Ramadan Real

kulture, opinion, travel

My thoughts about experiencing Ramadan abroad via Essence online 


“//trips to Venice get they winters replaced with”


Flowers at a Christmas Market in Rome, Italy

“Trips to Venice get they winters replaced with…” | Jay- Z x Allure

First, belated Happy New Year wishes! Everyone is probably well on their way to achieving their new resolutions, some successes may be farther than others, but best wishes for a successful 2015.

I replaced my winter [including NYE] with not only Venice, but Rome and Florence, Italy as well. The sights, food, people and of course wine, definitely created a holiday to remember! I would definitely like to return during the warmer months. Here are some of my travel takeways from a first timers point of view.



Side street in Rome, Italy

Visiting three Italian cities as tourists presented minor challenges, such as not knowing the stops on the bus or not knowing the times the metro train stopped running. Other than that, Rome was very easy to navigate with the help of maps, one of the easiest I’ve come across in my travels. I also, suggest purchasing a Roma Pass so that you can have unlimited travel between metro trains and buses. To travel from FCO (Rome’s airport) and to major cities like Venice and Florence, the Italian train system is also easy to use. Once you arrive to your respective cities most tourists and locals alike, travel by foot. Taxi stands are also available to indicate where to catch legal taxis. Venice also has water taxis and bus stops clearly marked. The wait for public transportation was also very reasonable, although I imagine during peak months it can be more hectic.



A very wet St. Marco’s Square in Venice, Italy

Visiting Italy in the winter months has its advantages and disadvantages. As with visiting any country as a tourist, you always want to make sure you have comfortable layers and shoes for walking. In Rome, the weather was consistent at about 45 degrees in the morning, then getting up to the low 50s by lunch time. On the other hand, Venice and Florence were COLD. It actually snow/rained in Venice, which was misery! I had to buy an ugly umbrella. Florence had more of a dry cold. Unfortunately, temps never rose above low to mid 40s.



Leaning Tower of Pisa

What can I say about the attractions? It is Italy after all so really what I say won’t do any justice! Everything I experienced was definitely worth viewing in person. As cliche as it may sound, the architecture and historical sights in each city were breathtaking. I do recommend using sites with personal reviews like TripAdvisor to sign up for tours in advance, especially if you are a first time visitor. Also, I thought I would never say this but bring/buy a selfie stick. If you don’t have one believe me, there is someone within 15 steps waiting to bombard you with “SELFIE! SELFIE!” encouraging you to purchase one. They look really cheesy, but it’s a good way to make sure you take pics without asking for help from others. I also recommend asking for advice from locals or others who have visited to determine what’s worth seeing depending on the length of your stay.

In addition to attractions, of course there are also tons of boutiques and shops showcasing local goods like Tuscan leather and Murano glass, wines and Limoncello, but there’s also many high end fashion houses featured including Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Furla, Missonni and Moschino to name a few. If high end designers don’t catch your eye, there are also shops like H&M and Zara dotting most high traffic streets, especially throughout Rome and Florence.

Food & Beverage


Cards from Restaurants and Cafes in Rome, Venice and Florence

Honestly, this could be it’s own separate post. You realize the simplicity of Italian food after eating authentic Italian. Each pizza, plate of truffle pasta, cone of gelato, glass of wine was delicious. Of course after almost 2 weeks, I had a few favorites, but overall my tastebuds were shocked [in a good way]. I highly recommend experiencing Italian wine tasting tours. Vinicultural tours was my absolute fave! I felt like I was getting the local experience with a very knowledgeable and down to earth tour guide. Visiting in the winter also means you can drink hot beverages including mulled wine and hot chocolate. Both were nothing short of luxurious. My favorite hot chocolate even had a chocolate rum truffle at the bottom. YUM! I will also add, although I love Margherita pizza, the best I had was a slice — Naples style in Venice, across from the 1 euro store.



Street Artist in Florence, Italy

Italians have lots of love and patriotism for their country and their respective cities. They don’t mind suggesting places to eat or see and were very helpful in navigating, even when using limited English. There are also a lot of similarities between Italian and Spanish, so if you are familiar with conversational Spanish, simple words and phrases could be easier to grasp. Overall, brushing up on simple conversational phrases would incite smiles from locals, but not 100% necessary to enjoy your experience.


Ciao from Piazza Farnese in Rome

So after spending about 10 days in Italy, I am adding it to my travel list again. I feel like there is still so much I would like to see and experience. Until next time Italy, Ciao Bella!

Lone Ranger

opinion, travel


Earphones. 2014 FHD. Starbucks. Wi-Fi. Laptop. I’m writing this from the airport in Istanbul, Turkey in transit to Rome for the Christmas holiday. In the last few hours I witnessed a passenger in front of me faint in the aisle of the plane while the lights were out with 90 minutes left in the flight [she was fine thank God], almost got knocked over by people running to catch a connecting flight, and a few moments ago received a really dirty look from two ladies because I saved my seat at this packed Starbucks with my backpack while I made my order [oh well…moving forward].

Needless to say, I have become increasingly more irritated with airport travel. Airports are daunting for some, especially if you are traveling alone, and especially if you are a brown girl traveling alone [we are a rarity in the world’s airports]. I typically have long layovers of 2 hours or more, so I’m always faced with the challenge of what to do to occupy my time and that usually includes a scavenger hunt for the least crowded power outlet and the best place to sit and have a bite to eat without feeling obligated to talk to strangers.

Just to clarify, I’ve never actually traveled alone. I’ve traveled through airports alone from DC and Abu Dhabi/Dubai, Paris, Istanbul, London, Doha, New Delhi, Bahrain, the list goes on, but someone or “home” is always waiting for me once I’ve arrived. Along my airport travels, I’ve garnered some tips to help with transitioning through some of the world’s largest and busiest airports, especially if you are traveling alone.

Tip #1 | Speak Up

Case and point — these ladies at Starbucks really thought they were going to take my bistro table even with my backpack there, listen, NO. Now of course you want to be tactful and courteous when approaching others regardless of language barrier, but definitely assert yourself. The response might not be what you expected, but at least you made your intentions known and I’ll take a few dirty looks for a nice corner bistro table at Starbucks.

Tip #2 | Establish Personal Space

This tip goes hand and hand with Tip #1. Clearly make your boundaries known. There’s been plenty of times where someone has gotten too close to me in the customs line or cozies up to me as I try to enjoy my quiet, chill spot. Make your presence known in a polite but assertive way. I usually use my personal items like a bag, to put a little space between me and the other person. Also, earphones are the universal symbol for “please leave me alone” so when you encounter someone who is violating your peace, pop in some earbuds, even if you aren’t listening to anything they’ll get the hint.

Tip #3 | Use Manners

First, SMILE! Don’t do the awkward walking while smiling thing, but be friendly and say please and thank you. Manners go a loooong way when you are interacting with different types of people, especially if they are helping you. Remember you are representing yourself, your family and your country. You might be the first [insert ethnicity/background here] that a stranger has encountered. People of all backgrounds can easily perceive kindness, so hold doors, say please and thank you.

Hopefully these tips will help to make your airport travels, whether alone or with others, a little easier.

amsterdam, netherlands

view from skyline lounge located at doubletree hilton hotel

view from skyline lounge located at doubletree hilton hotel

“Amsterdam in the air, tomorrow on my mind…” Rick Ross Amsterdam

A couple of weeks ago I had the pleasure of visiting Amsterdam, Netherlands for a weekend trip. As a first time visitor, I had some preconceptions about the city, mostly based on popular media and reviews from my friends. Before I proceed with the details of my trip, this isn’t a post about the notable Amsterdam behaviors. Yes, there is marijuana in Amsterdam. No, it’s not legal. Yes, people smoke in Amsterdam. They also curate a lot of awesome museums, drink lots of good coffee, eat lots of amazing fries and really delicious pancakes and waffles. Here are some of my highlights [no pun intended].

courtyard art located at art'otel amsterdam, netherlands

courtyard art located at art’otel amsterdam, netherlands

Located in Dam Square, Art’otel was one of the most creative hotels I have stayed in thus far. The hotel could double for an art gallery because there was lots of amazing art to gaze at in every corner of the hotel. I definitely recommend this hotel for any future trips to Amsterdam. Lots of amenities including an in house art gallery, indoor pool, restaurant which served hot breakfast daily, and library.

inside heineken experience tour

inside heineken experience tour

Amsterdam is home to the popular Heineken lager. The Heineken Experience tour is an interactive experience, beginning with a traditional museum exhibit feel, then a 3D ride describing the making of a bottle of Heineken, and ending with a tour of factory equipment, Heineken horses and of course a lager tasting. Definitely worth checking out.

belgian waffle from pancakes and waffles restaurant

belgian waffle from pancakes and waffles restaurant

Food! Amsterdam features lots of familiar foods like fries, pizza, I even saw some fast food chains like KFC while walking around Dam Square. I don’t know what the secret is, but I had some of the best fries ever in Amsterdam. I went with the place that had the longest line, Manneken Pis and it did not disappoint.

Manneken Pis via flickr

Try crossing the street with cars, a tram and bikes. Lots and lots of bikes. I can’t remember the statistic as heard, but it is one of the top countries for bike riders because of it’s flat terrain. In addition to the canal rides, there’s lots of public transportation options including trains, taxis and buses. The train was very easy to use to get to the airport and cost about $6 one way.

canal views amsterdam, netherlands

canal views amsterdam, netherlands

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city view with bikes

Overall, I really enjoyed the Euro vibe that Amsterdam gives. The people are helpful and real. As a tourist, I felt comfortable with perusing through the alleys and shops with no problems. It’s a great place to visit with friends and surprisingly there were a lot of people with children, which surprised me for a place with such an infamous reputation. With only two days I didn’t get a chance to explore very much so needless to say, I definitely look forward to returning to Amsterdam in the future.

tattoos are addictive they said

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passport, boarding pass stub, brochure, flag patches

i think anyone who has ever gotten a tattoo would agree, they are addictive. after the first one, i went back again, then again and at the fourth time i agreed… i’ll probably be back again. that’s just how new ink works.

passport tattoos are the same way!

the travel ink bug bit me later on in life and i’m cool with it. as a US citizen i feel like i wasn’t as interested in visiting other countries because there were so many other states i hadn’t had the privilege of visiting, international travel is pricey and i was afraid of the unknown [insert creepy laugh here] honestly, that’s a pretty common occurrence among most US citizens. although i had plans to eventually travel abroad, i was 24 when i purchased my passport for the sole purpose of working abroad in my sand castle.

the first stamp i received was upon arrival to UAE and the ink’s effects quickly intoxicated any other plans i had to stick to domestic travel. since then, i’ve gotten four other passport tats in the last three years [not including layovers and transfers] recently returning from amsterdam, netherlands [will review soon] with plans to visit italy in december.

traveling has made me virtually fearless. it affords me the opportunity to be an unofficial US ambassador to others around the world, which i love. i admire the beauty in other countries fashion sense, music, food, structures, way of life, language and culture. i learn and have learned a lot about myself and others through travel opportunities. as the God continues to allow, my need for passport ink will always remain. x kennie