Ciao Italia!

It’s finally here peeps! 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! =)

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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.

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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.

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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!

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Until next time, ciao bello mios!

Your Right to Vote…

I respect your right to vote for what you deem is best for you whether it’s a presidential candidate or a state policy. However, I have the right as a minority to be dumbfounded by those who voted for someone that ran their campaign on hate or a policy that marginalizes a population.

If anyone one of my American friends voted for Trump or didn’t vote at all with the excuse of “it’s rigged” or “my vote doesn’t count”, please unfriend me.

Your vote for Trump or lack of a vote has put a huge number of the American population such as many of my family and friends at risk of deportation, injustice, violence and death.

Your vote for Trump or lack of a vote also means a win for the KKK, which in turn will undermine the efforts taken to try to bring the discussion of race relations on the table.

Your vote for Trump or lack of a vote just determined a supreme court judge that will push Trump ideologies not just for your generation but generations after you.

Your vote for Trump or lack of a vote is partially responsible for all the wrong that could happen in the next four years and it will not be making America great again.

I hope you can sleep tonight.

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Ramadan Verse & Quote (Day 25)

The last ten days of Ramadan has come upon us! Everyone’s busy planning for the festivities of Eid. I do hope that people do not forget to take with them the things they’ve learned and experienced this Ramadan. I know I won’t… and with that I share with you a personally relevant verse and quote…

Verse:

“Then which of the favors of your Lord will you deny?” 

 -Quran (55:13)

From one of my favorite chapters in the Quran, Surah ElRahman (The Merciful Chapter) is a verse that is repeated almost 20 times. This chapter is a constant reminder of God’s (swt) blessings bestowed upon us. It seems to speak to me on a personal level every time despite the fact that these verses came down onto the Prophet (pbuh) over 1,400 years ago!

It’s a constant reminder of the blessings I’ve enjoyed in the past, the blessings I’m enjoying now and the blessings I’ll enjoy in the future. A simple path that we get to shape, from where it begins, to where it goes and how it’ll end but with God (swt) on our side. Throughout this path, God (swt) continues to bless us. On my current path where it’s been difficult being without my family and close friends on such a festive time of year, it’s verses like these that remind me how far I’ve come with God (swt) on my side.

I realize that it takes being away from my family and friends to appreciate the kindness of others. I was blessed to move into a family friendly neighborhood where everyone has your best interest at heart. I was blessed that upon first meeting new people, they were extremely supportive through my toughest moment. I was blessed to have technology working on my side so I can share my blessings with my family and friends no matter the distance between us. I was blessed… I am blessed and shall not deny His favors upon me, Alhamdulillah (Praise God).

Quote:

Remember when your mother always said, “treat people the way you want to be treated”? I think this quote works along those lines too…

“The Most Merciful (God) shows mercy to those who have mercy on others. Show mercy to those on earth, and the One above the heaven will show mercy to you.” -Prophet Mohamed (pbuh)

Ramadan Verse & Quote (Day 15)

I was recently having some interesting conversations with friends of mine about the various things that have been bothering us. It got me thinking about forgiveness.

Verse:

“Whether you publicize a good deed or hide it or pardon a (personal) offense (done against you), know that God has the power to pardon (all sins).”

 -Quran (4:149)

From Surah ElNisa’ (The Ladies Chapter), we are reminded that God (swt) is truly the one whom forgives. How can we not be able to be forgiving? Why walk around with this heavy hurt, this negative energy, this sadness? We hold on, unable to forgive thus forgetting that God (swt) may have already forgiven.

Speaking for myself, I was picked on and bullied almost all through elementary school before it weened out in the 8th grade. It caused me to be sensitive, sad, angry and hold extreme grudges for long periods of time. It has taken me years to grow out of that person and be the happy person I’m today. I owe that positive change in my life in part to a lesson I learned years ago.

The lesson was that God (swt) does not accept one’s salat (prayers), seyam (fasts) or zakat (charity) if they hold a heavy heart towards anyone. Why? For God (swt) is the one whom “has the power to pardon”, the all forgiving for He is the generous one. If God (swt) has forgiven them, how can we not? If God (swt) has forgiven us, how can we not?

It took me a long while to reflect upon that message and being honest when I said to myself, “All is forgiven. I forgive me. I forgive them. All is forgiven.” Alhamdulillah (Praise God), today, I’m in a great place in my life by the grace of God (swt), my family’s love, my friend’s support and of course my own hard work and determination.

I urge you all to reflect this Ramadan and find it in your heart to be more forgiving to yourself and to others.

Quote:

Not sure there’s much for me to add here…

Ramadan Verse & Quote (Day 9)

Ramadan Mubarak everyone! It’s already Day 9 for me here in Doha, Qatar. So far, it’s been an interesting experience despite my slight homesickness. I must say, Alhamdulillah (Praises to God) for technology, it’s really makes these many time zones between us all the shorter!

Without further a due, here’s your first (Insha’Allah of many) Ramadan Verse & Quote for 2012/1433!

Verse:

Being that this holy month is in large part a celebration and reflection of the Quran, I thought it was approapriate to start with this verse from Surah AlAalaq. The first verse ever to be revealed to Prophet Mohamed (pbuh) being:

“Read! In the name of your Lord Who created.”
 -Quran (96:1)

Personally, this is one of my favorite verses in the Quran. It reminds us of our obligation to be educated, intellectual and a functioning part of society. It also defy’s these stereotypes in our day and age when it comes to Muslimahs and their role in society.

I’d like to remind my readers that the Quran was not revealed for men, but for the people as a whole. This means both men and women have an obligation to be educated, intellectual and a functioning part of society. Remember, half of society can not function without the other. Thus half of society is not superior of the other. The Prophet (pbuh) assuring that by asking us to seek half our faith’s knowledge from Muslimahs (at the time, referring to his daughter Fatima and his wife A’isha).

When this verse and the following were first revealed to Prophet Mohamed (pbuh) by the angel Gabriel, he sought refuge in his wife’s arms out of fear. As he grew in his leadership role, he not only championed to educate himself, but the entire community around him. He not only ordered for the Quran to be written in multiple copies and spread, but for it to be memorized so that this knowledge is not lost or distorted. Over 1,433 years later, his championing causes is still going strong.

Quote:

“O Lord, increase my knowledge!” -Prophet Mohamed (pbuh)

Learn more about this verse and Prophet Mohamed (pbuh) from this week’s Friday Nasiha.

Ramadan in Qatar

It’s been a few weeks now since I’ve moved to Doha, Qatar from San Francisco, California. So far, I’m settling in slowly but surely, taking in this diverse atmosphere and doing my best to survive this ridiculous summer heat. I have gone out and about exploring bits and pieces of Doha which I’m sure you’re aware of from my many posts on Twitter and foursquare. Not sure how much of that is going to continue as Ramadan approaches.

My favorite time of year is about two days away. As I sit trying to figure out what I need to know about Ramadan in Qatar, I was reminded by my weekly email subscription from Friday Nasiha that this will be my first Ramadan alone, away from my family. It’s not going to be like when I was in grad school a few years back and working long hours where I only had iftar at home maybe once or twice a week. It’s not going to be like when I was in Egypt last year constantly surrounded by extended family and friends.

Realizing this has officially made me homesick.

I had to appreciate the efforts with some of the tips for spending Ramadan alone away from family which I’ve reposted below. I am blessed that I would be spending Ramadan in Qatar with friends I deem family however I appreciate and will definitely be utilizing tips #3, #4 and #6!

Are you spending Ramadan alone this year? What tips here work for your situation? Do you have other tips to add on? Any tips for spending Ramadan in Qatar?

Cool Tips!

Lonely Ramadan

For most Muslims, Ramadan is family time. You get up together, eat Iftar together, pray together, etc. But what if you don’t have your family near you?

Waking up in a lonely apartment and eating food you’ve sometimes burnt in an effort to catch Suhur in time are some of the realities of being a single Muslim in Ramadan. But there are ways to make Ramadan special when you’re on your own. Here are few ideas.

1. Establish a Suhur telephone tree
Get a couple of friends together and establish a telephone tree to wake each other up for Suhur. Establish a time to call and a schedule of who will call whom. Make it a little exciting by adding some funny phrases every week that will really wake everyone.

2. Invite people over for Iftar
Even if even you couldn’t eat the food the last time you cooked, invite people over for Iftar. Make it a potluck, order pizza or if you can afford it, get it catered. The food isn’t the thing. The blessing is in the company, and you’ll be rewarded for feeding everyone. Make sure to especially invite those who are away from their families.

3. Attend prayers at the local mosque/MSA
Even if the Imam’s recitation isn’t the best and the behavior of other Muslims can be more than annoying, try to attend Tarawih prayers organized by your local mosque or your Muslim Students’ Association (MSA). While praying alone in peace and quiet is great, praying shoulder-to-shoulder with other Muslims with whom you have nothing in common except your faith is a unique and uplifting experience.

4. Keep the Quran playing when you are alone
It’s often tempting to keep the TV or radio on when we’re alone to avoid the silence. This Ramadan, find a Quran reciter you like and play their recitations during those moments when you want to fill your place with some sound. Choose selections you’d like to memorize, like the 30th part of the Quran.

5. Take care of others
Know a new person at the school/office? Is a friend who lives nearby having problems with their spouse? Or is someone you know having money problems? This Ramadan, reach out with an attentive ear, a generous hand, and most importantly, an open heart to others. Don’t let these small opportunities for gaining blessings slip you by.

6. Pick and pursue Ramadan goals 
Choose at least three goals to pursue this Ramadan. Whether it’s curbing a bad habit or starting a good one, doing this will help you focus and work harder this month to change for the better. It takes 21 days to establish a good habit. With Ramadan, we’ve got 30. Why not make the best of it by picking up the good?

Compiled From:
A single Muslim’s guide to Ramadan” – SoundVision.com

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Verses from Leviticus…

Earlier today, I came across several verses from the Bible‘s Leviticus chapter. It took me a moment to realize how I had come across these same verses when I first read the Bible many years ago during a research to educate fellow colleagues on the similarities of beliefs between Christians and Muslim. I posted a few of the verses on my Facebook and Twitter pages today as a reminder of our similarities. I asked my readers to please “educate yourself before believing today’s Islamophobic rhetoric!”

Also the image below just strikes an interesting cord, yes?

Interesting verses from the #Bible… “And the swine, though he divide the hoof, and be clovenfooted, yet he cheweth not the cud; he is unclean to you. Of their flesh shall ye not eat, and their carcase shall ye not touch; they are unclean to you.” -Leviticus 11:7-8

Remember this #Bible verse when someone brings up Muslims & beards… “Ye shall not round the corners of your heads, neither shalt thou mar the corners of thy beard.” -Leviticus 19:27