Wherever I’ve been in the world, I’m blessed to have sipped some ridiculously good coffee.
Happy International Coffee Day!!
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!
One 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
I’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.
Later 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
Since 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.
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.
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!
It’s finally here peeps! Hopefully, this is the first of a handful of rants on my amazing trip through Italy last year. I learned so much and want to share as much as I can, from the towns I strolled through to the amazing food I ate along the way. Your thoughts and feedback are highly appreciated! =)
It’s one thing to read and hear about Italy, it’s another thing entirely to experience it!
In the short time I was blessed to spend in Italy, I was able to discover a great history preserved for thousands of years thanks to it’s proud people and their friends. A country diverse in culture, tasted in it’s cuisine and enjoyed in it’s many stories. I was not just a tourist, I was an admirer finally fulfilling a travel dream I’ve had for years… and I mean YEARS!
As it was our first time in Italy, my friend and I decided to find a group tour to travel with. We came across Gate 1 Travel, a tour company out of the US. This company does multiple tours throughout the world, including right here in the Middle East. I have to say, as this was my first group tour, it was an amazing experience. I meet great people from different parts of the states and felt right at home. I would highly recommend using Gate 1 Travel for your next group tour, especially to a country or region you aren’t familiar with.
Simone Vitti, was our wonderful Italian tour guide who took care of us like we were his visiting friends from out of town. This young man is truly passionate about his country and worked with others in the field that had the same passion when they showed us around their towns. Let me rephrase that, Simone wasn’t our tour guide, he was our Italian professor. He literally gave us a crash course on Italian history, culture, cuisine and language. A few of which I hope I’ll be able to relay in my rants, but sadly, not with Simone’s beautiful accent.
Our 16 day trip started in Como and zigzagged through Italy until we ended in Rome. Below are my thoughts and highlights on some of the places we visited. I’ll go into more details on a few of these towns after I finish sifting through about 5,000 photos and videos from my portable Nikon and lifesaver of a Nexus 6P phone.
Alrighty then, andiamo!
Como, Lombardy – The main city of Lago de Como (Como Lake) in the state of Lombard, about a 40 minute drive from Milan airport (MXP), is a beautifully cozy town. Walk any which way, there’s plenty of green, mountains and water. If you’d like, you can take a train and cross the northern border to Switzerland or hop the trams to visit near by small towns atop the hills. This town literally felt like it had everything within walking distance. We stayed at Hotel Metropole Suisse, which was small but extremely charming. I didn’t pay extra for a lake view room but I think any room in this hotel has a magnificent view of the lake and the lively town square. Stay for a few days, walk everywhere, take a boat through Lake Como, shop the boutiques, visit the Volt Museum and eat everything! Final Thought: One of my favorite Italian cities, highly recommended for at least a few days.
Bellagio, Como, Lombardy – Deemed “the pearl of Lake Como”, this small town can be walked all around in about an hour or so but there’s so much to discover within it’s smaller streets. Beautifully built homes, boutique shops, lake views from the hilltops… so much so, a day trip in my opinion was not enough to absorb it all. I wish we were able to check out the Gairdini di Villa Melzi D’Eril (Gardens of Melzi D’Eril’s Villa) which was closed during our day trip. The view from every angle was breathtaking, the hills were not difficult to navigate on foot and the people were very welcoming of the massive tourist crowds. And the street pizza we got for 6 Euros was delicious! Final Thought: A town not to be missed! Highly recommended for at least a weekend stay.
Verona, Veneto – From a far, it’s very much a Roman town with many of it’s marks still visible. Once inside though, it’s a whole different story, especially for those seeking love. Everyone comes to Verona for Casa de Giulia (Juliet’s House). Why? Because Shakespeare – who never visited Italy by the way, let alone Verona – used it as the setting for his fatel romantic tale, Romeo and Juliet. Smart Italians then turned the town into the “city of love” and replicated the house Shakespeare dreamt up for Juliet. Everyone swarms there to stand in Juliet’s balcony and rub her statue’s breasts for luck in love. This fan of Shakespeare didn’t find it appealing at all, especially with the claustrophobic inducing crowds. Instead, I waited for our group outside and checked out some of the really cute craft shops nearby. The craftsmanship of this city is under hyped and deserves as much attention as Juliet’s stone breasts. Final Thought: OK for a day trip or to attend an event, nothing more.
Venezia, Veneto – I found this city of 118 islands to be quite lovely, but extremely overrated. I’ve never seen such small spaces so crowded in my entire life. We stayed at the Hotel Carlton and Grand Canal which is off the grand canal of central Venice, just breath taking! And we were warned that some activities, like the musical gondola rides along the canal, were straight up tourist traps. We took a boat bus through most of the grand canal in about 40 minutes for 7 Euros. Head to Piazza San Marco (St. Mark’s Square) and be taken back to the fascinating history the square encompasses. Go to the smaller islands like Murano where many world class glass factories reside. Final Thought: Overhyped romanticism, OK for a weekend but please avoid Venice in the summer.
Firenze, Tuscana – After my time in Venice, I was worried this otherwise overhyped city of Florence would disappoint me. I was wrong! As a huge fan of art and museums, this city truly captured my heart. Of course we couldn’t be in Florence, even for just a day, without standing in front of the magnificent marble statue of David. The work, the details and the history behind Michelangelo’s original intention is awe inspiring. The museum and art academy was a breath of fresh air, I just wish we had more time to spend to see the other exhibitions of both historical and modern artists. Since we love shopping, we headed to the many leather and silver factory shops lined up all over town. Be careful during tourist season though, their prices are ridiculously “discounted”. Final Thought: An art lover’s dream city! Definitely try to spend a few days here, one day was simply not enough.
Siena, Tuscana: This was an additional tour that I decided to go on and I’m glad I did. A medival town holding on tight to traditions and a great historical significance, especially to the Catholic faith. A young lady by the name of Catherine dedicated her life to serving the people and the church. She’s the reason behind the return of the Vatican state to Italy from France. Dying at the young age of 33 due to her continued “fasting”, she was later deemed a Saint, with parts of her showcased at the Basilica di San Domenico (aka Catherine’s Basilica). Final Thought: A great day trip! The summer heat can be brutal as this is a walking city, not much aside from bikes roam through this town’s many alleys and small hilly streets.
Sorrento, Napoli, Campania – This is a small town with larger than life vibes. It was used as our “pit stop” for a few days while we visited other nearby towns. We stayed at the lovely Grand Hotel Vesuvio atop a hill overlooking the coast. The lively town square at the bottom of the hill was just a hotel shuttle ride away. I found Sorrento to be a perfect town to take in the sights, eat great food and dance the night away. I highly recommend dining at L’Antica Trattoria just a few feet from the town’s main square. I had the honor of meeting the chef after his staff took note of my excessive food photography and questions. Final Thought: This town is very Naples central, highly recommended to check out during a good few days stay in Naples.
Capri & Costiera Amalfitana, Campania: The only thing I disliked about Capri Island is that I went in the summer, the crowds were brutal. Everything else, even the drive on the Amalfi Coast in an oversized charter bus driving on the edge of the earth, was wonderful. Take in the coasts and get on a boat tour around the island and inside the caves, AMAZING! Did I mention shopping in the local shops? Great finds, got most of my gifts from these lovely shops for decent prices. And for the citrus lovers, this is the heart of limoncello, so drink up! Final Thought: Do not visit in the summer and do not spend less than two days in what I believe to be the most beautiful coast and island of Italy!
Pompeii, Napoli, Campania: Fans of history will appreciate this historic and practically abandoned archeological town. Practically frozen in time by the volcanic ash of Mount Vesuvius that erupted over 2,000 years ago. Some sights can be fascinating while others can be quite disturbing. It bothers me a bit that the town is more famous for it’s historical brothels than it’s preserved roads, sculptures and architecture. The people of Pompeii were smart and had they lived on, I can only imagine what they would have contributed to our modern day society. Final Thought: A great day trip! Please be sure to wear comfortable shoes and clothing. I’m embarrassed to say I ripped my pants climbing up one of the massive steps. Yikes!
Roma, Lazio: “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.” And so I attempted to do just that in the few days I was there. We walked underneath the city to discover it’s hidden treasures after spending a morning walking through the coliseum’s disturbing past. The Egyptian part of me lost count of the many artifacts the Roman Empire just “happened to find in their ships” when they returned home. The Spanish Steps aren’t Spanish but the embassy across the square is. I’d seen enough churches during my Italy trip but the Major Mary Church was spiritually beautiful, it’s believed to house a piece of the wooden cross Prophet Jesus (pbuh) was crucified on. Threw in a few coins in the Fontana di Trevi (Trevi Fountain) for good luck and headed to the Tiber River’s summer festivities for international cuisines, music and games. Rome is truly a city like no other! Final Thought: This city is alive and kicking, not a dull moment. Do all the tours you can, there’s so much to do and discover in this city!
Until next time, ciao bello mios!
I’m finally taking a legit vacation after two long years. Sure, I’ll be going home to San Francisco but through Italy and New York! Woohoo!
Thus throughout the summer, I’ll be broadcasting #MsHalaTravels live on Periscope. During the broadcast, my peeps can post questions, share the broadcasts and rewatch the broadcasts as many times as they’d like. I’ll do my best to repost the broadcasts right here on The Rants in a timely fashion.
Periscope handle is the same as Twitter, @MsHalaCo.
So if you’re curious about what it’s like to travel while Muslim, need some motivation to travel or just want to tag along for a fun summer adventure, be sure to catch me live on Periscope!
Disclaimer: There’s a 10 hours time difference between my hometown of San Francisco, California and Doha, Qatar; 9 hours between San Francisco and Italy; 3 hours between San Francisco and New York. Ah, time!