Be careful what you wish for, cause it might just come true. For years I dreamt about  a jet set life, that one afforded only by the rich and famous. To take a flight just to have dinner in Rome, by Fontana di Trevi, to fly to Melbourne for the latest Warhol exhibition, to book for the following day to see the great temples of Angkor in Cambodia, to cuddle the koalas in Australia, ride the gondola in Venice, take a tuk tuk to the Royal Palace in Bangkok, see the cherry blossom in Japan, have lunch in Algiers Bay etc.

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I was blessed with all this and the most exciting of all is to be able to do it together with my mom, every now and then. So when I found out she’s traveling to Rome for Easter I asked for the flight and in less than a week we were together on the beautiful streets of the Italian capital.

Timings were short, but nothing feels better than having Easter dinner in the family, in Rome and arranging some plans for the future while sipping prosecco and Aperol Spritzer looking at the Pantheon.

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Besides, it’s always good to be in Rome. There’s something about this city, this museum city. You don’t need to go anywhere special to feel you’re at the best museum in the world.

It’s almost time to go back and the taxi driver tells me in Italian he is 50 and he never left the country. Asks how many countries and cities I’ve seen and keep calling me a citizen of the world. He’s extremely nice and the ride is about almost 40 minutes, so we have time to chat, although I could fall asleep any minute because of the rum to grappa to red wine menu and also because I woke up somewhere 24 hours ago.

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What I loved was his approach to life and work. Taxi driver for only 3 months, he says he loves it because he feels free, he has all Rome for him. Beautiful, no? This reminds me of my decision to become a flight attendant. It makes me feel free, I have the world all to myself. Like this incredible opportunity to fly just to spend an afternoon with my mom for Easter. In Rome.

He also said he decided to treat tourists nice because he noticed taxi drivers don’t treat them too well. So that the tourists can go back and say there was a taxi driver who was different. Reminds me of how I promised myself to treat people on board. Like humans.

You know, I think he is happy. A happy man!

Night rides in different places around the world make me feel alive and get some adrenaline pumping in me. Like the late night-early morning 1 and a half hour ride from Zanzibar City to the East shore, like the very fast ride in a night in Algiers. Like this one by the Altare della Patria, Fori Imperiali, the Pyramid of Cestius, Piazza della Repubblica…a place where I’ve been before, around 10 years ago…

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Read here the first part of the story:

Venetian Fantasy (I) 

IMG_4587March 31st 2016, Venice, Italy, on some canal, crossing some bridge, so happy

So, here I am on this tongue of land sustaining the train I’m in that’s taking me to the city of waters, of art, of love, of culture, of canals, of sweets, of masks…

In my Vietnamese traditional black pants – bought from Zara Romania, made in Vietnam, Japanese print sneakers – made in Romania, green Ralph Lauren shirt from US, bought on my way to Niagara Falls more than 7 years ago, cream leather jacket from Times Square, made in South America, green Chinese leather purse bought from Madrid, with an elephant from Khao San Road, Bangkok, hanging from one of the handles and an Islamic print colorful scarf from Istanbul, coming from Doha, here in Venice…

It’s such a crazy world!

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Probably by now you know I’m into art and especially modern art, so I gave away the countless classical art museums for the Peggy Guggenheim Collection (Collezione Peggy Guggenheim).

Who was Peggy G.? Art addict, art collector, art dealer, art supporter – all art. Extremely rich, a New York City socialite in the golden years. Niece of Solomon R. Guggenheim, founder of the museum with the same name in Upper East Side. Where? New York City, of course. Pretty, free spirit, elegant, bohemian. Ashkenazi Jewish – if it matters. Inherited tens of millions of dollars when she was 21, but was one of the poorest of her family. Her father sunk with Titanic. Worked in bookstore, moved to Paris and was in the art and writer entourages. Friend of Constantin Brancusi and Marcel Duchamp. Married and divorced with Max Ernst. At little over 50, after the WWII she settled in Venice, about which she said:

“To live in Venice or even to visit it means that you fall in love with the city itself. There is nothing left over in your heart for anyone else”

…and she was coming from uptown glitzy lifestyle of New York City and Paris. Read more about here or try her book Ma vie et mes folies.  

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The Collection used to be here home and it is simply amazing. Cubism, surrealism and abstract expressionism right by the canals, by the gondolas, with a terrace on two levels right by the water.

Here you can admire Angel of the Citadel, a real size sculpture depicting a man on horseback, both having erections.

Peggy Guggenheim (left) described Angel of the Citadel in her memoir, Confessions of an Art Addict: “It was a statue of a horse and rider, the latter with his arms spread out in ecstasy, and to emphasize this, Marino added a phallus in full erection. But when he had it cast in bronze for me he had the phallus made separately, so that it could be screwed in and out at leisure.” – Source

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If you’re not into mainstream, The Collection is the place to be, it has two sections and a lovely café, with black and white pictures of Peggy.

Entrance fee in 15E, but it’s totally worth it. At least, this is how I choose to spend my money. To enhance my spirit and my brain. I remember when I arrived in New York in the summer of 2009, I was there already fourth time, but never got to see Guggenheim Museum. At the door, the girls said they prefer to spend $16 on something else, like a shirt. No comment!

Art makes me alive, makes me go deep into my thoughts, become creative, take my so, so closed spirit to unseen heights, makes me write, draw, dance, pray, go nuts.

In what used to be a dining room, in a corner enhancing its perfection, lays Maiastra, Constantin Brancusi, the Romanian genius sculptor’s masterpiece. I shed a tear, because that’s what art supposed to do, make you feel. Don’t ask me for what exactly, but I did. Art must make you cry, laugh out loud, scram, shiver, otherwise it has no purpose.

Probably every time I will step in a museum – and I do it quite regularly – I will remember Beatrice B., my Arts teacher in high school. She put the seeds of my love for art. Of course it was always there, but she made me know with her truly unique teacher vocation. She said you must recognize the style when you see a piece of art and showed us countless projections showing us classical art, fauvism, pointillism, Art Nouveau, Dadaism…

Probably that’s all I’m left with from high school, together with the one year spent in Amboy, Illinois, USA. So, what defines me from a young age? What do I vibrate with, where my heart is? Art and travel, exploration, new, far-away places, unknown, unpredictability and spontaneity, fearlessness, colors and brushes, pop art, all together. And I chose something as dull and inflexible as law. Oh well…Queen of Contrasts.

How do you get to The Collection? By losing yourself so many time, that you forget what’s your destination by being charmed and falling in love with each alley and mirroring water, arcade window, astonishing façade, history confession, spumiglie, gondolier that shouts something funny in Italian…

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“Here’s a general rule to abide by in Venice: If you don’t get lost, you’re not doing it right. Even visitors with a GPS-like sense of direction will likely be bested by the meandering streets of the city. There’s no better way to explore the lovely maze than in a haze of mild confusion.” – Katherine LaGrave

What can you see at The Collection? Kandinsky, Severini, Picasso, Miro, Duchamp, of course Brancusi, Malevich, Nannucci’s “Changing Place, Changing Time, Changing Thoughts, Changing Future” – which I’ve seen this summer in the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art (MoMA – where? New York City, of course. It’s interesting to see how you’ve changed in such a short while, where you were initially, to which horizons you moved and where you are now. Where you want to be…) all on the Venetian background. A gondola is passing bay in the background of this amazing Kandinsky and there’s one accordion player onboard and the music plays within me.

On a marble bench outside it says: “Savor kindness because cruelty is always possible later”.

In Café dei Frari I buy some wonderful sandwiches and the ladies are talking that Elton John was in Venice.

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Lion or slave shaped door knobs on narrow alleys, cafes where you can serve the best wine or fresh orange juice – everything to go if you’re in a rush to see the city, la dolce vita, art galleries selling from few euros to sums that might close the bank, Venetia Studium shop leaving you with your mouths wide opened at the beauty of the velvet and silks, furnishings, lamps, furniture and clothing accessories and also at the prices – just to form an idea, one small round pillow covered in gold velvet, like the ones in 1001 stories or let’s say Venetian Palaces is around 200E; check it out yourself , the Paul&Shark sponsored gondolas , the so-many coat of arms, the boutique hotels by the Grand Canal, the Aperol Spritzer at the tables, the St Mark’s lions, boat and gondolas parking places, delimitated by thick vertical poles, charming mail boxes, Mediterranean vegetation, small piazzas, paint your own mask workshops, art galleries and bookstores…

 

The bookstore with the best selection displayed I saw it in Venice on topics from the Imperial Russia to Isis Islam and everything in between, but all of maximal and current interest. Hats off!

Oh, and until 7th of August, there’s an Helmut Newton exhibition I’d love to see.

Dolci tipici di Venezia, Trattoria Dona Onesta  (but why so serious?), fantasy shoes with Alice in Wonderland as a heel, crazy outfits.

In this labyrinth I identify myself with a white horse, a confused white horse.

It’s time to fly back to Doha, without promising myself I’ll come back and see it over and over again…my way. Don’t be a tourist, be a traveller! Do bring your kids here. They’ll love it. You’ll love it, too.

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Read here the second part of the story:

Venice Fantasy – Just Art and Feeling

The two days I spent in Venice were all about fantasy, my own fantasy. I walked around with a mask although the Carnival is over, I went by myself to fancy restaurants, drank Aperol Spritz (Spritzer, the orange one) to-go, talked to some very interesting people, got – as usual – my fair share of free stuff, took my very first gondola ride through the canals thinking of the Sarah Dunnant’s In the Company of the Courtesan which I left on the night stand when I moved from my second floor room to the Middle East.

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March 29th, preparing for Venice

Some people you spend days with and then forget they exist. But all of a sudden they reappear in your life and fill it with joy.

How I get rid of crew – I tell them I’m going to the museum.

Plan for Venice sightseeing done! It’s 7 PM and I’m ready to shut down – I did wake up at 4 AM after all. And tomorrow I’ll get up a little earlier than 3 AM. Flight attendant life!

 

March 31st, 4 PM

I have prepared almost the whole month for this trip – selecting my outfit that I’m so proud of, looking for things to do. March was a tough month for me with long flights and short layovers – Berlin, Hangzhou, Perth, Manchester – so this long Venice was like a breath of fresh air at the end of the month.

It’s almost spring and I chose to wear kilted black boots, a sky blue sweater, black pants and the colorful Berber motifs long blazer which I bought from Beirut, the blanket size blue cotton scarf and the green purse with the happy elephant hanging from the handle. I’m all set and I picked the outfit especially for Venice.

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On the train from Qarto d’Altino (East Venice) to Venezia St. Lucia. At some point there’s only water on both sides of the rail and the land is only as wide to support the train. It reminds me of Sylt, an high end island in North Germany where I went for a detox program a few years ago. To arrive to the island – one hour ride by train, even for the cars – we had the same view. In that trip was the very first time when I started writing about what I was experiencing.

One of the most touching moments of my traveler life was when I stepped outside the station in Venice. I was simply shocked of the beauty of the place in front of my eyes. By know I have seen so many places, but few compare with Venice. The canal right in front of the station, and beautiful palaces with arched windows and gondolas with gondoliers wearing blue and white stripes and hats with navy blue ribbon.

I don’t know what my purpose in life is, but I want to live one month in Venice. Besides that month in Buenos Aires and few others in South-East Asia. Yes, I want to travel all my life.

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First of all, I booked a gondola ride (30E) from the booth in front of the station and bought a map (3E – yes, nothing’s for free in Venice). Since I was supposed to meet with the gondoliers in Campo S. Luca, I started walking by the Grand Canal on the same side of the station.

The city is simply thrilling, with or without the prosecco and to-go Aperol Spritz that I had. I hopped here and there, having huge slices of pizza, or classy tagliata di manzo con rucola e parmigiano, but never gave up the prosecco.

The paths/streets are narrow and odd, a true real life labyrinth. Sometimes you could think they all look the same or get lost. Besides, don’t rely too much on Google Maps as the signal is quite low because of the tall buildings and narrow streets. It’s also tricky and makes your brain work more than normal, because getting to a parallel street might mean you need to walk 5 other streets otherwise you either reach a dead end or the canals and you cannot walk right by the water.

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Lucky as always, today it’s a beautiful day, the last of March and I’m walking and walking with my Lebanese robe, stunned at the beauty of the city, munching on a Pescatore al Pistacchio – so beautifully matching the robe and my green purse, admiring the sweets displayed in the windows, the colorful pasta for sale, the navy hats, the flowers in front of each door and window, the street indicators, the gondoliers talking on the phone or shouting at each other, talking with each other as they row, pushing the gondola from the wall with their leg against the walls, the so Italian clothes hanging on a rope, the Borsalino hats, the round windows by the canals, the flying Lion of Venice, the pigeons, the lofty gondolas in gold and black or gold and red, the tourists, the boats distributing supplies from toilet paper to rare wines to the restaurants by the canal, the wooden poles keeping the gondolas parked perpendicular to the buildings, the columns, the arches, the decorations, the colors, the Italian spirit and the vibes, the elaborate masks, the art, the mystery of the city, the Murano glass shops. Water and beauty!

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After I reached the meeting point for the gondola ride, I did not use the map or asked people around. Because Venice is a place where you need to get lost. Besides, I love to get lost, to see what I attract. So this time it was:

  • Bacaro Jazz bar, a normal bar unless the whole ceiling would not be covered by bras of all colors, shapes and sizes. Here, I stepped in wearing my mask and robe, asking if I could take some pictures and ended up being there for almost two hours, either talking to the bartender (who prepared a complimentary amazing Spritzer for me, adding a garnish with cucumber, olives and cherry tomatoes) or talking to myself while listening to Frank Sinatra’s Don’t Take Your Love From Me and When Your Love Has Gone
  • I’m wondering how the other solo female travelers are, cause I know I’m weird.
  • Jewish neighborhood where some pubs were still opened at midnight, they offer Kosher ice cream and Kosher pizza and where I met one Arabic restaurant owner and a Moldavian bartender
  • A Somali smoking in the garden of the restaurant where I had dinner asking me some naughty things;
  • A senior and very Italian restaurant – Trattoria da Bepi – owner by Guglie Bridge being over friendly, but pleasant and fun. A street entertainer singing Oci Ciornie and me singing long the lyrics. Met with him a few hours later, towards them morning in the train station where here recognized me after my…mask;
  • The amazing cocktails at Frulala made with spirits and fresh fruit juice, tasting absolutely amazing. How did I not think about this before?
  • One whole restaurant – Trattoria Alla Palazzina – staring at me have dinner with my robe and mask on in my own fantasy.

Of course, I did not miss the Piazza San Marco, the stunning Basilica di San Marco, the Palazzo Ducale, the Campanile Tower and the sunset by the Canal. I did not visit the interior of any of the above, but it’s on my list. Because I chose to spend my second day in a modern art environment and where better to go than the Peggy Guggenheim Collection – an oasis of calm and art, the former home of the American socialite in Venice.

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And you know what? I make my own rules when I travel. If I want to see a museum or palace I see it, but if I don’t who says I need to kill myself looking at something I know I won’t like? On the other hand, if I want to look at one painting two hours, that’s what I will do. Simple as that, make your own rules. I make my own! Why? Because it makes me happy!

When I reached Piazza San Marco, I thought it’s the most beautiful place on Earth, really. The narrow streets are so charming, that I cannot know how to see more, how to express my joy. As a child I absolutely loved secret paths, mysterious labyrinth so I think this is a good place for kids.

By now I’m wearing the gold mask I bought (prices between 2,5E and a few thousands of E, depending on your budget). I walk boldly and mind my own business, alone. I am fascinating for men over…a certain age. Young men will never understand me.

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One thing that caught my attention was the people asking me why I wear the mask, they looked strange at me, one said I have horns. How judgmental is this human race if, even in Venice, people judge you because you wear…a mask. In Venice?

Someone is playing Andrea Bocelli’s Con Te Partiro at the accordion and another day is over on the canals of Venice.

Read about my other trip to Milan: A Milanese Story

January 16th 2016, Doha, Qatar
My friend said see you next weekend in Milan. Next weekend? For me it’s an eternity until then. It cannot be next weekend. I Mean until then I’m going to Dhaka for one night, flying to Chennai and I’m tanning two days in Phuket. Living the fast life!

 

January 23rd 2016, Milan, Italy

I arrived in my room in Milan – as always 11 (1145). The #goingplacestogether ad is on BBC. Then news about the ones who travel by boat to get into Europe. Such a paradox, hundreds of people complaining about their Gucci life while others struggle to survive, be where their dear ones are, eat today.

The world is not a fair place that’s for sure. The world is not a safe place anymore.

Why can’t I remember? The train from Malpensa to Cadorna is at 26 past and 56 past. Missed it third time by minute.

In the airport there is a tile on the floor leading from the terminal to the train station saying “tutti I passi che ho fatto nella mia vita mi hanno portato qui, ora” meaning “every step I have taken in my life has led me here, now”. Couldn’t be more true.

On the train. There’s no fog this time, but it’s much colder, although sunny.

40 degrees less than my last destination and I hope I can stand it. I’m cold even in Doha when it’s less than 30 degrees. Now there are -6. I’m thinking about the interview for this job when I said I am adaptable, including different changing weather conditions. This leads to knowing my weaknesses. I’m for the hot and dry weather.

On the train I’m thinking I don’t consider I made any mistakes in my life. I’m more proud of some things that I’ve done than the others, but that’s all.

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I walk the same paths I’ve walked a month ago and I see ten times more. Oh, there’s no fog now, that’s why. I head to the Sforza Castle (Castello Sforzesco) next to the Sempione Park and am amazed by the beautiful weather and the sunny day, at the end of January. The Castle includes many museum and collections.

A few men of color try to offer some braided bracelets and they run away when the bicycle police comes by. I’m not sure what their purpose is, but my friend I., now living in Milan, tells me they do this in case you want to give them some money, to avoid begging. I am with my map of the city and the notes of where I want to go, prepared after my last trip to Milan, in December.

Milan looks as if in autumn and the beautiful old tram on the castle background makes me nostalgic. I’m heading to the Equestrian Monument of Vittorio Emanuele II in front of The Dome, where I’m meeting my friend and on the way I stop on the Via dei Mercanti to photograph Palazzo della Ragione, where there is a photography exhibition (Henri Cartier-Bresson and others).

I. takes me to the Santa Maria Presso San Satiro Church, close-by to the Dome, built to safeguard a miraculous icon. The church is hidden between buildings and it is easy to ignore while walking by Via Falcone. It is very different than any church I have seen and the altar side is just a painting, yet it looks like it has perspective, being actually a 3D painting. The style is very rich with elements of most of the styles, all put together.

From here we turned left of Via Speronari where we entered in Princi – Spirito da Milano, a chain of espresso bars around Italy, where you can have great pastries or buy many types of breads. Here I see a couple from the flight travelling business class. I love these coincidences, as a matter of fact even last time I saw three men downtown by night and the following day they turn out to be a royal figure and his bodyguards travelling with us back to Doha.

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As recommended by my friend E., we’re heading to the Ambrosiana Library (Biblioteca Ambrosiana), the historic library of Milan and one of the most beautiful libraries in the world. IMG_4608Here we could see The Original Drawings of Leonardo da Vinci’s Codex Atlanticus, only to complete what I have seen in the exhibition Leonardo3 – Il Mondo di Leonardo.

IMG_4623The library also has an art gallery – Pinacoteca Ambrosiana – and is a must-see when in Milan.

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You can only walk the streets of Milan without entering any place to enjoy it.

The coquette balconies, small flowers at each door entrance, narrow and cricked streets, Armani advertisements, museum looking facades, huge jamon pieces hanging on some windows, fashion stores with the latest collections, Vespas, churches, people who seem to step down from glossy magazines, the sun, design shops, pizza, music.

We stopped for lunch at Ristorante Nabucco – having very good online reviews – in Brera, where we had a delicious seafood risotto and ossobucco alla milanese and of course complementing wine.

By now we are walking towards the Porta Garibaldi to get to Corso Como, where I want to see 10 Corso Como, picked by BBC as one of The World’s 10 Most Beautiful Libraries. I am really proud to already have seen the El Ateneo in Buenos Aires, also included in the ranking. 8 more to go!

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Opened in the beginning of the 90s by the Italian Vogue’s editor-in-chief in a garage, it is an amazing concept with a café, a 3 room hotel, a high end fashion store, art gallery, book store, party rooftop garden overlooking at the new and posh area of the city, Porta Nuova Business District.

IMG_4757The book store concentrates on design, architecture, art, photography and fashion and here I have seen more than 100 book I’d like to own – about Zaha Hadid, Yayoi Kusama, Demarchelier, Helmut Newton and many others close to my artistic side of the brain.

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The exhibition room (Galleria Carla Sozzani – the founder of the place) featured the photography of Daido Moriyama, some pictures revealing a very interesting and f***d up life.

From the rooftop garden you can see Milan’s tallest building – Unicredit Tower in the Porta Nuova Skyskrapercity, designed by the same architect as Burj Khalifa. Although a high-end place, 10 Corso Como looks very down to earth, approachable and natural. The real luxury. 10 Corso Como has branches in Shanghai, Seoul and Beijing.

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We’re going to see the new city and then return since it is already Aperitivo time. The tradition of Aperitivo is a culture in Italy, meaning when you go out for a drink or for cocktails, you can eat for free tasty appetizers. In Milan you will find no difficulty in having some sips and enjoying fresh olives, slices of pizza, chips, spinach cake, pasta, vegetables.

I still need to see a show at La Scala, see The Last Supper, visit the Moseo del Novecento, go to some posh cafes I got my eyes on, but what is 2016 ahead for if not for this? Besides, I’m going back to Milan next month. Thank you for following my stories.