Ah, Roma.

In all honesty, Italy swept me off my feet.

I’d never placed it too high on my bucket list, but I absolutely wouldn’t turn down the chance to catch a flight with my boyfriend + best friends. So here we are.

Our trip starts and finishes in Rome. Over 12 days we’d take TrenItalia (the amazing railway system in Italy) to Venice, Cinque Terre, Florence and Saturnia.

Our first stop was Venice, the island with more than 170 canals running through it. Of course we hopped right on a Gondola (80 euros) and then explored the city by water boat. We ate way more pizza and pasta carbs than I’m proud to admit. Not much is open late in Venice, but we did manage to find a hole in the wall spot called Time Social Bar, where we drank wine like water while they blasted Queen. One of the best pasta dishes we had was from Dal Moro’s- a to go spot with tons of pasta options and a good sized portion. Also, if you have time, be sure to visit Libreria Acqua Alta, where you’ll find a some very Instagramable spots….and lots of cats.

Cinque Terre was a fascinating site to see. It is comprised of 5 small little towns that are recognized as UNESCO heritage sites among the coast of northwest Italy. The rainbow buildings of Riomaggiore and Vernazza (the two towns we visited) touch the sky in the sweetest way, you can’t help but feel at ease, surrounded by the bright color.

We also spent some time in Porto Venere, which isn’t technically apart of Cinque Terre, but its still worth a visit! You can dine on the coast with views of the clearest blue water you’ve ever seen, and if that’s appealing to you, then you’ll love taking a quick boat tour around for only 12 euros to see the caves.

Saturnia is home to these beautiful thermal baths that are completely open to the public. We actually stayed in Grosetto, a nearby town, and rented a car to get there. It was 49 euros to rent the car from Eurocar, and was relatively easy to navigate the two hour drive from Grosetto to Saturnia. We also stopped in a very small, but stunning cliffside town called Pitigliano. I highly recommend taking advantage of the jaw dropping views this place has to offer on your way to visit the hot springs.

Rome felt a bit like the faster city pace of NYC, except cleaner, everyone seemed friendlier, and it is WAY more rich in culture. It was nice weather, which made walking everywhere really worthwhile. Every corner you turn there is a gelato shop, and I recommend trying as many gelato shops as you can stomach, because they’re all so different from each other! My favorite flavor was a combo of lemon basil + pistachio. This is where you’ll really see EATily come to life.

My top 3 favorite Gelato shops during the trip are:

  1. Gelaterria dell’Angeletto (Rome)
  2. Ara (Florence)
  3. Vivoli (Florence)

There is so much more to do, see and eat in Italy, and it’s crazy to think we only covered the northern part! I can’t wait to plan a trip through southern Italy and see more crystal blue waters and majestic cliffsides.

Side Note- the best thing I ever did was sign up for the AMEX Delta Skymiles Gold credit card. So many cards have foreign transaction fees, and that’s the last place you want your money to go when traveling. Another reason I love this card is because when you sign up, you get 60,000 bonus miles (which is a FREE fight, equivalent to Hawaii or Europe) as a welcome bonus. So there ya go, your flight to Italy is already paid for! Use my link below to activate this offer! (You must use the link to get the 60,000 miles)

If this is a trip you’d like to take, please share!

Is it safe to visit Egypt in 2019?

Probably the first question you think to yourself while considering a visit to arguably the most incredible ancient structures of all time- The Pyramids of Giza.

While I had my moments of hesitation, the Aries moon in me refused to be led by fear. Even after some kind Jordanians warned us of the difference in culture, we were determined to go. We flew into Cairo, Egypt from Amman, Jordan, which was a little over an hour of a flight.

One thing to note: I would not recommend any means of transportation other than Uber while in the city. Uber has created thousands of jobs in Cairo and there is an abundance of drivers on every corner. I would not consider renting a car here by any means- traffic is chaotic 24/7 and “rules of the road” are absolutely disregarded. If you think NYC, LA, or MIA is bad- Cairo is 100x crazier! Uber is also extremely affordable…just a couple dollars for a 10-15 minute ride.

If you’re new to Uber, you can use my sign up code: “kristenm9353ue”

Islam is the predominate religion in Egypt for over 90% of the population, and the main language spoken is Arabic. Islam is fully endorsed by the government and many laws are built around the religion. You’ll hear the prayer call echoing through the city multiple times a day. I would recommend searching the daily times so you know when to expect them! The first usually starts early in the AM, before the sun rises.

Also, it’s common for many Egyptians to speak/read little to no english, so having a translator app helped a bit. Be mindful of using slang terms or lingo- the translations are quite literal.

Visiting the pyramids was first on our itinerary. First we wanted to find the best view of all 3 big pyramids, which led us right to Pizza Hut across the street from the tiny, informal entrance building.

After we had a bite to eat + snapped some photos, we headed across the road and were quickly ushered around by an Arabic man who spoke fluent english + he directed us to the ticket office to purchase a ticket for less than $10.

While waiting at the front of a “line” (which was actually just a bunch of people crowding around the ticket booth waiving money at the man), I was skipped at least 5 times by men, until the usher stepped in and spoke on my behalf. The ticket booth man proceeded to tear off my ticket and hand it back to the usher instead of me.

The feminist in me was fuming, but I knew it was essentially pointless to express my aversion to the disrespect.

It immediately dawned on me that regardless of how independent and self-reliant I am, it didn’t matter here. I was a woman. I wasn’t taken seriously- I wasn’t meant to operate on my own & without a man dictating my every move, I was helpless. *CRINGE*

As much as I find joy in learning about other cultures and diving into them for an experience of my own, I found this to be really, really hard. The culture is much more aggressive than most of us are comfortable with, and they definitely take advantage monetarily if they know you’re American, UK or Australian. When asked where I’m from, I stopped saying America and started responding with “I’m Lebanese” and leaving it at that.

Ironically, I didn’t feel as strongly while I was actually visiting the country. I felt safe. I felt capable. I didn’t feel like any decisions we made while visiting were made out of fear. It was fun exploring and seeing the pyramids in person was as breathtaking as you can imagine.

These feelings came after a lot of reflection once I returned home. Being in such a confined environment, and feeling the pressure to conform or be treated differently was a lot for my psych to handle. I’m a rebel at heart, and after feeling the oppression of women firsthand, so blatantly, on a country wide scale made me compassionate towards the women there.

From what I understand, freedom of religion is guaranteed by the Egyptian constitution, but Islam is the official religion and there is no “separation of church and state” as we experience to some degree in the USA. As I was in Cairo, I tried to open a webpage on “Christianity and Astrology” and was entirely blocked from viewing the post.

It makes me sad and a bit uneasy to know how sheltered many people are living, yet simultaneously grateful for the unlimited resources we have in America to make discoveries on our own and find an identity for ourselves.

Connecting in an unfamiliar world can be done, as difficult to understand as it may be. At the end of the day we are all living and loving and doing our best. I definitely encourage traveling to these areas (ideally with a male, guide, or someone fluent in Arabic) to prevent isolation, educate, and ultimately create connections.

Lopburi Sunflower Field, Thailand +

Checking off a huge to-do at the top of my bucket list:

play in a sunflower field like the kid at heart I am. 🌻

fun fact: I sat on Kev’s shoulders to get this photo. fun fact: there was a giant spider on this flower and kevin was screaming “DO IT FOR THE GRAM” to make me hold it long enough to align the photo

How to Get to Lopburi from Ayutthaya, Thailand

You have many options as for form of travel such as hiring a van or taxi, but we chose to take the train. It’s the most budget conservative, and honestly it’s the most interesting and like the local experience.

Lopburi is about an hour train ride north from Ayutthaya (including the stops it makes at other stations along the route). There are multiple trains than run back and forth, but I would recommend going early and purchasing your ticket as soon as possible. During high season, the tickets sell out.

There’s 3 types of tickets- first second and third class. The price in US dollars ranges anywhere from 50¢ to $15ish for second-third class. We rode either second/third for all of our train rides; and only once our second class car had A/C. The train has huge open windows though, so the heat definitely isn’t unbearable. Just don’t make the mistake I did by wearing white! By the end of the ride you feel a bit sticky and dirty.

We used this timetable to check when each train departed from Ayutthaya.

Once you’re in Lopburi,

you’ll want to find a driver to take you to the sunflower fields. Don’t worry, there are planets of taxi drivers waiting around, and if you’re gavin trouble it doesn’t hurt to ask the ticket counter for help. They were so kind to us and the man even called us a driver himself. We paid 700 baht for the day. (which was overpriced in my opinion) To my knowledge, there are two main fields, about a 30 minute drive from the train station. The one I was recommended to visit was Khao Jeen Lae, but it was mid January and the driver informed us the flowers were already dying.

Peak season is late November to late January.

We went to another sunflower field to which I didn’t know the name of, but the drivers are used to tourists visiting so I’m sure they know well where to go. Either way, the place was massive, the mountains were visible on the horizon, and the sunflowers were blooming.

The weather was overcast, which was amazing since Thailand is so hot all the time. So we had a full on photo shoot!

There was only a couple other people wandering around the fields. We spent a little over a solid hour here. On a normal hot day I’m sure we maybe only would have lasted 30-45 minutes. There’s no shade whatsoever!

Bring a selfie stick, like the Vicdozia GoPro one I love, some sunscreen like Alba’s, a hat or bandana that alternates as a head wrap, or whatever else you’ll need to stay cool in Lopburi’s hot climate, and enjoy the beautiful majestic flowers!