It’s been a beautiful year since I posted my first blog entry on this website. All I can do is thank God for giving me a vision for what I wanted to do with this blog and watching it flourish. Since my first trip abroad to Europe last year, travel has become my addiction. I am at my happiest when I travel. I feel so blessed and I thank God for revealing to me the vision he has for my life through these adventures. Traveling makes me bold, fearless, adventurous and curious. It’s allowed me to grow in so many ways in the last year and I am so thankful for every opportunity that may come my way. Thank You for the support.
Day Two of The Women in Travel Summit started with breakfast. I had the pleasure of meeting some amazing ladies, including one who traveled throughout the United States, by visiting 50 States in 50 Weeks. Here’s the kicker, she’s from Australia. One of the profound things she said is that we are so lucky to be in the United States because if we want to be in the desert we can go to Arizona, if we want to be on a beach, visit Florida, Need culture? Go to New Orleans and there’s history in every state in America. Her stories resonated with me, as she found splendor in driving through New Jersey and Nevada. Why does it take someone from a completely different continent to visit our country and find such magnificence in it? Too often as Americans, we overlook the grandeur of our country. It made me want to discover all that she found to be enticing. There’s such value in living in a vast country filled with natural resources, nature, and incredible wonders.
After taking our quintessential group picture (all 300 of us), we listened to the amazing stories of people who partake in volunteer travel. This conference opened my eyes to traveling with a purpose. I eventually would love to use my travels to help others; maybe building a school in Thailand for girls who just escaped sex trafficking or making pillows and beautiful patterns with the women of Kenya; Teaching the children of Dubai English or handing out sanitary napkins to young girls in need in India. I had a lot to think about when it came to travel, I was excited about the prospects.
Our first breakout session was WordPress for Travel Bloggers, it basically went through all the ways you can self-host on a WordPress platform. This was valuable information, but right now I am ok with hosting via WordPress and not self-hosting. However, three things I learned that could be valuable to you is:
- Always compress images before uploading to a blog
- Always do regularly scheduled backups of your database and your entire site
- Protect yourself by any means from hackers, because they want to send out spam emails using your credentials. If WordPress prompts you to pay extra for hacker protection go for it
Street Harassment while traveling with Delia Harrington, was one of the sessions I looked forward to the most. While I was producing my show Reserved, this was one of the issues I was very passionate about bringing to the forefront. Growing up I had no idea how to navigate this unwarranted attention I was getting all of a sudden. To avoid the hissing, catcalling and being stalked to my building, I would just take a longer way home, getting off the train one stop before I should’ve and just walk the 5 extra minutes. This was my means for coping with an issue, that everyone else seemed to ignore.
When I arrived to the forum, it felt like I was not alone. I watched around me when women of all shades raised their hands when asked if they have ever been victims of street harassment. I shared the story of my first time being catcalled at age 13, or even cursed out when I didn’t respond. It was comforting to know that other women were able to relate, some women recounted being as young as 11 when they were first approached by men on the street. It’s disheartening to know that an issue such as street harassment, which can make girls and women feel unsafe in their own neighborhood, is taken so lightly. I remembered trying to tell the women in my family about my experiences and feeling like I was talking to a brick wall. Just ignore it, they would say. I believed I had to accept this fate of being harassed as just the norm, although at the time I didn’t know it was harassment. However, I had my aha moment in college; I was in a Women Studies class listening to final group projects when my fellow classmates based their presentation on Street Harassment. It was the first time I was able to define what was happening to me; finally, I didn’t feel ignored because other people experienced it too. Although street harassment is a global issue, there are currently great strides being taken against it. Here are some ways we can respond to street harassment:
- Direct confrontations with street harassers may prove extremely dangerous, particularly if you are alone in an unpopulated space.
- It’s each individual’s right to decide when, how, and if to respond but keep your safety in mind
- If you’re safe to do so confront your harasser with strong body language
- Use statements, not questions (For example, leave me alone vs. will you leave me alone?)
- Identify the perpetrator “Man in the yellow shirt stop touching me”
- Educate others, especially Men
- Tell your story
- Get active
Finally, after sneaking out of the hotel to do some sightseeing with my mom and grandma, during our 2-hour lunch break, I attended the last break out session for the conference. This session was all about maintaining a travel blog when you are not traveling. I found some amazing tips on using your neighborhood as a source of inspiration or reliving your times in the countries you previously traveled to, by writing about topics you did not already address( maybe restaurants, museums, to-dos or what not to do). I found this session to be great because it inspired me to keep on writing even during the down times when I may not have a trip on the horizon. Just open your eyes to see that there’s culture all around.
When we all convened, back in the main hall, I was under the impression that the conference was over, but there was so much more to come. Adventurous Kate was the final speaker of the conference. She spoke strongly and passionately about Gender Inequality in the blogging world. She rose awareness about men getting all the praise for blogging and photography but are they really dominating the field or just getting credit for it? She encouraged us to support one another.
With that being said, I had to leave the conference earlier than anticipated. I thought the conference would end on time but it went over and I felt like I was leaving an amazing party early. Well, there’s always next year and its happening in sunny California!
Manicures and photobooths! I managed to arrive in heaven. Well, not really but this was all the pampering a girl needs to be happy. During the break, I was torn between attending a bloggers revision workshop or holistic scheduling break out session. I chose, How to get ish done and still have time to do yoga (The holistic scheduling session). I learned some pretty cool techniques, but most, I was already familiar with. When you have a 9-5 job, and manage two blogs and one website like I do, it’s imperative to hone your time management skills.
One of the questions asked was What would you do differently if you knew for sure that the only real currency you have in life is you?
When you start to think like this, you begin to take risks. If the only currency in life I had was me, I would have to do three things better:
- Make lasting relationships
- Get rid of the fear of rejection and take more risks
Even though this was a hypothetical question, this is really a great way to put things into perspective. I need to start thinking of myself like currency and know my worth because I have tons of value. Heck, I am a goldmine. You, who are reading this, whoever you are and wherever you maybe should do the same.
Other Takeaways from Miss Catrice:
- Know why you do what you do and why you are the best at doing it
- Be very clear about your brand
- Do not be afraid to stand out
Tip #3 about standing out, resonated with me most. It’s very important to be the person that stands out. Whether it’s a bright blazer, crazy hair, an amazing broach, always have a conversation piece on hand when a new opportunity presents itself at a conference or maybe even an event.
Follow @catriceology for some more personal and professional branding tips.
My next break out session was about the boring and monotonous world of SEO. SEO is search optimization, and if a blogger wants to find success, their website/blog should come up on Google’s 1st page and not its 22nd.
Three tips I learned was:
- Making Google like you is all about creating amazing content that people love and share
- Publish up to date and real-life content that people care about
- Brainstorm the common terms and phrases you think people use to search the broad topics of your blog site
Shortly after a delicious lunch, my last break out session of WITS15 day one would commence. I was torn between “Press Trip Travel,” which I believe would’ve been totally beneficial to me or “Meeting the Global Challenge of Educating Women Through Media: Soulful Travels with Grannies on Safari” I chose the latter and I am happy I did. Grannies on Safari did something to my soul. They were so cute and they have amazing chemistry. Most of all their session was almost like a call for action for us travelers to do more for others abroad. There are women across the world in Africa and India who can’t go to school because they don’t have sanitary napkins to wear while on their periods. That should never be the case. We have to use our platforms to bring awareness to these issues and help our sisters (and brothers) reach great heights in their lives even if they are miles away.
Grannies On Safari have a show on PBS and you can Click here to visit their website.
With Day One of WITS 15 down, I was feeling overwhelmed. I needed to connect with the many people that I met that day, but I also needed to take more action. I have more than one platform, one is even geared towards the empowerment of women and even though I’ve made progress with all of my platforms, this conference made me realize, that my work has just begun. I needed to make more of an impact. Do more, heck, maybe even rebrand. That night, I had a feeling of non-complacency. If I learned anything from this conference it was that change and growth were on my horizon.
As bad as I wanted to sleep in, I knew it would be best if I took advantage of the 50-degree weather and embark on a really cool Saturday in Brooklyn.
Around 2PM, I met up with my friend for brunch at Woodlands. Woodlands is a relatively new restaurant in Park Slope. I’ve seen this place but never thought twice about actually dining here until today. I was intrigued by the rustic décor and savory menu. I opted for my usual, scrambled eggs but asked for a side of Belgian waffles. They ended up giving me one red velvet waffle, which was a pleasant surprise; this waffle was moist, fluffy, and melt in your mouth good. I would definitely come back here for brunch again, the unlimited mimosas until 4PM, sealed the deal.
After brunch, we took a nice walk to the Brooklyn Museum, which was the highlight of the day. Target First Saturdays is a guaranteed good time. From its arts&crafts, musical performances, and films followed by discussions, this is the go-to spot for every Brooklyn native new or old. Now that this event has received so much notoriety (or Brooklyn got more populated, who knows?) you really have to make sure you’re at the museum before 5PM to avoid crowds. In addition to the museum’s typical exhibits including Egyptian and European artwork, today was a special day- Basquiat and Kehinde were both on display. The depth of both artists and the meaning behind their artwork defies description.
By Ky Tip:
If you’re in the Brooklyn area, please show these two exhibits some love, especially if you’re into non-conventional urban, depth and expressionist art.
Basquiat: The Unknown Notebooks April 3rd –August 23, 2015
Kehinde Wiley: A New Republic Feb 20th –May 24th 2015
Boston is uncharted territory for me and I literally didn’t know what to expect. I tried ask around for other’s opinion on the city and got mixed reviews. My intern just returned from Boston on a college tour and exclaimed: “Some of Boston’s buildings resemble warehouses” and my boss, well his words of advice were “You have to try the ricotta cheesecake at Modern Pastry in the North End.” Honestly, from the mixed reactions, I had little expectations but decided to come to my own conclusion.
My mom and grandmother were my companions for this trip. We got off the Greyhound at Southwark station around 6:45 PM Friday evening and caught a cab to the Revere Hotel located in Downtown Boston’s theater district. What I immediately loved about Boston was how much it reminded me of my college years; there were so many young people (most likely students since Boston is home to some of the best schools in the country).
Check-in at the Revere Hotel was very accommodating. I had business cards sent to the venue and the staff was able to get them delivered to my room, despite the mailroom being closed for the night.The Revere Hotel is a funky boutique hotel, with colorful and abstract pieces of art. It was very easy to call this hotel home for the weekend because of its cozy feel. One of the first things I noticed upon entering the room was the pillow menu, (A pillow menu?) now that’s accommodating. It gives you the option to choose the type of pillow you want, hypoallergenic? Anti-Snore? Or how soft or hard you want it to be We decided to eat dinner at Legal Seafood. I had the New England Clam Chowder. It was pretty good, but I’ve tasted better. My entree consisted of mashed potatoes and cajun shrimp. You can’t go to Boston without trying the Clam Chowder and Boston Cream Pie, it’s almost obligatory.
The rest of the weekend, when I was not at my Women In Travel conference (which is what brought me to Boston in the first place), I spent trying to get a feel for the city. It snowed all day Saturday, but on our last day it was sunny (cold, but sunny). I had a 2-hour break to explore. We went to Modern Pastry to try the delicious cheesecake and pastries. We then walked around the neighborhood, admiring the quaint townhomes and narrow stone streets. We came across some noteworthy landmarks including the Paul Revere Statue, Old North Church and The Massachusetts State House. We stumbled across an historic chocolate and printing shop where I was able to see how chocolates were made and tasted during the revolutionary period. Boston was charming, to say the least. It’s the perfect getaway if you want a change in scenery and to learn a little about American History.
According to Ky: 6 Things to Do in Boston
1-Try to attend a reenactment of the Boston Tea Party
2-Be adventurous like me and tackle the freedom tour without a tour guide
3-Join the debate; Do you prefer Mike’s Pastries or Modern Pastries? Take your pick!
4-You must try Boston Cream Pie and New England Clam Chowder while in Boston, it’s a must!
6-Visit the Cheers Bar from the famous TV show, where everybody knows your name.
Boston is beautiful and filled with so much history. From it’s quaint homes to its historical landmarks, this is a city that I would definitely visit again. I have to admit, and I am going to be honest here, after hearing stories about the race relations in Boston, I had some reservations about how I would be welcomed as an African American woman, nevertheless, my experience was quite the opposite. The people are very pleasant and accommodating. I didn’t feel like an outsider at all. I was welcomed with smiles and small talk by the locals. The customer service was amazing. I really enjoyed my weekend here and I am happy I didn’t let the opinions of others deter me from my travels. This is why we should all travel, to break down misconceptions and to learn.
March 26, 2015 marks a year since I toured Europe with my close friends. It was one of the most defining moments of my life. For me, life began when I realized there’s a whole world out there that needed to be discovered. My road to finally gaining the courage to travel across the Atlantic wasn’t an easy one. I always believed traveling around the world was a privilege reserved for the rich or famous-definitely, not for someone like me. In November 2013, I was like many recent graduates, feeling lost, confused and defeated. I was making very little progress at work and my daily routine was beginning to feel monotonous. All my friends around me were putting down payments on homes and cars and I could barely figure out what I would eat for lunch. My spirit was broken, as it seemed like everyone was progressing so seamlessly into adulthood and I felt so empty. I prayed for the day when I would find my passion and start living for me. One day, while at Barnes and Noble, I stumbled across a book in the travel section. The Rough Guide to First-Time Europe. I sat down on the floor and read the book cover to cover. My spine tingled as I read about the vineyards of Italy and the vibrant culture of Spain. I yearned to ride on the double-decker buses in London and dance the night away in Paris. It hit me; I didn’t want a house or a new car (well eventually I would), what I wanted at that very moment was to see the world.
The best part about traveling is figuring out where you want to go. Pulling out a map almost feels like the whole world is at your fingertips. It’s exciting to pinpoint which countries are within close proximity to each other and how to maximize your trip. My friends and I decided to go to London, Paris, Venice, Rome, Vatican City, Barcelona and Amsterdam. We were going to maximize our options some more while in Spain by taking a flight to Ibiza or a ferry to Morocco (which a lot of people don’t know is an option) but decided to figure it out once we got there. I found a multi-city flight that took us to three out of seven cities on our itinerary (NY to London, Barcelona to Amsterdam and Amsterdam back to NYC for $800) and we took trains in between the rest of the countries for as little as 13 Euros. Since I was traveling with three others, everything was split four ways, from our hotel rooms to our taxis. This reduced costs for the overall trip immensely.
London was such a treat. From Heathrow, we took the tube to Lambeth North, which dropped us off across the street from our hotel. We went on the London Eye, followed the audacious sounds of Big Ben until we were engulfed in his presence and antagonized the Changing Guards outside of St. James Palace. Speaking of palaces, Buckingham Palace was glorious. It’s adorned with gold and highly secure. The London club scene is so fun. What I liked about London was that it was a European version of New York City. I didn’t feel like I was in another country at all (except when crossing the street).
After spending some time in London, we took a Eurostar train to Paris. Paris was a dream. I literally was awestruck by its beauty. It was everything I imagined and more. The city is bustling but it retains an air of class and grace. Our hotel was right across the street from the Louvre Museum which was our first stop, followed by dinner on the Champs Elysees, a walk to L’Arc D’Triomphe and a failed attempt at getting into the hottest club in the city, Club 79. Our adventures eventually lead us to have a picnic in the park by the Eiffel Towers where we devoured Nutella Crepes and Vin (Wine). On the Love Lock Bridge, I made a wish to find love again. Paris is truly magical.
From Paris, we took an overnight train to Venice Italy. We drove through the mountains of Switzerland and made a quick stop in Milan. It was such fun being on a train for over 14-hours knowing that our final destination would be Italy. We played heads up on our iPhone and pigged out on junk food. When it was time for bed, we told ghost stories until we fell asleep. When we woke up, we were surrounded by the beautiful and vast waters of Venice. Venice was a fairytale. We immediately walked across the Grand Canal until we found our hotel. We made our way to lunch at a quaint restaurant where we had authentic Italian pasta and seafood. It was here that I tried Octopus for the first time. One of the best things you can do in Venice is to get lost. Whether you do it on purpose or by accident, it’s inevitable. Don’t freight, somehow you’re going to find your way back. Our perfect Gondola ride was ruined when my friend accidentally got Nutella on the Gondolier’s hat; he cursed us out in Italian and told us to get off his boat. You had to see it to believe it.
Rome was a historical haven. Our hotel was in the midst of the Roman Forum. Rome was literally like stepping back into time, yet it’s a modern European metropolis. What I grew to love about European culture, especially Rome, was how embracive it is of its past while progressively advancing into its present and future. The merge is almost harmonious. Our first stop was Vatican City, which is considered a country. It’s located in the midst of Rome and is majestic. The art, the columns, the fountains were all remarkable. From Vatican City, we made a wish at Trevi Fountain, had authentic Roman Pizza, and explored the city until the middle of the night in search of Italian pastries. We met so many people along the way.
Baila Mi Cha-Cha, this tune was in my head when we landed in Barcelona. Monica (Sanaa Lathan) from Love and Basketball played ball in Spain and this song was the opening soundtrack to her new life abroad. I couldn’t shake the tune as we took walks along the beach, ate lunch on the boardwalk and partied until the wee hours of the morning in Barcelona clubs. One of the most memorable things about Barcelona was the food, from the paella to the tapas, it’s all so flavorful. Although we planned to take a day trip to Morocco or Ibiza, we became so engulfed in Barcelona’s culture that we decided against it.
Amsterdam was one of my favorite European cities. From the cool trams to the canals and lofty buildings, it’s just one of a kind. The vibe was super relaxed and the Dutch are so friendly. Our first stop was Museumplein to witness the genius of Van Gogh’s artwork and the infamous Red Light District before dark; beautiful women in windows waiting to be sold for sex was heartbreaking but in The Netherlands, this act is totally legal. Next up, The Anne Frank Museum, which singlehandedly changed my life. At the risk of sounding cliché, I learned the true meaning of freedom while standing in that tiny attic that Anne and her family lived in for years to escape execution. We are so privileged, we have so many freedoms and liberties and we literally have the resources to make a difference and change the world; after leaving Anne’s attic, I knew my life would never be the same again.
We covered all of these cities in a span of 13 days. We were constantly on the move, which was awesome. We were able to do everything on our itinerary and more with hopes of returning to each of the countries we visited one day in the near future.
My first trip to Europe changed my life and now travel has become my addiction.
What did you learn while on this trip? The vacation was winding down and we were at the opulent Emirates Palace, fit for royalty and decked in gold. It was designed to provide luxurious accommodations for visiting Heads of States around the world. Thank You God for your blessings ran through my mind at least one hundred times. I soon replied back to my friends by saying “Standards.”
In life there’s no time to settle, we should demand excellence in all things. It’s not enough just to get by. I am worthy of the things my little heart desires; I am worthy of seeing the world; I am worthy of greatness; I am worthy of making my childhood dreams come true; When we get caught up in the hustle and bustle of life, we lose sight of what truly matters. I was having dinner at a palace; a palace made for kings and diplomats around the world. I was worthy, I am worthy. There’s no way I could go back to the way I used to be. Routine. Going to work, coming home and doing it all again. Nope, that wasn’t me. That’s never been the type of person I imagined myself to be. I made a promise to myself that it wasn’t enough just to merely exist-going forward I needed to live.
The rest of the night was spent with great conversation and shisha, overlooking the serene ocean, with the palace lights in the backdrop-beauty at it’s best.
Once upon a time, there was a girl named Ky who graduated from school, worked very hard, and soon realized that traveling around the world was attainable for anyone. She started small, visiting islands like Jamaica and Anguilla, then she made her way to Western Europe until finally, she gathered enough courage to venture into Arabia. Arabia was a dream, and Abu Dhabi was a fairytale.
In the broad daylight, Abu Dhabi’s beauty is highlighted. After leaving Dubai, we entered Abu Dhabi on the Sheikh Zayed Bridge and soon could see the Grand Mosque on the horizon. We pulled up to our beautiful hotel and went to the 18th floor to check-in. I heard a loud noise as if a plane was flying unusually close to the building. The floor shook, and the concierge warned me not to be afraid; Abu Dhabi’s military was test-flying jets right above us. I went on the terrace and saw how close these jets were to the hotel; it was quite the sight to see. When we arrived in our room, all three of us were amazed. This hotel was posh. Our itinerary said, Ferrari World was next on our to-do list, but I was feeling a bit under the weather and did not want to go on the fastest roller coaster in the world at that very moment…maybe tomorrow.
We decided to go to the Sheikh Zayed Grande Mosque instead. We each went through our luggage and picked out the most conservative pieces of clothing we brought with us. The Grande Mosque warns visitors against showing their arms, legs, and hair; it’s a very conservative and religious sanctuary. As we approached the entrance our breath was taken away. It was as if the architects wanted to create a sort of heaven on earth, as the buildings were all white and adorned in Gold.
The first thing we did was head to the changing room, where we picked up our Abaya. An Abaya is a black robe that Muslim women wear. At this point in the trip, it was truly an honor to wear their garb. Muslim women in Dubai are so beautiful. Not only do they exemplify confidence and splendor but modesty. They leave much to the imagination and are seemingly the most treasured beings in the UAE. Putting on the garb was almost like a rite of passage for me. I was finally enlightened to one of the keys of womanhood and for me, that is less is more. Women in America tend to show all they have to get attention, but sometimes the most beautiful women in the world are the ones that are humble, chaste and save their treasures for the right one; their husband and their God.
Legend has it, Rihanna came to the Grande Mosque and got escorted off the property because she decided to have a photoshoot on holy ground. Is it wrong that I wanted to do the same thing?
Upon walking into the mosque, you have to take off your shoes and place it into a cubby. The entrance to the mosque is detailed with floral designs and gold adornments, absolutely astonishing.When you gradually make your way into the mosque,the carpet is green with flowers on it as well. One of the first things I noticed was the geometric shapes, the clocks with times on it (which I soon learned were the times of prayer) and the chandelier.
We decided to take a walking tour, which was the best thing we could do to actually learn the significance of the mosque. I learned a lot, some of my take away’s are as follows:
The 5 Pillars of Islam:
- Shahadah – Submission to God and declaring there is no other God and Muhammad is God’s messenger
- Salat – Ritual Prayer 5-Times a day, including sunrise and sunset
- Zakat – Giving 2.5% of ones savings
- Sawm – Fasting and Self Control during Ramadan
- Hajj- Pilgrimage to Mecca
- Women pray at home on Fridays, they don’t necessarily come to the mosque. The mosque is mostly for men.
- Green is the color of Islam.
- Dates were the only fruit in the region when the religion was starting.
- Prayer is facing the holy city of Mecca, and Mecca is located in Saudi Arabia.
- Humans don’t have enough words to describe God. God is infinite.
- Call of Prayer in Abu Dhabi is done through the Sheikh Zayed Mosque (the most beautiful sound you could ever hear)
- Non-Muslims cannot touch the holy book, the Quran, at the mosque.
I have to say, as a Christian woman, I learned a lot from Muslims on this trip. For one, their whole life is dedicated to their faith. They take time to pray to God five times a day, while some of us don’t take 5-minutes out of our busy schedules to acknowledge God. I came back wanting to carve in more time for my creator. The one that makes a way for me every time, when there seems to be no way at all. The one who is so faithful and answers all of my prayers. The one that heard me when I said I wanted to travel and see the world, and gives me the opportunity to do just that every time. I am blessed and because of this trip, I am more open-minded to the values of other religions. At the end of the day, we all love God. There’s no reason why my belief should be seen as any better than anyone else. God intended for us to live harmoniously, not fragmented based on constructs such as religion, race, and politics. I treasure the many lessons learned on this day.
The sun was gradually setting. The rich blue sky highlighted, by the amber sunset and auburn sand made it a beautiful sight to see. I wouldn’t be Kydee if I didn’t take the opportunity to sit and roll in the sand.
At dinner, we explored the different tents, which had an array of activities to do. We had Shisha and got henna tattoos. Dinner was a huge Middle Eastern, Bedouin spread. Entertainment consisted of a Bedouin man spinning in a colorful costume that had lights all over it, while the belly dancer shook her hips to traditional Arabic music.
I woke up bright and early to head to the Dubai mall to purchase a selfie stick. I know, very vain, but it seemed like we were the only tourists in Dubai without one. Besides, it would be useful for our desert safari. This selfie stick was kind of a big deal.
Addicted to the art of negotiation, we went back to the Deira Gold Souqs for more souvenirs. We would soon learn, Dubai is the best place to negotiate because, in my experience, shops in Abu Dhabi were more expensive and not as willing to. I searched for the Arab scent. It’s a scent that you cannot help but smell when passing some of the men in Dubai. Someone told me Musk and Rose were the ingredients. Yet, the guy trying to sell me this scent was a crook, so I left the souq without it!
Dubai is infamous for its traffic. We were going to be late for our pick up to the desert, which was scheduled for 3:30PM. We were stuck in traffic for about 30-minutes and arrived back at the hotel at 4PM. The driver, who picked us up was so nice. We thought we would be the only ones on the safari but he then drove to a residential area of Dubai to pick up an older Irish couple and their granddaughter. The minute I saw we would be on this desert safari with gramps and granny, I knew we were in for trouble. They would probably warn the driver not to go so fast and blah, blah, blah.
For about an hour we drove on a highway until it gradually turned into the desert. The brown sand was beautiful. We got out of our jeep to meet with the other group of jeeps that would be traveling with us to our secret location in the desert.
As we were zooming through the high sand dunes like a roller coaster, up-down, to the side and around, granny asked the driver if he could slow down for her granddaughter who was getting car sick. I nudged Myllz and rolled my eyes. Really? Did I pay to go slow on the sand dunes? Who goes slow over sand dunes? I guess we do. I was so annoyed!
I couldn’t wait to get to our secret desert camp. The first thing I did was ride the camels. They were so cute. Scary but cute. I almost wanted them to spit so I could see it in person but their mouths were covered.
The scary part of riding a camel is when they come up and come down. It’s sort of like levels. Some of the camels have no sense of space and will be all in your face. Camels are very treasured by the people in Dubai. It’s a serious crime to harm them.
45-million flowers of different shades, colors and sizes surrounded me in theDubai Miracle Garden. I felt like Alice in Wonderland, discovering one masterpiece after another. We proceeded through the garden in complete awe, getting lost in the flower maze. The garden was beautiful.
From the garden, we proceeded to the Gold Souqs. $100 dirham later we were in the midst of a bustling neighborhood called Deira. This was nothing like the immaculate areas we’ve experienced thus far. Deira was different. This was definitely the area of the locals. We were surrounded by a sea of men asking us to buy jewelry, hair and “designer” bags. Some asked us to follow them into alleys, but we knew not to…c’ mon. We eventually met a nice guy whose name stood for happiness in Hindu. I got the best deals from him.
Ky Tip: Mastering Negotiation in Dubai Souqs is essential!
- If you’re with others, be the one that’s not overly eager. The merchants will want to impress you because he knows there’s a chance you will leave his store without a purchase. He will also want to give you a deal.
- Negotiate the price. Remember nothing is set in stone at souqs. If they tell you 10 Dirham try to get them down to 5 or if you are really lucky, 3.
- I negotiated 3 belly-dancing belts for 12 USD. This was beyond a steal because each belt went for 35-50 Dirham which is about $10-$12. Negotiating in USD probably helped me more because it’s a currency other than their own.
- Try to leave the store once they give you an unreasonable price. Of course, it’s a bluff but they will chase you down to negotiate a price that’s more to your liking.
After the overwhelming nature of the souqs, we spent the rest of the night in the Dubai Mall, which is really not that hard to do. The mall is amazing, equipped with over 1200 restaurants and shops, its own ice-skating rink and an aquarium.
9:30 PM reservations were set for Thiptara Restaurant at the Palace hotel on Valentine’s Day and of course, we were late. The cab driver accidentally dropped us off at the wrong hotel which meant we had to trek in heels for 6 blocks.
It was a special valentines dinner, spent with my lovely friends. The restaurant overlooked the Dubai Fountain. Every hour the fountain danced to sweet melodies. We also got the restaurant to wish Jess a Happy Birthday (although her birthday was over a month ago). One of the most memorable dishes I had while at dinner was the calamari. It was so good, we had to order another batch. The batter melts-in-your-mouth and the squid was fresh. The overall experience at The Palace was incredible. Later that night we went to Armani Prive and back to Jumeirah Beach Hotel 360 Bar.
Ky Tip: Dinner and clubbing in Dubai require reservations. Make sure you’re proactive about scheduling your nightlife activities.
The next day we got up around 6AM to catch breakfast. Our friend Jessica arrived late the night before so essentially it was her first day in Dubai. We had an amazing buffet with delicacies from around the world. We then headed to the Dubai Museum, for a heritage tour.
The Dubai Museum is the oldest existing building in Dubai and was the perfect introduction to the city. The museum took us on a journey of Dubai from its humble Bedouin beginnings to the global giant it is today. Lifesize figures epitomizing the culture of Dubai and its people from their faith in Islam to their education and means of trade made up a large majority of the exhibits. It was interesting to learn that Dubai only started industrializing in the 1950s/60’s and have attained more in less than a century than most countries would ever dream of.
After the museum, we explored the surrounding neighborhood of Burj Dubai. We visited a souq where the clerk made me try on a belly dancing costume for fun and purchased a few souvenirs after negotiating of course.
Taking trains between countries was easier than I thought. In all honesty, it was a breeze. As a point of comparison, I would compare it to taking a bus from New York to Virginia, only the scenery is much more gratifying.
Eurostar from London to Paris was fast. It actually got us into Paris 20 minutes earlier than expected. I literally fell in and out of sleep and before I knew it, we were there. The train ride was about 2-hours long. The annoying part was finding a place to put my bags. I ended up putting it in a storage shelf in the back of the car which was risky because I couldn’t keep watch of my bag, but there was nothing else I could do.
Trenitalia’s14-hour train ride from Paris to Venice, was cheap and fun. We ate before we got on the train but I should’ve brought a snack with me because I got hungry along the way. The train cart we were in had 6 bunks and we shared it with an Italian couple from Milan. They were really kind people. They chose the top bunks and we chose the bottom four. We played games and snacked on cookies and wine. Shadesha and I stayed up and told scary ghost stories with our flashlights. We just made the best of the long ride. We passed through Switzerland and Milan but it was night time so we couldn’t see much. It was still exciting nonetheless. The train car was so cold. I was freezing. Trenitalia did provide blankets and pillows but I questioned how clean they were. Besides, the freezing temperatures I would totally take an overnight train like this again. It was so much fun.
Trenitalia from Venice to Rome was a 6-hour duration and it went by quite fast as well. Again the scenery in Europe is to die for, and I could not complain about the beauty of the Italian cities we passed through including Florence and Tuscany. The wineries, colorful houses, and mountainous regions were a beautiful sight to see.
I am all for trains when traveling through Europe. Not only do they tend to be cheaper than other intercontinental transportation options but it’s also fun. Train systems in Europe are way better than what we have in the States. I would recommend train routes for those who are traveling throughout Europe in a heartbeat.
- Get train tickets early!
- Unlike flexible prices of flights (Where Tuesday could be $503 and Wednesday could be $490), train ticket prices are not as flexible, which is a good thing. As the departure date gets closer the prices increase.
- Set up alerts for prospective train routes you are seeking. I did this for trains from Venice to Rome and we ended up paying 13 Euro for our train ticket. Amazing prices.
It’s officially summer folks, which means a lot of us are traveling. Having recently come back from an extensive overseas trip, I have some valuable tips that I want to share with you if you are planning on traveling this season:
Don’t forget your passport. This is probably the most important identification you will have for your trip. Make sure you allow enough time to get a new or renewed passport if need be.
2. Pack Light
With the hikes in baggage prices, avoid overpacking your bags.
3. Exchange your Money before you Leave
The exchange companies overseas will charge fees like you have never seen before. Please avoid them by all costs (pun intended). Also, get a list from your bank of their affiliations with any other bank in the country you are traveling to so you can easily retrieve money without high-cost fees and exchange rates.
Do your research on any country you are visiting. I can’t emphasize this enough. A lot of countries all over the world operate differently from us in the United States. There are so many blogs, book stores, google maps, and review sites like Trip Advisor and travel agents out there that can assist with all the information you will need for your upcoming trip. Use these resources; it’s so vital.
Probably the most important piece of paper you will have is an itinerary or a breakdown of how your trip should go (even though a few changes may occur). Make sure to have a list of places you are visiting, dates, hotel names and addresses, phone numbers, confirmations, etc. Everything you will need to survive while out of the country should be included on this list.
6. Download Important Apps
There are amazing travel apps out there for smartphone users. On my recent trip to Europe, I downloaded “What’s App” as a means of texting and MagicJack to make international phone calls to my family for free. It’s amazing what you can discover on the App Store.
7. Know the basics
If you are traveling to a country that speaks a foreign language, know the basics words such as hello, good-bye, how much? Where’s the bathroom? So you can communicate with the locals
8. Maps of Train Systems
I think it’s very important to get familiar with different countries’ metro systems (before traveling) so you won’t get lost or overwhelmed. Also using the trains can help save money on otherwise expensive taxicabs.
9. Beware of Pickpockets and Robbers
It seems as if tourists have an invisible sign on their forehead which says “ROB ME.” Some people can spot a tourist from a mile away and with that being said, it’s always wise to be cautious of your belongings, your purse if you are a lady and your passport. You would never want an ideal vacation to go sour because something was stolen from you…what a nightmare.
10. Be Open-Minded
Indulging in another culture unlike your own could be frightening. However, you have to go into an experience wanting to take it to the fullest. Let your hair down and enjoy the lifestyle of foreign cultures. Try different foods, dance in the streets, sleep in, relax and just enjoy life. You never know what you will learn and you may also discover, people across the world are just like you in a lot of ways.
“Maria Maria you remind me of the West Side Story”-Carlos Santana
Day two in Barcelona was way better. We had an early start and made our way to the beach. Barceloneta was calling our names, as the sun shined bright and was beaming in our faces. We were in SPAIN and it finally felt like it. We took a bus to the boardwalk and settled at a cozy restaurant where we shared an array of Tapas and Paella. AHHH! Spain food was to die for. So rich with flavor. I loved how much seafood they used in their dishes. We then walked to the beach and relaxed there for hours.
We decided to head back to the hotel so we could get ready for the night. Our first stop was Chupitos where they light your drinks on fire. Burn Baby Burn. We then ate dinner at the most amazing restaurant ever…La Flauta (I still look at the pictures of the food and salivate over the mussels and prongs). Dinner was followed by a night on the town where we danced the night away at The Sutton Club.
The next day, we had a jam-packed schedule. After a little R&R by the pool, Parc De Guell was our first stop. At the peak of this attraction, we saw all of Barcelona and it was literally breathtaking. We also saw the amazing artwork of Gaudi. I love all of the bright colors and abstract architecture in Barcelona. It’s such a metropolis, however, it still has some out of the ordinary structures that are exquisite. I spent the rest of my day as a tourist walking around, shopping and just enjoying all it had to offer. I also had an amazing dinner with LaSaundra where we reflected on the trip and everything we learned.
That night it was time to experience the world-famous Opium Nightclub. This club is one of the best clubs in Barcelona, standing out from all of the other clubs I’ve ever been to because the party continues onto the beach. It’s fabulous. We stayed there for a few hours and then found a tapas bar, where we ate some more…the food in Spain is addictive.
Ky’s Verdict: Barcelona was fun, but probably the one city I enjoyed the least. I think after traveling for so long, you become numb. For me, Spain wasn’t what I expected. I realized I loved the cities that made me feel like I was in Europe, rustic, archaic, historical and Barcelona was just like being in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn with loads of Spanish speaking citizens. Nevertheless, it’s a beautiful city. Some people suggested that I may have liked Madrid better…who knows?