Keeping up with Time Zones

11 AM. Like clockwork, the phone rings. Caller ID shows it’s an Australian number, most probably one of my aunts or uncles calling to check in. I’m still in bed, semi-awake. My mother answers and proceeds to have a gossip session on the latest family drama. When I decide to get up and check my cell phone, I’ve got a bunch of messages from cousins and friends in Australia who have been up hours before me. Fast forward to the afternoon, my phone buzzes again. It’s a message from my friend in California who has just woken up and responding to the message I sent her in the morning. Fast forward again, it’s late evening and my cousin from London is calling on Skype. After talking with her and her husband for an hour or so, I hop into bed, say a prayer, and eventually fall asleep.

That’s more or less a typical Sunday in my household. I hate to state the obvious, but distance sucks. I wish there was a way for all the important people in my life to be close to me because I feel like my heart is split into many pieces and scattered across the globe… Some might consider it advantageous to have friends and family around the world due to the travel opportunities it provides, but that’s probably the only benefit. Nothing hurts more than missing significant milestones in the life of someone I love, and them not being there for mine. Birthdays, weddings, graduations, Christmas, the list is endless. I guess you could say I have separation anxiety because the thought of someone being away from me freaks me out. In a few months, I’ll be graduating alongside the solid group of friends I built over the years after moving to Lebanon, meaning we might have to separate. Alas, c’est la vie, and I’m just going to have to accept it as much as it hurts.

One thing separation has taught me is valuing the physical presence of someone. It’s made me so much more appreciative of the time we have together, whether it’s long or short. I’ve also become so much more grateful for modern day technology that allows for quick and easy communication. Despite having to work around time zones, I can’t imagine having to wait months for a letter to arrive in the mail to hear from someone (though I don’t mind a nice handwritten letter sometimes, especially on special occasions).

Do you have family or friends abroad? How do you deal with separation?

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Journey Across Northern Italy

Out of all the countries I’ve visited, Italy holds a special place in my heart. It was the first country I traveled to outside of my own, and the first time I experienced falling in love with a place rather than a person. The architecture, the people, the language, the food, everything about it fueled my wanderlust and left me wanting to come back for more.

The first time I got a taste of Italy was back in 2010 on a family holiday to Rome. Three years later, I jumped at the opportunity to go again, this time to the North of the country. One of my best friends got accepted in a fashion program in Florence last summer, and the minute she got the acceptance we were already planning my visit. The program would last a month, after which I’d join her in Florence and we’d travel the North of Italy together over the course of 10 days. Another friend of ours expressed interest in coming and we were more than happy to have an additional travel partner. Hence the 3 of us began to plan a journey that would cover 6 cities in 10 days during the month of August, 2013.

Creating a travel itinerary is one of my favorite things to do and I spent hours researching for good deals and things to see. We initially planned to rent a car and drive across the country but we were 20 years old at the time and you had to be 21 for car rental so we opted to use trains instead. We booked all of our train tickets in advance in addition to 3-person hotel rooms. Although our itinerary was planned for the summertime, I’m sure it can be applied to other seasons throughout the year. So to anyone who’s planning a trip to Italy, this is for you.

Day 1 – Florence

How to get there: Fly to Milano Malpensa Airport and take the Malpensa express bus to Milano Centrale station. From there, take a train to Firenze S.M Novella station (1 hr 40 mins).

Where to stay: I was lucky enough to be able to stay at my friend’s apartment but you can browse www.booking.com for great hotel deals.

Things to see:

  • Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore located in Piazza del Duomo (Make sure to climb to the top of the Duomo for some breathtaking views of the city).
  • The Ponte Vechio Bridge
  • The statue of David located in the Galleria dell’Accademia (a replica can be found in the piazza)
  • Gucci Museo (Gucci Museum)
  • Museo Salvator Ferragamo (Salavatore Ferragamo museum) – my favorite!

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Day 2: Pisa + Riomaggiore, Cinque Terre

How to get there: Train from Firenze S.M Novella station to Pisa station (1 hour). After spending 2 or 3 hours in Pisa, take a train from Pisa station to Sarzana station and then from there to Riomaggiore (1.5 hours). At the end of the day, take a train from Riomaggiore to Spezia station and then back to Florence (1.5 hours).

Where to stay: Back in Florence.

Things to see:

  • Piazza dei Miracoli where you’ll find the Pisa Cathedral, Leaning Tower, Bapistry and Cemetary
  • Riomaggiore village (if you have time you can hike or take a boat to the other villages of the Cinque Terre)

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Day 3 – Day 5: Riccione

How to get there: Train from Firenze S.M Novella station to Bologna Centrale station (30 minutes). From there, take a train to Riccione (1 hr 20 mins).

Where to stay: Riccione Hotel Polo (3 stars). I have nothing but good things to stay about this place. It’s located within walking distance from the Riccione train station and beach. The service was excellent – super friendly and helpful, and the room was really cozy. The only remark I have is that the breakfast could have had more variety.

Things to see: Riccione is a charming Italian beach town not known to many tourists hence we spent a great deal of time mingling with the locals, relaxing at the beach and discovering the buzzing nightlife.

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Day 6 – Day 7: Venice

How to get there: Train from Riccione station to Bologna Centrale station (1.5 hours). Then take a train from Bologna Centrale to Venezia S. Lucia (2 hours).

Where to stay: Best Western Montecarlo hotel (3-stars). The location was super convenient, not far from the Grand Canal and Piazza San Marco which was great for us since the only way to get around Venice is to walk or take a boat. For a 3-star hotel, the rooms were surprisingly big. The service and breakfast were great too.

Things to see:

  • Basilica di San Marco
  • Ponte dell’Accademia
  • Grand Canal
  • Ponte di Rialto (Rialto Bridge)
  • Gallerie dell’Accademia (Accademia Gallery)
  • Murano island – famous for its glass making factories

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Day 8 – Day 10: Milan

How to get there: Train from Venezia S. Lucia to Bologna Centrale station (1 hr 20 mins). Then train from Bologna Centrale station to Milano Porta Garibaldi (1 hr 20 mins).

Where to stay: Atahotel Executive (4 stars). Located right across the street from the train station. Being a 4-star hotel, it was much more luxurious than the other 3-star hotels we stayed at. The only thing that bothered me was that we had to pay for Wi-Fi, something the 3-star hotels had offered for free.

Things to see:

  • Duomo di Milano (Milan Cathedral)
  • Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II
  • Quadrilatero della Moda (Shopping district)

Note: During August, the city is quiet and many shops close as locals depart for their summer holiday.

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Have you been to Italy or plan to go? Let me know in the comments!

And so it begins…

It’s been a while since I’ve been on here, forgive me. I’ve been living under a rock the past two weeks trying to get through final exam period, and I can finally say that it’s over. Today marks the beginning of my summer break and I can’t tell you how good it felt waking up this morning knowing I won’t have to open a textbook or type out another essay.

Although technically the semester has ended, I’m going to be spending a lot of time at university this week preparing for the annual outdoors festival. I’m part of the decorations team and this year’s chosen theme is New York city so you can only imagine how creative we’re going to get. Stay tuned for a post next week!

In June I fly over to London for 8 days with my sister. I’ve always dreamt of going there and we’ve never travelled on our own so I’m really looking forward to being the ultimate tourist. Leave a comment if you know of any places I must see 🙂 I’m happy to take any suggestions.

Once I’m back from London I’ll no longer be a tourist but a tour guide because one of my best friends from Australia and my cousin along with his Italian wife are coming to Beirut. They’ve never been here before so I can’t wait to show them what Lebanon has to offer; one of my favorite things to do is show people my country through my eyes. Then after they’ve left I have to plan a surprise 21st birthday bash for one of my closest friends, and what remains of the summer I’ll hopefully spend doing an internship before I go back to university.

My summer in a nutshell. What do you guys have planned? Any of you travelling?

 

Carpe diem (n.)

I always get asked, “What’s the most spontaneous thing you’ve ever done?” and I always respond with a different answer, depending on who’s asking. But this story is too good not to be shared.

Considering I was the good girl growing up, most people are shocked to find out that I crashed a wedding one summer with my best friends. We had planned to do something crazy during the summer so when the opportunity presented itself, we took it.

We were staying at a beach resort up north for the weekend and had gone out for dinner only to come back and find an entire wedding party set up on the beach. As we watched the guests mingling from the balcony, one of my friends suggested we dress up, do our hair, and go to the wedding. At first we all thought she was crazy but eventually we warmed up to the idea (although I needed the most convincing). The only garments we had on us that seemed decent enough for a wedding were long Maxi beach dresses. After complementing the outfit with some accessories and makeup we were ready to go.

To my surprise, there was no security at the entrance of the reception so we gracefully walked across the pool and onto the beach. At that time the bride and groom had just cut the cake so we made ourselves comfortable at an empty table and waited to be served a piece. While I was eating the cake I was constantly looking around to see if anyone would notice us. But then it struck me that if we were unrecognizable to anyone they would assume we were from the other side of the family, and that’s the excuse we used when anyone would talk to us.

Having finished the cake it was time to hit the dancefloor. The DJ was playing the latest hits and we danced the night away with a bunch of random people. I’d never felt so rebellious in my life. The photographer even took a group photo of us! We made it on this couple’s wedding album and they will spend the rest of their life trying to figure out who we are and what we were doing at their wedding. All was good and well up until one of my friends saw someone she knew; at the same time the bride and groom had come back to the dance floor. We took that as our que to leave.

We spent the rest of the night laughing and drinking from a half-empty bottle of champagne that my friend took on our way out.

Till this day I cannot believe how we managed to pull it off, but I have no regrets. It was one of the most amazing experiences of my life.

21

Last night I celebrated turning the big 2-1! Shout out to my amazing family & friends for making it one to remember. It’s such a big milestone for me yet there’s still so much to look forward to. They say your 20’s are your selfish years and I’m definitely planning on making the most of them.

Surprise! Homemade cupcakes

My surprise! Homemade cupcakes

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Riomaggiore, Cinque Terre

Riomaggiore, Cinque Terre

Since we were young we were taught to make the most of our time because “life is short” and “you only live once”. So when the time came for my friends and I to plan a vacation to Italy last summer we made sure we had everything covered: train schedules, hotel check-in/check-out times, duration of travel from one city to the other, every minute of every day was accounted for.We planned to spend our second day in a group of 5 villages known as the Cinque Terre. After waking up late in Florence, barely making the train, and stopping to take photos at Pisa along the way, we finally made it to Riomaggiore which was the first of the 5 villages. But we were behind schedule. Disappointed yet relieved to finally be there, we decided to stay in Riomaggiore for what was left of the day seeing as though it was late and we did not have time to see the other villages. Having walked around the village, gone for a swim and had a delicious Italian dinner it was time to head back to Florence.

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Riomaggiore, Cinque Terre

We had missed the train we originally planned to take back but the tickets we had were valid for 24 hours so we waited for another. At last, another train arrived and we were on our way back to Florence when suddenly the train stopped at a random station and all the passengers were told to get out. At this point in time we weren’t panicking because it wasn’t unusual to switch trains before arriving at the final destination. It was only until we checked the train schedule board and realized there were no more trains going back to Florence that night did it dawn on me how much time and effort had gone to waste planning this day since nothing went according to plan and we were now stuck in a strange town in a foreign country with barely any money, no spare clothes, and low battery on our phones. But then I asked myself, did it matter? You guessed it, the answer was no. What mattered was the genuine laughter that erupted the moment we looked at each other and realized what bad luck we had. Yes, we did not get to see all the villages of Cinque Terre. Yes, we should have checked when the last train was. And yes, we should have packed for emergencies. But were happy, and I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve retold this story. Believe me when I say the highlight of the entire trip was not Milan, Venice, or Florence, but in that random hotel in a random town between Cinque Terre and Florence.Being the organizational freak that I am, I learnt that sometimes it’s okay if things don’t go according to plan. It is those times when time itself seems irrelevant that you truly begin to appreciate life. Was it all that bad that we had missed the last train? I was in Italy with my best friends! Let the good times roll xx