Philadelphia & New Jersey

August 29, 2020

Near the end of August, before I began my quarantine in preparation for returning to school, my mom and I embarked on a short, three day trip through Philadelphia and to the New Jersey shore. Of course, as with our other few travels throughout this summer, our visits looked different than they normally would. We donned masks every time we departed from our hotel room, obsessively sprayed our hands with hand sanitizer, only ate outdoors at tables that were distant from each other, and sought sidewalks that were the least frequented. Despite the strangeness of our miniature trip, it was still enjoyable to be outside and explore these areas, especially before heading home to practice the quarantine precautions necessary for going back to school to ensure the health and safety of all students, faculty, and staff. With summer ending, I am quite confident that this will be my last journey out until either late spring or even summer depending on the spread of COVID-19 and availability of vaccine, so although it was a very short getaway, I wanted to share the few photographs I captured from Philadelphia and the New Jersey Shore.

Rhode Island, Massachusetts, & Connecticut

August 24, 2020

As I mentioned in my last post entitled Currently: College Visits and Back to School Amidst COVID-19, my family recently drove to Rhode Island to visit a few colleges in the surrounding area. We based ourselves in Providence, Rhode Island, but explored the nearby cities of Newport, Narragansett, Boston in Massachusetts and the village of Stonington in Connecticut. I have very seldom traveled to the New England states. Aside from two trips to Maine many years ago and a drive through Boston on the way, the closet cities to those in New England that I have frequented in the past few years have been Geneva and Ithaca in upstate New York. Of course, because of the pandemic, our visit looked different than it would be in normal times. Even so, it was still an enjoyable trip, and I am grateful to have had the opportunity to visit a few schools on my college list. 

Of all of our junkets to nearby cities and towns, I most enjoyed our visits to Boston and Stonington. Though we did more driving around the city than walking to limit our interactions with others and the weather was very gloomy and rainy, I loved seeing Boston and hope to return in post-pandemic times to really explore all its streets, shops, and fun restaurants. Unlike the sprawling city of Boston, Stonington is a small borough on southeastern corner of Connecticut. My mom stayed in Stonington for the summer almost twenty years ago and recalled its quiet, charming atmosphere. Thankfully, unlike several of the other cities we visited such as Newport which had become built up and quite touristy, Stonington retained its lovely small town allure.

Currently: College Visits & Back to School Amidst COVID-19

August 21, 2020

College Visits Amidst COVID-19

As a rising senior in high school, I will be applying to colleges in the fall, and so my family decided to drive up north to safely visit a few schools while also squeezing in a final trip before the academic year resumes. Unfortunately, I went on very few college visits during my junior year. I was was very busy with schoolwork, field hockey games every weekend in the fall, and other commitments, and so it made visiting colleges difficult. We had planned to take advantage of a long weekend in my spring trimester and the summer to visit more schools, but of course our plans were thwarted due to coronavirus. Though visiting schools is not the same this year and it is difficult to get a grasp of campus life without the buzz of students walking around, I am so grateful that I had the opportunity to take this trip and see at least a couple of the colleges on my list. For so many students, including myself, virtual tours and information sessions have had to replace visits for most or all colleges. It is important to remember, though, that while the college process may seem more daunting or unclear, the new challenges faced by rising seniors are quite trivial compared to the terrible tragedies unleashed by the virus.

New Jersey Shore | Summer 2020

August 19, 2020 Spring Lake, NJ 07762, USA

In mid July, my family drove to the Spring Lake, New Jersey to enjoy the beach and beauty of the area. We have been going to Spring Lake for years now, as my mom grew up nearby and we have family in the area. In the past we have always visited in early June since most kids are still in school and thus the beach is much less crowded, however that simply was not feasible this year due to the pandemic.

It was our first time traveling since being in lockdown, so we were a little wary and wanted to ensure that the destination we visited adhered to social distancing guidelines and required the usage of masks. Thankfully, the hotel we stayed in, The Hewitt Wellington, was very strict with regards to its guidelines to ensure guests and staff members took the necessary safety precautions, and the beach also limited capacity by requiring visitors to wear beach badges. All of the restaurants also had take out options and reduced outdoor seating, though we still opted for the locations that were the quietest and felt safest. Though it was a relatively short trip, I wanted to share a few of the photographs I captured, from the central lake of Spring Lake surrounded by lush greenery and the pink and purple sunsets over the ocean to the delicious restaurants of Asbury Park.

The Medina in Marrakesh, Morocco

August 17, 2020 Marrakesh, Morocco

To conclude my series of posts sharing my travels throughout Morocco - from Tamouda Bay and the city of Chefchaouen to our riad in Marrakesh and afternoon tea at the Royal Mansour - I wanted to share my final photographs from the city of Marrakesh itself. As supported by the title, these images were taken inside the Medina in Marrkesh.

The Medina is the historic center of Marrakesh and is surrounded by walls erected in 1122 that stretch 19 kilometers in length. It is the center of life within the larger city of Marrakesh; it is packed with riads, hammam bath houses, and souks selling an assortment of Moroccan spices, incense, various scented oils, and an array colorful textiles. At the center of the Medina is Jemaa el-Fna square, a hub comprised of a myriad of food stalls, snake charmers, henna tattooists, and carriage drivers. While we enjoyed visiting the square, we were also cautious, as we had been warned to avoid the food and to stay away from the snake charmers and men with monkeys. It may seem tempting to look, but they are known to approach tourists and put the animals around peoples' necks in an effort to secure profit. Additionally, the monkeys are chained by the legs and the snakes I am sure are not treated very humanely either, and I personally would not want to support a system that oppresses these animals.

On our first day in Marrakesh, we ventured outside of the Medina to the royal district and visited the historic Kasbah Mosque, or the Mosque of Moulay al-Yazid. Constructed in 1190, it is one of the largest and oldest in Morocco and is still used as a house of worship for Muslims. Five times throughout the day, we heard the call to prayer from the mosque reverberate throughout the entire city of Marrakesh, followed by an echo of dozens of other call to prayers from nearby mosques.

Walking along the cobblestone streets filled with smoke from passing motorcyclists, pungent smells of spices added to couscous, and beckoning tradespeople, I was struck by the vitality and vitality of the Medina. I have never before visited a place so culturally rich, or one that embodies the term sensory overload. I long to return to this breathtaking city; to smell the fragrant scents of saffron, feel the slippery smooth touch of Moroccan argan oil, and to savor the sweet, refreshing taste of Moroccan mint tea.

Tea at the Royal Mansour in Marrakesh, Morocco

August 15, 2020 Rue Abou Abbas El Sebti، Marrakech 40000, Morocco

During our stay in Marrakesh, my mom and I visited the Royal Mansour for afternoon tea. We first learned of this hotel by watching an episode of the TV show Amazing Hotels: Life Beyond the Lobby, in which the two hosts went behind the scenes to learn more about the various processes that go into maintaining such a remarkable hotel. After discovering that this famed hotel was only a short drive from our own stay at Riad Kniza, we knew we had to visit.

The Royal Mansour is very elegant and majestic, and thus quite an expensive place to stay, though thankfully the afternoon tea was very reasonably priced. Though the hotel is absolutely exquisite and beautifully decorated, I must admit it lacked the personal, cozy, and comfortable feeling of the traditional riad in which we stayed. Even so, we had a wonderful afternoon tea and really enjoyed experiencing the grandeur of the hotel.

I chose to order the traditional Moroccan mint tea, and while I was unable to try the various sandwiches, I very much enjoyed tasting the assortment of cookies and scones. Of all of the sweet items, I most enjoyed the plate of small Moroccan pastries and the almond and caramel cookies.

Riad Kniza in Marrakesh, Morocco

August 13, 2020 34 Derb l'Hotel Bab Doukala، مراكش 40000, Morocco

After several days staying at Tamouda Bay in northern Morocco and visiting the famed city of Chefchaouen, my mom and I took the bullet train to Casablanca and then hopped on another train headed  toward the city of Marrakesh, Morocco. Since it was our first time traveling to Morocco, we were first a little wary about train travel. However, traveling by train proved not only easy, but also very efficient and enjoyable. The train stations were very modern, clean, and simple to navigate, and the bullet train was even more impressive, as it was pristine, comfortable, and extremely efficient.

To have a more authentic visit, we chose to stay at a riad as opposed to a hotel. The word riad originates from the Arabic word meaning "garden." Riads are traditional Moroccan homes constructed around a garden or interior courtyard, usually with limited rooms, a central fountain, and sometimes a small spa for guests to enjoy a Moroccan hammam.

We stayed at Riad Kniza, a riad in the heart of the Medina of Marrakesh. The sound of water dripping from the central fountain, wonderful scents drifting throughout the halls from incense and burning oils, rooftop exploding with flora and fauna, and cozy rooms equipped with fresh fruit, hanging lanterns, and massive wooden doors all helped to create a homey and tranquil atmosphere. 

In addition Riad Kniza's central location in the Medina and its beautiful interior and balcony area, all of the meals we ate at the riad were beyond delicious. Every morning, the riad served its guests complimentary breakfast on the rooftop that included fresh yogurt and cereal, Moroccan breads and cakes, an assortment of jams and preserves, eggs, and fresh orange juice or the traditional Moroccan mint tea. We also stayed for dinner one night, where we sat in a small, cozy room and listened to a trio of musicians play traditional Moroccan music in the courtyard. It was a full-course dinner, which allowed us to taste all sorts of delectable, vegetarian Moroccan dishes.

Vegetarian Harira Soup.
Vegetable Pastilla.
Assortment of Moroccan Salads.
Briwates (filo pastry wrapped around mixed vegetables, cheese, rice(sweet))
Sweet potato tajine with Figs, Prunes and Walnuts.
Berber Tajine of mixed vegetables.
Tajine of fish Mchermel with Sweet Peppers and Tomatoes.
Barley Couscous with Green Vegetables.
Johara (cream pastilla with almonds and caramel).
Moroccan pastries served with mint tea or coffee.

Chefchaouen, Morocco

August 12, 2020 Chefchaouen, Morocco

Back in early March when my mom and I traveled from southern Spain to Morocco, we took a day trip from our the Banyan Tree Tamouda Bay to the city of Chefchaouen. Famed for its beautiful blue buildings, Chefchaouen is located in the Rif Mountains in the northwest region of Morocco, and its name translates to "blue pearl." The city was founded in 1471 and served as a small fortress to defend against Portuguese invasions. After the Spanish Reconquista in 1492, many Jews and Moors fled from Spain to the city. It was conquered by the Spanish in 1920, but was declared independent by Morocco in 1956 and removed from Spanish rule.

There are many rumors as to why the city is entirely blue, though there I two that I have heard more frequently than others. The first theory is that the tradition was brought over by the Jews who escaped from Spain after the Spanish inquisition, since blue is a sacred color according to Jewish belief. The other common rumor is that the city was painted blue to repel mosquitos.  

Visiting the famed "Blue City" had been at the top of my bucket list for so many years, and it was exhilarating to be able to see the sights I had feverishly poured over on Pinterest. Aside from marveling at the various shades of blue and wandering through the narrow side streets and alleyways decorated with potted flowers and hanging lanterns, one of the most memorable aspects of Chefchaouen was seeing the dozens of cats and kittens against the backdrop of blue. Of course, while I had many laughs and heartwarming feelings as I watched the kittens groom themselves and bask in the warmth of the sun, it was also a little upsetting to see some of the cats' poor health conditions. It also served as a reminder that as you travel, while it is important to enjoy the wonderful parts of every destination you visit, it is also pertinent to pay attention to all aspects of that place; to step away from being the typical tourist and try to get a sense of a city, country, or town in a way more authentic and less sugar-coated way.

As in the other large cities in Morocco, Chefchaouen had its fair share of shops selling all sorts of touristy gadgets, colorful clothing, bejeweled rugs and table runners, and traditional tajines. Unlike the bigger cities, however, the sellers in Chefchaouen were much less aggressive in their efforts to sell their goods to tourists. This realization came to us a few days later when we visited Marrakesh, where the tradespeople were a little more pushy. 

Banyan Tree Tamouda Bay, Morocco

August 11, 2020 Route Nationale 13, Oued Negro، Fnideq 93100, Morocco

After traveling throughout southern Spain to the cities of Córdoba, Granada, and the town of La Herradura, my mom and I drove to the port of Tarifa, the southernmost point of the Iberian peninsula across from the Strait of Gibraltar, and took a short, one hour ferry ride to Tangier, Morocco. From Tangier we embarked on a one and half hour drive to the Banyan Tree Tamouda Bay on the northern coast of Morocco. 

The hotel is in a relatively isolated region, so aside from a day trip to the incredible city of Chefchaouen, we mostly stayed at the Banyan Tree and explored the quiet beach, read under the bright blue skies, and ate delicious delicious Moroccan food from steaming tajines. The hotel was very quiet and we saw few other guests due to the fact that we visited during the off season in early March, and while some nights we wished it were a bit more lively, it was also nice to be able to experience the beauty of the hotel and beaches in solitude.

These photographs are solely from our time at Tamouda Bay, but the following posts will cover our visit to the famed blue city of Chefchaouen and our subsequent journey to the city of Marrakesh. Morocco is such a beautiful, colorful country, and my mom and I are already dreaming of our return.

La Herradura, Spain

August 10, 2020 18697 La Herradura, Granada, Spain

Our last stop in southern Spain before heading to the port of Tarifa to take the ferry over to Tangier, Morocco was La Herradura. A small town on the western coast of the providence of Granada, La Herradura translates to "horseshoe" in Spanish because its mountainous ends give the strip of island a horseshoe shape. Much less known than its island neighbor of Malaga, La Herradura lacks the typical crowds of some of the more popular Spanish beaches in the Andalusia region and instead feels more isolated, natural, and authentic.

Because it is less frequented by travelers, there were fewer shops and restaurants than most beach towns, though my mom and I much preferred the quiet, small town feel of La Herradura. We spent our days getting lost on the winding roads through the towering mountains overlooking the vast blue sea, exploring the small downtown area along the beach, and sitting in the backyard of our Airbnb where we cooked dinner after picking up fresh produce from the small grocery store in town and enjoyed the stunning sunsets over the ocean.

Streets of Granada, Spain

August 9, 2020 Granada, Spain

While Granada is most known for its stunning Alhambra palace and gardens, it is such a vast and vibrant city with an array of historic sights to see and cultural neighborhoods to explore. My mom and I stayed in an Airbnb in the downtown area. It was modern, very spacious, and had a balcony featuring an incredible, panoramic view of the city of Granada and the snow capped Sierra Nevada mountains in the distance, and all for a very reasonable price.

Aside from enjoying the funky shops and restaurants on the main streets, we spent hours exploring the winding and narrow Medieval Moorish streets of the historic Albaicín district and marveling at the colorful flowers and lemon trees growing along the white washed walls. Along with enjoying the elaborate Moorish architecture and admiring the traditional houses, the Albaicín offers expansive views of the Alhambra palace and the various districts of Granada. 

Before getting lost in the narrow streets of the Albaicín, however, we spent time popping into the various shops at the base of the hill. Each small store was crammed with all sorts of colorful glasses, beaded bags, glimmering lanterns hanging from the low ceilings, and other touristy tchotchkes. While we did purchase a couple of items, we mostly just browsed, as we knew that we would be overwhelmed by the opportunities for shopping in the medinas of Marrakesh in Morocco.

Alhambra in Granada, Spain

August 7, 2020 Calle Real de la Alhambra, s/n, 18009 Granada, Spain

After stopping for one night in the small city of Córdoba and visiting the historic Mosque-Cathedral, my mom and I continued our drive down to the south of Spain. For the next three or four nights, we stayed in Granada. Granada is such a vibrant and multifaceted city, comprised of both modern structures and trendy stores but also beautiful buildings and historic sites. This particular post is dedicated to the historic spot that Granada is most known for: the Alhambra.

The Alhambra, its name derived from from an Arabic root meaning "red or crimson castle," is a palace and fortress located in the western part of the city and in front of the Albaicin and Alcazaba. It was originally erected as a fortress in 889 and later rebuilt in the 13th century and used as a residence of kings. In addition to the stunning palace walls built in Moorish styles, adjacent to the Alhambra is the Generalife gardens on the Cerro del Sol, or Hill of the Sun. The gardens are comprised of luscious greenery, colorful flowers, and beautiful fountains, and feature panoramic views of the city of Granada at the bottom of the hill.

Streets of Córdoba, Spain

August 5, 2020 Córdoba, Spain

While my last post focused on the historic Mosque-Cathedral in the city of Córdoba in southern Spain, the photographs below capture every other aspect of the city, from its grand Bridge Gate and white walled streets to its delicious food, quaint shops, and a festive parade that my mom and I chanced upon while meandering through its narrow streets.

Though from the photographs it may look like the city is often very cloudy and gloomy, our visit to Córdoba was limited to one night, and many of these images were taken on the first day we arrived when it was unusually grey outside. The following day the sky was a bright blue, and it was beautiful to see the yellow coloring of the buildings against a backdrop of a cerulean sky.

Since we were exhausted the day we arrived to the city and did not stay out very late after our dinner, my mom and I woke up early the next morning to take in as much of the city as we could before heading further south to Granada. While at night the city is quite crowded with Spanish tourists from the north and other Europeans, Córdoba was so quiet and peaceful in the early morning hours. It was really special to be able to experience the liveliness of the city at night but also the serene calm of the morning hours. Waking up early also meant that my mom and I could take in the beauty of the Mosque-Cathedral before it became crowded with other tourists.

Inside the Mosque-Cathedral of Córdoba, Spain

August 4, 2020 Calle Cardenal Herrero, 1, 14003 Córdoba, Spain

At the very beginning of March, before COVID-19 had spread extensively beyond Asia and it seemed the the whole world went into lockdown, my mom and I traveled to Southern Spain and Morocco. We flew into Madrid, rented a car, and headed south. The trip was extremely last minute; we had originally planned to travel to Italy, but we changed our plans due to the outbreak in northern Italy and out of fear that I might not have been able to return to school after being in a high-risk area or that we could even be trapped in Italy if the outbreak worsened. Little did we know that, in the two week period we were abroad, the virus was already rapidly spreading back home and across the globe, and upon returning home life would look quite different compared to when we departed. 

Because it was such a last minute trip, we made plans as we went along. Our plan was to head down to Granada, but after a seven hour flight we were exhausted and knew it would be best to stop for a night and rest before continuing our journey down south. Cordoba is truly a hidden gem of a city. Most notable in this historic city is its Mosque-Cathedral. While the images below are only of the Mosque-Cathedral, the following post will be dedicated to sharing photographs from the entire city, capturing everything from its buildings to its food and people.

The Mosque-Cathedral was once a Visigoth Christian church, but upon an invasion by the Moors in 711, the church was divided and used by both Muslims and Christians as a house of worship. In 784, Umayyad ruler Abd al-Rahman I ordered the church destroyed and a mosque erected in its place. For the next two centuries, the building grew in size and was eventually completed in 987, becoming one of the largest sacred structures in the Islamic Kingdom. In 1236, Cordoba was reclaimed by Christians and ultimately converted into a church, and in the 16th century several alterations were made including the addition of a central high altar, a belfry in replacement for the minaret, and several chapels.

It was incredible to be inside a structure boasting such a rich history and one at the center of a power struggle between Christians and their Moorish counterparts. Its past as both a mosque and cathedral make it truly a one of a kind structure, and its blending of Muslim and Christian architectural styles gives it an unparalleled beauty.