The last month has been full of travel: Paris, St. Tropez, Rome, Bergamo and now I’m back in London before I head to Ibiza this afternoon. Of all of the wonderful places I’ve visited in the last month, I must say, the city of Bergamo now holds a special place in my heart. Studying abroad in Milan, Bergamo was where we students flew out of for the cheaper flights. Heading to the airport, you could see the walled city in the distance up on the hill. Always found it intriguing but you know how it goes, you never take advantage of the sites nearest to you. It took almost a decade later and a very special guy to bring me to Bergamo for a weekend. To know Bergamo is to love it. Really. Whenever I tell people that my boyfriend is from there, they either have never heard of it or go bonkers and regale me with a story about their last visit to the city. It’s pretty cool. Here’s a little Vespa ride through the city I shot for my IGTV channel. Enjoy!
“It’s good, but not like mamma makes…” If you’ve been to an Italian restaurant with an Italian person, chances are you’ve heard that phrase.
La Mia Mamma restaurant in the Chelsea neighborhood in London is giving a whole new meaning to “made in Chelsea.”
For a 28£ fixed menu that included an Aperol spritz, antipasti (3 hot, 3 cold) pasta, desert and espresso, I left pleasantly stuffed. You could have a main including in this for 10£ more (which Michele would probably do), but just the pasta was way more than enough for me. The antipasti is fresh from the market that day and the pasta is just like mamma makes it. Really. The concept of La Mamma Mia is to give the customers real Italian home cooking, 20 regions, 20 mammas cooking for you. Yes, there’s the fixed Italian restaurant menu of the chef but the specialty menu is based on the region for that month. This month (August) it’s Sicily and Sara (see her in the video below) is one of 3 wonderful mamma’s from Sicily cooking for us, taking us through summer in the sun-drenched isle of Sicily with our taste buds.
Sicily and it’s culture has always enchanted me. Italian American culture is heavily Southern and Sicilian. But Sicily, it’s Greek, Roman, Spanish and Arabic history has always gotten my history nerd rocks off. The island is on my bucket list so when my friend Marjan of Marjan Focus invited me to La Mia Mamma and I found out we’d be eating Sicilian cuisine, I couldn’t wait. Yes, there was the famed arancini then there was a casserole type potato, peas, bacon, deliciousness, polpette, stewed aubergines… Yum! This was all before our main pasta dish of a pesto with pistachio and ricotta. Don’t worry, I saved room for the Nutella and coconut mousse!
Yup, I think this place will pass the Michele seal of approval. We’ll see… Mamma Sara, I may be coming back!
Sharing antipasti with Marjan at La Mamma Mia
A delicious Sicilian pesto with pistacchio & ricotta
Forbes’ Women vertical is all about helping women take the next step forward in business and in life. That is a goal / direction I can easily get behind. Starting this blog, I hoped to inspire more Americans to be passport holders because I truly believe that we are all global ambassadors and bridging these gaps will inspire change. In particular, I want women of color to take that next step forward and cast aside any trepidations they might have about traveling. Yes, as I mention to Forbes, we have to navigate our space in a tourism industry that primarily and historically caters to white men, but #blackgirlmagic touches on our mettle when facing obstacles, so go out and see the world!
There are so many great tips that my fellow female travelers shared that I want to impart to you like “Talk! Talk to everyone, everyone, everyone. The more people who are familiar with you and who recognize you, the better. So, I talk to everyone in my hotel, everyone in my hostel, everyone on the bus next to me. For me, it’s about staying safe, and the best way to do that is to connect with other people who are looking out for you.” From Kelly Lewis, founder of Go Girl Guides.
Read our tips and let me know what you think! My travel spirit sister and I, Alyssa Ramos of My Life’s a Movie, both chose locales in Mexico. So build a wall. You might find us on the other side….
For good and for bad, social media influences how we travel. I aim to inspire you to go to new places, try new foods, interact with new people! I also attempt to show you what it’s like behind the scenes and remain authentic. Sometimes my trips are sponsored by an airline or a tourism board. Sometimes I’m getting access to places that you might not — although more often than not lately, my fellow journalists and I do speak out to our hosts and say, “ok, is this something that the general public can do?” It’s nice when they impress us but many times, for our articles as journalists it’s useless to experience something we can’t write about because it was done especially for us. In the blogging world, we wake up at sunrise for that amazing shot of the Taj Mahal without the crowds. I’ve been on influencer trips with some ridiculously talented photographers that do composite images to get that oh so perfect starry night in the Serengeti. Based on a true story.
If you only knew the coaxing it took from Michele for me to stand for this photo
Having said all of this, I implore you to listen to the story behind the photos. It’s ok to not like a place that everyone else raves about. Your experiences are uniquely your own! It’s just like reading that hyped Oprah’s book club book and finding it a bit dull. Perhaps it is because of the effort (and costs) that we put into traveling that we feel uncomfortable saying when experiences aren’t all that we hoped for. Given this, I want to share my experience with a city I visited on my boyfriend and my trip to Morocco. I was so excited to visit this place because of the pictures and friends that love it.
I was excited to visit Chefchaouen in the Rif mountains of Northwest Morocco. I deliberated over blue outfits that would pop for pictures. I read articles, blog posts, got recommendations from friends and insisted to my boyfriend that it was “kind of on our way” and simple to get there; it should definitely be on our itinerary. Why was it blue? Was it mosquitoes? Was it painted blue by the Jews that fled there escaping the Spanish and then Hitler? Was it a Moroccan tradition? I was excited to deep dive and find out.
Most people said, “you just need to spend a night or two there.” But nonetheless they raved about it. “You will absolutely love Chefchaouen. I needed more of a photographer’s eye to truly capture it – your pics will be insane.” No one recommended more than 2 nights there but it seemed fair given the 4.5 hour bus ride. But again, with my friends Aaron and Naomi — amazing visual content creators — telling me they just spent a night there (and Aaron seeming unimpressed) I felt confident with Michele and I passing one night. Thank you Aaron Purkey for being the only one to say, “yea, you really just need a few hours there at most.” For booking all of our hotels in Morocco, I reached out to the properties to confirm availability. When booking our stay at a hotel in Chefchaouen I did the same. The son of the owner then direct messaged me on Instagram…. He introduced himself and said “he can help [me] if I want something.” Well, I thought I made it pretty clear in the email that I wanted a room and was asking for availability but nonetheless I responded to him. At the same time the hotel email responded to me asking my dates, then the name of my guest and said “there is one room available, would you like to take it?” I said yes and thought we were all booked everything they needed to reserve. Flash forward to a week before our departure as I confirmed with all of the hotels. “I apologize Sir but the date is full.” BTW it was not full via Booking.com. I then DMmed the owner’s son who said, “No you didn’t confirm with me. That’s why the hotel said that that’s there is not room. But if you want to confirm with them you can talk now and they will give you a room.” I sent them the messages on Instagram from the owner’s son and received the reply, “Hello — We contacted the owner’s son and told us that he told you all the hotel information but he did not confirm your reservation because he did not know if there was a room available that day.”
Huh? After confirming professionally on email was I then to double confirm with a kid who liked to pose in front of cars on Instagram? Bookings seemed to be going fast so before I lost my temper, my boyfriend stepped in a booked a hotel from Booking.com. It was fine for the night and the rooftop had a beautiful view of the city and the mountains. But maybe this was a hint of what was to come in Chefchaouen.
Now let’s talk about getting there. It was not easy. But the journey to Chefchaouen was actually one of my favorite parts of our holiday. While in Fez people told us that we could show up at the bus terminal and get tickets the day of. Michele decided not to get our tickets online from CTM (the European bus company with the nice coaches). Michele was the logistics and transportation manager of our trip. When we told our hosts at Dar 7 Louyat of our trip that day before they said we’ll walk you to the station to get the bus tickets. The ticket office was closed. So it turned into one of them picking up the tickets for us. We were shocked to find out all of the tickets for the next two days were sold out! A driver was suggested and Michele (after our hosts at Dar 7 Louyat seconded the idea) decided that we would rent a car and drive the 4 hours ourselves. Our hosts didn’t hesitate or seem worried when we suggested it and it was pretty much a straight road. So, that next morning, they drove us to the airport and Michele and I rented a car and headed to Chefchaouen. It is an absolutely beautiful drive. There are a lot of speed traps and police hoping to make quick cash from them so beware. Michele got out of one!
Renting a car gives you a lot of freedom. But you have to know where to park it. In Lisbon, we got a boot on our car about an hour into our trip, so Michele and I were extra cautious. GoogleMaps is fine on the big roads in Morocco, but when you get to the city centers and medinas it can throw you. Naturally we ended up in a back alley with an off looking guy saying for 4 euros he’ll watch our car and will show us the way to our hotel (a less than professional looking porter showing you the way to your hotel in the medina is not uncommon, and actually quite useful in a lot of places). Everyone has a hustle, and I respect that, but sir, do not ask to get into our car. We told him we’d pass and found a big hotel square with a parking lot. Who did we see hustling to our car but him! He must have sprinted. Again, he told us 4 euros. We spoke directly to the parking attendant and were told an actual price of 2 euros. But still, the back alley dude insisted on showing us to our hotel. It’s hard to say no and you know they’re going to ask for money at the end, even if you know the way, so you end up just checking your wallet to make sure you have some change and resign yourself to it.
It was this walk where Michele picked up a gnarled-face drug dealer.
Michele looking like an NCAA player heading to training camp.
Le Rif – paradis du Kif. I saw that little rhyme on a few sites when researching Chefchaouen. The Rif mountains are a hub of cannabis plantations in Morocco with much of the drugs heading to Spain and then the rest of Europe. It’s been said more than half of the world’s cannabis comes from Morocco. Not only is this blue city an insta-dream but it’s a smoker’s paradise, many coming as a sort of pilgrimage. And tons of stag parties from Spain. Don’t grimace too hard when you see that barefoot blond white boy walking through the alleys chatting with his blonde dreadlocked girlfriend (ech, his feet were so gross).
So yea, on the walk to the hotel, Michele, being half a foot taller than everyone else and wearing a snapback, stands out. A guy comes up to him, talking pleasantries, then offers him drugs, unbeknownst to me. Now here’s the difference in Michele and I when it comes to sales people. The best way to sell me something is to let me browse in peace, I’ll come to you and ask questions. The harder you push, the more frustrated I get and I’ll walk away. Michele respects the hustle a little more and will indulge the hard seller. Instead of saying “no,” he’ll say “later.” My innocent babe didn’t realize a carpet seller should be handled a little differently than a drug dealer. So when the gnarled face drug dealer offered in front of our hotel, Michele said “later.”
We check in and leave our hotel an hour later. Who’s waiting outside but gnarled faced, ready to make a deal! Really, the dude looked like he had been a knife fight, a few times. “No, not now.” Michele sputtered through excuses thinking he didn’t want to anger the guy by saying “no.” In Gnarley’s defense, Michele did say later and he waited for an hour! I’d be pissed as well! This goes on for 10-15 minutes with him following us down alleys and calling his friends, offering Michele a kilo, me saying this is ridiculous and interjecting in Spanish, rolling my eyes and getting very close to getting very Brooklyn in Morocco. Then he gave Michele little plastic packets that looked like hard drugs. After research I realized hashish is often smuggled in packets with resin so I’m going to assume that’s what it was. I flipped and said “No!” This was too much, “Damn you for looking like an American bro and making us the target of drug-dealers,” I told Michele. “You’re too naive! You need to tell those people no from the beginning, he has every right to be mad! He knows where we’re staying.” Eventually, really irate he gave up. But he did not look like a dude you wanted to mess with so naturally I was worried that if we went back to our hotel, he’d be there waiting with his boys. While they were going back and forth, he mentioned he couldn’t sell later because he was heading up to the mountains at 7pm. I prayed that was true. So as I wandered down the blue-tinted alleys, I was also looking over our shoulders. It’s not uncommon to be offered drugs here. Sometimes in the same breath as being offered a rug. It is what it is, but if you don’t want it, just say a simple no.
One of the many pictures of me watching our back.
“Hey Senegal,” “Mama Africa” I had been warned about racism in Morocco. My passport photo guy told me of the divide between North Africa and sub-Sahara on the continent. A friend on a photoshoot warned me of her experiences there and being assumed to be a prostitute. Michele revealed to me after our experience in Chefchaouen that it was something he has been worried about before our trip. I can honestly say I did not feel any discomfort being a black person in Morocco except while in Chefchaouen. The leering really creeped me out (I was in a long dress and had a scarf covering my shoulders save for photos, that being said I saw white and asian women in booty shorts and tank tops — it’s a stoner town after all). The comments were exhausting and often creepy. You might not know what they are saying but I damn sure didn’t like the way they were saying it. As Michele and I tried to rationalize the difference later we thought, maybe it was the mountains? Like the idea of being up in Appalachia? Marrakesh and Fez were cities with tourists, students, religious pilgrims and therefore more used to people of color? But we spent time in the Imlil Valley in the Atlas Mountains and the Berber people there were as warm and welcoming as could be and didn’t stare at me like a gazelle in a hyena den. There is a spidey sense you have as a person of color. You know, something is just not right here. There was a sexualization in the leering by people that looked dead behind the eyes. I didn’t even get a half smile from the woman as I did in other places in Morocco. This isn’t Disney, they don’t have to smile at me, but I’ll pass on the hostility.
The doors are really beautiful though
but call me Mama Africa one more time.
I’m talking bus loads of tourists streaming in. Asian tour groups all volleying for the shot in that one alley, then, after a few hours, they seem to get back on the bus and move along. They had the right idea. Shopping is more expensive here too so save it for Fez or Marrakesh if you can.
But that alley is pretty damn cute.
Michele in the widely photographed tourist alley.
I chose to wear blue and really do up a color play. Michele suggested I wear an orange that popped. Do note that you’ll probably have to adjust your camera settings to warmer, especially if in the alleys because the blue walls do cast a cool tone on everything, including you. The whites will look blueish and have your eyes looking like Ivar the Boneless in Vikings.
This was the stairway entrance to the restaurant where we had dinner.
My friend Jamie of The Wild Grays did say this. The food was fine, but after our delicious meal that we made at Dar 7 Louyat, the food in Chefchaouen felt like over-priced and so so. We avoided the square and found a well-reviewed place on a side alley. It was cute but easily my least memorable meal in Morocco.
Michele at dinner. An Italian with limited dinner options is not a pretty picture.
Now I know you might say well there’s a lot of natural beauty in Chefchaouen that we missed. A waterfall, stream etc. Yea, the drug dealer tried to sell us on that. We also heard that the other side of those photos that you don’t see there’s a lot of trash leading up to the streams. We had a really lovely time in the Imlil Valley a few days later with waterfalls and sunsets on the Atlas mountains so we got our mountain experience in Morocco.
Sunset in the Rif Mountains
Safe and sound in our hotel looking at the city.
Yes I realize the prices are expensive because it is a tourist town and from what I have researched it is poorer than other Moroccan cities. There’s an unfair transaction to coming to a place simply for the photos and then leaving without giving back (even in the form of financial stimulus). There were some lovely parts. Listening to the call of prayer reverberating in the mountains was almost trance-inducing. I’m happy that I saw it and was able to draw this assessment for myself, but yea, I thought that Chefchaouen was an overpriced tourist trap. And that was my experience. But nevertheless — stay on the lookout for the great visuals we created there for you!
At the end of the day, it’s hard not to have a great time with this guy.
London has had truly remarkable weather this summer but as I chatted with my girls Sophie and Stella in the Hamptons I desperately missed NYC summers and the beach. It’s awesome when wanting to get away for the weekend is as simple as a map and a google search. I googled “beach towns near London” saw a list, google imaged, narrowed it down to two and Whitstable caught my eye. The Crescent Turner Hotel, with beautiful views and English countryside at an affordable price AND a town known for oysters… I couldn’t wait to pack my bags.
(giving you a look behind the curtain) I’m also deciding what’s the best way to utilize IGTV, so as this was an overnight, I thought, I’d make a conscious effort to only shoot video content in vertical and share with you a video of my time in Whitstable.
Let me know what you think!
Watch it on IGTV for the full effect: https://www.instagram.com/tv/BlDaohUgof8/
Oh and by the way, I found a message in a bottle! Around half way through you’ll hear my find it while on the phone with Michele! See me open it and what it says. I’m writing the letter back to Kit soon so let me know if you want me to include a note from YOU in there as well! I think it could be awesome.
And here are some photos from the day.
Every house in Whitstable felt more charming than the last. One even caught my eye from the bus to my hotel and I made a note to come back there later in the day. An eye for floral arranging is definitely one of my favorite British traits. Here are some drool-worthy inspo pieces for your entryway.
Whitstable town’s business have such gorgeous type fonts.
Whitstable’s harbor and it’s revamped fisherman huts are truly a gem in the area. I loved watching people barbecuing with their families, sipping rosé and enjoying a perfect summer afternoon.
I snuck behind them for this shot.
You can’t go to Whitstable and not try the famed oysters!
I’m going to let you behind the curtain. Something that most bloggers have struggled with regularly or at least once in their career is the precarious balance between staying stringently true to their messaging and simply paying the bills. So, I am thrilled when I get asked on a job with a brand first, WITH, a mission and second, with one that I believe in and is important to me. American Rhino
A few weeks before I was asked to be apart of the Summer campaign, I was chatting with Michele about one of the species of rhinos in Africa being on the brink of extinction (I think the convo stemmed from Black Panther). We then began looking at other animals that have gone extinct during our lifetime and grew genuinely sad, not even that we never had a chance to see them but the thought of knowing that would never be an option. I’m proud to be apart of this campaign and here’s a glimpse of some of my favorite photos shot that weekend!
On this episode of Never Date a Traveler I discuss feelings of being exoticized with dear friends and guests, non-profit exec Jennifer Estrada and writer, creator and university faculty member, Naomi Bishop. These brilliant woman and I discuss our experiences around the world and within the US with the placement and questioning of our identities.
As “others,” we are more often than not asked to define what we are. We also usually have a split second to decide the intentions of our interrogator. Am I black? Am I a New Yorker? Am I an American? Am I Caribbean-American? Naomi happens to love the word exotic. It conjures images of beautiful art. Jennifer and I are wary of the reductionist tone it often takes. Where do we belong?
Get in on the conversation and listen below!
How do you feel about the word exotic? What about the history of your identity? I’d love to hear! Please share below.
**NOTE: When sharing my anecdote about the man from the Dominican Republic and I say “their history.” I mean the island’s history of racial politics / tensions stemming from Trujillo’s systemized racism and the current policies (mass deportations of Haitians) on the island.
OK… so it’s not exactly local eats. Let’s call it an east meets west fusion. Clock Café, with locations in both the Moroccan cities of Fez and Marrakesh is kind of a tourist spot. Sure, you’ll see a lot of camera-happy vloggers documenting their food, or a family of tourists on the patio taking in the breeze and escaping the scorching North African afternoon sun. But you’ll also see a hip crowd of expats and local artists having an afternoon tea, or planning an event. The Clock Café calls itself a cultural space and with it’s wall of murals and full monthly diary of happenings it’s easy to see why. But yea, we’re tourists, and Marrakesh was decidedly the most tourist leg of our journey, so we came for the camel burgers. Yes, camels are apart of North African cuisine but no, burgers are not. My friend Naomi had a camel tangine for example and perhaps that would have been a more authentic was to experience camel meat. But, I’d like to argue that cultures evolve! And during this trip we saw A LOT of different sides of Morocco and the fusion seen at Clock Café is another example of it! So, check out what we thought of camel burgers below. Have you ever had camel meat before? Let me know what you think!
Sorry for the radio silence. For the past two weeks I’ve been travelling without my laptop (actually I had it in Nouvelle-Aquitaine but often the wiFi was so terrible I didn’t use it). Morocco was a feast of the senses. Before heading to Morocco, my friend Monique — look out for her ‘Nomads feature soon — sent me this George Orwell essay on Marrakech.
I’m thrilled we had a very different experience than George Orwell. He’d be shocked at the modernity of Marrakesh today. And to Michele and I, it was the people that wove the fabric of our trip. As we sat for dinner overlooking the Atlas Mountains, Michele said, “I miss Mama Hadija!” As we took mint tea on the roof of our riad in Marrakesh he mused, “I wonder what Ale [our trekking guide in the Imlil Valley] is doing right now?” We share a knowing smile when someone asks us about Chefchaouen, thinking about the gnarled faced drug dealer who followed us for 10 minutes outside of our hotel.
I can’t wait to share these stories of the incredible places we’ve seen and the people we’ve met with you. But first, as we’ve been posting on our social media and sharing details of our journey with friends and family we had a few people ask us about our itinerary. It was great, perfectly planned. I planned the accommodations and places we’d visit, Michele took over transportation and logistics (including navigating maze-like medinas). I thought I’d share the basics of our itinerary here with you so you can duplicate it should you choose. It gave us a variety of accommodations, landscapes, locales.
Morning flight from London Stanstead Airport to Fez via Ryanair flight. We got into Fez late afternoon and our riad arranged a car from the airport for us for less than $20USD. Checked into Dar 7 Louyat in the heart of the old medina and settled in and spent the afternoon and evening exploring the medina.
Explored the medina in the morning. Visited the famous Fez tanneries, and peaked inside of the University / mosque. Spent the afternoon shopping for and preparing our delicious tangine with our hosts at Dar 7 Louyat. We planned to buy CTM bus tickets to Chefchaouen today but they were all sold out. Michele’s quick thinking we decided to rent a car. When we told this idea to our hosts, they didn’t hesitate in saying that’s a good idea (vs. hiring a driver), so we weren’t worried.
Driver to Fez airport, picked up our rental car and drove 3.5 hours to Chefchaouen getting there mid-afternoon. We dropped the car off in a paid public parking lot (trust the guys with the neon vest; it cost us 2 euros for him to watch it overnight).
We freshened up at our hotel and explored the old city, dodging busloads of tourists all looking for the perfect shot among Chefchaouen blue alleys. This was the perfect amount of time in Chefchaouen — more details later but it was my least favorite stop.
Early rise and back on the road. The drive between Fez and Chefchaouen is beautiful and I highly recommend it. Beautiful landscapes and you pass the Barrage Sidi Chahed, an artificial lake / reservoir built in the 1990s that is stunning. After dropping the car off at the Fez airport, we were driven to Hotel Sahrai and spent the next 24 hours in luxury overlooking Fez’s new city. A great pool, a lively bar and restaurant, it was great to see this side of Fez.
We spent the morning at Hotel Sahrai and took an Air Arabia afternoon plane from Fez to Marrakesh. We were picked up at the Marrakesh airport by our driver from Kasbah du Toubkal and drove a very narrow and winding 1.5 hours up the Atlas mountains to the Imlil Valley where I spent my birthday evening watching the sunset on the highest mountain in Morocco, with a cake and learning about the Berber people.
Honestly, we didn’t want to leave the mountains. If we could extend this part of the trip by a day we would have. We did a light trek in the morning, came back to the Kashbah for lunch and a hammam session and left late afternoon to head back to Marrakesh. In Marrakesh, we checked into our riad, Riad Goloboy, next to one of the royal palaces. We then took in golden hour views before heading into the medina for dinner.
Explored the major sites in Marrakesh, gardens, Jardin Majorelle, YSL and Berber museums, main mosque and the medina as well as had a camel burger at Clock Café. We had dinner in the medina and took in our last Moroccan sunset this time around.
Morning flight to London. Do get to the airport early as there are a lot of checkpoints.
WHAT A TRIP! I can’t wait to dive in more in the upcoming weeks!
**DISCLAIMER I lucked out having an incredible partner for this trip. From giving me a boost during trekking to being my personal GPS when we were told “Muslims only” in medinas. You’re spending full days with this person so choose wisely!
My summer travels for work and fun are fast approaching and I am the queen of packing procrastination. So much so that when I pack ahead and have hours to kill, I always feel as though I’m missing something! Next Tuesday, I’m leaving for France and more or less will be gone for most of the summer. I’m packing for the weather in France, the UK and Morocco. I have an Away carry-on traveler as well as a checked bagand my new American Rhino Explorer duffel. So, what will I be packing?
Find out when you join me and other travel & fashion industry experts for Bloomingdale’s In Her Shoes series sponsored by Cunard!