doubt one of my inspirations!

With that said, I’m going to be embarking on a new chapter in my life. To those with their fingers crossed, NO I’m not getting married! hehehe This chapter had been thought out for a while but God had me waiting patiently until the opportune moment for it to be written. I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way honestly.

Insha’Allah (God willing), I’ll be relocating from San Francisco, CA to Doha, Qatar where I’ll be working with an American-Qatari company. I plan to live out there for the next year with ample time to travel across the Middle East, parts of Asia and Europe. I personally couldn’t be happier, especially when the most important people in my life are even more happier for me and the decision I’ve so suddenly taken.

Suddenly as in leaving the country in less than two weeks!

Yes, it all happened that fast! Like I said, it literally takes a moment to realize that your plans must change so that God’s more perfected plan takes place. For those upset that things don’t go their way, please give it time. I promise you, the best will come forward. You’ll realize, as I am right now, that had you known then what you know right now, you wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. Have faith in God and He’ll never give you a chance to doubt Him.

It’s funny that my Baba wants me to stay put despite being so proud of me because he’s worried about my comfort. Yet I keep thinking about it, had he not taken that big step 45 years ago and relocated to America from Egypt, stepping out of his comfort zone, would he or his family be where they are today? My Mama couldn’t be happier despite hating that I’m leaving so soon. My siblings are acting like I’m not going anywhere by not being around as I frantically pack my things. However, they’ve already made travel plans to visit me and Mama is coming with me to Los Angelos to see me off.

To my parents, my siblings and family… I thank you for teaching me that life indeed is too short to not take on new adventures and to step out of my own comfort zone. To my close friends and confidants, you know who you are… THANK YOU! I love you and already miss you!

I do solemnly promise to continue blogging on this new chapter in my life while continuously posting pieces of my Egyptian Summer journal. Until next time, back to frantically packing.

Until next time, from Doha! =)
Ms. Hala