Category: Nature


So far, we went to Rome, Assisi, Orvieto, Spello, Florence and Venice together. I suppose it’s now time to introduce to you Padua, Verona and Milano before concluding with Lake Como.

The largest piazza in Italy, Prato della Valle, is surprisingly located in Padua. Just a little ways from the piazza is the Basilica di Sant’Antonio di Padova which is just lovely and also houses a museum of its own.

After that early morning stroll, we ventured onwards and found ourselves in romantic Verona, home to the famous balcony of Juliet and her statue as well as the Arena and several very expensive designer stores all lined on one street. the people of Verona were the most fashion conscious Italians I met outside of Milan.

After a brief time in Verona, we continued to Milano and it’s incredibly different and modern buildings that are a direct result of Milan being bombed during World War II. However, the most recognizable and renowned location in Milan, il Duomo, did not disappoint with its centuries old majesty. The Galleria adjacent to Il Duomo was quite simply one of the most complete collection of exclusive and extremely pricey designers under one figurative roof. Even famous car companies had shops at the Galleria. Behind the Galleria was the famous Opera House and housed in the Galleria is the one artwork I did not get to see – Leonardo’s Last Supper. I wasn’t aware that the tickets had to be bought far in advance and hence did not book myself one. Hopefully, some day I can return to see that historic painting as well.

That regret aside, Milan did not disappoint in its extravagant offerings. It quite reminded me of NYC, just a little less insanely busy. My favorite thing, however, were the roasted nuts being sold by snack carts all over Milan – they were absolutely delicious!

Our activities for the night came to an end after dark and most people returned to the hotel. I returned later that evening to explore the Duomo and visit with a friend. It was perfect.

The next day it rained from morning till night and into my last day in Italy. Unfortunately, it was that day that we had Lake Como on our schedule. I imagine it must be even more amazing during summer, or when it is not raining as it was the entire time we were in the area.

We traveled by bus to the city of Menaggio. From there, we took a boat across Lake Como to Bellagio. We didn’t go to Como itself which was a shame – a friend informed me there was a cheese and chocolate festival at Como that day. However, just exploring Bellagio itself turned out to be great fun for me and though it was raining I still got some beautiful pictures of a place straight out of a fairy tale.

We returned to Milan after those stunning vistas to enjoy another excellent dinner and say our goodbyes. I left Italy the next day. It became an extremely fulfilling and uplifting memory for me.

The beauty of this world and the human mind’s capability to imagine and adapt is endless. Everywhere we went, we encountered warm-hearted, kind and helpful people. I didn’t have a single negative experience with any Italian person. My tour group afforded me a few new good friends and allowed me to meet some kindred spirits.

Italy itself gave me a sense of endlessness. The civilizations repeatedly upended, the many stories associated with every cobblestone, the many different belief systems that came and went, and the astounding art that people created surrounded by the natural beauty of creation – it was a package that is still making me smile with a joyous soul.

There is nothing quite like getting more than you bargained for, especially if it is a pleasant surprise. Italy was much, much more than I had imagined and I didn’t even see all of it. Pisa and Naples were sorely missed. However, everywhere I went, I saw one thing every Italian had in common – a pride in their people and in their heritage, as well as very, very big hearts. I’m sure others have experienced different but I am simply sharing what I experienced.

If I were to live away from the States, Italy is where I would want to create a new home. If you can go, please do visit Italy. It is worth every penny.

For staying with me until the end of my journey, grazie! And because this journey has come to its end, Ciao!

May 2017 bring you many pleasant surprises!

Edit: This post was (somehow) deleted from my blog and the latter half has been re-written. The content of the post remains the same.

This has been a trying year for so many across the world. We each, in our own ways, have struggle to thrive and survive. Many in places that are war-ridden or inhabitable due to famine and disease are literally doing their best to just keep breathing. They are the Holocaust survivors of today.

Personally, I’ve taken several setbacks in my professional and personal life as well. However, on a day like today, I simply wish to give thanks for the amazing people in my life and the wondrous experiences I managed to have this year. Thank you my friends, my family, and my awesome coworkers for making this year not only worth being thankful for but an unforgettable string of memories.

This year, I did something I have wanted to do as long as I can remember – I traveled. I know I already posted about Seattle and NYC – one trip reconnected me to long lost family and the other to the person I have become. The third trip, which I’m about to share with y’all now, opened my eyes and began to show me a path to becoming the person I want to become.

Travelling shows you sides of yourself you never knew existed. It may reveal that you have a cool head under duress (you get lost and then find your way back), it may reveal that you hate change (I really missed my regular breakfast), and most importantly, it will reveal to you how other people live, how they experience the world, and how we are all so different and yet the same. The last is a theme that seems more and more emphasized the more I travel.

This time around, I want to share you with the wonder that is Italy. I don’t really need to elaborate on the amazing history and art that is absolutely everywhere there but I can’t help but be utterly fascinated and awed by the beauty and philosophical depth that pervades the every day life of the Italian people.

I chose to go on a bus tour with a tour group and never regretted that decision. Throughout this tour I saw the wonder that is Rome (more on that later), went to small hill towns like Padua, Orvieto, Spello and Assisi, saw Verona and its iconic Juliet’s balcony, fell in love with beautiful Florence and it’s street artists, experienced the unique city of Venice (more on that later too) and finished off the tour in Milan with its almost jarringly modern vibe.

Upon arrival in Rome, I was directly submerged into the Italian cultural love of food and wine (though I don’t drink) and the showmanship every Italian is evidently a master of. The food, needless to say, was excellent. Pasta, salad, bread, meat, cappucino and wine are the staples of Italian cuisine as I experienced it. There were several dishes I would have loved to have but they contained pork (which I also don’t eat) and so my tasted buds were left satisfied but greedy for more.

Rome was easily the cheapest place in Italy that I had the pleasure of visiting. It also had more to share with the world than basically any city I have ever visited before. Despite spending all day walking around its streets or going from location to location on our excellent tour bus, we barely managed to see the highlights. As an art and history buff, I know I could easily spend several weeks in Rome and still not see it all.

Traveler’s tip: Find little cafes off the main streets for all meals – the food is excellent, the quantity is usually more than an average person would eat and it is MUCH cheaper than a sit-down restaurant. Also, there are little fountains in the walls so if you carry a water bottle with you, there is clean water for you to drink all over the city. Mineral water costs more in Italy than wine or coffee. In addition, if going anytime other than the height of summer, wear layers. It gets cold in the morning and after sunset but is hot in the afternoon. Good walking boots or sneakers are a must. Don’t wear anything you couldn’t last in all day. Those cobblestones hurt.

I had the pleasure of visiting the Vatican amidst my trip to Rome and just that itself was a treat unlike any other. The art is overwhelming and the atmosphere is unique. Tour groups from all over the world can be found in this tiny little country – and it is a country of its own. You just don’t need a passport or visa to go in thanks to agreements between the Vatican and the Italian government. Keep in mind though – unless you have a reservation, you will be in line for several hours waiting to gain entry. It is, after all, a site for holy pilgrimages and home to the Pope. If you follow the Christian tradition, there is plenty for you to see and many places to pray. You can even purchase blessed rosaries at the many shops in Saint Peter’s square. The piece de grace, of course, is the Sistine Chapel. However, there is no photography allowed there so I have no pictures of my visit to that wonder, just these few pictures leading me to the chapel itself:

Which brings us to the wonder that is Saint Peter’s Basilica. My words, and these pictures, cannot describe the majesty of the Basilica. Every stone and every column, the domed ceiling, the floors, the altars and the art – all of it is beyond breathtaking with good reason. Michelangelo, one of the most renowned, prolific and brilliant artists of all time had a big hand in its design and construction. The history behind the building and design of the Basilica is quite interesting. I’ll leave you to satisfy your curiosity with this wiki article. Though my pictures definitely do no do it justice, here are a few of my memories:

The Square itself is no less impressive than the insides of the gargantuan Basilica:

After this amazing but all-too-brief trip to the Vatican, we were rushed off to another of Rome’s signature delights: The Colosseum! With our tour group, we were able to actually walk around on the same ground the gladiators of old would have fought their battles and look down into the pits where hungry animals were kept in terrible conditions in order to make them blood-thirsty in beast vs gladiator battles. I must note, however, that most gladiators were mercenaries and volunteers who were very much akin to modern day professional sportsmen. They were paid generously for their services in most cases. Though the overwhelming percentage of gladiators were willing participants, there were undoubtedly slaves also sent into battle.

Also located next to the Colosseum is a stone arch that has not only withstood the test of time, it is a testament to the passage of human history and the extreme changes that have come about in the world since the fall of the Roman empire. The Arch of Constantine is a triumphal arch that was built in 312 and is the last remaining triumphal arch of the Roman empire. The steps leading to the arch half stone walkways that were laid back in the early days of the Roman Empire and are now part of the cultural heritage of the Roman people.

Beyond that Arch is where the Forum once stood in all its marbled glory. Today, only the marble-stripped foundations have been left behind. The history itself, however, is embedded into every brick in the area.

After the Colosseum and a short lunch break, we again ventured out into Rome and saw even more of its delights.

Walking through the streets of Rome was like a dream come true. We first visited the Spanish Steps which were so crowded with visitors that none of us dared to actually venture onto the steps for fear of being lost forever. Leading to the Steps are buildings housing the most expensive name brands in the world as well as the Spanish embassy in Rome.

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Once we had visited the cultural center that is the Spanish steps (many locals also gather there regularly), we moved onto the most enchanting place of all, the Trevi Fountain, followed by the Senate, the President’s house, the Pantheon and the Navarro Fountain (also absolutely fantastic). I was just disappointed that the Pantheon had no trace of the Gods and Goddesses of old (it is now a Church) but it had the most amazing anti-rain system with a whole in the roof designed to let nothing but a slight mist into the building itself. The Romans were just brilliant architects, not to mention mind-blowing artists.

The Trevi Fountain might have been my favorite but Navarro Square holds second place with the Fountain of Four Rivers. These are places you have to see in person to truly understand their brilliance. Every sculpture, every building seemed so alive. There were so many stories told with every piece of marble and every brick. It was absolutely amazing.

That magical day will be a treasured memory for me forever. Rome is a city that I could easily spend another week or so in and still not see everything. Needless to say, I will be returning some day.

My adventure in Italy continued with Orvieto, a quaint and beautiful town, the next morning. There, we saw the cathedral that took my heart away. It is a fantastic study in architecture and art, built in both the Renaissance and Gothic fashion. The town itself was a typical Umbrian hill town with fantastic art casually thrown about here and there and in little alleyways. We also had an experience in genuine Italian pastries and hot chocolate while in Orvieto. Here are some visual recollections of my time there:

That afternoon, we continued onto Assisi, home of Saint Claire’s church and Saint Frances Basilica. Everything about this visit was grand, gorgeous and majestic.

Many pilgrims make their way to this unique town with an old Roman town center and one of the most visited Basilicas in the world, as well as the beauty that just blows your mind away.

We stayed in the town of Assisi that night but we first ventured out to beautiful Spello that evening for a meal I will never forget. If you ever have a chance, please do visit Ristorante Locanda del Postiglione – it will change your life forever.

That dinner was the end to a long and wonderful day experiencing the smaller towns of Italy and Umbrian cooking.

The adventure continues in Italian Adventures: Part II. Please do return and accompany me on the rest of my journey through Italy!

 

 

 

 

I know this post has been a long time coming and I apologize. I have just been really involved in personal issues and life in general. The recent election is something I’m not going to discuss in this post – I’m incredibly drained from the political and human drama of the moments. Instead, I’m going take this opportunity to talk about my recent trip to the Big Apple.

A couple of posts ago, I mentioned I went to Seattle and saw some amazing things in Washington and Vancouver, BC. I learned a lot from that trip and was delighted to reconnect with family I hadn’t seen in almost two decades. That trip wasn’t just about going away from Houston, it was about reconnecting to my roots – I spent several summers in Seattle as a child. However, this post is about my time in NYC and growing as a person through my experiences there (be prepared for a lot of pictures)!

A few weeks after returning home from Seattle, I visited New York City for the first time in my life. I was a little nervous before I left – I would be on my own in a strange and fantastic city and had no one there to help me out. However, the very thing I was afraid of turned out to be one of the best things about my trip. I absolutely loved exploring, getting lost in, and finding hidden treasures from losing my way in NYC. I rode the subway, the ferry and the bus. I once lost my way and ended up in Harlem at midnight. That resulted in me walking through Brooklyn streets at 2 am on my way back to my Air BnB and almost using my taser on someone that was approaching me threateningly. Hence, while there were moments of anxiety and frustration, there was so much More excitement and energy!

When you hear that New Yorkers are always on the go, you should believe it. People are always on their way to somewhere to do something. It doesn’t matter where you go, people are intent on accomplishing a goal, even if it is to spend an idyllic day in Central Park. That energy infected me too. In just three and a half days, I managed to visit the Empire State Building, Lady Liberty, New York Stock Exchange, Wall Street, the 9/11 Memorial, 5th Avenue, Times Square, Central Park, the MET, the MOMA, Brooklyn Bridge, Rockefeller Center, SoHo, Little Italy, Chinatown, and Grand Central Station. Each place was unique, exciting and thought-provoking. Some of the more iconic locations literally made me tear up with happiness.

One of the best things about NYC was the ease of access to everything one might need. It was great to be able to buy Halal food literally everywhere I went. It was really great being able to get basically anywhere with public transport at all hours of the day and night. I could buy anything I hadn’t brought with me at the countless little stores lining every street. And having street vendors made it easy to get nice things for a low price. In short, NYC surprised me by being so easy to navigate and being so convenient for someone a lone traveler in a strange environment. In retrospect, going there became a huge source of both confidence and self assurance for me. And it gave me the courage to go somewhere else shortly after, which I’ll be talking about in my next post (hint, it looks like a boot!).

Now to review all the amazing places I was lucky enough to visit:

I ended up at Wall Street by accident (took the wrong train) and had a surprisingly good time wandering around there on a holiday (it was Labor day). From there I walked to the majestic and awe-inspiring 9/11 Memorial grounds. I must also admit that I fell in love with the mall/train station adjacent to the Memorial. Being at the Memorial was a really surreal feeling for me, especially given the day I went there. The building itself is amazing enough but the names written on the walls surrounding what looks like a waterfall seen from above made me really grateful for the life I’ve been given. Here are some pictures I took to commemorate my visit there:

 

Following my time there, I decided to go to the Empire State Building. On the way, I got lost a couple of times and wandered through 5th Avenue as well as Korea town, but it was totally worth it. The mass of humanity in NYC is almost overwhelming, but at the same time it’s really wonderful to be around people from so many different places and no one gives your race or gender a second thought. In any case, I did reach the Empire State Building and enjoyed a fascinating view of New York City from up high. It looked more amazing the darker it got and I just have to share the view with all of you!

From there, I went where literally every tourist ever has gone before – Times Square! It was everything I’d ever seen on TV and more. The energy was unbelievable, there were countless street vendors and performers, and I doubt a single true New Yorker was in sight. Even so, it was a dream come true to be there and just enjoy the sights! I absolutely loved Broadway though I didn’t catch a show (I just don’t enjoy theater, I know blasphemy but what can I do?). It was a great way to wrap up my first day in NYC.

I started off the next day with going somewhere I had always dreamed of visiting – the Metropolitan Museum of Art. As an art and history buff, I absolutely loved the MET. If I had the time, I could go there every day all day for a week and still not see everything. Thus far, it is the most awe inspiring museum I have had the pleasure of visiting. There was too much I loved there but I’ll just share a few things that really stood out for me.

I know those are a lot of pictures, but I promise you that that these are only a small percent of the things on display at the MET. For anyone who loves art or history, this is a must see!

After spending the whole day at the MET, I decided to walk the Brooklyn Bridge and fell completely in love with it. The MET and the Brooklyn Bridge are easily my favorite places in NYC as of now. Walking across the Bridge was both amazing and unreal – it felt like I was in a different world for a little while. It’s one of the few things I would like to do again if I ever go back to NYC. Here are some views from the bridge.

Following that amazing experience, I went onto Rockefeller Center. It was a lesson in grandeur and tastefulness. I had an amazing time going to the top and seeing NYC from on high once more.

My adventure on the way back was quite interesting. I had an almost hour long conversation about spiritualism with a hotel employee on my way out of Rockefeller center, followed by an interesting shopping trip for a hoodie which resulted in a stranger offering to take me to dinner and drive me back to my Air BnB. Such an interesting evening.

I started out my next day in NYC by going on a free walking tour of Central Park – or rather a corner of it. The day started out extremely windy and cloudy so I was afraid it would be a disaster but it cleared up right on time for the tour. In fact, it got extremely warm during my time there. Following the tour, I took a brief walk around Central Park on my own and can safely say I completely loved it there, as is obvious from the following shots I took while there.

I didn’t stay as long as I would have liked as I had another significant trademark of the Big Apple left to see – Lady Liberty! I ended up riding the Staten Island Ferry to Staten Island and back in order to see Lady Liberty. I didn’t go to Liberty Island (it was closed) but I did get to see her! No good pictures of that adventure, sadly, but here is at least one of her and one of the NYC skyline as seen from my angle at the time (I love the NYC skyline, if that isn’t obvious yet lol).

Following my trip to see Lady Liberty, I had a disappointing and frustrating time walking around SoHo (I’m sure this is because I’m a clueless newb) and stopped by Little Italy to have some truly excellent pasta and also strolled through Chinatown – it didn’t feel like I was in the States anymore at that point with the shop owners yelling out their wares, everything written in Chinese and the kind of crowds you see on TV when they show you a shot of Hong Kong.

I concluded my day with a trip to see a place I have dreamed of seeing since I first saw Home Alone as a child – Grand Central Station! I’m not even going to ┬álie – I happy cried right before I took that selfie down there. It was just fantastic – the energy was unbelievable and it took my breath away. Totally a dream come true for me!

I was due to leave the next afternoon and head back home so I spent my morning at the Museum of Modern Art. I absolutely had to see the Starry Night that was on display at the MoMA at the time. In doing so, I also saw a very emotional series of stories told my illegal immigrants who left home to find refuge or a better life and ended up in different places in Europe and their lives after the fact. I also saw a series of documentary shorts about Napalm and the horror it rendered on so many people. It shook me deeply. However, many of the exhibitions there did not allow photography so I’ll just share what I was able to photograph.

They had a fairly cool sculpture garden that I took full advantage of after I had achieved my goal of seeing Van Gogh’s most amazing painting (IMO). This concluded my exploration of NYC but not the lessons I learned there.

On my way back to my Air BnB to pick up my luggage and head home, I fell hard on the concrete and scratched myself up. My Uber driver showed up shortly after so I couldn’t even clean up the blood properly. We then ran into some serious traffic followed by construction and road closures. I almost didn’t make it to my flight – or that would have been the case had the flight not been over booked and so full that they requested several passengers to check in their carry on luggage.

On the flight back, I sat next to an elderly couple from Pakistan whose daughter lives in Houston. We ended up talking the whole flight back and I had an amazing time learning all about them and their family. They even gave me some great advice – never stop learning and never give up! Find opportunity where people see only adversity. Life will inevitably be difficult and seriously traumatic events will occur. But that is never the end, unless you let it be. Hope springs eternal and as long as there is hope, there is a chance for success. They gave me so much love it caught me off guard. It was a truly singular experience and gave me so much hope for humanity.

Travel has taught me so much – independence (more than usual), ingenuity, the ability to adapt to unexpected situations, and patience. I’ve grown stronger from all of it.

My message today is simple – travel like your life depends on it. Save and travel, no matter what. You’ll have strange and uncomfortable experiences that will help you grow. You will have awe-inspiring, unforgettable experiences that will lift you up. And you will make fleeting but unforgettable connections with strangers that may become a great inspiration for you and may determine how you live the rest of your life.

More than anything, trust your instincts and never stop growing and learning. You will become stronger every time you learn more and see more. So, travel. And travel some more. I certainly plan to!

I know this has been a long post but I hope you enjoyed it and will look forward to the next one! Until next time, ciao!

 

 

 

Let me start, once again, by the wonder invoked in me by an art exhibit as pictured below:

Kusama Exhibit MFAH

A room of floating lights, a platform surrounded by water, and only a minute and a half to enjoy the wonder of being suspended amongst the stars. A minute and a half that completely captured the kind of Universe I want to live in. A minute and a half of complete joy in the wonder of the human imagination.

The amazing world Kusama created is further expressed in the other half of her exhibit as pictured below:

Kusama Exhibit MFAH

I loved the mirrored room with giant lava lamp-likeness, the kind of place I imagine exists in Alice’s wonderland world.

However, God continues to take my breath away with the beauty He created in this world for us to discover and revel in. I had the pleasure of visiting the Seattle area recently and what struck me most was the majesty and absolute glory of the natural beauty in the area. Hiking up Mount Rainier, I was awarded with these breathtaking views:

The beauty I saw there dwarves anything I have seen created by the hand of man. However, I was further blessed to have seen the extraordinary art on display at the Chihuly Gardens in Seattle Center. I believe each piece speaks for itself.

The Gardens also afforded an incredible view of the Space Needle which I went up and thoroughly enjoyed.

What I discovered most of all is that ultimately the more we see, the more we grow. It’s important to leave the norm behind and experience the extraordinary and the overwhelmingly majestic in order to keep flourishing.

To all of you bound by the chains of expectations and daily pestilence, I advise you to act wisely and plan for days that allow you to experience the beauty that can be life. I know it can be really difficult to work in to your busy and financially draining life. However, what is life without adventure? In that vein, happy future travels mi amigos! Until next time, I bid you adieu.