Glorious Glacier

Trekking the Perito Moreno Glacier, Patagonia, Argentina, 2014       

Experiencing the majesty of the Perito Moreno Glacier in Patagonia and trekking this icy blue-white formation – has humbled me in so many ways. Not only because its wondrousness is yet another example of God’s greatness, it is also a reconfirmation of our limitations as human beings. No matter how much we achieve or how high we climb or how we far we go or do things we think nobody else has done – Condillac was right in claiming that we can never really escape our own sensations. We cannot disembark from ourselves. We are we, here or there. 

My Seducer in Lisbon

When was the last time someone invaded all your senses? When was the last time someone or something aroused a quivering sensation in your heart, gave you goosebumps and made all the hairs on your body stand erect like rigid soldiers – unforgivingly and all at once? The last time for me was in Lisbon. Two months have passed and I find myself going back to that unforgettable evening of surrealistic awakenings. 

Let me help you relive that night with me.

Imagine us together, you and me in a house somewhere in the heart of one of Lisbon’s seductive neighbourhoods. Imagine shades of deep colours surrounding us. Mysterious shadows reflecting their dark light on our faces, shadows made more apparent by the dimness of a room. A cabaret-like room filled with scores of cheerful chatty humans and small tables that either look like circles, or bar codes. Everyone’s talking like they’ve been deprived of vocal privileges for years – a never-ending buzz. That is until silence gracefully enters the room. A royal silence followed by a slightly patronising stillness. Then it speaks to us. Then it sings. Sending us all into a frenzied state of sensual hypnosis.

Fado sings. It sings through her and within her. Its burning fire penetrates through your core. Vocals dripping with yearning for something lost and with little hope of ever being found. So powerful that even your own well-hidden yearning becomes anything but hidden. So intense that even your own disguised longing is revealed. No room or space for wasteful slumbers. We are both awake now and we can’t turn our eyes away from the enchantress. Ballad after ballad so eruptive in nature it stabs us you right where it hurts. So evocative it takes you, it takes me, and it takes the-already-intense Portuguese emotion into deeper pining and nostalgia. Let’s not forget about her accompanist. He is generally a quiet man with a generally not-so-quiet Portuguese 12-string guitar. In her and his togetherness, they break you into tiny little pieces and scatter you into oblivion like we lovers do to one another. They seduce you into becoming whatever they want you to become. Your ‘Fado’ – your ‘Fate – is in your seducer’s hands.

Next time you’re in Lisbon, whatever you do just make sure you don’t miss a Fado live performance in one of Lisbon’s famous Fado houses. Once you experience it, I assure you it will never leave you!

So here’s to Fado! The Fado of the soulful music expression of the passionate Portuguese people. The Fado of Portugal’s 19th century. Of the Moorish-influenced songs. Of UNESCO- inscribed music. Of Lisbon’s version of the blues. Of beautiful Alfama. Fado’s everyone. Of yours and mine.

Fado Depiction on a Wall

Earth

 

This is planet earth
a circle
with an interwoven shade
that never fades
a nation within a nation
edgeless
a secret birth
an art’s creation.

This right here
the size of a penny
this is where
somewhere high
maybe low
you and I
one or many
far or near
coexist
why sigh?
I know you know.

This right here
on this minute object
(with your copyright eyes
and clever interpretations)
or if you prefer –
on the reverse side
this is where
him and her
were born
this is where
if you can bear
you and I
cannot hide
even if we tried.

This is where
for the first time
we scraped our knees
we took our first breath
we shed some tears
had our first kiss
chokes and giggles
this is where
we felt butterflies
and tickles
and fell in love
or if you prefer –
this is where
we fell out of love.

This is where
we grew up
we learn, burn and turn
this is where
we still taste
where we still devour
salt and sour
sometimes bitterness
sometimes sweetness
disappointment’s flavour
everything we savour
even blandness.

This is where
we witnessed sunset after sunset
this is where
we felt
we melt
we knelt
under the sun’s spell
under its saintly face
holding earth
like a little bird
in its nest.

This is where
we see and touch
the wetness of rain
or if you prefer –
the ugly dampness of humanity
hush hush
I mean humidity
this is where
we dream all our dreams
we hear thunder
and jolt in wonder
from the sound of nature’s screams.

This is where
we play, we laugh
we cry, we fall
and disappear
or if you prefer –
this is where
we die a thousand deaths
only to be reborn again
a blessing to some
or if you prefer –
the opposite of blessing?

This is where
you and I
are now looking
this is where
we stare
at this image
of earth
a heaven to some
or if you prefer –
a hell?
Why do we act so surprised?
Why?
Let us confess
this is precisely where
we are indeed
no more and no less
than a twinkle
in God’s eye.

by Razan Abdul Majeed

My Summer in Scandinavia: Must-See’s and Must-Do’s

Me (left) trail-riding on an Icelandic Horse, Golden Circle, June 2017

 I am not a tour agent so I won’t even attempt to be one. But what I would like to do is give you some very USEFUL TIPS on WHAT TO SEE and WHAT TO DO when you’re IN SCANDINAVIA. The info is based on what I saw and did, and most importantly on what I enjoyed seeing and doing while there. I obviously won’t be able to cover every single detail of my trip but what I will do is share things that really stood out for me and things that we all simply must-see and must-do as curious individuals and learning tourists!

Countries Visited: Finland, Sweden, Denmark, Norway and Iceland

Cities: Helsinki, Stockholm, Copenhagen, Oslo, Flåm (village), Bergen, Reykjavík, Gríndavik (blue lagoon), Golden Circle (southern iceland)

Uspenski Cathedra, Helsinki, June 2017

FINLAND, Helsinki

You can spend your time exploring this mysterious city by foot and enjoying its grand boulevards and colourful Russian-influenced architecture. Go see the Senate Square, where its surroundings make up the oldest part of Helsinki. Closeby you’ll find Helsinki Cathedral, the National Library, the Palace of the Council of State, and the University of Helsinki. Near there you will stumble upon Esplanadi Park and the Market Square. Don’t miss the impressive Temppeliaukio Church which is now used for musical events, and the Upenski Cathedral (see above photo) which is considered to be the largest Orthodox Church in Scandinavia. It reminded me of Saint Basil’s Cathedral at the Red Square in Moscow. I later found out that the Uspenski Cathedral is considered to be the symbol of the Russian influence on Finnish culture during the Russian occupation of Finland until 1919.

SWEDEN, Stockholm

Stockholm’s beauty is simply surreal. Maybe too surreal but surreal nonetheless. It is home to the World’s longest art exhibit: the 110km of subway tunnels under Stockholm. Make sure to check some of them out. Stockholm is considered to be the ‘sophisticated’ city of Scandinavia and you’ll understand why simply by walking around and taking in its sleek designs, classic architecture, and royal heritage. While there do check out Gamla Stan which is the Old Town, The Royal Palace, the City Hall (go in, take the guided tour and learn about the man behind the building, the iconic ballroom that hosts the Nobel Banquet, and about Alfred Nobel). I also took a boat that sailed around the Royal National City Park of Djurgården (gorgeous) and the closest inner archipelago islands which Sweden is famous for. A must-do!

DENMARK, Copenhagen

You all know Disney’s ‘Little Mermaid’ or even ‘Frozen’, right? Well, Denmark is home to the beloved Danish author who wrote these fairy tales: Hans Christian Anderson. So when you’re in Copenhagen next, make sure you go on a boat ride and see the Little Mermaid Statue which depicts the title character of his fairly tale. You’ll also pass through beautiful canals and super low bridges!

Copenhagen’s famed Little Mermaid, June 2017

I loved the city’s vibe so walking or even cycling (big bicycle culture) is the best way to explore this quaint and colour city: The Paris of the North as it is often referred to. Be sure not to miss my favourite spot which is Nyhavn, referred to as the street of the World’s Longest Bar. The cafes there overlook a beautiful and long canal and the buildings are cheerful, colourful and pretty cool! Don’t miss the Amalienborg Palace, Strøget (its largest shopping area and among the world’s longest pedestrian streets. True – I thought it would never end!), Tivoli Gardens, and the National Museum if you’re a lover of archeological artifacts. I personally didn’t go inside the museum but I was told it’s worth it! If you follow Royalty news and love palaces, go to the square where the Royal Palace is and where the National guards do the noon switch – quite interesting to watch. Also, do ask a Dane about Queen Margrethe II of Denmark! She’s an interesting character and everyone’s love.

Behind me is the ‘World’s Longest Bar’, Nyhaven, June 2017

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Where to Stay When in Scandinavia: Hotels & Hotel Reviews

The Thief Hotel, Oslo, Norway

If you ever find yourself planning a trip to Scandinavia and you begin your hotel search then this post might just be the right one for you!  Below I included all the hotels I stayed in, and against each hotel is the city/town and country. You will find a short hotel review on each hotel based on my personal experience during my stay.

I put a star rating against each hotel. Three*** stars is excellent, Two stars** average, and One star* less than average.

1. NORTHERN LIGHT INN **, Grindavík, Iceland

mid-range hotel, spacious rooms, overlooking the Blue Lagoon power plant, a lot of big windows so a lot of light and heat inside, super close to the Blue Lagoon with a shuttle service to/from the hotel, nothing special but great if you want to experience the Blue Lagoon, scenery different than what we’re used to but nothing spectacular, food is ok, friendly receptiontists but waiters need some guidance!

2. ALDA***, Reykjavík, Iceland

boutique-style, art-deco, very hip, young and trendy, comfortable rooms, in the heart of Reykjavík, loved its vibe and style, great bakery around the corner (a 5-minute walk. I think it’s called Brōd though not a 100% sure! Ask! It’s the best one and everyone knows it).

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The Woman I Met on the Express Train

View Outside My Window, Express Train to Oslo, June 2017

After a long and meaningful trip, my days at home were split between hours of quiet reflection and hours of retelling and recounting memorable stories of my Scandinavian adventure to family and friends.  Somewhere between this and that I found  myself going back to a particular encounter and only then did I realise what it had truly meant, and how it had altered something in me.  Sometimes random encounters do that. Sometimes they impact us in such a profound way that they create little waves of change in our lives – redirecting our sails to untraveled places within ourselves. And sometimes, its ripple effect is only felt much later – when everything outside of us is subdued, and everything within us isn’t.

The Encounter-: On the 27th of June, which marked the end of my Scandinavian odyssey – I took the Express Train from Bergen to Oslo.

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