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Travel

FOREIGN TRAVELS: A FEW HOURS IN AMSTERDAM

Munje Foh

"I felt a little bit of home once I was able to bond with a stranger to the melody of R&B songs playing over the muzak, perhaps another person would find comfort in the amazing flower arrays, the assortment of beer, or the hipster youth adorned in leather and skinny jeans.  Whatever your flavor, Amsterdam has a little something for everyone.

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FOREIGN TRAVELS: NICE AND MONACO

Munje Foh

Our next stops during our week-long tour of Europe were the cities of Nice and Monte Carlo.  As I mentioned in my previous post, my fiancé planned this trip as a celebration of our engagement and kept each destination a surprise that he revealed to me on the way to the airport every morning.  I'm sure that he chose Nice because I've dreamed of visiting since hearing about the city years ago when Angelina Jolie came here to deliver her twins.  Monte Carlo is only a thirty minute drive from Nice so it makes sense to visit both cities while you're in the area if you have time.

When we arrived, the sky was still gloomy and overcast from a recent storm that caused a lot of property damage and killed about thirty people.  This ruined my fiance's plans to sail because it was too cold, but where the sun was lacking the warm and welcoming people definitely compensated.

I have no idea why, but our hotel lobby was decorated with paintings of legendary black musicians so I got a jump start on the touristy pictures.  And to think I almost felt out of place with my biggie sweatshirt ;)

Nice is an extremely clean and well-manicured city with classic French architecture.  Even though we were squarely in Europe, the presence of palms trees, the expansive coastline and crystal blue waters made me feel as though this little European city had be transposed onto a tropical destination.  But then the cold breeze off of the sea jolted me back into reality, lol.

I've read some rave reviews about the beaches in Nice and was really looking forward to getting into the water.  Although the weather didn't permit us to fully enjoy it, the water was just as beautiful as I had envisioned and my only disappointment was learning that the beach isn't natural and has been excavated and covered in stone.  Even still, the quaint buildings that tower along the coastline cliffs make for a beautiful view and we spent hours nibbling on lunch and talking over the calming noise of the sea.  Call me biased, but I expected the beauty of the beach at Nice to surpass my favorite beach in Sierra Leone and it didn't.  I guess there is something truly special about home.

I don't think I've quite captured in words or photographs the sheer coolness of Nice.  While its very much an old world city, with plaques commemorating the time that Thomas Jefferson spent here as the American ambassador to France, Nice is still very vibrant and energetic.  What could be more hip than running into an old Marithe Francois & Girbaud design shop?  If that wasn't enough, I swear that I saw Donatella Versace on our quick stroll through the mall, plus an older lady on a scooter wearing Birkenstocks, cropped pants and a headwrap that would give Baddiewinkle a run for her money.  The city is also very diverse and many cultures are represented in its population.

Starting with the D&G ad in Italy, a theme for me on this trip was capturing advertisements.  I think advertisements give a window into a society's ideals by represent what a typical consumer is aspiring to or finds desirable.  The owners of this women's store clearly think that African culture is stylish, based on the head and neck pieces and the tribal-inspired sprints.  The topic of cultural appropriation has been a hot one in the media lately, but I personally believe that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.  It only makes me wonder why people of different cultures can't embrace each other as easily as we can borrow from another culture's style.

Anywho, after spending the day in Nice, we took a taxi over to Monaco to check out the casinos, eat dinner and enjoy the nightlife.  During dinner we sat next to another black family who happened to be from our backyard; Bowie, Maryland.  Dinner was delicious, and the club was alright but the highlight our night was running into a hilarious couple from London.  Something about the British and their sense of humor!

Have you ever been to the South of France or Monaco?  If so, do you agree with my assessment? Thanks for visiting.

FOREIGN TRAVELS: THE BEAUTY OF BARCELONA

Munje Foh

The second stop on my week-long European tour was Barcelona, Spain.  Although I've always thought that the name Barcelona was independently beautiful, I've never thought much about visiting Spain.  There isn't much mention of Spain as a tourist destination in America.  Perhaps this is due to our proximity to South America and Mexico, much of which was colonized by Spain, which makes Americans feel as though we can get our fill of Spanish culture just by traveling across the border.  Whatever the reason, I didn't have the same expectations for Barcelona as I would've for Paris, Venice, London or any of the other major European cities that are often mentioned as tourist destinations.

After our flight from Milan, we dropped our bags off at our hotel and then proceeded to the most obvious tourist destination for any man planning a day in Barcelona; the Camp Nou stadium, home to the Futbol Club Barcelona.

Even though I am far from being a futbol fan, I really got into the history portion of the tour.  It was interesting to learn that the stadium seats almost 100,000 people and is the second largest stadium in the world.  Yet another time that the architecture in Europe made me feel so small in comparison to its grand scale.

There is a tiny chapel inside the stadium, just beyond the locker rooms.  Apparently this futbol thing is so serious that prayer is needed and Jesus has his own box seat at the games! Ha!

When the stadium tour was complete we ventured into the city center to find lunch, shop and prepare for a surprise later in the evening.  Barcelona truly reminds me of Paris.  Its cobblestone streets, wire-wrought verandas and double-shuttered windows convey an emphasis on adorning the parts of life that would otherwise be ordinary.   The result of these unnecessary accoutrements is a feeling of intimacy and romance that encapsulate the city.  

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Because he is amazing, my fiance planned an evening trip to the Font Magic de Montjuic (the Magic Fountain of Montjuic), which is situated just below the majestic Musea Nacional d'Art de Catalunya (National Art Museum of Catalonia).  The Magic Fountain features a synchronized water, light and music show during the evenings that plays for thirty-minute intervals beginning at dusk and ending close to midnight.

Got caught slipping...

The final surprise of the evening was dinner and a Flamenco show.  Flamenco is a form of music and dance that is native to the Spanish regions of Andalusia and incorporates guitar, clapping, snapping and lots of fancy footwork to create a distinct sound.  Although this dance form is thought to have originated in the 18th century, I swear that one of the dancers we watched supplemented this old world art form with a few lessons from James Brown ;)

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I thoroughly enjoyed Barcelona.  My only regret was not taking more pictures as I walked around the city and the gorgeous airport but hopefully I'll get to return soon.  Thanks for visiting!



FOREIGN TRAVELS: A DAY IN MILAN

Munje Foh

Last week I returned from the adventure of a lifetime; a seven city, seven day trek across Europe with my fiance.  Other than Milan, each city was a surprise that he revealed to me day by day as we continued our journey. 

I was tasked with planning the day in Milan, so I chose to visit a few sites, including Sforza Castle (pictured behind me above) and the Milan Cathedral (pictured below).  Although the old world architecture (complete with remnants of old chain hooks still attached to the corners of buildings) made me feel as though I was in an episode of Game of Thrones, I was really impressed with the preservation of detail in the architecture and the grandeur of the structures.

There was a city-wide food expo taking place that was to feature food from hundreds of countries, so I planned for us to have dinner there after touring the city.  Because the expo was large enough to occupy several different exhibit sites in the city, we spent the majority of our day wandering in search of it and we never quite made it to the highly-anticipated Senegalese food exhibit.  Although most people spoke English, there were many things lost in translation and we didn't figure out exactly where to go until the exhibit was closed. 

We did stroll through the historic Piazza del Duomo and the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, one of the world's oldest shopping malls.  I found the people in Italy to be extremely approachable and friendly.  Several people stopped what they were doing to give us directions, explain a menu or tell us where to get the best rate on currency exchange (always remember to buy currency from your bank before you leave home). 

The food that we eventually found was nothing short of amazing.  Everyone has had Italian food before but the seasoning of the food in Milan was totally different.  The sauces were robust but also very fresh and light.  The meat was tender and thoroughly seasoned but not salty.  You could tell that everything was made with care.

Another thing that I was impressed with was how vibrant people were at every stage of life.  As we roamed through the streets at night making one final effort to find the food exhibit there were well-dressed older women and men seated out on patios enjoying board games and wine.  One lady shouted "I love your dress!" as if she'd wear something just as colorful tomorrow.   In the U.S., we have the silliest notions about age, that life starts or stops at certain numbers, that beauty grows or fades at other numbers, and that your ability to enjoy it all will be gone if you let other numbers pass you by.  These concepts seemed totally absent from Italian life, as I watched people who appeared to be my grandmother's age mates enjoy themselves late into the night.  

I took pictures of an advertisement in the airport that seemed to capture the effervescence of Italians at various stages of life.  Dolce & Gabbana's "Viva La Mama" ad campaign celebrates motherhood at every stage, showing pregnant young women and sassy grandmas and various women in between, elegantly dressed in the brand's designs.  In my view, the ad represented what I observed as the Italian approach to life; the presence of beauty, style and opportunities to indulge at every stage of life.