Great Italian Film Music at Dar Al Athar Al Islamiyah

On November 27th, 2012, Mauro Maur (trumpet) and Francoise de Clossey (piano) took the audience’s breath away with their amazing performance at Dar Al Athar Al Islamiyah. 600421_10151227534322513_1909693331_n

This one was one of my favorites (not able to upload my mp3 recorded piece, so here’s a YouTube video of a performance somewhere):

Programme

E.MORRICONE
(1928- )

Bugsy
The Legend of 1900
A Fistful of Dollars
The Mission

P.PICCIONI
(1920-2004)

Incontri proibiti
Il viaggio
Amore moi aiutami

N.ROTA
(1911-1979)

Amarcord
La Dolce Vita
I Vitelloni
The Road
Nights of Cabiria
8 1/2

Hidden Gems in Kuwait – A Mini-Guide and Reference

The purpose of this blog post will serve as a point of reference for newcomers to Kuwait and even for those of you who have lived in Kuwait your entire life but who are eager to discover what Kuwait has to offer, or even for those of you who have lived in Kuwait previously and plan to come back some day. I’ll be starting my fourth year working in Kuwait and so far, my experience has been fruitful and full of discoveries. I’ve learned that if you search hard enough, you’ll find yourself discovering more and more interesting, talented and experienced people, trying fad cuisines by young chefs, and learned about a myriad of new places and initiatives to explore as well as meeting entrepreneurs, artists, and talented locals. I came to realize that there are many hidden gems in Kuwait’s little society, in its tight-knit community and I’m glad that I, in one way or another, have been exposed to these new projects and initiatives. I have compiled and categorized a list which includes information about organizations, groups, centers, places to visit, personal and/or family businesses, websites to refer to in order to keep up to date about events and functions and much more! The categories are in alphabetical order so that it is easy for you to choose to browse which category interests you most.

Please note that this list is not exhaustive and I will update it as best as I can. I highlighted in yellow the ones that, to me, are really worth looking into. For a few of the items on the list, you will find a blog post about the place, organization or event, which will give you a better idea what it’s about. They will be highlighted in pink.

*** = volunteering opportunities

Hope this will be useful to those of you keen about discovering the hidden gems in Kuwait! 🙂

Word document containing the list: Hidden Gems in Kuwait

A Visit to Thuraya Al-Baqsami’s Ghadir Gallery (Kuwait)

The Aware Center once organized a truly unique event where a certain number of people were invited to visit Thuraya Al-Baqsami’s (a Kuwaiti painter, formative artist & writer) home and gallery. I’m very glad that I signed up right away and reserved a spot. Thuraya warmly welcomed the invitees and spoke to us about her passion for art in her elegant diwaniya room. Thuraya is an incredible woman, having held 45 successful personal exhibitions and numerous collective shows, both Kuwait and internationally and in the process having won several awards and citations. She has managed to carve a name for herself as well as her country in the world of international art.

What Ghadir Ghallery can offer you:

Paintings

Organizing art exhibitions & art bazaars

Framing

Handcrafts

Post & greeting cards

Art books

Art materials

Antiques

Piano & Violin Concert at Dar Al-Athar Al-Islamiyyah (Kuwait)

On the 2nd of May, 2012, two utterly talented musicians, a pianist (Adam Skoumal) and a violinist (Roman Patočka), from the Czech Republic, presented an impressive performance. It was indeed a thrilling music program. The audience listened to a skillful interpretation of Mozart, Dvořák, Massenet and Pablo de Sarasante. We also had the opportunity to witness a world premiere of Adam Skoumal’s composition, dedicated to the Sheikha Hussah Sabah Al-Salem Al-Sabah.

Here’s a clip of their performance: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RRZxD5-tfTg&feature=related

And a list of the pieces they played:

– Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (Sonata for violin and piano in E moll, KV 304)

– Antonín Dvořák (Sonatina in G dur for violin and piano, Op. 100)

– Jules Massenet (Thaїs Meditation) and Pablo de Sarasante (Carmen Fantasy, Op. 25)

Traditional Kuwaiti Clothing and Fashion – The Story Behind It

On March 20th, 2012, Dr. Marjorie Kelly, former director of the Gulf Studies Program at the American University in Kuwait, in coordination with the Kuwait Textile Arts Association presented a fascinating lecture at Sadu House about clothing and culture in Kuwait. I’ve always found the dara’as (a long-sleeved, loose, floor length traditional Kuwaiti dress) to be so colorful, elegant and simultaneously comfortable. This was a great opportunity and an entertaining and informative way to learn about the history of the dara’a and to gain a review of this traditional dress as well as the heritage costumes and modern trends in Kuwait. Two models, Dalal and Dana, were present to wear the dara’a and explain on what occasions they are to be worn.

Dr. Marjorie Kelly has also presented one of her interested projects which entails a CD which she made essentially to portray the diversity of Kuwait and explain what it’s really like. It is a CD produced and directed by Dr. Kelly herself and narrated by Dana Al-Failakawi. I have yet to watch the CD which I purchased later on however I can tell that it is a very well-done presentation as we were shown a short part of the CD during the event (it was the part explaining the history of Kuwaiti traditional clothing both for men and women).

This is a dara’a that is normally worn during girgiyan. Girgiyan is an annual event which takes place mid-way through Ramadan in which the young girls dress up in their dara’as and the young boys dress up in their dishdashas (the traditional Kuwaiti male clothing, which is a thobe, an ankle-length garment, with long sleeves), walk around in the neighborhood and sing for sweets. It is almost like Halloween except it lasts for three nights 🙂

Dalal wearing her mother’s wedding dara’a. Dalal explained to us that this particular dara’a is worn while performing the Samri which is the name of a folkloric music and dance native to the Arab states of the Persian Gulf, especially Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. It involves singing poetry while the daff drum is being played. Two rows of men, seated on the knees sway to the rhythm.

To tailor a bisht, as much as seven yards may be needed. Various types of woolen fabric were used. Coarse sheep’s wool was used in garments known as al mazwiyya, or bisht badia, which were mainly worn by the Bedouin. A similar hard-wearing fabric was woven for sailor’s bisht. Merino and London wools were imported from Britain for use in thicker bishts. A lighter weight fabric made of finely spun lamb’s wool was used for spring and summer garments. Even more expensive was the thin, lightweight summer bisht made from fine camel hair, called the bisht alwabar. The most famous of this type is called Al Najafi, after the town of Najaf in Iraq, where the fabric was made of finely hand spun baby lamb’s wool. Today, the majority of bishts are made from imported machine made fabric, but for sheer quality, nothing compares to a fine hand woven bisht. (**taken from Sadu House).

In general, the brisht’s neckline, front opening and sometimes the sleeve seams and cuffs are hand embroidered by men called al mejaben .The embroidery is done with handmade zari –silk thread covered in gold, or zari hurr – silk thread covered in silver and coated with gold. Colored silk thread called brisim may also be used in the design or as a contrast to the zari. Once completed, the embroidery is hammered with a large iron punch to smooth any rough edges in the metal thread and also to produce a sheen. If properly cared for, its glimmer and shimmer will last for a long time. (**taken from Sadu House).

I encourage you all to find out more about Sadu House and the Kuwait Textile Arts Association by clicking on the links. Sadu House is a cultural center concerned with the promotion of Kuwait’s traditional textile arts and related skills. Al Sadu is dedicated to celebrating the rich and diverse woven textile heritage of Kuwait, inspired by the values of productivity and creativity of the nation’s past, weaving together a cultural identity for both present and future generations. (**taken from the Sadu House pamphlet). You can also find out about weaving classes and traditional craft making workshops which Sadu House offers. Similarly, the Kuwait Textile Arts Association promotes the knowledge and skills of textile related arts in Kuwait and the Gulf region. They’ve got a quilt group, a yarn and fibre group, a library and plenty of other interesting special events and workshops.

The Musinema Cello Quartet – Dar Al Athar Al Islamiyah and L’Institut Français du Koweït

On Wednesday, April 11th 2012, Dar Al Athar Al Islamiyah in coordination with L’Institut Français du Koweït held an incredible music event called “The Musinema Cello Quartet”. The presenters were Valérie Montembault , Florimond Dal Zotto, Jean-Baptiste Noujaim and Romain Desjonquères. It was a unique performance where all musicians were playing their cellos at the same time as presentations of old black and white films with Harold Lloyd: “Haunted Spooks” and “Doctor Jack”. This was by far one of my favorite Dar Al Athar events. The silent films were hilarious and the musicians were able to sync their music impeccably well with the films.

Here is a teaser montage of the breathtaking music the group of cello musicians played along with the silent film “Doctor Jack”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gvi9OtFIhLE

For more information about Romain Desjonquères’ music compositions, visit his website: http://www.romaindesj.com/


Will Syria ever be the same…

It’s hard to believe that what was once a beautiful, historic country is now deteriorating into a bloody civil war. In February 2010, my neighbors from Canada spent their winter in Syria, in a mountainous area called Bloudan (about 50 km away from Damascus) so my dear friend and colleague, Marianne, and I accepted their kind invitation to spend 4 days with them.

One of my favorite areas in the Old City of Damascus was Souq Al Hamidiyya, buzzing with life. I loved its narrow streets and lively vendors. I found people in general in Syria to be very heart-warming and hospitable. At Souq Al Hamidiyya, you can find anything you’d like such as little lanterns, elegant table and pillow covers, carpets, hookahs, tea sets, sweets, nuts, spices, perfumes, jewellery, you name it! The Umayyad mosque is within Souq Al Hamidiyya. We had to rent a hooded cloak to go inside (even if I was wearing hijab). Inside there was a green-domed, marble-clad shrine of Prophet Yehia (pbuh). During the building of the mosque back in the early 8th century, a casket was discovered buried under the old basilica floor. It contained the Prophet’s head, still with skin and hair intact, and that’s what’s in the shrine which was quite eerie. To the eastern side of the courtyard, there was the shrine of Hussein, son of Ali and grandson of the Prophet (pbuh). He was killed by the Umayyads at Kerbala in Iraq. This shrine attracts a large number of Shiite Muslims and there were many Iranians visiting as well. There was also the mausoleum of Salah ad-Din at the north of the mosque. 

We had ice cream at a famous ice cream shop called “Bakdash”, in the Old City. It consists of a pounded ice cream with an elastic texture made of mastic (mistika in Arabic) and sahlab. It was a full and crowded place and I understood why when I tasted this mouth watering ice cream!!  

I also visited Azem Palace which has many courtyards and gardens that were built between 1749 and 1752 as a private residence for the governor of Damascus (As’ad Pasha al-Azem). It remained the Azem residence until the beginning of the 20th century, when the family moved outside the Old City and the house was sold to the French to become an Institute of Archaeology and Islamic Art. The palace has a number of luxuriously decorated rooms with wooden panelling, blue tiling and painted ceilings. The rooms contain mannequin displays, each with a different theme (like the wedding, the bride, the mother-in-law, the pilgrimage, etc.). There were displays of costumes, textile and musical instruments.

The next day (our last day), we visited two places near each other called: “Ma’alula and Seidnayya”, two very peaceful places and a change from the bustling streets of Damascus. Seidnayya is high up in the mountains, it’s the Greek Orthodox Convent of Seidnayya. It kind of looks like a Crusader castle but it’s actually a convent. It stands on the site of one of the most important places of Christian pilgrimage in the Middle East, due to the presence of a portrait of the Virgin Mary. We headed to the roof of the convent and there was a beautiful view over the town to the plains beyond. We then visited Maalula (near Seidnayya). It’s in a narrow valley in the foothills of Jebel Libnan ash-Sharqiyya. It’s a little village where there is the Convent of St Thecla. It is tucked snugly against the cliff. Before we visited the convent, we walked in between the mountains (in which there used to be caves) and it was kind of like Petra in Jordan (the further we advanced, the narrower it would get). It gave us the impression of walking through a canyon.  

As I look back at this memorable journey, I ask myself if Syria will ever be at peace. I pray for all those in Syria and elsewhere in the world suffering dreadfully under violence; may God grant them strength, trust in You, and relief.

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Memories of Istanbul – Secrets of the Sultan’s Harem Fashion Show and Turkish Clothes Sale

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~ “If the world were a single state, Istanbul would have been its capital.” ~ Napoleon Bonaparte

On Tuesday, January 17th, 2012, at Sadu House, Deniz Cerinan Al-Ghawas presented a remarkable lecture entitled ‘Secrets from the Sultan’s Harem’ along with a fashion parade of traditional Turkish styled costumes worn for Henna parties today. About a month later, Deniz kindly welcomed people into her home and held a Turkish clothes sale. It was interesting to see all the different designs of embroidery, different styles and techniques used to make these intricate costumes. The costumes were so exotic and pleasing to the eye that I got myself a traditional Turkish style costume to wear during International Week as my class was representing “Turkey”. Both the fashion parade and the Turkish clothes sale brought back warm memories from my trip to Istanbul in April 2011. Turkey is a country that I would return to without hesitation. The cradle of civilisation, filled with so much history, warmth, glory, unique and mystical beauties, Istanbul remains forever one of my favorite cities.

Pictures from my trip to Istanbul in April 2011: http://www.flickr.com/photos/23688823@N08/sets/72157626496836835/

Pictures from the Turkish clothes Fashion show and sale: http://www.flickr.com/photos/23688823@N08/sets/72157628952566269/

I really wish that I could have shared the video I had taken of the presentation of a traditional Turkish henna night but I’ve tried so long and in so many ways to insert that video here but was not able to. Instead, here is a video with the song “Yuksek Yuksek Tepeler” that was playing during the presentation: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rzg0G_LnQLw

It’s a song about how the new bride is leaving her home and her family and starting a new life as a bride. The video shows beautiful traditional Turkish costumes. Starting at about 2:20 you can catch a few snapshots to see how the henna night takes place. The bride sits in the middle while her bridesmaids walk around her with candles in their hand and later they place henna on her hands.

If you’re interested in finding out more about Deniz’s glamorous Turkish festive clothes, take a look at her Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/pages/%C3%87erinans-Exotic-Turkish-Textiles/197270630306543

Deniz is also the organizer of the Kuwait Bachata Dance Club, which you can find out more about here: http://www.kuwaitbachataclub.com/. You can join various classes such as salsa dance classes, Bollywood dance classes, belly dancing classes, zumba, yoga and pilates!

My trip to Belgium and other adventures in Europe

It would have been best if I wrote about this right after I arrived from my mini Euro trip while everything is still fresh in my mind (would have a lot more to say) but I will try my best to share with you what a wonderful experience it was and what a nice change it was! Also, wish I could’ve uploaded more pics, if you are interested in seeing my pictures from my trip, please send me an e-mail as I don’t want to post them all here.

For my two week winter break end of January-beginning of February, I decided I wanted to go some place a bit cold and in which I can be surrounded by art, culture, quaint shops and cafés, narrow cobbled streets in which I can do lots of walking. I missed all of that so much! My dear friend and colleague, Nadia, offered that I visit and stay with her sister who lives in Belgium. At first I couldn’t accept such an offer but she insisted and assured me that it’s alright. I told myself it’d be a nice opportunity to meet new people and to stay with someone who is familiar with the country. I knew though that I wasn’t planning on staying in Belgium for the whole two weeks. I wanted to take advantage of the fact that I was close to other European countries so that I can visit.

My journey began in Belgium. Nadia’s sister, Amel, and her husband Moncef were very kind to pick me up from the Brussels airport one afternoon. They live in an area called Mouscron (the “s” here is not pronounced) which is about an hour and a half away from Brussels, by car. I cannot thank Amel and Moncef enough for their generosity and kindness. They were truly caring and treated me like their own daughter. I enjoyed my stay with them and really do miss their presence. I was happy to meet some of their friends. One of them, a Belgian, who coincidently, used to work in Kuwait at some point so it was interesting to share and discuss what our views are about living and working in Kuwait. He invited us over at his place and Amel prepared for us an amazing Tunisian couscous meal.

I also met one of their other friends who works as a travel agent and who helped me find a deal and book my trip to Berlin. I find that is one of the best parts of traveling to different countries, the fact that you get to meet locals, friends of friends, down to earth and genuine people.

I didn’t spend my whole time in Mouscron. I had the opportunity to visit Barcelona and Berlin. I also visited Lille also known as “Le Petit Paris” (“The Little Paris”) for a couple of hours as it is very close to Mouscron. Sluis in the Netherlands was one of my favourite places (about an hour drive from Mouscron). We had the best meal of mussels and fries (very famous meal in that area of the Netherlands). What I loved most are the little traditional looking shops. On our way to Sluis, we stopped at Brugge, a quaint old city near Brussels, also known as “the Venice of the North” which was just breathtaking and enchanting. My flight back to Belgium from Berlin landed at the Brussels airport so I spend about a day in Brussels, the capital of Europe. I also got the chance to visit other areas in Belgium, nearby Mouscron such as Kortrijk, Wevelgam and Oostende. I stopped in Oostende just for a bit to visit the seaside which was so peaceful and calm. Moncef told me that during the summer, all the French come to this part of Belgium to soak up the sun.

Wevelgam is where Amel and Moncef’s friend, Patrick, lived. Patrick is from Boulogne, France. He moved to Belgium at a very young age. Wevelgam is about 10 minutes away from Mouscron and it is in a Flemish area (most people there speak Flemish). Moncef explained to me that the kingdom of Belgium is made up of two fiercely independent regions: French speaking Wallonia (Wallonie, en Français) to the south and Flanders (Vlaanderen) to the north which speaks Flemish, a form of Dutch. Brussels is located in the heart of Flanders, but is part of the “French community”.
Back to Amel and Moncef’s friend 🙂 I found Patrick to be such a kind-hearted man and a caring father. I loved spending time with his sons Elias (who had down syndrome) and Dylan. I especially love interacting with children who have down syndrome, they seem to be very socially competent and so caring, loving and empathetic towards individuals. I kind of envied this family’s simple living lifestyle. In fact, I noticed that Europeans in general seem to cherish life more and not get caught up in the rush of life. Many of whom I encountered throughout my trip would say to me: “tu es jeune, il faut profiter de la vie.” (“you are young, you must embrace and enjoy life”).

I especially liked Brugge as it was simply romantic and quaint. I was so tempted by the display windows in this rustic old city. After all, Bruggians are the connoisseurs of chocolate.

My flight arrived in Brussels early one morning on my way back from Berlin. Brussels is home to dozens of museums, galleries and theatres; its neighbourhood is centered on the “La Grande Place” which is basically a homogenous body of public and private buildings, dating mainly from the late 17th century. It was nice to walk in Brussels’ cobbled stone streets and take in the grandeur and magnificence of “La Grande Place” all to myself (there were only about two other people around since it was still so early). What I loved about “La Grande Place” is that it has an interesting intricate architecture.

The cultural traveler in me led me to the “Musée du Cacao et du Chocolat”, to learn about the origins of chocolate 🙂 This museum opened in 1998 by Jo Draps, the daughter of one of the founders of Godiva chocolate company, the Musée du Cacao et du Chocolat is truly a chocoholic’s dream. Fresh milk chocolate is churned at the entrance and you are offered with a speculo (cinnamon cookie) dipped in this chocolate, divine!! The museum is pretty small and cozy but gives you an interesting and complete overview of the origins of chocolate. There was also a man who gave a short presentation about how pralines are made. Belgium is particularly famous for its pralines: in 1912, Jean Neuhaus invented the praline, the quintessential Belgian chocolate, when he filled chocolate shells with cream and pastes. Here’s some interesting information about the origins of chocolate and the procedures for it to turn into chocolate: reaching up to four to ten meters, the cocoa tree grows in tropical conditions in hot and humid regions. The cocoa originally comes from Central America but now 70% of production worldwide is derived from West Africa. The fruit of the cocoa tree is called “pod”. This pod-like fruit is 10 to 25 cm long, weighs 300 to 500 grams and contains 30 to 40 beans embedded in a pulp. The beans are harvested after four months. They are opened to remove the beans which are left to ferment for two or three days, they are turned over from time to time. The beans are left in the sun to dry for two weeks. Once these two stages have been completed, the beans are exported in shipping sacks. They are then roasted, broken from their shells and grinded. The result is a paste called cocoa mass. The mass is kneaded during hours in a conch (i.e. giant kneading machine). Cocoa butter, vanilla, lecithin, sugar (and milk for milk chocolate or white chocolate) are added in different proportions, depending on the type of chocolate. During the whole production process, the fluidity of the chocolate is measured. The chocolate is then ready to be delivered to artisans and chocolate masters. It is delivered in 3 forms: drops or “callets”, 5 kilos tablets, liquid.

Aside from the chocolate and the fries, you can’t go to Brussels and not have waffles!!

In Brussels, I also got the chance to visit the “Centre de Bandes Dessinées Belge” (The Belgian Comic Strip Center) which basically chronicles the history of Belgian comics. This brought back memories of my childhood, I remembered when my sister, Dina, and I would be so excited about going to the library as we would love to take out comic books such as Tintin, Les Schtroumphs, Boule et Bille, Astérix et Obélix, Johan et Pirlouit.

The two cities I visited on my own are Barcelona and Berlin. I had never visited new countries on my own before so it was an interesting experience. I found that the advantage of traveling alone is that you have complete freedom and independence. You never need to consider your partner’s wishes when you decide what to see, where to go, where to eat, how much to spend, etc. Another great advantage is that you meet more people (and I definitely have had the opportunity to meet different people throughout my trip). When you’re alone, you will be more inclined to reach out and make friends. I didn’t have any trouble getting around or finding places. I relied mainly on touristic guidebooks. However, whenever I would find myself unsure about getting to a place, I would JUST ASK. I don’t understand why some people feel like it undermines their capabilities or confidence to ask for directions to a place. You’d be surprised at how nice and friendly people can be to the point that they can even go as far as walking you to the place you’re looking for if it’s not too far from where they already are. This reminds me that I recently read this article about how humans are naturally empathetic:

http://www.aljazeera.com/news/americas/2012/02/201222023301844664.html

On my way to Barcelona, it was kind of difficult for me to summon up my excitement as I had just learned a few days prior to my departure to Barcelona that my grandmother (maternal) had just passed away. She was a tremendously loving, caring and special woman whom I have fond memories of and I kept thinking about how unbearable the idea was of losing a mother. I wished that I could be by my mother’s side during this difficult time. May God grant her the highest level of paradise and may He bless and protect all our loved ones.

My favourite part of Barcelona was walking in Las Ramblas, the most lively and exciting pedestrian area in the city! Out of the three days I spent in Barcelona, the sun finally shone strongly the third day! I was so grateful for that!

Nearby Las Ramblas is La Bouqueria market (Mercat de Sant Josep), which is a strikingly beautiful market and known as the largest open air market in all of Spain!

Some museums I visited in Barcelona are the Picasso Museum (tucked away in amongst the bodegas (small grocery stores) and the Museum of Contemporary Art which was bursting out of the narrow streets. The Picasso Museum contains key works that mark the various early times when Picasso was most intensely involved with the city of Barcelona. One of my favourite lines of Picasso is “Je ne cherche pas, je trouve” (“I do not seek, I find”) meaning that Picasso would let his art creation come without difficulty, without having to think too much about it. I believe it also means that sometimes we are so caught up searching for something, not realizing that things just come naturally. Many of the works that were presented at the Museum of Contemporary Art stood out for their exquisite realism.

I loved walking near the beach (my hotel was near the beach) and enjoying a gelato. One of the best parts about Barcelona was the food course 🙂

I chose a good day to visit the Sagrada Familia, which was the last day of my visit in Barcelona, the day the sun shone through the beautiful glass windows of the Sagrada Familia (which, by the way, with over 120 years of construction, is still a work in progress).

I was in complete awe when I first saw the Sagrada Familia, a true masterpiece. When I visited Gaudi’s other dizzying and bizarre architectures such as Casa Milà (La Pedrera) and Casa Batlló, I wondered what kind of drugs was he taking! Aside from that, he was quite clever as Gaudi’s astonishing designs did not merely mimic nature, they were the result of attentive and intelligent observation of natural forms, structures and functional characteristics. From a young age, Gaudi showed a keen interest in shapes, colours and the geometry of nature.

I have to mention the sweet Kuwaiti couple I met on the tour bus and then with whom I visited the Sagrada Familia. Jawza and Mohammed were sitting behind me on the tour bus and they asked me a question regarding the system of the tour bus. We then started conversing and mentioning where we are from. They told me they were from Kuwait and I told them that I was living in Kuwait for the past 3 years. We then met each other again in the waiting line to enter Gaudi’s legend of art, the Sagrada Familia. I passed by them and when they saw that I was heading towards the end of the line to wait my turn, they insisted that I just stand in line with them so that I don’t have to wait a long time to enter. Once we got to the ticket booth, I was about to pay for my ticket when they insisted on paying for me (and not just the regular price ticket, they insisted to buy the ticket in which you get to take the elevator to go to the highest level of the Sagrada Familia to get a nice view in addition to an entrance ticket to Gaudi’s Parc Güell.) I couldn’t believe they’d do this for a complete stranger; I protested several times, thanking them for their kindness but they just would not let me pay. I am very grateful to have met such a nice couple. We visited the Sagrada Familia and Parc Güell together and had a nice time.

My trip to Berlin was rough at the beginning as I had hardly slept the day before departing for Berlin. In order for me not to pay a lot for hotels, for both Barcelona and Berlin, I stayed only 2 nights and 3 days. My flight back to Belgium from Barcelona was supposed to leave at 6 am but was delayed for over 6 hours. I slept at the airport of Barcelona that night (so that I don’t have to pay an extra night for a hotel), arriving at 10 pm at the airport and waiting for my flight departing at 6 am. I ended up leaving at 12 pm!! It was quite exhausting. Once I arrived in Belgium, it was about 6 pm as I had to take a train from the Charlevoix airport (which is about an hour away from Mouscron, where I was staying) and this train didn’t come regularly so I had to wait for it. Once I arrived in Mouscron, I ate, freshened up and packed for Berlin and got ready to head to the Brussels airport from where my Berlin flight was departing. Once again, I had to sleep in the airport as my flight to Berlin was departing early in the morning (at about 7 am). That’s where I got sick and spent most of my night at the airport feeling unwell. Once I arrived in Berlin, forgetting what winter was as it was extremely cold and I had not experienced winter for about 2 years since I had not returned to Canada during the winter, only during summers; though I knew I’d be wasting a day, I took a hot shower and went straight to bed. I made up for all the sleep I had missed and felt much better the next day and went out to discover.

I was very happy to meet up with my childhood friends, Aly and Shaimaa. They left Canada with their parents at a very young age to live in Germany as their father had found a job there. Here’s a picture of Aly and I, buddies as toddlers 🙂 and a picture of meeting with Aly and Shaimaa in Berlin.

Aly was very kind to show me around; we visited the Pergamonmuseum which houses the collection of classical antiquities, the museum of ancient near east and the museum of Islamic art. We also got the chance to see the German cathedral as well as the Berlin Wall and enjoy a nice hot drink and meal at the famous “Café Einstein” at the enchanting street “Under Den Linden”.

I had also visited the Jewish Museum, Brandenburg gate (builty by Friederich Wilhelm II as a symbol of military victory), walked over to Checkpoint Charline and visited the victory column (a 27 m tall monument that celebrates Prussia’s victory over France in 1880. The statue of Victoria is at the top, made of melted-down French cannons. During WWII, Hitler had the statue move to its present location to increase its visibility).

I’ve learned that when you travel, whichever place you visit, you should always leave a place wanting more. That’s the best feeling and a feeling of satisfaction that you’ve really enjoyed your visit, knowing that you want to come back. I had a fervent desire to not want to leave anything unseen, don’t want to leave anything inexperienced, wanting to “suck the marrow of life” as Henry David Thoreau says:

~ “I went to the woods because I wanted to live deliberately, I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to put to rout all that was not life and not when I had come to die Discover that I had not lived.” ~

Sandy Coo-Coons – The Ultimate Icebreaker

During AWARE Center’s Cultural Exhibition last October, one of the tasty appetizers which were being served at the event were, in all honesty, the most incredible kibbeh I’ve ever tasted!

Sandy Coo-coons is owned by a Kuwaiti lady called Um Ayman who makes these tantalizing snacks using exotic Kuwaiti spices and a mixture of the finest lamb and ground beef. I’ve ordered them two times until now and it’s been a hit at both of my dinner gatherings so far. You can either buy them frozen or ready. On their website, under “Products”, there is a YouTube video that explains to you how you can fry them.

I found the spices used so flavorful that I had to ask Um Ayman what it is she uses exactly. Her response was Kuwaiti spices and I asked her where I can find that; she then generously offered and insisted that she sends some with the driver when I receive my order. I haven’t used the spices yet in my cooking but they smell so delicious!

Thought I’d share with you this seemingly not very well-known company. You should definitely try it out! Order some at your next event or social gathering 🙂