Destin..My Favorite Place To Be

This weekend, I am visiting one of my favorite places–Destin, Florida. I’m so excited because it’s been years since I’ve been to Destin, and I’m here with my siblings. I love it because it’s quiet and the beach is clear, and warm. So lovely!

The weather has been beautiful. Yesterday, it was sunny, with a cool breeze. The forecast predicted rain, but we were so thankful that it turned out to be a gorgeous day.

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This morning, I went for a jog with my sister and brother along the scenic route. It was a great way to start the day. I never used to like exercising while I was on vacation, but now I make it a part of my day, and I enjoy it.

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We made a late breakfast at home, and hit the beach in the afternoon. After we soaked up the sun for a few hours, we lay by the pool for a little while.

Yesterday, we rode a pontoon for the first time, and it was tons of fun! My brother navigated for most of the time while the girls lounged around. We took it out in the early afternoon until the evening, and packed our lunch and snacks with us for the day. I even drove it myself for a while, but it wasn’t long before my sister pointed out that I was going in circles, so I gave the wheel back to my brother. They say I’m not the most skilled driver, but I beg to differ 🙂

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Yesterday evening, my sister Nina and my sister-in-law Areej cooked dinner for us. They made baked chicken breasts with onions and potatoes, quinoa, and avocado and tomato salad. It was yummy and healthy! Today is our last day before we head back to New Orleans tomorrow. I hope you’re having a great a Labor Day holiday, wherever you are!

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Food and Fun with Family

This weekend I visited some of my family in Virginia. I spent time with my aunt, who lucky for me, is a great cook (almost as good as my mom!) I love being with her in the kitchen because she is so knowledgeable about foods and their health and healing benefits. She knows a lot of Middle Eastern home remedies too. I should take notes from her!

On the first night I arrived, she prepared Shawarma with fresh meat seasoned with tons of spices, alongside roasted vegetables from her garden, Mediterranean salad, rice (a staple in Middle eastern cuisine) and fresh, organic yogurt. It was delicious!

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Saturday morning I woke up craving pancakes for some strange reason. I made some for everyone and we ate them with fresh fruit. (even though I really wanted it with bacon!)

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Later that day, I visited my cousin Huda, a practicing esthetician, who is also very health conscious. I get all my natural health & beauty advice from her. It’s so nice to have women in my life who are such a wealth of knowledge in healthy living.

She made me a juice in her VitaMix blender chocked full of fresh fruits & veggies. I’ve been wanting to try the VitaMix for a while now, so I was excited! It is pretty impressive!

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On Sunday, we visited the Eastern market in the Capitol Hill neighborhood. It is Washington DC’s oldest, continually operated fresh food public market. They had tons of neat goodies there. I can’t get enough of these outdoor markets! I bought some gifts and enjoyed and enjoyed all the sights there.

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On our last morning, my aunt sent us off with a proper Mediterranean lunch. This is one of my favorites! Homemade hummus, bread for dipping with olive oil, zaatar, garden tomatoes & cucumbers, pickled olives, sautéed mushrooms, yogurt, and fresh fruit with chai (tea) and mint.

I ate so much good food this weekend, and really enjoyed spending time with my family that I don’t get to see often. I’m grateful I had the chance to do it.

Now, it’s back to New Orleans for me. I’ve been away for a while and I’m looking forward to coming home. I always miss that place when I leave.

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Germany: A Journey in History

The last stop on my trip was Germany. By this time, all the traveling had caught up to me and I was really tired. But I had to push myself because I had been looking forward to seeing Germany. I arrived in Frankfurt and my family, who lives about forty five minutes away in a small town, Diez, greeted me there. It was so nice to see familiar faces when I arrived. When we made it home, my aunt had prepared a nice meal for us and we enjoyed it outside on their patio.

The next day, I stayed at home and took another day of rest. After this trip, I learned that in the future, I will need to build days of rest into my travels. I’m excited about this, since I am finding new ways to better manage my health. It’s progress. However, there wasn’t too much time for rest. We had to start planning our next move. This time I had a little help. My cousin, Nadia planned all the travel arrangements. She is a native German speaker, so it was great.

That evening we went to nearby Limburg, which is known for some of the oldest homes in Germany. Much of the town was destroyed in a devastating fire in 1289, but the homes were rebuilt and their original style was restored. It is a charming little town, and it was a great start to seeing Germany.

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The next day we traveled to Cologne, which is Germany’s fourth largest city. What is really neat about Cologne is that it is located on both sides of the beautiful Rhine river. It was almost completely destroyed in World War II and was later rebuilt. Many of its’ historic buildings were restored, which gives it a dynamic landscape with both old and modern buildings. Also famous, is the Cologne Cathedral, or Kolner Dom. The cathedral was heavily bombed in World War II, but it withstood the damage. It is said that the two spires of the cathedral were used as navigational aids by pilots, which may have saved the cathedral from being completely demolished. Divine guidance? (I couldn’t help but wonder.) I would have loved to spend more time in Cologne exploring its rich history, but unfortunately there wasn’t enough time. We had to move on to our next stop, Berlin!

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We arrived in Berlin Thursday evening. Later that night, I was  excited to reconnect with two of my friends, Sarah and Vivian, who I’d met while they were visiting fellows at CNN. They are both correspondents for one of Germany’s television stations, RTL. It was great to see them and talk to locals’  about their thoughts on German media, politics and history.

The next day, I met Sarah and Vivian for lunch and they gave me a tour of RTL, and I saw CNN’s berlin bureau, which is modest–a small room cramped with tons of television equipment. It was neat to see where our team in Berlin works out of. I’ve corresponded with them a lot at work, so it was neat to see where they actually work.

After my tour of the station, I went out to explore more. Berlin is a fascinating city. There is so much history in one place, yet it’s also a thriving, modern city. There’s so much to see there, you need at least a week. We only had two full days, so we had to make the most of it. On our first day, we visited the Brandenburg Gate, or Brandenburger Tor. It was originally built as a symbol of peace in 1788. It suffered serious damage in the war, and was only fully restored in 2000. It is now considered a symbol of Germany and Europe’s tumultuous past, and a sign of its unity as well. How ironic.

Then, we visited the Reischstag, where the German parliament convenes. I was thrilled to see it for myself. I am fascinated by Germany’s government and it was a treat for me. What a nerd, I know!

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Last, but certainly not least was the Berlin wall.  Its’ importance in German and European history goes without saying. It’s hard to believe that wall came down only a little more than twenty years ago. We also stopped by the East Side Gallery, which is where local artists have displayed their artwork on the wall. It’s really neat to walk along and see all the artwork. It’s a point in the city where history and art collide.

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Germany was a fantastic end to my trip. I am happy to have learned so much about it through my work at CNN, and have had the opportunity to see it myself. Most of all, I am grateful that I was able to experience it in good health.  That was the best part for me!

Lovin’ London Town: Art, Culture & Music

I first visited London in the summer of 2009, and although I enjoyed seeing the royal sites, I wasn’t too keen on the city itself. This time though, I had a chance to get to know it a little better. We arrived in London at about 11p.m. after missing our flight from Nice. Long story. But a lovely lady at British airways booked us on the next flight that evening without charging us a penalty fee. Thank you British Airways!

After a very long day of travel, we made it to our hotel after midnight. The next day, I was exhausted. My body was talking to me, and I listened. I rested in bed at the hotel for most of the next day, except for a walk in the evening. Although I was not happy to forfeit a day of sightseeing, the rest was much needed. Traveling can be exhausting, and proper rest is essential to keeping your immune system strong, and staying healthy while traveling. The next day I was rested and ready to explore the city.

I visited the Tate modern museum which has a fabulous collection. I really liked one exhibition by artist Chen Zhen. The museum featured his late works which reflect the experience of chronic illness through fragile combinations of everyday objects. Zhen had a strong interest in healing, and intended for his work to have a therapeutic and meditative aspect. He suffered from a serious blood disease for more than twenty years, that sadly took his life.

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I was moved when I read about Zhen and saw his work. I have developed a compassion for stories of people who face health struggles, since my own experience. I was inspired by Zhen’s resolve to create art that expressed his own struggle with illness.

I also visited St. Paul’s cathedral later that evening. It is a beautiful site, sitting on the highest point in the city of London. I always enjoy visiting religious places of worship when I travel. I find it warming to watch people from different faiths and backgrounds appreciate these sites, regardless of their own religious beliefs.

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The next day, I visited the Portobello market, at the suggestion of a close friend of mind who studied in London. It is a delightful stretch of outdoor and indoor markets filled with antiques, specialty shops, modern goods and cafes and restaurants. It is by far, my favorite market that I’ve visited in all of the cities I’ve traveled to! You really need a whole day just to look and be dazzled by all the sights there. I want to go back just to go to there again!

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On my last day in London, I joined my friend Sophie at a music festival at Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. I am not a dedicated music follower myself; she is a true music lover. But I am happy that she invited me to the festival. Being surrounded by thousands of people who love and appreciate music was energizing and uplifting. It gave me an opportunity to witness the universal power of music. I think it is one of those rare things that transcends race, religion, and profession, among other things. Being in the middle of it all gave me a greater appreciation for music, and its ability to move people. I also got to see Jay Z and Justin Timberlake perform, who were fantastic!

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By the end of my time in London, I had fallen in love with the city. It was kind of like when you meet someone for the first time, and you don’t think much about it. But when you get to know them better, you realize you like them a lot, after all. Overall, I had a wonderful time there and I would love to visit again. I was secretly hoping that princess Kate would give birth while I was there. I surely would have been in line to witness the spectacle. (Yes, I love Kate Middleton!) Oh well. Cheers to London and a healthy royal baby!

My next and final destination was Germany, which I will follow up with in my next post.

Have you visited Europe? If so, what was your favorite place? What did you love about it?

Charmed by the Côte d’Azur

There is something about traveling that is healing. It’s good for the soul. It may be the spectacular views of the sea, or the hilltops splashed with sunlight. It may be the thrill of exploring a place that is completely new to all your senses. Perhaps it’s a mixture of these things, but I think most people who have a passion for traveling would agree. I find it both fascinating and humbling to have witnessed the sights of the south of France this past week. It was truly marvelous.

We spent three days each in Nice and Cannes. Nice was quite charming to me. Despite that I’d heard it is very touristy, I thought it was authentic and inviting. The locals were kind and friendly.We spent much of our time there on the beach, which I can never get enough of. We also traveled to Eze village, a small town about 30 minutes outside of Nice. It is filled with tiny artisan shops and cozy restaurants built into narrow, winding streets. We took a bus from Nice to Eze and the scenery was beautiful. Eze village sits high in the hills, which makes for gorgeous views. I enjoy visiting smaller towns because of the intimacy they offer.

On Sunday afternoon we arrived in Cannes. I couldn’t sleep the previous night, so I suffered through the next day. Even our host mom at our bed & breakfast noticed how different I was! I recently read that sleep deficiency causes inflammation in the body of an average, healthy person. When you don’t get at least 6 hours or more of undisrupted sleep, your body produces C reactive protein (CRP).

My body is already on inflammation over drive, so when I don’t sleep, my health immediately takes a hit. In other words, I become another person! And I don’t like her! However, I managed to get through the day of hauling my suitcase up and down stairs, on and off trains, and in and around hotels. I was so relieved when we finally made it to our hotel in Cannes. We took the train to Cannes which was a quick & smooth 30 minute ride. So easy!

I was looking forward to visiting the famed site of of the Cannes film festival, the Palais des Festivals Et des Congres. Although I’d also heard that Cannes is more enjoyable to visit, I adored Nice. Cannes is very flashy and full of high-end, designer shops on the Croisette, the main street on the beach promenade. And although that’s fun to revel in (and fantasize), I much rather quaint shops with character and old world charm. However, this is not to take away from the fabulous city of Cannes, its beautiful shores and sparkling glamour.

It does boast plenty of culture and art. We visited La Malmaison museum whose current exhibition is a collection of nude artwork by Picasso. I loved it! There were tons of museums to visit. You’d need a week just to see the museums alone.

One of my favorite experiences while in Cannes was drinking a cafe au lait on Rue de St. Antoine. I have almost completely eliminated coffee from my diet, because it doesn’t work well with my medicine, but I saved my last night to indulge. Mmmm! What a privilege it was to have a cafe au lait in a tiny, corner cafe on a street in the south of France. Blessed!

On our last day in France, we visited the town of Antibes. This was my favorite part. It was a small town filled with local artisan shops, restaurants and patisseries. The beach was smaller, but it was lovely. The shore is surrounded by a fortress, and it gives the beach an exclusivity that is I wish we had more time to spend there. I would love to go back again!

I was sad to leave France. It didn’t take long to feel both welcomed and acquainted there. Yet, it felt like a dream too. When I look at my pictures, it seems surreal. I hope to return again someday, and take my mom and dad there. I know they would truly marvel in appreciate the wonder that is the Cote d’Azur.

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A Long Way to Nice

We arrived in Nice Thursday afternoon after a very long day/night of traveling. But it is so lovely! Although I wasn’t feeling well all day yesterday, I am thankful that I feel much better today. I had a lot of stomach pain, and I wasn’t able to hold down any food down for most of the day. And I thought I’d packed all the medicine I needed for my trip, but sadly I forgot one that I needed.

So, traveling was a struggle for me. Our flight from Atlanta to New York wasn’t so bad. But our flight from New York to Nice was delayed, and we ended up having a five and a half hour layover. Long layovers are not fun at all! I started to feel anxious on the flight, because I felt like an attack was coming on. As soon as I started to feel it, I took my medicine like my doctor advised. Thankfully, the flight attendant was very helpful and kind. I asked the her for a cup of water to take my medicine, and although they were not serving refreshments yet, she was more than happy to help. That was such a relief, because sometimes I hate to bother and ask for anything.

I also learned that Delta serves vegan and non-lactose alternative meals on their flights, which I am excited about. (Ahh, the things that excite me these days.) I am not a vegetarian, but I do prefer to eat vegetarian meals when I am traveling, because it seems to be easier on my stomach. And although I love ice cream and cafe au laits, dairy does not react well with my medication, so I have to try really hard to stay away from it. Sadness. Anyhow, next time I fly international, I will definitely order those meals. (You have to request in advance when you book your flight.)

When we arrived in Nice, we had no trouble finding the bus and getting to ourbed & breakfast. We were exhausted, so we took a long nap. I thought this would help me feel better, but when I woke up, I still had some pain and discomfort. Later on that evening, we went to dinner and unfortunately, that didn’t work out too well for me 😦

We walked around the city a bit, and when we turned in for the night, I was feeling disappointed and anxious again. When I lay down for bed, I said to myself, out loud, “I am only feeling this way today. This will not set the tone for the rest of my trip.” I took a deep breath, and said my prayers asking for better health the next day. When I woke up, I felt much better.

I awoke with an overwhelming sense of gratitude, and excitement. You see, when good health is not a constant part of your life, you gain an appreciation for both the simple and extraordinary things …from the sunshine of a weekday afternoon, to the magnificent shores of the Côte d’Azur. I hope that good health will prevail for the rest of my trip. Here are some photos below of Nice, and our charming bed & breakfast.

To good health,
Summer

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My Summer Travels

Tonight I am taking off on a trip to Europe. I am writing from New York’s JFK airport waiting for my flight to depart. I am very nervous about traveling because of my health. Last year I traveled to Greece and Turkey with my sisters, and I got very sick when I returned. I nearly ended up in the hospital, again. I begged my doctor not to admit me, and bargained a deal with him. I know my limits!

This year, I will be traveling with my friend Sophia, to the south of France. We plan to visit Nice, Cannes, and smaller towns on the coast. Then, we will travel to London for five days. From there, I will fly to Frankfurt to visit my family and friends throughout Germany.

Although I love traveling, I do not enjoy it the way I used to because of my health, and this makes me sad. My family and friends keep asking me if I am excited about my trip, and although I really want to be, I am mostly anxious and afraid I will get sick. I think people perceive me as being negative in this way, but I’m not. I’m just afraid because of my past experiences with my illness. But I will do the best I can to think positive. I know what a blessing it is to be able to travel abroad, and I have worked hard to save my money for this trip. I pray that I will be healthy and strong enough to enjoy it.

I am really looking forward to visiting Germany. I learned a lot about it through my job at CNN and I was fascinated by it. Earlier this year, I applied for a journalism fellowship in Germany, but I was not chosen for it. I was so disappointed, but I decided I would still see it for myself. My sister Ivan always says, where there’s a will, there’s a way.

This is my way.

I’ll be posting about my travels while I’m there…and hopefully healthy!