Travel tips!

Ever since I started college, I have been on a few trips nationally and internationally, so I decided to compile a short list of tips that could be useful for fellow travel bugs!

- Don’t be afraid of getting lost!

My favourite parts of my travels, especially in Denmark and the United States, were when I did not necessarily know where I was. In Denmark, I was walking around Copenhagen with my friend Peter who knows the city very well. Most of the time, I had no idea where I was or where we were going until he pointed something out. NYC and Chicago were another story. I usually knew I would find a subway station eventually so did not really care.

- Walk, walk, walk!

I don’t think we can really get the feel of a place if we spend our time in cars. Get down on the streets and walk with the locals. If you can bike, do that too!!

- Google Maps, CityMaps2Go, and actual maps might be your best friends.

In case you really don’t want to engage in the whole get lost shenanigans, get an actual map. You can usually find them in news stands and public transit stations. If you prefer something more digital, Google Maps is great because if you use its itinerary function, it does not require internet the whole way. All you have to do is launch the directions and then log off internet, you can save on battery this way. CityMaps2Go is also very useful. All you have to do is download the app and then the maps of the cities of your choice. You get 5 maps for free.

- Take loads of pictures.

You don’t have to have a DSLR to chronicle your travels, your phone will do. Take pictures of everything that seems interesting. And while selfies are cool, try to point the camera the other way from time to time.

- Put your camera down from time to time.

I know this is weird both coming from a photographer and from someone who just told you to take loads of pictures, but really, sometimes you have to put that camera down and actually look at the place. Each city or town I have been to has a special kind of energy. It has sounds, smells, colours, lights that demand to be heard, felt, and seen. Don’t deprave yourself from that by constantly hiding behind a camera. Photographs sure do capture a lot, but not everything!

New York – Part 3

I started off my last 5 days in New York City by making a trip to Chelsea on Sunday. Safae and I decided that it was about time we visited the High Line so we hoped on a subway and made our way to West Village. Considering we had left the house in the late afternoon, we got there there a bit after dark. However, before we got there, we got a bit lost and ended up in the Artists and Fleas shop in the Chelsea Market. While it was Insiders1‘s leather merchandise that attracted my attention on the window display, it is probably Pamela Barsky‘s witty and rather sarcastic pouches, wallets, and purses that had me stick around for longer than planned. I absolutely loved the place and would recommend it to anyone who finds themselves in NYC.

Anyway, back to The High Line! I particularly enjoyed it because I got to take some pictures of the traffic that I have wanted to do for a while but never got them “quite right”. I also decided to play London Grammar’s High Life just because I thought it would be funny. I guess the brisk cold wind, the music, and people’s conversations drowned out by the distant sounds of the city made for a rather cinematic moment.

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One of the traffic pictures that I took. I believe this is 10th Avenue & 23rd Street. I particularly like this one because there are even the silhouettes of the pedestrians crossing the street!

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10th Avenue and 15th Street.

After getting off the High Line, Safae and I joined Ali who was in Midtown shopping. We walked towards Madison Square Garden/Pennsylvania Station in order for me to go to my bank before we made a few stops at different gift shops on 6th Avenue and then heading home.

The following day was rather uneventful. Safae and Ali went shopping in the morning as I slept in and when they came back, we had a quick lunch and then headed over to the airport to pick up our friend Kholoud who will be doing her exchange program this Spring term in University of Dayton, Ohio. Since Kholoud was tired and jetlagged, we stayed in the neighbourhood and had Caribbean food for dinner.

Unfortunately for me, my migraines made a badly timed appearance and kept me up all night. It is safe to say I was very cranky on Tuesday. For Kholoud’s first full day in the city, we decided to walk the Brooklyn Bridge, which Safae and I still had not done so it was very convenient, crowded but convenient.

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The cliche picture of Brooklyn Bridge with the One World Trade Center in the background.

I have to admit that one of my favourite moments throughout my whole stay in New York was when it lightly snowed as we were crossing the bridge! Too bad it did not stick though. I really wanted to see a snow covered New York City.

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You can see the snow a tiny bit on this picture.

Next up was Central Park on a particularly cold late afternoon/evening. Of course we could not go to Central Park without stopping by the playground for a little while. I have to admit the park is rather beautiful around twilight. After that, we made the rounds of the gift stores near Penn Station yet again, before heading back home for dinner and an episode of How to Get Away With Murder. That was around the time my mood was changing towards the better. I owe that to the blues guitar player at the subway station (no videos available since I was too busy dancing!).

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Some of the piers seen from Brooklyn Bridge.

On New Year’s Eve, I decided to go to the movies so I made my way to the BAM Rose Cinemas (the right building this time!!) to watch Wild. Although I have mixed feelings about the movie, I have to say I loved the venue. It is just ridiculously beautiful and I would recommend it for anyone in New York. It is on Lafayette Avenue in Brooklyn. The rest of my afternoon was rather uneventful as I stayed home, had dinner, and then got ready to go out around 10 PM. When I took the subway I ran into a group of 10 Argentinians and 5 Americans and we became somewhat friends as everyone started singing Lion King songs after I introduced myself. I left the group somewhere in Lower Manhattan and made it to the South Ferry terminal just in time for the 11:30 ferry towards Staten Island.

I spent the last minutes of 2014 and the first seconds of 2015 racing a bunch of strangers for the best seat to see the fireworks. From where we were, we could see the fireworks in Lower Manhattan, New Jersey, and Brooklyn. It was magnificent. When I made it back to Manhattan, I walked around town for about two hours. By the time I saw about 3 passed out people on the street, I decided it was time to head back home.

For my last full day in New York, I decided I was not going to take my camera with me because I wanted to feel the place rather than see it through a viewfinder.After packing my bags so I wouldn’t worry about them on my travel day, I made my way to Williamsburg. I got off the subway on the southern side of the neighbourhood and just walked around aimlessly for about an hour and a half. I think that because it was New Year’s a lot of the stores were closed, which was a shame, but that did not stop me from enjoying the place.It definitely made it on my list of favourite places in NYC.

Next stop was Grand Central Station. My initial plan was to sit down at one of the coffee shops in the food court and people watch for a little while. However, because again it was New Year’s, the place was packed and people watching would have been pointless so I decided to make my way towards the Public Library/Bryant Park instead. Of course, because it was around 7PM and a holiday, the Library was closed. I ended up walking around the shop displays in Bryant Park before leaving the area. My favourite display was that of Momo Glassworks. Their glass earrings are absolutely beautiful!

After Bryant Park, and a well deserved coffee, I made my way to the Columbia University campus. I kind of wish I got the chance to be there during the semester to see what it is like when classes are in session. But empty campuses have always held a certain charm that is appealing to me. And charm is definitely something that the Columbia University campus has!

My before last stop was Washington Square Park. I got off the subway at Christopher St. and made my way to the park through Greenwich Village. I’m really glad I did that because I ran into the Bleeker Street Records store which offers a huge number of records, t-shirts, and anything music related. It also has an enormous collection of vinyl records for 99 ¢!! If it were not for luggage weight limitations I would probably have ruined myself in that store. When I got to Washington Square, all I could think of was the movie August Rush. I think it was pretty interesting to be there around 9PM that day. There weren’t too many tourists but sadly no street performers. I did get to find the 1st and 4th Amendments of the U.S. Constitution written with chalk around the main fountain.

My final stop in New York was SoHo. I think that after Crown Heights, SoHo and Williamsburg are a tie when it comes to my favourite neighbourdhoods in NYC. I think part of my liking of SoHo comes from the fact that a few side streets reminded me of Copenhagen. Between the cobbled streets, the bike racks, and the street lamps, I could have sworn I was back in the Danish capital. Sadly, my time in town was coming to an end as I had to meet my friends who were coming back from a day in Philadelphia at a subway station. However, one wrong turn made me make an hour long detour. I ended up walking through Chinatown, Little Italy, and finally reached Tribeca before hopping on a subway and heading towards Crown Heights. But hey, at least now I know where the Tribeca Film Festival takes place!

That was it for my New York experience. My only regret is not having ran into Brandon from Humans of New York.

I made my way to the airport the next day in the early afternoon and caught a red eye flight from JFK to the Casablanca airport where my parents picked me up. Three days later and I am still struggling with the worst jetlag I have had to date. Let’s just hope I fix my sleep schedule before going back to college this Saturday!

Movie Review #3 – The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them (2014)

Director: 

Ned Benson

Producers: 

Cassandra Kulukundis

Ned Benson

Jessica Chastain

Todd J. Labarowski

Emanuel Michael

Writer:

Ned Benson

Starring: 

Jessica Chastain

James McAvoy

Viola Davis

William Hurt

Isabelle Huppert

Jess Weixler

Bill Hader

Ciarán Hinds

Synopsis

One couple’s story as they try to reclaim the life and love they once knew and pick up the pieces of a past that may be too far gone.

*** *** ***

I first heard of The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them last summer. Them is part of a 3 movie project. Ned Benson initially made 2 feature-length movies Her and Him, chronicling the relationship of Eleanor Rigby and Connor Ludlow from both of their perspectives. The two movies, Him and Her, were premiered in 2013 at the Toronto International Film Festival. Later on, Ned Benson made another cut of the movie, Them, that is a mix of Her and Him and was released in September 2014.

I have to say that it is this dual perspective that first attracted me to the story. The trailer itself seemed like almost any other story I have seen before but with a great cast. I spent months looking for the Him & Her double feature at a movie theater I could go to, without avail. So I had to settle for Them which I have just watched tonight.

Let me start of with the cast. James McAvoy and Jessica Chastain do nothing but deliver great performances. Their undeniable chemistry, even though there aren’t many scenes with both of them, and the lengths to which they took their characters gave the whole performance a certain sense of maturity and depth. However, I feel like this was the kind of movie that somehow got me more interested in the supporting cast, and that is saying a lot considering McAvoy is in this! I particularly loved Viola Davis who plays a professor teaching Identity Theory at Cooper Union in New York. It was nice seeing her and Chastain interact on-screen.  I also liked William Hurt, Isabelle Huppert, and Ciarán Hinds as Eleanor’s parents and Connor’s father respectively. Additionally, Bill Hader’s performance was rather compelling and made me want to see him in more substantial roles in the future.

When it comes to the movie itself, I feel like it was marketed wrong. While the trailer says things like “The most romantic love story ever told”, I feel like there was nothing romantic about Them. In fact, I don’t even see it as a love story. It is a story about loss, grief, and family. It also touches on topics of identity and how individuals sometimes define themselves according to the ones surrounding them. And while the story line felt cliché at times, the performance of the cast carried the story very well as it was unfolding slowly. Sometimes, I even felt a bit confused with the way the story was going, but at no moment did I think it was a love story per se. The scene between Eleanor and her father as he is trying to figure out how to help his daughter who is clearly not doing well is probably my favourite. It was the first time we had a hint that there was something more than simply a break-up. Even though I know Them is supposed to be a retelling of both Her and Him, I certainly feel like it is mostly scenes from Her with some of Him thrown in for background story. In other words, I liked the gist of the story and the performances but wish I had a chance of seeing Him & Her instead of Them.

When it comes to the production, visually speaking it is very enthralling. Benson does a good job of using different visual cues to tell more of the story. I particularly enjoyed the “walking” shots where we could see Eleanor through Connor’s eyes as he followed her into class. I also loved the official soundtrack of the movie and would highly recommend it. Son Lux’s music along with classical violin pieces were definitely a good touch. I

New York – Part 2

Picking up where I left off last time!

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No place is immune to the Christmas decorations.

After Ali and I dropped off Amal at the Greyhound station as she headed towards Boston, we got back to the apartment and got some well deserved sleep since we had stayed up til the crack of dawn repacking with Amal the night before. When we finally decided to leave the apartment, we decided to follow one of our hosts suggestions and head over to Bryant Park. However, before leaving Brooklyn, I insisted that we go to an Indian restaurant that Amal and I had gone to on our first day in New York. The restaurant is called Bombay Masala and is about 5 or 6 blocks away from our apartment so we walked there. After a hearty meal, we made our way to the subway station towards midtown Manhattan.

 Because of the impending holidays, Bryant Park was turned into a sort of Christmas market that created a nice belt around the ice rink. There was also a big Christmas tree in the park. I guess the only and main thing I liked was how it all smelled of chocolate because of all the crepes and hot chocolate booths! After Bryant Park, we walked aimlessly around Manhattan before reaching Rockefeller center, which was jam-packed so we just kept on walking until we got into 5th Avenue right in the middle of the Saks Light Show. I have to admit I initially thought it was just people randomly gathered in front of a building with loud music before noticing the lights on the wall, but don’t tell anyone! We tried to run away from people as much as possible until we realized that it was almost impossible considering we were right in the middle of Manhattan 2 days before Christmas Eve so we called it an early night and headed back home.

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The Empire State Building on a particularly misty Tuesday evening.

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I find this to be a quintessential representation of life in New York City. But that might be just me.

On Tuesday, we were initially planning on going to SoHo. However, we somehow ended up walking all over East Village. I have to admit I really appreciated how quite and solemn it seemed most of the time. This was also the day that I am convinced I saw Michiel Huisman (or his doppelgänger) on the subway!

I believe we did not really have a specific place to go to in mind. So we spent about 2 hours walking around East Village and going into random stores here and there. We did eventually reach the Franklin D. Roosevelt East River Drive.

When we got tired of not having a specific target destination, we decided to look up movie theaters nearby. While walking around, Ali thought it was a good idea to walk into Macy’s and check out every single one of the 9 stories. Let me just say that I enjoyed the Salvation Army singers outside more than the store itself.

Since by that point we were already back in Midtown Manhattan, we ended up checking out the movie theaters in and around Times Square. Because tickets were a bit too expensive for our liking and the lines were way too long we decided to put off going to the movies until the following day so we hopped on the subway and went back to Brooklyn.

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Parts of New York City from the FDR Drive. Another installment of my series of pictures that I jokingly call “Shortsightedness”

   Wednesday morning, Safae finally arrived to NYC so Ali went to get her from the subway station while I slept in a little. After she settled in, we decided to head over to Downtown Brooklyn. For some reason, we felt like we did not want to go to Manhattan on Christmas Eve. Our original plan was to go to the BAM movie theatre to watch Wild. However, when we got to the address I had we realized it was closed and figured it was because of the holidays. I just now realized, while writing this post, that I had the wrong address the whole time: We went to the BAM Harvey Theatre while we should have gone to the BAM Rose Cinemas which is one street away. My bad! I guess that did not stop us from having a good time. After doing some window shopping we had a quick lunch and then some bubble tea before heading over to Target. Of course that was a silly idea on Christmas Eve because it was packed of shoppers and the only way out of the store after 6 PM were the elevators to the street. But at least we did some grocery shopping and got our meals until the days we leave figured out!

On Christmas Day, we had a good homemade breakfast before heading over to Chinatown! Both Ali and Safae kept saying that they felt like they were in Casablanca because of how the shops looked and the quality of the products offered.

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Lin Zexu statue at one of the many entrances of the Manhattan Chinatown.

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A random street view with the One World Trade Center in the background.

Of course we could not go to Chinatown without going to Little Italy considering they are only separated by one avenue. Little Italy is what you could call a charming place. And despite knowing how inaccurate most of it is, thanks to our friend Alessandro during our first drive through the city, I could not help but be at awe in front of the different small shops and restaurants. One thing is for sure though: New Yorkers take Christmas decorations very seriously. It seems like the streets are having a competition!!

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The entrance to Little Italy.

That night we were invited to a Christmas dinner by Ali’s friends of Beloit College in Wisconsin. They were staying in Upper Manhattan so we ended up in the Columbia University part of town. We had a great time around a nice homemade meal. Of course, since there was a guitar within 10 feet of Ali, we ended up doing a little acoustic/jam session before the end of the evening.

The following day was dedicated to shopping since we had our hands on some pretty sweet deals.

As of right now, I have 5 full days left in New York City and I am currently making a list of the final things I want to do and places I want to go before going back to Morocco. This includes:

- The High Line

- Go back to Columbia University

- Go back to Union Square during the day

- Washington Square

- Go to The Public Library

- Go to Grand Central Station

- Follow Wissal’s advice and try the Thai restaurants on 45th St.

- Walk around Williamsburg

- and of course, The Brooklyn Bridge!

Feel free to suggest fun things to do if you have been in the area!

Sadly, I have not run into Brandon from Humans of New York yet and according to my sister he is travelling the US on a national project. Let’s see whether he comes back within the next five days!

New York – Part 1

Long time no see, I know! My semester at Allegheny came to an end last week, and while I somehow regret not having written more often, I feel like most of my posts would have been about how busy my schedule was. Between four courses, College Chorus, Amnesty International, and a part-time job position as a writer/editor with the Allegheny College Office of College Relations, I sure had a lot on my plate for an exchange student. But at least I know I did not really get bored and I can say that my Textual Analysis class was probably the hardest Communications course I will ever have to take as an undergraduate student. Until it is time to work on my senior capstone that is!

For Thanksgiving break, I went to my second home in Olympia, WA. Reuniting with my American family after more than 3 years was more than refreshing. While my time there was truly short-lived, I am sure I will be back again. I cannot stay away from the Pacific North West for too long.

 As of right now, however, I happen to be in New York City! After I handed in my last final paper, got some well deserved sleep, and packed up four months worth of stuff into a suitcase, a backpack, and a bunch of tote bags, my friend Phil gave me a ride to Sewickley, PA where I met up with my other friend Mary. Mary was one of the first people I met at Allegheny College since she works with the International Education Office. She was a wonderful host for my last night in Pennsylvania and showed me around her hometown on Wednesday and then around Pittsburgh on Thursday.

In Pittsburgh, we went to Conflict Kitchen for lunch. Conflict Kitchen is a small takeout restaurant which changes menus every six months or so to cuisines of countries that the US has conflict with. The current version is Palestinian and I was particularly happy to have a decent Shawarma on this side of the Atlantic! After lunch we went over to the Cathedral of Learning, which is a cool building that belongs to the University of Pittsburgh. I really liked the Gothic architecture of the building. Of course the main attractions in the building were the 29 nationality rooms across the 1st and 3rd floors. While a Moroccan Nationality Room is not currently available, plans for the inception of one are underway apparently! Perhaps next time I am in the area it will be open to the public!

After the Cathedral of Learning, we headed over to the PPG Ice Skating Rink for a short ice skating session before going to the nearby Christmas market and the Gingerbread House Display & Competition in the PPG Place. That was rather fun especially because in addition to the gingerbread houses there were presentations and displays of the different myths and stories about Santa around the world. Fun fact: Santa in Haiti is a woman, wears colourful clothes, and brings fruits to nice children. That was the end of my time in PA as my friends from Morgantown came to pick me up and we started our road trip to New York City.

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The Cathedral of Learning in Pittsburgh. I think it looks like Hogwarts while my dad insists it is very similar to the Portuguese cisterns in El Jadida

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One of my weird pictures from the drive to New York. I am particularly fond of road trips when it’s dark out.

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New York at twilight.

Our first 24 hours in NYC were mainly spent getting settled into our Airbnb before Amal and I decided to head out to the city. Amal, being a Finance major, insisted on starting with Wall St so that is what we did. We got an Unlimited Rides MetroCard for the Subway system and that is basically the best thing we have done so far! Especially considering how many times we got on the wrong subway and had to change stations and take a new one. After Wall St., we headed towards the piers and then set out to discover different parts of Lower Manhattan. We then went to Union Square to meet up with our friend Ali at a Vietnamese restaurant. I think they are still making fun of me for ordering Pho out of all the things that were on the menu.

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First really touristy picture of me in NYC! Credits to Amal Bouguerch.

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Amal and I at Zuccotti Park. This picture does not do justice to how beautiful that place is! Credits to the stranger who accepted to take our picture.

In true tourist fashion, we got lost and it took us more than an hour to find the Ground Zero Memorial.

In true tourist fashion, we got lost and it took us more than an hour to find the Ground Zero Memorial.

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Amal, Ali, and I. Credits to Ali’s friend Erika.

The following day, Amal and I met up with our friends with whom we drove to NYC, Alessandro and Taira. We first went to Central Park where I found a swing and kind of wanted to spend my whole day there. Sadly, I was outnumbered by everyone else who wanted to walk around the park.

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My swing and I!! Credits to Amal Bouguerch

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Alessandro, Taira, and me on the swings at Central Park. Credits to Amal Bouguerch.

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The acoustics in this place are insane! Lower Passage to Bethesda Terrace

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Can you tell it was a cold day in NYC? Alessandro and Taira are in the background heading over to the Belvedere Castle. Credits to: Amal Bouguerch

By the time we left Belvedere Castle we decided we should find our way out of the park and head over to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Of course two hours were hardly enough to fully enjoy all of the museum, but I still managed to make my way to some of the exhibitions that I had heard about before. Mainly the Arts of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas, and the Islamic Art.

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Oceania Exhibition

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A small piece of the Kwoma Ceiling that actually took my breathe away.

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Tiny ivory figurines from Central Africa.

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I have always been fascinated by this inception-like circle of people capturing artwork in a museum in another art form.

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Cedar door at the Moroccan courtyard which is part of the Islamic Art exhibition. The courtyard is pretty authentic if you ask me!

Our visit at the Met was followed by a quick lunch then a trip on the subway to the South Ferry. Instead of going on the ferries to the Statue of Liberty, we took the Staten Island Ferry from Lower Manhattan for free and got a great view of the city as we were sailing away! We also went to 5th Avenue and got an interesting view of the city from the top of a building there.

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The New York skyline in slight bokkeh. Or really what it would look like if I weren’t wearing my glasses.

I decided to take it slow on day 3. At around 10 PM Amal came back to tell Ali and I that her bus was the next morning at 9 AM and she still hadn’t seen Times Square. So by the time we got ready, hopped on the subway, and got there it was already around midnight. I have to say that is the only time I actually liked Times Square since there were not too many people.

I still have 10 more days in New York City and I am sure they will be filled of a lot more walking, getting lost on subways, and hopefully running into Brandon Stanton from Humans of New York! I am also really enjoying all the yummy ethnic food available around the area we are staying.

Fall Break 2014

From the day I got to Allegheny College, Fall Break has always been something I had been looking forward to. It seemed quite far away and the fact that it is already over is kind of scary. However, up until last Wednesday, I still did not know for sure what I was doing for said break! The main reason for that is because there were some booking problems with the place we were going to stay in. But eventually, everything unfolded and I had somewhat a plan: I was going to take an overnight bus to Chicago, spend a few days there with some of my closest friends who are also on exchange programs in the US, and come back to little Meadville. In fact that was all I knew! Without further ado, these are the events of my Fall Break!

After spending the night on a bus from Pittsburgh, PA, I was picked up from the Greyhound station in Chicago by my friend Safae who was already on the her before last day in the Windy City. Not only did we get to reunite after about 3 months, she greeted me with coffee!! After managing to get a hold of my other friend Amal, Safae dropped me off in Navy Pier where I was set to meet the West Virginia University exchange students with whom I would spend the following 3 days.

The Chicago skyline from Navy Pier!

The Chicago skyline from Navy Pier!


We did not spend too much time in Navy Pier before deciding to make our way to Millennium Park. I honestly cannot even remember how much we walked because it feels like that is all I spent my break doing! Our first stop in the Park was Wrigley Square. We then moved on to Cloud Gate (Of course!) before making our way to the Jay Pritzker Pavilion, the BP Pedestrian Bridge, and finally the Crown Fountain.

Wrigley Square Credits: Amal Bouguerch

Wrigley Square.  If you are wondering, this is what I look like after a night on a bus! Credits: Amal Bouguerch

Amal and I being the adorable people we are.

Amal and I being the adorable people we are.

The center of the Bean.

The center of the Bean.

Little kids under the Bean.

Little kids under the Bean.

Chicago getting ready for the Bank of American Chicago Marathon!  The picture was taken from the BP serpentine bridge.

Chicago getting ready for the Bank of American Chicago Marathon!
The picture was taken from the BP serpentine bridge.

After an hour or so in Millennium Park, it was time to head over to Grant Park. Again, we walked there, and this time Amal and I had a great time singing French songs along the way. We really missed being in Choir together! Since we were walking on the same streets the Bank of America Chicago Marathon was going to take place in the next day, there were sound installations everywhere and music was playing almost throughout the whole way. A lot of random dance sessions took place. It was almost as if we were in a 1980’s teenage movie!

The wonderful people I spent my Fall Break with. Also know as Kappa Kappa Unicorn. F-t-B, L-t-R: Dani, Ramon, Pedro, Amal, Fran, Hamza, Jack, and Guille!

The wonderful people I spent my Fall Break with. Also know as Kappa Kappa Unicorn.
F-t-B, L-t-R: Dani, Ramon, Pedro, Amal, Fran, Hamza, Jack, and Guille!

After spending sometime in Grant Park, we started to make our way towards the Northerly Island general area. That was when we split up into two groups. The first one went to the Field Museum, while the second bigger group went past the aquarium and planetarium towards the Lake Michigan shore.

The Chicago Skyline from near the Adler Planetarium.

The Chicago Skyline from near the Adler Planetarium.

Northerly Island Credits: Francisco Hueto

Northerly Island
Credits: Francisco Hueto

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My feet really did enjoy the cold water of Lake Michigan.

By the time we were done enjoying the beach, everyone had started to feel too hungry to function since it was already late afternoon. We decided to head back to the city and look for a place to eat. After that, we met up with the group who had gone to the museum and we walked around the city some more. The next “attraction” we went to was the U.S. Route 66 plaque that marks the beginning of the famous road. It is safe to say some (most) of us were underwhelmed by it.

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U.S. Route 66

After about another hour of walking, we decided to go back to the house which was about a 25 minute ride on the transit. Amal and I got ready and Safae and her friends (all three of them are exchange students in University of Dayton, OH) picked us up for a much-needed girls’ night out in the city. I guess the highlight of that would have to be us getting photobombed by a stranger as we were taking a selfie!

The next morning, we made it to town around 11 am and went to Willis Tower. I may not be a fan of tourist attractions of the kind, but I have to say I did enjoy the tower! For lunch, we could not skip Giordano’s infamous deep dish pizza. I don’t have any pictures of that because I was too busy eating. My only regret is that we did not make in time to town to see the marathon take place.

Ceiling selfie on the 90 second long elevator ride to the 103rd floor of Willis Tower.

Ceiling selfie on the 90 second long elevator ride to the 103rd floor of Willis Tower.

Amal and I, being adorable, again. Credits: Hamza Lamzadri

Amal and I at the top of the world.
Credits: Hamza Lamzadri

Chicago from Willis Tower.

Chicago from Willis Tower.

You can see people gathered at what I believe is Grant Park for the after-Marathon party.

You can see people gathered at what I believe is Grant Park (not entirely sure) for the after-Marathon party.

After lunch, it was time to walk to the Magnificent Mile helping Dani look for a winter jacket. We ended up going into the Nike Store which was holding a day long party because of the marathon. Following that, we split into two groups again, and I was amongst the people who took the car and went to United Center, home to the Chicago Bulls (NBA) and the Chicago Blackhawks (NHL). Our second and last day in Chicago ended after a midnight walk around the neighbourhood where our house was and a late night run to McDonald’s.

Blackhawks statue in front of United Center. L-t-R: Ramon, Francisco, me, and Amal. Credits: Hamza Lamzadri.

Blackhawks statue in front of United Center.
L-t-R: Ramon, Francisco, me, and Amal.
Credits: Hamza Lamzadri.

One of the many theatres around town. I mainly took a picture of this one because of its name. There used to be a Cinema Palace in my hometown in Morocco.

One of the many theatres around town. I mainly took a picture of this one because of its name. There used to be a Cinema Palace in my hometown in Morocco.

Nothing like Chicago in Bokkeh.

Nothing like Chicago in Bokkeh.

Monday morning was when my initial plans shifted. Instead of spending one more day in Chicago alone, I decided to go on a road trip across 5 states with everyone else since they were all going back to West Virginia. We woke up quite early, packed up our things and hit the road at around 11 am. We only stopped for a significant amount of time once and it was in Detroit, MI. I have to say that when I learned that I would be spending a semester in the United States, the last place I expected to go see was Detroit. I guess the world works in mysterious ways!

In Detroit, we first checked out the Heidelberg Project, which is by far one of the creepiest and most intriguing things I have seen lately. It was almost as if we have stepped into a post-apocalyptic, dystopian near future where relics of people’s lives were assembled into weird statues. We then went to Michigan Central Station where we got a taste of one of the emblems of ruins photography. It was just as haunting as our previous stop. Finally, we walked around the Hart Plaza and Riverwalk before hitting the road again towards Morgantown, WV.

Heidelberg Project.

Heidelberg Project.

More of the Heidelberg Project.

More of the Heidelberg Project.

Michigan Central Station.

Michigan Central Station.

You can see the General Motors building in the back!

To me, this picture represents Detroit, MI. You can see the General Motors building in the back!

Hello Canada!

Hello Canada!

We made it to Morgantown around 1 am on Tuesday. After spending the morning with Amal trying to figure out how to get to the bus station, I got on my bus to Pittsburgh while she went back to her dorm room to study for a midterm. I was finally back in Meadville yesterday in the late afternoon.

The headwrap is my new way of dealing with the migraines!

The headwrap is my new way of dealing with the migraines! Credits: Amal Bouguerch.

I would say that I had a very successful Fall Break, especially considering I visited 2 more states than I was predicting! Now I can’t wait for Thanksgiving since I am going Home to Olympia, WA!

PS. All pictures were taken by me unless stated otherwise. You can find HD version if you click on the pictures. Feel free to use them as long as you give credit!

Chicago!

It is 11:30 pm on a crisp Autumn night in Pittsburgh, PA and I have been sitting in the same spot at the Greyhound station for the past 2 hours with still one more to go.
This is how my oh-so-anticipated Fall Break starts
With a 10 hour long trip in prospect, I am taking advantage of the free Wi-Fi to download e-books for the road. Not only will I be delving into my subconsious during these long hours of alone time, but I guess I will also see how I feel about switching from paperform to digital form. I was once advised not to invest in books in paper format until I settle in a country where having the home library of my dreams is an easily attainable goal. Thus, I will be trying out the Kindle app for Android.

Now Reading: Bad Feminist Essays by Roxane Gay

PS. I know this is a ridiculously short post. I am basically trying to publish something that will leave everyone wanting more, including myself, so I have an incentive to blog more regularly!

Trip to Denmark!

As most of you know, I was in Denmark from August 3rd to August 8th for the Amnesty International Nordic Youth Conference. While 4 of the 6 days were full of Human Rights Activism and Advocacy, my first and last day were spent walking around Copenhagen! My trip to Denmark was not only my first time in a Nordic country but my first time in Europe all together. You can imagine my excitement!

When I first got to Copenhagen airport on Sunday afternoon, I was greeted by an Amnesty Youth Activist with whom I stayed for the night. After making our way to her house in Norrebro and having dinner. We went out to a little coffee shop in the area called Tjili Pop. It is actually a place I loved so much I see myself going there on a daily basis. On top of being decorated with chalk boards, typewriters, and old record players, they played the perfect playlist ever! The most striking thing about the city at that point (after basically spending 5 hours in CPH) would have to be the number of bikes I had seen. I am pretty sure I lost count after about an hour and before we even reached Atussa’s house.

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First view of Denmark as we leave the airport on a metro! Note: You can see all pictures in bigger sizes if you click on them!

One of my favourite pictures from the trip.

One of my favourite pictures from the trip.

The next morning we woke up quite early, got a copious breakfast and then headed to the bus station towards downtown Copenhagen. The plan was to drop off my bags at the Amnesty International office, since the conference started in the afternoon, and then go out and explore the city. Since it was raining cats and dogs on Monday morning, the only good picture I have is of Copenhagen from the 12th floor of Atussa’s building! We did however walk through all of Strøget (the shopping street in Copenhagen), we then went for a quick-lunch before heading to The Coffee Collective booth in Torvehallernekbh for some awesome lattes! This was the end of my time with Atussa as we had to say goodbye once we had reached the Amnesty office.

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The view from the 12th floor of Atussa’s building.

The Nordic Youth Conference was held in Sankt Helene in Tisvildeleje, Denmark. Despite having a really tight schedule most of us still managed to go to the beach Tuesday night after our last country group meeting. It was probably 10 pm, if not later, by the time we reached the beach. I took advantage of the low light to play around with the shutter speed on my camera. I even got a shot of the starry sky! It was not until around midnight that the last four of us made it back to the conference center. We then met up with some other people from the group, went on a mini “adventure” in the woods, before settling for a capitals game during which Karan enjoyed questioning Emil and I about all the capitals of the world.

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The beach on Tuesday night in Tisvildeleje. This might be one of my favourite pictures I’ve taken over the past year.

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The group walking in the water a bit after sunset.

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The ridiculously starry night sky!

I think that on Wednesday, everyone was so focused on the Public Action that the moment we got a free opening in our schedule we all went to the beach for some much deserved relax time. Again, I did not take as many pictures seeing as I was too busy swimming, but here are a couple from my Instagram account  (feel free to follow me @Kipepeo_Bee).

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The sea a few minutes before I went in!

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Some kind of Nordic totem poles that we found on the way to the beach. They were rather creepy the night before.

Thursday was definitely a bittersweet day since I had to say goodbye to the new friends I had made during the conference. Initially, I was supposed to check in at my hotel and then go to meet the people whose flights were not until later in the evening for an early dinner before they departed. However, due to some faulty communication, I could not get a hold of anyone and neither could they so I ended up going for a walk around town alone. Some of us did get to take a last selfie before leaving the bus, so at least there was that!

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One of the numerous street performers I stumbled upon in the shopping street. Definitely my favourite thing about Strøget.

Later that evening, I got in touch with some people from my university: Amine, who spent his summer studying at Copenhagen Business University, and Peter, my Danish friend who was an exchange student at AUI last Fall. They picked me up for my hotel and we spent the night walking around Copenhagen. I’m always a fan of the way cities look late at night/early in morning. Naturally, I’m really glad I got to see Copenhagen at 2 am. One of the highlights of my stay would have to be sitting on the dock near the Royal Danish Playhouse overlooking the dark still water and the illuminated Copenhagen Opera House.

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I couldn’t resist taking a picture of the lights but I only had my phone on me :(

For my last day in the Danish capital, I wanted to get a taste of the not-so-touristy Copenhagen. Peter picked me up again and after we dropped off my bags at his apartment, we went on one very long walk. I think we walked for at least four hours and it was not until I got back to Morocco and looked at a Copenhagen map that I finally realized the distance we covered.

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Copenhagen on Friday morning

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What Peter and I liked to call Hansel and Gretel’s house!

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Little bridge in the middle of foliage in one of the parks Peter and I went to.

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Some dew on a leaf just for the heck of it!

We spent most of our time in different parks around Frederiksberg. We then ended up somewhere near the old Carlsberg factory, which is now a visitor center. We finally crossed the city, got some coffee, went into a bookshop. and went to the King’s Garden where Rosenborg Castle is (The castle is used to store the crown jewels).

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Near the Carlsberg Visitor Center

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Statue from King’s Garden

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Rosenborg Castle with the Danish flag in the background.

After  lunch, Peter drove me to the airport where I had to wait for an hour and a half to check in (typical) and then fly on a plane full of hyperactive kids. Yay-not. Either way, I made it to the Casablanca airport around 10 pm and between the time it took to get my luggage and drive back to Kenitra, I was not really home until 1 am. All in all, my stay in Denmark was really enjoyable. Also, Copenhagen has definitely secured a spot on my TOP 5 cities I’ve been to so far. It is safe to say I will to go back some other day and see more of it!

PS: All pictures were taken with my Nikon D5000 or my phone and edited with Adobe Lightroom or the Instagram app. Please let me know if you want to use any!

The Nordic Youth Conference 2014

As a youth activist from Morocco, I got the chance to participate in Amnesty International’s Nordic Youth Conference in Denmark and I have to say that when I first confirmed my attendance, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. Actually, I did not know much about the host country other than the fact that it is a monarchy and that they make great pastries. Now as I’m sitting on a plane next to a kid constantly speaking to himself, surrounded by crying babies and grumpy adults, I am realizing just how much I have learned in the short period I spent between Copenhagen and Tisvildeleje.

Skill sharing workshop! All the participants had to present an action they had done in the past or are planning to do in the future in less than 3 minutes. Credits: Nina Antonov

What are sexual and reproductive rights to you? During one of the introductory workshops of the campaign, we had to answer a question about how we relate to SRR as individuals. Credits: Klara Bengtsson

The Nordic Youth Conference this year was about Amnesty International’s campaign My Body My Rights with a focus on the discriminatory articles in the Penal Codes of Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia. As a young woman first and an activist from Morocco, I hold this cause really close to my heart. I could spend days talking about how changing each one of those articles would affect me or somebody around me in direct or indirect ways, but I will not bore you with that.

The flashmob/choreography team (minus Signe who is behind the camera) brainstorming plans A through Z of what to do during the Public Action. Credits: Signe Davidson

The flashmob/choreography team presenting the plans to the rest of the participants the evening before the Public Action. L-to-R: Signe, Waseem, Patrik, and myself. Credits: Maria Talvela

When I first joined Amnesty International a year ago as an intern, and later on as an activist/group founder/member of Youth Advisory Council, I could not even allow myself to fathom the possibility of me being sent to Denmark to represent my section. Being chosen was an honour that I had to live up to. Of course, this was neither my first AI related event, nor the first time I was in a setting where I was known as the only Moroccan, but this time it felt different. It took me a little while before I realized that we were all in the same place because we believe in the same ideals, we all aspire to live in a world where we are all equal, yet we show it in different ways. Some choose to wear statement shoelaces while others fetch the cinematographer in them to show support to the people who need it most. Or if you are like me, you channel your clothes making “talents” to manage to create 2 no-sew-wedding dresses out of linen in less than half an hour for a public action. My point is, we are all activists in our own way, we don’t have to all do the same exact thing, we don’t all have to go out to the streets and protest, a simple signature can sometimes make all the difference needed.

On the bus to Copenhagen on Day 3 for some presentations and the Public Action. Some singing of ABBA and Lion King songs was definitely in order! Credits: Maria Talvela

During my presentation on the My Body My Rights campaign in Morocco and the youth’s participation in it. It was a warm day in Copenhagen! Credits: Maria Talvela

The NYC also helped me really understand the International  side of the organization. I have often found myself thinking that I was the only one outraged by all the wrong things going on around me. Working with Amnesty International initially helped me understand I was far from being alone in my country. But then again, I still sometimes felt like we were just a minority who truly care about Human Rights. That was until this conference where I saw that no matter where we are from, we are affected by the same kind of issues and problems just as much as the person on the opposite side of the Earth. Seeing so many people from Nordic countries take real interest in the state of sexual and reproductive rights in North Africa is not only refreshing but a good omen as well! It is a true testimony of how the most important thing is not our nationality, sexuality, gender, or age, but rather the simple fact that we are HUMAN!

In the process of making a “wedding dress” with the help of Emil and Signe (not pictured) for our public actions in Copenhagen on the 3rd day of the conference. Credits: Klara Bengtsson

Getting the flags of Morocco, Tunisia, and Algeria as target countries of the My Body My Rights campaign painted on my arm for the public action by Danny. Credits: Klara Bengtsson

 The amount of learned lessons I am taking back home with me is unimaginable. It is the conviction that I want to do this forever. I want to advocate for the causes close to my heart and make a job out of it. I want to keep on using a framework that not only helps make a difference, but also helps contain the fire within me. For the longest time, I was a dormant volcano, full of fury, indignation, and wrath within and ridiculously motionless from the outside. Amnesty International in general and the Nordic Youth Conference in particular have taught me that it is okay to be mad at the world as long as you are proactive about it! Even when that means letting the lava out in the form of what seems like endless streams of tears.

The wedding taking place in Nyhavn in Copenhagen as part of our Public Action on Wednesday. The objective was to attract people and get them to sign petitions to the governments of Morocco, Tunisia, and Algeria urging them to change discriminatory laws in their penal codes. Credits: Klara Bentsson

While writing this, Charlie’s Last Letter from The Perks of Being a Wallflower came up on my playlist. Somehow a couple of sentences in it are so perfect fitting that I am sitting here on this plane with a little tear in the corner of my eye and a lopsided grin on my face. For me, the realization of all of the things I learned during the NYC was not while going on a drive and listening to a special song. It was while sitting on a concrete wall, overlooking the ocean at midnight, in almost complete darkness. The bright half-moon reflecting itself on the waters while peeking through the clouds. In a way, it was the perfect example of how important it is to always look for the light, even when it is not right in front of us, blatantly staring at us and drawing us towards it. Those are the real quests worth taking.

A group picture with the huge puzzle we are proud of! Credits: Johannes Haugen-Kossmann

A group picture with the huge puzzle we are proud of!
Credits: Johannes Haugen-Kossmann

Lost

“Every man at some point is going to lose a battle. He is going to fight, and he is going to lose. But what makes him a man is that midst that battle, he does not lose himself.”

You cringe at the gender exclusiveness, yet you know these words ring a bell of sorts.

You have always thought of yourself as strong. You always achieve everything you set yourself to, you hold on to everything as if your life depended on it, and you care so much it sometimes hurts. But when you hear that sentence, when Coach Taylor whisper-yells it at the Panthers during half-time, you realize your definition of strength is far from being right.

You know what? Forget all of that. Scratch all of it. I tried to write in second person, sticking to that writing style that allows me to connect with the readers but it is not working, not this time. Everything racing through my mind right now is too personal for me to be so detached from it in such a way.

You know when you hear something and everything just clicks? It happened to me with that sentence. I spent days trying to figure out why is it so easy to relate to? Why does it hit home in such a way?

It was at 4 a.m. As I was racing through my studying session before birds start chirping and the sun rising. It hit me. Just like that.

I fought, and midst the battle, I lost myself.

Going back on the events of that battle, I can see how in denial I was. I was naive, lost, broken, and holding on with all my might to something that I never had. I thought I was as true to myself as I possibly could, while in reality, it was the most Out of Character chapter of my life. It almost is as bad as some poorly written fanfiction that you decide to read just to kill time. I had failed myself in ways I did not even know possible. The worst part is I kept denying it. I did such a good job with the denial that it took me a whole freaking year to actually accept it. I was simply infatuated with a person, in love with an idea.

My inability to even fathom the raging storm inside me into coherent sentences only adds up to the emptiness eating up on me. I have been so terrified of losing my battles and failing at everything I do that I did not think I was losing myself slowly.

I have fought and lost, and I have not forgiven myself for that yet.