Cries from Syria

so HBO released this much awaited documentary on Syria and its been few hours but i’m still recovering from the impact of it.

please, i beg of you, if there is a beating heart and a conscience in you, kindly watch #criesfromsyria. all this fucked-up, nonsensical, racist rhetoric from all right-wing politicians around the globe focusing on this singular most magnified humanitarian crisis will sound exactly that, FUCKED UP.

the roots of how the revolution started is eerie, heart-wrenching. following multiple revolutions that arised in tunisia, libya and egypt during arab spring, syrian children started painting “you are next, dr. bashar” on school walls. slowly, those same children were kidnapped and brutally tortured to death by assad’s army.

delivering the tortured corpses of these children to their families, especially the mutilation of limbs and genitalia of 13yo hamza al-khatib led to a collective rage and massive protests by the syrian people against the regime. before you know it, there are multiple leaders and activists leading peaceful marches in all major cities. one activist that really stood out to me was giath matar. he led protests in the city of daraya and he appeased to syrian soldiers with flowers and bottle of water. ofcourse, his fate was later sealed in the brutal hands of syrian army, who tortured and killed him after keeping him captive for three days. even his burial shrine was guarded by soldiers for days after because of the sheer, symbolic power matar embodied.

i shiver while i try to write a recap of this harrowing documentary, like that’s how much i have been affected watching cries from syria. the issue of syria has been on my peripheral vision since arab spring but the severity of the civil war that has been continuing for 6 years now has always been a contained background noise. for an individual like me whose heavily invested in american politics, israel-palestine conflict and other subcontinent issues, syrian war seemed a confusing, never-ending saga that american mainstream media simply ignored. the average person around me doesn’t give two shits about wars in middle east, famine in somalia, tsunamis in asia etc etc. most (if not all) privileged citizens of the first world nations are apathetic to the extremes of inhumanity. we have blinders on good days, we indulge in frivolous pop culture bullshit, we spend shit load of money to keep sane and maintain some typa lifestyle. but also to be fair, many of us are embroiled within the confines of domestic fuckery, whether the issues deal with racism, healthcare, police brutality, sexism, women’s heath rights, citizens rights under NSA surveillance etc etc.

we are kinda living in a pretty fucked up country ourselves. our current government is barely functional, our election was the grand puppetshow mastered by putin, a rapist is the current Potus.. like just thinking about the current climate makes me want to cry. however, so as not to digress, the major difference between us and syrians are that none of our cities are under siege. there are no blockades to food and aid. our government doesn’t have the army breaking down doors, kidnapping children or killing protestors in broad daylight. cnn tends to make it seem like america is heading to war when clashes erupt between protestors and cops or store windows being broken etc. matter of fact, America isn’t in any civil war and these candyfloss journos should take notes from brave reporters who actually live amidst actual wars. we think that as a nation, we are heading towards a fascist regime but we haven’t yet and most probably, we won’t either. but syrians are under a gridlock by a war-criminal of a leader who uses chemical weapons against his own people while UN and the leaders of the “civilized nations” just mourn behind closed doors.

my head hurts, it is snowing outside, i’m sitting comfortably on my bed pondering how far-removed i am from the atrocities, pain and suffering felt by many millions of women, children, old people and men right now. i know i don’t have the power to do much but donate to trustworthy organizations, spread the word on my useless social medias, call up my inept congressmen and google adoption policies. i feel so obsolete, so paralyzed to be born into privilege of freedom, education, comfort and yet not knowing how to utilize this for the greater good. i want to be more proactive, i want to gain more knowledge, i want to remain steadfast and compassionate and i sure in hell have ample raging vocabulary to obliterate anyone who dares spews hateful rhetoric on syrian refugees.

but is any of this enough? what is the tipping point in a story with monsters and dead children? what is the endgame of beautiful, old cities bombarded to rubble and ashes? what is the power of the muslim ummah if the muslim leaders themselves are the actual apostates? so many what ifs, all i can feel is a dejected “what the fuck, God?”

please visit http://www.criesfromsyria.com to learn more, to donate, to be involved. #criesfromsyria is one hell of an hour and a half documentary directed by evgeny afineevsky. you will definitely cry, you will understand patriotism, you will surely cherish freedom.

61-Hani-CharafIn memory of Giath Matar – picture from The Resurrection Project by Jaber Al Azmeh 

 

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Whimsical Prague

i landed at vaclac havel airport around 930 pm, hopped into bus #119 outside the terminal to nadrazi veleslavin and transferred to tramA heading to depo hostivai. i relied on my google maps print out and unfortunately got off at an earlier stop and walked a good 20minutes through quiet mala strana cobblestone streets to reach my accommodation. that walk was quite panic-driven for me because here i was, in an unknown terrain, a woman solo-doling with my carryon and backpack and praying silently that i don’t run into any rowdy crowd of goons. or that i don’t get mugged. or worse, that i don’t get sexually assaulted. these are some legit fears you carry when you are a solo-female traveler walking under the moonlit skies, you believe you have a lot of things under control but there will also be times that you are lost and just trying to navigate. soon enough, through a lotta huffing and puffing, i reached the super chic hostel santini, settled into my room and breathed a sigh of relief. i pinched myself, freshened up and headed to the front desk to inquire about a local spot to grab some czech food and beer. I was pointed to the direction of charles bridge, a good 7 minute walk and to try the food at Lokal. I refilled my bottle with water, stashed korunas into my wallet and headed out. this time around i had no fear although it was close to 1130 pm and here i was, walking alone again; but mala strana area is filled with late-night revelers, tourists, happy-drunkards just doing their thing and before i knew it, i was inside Lokal getting introduced to spicy sausage w/ horseradish & mustard + rye bread and the best beer i ever had, pilsner urquell.

img_2616dinner at Lokal

after that fulfilling meal and couple of pilsners, i walked to the iconic charles bridge. i wasn’t carrying my nikon D40 or my gopro so the pressure to take perfectly lit photos was non-existent and so i simply walked around, marveling at each statue as if they were created by God himself. i was enveloped in this marvelous bubble, it was close to 1 am, there were couple of people walking around but at that moment looking out at the dark vltava river, i was completely free. i had nowhere to go, nowhere to be, i was in prague and it felt like i was living a dream.

statues on Charles Bridge 

dobre rano 🌞

so let’s say you hate walking, like you are a lazy fartbomb of some sort, in that scenario you have to visit prague. walking on the streets here are a joyous art on its own, like if i had a fitbit on, i may have walked close to 40k steps on my short stay here. the air, the boutique stores around, the restaurants, the hustle and bustle of czechs and tourists alike are infectious and i was really so happy to be part of this city’s vibes. my first morning there, i chilled a while on charles bridge, walked through notorious karlova street and finally stood in the middle of old town square to gleefully take in the surrounding beauty and centuries old history of church of our lady before Tyn, the astronomical clock and jan hus memorial.

regal horses in front of church of our lady before Tyn

Processed with Snapseed.me in front of the astronomical clock

i was kind of hustled into buying tickets for a hop-on-hop-off bus tour that takes you to important landmarks and you can hop off on any stop and wait another 20minutes or so to hop on to the next bus. due to lack of time, i had to skip the stop on st. vitus cathedral and instead hopped off by most legii bridge and walked past rows of art nouveau buildings to check out the dancing house. this interestingly designed Frank Gehry architecture has been on my bucket list for years and this building was built on a site where americans mistakenly bombed during WWII.

art nouveau buildings

the dancing house

autumn foliage from most legii bridge 

one cultural aspect that was particularly amusing to me was the unspoken traffic rules — czech drivers has a habit of speeding like unhinged maniacs but they also abruptly hard brake at crosswalks for pedestrians to pass. i would usually wait for speeding cars to pass before crossing but i also got yelled at by annoyed drivers motioning for me to walk, as if they are deeply offended that there’s even doubt of their cars hitting pedestrians. i’d end up hastily crossing streets with a smirk and a shake of my head, the cultural mores of different lands are so fascinating for my mind. also like many travelers, i’m very big on food. when it came to street food, this wonderful lady cooked up the perfect crepe with nutella and her partner made me a cup of hot chocolate and they both exuded so much warmth. i also tried the staple dish beef ghoulash accompanied by couple of pints of the finest pilsners. the flavors on the ghoulash gravy were quite interesting and not something i’m used to yet my food soul was thoroughly satisfied.

nutella palazincka – czech street food

thick, delicious hot chocolate

beef ghoulash

i also had the delightful pleasure to check out an outdoorsy market where vendors were selling handcrafted items like journals, tableware, woodwork etc and other vendors were selling olive oils, spices and jewelry. i was very excited to purchase a handcrafted keychain with a wolf carving, malachite stone jewelry for my sister and wooden spatulas for my kitchen. i swear, this cute faced spatula is my most favorite purchase from my euro trip.

my beloved spatulas

one of my main goals when planning my itinerary was to visit klementinum library, famed to be one of the oldest and most beautiful libraries in the world. klementinum library is located on the ground floor of the astronomical clock so the tour started off with a visit to mirror chapel and a long steep climb through a circular, narrow staircase to the baroque library. we were enlightened with history lessons on jesuits, astronomers and later on had to take a final climb on a shaky, ancient wooden staircase to reach the roof of the astronomical clock where we were hit with cold burst of strong winds along with magical panoramic views of the city.

klementinum library

ancient Czech text

with a view like this, who needs a postcard?

i grew up watching hollywood movies shot in prague and since i was a kid, this whimsical city had been on my bucket list. i’m fortunate and deeply blessed to have planned a short trip here last fall and i know that the next time i do visit, prague castle and st. vitus cathedral will be at the top of my list. this city is diverse, people are warm and the food and beer here are super affordable. i spent a lot of time walking around charles bridge and also made a wish to st. john’s of nepomuk statue (read up on this statue, people actually take this superstition seriously). on my last night there, i watched the sunset standing next to carolo quarto statue while the prague castle lit up. my happiness knew no bounds at the view and i also had an opportunity to shoot some nighttime photography. prague will always hold captive the strings of my heart and one day soon, i hope to return.

dsc_0266carolo quarto statue

dsc_0267st. salvator church

dsc_0270bprague after sunset

Aftermath of 11/09

it’s day 3.

i wake up and the first few minutes i just sit in silence waiting for it to dawn on me that this isn’t a nightmare. then it hits me like a hammer, i suppress the involuntary urge to cry out loud and reluctantly get out of bed to start my day.

i can’t honestly deal. i suffered a major anxiety attack couple of months back due to personal bullshit and since then, it has taken a solid few weeks to rebuild my internal mental blocks and homeostasis. it was hard, took a lot of courage and i’m adamant not to lose sight of my mental stability.

but now i’m riding on a panic-driven roller coaster with no sense of stoppage. my family, friends, and coworkers are all in duress. we have no idea what may happen on our commute, who in our family may get racially attacked, would one of us fall victim to discrimination next? we are all in fear of safety, of religious intolerance, of deportation & so many other unconstitutional breaches. it is not vocalized but there is a palpable fear of white supremacy seething into our regular lives and we don’t want this, we want to avoid it like a fucking plague.

what happened election night is a colossal fuck up that all americans will gradually have to be held accountable for generations to come. mainstream media, news media, far-right, far-left & centrist pundits, MAGA voters, Dem voters, Lib voters, Green voters, we are all responsible for this storm that is to come. i’m a proud democrat yet i now feel guilty that with my candidate losing, i’m somewhat responsible for the global trepidation that has been imposed. i feel disillusioned, my eyes burn from tears, i feel hopeless that the party representing my staunch liberal beliefs is beyond fractured. right now, DNC chair is up for grabs and i sincerely want DNC elitists to take a backseat and let the true progressives lead. we are tired of behaving like predictable moderates and it is time to re-think, re-invent, reclaim what our beliefs truly mean and FIGHT for it. if we have any desire to take control by 2020, we need to rebuild and we need to start RIGHT NOW. let’s cut the holier-than-thou bullshit & listen to the disenfranchised base.

i have wasted enough time since election night arguing with smug sanders voters, angry sanders voters & third -party voters on why we lost. we argue over the unbelievable losses of PA, MI, WI. swing states that generally lean blue had turned red & we couldn’t fathom what the fuck happened. we discuss possible impeachment, then roll eyes at pence’s track record. we sign our names to abolish electoral college, then we lament the possible overturning of obamacare, roeVwade, dodd-frank. whatever President Obama had set in motion & his 8 year legacy had been invited to burn in hell and we are the silent observors. and we still can’t fucking believe that a  p**** grabbing, bigoted, racist, chauvinistic con-artist is taking over the baton. at times we fight among ourselves, we blame each other, we curse out the other 49% who voted against us. our livelihood is in disarray while we adsorb the reality that we have lost house, senate & scotus for a generation. we are left with no check & balance in our government come january 20th and all democrats are rightfully pissed the fuck off.

all said and done, i miss receiving text messages from Hillary Rodham Clinton’s campaign. i’m proud of the campaign she has run and how gracefully she had conducted herself in the debates and rallies. i’m proud that i took my father to the polling station and voted for our first female presidential candidate. i’m however enraged that America did not trust an experienced politician to be the commander-in-chief and chose a volatile, bankrupt and insecure jock with the nuclear codes. i’m amazed yet not shocked at the sexism & hypocrisy that surrounds us but is deeply underplayed and i promise to continue advocating and screaming feminism at every corner. i also understand that Clinton may not have been the most inspirational or even the perfect candidate for hordes of voters to rush to polls; but the fact that a possibility of going back to 1930s Germany didn’t deem to be critical concern for millions is disconcerting. is our education system from the elementary years a complete failure or as human species, we have desensitized so profoundly that we pay no heed to recurring eras of brutal history because of self-interests?

i don’t have the heart to get into the technicalities behind the tyranny we await. i was heavily invested in this election since 14 months now and the forecasted “definite” win that unraveled into a devastating shitshow has left me desolate. i’m vexed, i’m unforgiving, i’m ashamed. we have entered the twilight zone of a circus zoo and the worst part is, we don’t know what the fuck we are dealing with. we assume the worst, we fear the known praying that it remains the unknown, we attempt to normalize the abnormal. we need a reset button. or we can just continue bolstering the sale of happy pills and booze hoping to ease the pain. we as a nation is divided and i wish the like-minded states could unite and secede from the rest of the land of stupids. but that’s like living a fairytale and we’d rather sleep with eyes open in dystopia.

whPresident Obama’s WH staff watching the Potus’s speech on 11/09/16

#ByeFelicia

While I was having the time of my life traveling in Europe, I had received quite a few messages from women acquaintances or/and friends with a spectrum of reactions and questions.

“Who did you go with?”

“Why did you go?”

“Are you seriously traveling alone?”

“What tragic heartbreak led you to to embark on this journey?”

“How do you have the courage to do this?”

I ignored some and responded to few though with a side order of major annoyance. I wish the curiosity or nosiness could have been positive, lighthearted and more like “Tell me about your favorite cuisine” or “What was your favorite city?” because as an inquisitive mind myself, I’d think those are normal inquiries. But alas, I was stuck with a thorny end of a stick and the forever condescending tone that made me cringe and roll my eyes. Let’s be clear on a few things — I’m a grown ass, independent woman with an adventurous mind and when I want to do shit, I go ahead and do it. I don’t need to ask anyone and most importantly I don’t give two rats ass about sheeps opinions who are just robotic victims to their cultural and societal mores. I have varied interests and choose to do things that are organic, cool, inspiring and sings to my soul. I don’t follow, I don’t lead, I create my own path and I live for me. Traveling to me is a religion that has recently been awakened and because I understand the power of a passport, I plan to visit as many cities as possible, explore food and cultures, dwell in their histories and create memories that enlighten my mind, body, heart and soul.

I got immune pretty quick to the negativities I was objected to; i guess it would be a matter of pride and manhood if I had a penis instead but since I’m a woman, my choices should be cross-examined, pitied or felt sorry for. When planning, I seriously lack the patience to rely on friends/family to book tickets or argue with me on itinerary details; and I’m not sorry that I have the utmost freedom to wake up whenever I want in different cities, eat and drink whatever the hell I want and visit as many landmarks & museums I can without hearing groans, complains or how boring all these shenanigans can be. I’m very comfortable with myself and most importantly, I love and trust myself that I would no other. I didn’t have the time in my travels to be sad, feel lonely or wallow in despair because I was too carefree, running from one spot to another and simply in love with the different airs I breathe.

To answer the lame questions above, it doesn’t really matter who I travel with or why I chose to travel or what consequences made me travel because end of the day, this is my life, my rules, my reality. I will do me and people may continue hating or burning up in envy but I also hope that deep down, someone gets inspired and maybe live a little? or maybe not, who cares because these judgemental opinions won’t faze me and while all that yapping fades to echoes, I’ll still have the look that clearly says #ByeFelicia.

“Bizarre travel plans are dancing lessons from God” – Kurt Vonnegut

Infatuation with Berlin

I embarked on my first solo journey this fall and there could not have been any other city to embrace my soul than Berlin. Berlin has been on my bucket list since I was a teenager blogging on xanga and to finally make a trip there a decade or so later is surreal, to say the least. Now that I have sat down to write about my adventures, I kind of don’t know where to begin to describe my lovefest with this eclectic,  tolerant, individualistic city — perhaps I should start off with great-tasting beers that cost less than a bottle of water.

img_2276Berliner Pils

As an American, we have an ironically humorous definition of freedom. We are allowed to open-carry in most states but not open-drink on streets or in trains or smoke inside bar/restaurants. I was amused when I first witnessed Germans drinking beers while chit-chatting in trains+trams & I knew I had to do the same. So I walked into a corner store, asked for a local brew and the kind gentleman referred Berliner pilsner. I paid a measly €1.25, walked out to the bright sunlight, gulped 2 sips, cracked a smile and continued walking on Rosenthaler Platz. I had tasted freedom Europeon style for the first time and trust me, I loooooved it.

dsc_0074Streets on Jewish Quarters

Berlin is a grand city with many historic streets to gasp at and landmarks to sight-see. As a traveler, one should take advantage of the super-advanced, efficient, and timely rapid transit system. Initially when I viewed the Sbahn/Ubahn & tram map with all lines overlapping or interconnecting, I was slightly overwhelmed. But upon my landing at Schonefeld airport on that cold, autumn night, I practically had to run to catch Rtrain on platform 4 towards Friedrichstrabe and that’s when I had an epiphany of sorts — I ride New York City MTA on a daily basis and the level of high stress and anxiety I endure perhaps prepared me to deal with superior transit systems in other parts of the world. End of the day, navigating different neighborhoods of Berlin via train, tram or bus was effortless (at €3.30 per trip with transfer) and seemed like I was doing just fine without a car or Uber.

email1Beautiful trams

email2Nordbahnhof station

Before I delve into the details of my touristy shenanigans in this intricate, compact & methodized city, I’d like to share my spontaneous decision to head to a trance club at 1230 am via tram & Ubahn. Whether you are travelling with siblings, friends, partner or #solodolo, if you have an ounce of love for music, you must add a trance club in the itinerary. Germans party true, I mean they party hard all night and into the sunlight of 10am. Europeons from all over the continent go to Berlin to let loose because the clubbing culture is frank, open-minded and non-judgmental. I have been a witness to many insane things happening once I was granted entry into the club and even if my feathers were ruffled a bit, I went back to doing me, i.e. dancing to pure trance. On one of my respites, I made friends with cool french girls from Lyon who were in the midst of a snow transaction and were equally horrified when I complimented Berlin’s cleanliness. One girl chimed in, “noo, but everyone considers Berlin so dirty. You must visit Hamburg and see how clean that city is. Berlin is very, very dirty.” I told her I don’t doubt her words but she should give me the benefit of the doubt since I’m from New York & our streets and subways are puke-worthy filthy. The girls laughed, sighed and had heart eyes speaking about how they want to visit New York so badly, right after they snorted some of the good stuff. I smiled, took swigs off my pilsner lubs and was thinking that this is another wish off my bucket list; I have finally raved in Berlin & I’m in zen. It was an all-nighter for me at the club and I left for my hostel few hours prior to my flight out scheduled at 11 am. I will reiterate how super safe riding in the most-accommodating and timely rapid transit was to me but also be aware that the key to utmost safety is to have your senses intact, follow your instinct and apply common sense.

img_2291Raving for the trance Gods

I did not sign up with any tours groups to guide me in exploring Berlin. I did my homework from before and because of my passion for history, I also had an extensive knowledge of Berlin’s dark history. My first stop was Berlin memorial (more on next post) and to reach there, I walked through yesteryear streets of East Berlin and Jewish quarters.

Jewish victims of Fascism sculptures

I was greeted by these hauntingly painful sculptures before entering the oldest Jewish cemetery in Berlin & I knew the walk will be a tough one. This cemetery’s history is ancient (built in 1600s) & dire. During Hitler’s regime, gestapo destroyed majority of the tombstones & turned the cemetery  into a prison camp for the Jews. During WWII, this cemetery had seen a mass grave of civilians, soldiers & thousands of Jews. Walking around this well-kept cemetery & reading German inscription in the memorials, I was tearing up even though I can’t understand a single word of German. The sad history weighed on me and I realized I didn’t have the courage to visit a concentration camp this trip. I couldn’t cry on this journey I was partaking in & I promised myself that I will visit next time. Because with Berlin, there will always be a next time for me — deep infatuations never completely cease, you see.

Ackerstrabe

Dear Istanbul

Planning a short layover in Istanbul was one of the best decisions I made as a functioning adult. After landing at the beautiful Ataturk Havalimani airport and checking in my carry on at the baggage locker, I hailed a cab and rushed off to Sultanahmet district, the epitome of grandeur and romanticism.

Quirky architecture

Hot models of Suvari 😉

My cab driver was an older gentleman with the kindest green eyes and a warm smile but he did not know where my first destination Basilica Cistern was. I got a little nervous as expected since I did not know the language but a fellow Turkish traveler hearing this exchange next to me had tried his best to translate, yet the driver seemed unsure. Nobody knew the Turkish name for Basilica Cistern so I simply gave up and told him to take me to ‘Aya Sofia’. I had done enough research to know that the attractions I was curious about were walking distance to each other.
The cab ride through the highway of Istanbul was splendid to say the least. I was in awe of the quirky architecture displayed in many buildings and the air, though very hot and humid sang to my relaxed mood. We were driving in parallel to the Bosphorous sea and soon enough, I was dropped off on a street with carpet boutiques and kebab shops.

Highway in Istanbul

Since I had “tourist” plastered on my forehead, I was lured into one of the carpet boutiques by one of the shopkeepers who showed me few of their carpet and rug collection. He was very eager and ready to ship the carpets via DHL to my residence but I politely declined and instead stared at the workmanship of the lady who was threading a rug. I had to take my leave right after and started my walk uphill on a cobblestone path.

Upon arrival to the crowded and bustling Sultanahmet Square, I was in pure shock for the first few minutes as I took in my surrounding and the ancient history that I was in the midst of. I was standing by the benches in the middle point, under the blazing heat of the Turkish sun, surrounded by the magnanimity of Hagia Sophia, Blue Mosque, Obelisk of Theodosius. But I was on a mission and I started looking for any signs of Basilica Cistern. I found the entrance soon enough, bought a ticket for 20 TL and walked the long stairs down. The air instantly turned cool and I could hear the breeze and soft echoes of visitors conversations. I was welcomed by the dim lit enclosing, the grand columns help up high and sounds of the water as I stood in one private spot and just breathed. I was standing inside the largest ancient cistern, constructed back in the 6th century and for a history nerd like myself, this could easily be the definition of heaven. I walked around the cistern, touched the gothic-looking columns at times and also played with a few colorful coy fishes before heading to the Medusa heads. This small area was the most crowded and I didn’t find the twin Medusa heads that inspiring to ogle over so I took a selfie or two and headed out.

I walked towards Hagia Sophia and bought a ticket for 40 TL. Upon entrance through the imperial gate to this once-upon-a-time cathedral, later an imperial mosque and now a world-renowned museum, I felt at peace and in sound serenity. Hagia Sophia had been on my bucket list since I was 12yo when I read about the Ottoman Empire and to have finally walked into this opulent Byzantine architecture brought my heart to a sigh. There are no words to describe the kind of peace I felt when I walked the long stone path to the upper gallery to see scriptures of old Quranic relics and stunning Arabic calligraphy hanging on the sides. I was reliving history and loving every second of it.

Cobblestone pathway to Upper Gallery
Hagia Sophia – Upper Gallery

Afterwards, I stepped out into the “largest carpet of tulips” in the world and noticed how this was a big attraction for the people around me. I sneaked into a private spot and took few selfies too. This space was a beautiful, well-maintained rectangular garden of tulips and all the flowers seemed to have bloomed with so much personality and love. I liked observing the affection the people had for these bright, multi-colored tulips; I guess flowers do bring out the hidden delight from even the most reluctant.

snapseed-1Tulip Garden

For light lunch, I grabbed beef kebabs to go from a street vendor and sat on a quiet bench to eat and see long, bright red, packed trams pass by. I was also genuinely surprised to see that the kebab vendor sold pork sausages. As a first time visitor, this was a prime example of the secularism this wonderful city boasted and rightfully represented. I pray to the deity above that this level of secularism maintains for many generations to come and no threat of extremism will overpower this freedom.

StreetTrams

Since time was of rapid fluid essence, I made the major mistake of hailing a yellow cab from Sultanahmet to head to Ataturk Havalimani airport. The main driver along with his sidekick on the passenger seat were the most impulsive, unusual characters I had the misfortune of meeting. I simply told the driver to take a shortcut if possible and he ended up making so many illegal turns, driving super reckless in unbelievable speed and at one point dared to drive the wrong way on a highway while a bus was approaching. I shut my eyes and prayed that I get out of this adventure alive while stuck on a constant panic mode. Upon the arrival to the airport almost an hour later, these scumbags tells me that this shit of a ride cost me 300 TL. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing through my overall shock but I paid up with little arguments and left the cab. Travel tip: Avoid the yellow cabs at all costs — they are scammers and will try to trick you to pay in American dollars or Euros.

No matter the mixed experience I had between exalted high to severe panic attacks, I wouldn’t hesitate to book a ticket to Istanbul again for a much longer trip — there is so much to do and explore in this suave, culturally rich, historically revered city and my nerdy heart wants more, more, more. I simply yearn for you and I miss you, Dear Istanbul.

Blue Mosque

Charleston’s Allure

Charleston, I fell in love with you, at first sight.

Every city has her own character. When traveling, you identify instinctively or simply wait longer to resonate. I was instantly taken by the warmth of the sunshine, the color of the bricks downtown, the architecturally beautiful churches, the occasional cobblestone paths, the fountains, the easy-going attitude of the people and the food.

Charleston Four Corners of Law 

Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist – Brownstone Cathedral built in 1854

I had the most satisfying meal of southern barbecue at Cumberland Smokehouse; beef brisket, collard greens — you name it. My friends and I came across this gem of a spot almost by accident. We yelped hard and waited on a line or two to very happening restaurants in downtown but eventually lost patience and started driving elsewhere when we passed this cabin-looking venue. It was the best decision made, thank the food lords in heaven.

DSC00149Beef brisket with pickles and white bread

My favorite among the sides were the baked beans, mac & cheese. For dessert, there was banana pudding with a secret recipe that the kind waiter indulged us with. Service here was super courteous, quick and the food was absolutely orgasmic. Instead of relying on yelpers reviews and stars, sometimes it’s all about keeping an eye open and making a spontaneous decision.

DSC00148Mac & cheese, collard greens, mashed potatoes & baked beans

Banana pudding

For quick brunch, Sweetwater Cafe in James Island is a cute spot. Menu has a nice selection of eggs benedict and ordering a side of hash with crabmeat totally hits the spot too.

Spinach and green tomatoes egg benedict

Hash with crabmeat

When in Charleston, one must also have oysters. Pearlz Oyster Bar in downtown is a cool, hip spot serving the most delicious fresh oysters. Order a beer, savor the taste of these shelled babies and just live the moment.

    Oysters with horseradish

When doing quick research on what to do in Charleston, a lot of locals and travelers suggested Angel Oak Park that is the home of an ages old live oak tree. The exact age is disputed to be between 500-1,500 years old.

Road to Angel Oak Park

DSC00245Angel Oak Tree

Magnificent bark

I had a splendid time looking acutely at the variety of colors and texture of this ancient tree. Touching these beautiful barks gave out a sense of serenity and calmness momentarily; almost felt like touching a part of history.

Pier at Bowen’s Island

Since Charleston is filled with warm and kind people, one of the locals at a store suggested we head to Bowen’s Island. As evident in the pictures, it was a drive worth it.

Bowen’s Island Restaurant

Green meadows & oyster shells

I couldn’t make time to go on one of the historic gullah tour this trip and I’d like to go back again and again to explore more. Charleston is that perfect picturesque city dripping in history and beauty and a short weekend just doesn’t cut it.

Arthur Ravenal Jr. Bridge

New York City – Gates to Trance Heaven

I’m a New Yorker. Not born here, but bred here. I love everything about this vibrant city, I equally hate many things about this complicated city. However, one thing I can never complain about is the diverse music scene here — whether it is blaring in lounges, clubs, upscale bars, house parties in the city, Queens or Brooklyn. Yes, I will speak for those three specific boroughs because I’m usually laughing and dancing in spots around there.

I’m a huge trance music fan. When I say huge, I mean YUUUUUGE in Sanders term – I am absolutely taken with everything about this genre of music. I love how listening to Mir Omar’s podcast, Gareth Emery’s EFL or Anjuna Deep’s podcast at work keeps me motivated. I love how Above & Beyond, Eric Prydz, Gai Barone music keeps me healthy emotionally. I love how Armin Van Buuren & Araab Muzik makes me want to put on some fresh heels and simply dance away.

I have been to EDCNY festivals few times, I have seen Armin Van Buuren, Above & Beyond, Andrew Bayer perform magical 5 hour long sets in Madison Square Garden, I have been equally mesmerized with Gareth Emery and Eric Prydz live sets in Terminal 5 recently. The immense diversified crowds, the energy that emanates from the surrounding is just awe inspiring. There is barely ever any negativity, just PLUR.

I respect trance music, I appreciate pure trance even more. I love losing myself for those few hours watching these DJs spin the best they got — to which my emotions can relate to, can dance to without any inhibitions. I jump at the first instance when a ticket for one of my favorite DJs goes on sale and I feel so fortunate to live in a city so pivotal that these DJs need to include in their tour dates. I am blessed and I’m a bubble wrapped in excitement when I dress up and head to these venues to just lose myself in the magnetism of trance music. My mind is completely entranced and my heart is in ecstasy for that period of time and that to me is unquestionable freedom.

It can be at times difficult to explain with mere words what these legendary DJs mean to my life, my philosophy, my temperament, my ambitions and my optimism. Unadulterated happiness, my dear friends, has not one specific definition.

 Eric Prydz – Terminal 5

Birth of my Wings

As a child, I had the privilege to travel to quite a few cities with my parents. Dhaka, Medina, New Delhi, Athens, Dubai, Orlando, Michigan, New York, Toronto etc. My memories from those days are as clear & vibrant like it was just yesterday, packing multiple suitcases & trotting from one airport to the next — I will forever be grateful to my father and mother for planting that travel bug in me at that tender young age.

I embarked on my first solo journey by hopping into a greyhound to Charlotte when I was just 19. I barely had money — I just had a duffel bag packed with many colorful Gap t-shirts, a gloss, nail polish, a nokia phone, a sony digital camera and jeans. I was too damn excited to commute to Port Authority from my home in Queens and take that 18 hour long bus ride down south. Roundtrip on greyhound was exhausting at best but I was a young girl with guts & I’d go wherever my heart would take me.

My travels abroad or in the continental USA had however diminished significantly in those critical years of my 20s. I did go on road trips to Montreal, Ann-Arbor, Boston, Washington DC, Lake George here and there but now that I look back, I wish I had planned extensive trips to the mid-west, the west coast, Middle East, Africa or Europe. But regrets aside, I hope to partake in many adventures with different cultures now. I plan to embark on a trip to South Asia in spring and I’m looking into a multi-city tour in Europe for later on this year. Should I visit Dublin, Paris and London first or should I take a 5day trip to Iceland instead? Maybe a long week trip to Berlin & Italy? Decisions, decisions! yet, I can’t wait. The in-depth research, the planning, the bubbling excitement to leave my comfort zone to venture out & be in awe with the nature, the inhabitants, the cuisines, the art, the hustle & bustle in different metropolis. So much to see, to love, to learn, to be wary of.

This year marks the Birth of my Wings. Fly me.

My sister & I in front of the magnificent Taj Mahal, Agra [1992]