Roma|Italy – Part 1

Roma © as|fa

Roma © as|fa

BLOG 2: Diary of the Sisterhood Travels – April 14

We departed from Istanbul in daylight so we could land in Rome before sunset. The 2 hour flight with Turkish Airlines was extremely pleasant, contrary to my anxiety about flying the national Turk carrier (I am totally an airline snob). Ironically, the stewardess handed out Turkish Delight before landing – it was then I decided on the name of my blog post for Turkey.

The inspiration to visit Rome came from one source only – Angels & Demons, Dan Brown. Robert Langdon’s thrilling adventure across Rome and Vatican City was sufficient for its inclusion in the travel plans. Finally, we would be physically exploring the birthplace of the renaissance.

Piazza Venezia © as|fa

Piazza Venezia © as|fa

The airport is far from heart of Rome, it took us nearly 45 minutes to get to the city, but as girls do, we had a good chat with the polite Italian driver who tried his level best to converse in English and pointed out (with translation of course) some of the main areas of interest. As we came closer to the city, the lush green fields transitioned to pages from a book of historical monuments. Everywhere corner you look, history exuberated.

via Vittoria © as|fa

via Vittoria © as|fa

For the next three days our abode was a cute little studio in via Vittoria, smack bang in the middle of all major monuments on our list. Once again, our luck continued its magic with accommodation. A leather jacket clad, scooter riding petite ‘Valentina’ was our pretty Italian host. We noticed a lot of scooters & bikes in Rome – I guess it makes sense due to the narrow, nearly claustrophobic streets. Valentina gave us some great tips & information about the locality and I wondered if she ever gets bored repeating the same info over and over to each new visitor. We decided to walk to the local grocery store and stock up on breakfast staples before bedtime – the plan was that my sis will cook a hearty breakfast before we embark on walking exploration of Roma – I wish we had planned for a fitbit or pedometer – we walked a fair distance!

Day 1: Piazza Di Spagna, Fontana Di Trevi, Colosseum & Pantheon

We started the day bright eyed and bushy tailed, ready to walk off that amazing omelette my sister whipped up. My heart desired a skinny mocha and immediately my eyes started searching for coffee. The walk from our studio to Spanish Steps was about 5 minutes amidst a string of Italian boutiques which we admired along the way (especially the shoes). There were plenty of cafes around but damned if anyone understood my request for a freaking Mocha! The barista looked at me as if I had horns sticking out of my forehead. It took me a few moments to determine between his general Italian demeanour (mostly comes across as rude) and if he was actually thinking I was a crazy woman requesting coffee to be adulterated! A crime in his eyes – I darted as soon as I realised we was worked up at my (unusual for Italy) request. I didn’t look for a skinny mocha again in Rome…

Piazza Di Spagna © as|fa

Piazza Di Spagna © as|fa

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Piazza Di Spagna © as|fa

The Piazza Di Spagna was full of life, bustling with tourists and street vendors. I was surprised at the volume of street hawkers, one would spring up every 10 steps or so, selling anything from roses to handbags. Their persistence annoyed me. We worried about our belongings – Rome is famous for pick pockets. On the other hand, the vendors were well behaved, minding their own business, trying to sell as many statues of David and Vatican replicas as possible!

Piazza Di Spagna © as|fa

Piazza Di Spagna © as|fa

There was maintenance being conducted at the Fontana della Barcaccia – a shame we didn’t get to see the fountain of the ugly boats. The 135 Spanish steps were easy enough to climb to the Trinità dei Monti church. I would’ve enjoyed the atmosphere more if it was less crowded; deciding immediately to return at night considering our studio was only 5 minutes away.

Fontana Di Trevi was next on our list – it was on the way to the Colosseum – so we manoeuvred through narrow cobblestone streets, navigating our way on the map at the same time dodging the persistent hawkers and keeping a consistently sharp eye on our backpacks! The fountain appeared out of nowhere – For some reason I had imagined it to be a lot bigger, regardless, it was a sculpted masterpiece, even though the area was packed with tourists, the fountain continued to portray its glory. The entire backdrop of Palazzo Poli was magnificent, the statue of Ocean in the middle, the dissimilar moods of the two horses all added to its beauty. It was decided. We were returning at night to add to the Trevi coin collection.

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Fontana Di Trevi © as|fa

Continuing our trek to the Colosseum, we passed several enigmatic characters on the street opposite Trajan’s Forum.  There was a slight drizzle and sure enough, this time the street hawkers were coaxing to sell us umbrella’s, to which my sister politely responded, ‘We already have one’, in Bengali – there was a second of silence and then the look of sheer shock on their faces, they were at loss for words after that, wondering which part of Bangladesh we were from, or was it India? They tried to converse with us in many different dialects, but all we gave back was a smile – it was enough for them to leave us alone, even on our walk back – they wouldn’t dare dodge a potential country(wo)men.

Trajans Forum © as|fa

Trajans Forum © as|fa

The fake © as|fa

The fake © as|fa

The funny thing about Rome, was the number of Bangladeshi’s on the streets speaking fluent Italian! The Italians are really strict when it comes to their national language it seems. Bengali and Italian couldn’t be farther apart, but, not only are the Bengali’s speaking their language, they are also cooking their food! If you are eating at an Italian Pizzeria or Trattorria, there is a 90% chance your pizza or pasta has been cooked by someone from Bangladesh. Go Figure.

Standing right across the Arch of Constantine, there was no missing the iconic symbol of Rome, the Flavian Amphitheatre famously known as Colosseum (minus Russell Crowe ofcourse). Its exactly as all the pictures depict from the outside – illustrious. It wasn’t until we got inside that I realised the extent of ruins – the weight of so many centuries has certainly given this monument a beating. The physical strains are visible, but when you walk the floors, for a fraction of a second you may feel the ghosts of old Rome floating above your heads.

Colosseum © as|fa

Colosseum © as|fa

Just as soon as you’ve recovered from the goosebumps of walking the grounds and feeling the ghosts, outside you will be met with shonky gladiators ready to take a selfie with you for 5 Euros 🙂 We decided to skip that and look for lunch!

Gladiators but no Russell Crowe © as|fa

Gladiators but no Russell Crowe © as|fa

On the way back, I was curious about the Arch of Constantine, wondering about Constantine’s timeline between Constantinople (Istanbul) & Rome. Having just visited Istanbul and reviewing his remnants like Hippodrome of Constantinople and Column of Constantine, this history was even more fascinating. Would love to travel back in time to unravel the reasons behind why Constantine inaugurated Istanbul as the Roman capital as opposed to Rome – was it purely because of Istanbul’s strategic location or something more?

Colosseum © as|fa

Colosseum © as|fa

The Pantheon was captivating inside and out, a brilliantly well preserved piece of pagan architecture. One can wonder about the stunning Roman architecture for hours – the design is deceiving, it appears to be rectangular, but mathematics & geometry is at play. If you ever visit, inspect around the the Pantheon from the outside. The inside is another visual enchantment, especially the oculus, as it is another architectural marvel – you can see the intricate designs of the pagans and subsequently the mark of the Renaissance’s artists – its not a surprise since Raphael is buried in the Pantheon!

Pantheon  © as|fa

Pantheon © as|fa

The Pantheon now serves as a church and has been for many centuries post the pagans. We sat outside the Pantheon staring in awe while enjoying our first Italian gelato from an ice creamery opposite the Pantheon – it was chocolate heaven and well deserved treat!

We decided to conclude our day after this – to say we were exhausted is an understatement. Our legs were aching and our minds were buzzing with information and imagery. We had to soak in all the history our brains consumed, rest, recoup and start planning for our much anticipated visit to the Vatican City!

Infinity © as|fa

Infinity © as|fa

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© as|fa

© as|fa

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Turkish|Delight

Miniature of Istanbul (Historical Peninsula)

BLOG 1: Diary of the Sisterhood Travels – April 2014

Travelling is in my blood – it beckons me. My heart desires travel to destinations that I’ve never been, especially places that are abundant with historical architecture & natural beauty. As much as I long to travel, my hubby doesn’t reciprocate the sentiments- so the ‘travelling around the world when we are old & loaded’ was never going to work out for us.

I was slowly coming to terms with the fact that I may never fulfil my hearts desire – family comes first of course, but that did not stop me periodically reminding hubby that my ghost would haunt him forever if I died before exploring the world <giggles>. One fine day, out of the blue, he suggested that I go travelling with my sister while he looked after the kids. As you can imagine – my eyes popped out and jaw dropped to the floor – a bit like this. Seizing the opportunity before he could blink – I sealed the deal and started planning (decided that my 11 yo needed to experience this so got her along the journey). I truly love him for this gesture ❤

© as|fa

© as|fa

My fascination with Turkish Pottery & Tiles has been long held, possibly since my teens. The aesthetic characteristics, motifs, colour & composition of Iznik has forever enchanted me. My heart consistently cajoled me to set foot in Turkey – I wanted to explore the place that has mysteriously mesmerised me for so long. So when the opportunity presented itself, there was no doubt in my mind – Turkey was automatically locked in.

© as|fa

© as|fa

We spent 4 days in the city of Constantinople – Istanbul was covered in Tulips – the timing was perfect – lucky for us it was the tulip festival. The tulips were trailing the road across the Marmara sea all the way from the airport until we got to Sultanahmet, where we stayed. You’d think that tulips belong in Netherlands – if you mention that to a Turk and they will unreservedly tell you the Dutch stole the Tulip cultivation idea from the Ottomans.

We checked into Rast Hotel around 9 pm – I knew it was close to all the places we had on our list to explore, but was difficult to gauge the locality at night, it would have to wait till the morning, because first, we needed recovery from the long haul flight.

View of the Blue Mosque from Rast Hotel Rooftop © as|fa

View of the Blue Mosque from Rast Hotel Rooftop © as|fa

Buffet Breakfast (included in the price) at the hotel is on the top floor – I was not prepared for this – right in front of my eyes, uninterrupted views of the Blue Mosque & Aya Sofya sitting at edge of the Marmara Sea – it was like nothing I had seen before, pure majestic. It took me a good couple of minutes to get over my amazement and focus on breakfast. I wish I had taken a picture of the buffet, I have never seen so much variety of sweets and savouries presented at breakfast – I must’ve gained 2 kg’s just looking at it!

The hotel location was perfect for us, walking distance to everything we wanted to see, thanked my lucky stars and of course the Trip Advisor reviews helped too. We started our exploration of the city at 8am – the shops were closed, but roads were in the process of being cleaned, it was a daily ritual for the next 4 days, every morning, without fail, the Turks would ensure the main tourist areas were presentable. It seemed that the Turks also ensured their cats were well fed – I have never seen street cats so fat!

Day 1, first stop was the Blue Mosque. The Sultan Ahmed mosque was built between 1609 -1617 by the order of Sultan Ahmed 1, who ascended the throne at the age of 14 as the 14th Sultan of Ottomans. He commissioned the building of this mosque when he was 19 and  was personally involved as a labourer during the construction. The Turks have never referred to the Sultan Ahmed mosque as the “Blue Mosque” – it was a name given by the westerners due to the internal walls being adorned with famous blue tiles from Iznik.

Inside the Blue Mosque © as|fa

Inside the Blue Mosque
© as|fa

Inside the Blue Mosque © as|fa

Inside the Blue Mosque
© as|fa

Inside the Blue Mosque © as|fa

Inside the Blue Mosque
© as|fa

Inside the Blue Mosque © as|fa

Inside the Blue Mosque
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The mosque was beautiful, inside out. There were plenty of tourists even on a weekday, it seems that most locals avoid praying at this mosque, purely because of the tourist traffic. Nonetheless, we spent some quiet moments inside, soaking in the blue beauty and reflecting on the centuries old history that transpired here. Right outside the mosque is the colourful array of shops, famously known as the Arasta Bazaar, its filled with carpet, jewellery, textile and tile shops. We managed to spend a few Euro’s here 🙂

Arasta Bazaar © as|fa

Arasta Bazaar © as|fa

Arasta Bazaar © as|fa

Arasta Bazaar © as|fa

I have to admit the Turks (mainly on the streets) gave us three girls a LOT of attention – it was the one thing that made me uncomfortable – I wished they understood that the attention is off putting. The shop keepers however, were surprisingly polite, welcoming and hospitable. I swear I could’ve drowned in the amount of apple tea consumed at this particular Quarts & Ceramic shop called “Firca” – its on the way to Topkapi palace. I made most of my purchases of ceramics from this shop, the quality was great and the shop manager ‘Rifat Seymen’ was very knowledgeable and nearly overdosed me on tea!

'Firca' Quartz & Ceramic Store © as|fa

‘Firca’ Quartz & Ceramic Store © as|fa

'Firca' Quartz & Ceramic Store © as|fa

‘Firca’ Quartz & Ceramic Store © as|fa

Outside, the city was buzzing with street hawkers, selling anything from flower head bands (we just had to buy) to bosphorus boat trips (not a chance for me) and sweets being made in front of your eyes. I was especially requested to bring back a box full of Turkish Delight for my work mates – which they devoured within minutes – there is no comparison to the real deal!

Turkish Delight  © as|fa

Turkish Delight © as|fa

Turkish Delight  © as|fa

Turkish Delight © as|fa

Street Candy  © as|fa

Street Candy © as|fa

The next stop was undoubtedly Aya Sofya as it is positioned right opposite the Blue Mosque. The queues were horrendous – and I decided on a guided tour of the museum – finding a polite licensed guide by the name  of “Omer Cakirca”.

AyaSofya © as|fa

AyaSofya © as|fa

AyaSofya © as|fa

AyaSofya © as|fa

This museum was a church for nearly 900+ years and later converted into a Mosque which remained as such for another 400+ years until finally being commissioned as a museum. The beauty of this monument is that it has successfully converged the handiworks of Christianity as well as Islam on its mosaic interior – Its amazing that the Ottomans did not destroy the mosaic & figures reflecting Christianity and rather covered them up. Remnants of the Roman empire is also present in the form of Viking Scriptures! Omer informed us that the scriptures & artworks were not destroyed, mainly as the church promoted the pagans to come for worship, in the hope they would convert to Christianity. Walking through this museum gave me goosebumps…it was beautiful knowing that we were walking on the grounds in which the Pagans, Romans and the Sultans walked centuries ago. The museum is a true fusion of east & west today.

Medusa Basilica Cistern © as|fa

Medusa Basilica Cistern © as|fa

The Basilica Cistern was next on our list – the largest surviving cistern in Istanbul. This underground water chamber was build in the Byzantine era, approx 10000 sq meters and can store about 100,000 tons of water. The water stored here was mainly as mitigation to threat of the city waterways being poisoned during war. Water was sourced from a spring 20 miles from town through specially created tunnel system. The fishes in the cistern today are kept to kill bacteria, back in the Byzantine times their purpose was to detect water poisoning. The columns supporting these cistern were mostly reused from destroyed pagan monuments and the left overs of the Aya Sophia construction. There is a special column marked with tear drops, it commemorates the lives lost in the cistern..

The two Medusa’s were placed as support for the columns and their heads were placed sideways and upside down because that was the only angle it best supported those columns!
All that walking made us ravenous – we started walking through the puzzling cobblestone streets towards the hotel in search of food – found this small little restaurant , the aromas enticed us in for enjoyable traditional lunch @ Antep Kebap – we were so impressed that we had dinner there for the next 2 nights 🙂
Ayasofya Hamam © as|fa

Ayasofya Hamam © as|fa

Day 2 involved bathing like a Sultan in a Turkish Hamam and visiting the breathtaking magnificence of the Sultans residence, Topkapi Palace. If you haven’t experienced a turkish hamam as yet, let me tell you that you must leave your shame at home and get ready to be scrubbed head to toe like never before. This particular hamam was lodged between Blue Mosque & Aya Sofya – it is covered with marble, white as snow, entirely. I loved the traditional antique basins & tapware – taking note to search for something similar for our house.

Topkapi Palace © as|fa

Topkapi Palace © as|fa

Topkapi Palace © as|fa

Topkapi Palace © as|fa

Topkapi Palace, the resident of libidinous Sultans, their beautiful concubines and their scheming eunuchs, was architecturally magnificent, set on the hills overlooking the bosphorus. I thought the location was not very strategic for a Sultans palace, however, they resided there for nearly 400 years! Exploring this palace took nearly half the day, the queues were ridiculously long – but worth the wait, especially to explore the Sultans Islamic relic collection. After this, we walked to the Egyptian Spice markets, but to tell you the truth – I have seen one too many spice markets in my life living in the middle east & Pakistan. We skipped it.

Grand Bazaar  © as|fa

Grand Bazaar © as|fa

The grandeur of the Grand Bazaar, Suleymaniye Mosque & Taksim Square was on our list for Day 3. The grand bazaar was a visual treat but the inflated prices were not. The shop keepers were hell bent on looting the tourist and funny enough would allocate prices depending on your country of residence! I told them I’m from Pakistan as opposed to Australia – they seemed to love the Pakistani’s to the point where they nearly sold us items at local cost! I was looking for my house number inscribed on Turkish Tiles, of course I found it in the bazaar 🙂 If I wasn’t travelling further, I would’ve certainly purchased more, but unfortunately I had to consider my luggage limitations 😦

Suleymaniye Mosque © as|fa

Suleymaniye Mosque © as|fa

Suleymaniye Mosque © as|fa

Suleymaniye Mosque © as|fa

Suleymaniye Mosque © as|fa

Suleymaniye Mosque © as|fa

Inside Suleymaniye Mosque © as|fa

Inside Suleymaniye Mosque © as|fa

The Suleymaniye Mosque is walking distance to Grand Bazaar and less touristy. Maybe that’s why I noticed the roads were unkept and had my first encounter with beggars. This mosque was similar to the Blue Mosque from the outside, except the inside was mainly adorned with red iznik- so in my mind, I thought “Red Mosque”. The coral red was used for the first time in this building, representing a different era of the Ottoman empire. The most powerful and longest serving Sultan “Kanuni Suleyman” is buried in the gardens of this mosque. If you are wondering, this mosque is actually older than the Blue Mosque!

 Taksim Square © as|fa

Taksim Square © as|fa

 Taksim Square © as|fa

Taksim Square © as|fa

In the night, we took the tram over to Taksim Square, passing through the main city, still bustling with tourists. I must say the surrounds of the Blue Mosque and Aya Sofya are enchanting at night. We crossed the Galata bridge overlooking the tower and 30 mins later were at Taksim Square, the place that never sleeps – the centre of all political rallies, also known as the Beverly Hills of Istanbul. The place was buzzing with energy and full of night life for the young and restless crowd. We called it a night after this.

Day 4, after enjoying the scrumptious breakfast (they made us eggs just the way we liked it!) we decided to spend the day around the Blue Mosque to soak it all in for the last time before our flight to Rome. I looked at the map for the final time and saw “Little Hagia Sophia” marked next to the Marmara Sea – we decided impromptu to check it out – this is what I love about free will adventures. We passed by the Hippodrome and something that looked like the art museum, making our way downhill towards the shore. The little Hagia Sophia was a miniature replica almost, it was a mosque, at the time the Zuhr prayers were being offered. There was a cemetery in the grounds of this mosque – we decided to look for a suitable place for lunch.

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Opposite the Blue Mosque, random building © as|fa

Hippodrome  © as|fa

Hippodrome © as|fa

While on the hunt for lunch, we came across a local artist studio/gallery, his name was “Cemal Toy“. Lunch plan was quickly forgotten. His expression of modern Turkish art combined it with classical Turkish miniatures and carpet patterns. The paintings which caught our eye were beautiful, he depicted the Istanbul skyline & shores in varying shades of purple and blue. We weren’t going to leave without making a purchase, the only problem was Cemal Toy didn’t speak a word of English and we didn’t speak Turkish – so for the next 30 minutes what transpired was my sister trying her level best to communicate via sign language and relay her choice of paintings and the price she was willing to pay for them. It was like nothing I had ever seen before, bless that old man, he was so polite and generous. He packed the paintings meticulously for our travel after he understood that we had further travel plans. His work is now lovingly displayed in my sisters living room.

The city of Constantinople most certainly lived up to more than my expectations – in fact it has enticed me to explore what Turkey has to offer – ‘Pamukkale’, ‘Cappadocia’, ‘Iznik’ and most recent infatuation with ‘Konya’ – the resting place of Jalal ad-Dīn Muhammad Rumi.

The three of us were happy and sad at the same time – sad because our hearts wanted more of Turkey and happy because Rome was calling…

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Reflections|TasteBuds@Hills

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Seasonal Blooms @ every table © as|fa

I relish having breakfast outside with the family, not lunch or dinner as much as breakfast. I think its because of two reasons: One, I love eating eggs, be it poached, scrambled, sunny side up or omelettes and Two, I love my skinny mochas, especially in the mornings – it makes me happy & content 🙂

This love of eggs was acquired in my 20’s. As far as I remember, as a kid I hated eggs. If I found it in my lunch-box – it would be tossed straight in the bin and I would look for creative ways of sharing someone else’s lunch at school. But now, its a totally different story – call me crazy but, I sometimes order poached eggs for lunch!

Hubby recently introduced me to a cute little cafe nestled inside a flower shop at Terry Hills. The atmosphere is rustic cozy blended with fabulous surrounds of pots & plants, not to mention the colourful blooms of spring. The cafe is called Tastebuds@Hills and its a must try if you are in Sydney – Terry Hills.

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Great coffee – complimenting the comfortable atmosphere for a good catchup session with friends & family © as|fa

I’ve been to Tastebuds a couple of times – the ambience is extra special when its raining (for those that enjoy sipping coffee/tea and admiring the rain). There are throws at every table to keep you warm – I thought that was really cute idea. Every visit I found fresh seasonal flowers lovingly placed at the tables.

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Creative Menu – baked eggs are a must try! © as|fa

The chef is creative with the menu – hubby usually goes for the baked eggs with chorizo’s, baby spinach, spanish onions & roasted tomatoes – it comes straight from the oven in a skillet – he loves it. I have previously tried the baked eggs with sautéed mushrooms, roasted baby tomatoes – it was delish!

This time, I decided to try the specials menu – poached eggs with asparagus, avocado and Lebanese yoghurt on sour dough toast – just divine! Absolutely loved each & every bite.

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Specials Menu – Poached eggs with asparagus, avocado and Lebanese yoghurt on sour dough – just divine! © as|fa

If you find yourself in the upper north shore shopping for your garden, then do stop by for a brekkie or coffee at TasteBuds@Hills – hope you enjoy the ambience as much as I do.

In the meantime, I will continue to relish my breakfast dates with the family – not to mention the eggs ❤

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Sydney|Siege

SydneySiege

Never in my 18 years living in Australia have I heard of a hostage situation eventuating. I don’t associate this country with terrorism. Australia has always been naturally beautiful and exemplary safe – so to be in the midst of a siege transpiring right in the heart of Martin Place – a location that has been part of my life since 2002 – was distressing.

Lindt Cafe @Martin Place is a regular meeting spot for us at work as it’s in close proximity to one of our major office buildings. I’ve had countless coffee catchups in that Cafe – never in a million years would I have imagined that something so terrifying would transpire in such a pleasant location.

Monday 15th December 2014 – I was in the middle of preparing for my 10 am meeting when I got notification that the meeting was cancelled – call it force of habit but I skimmed through the news on my phone and it took some time to register what I was reading – hostage situation in Martin Place at Lindt cafe! I ran to the TV to confirm – millions of things were racing through my mind. At that point the severity of the situation was not known – it was anticipated there could be multiple perpetrators – potentially multiples attack points. I quickly started taking stock of all my team members – calling them one after the other to confirm their locations and requesting all to stay indoors – soon after I started messaging my friends in the city ensuring their safety. I was not prepared and had to act on impulse.

I must say my mind was tense all throughout the day – at 2 pm I made the call to get the first train back home. It made sense to be with my family. We were lucky not to have our building under lock down. The environment in the train was tense – everyone was on the edge – while the train was crossing the harbour bridge, all passengers looked across to circular quay – I don’t know why we did that – there was no indication of anything sinister taking place.

I had a feeling that some of the hostages may be from my organisation – it was the norm to have catch ups at Lindt and sure enough, when I came home and started watching the TV coverage – it was identified that 4 hostages were from my organisation – all 4 from the technology tower. Though I had checked up on all my team members and work mates – it was intense knowing our colleagues were impacted and had to suffer this dreadful ordeal.

That day was pretty much a stand still for most of us – I was glued to the coverage – mostly in shock and still trying to comprehend the dire situation. At the back of my mind,  I was optimistic that the police force would be able to control the situation – I held a glimmer of hope that those innocent civilians would be freed without any consequences. As I slept that night – I hoped & prayed that this does not turn into a tragedy. Not on our soil. Not just before Christmas. My eyes opened at 5 am and the first thing I did was check the news – 3 dead, including the culprit. My heart sank.

The details of all the hostages have now been made public – it was an untimely death for Katrina Dawson and Tori Johnson – innocent lives lost at the hands of a madman.

In the wake of this tragedy, we all have united to show our support to the families of the departed as well as the surviving hostages. Sydney has come together like never before. My hope is we all understand that terrorism has no religion and we stand united to condemn those individuals & groups that resort to instilling fear – Sydney will not tolerate these acts – we are stronger than this.

Praying for the families of Katrina Dawson & Tori Johnson – may they conjure up every ounce of courage to go through the grief – we are all with you.

Rest in peace Katrina & Tori – the entire city smells of flowers just for you.

“The most painful goodbyes are the ones that are never said and never explained”

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Note: A special thank you to all my friends that were concerned about me and checked up on my well being ❤

Bleeding|Heart

Coffin

You never think that humanity can sink so low – and then it does. 16th December 2014 marks the day that humanity died in my eyes. Those beautiful little innocent souls, the future of their country have been brutally killed by inhumane cowards. Their parents have been savagely looted. My heart bleeds for them.

When a human being walks into a school with a plan to deliberately massacre children as retaliation for atrocities committed against them, it makes you wonder what the world has come to – which human is capable of brutally executing innocent children? How can someone be so cold blooded, ruthless, inhumane? Why did the perpetrators not show any mercy? Why the kids? Why in a school? Why? Why? Why?

I don’t have the answers – this whole situation was unfathomable to me – but the reality is that as I type this post- mothers and fathers in Peshawar are preparing for the burial of their innocent children – their worst nightmare unfolding in front of their eyes – outliving their own children. No parent should ever have to go through this suffering – those impacted parents are dying thousand times over with every passing moment.

This vicious cycle – eye for an eye – when will this end? How many children will it take?

What can I say, I have no words to express the ache. Humanity is truly dead.

Rest in peace, beautiful souls, watch over your parents for they will always love you.

“Do not stand at my grave and weep. I am not there. I do not sleep. I am a thousand winds that blow. I am the diamond glints on snow. I am the sunlight on ripened grain. I am the gentle autumn rain. When you awaken in the morning’s hush, I am the swift uplifting rush, of quiet birds in circled flight. I am the soft stars that shine at night. Do not stand at my grave and cry; I am not there. I did not die.” – Mary Elizabeth Frye

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Invisible|Thread

Chinese Proverb - Red Thread

Upfront Caveat: My views expressed are personal in nature & not intended to offend any individuals belief systems.

The following verses perfectly sums up my personal belief system:

“Not Christian or Jew or Muslim, not Hindu, Buddhist, Sufi or Zen. Not any religion or cultural system. I am not of the East, nor of the West…My place is placeless, a trace of the traceless.” – Rumi

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Came across the above Traditional Chinese Proverb couple of days back during a work related forum – it was used in the context of professional destiny and human connections during our career journey. In my view the real intention of this proverb qualifies our overall life’s destiny (including professional life) & intrinsic connections of the heart. ❤

I believe that our life’s master plan is pre-determined before we take our first breath and until we breathe our last – its inscribed in an invisible scroll that holds the intricately woven story of our life, the souls that will cross our path and our ultimate end. And so, this ancient Chinese proverb resonated with me deeply, reinforcing that every single person of impact in my life, has been part of it for a reason – that reason may not be clear at the time, but in hindsight when we review our pasts – we will always be able to decipher it – the penny will drop – it has for me.

I take stock of all my sour experiences, both personal and professional and realised that its all part of a grand scheme – people that had profound negative effect on me in the past – have in actual fact made me stronger and the experience has somehow acted as a knowledge awakening of my soul. Had I not connected with those individuals – perhaps it would’ve remained a lesson unlearned – and left me unprepared for the obstacle course awaiting me in the future.

Its clear to me the reason why I was the first born to my parents – the learnings I have to absorb from their life and love – its like our stories are running in parallel but in different times. There is so much similarities in our lives that it almost reads like chapters in a book – I can understand the purpose of me being born to them – to understand how to navigate through my life by reviewing chapters out of theirs. The invisible red thread has certainly got us connected tightly. ❤

I play a part in my siblings lives – its crystal clear to me that us three are connected for a reason – the ups, downs & circle around is all part of our destiny – we have a lot to learn from each other and our experiences (good & bad) – all three uniquely different but still at the core – apples from the same tree – chapters in our parents book – which branches out to our individual scrolls of life. All this is not obvious on the surface – how can it be? We never really think through the connections we have in our life – its not on the list of priorities – its a soul searching, time consuming exercise. But I’ve taken the time to think and the invisible thread has lovingly connected me to my siblings for reasons that are still transpiring. ❤

I think about the journey of our kids, both of them connected to us like a reflection – what learnings will they acquire from our life and love – what experiences and chapters are we unknowingly writing for them that will shape their future. Will our journey as parents help them decipher meaningful connections – will the penny drop for them? Will they recognise the graciousness of solid connections as opposed to superficial ones?

Sometimes I wish I could record all the defining moments in my life and replay it back to my kids each time they come across the same moment – and they certainly will because we all do – its called the circle of life – but alas, we all have to make our own way, experiencing those defining moments and allowing that invisible thread to do its magic – filling in the scrolls of our individual life story. ❤

© as|fa

Career|Success

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The opportunity to be involved with ‘Future Female Leaders’ community within my organisation presented itself and I grabbed it with open arms. I was thrilled to be nominated and pleased that my leaders considered me a candidate for future senior leadership roles. It presented a gateway to networking, meeting like-minded, driven & ambitious women with whom I can share experiences and grow the repertoire of knowledge. Being part of this community gives me access to various networking events, seminars, panel discussions etc. This morning I was invited to a pleasant panel discussion over breakfast – I thought many times before accepting – had to skip 3 meetings to make this – but I’m glad I did, because it got me thinking about my career trajectory and all three panellist in their own subtle way made me realise that career goals are achievable, even with a young family 🙂

I’ve been self motivated in matters relating to my career and always thrived at the idea of being professionally successful – I was mostly day dreaming at school about success – but hey what’s the harm in that? While most girls my age were dreaming up their wedding dress and honeymoon destination – I was investigating under graduate courses in UK, USA and Australia. I was hell bent to go overseas and study – back in 1996/97 it was unheard of and bold step for a Pakistani girl to travel overseas for education – that too, alone. I think back about that time now and realise what a big sacrifice my parents made – they trusted me, my confidence and my capabilities to succeed. I can safely say that I did not disappoint them or myself. It was naive on my part to underplay the significant challenges and struggles that lay in front of me – but that journey has made me who I am today – strong willed & capable.

The career journey will continue at the pace I’ve intended for now – from time to time the thought does cross my mind – on whether I should continue working – the idea of pedicures, breakfast catchups, long walks is enticing – but after each thought analysis I always conclude that I’m passionate about my job and will most likely continue to work in some capacity for the rest of my life. The pace of trajectory will change at my will – but I intend to continue with realising my dreams 🙂

Leaving you with a quote by Maya Angelou:

“Success is liking yourself, liking what you do, and liking how you do it.”

© as|fa

Destination|New Zealand

“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.” ― Marcel Proust

If heaven was a place on earth, this would be it. My words will never do justice to the naturally mesmerising beauty of God’s country – New Zealand.

Our first trip to there was back in October 2010 to the North Island. We explored Auckland for a day or so and continued the journey with a pit stop at middle-earth and straight through to Rotorua, popularly known as New Zealand hot spot (literally!). But this post isn’t about the North Island (will get around to that in the not too distant future) – it is about our recent trip (January 2014) back to Gods country – specifically the South Island.

Lake Wakatipu © as|fa

The view that left us in absolute and utter awe as soon as we laid eyes on it from the air plane window was – Queenstown. Those snow covered peaks standing tranquil against the cobalt blue streams was to our eyes as melody is to the heart – peacefully refreshing.

Irrespective of the abundance of pristine natural wonder Queenstown is also famous for being the “Adventure Capital of the World” – I kid you not, at every nook you will come face to face with some form of adventure sport advertisement. You name it, its there! The home to bungee jumping, sky diving, shot-over jets, para sailing, abseiling..the list just doesn’t end. Its no surprise we witnessed a number of private jets parked at Queenstown airport when we landed – its the adventure playground for the rich & famous – for good reason.

Lake Wakatipu © as|fa

With a canvas backdrop like that  – if I ever lost my marbles and wanted to jump off a plane – it would be in view of the snow tipped Remarkables range and the electric blue of Lake Wakatipu. The surrounds can be described like a continuous playback of an instagram feed – it seems as if someone has used a filter at the entire scenery! Every where you look – its unreal – remarkably heaven…

The Remarkables @ Frankton © as|fa

We drove just over 3000 Km in around 8 days – every minute of it was worth it. The kids enjoyed the adventure as much as we did 🙂

Day 1: Visiting the historic Arrowtown, enchanting Lake Wannaka & Puzzling World

20 minutes out of Queenstown is this quirky little gold rush historic place nestled across the sparkling Arrow river called Arrowtown. We decided to take a stroll through the town, soaking in the boutique charm. They say you can still find traces of gold flakes in the river – we didn’t attempt the treasure hunt, it was drizzling and chilly! There are plenty of unique small shops for those keen to spend some dosh….little on the pricey side! The kids went nuts at the local candy store, it was a visual delight, especially for me =)

arrowtown

Arrowtown © as|fa

arrowtown 1

Arrowtown © as|fa

After about an hour at Arrowtown, we ventured back on the road to our planned destination Lake Wannaka. Decided to take the scenic route via the Crown Range Road – I don’t believe we anticipated the challenge that lay ahead on this zig zag scenic phenomena. The route passed through the Cardrona Ski Resort and I recall thinking how tourists travel through this range during the ski season – it was such a challenge to drive in January!! I later discovered that this road is actually the highest main road in New Zealand, reaching an altitude of 1121 metres! We had to stop and take a picture of the Remarkable Ranges from the peak of Crown Range, it was a freezing, but worth every chill…

Crown Ranges

The Crown Range Road © as|fa

We must’ve driven about 40 minutes or so and we came across a fence covered with bra’s of all sorts – it was quite amusing actually and also puzzling to think why people would keep attaching bras to a fence? Was it for breast cancer awareness or as my husband put it – the local farmer’s exploits…who knows for sure but it was an interesting sight and of course I had to take a pix and no I did not add to the collection!

Bras

Mystery of the hanging bra’s @ Cardrona Bra Fence © as|fa

Soon after we passed the bra fence – this came into view – we contemplated freezing this moment in time and staying here forever:

Lake Wanaka

Lake Wannaka © as|fa

The kids were anxiously waiting to reach Puzzling World, they had heard much about it and wanted to explore the puzzling atmosphere. I must say it was pretty entertaining – the highlight was the 3D maze (which we completed even though it started pouring) and also the illusion rooms, challenging our perception of reality – I must admit I got a bit queasy. Oh and you must go to the bathrooms before you leave (wink wink).

puzzling world

Puzzling World © as|fa

That concluded Day 1 of our adventure – as it started getting dark we decided to skip the Crown Range Road and take a direct route via Cromwell – it still took us around 45 minutes, but the roads were straight through.

Day 2: Exploring Te Anau Glow Worm Caves & serene cruise through Milford Sound

We had to plan and book ahead for Day 2 as both locations involved a cruise. The bonus was that kids didn’t cost a cent for the cruise during school holidays! First stop was Te Anau – the drive from Queenstown to Te Anau was a little over 2 hours if I remember correctly – we were aiming for the 9 am cruise for the guided Glow Worm cave tour. This day was the most anxious for me personally – I’m not a fan of cruises as I get sea sick and acutely claustrophobic – so the idea of navigating through tunnels to explore the nesting caves of glow worms was daunting to say the least. Te Anau caves were discovered in 1948 by accident. It is translated as “cave with a current of swirling water”  and I can vouch for the swirling water – presenting (photos were not allowed, but we were a bit sneaky):

Te Anau Glow Worm Caves © as|fa

We navigated through the tunnels, which was appropriately lit, witnessing many swirling waters as we made our way to the Glow Worms – to get there we all had to sit in a little dingy in absolute pitch black darkness (I was close to a near meltdown until hubby held my hand and coaxed me into pulling myself together) and then in front of our eyes what seemed like a distant galaxy filled with millions of stars some dim but mostly bright – but it wasn’t stars – it was all worms…glowing…what a spectacular experience. We were requested to be absolutely quite and still so as not to damage their habitat. The bright ones were content and the dim ones were running out of energy and required a feed – which is pretty much either hunting flies or bugs or eating another weaker worm! Kids were in awe – I’m just glad I survived cruise no 1 and the tunnel experience….

Next, the drive to Milford Sound, we were booked in for the 3 pm cruise. This was again quite a long drive, with a few spectacular lookouts on way. You can imagine how excited I was about yet another cruise – the kids were thrilled we got to sail out to the Tasman, got drenched in Stirling waterfall, witnessed many seals on the way. It was pretty – sea sickness aside…We were all exhausted when we finally returned to Queenstown.

Day 3:  Adventure Sports around Q-Town

After all that driving & cruising, we decided not to venture out and spend the day in Queenstown. The kids had short-listed their adventure list to include Shot-over Jet Boats & Para-sailing. It just had to be my luck that both activities involved a boat! Today I realised that my 12 yo is a definitely an adventurous thrill seeker – just like her dad.

A kiwi colleague of mine had recommended to go with the red shot over boats as apparently they had the better end of the river (thumbs up) – I was a bit hesitant, but got sucked into it, what can I say, family pressure. OMG – this is definitely a must do! Pre-book your tickets folks!

Shotover Jet

Shotover Jet @ Arthur Point © as|fa

Next stop was to stroll through the wharf, soak in the atmosphere, enjoy the coffee & ice-cream at Patagonia and wait our turn for para-sailing. (You can buy tickets @ the wharf, there are booths set up to purchase tickets). All of us went up in the sails, it was amazing to be sailing up a few hundred meters in the sky surrounded by the rugged mountain ranges and cobalt blue Lake Wakatipu – the down side for me after being in that small boat for nearly 2 hours – go to the hotel, sleep and order in room service!

Day 4 & 5:  Fox & Franz Joseph Galciers 

We planned this to be a full day activity but ended up becoming 2 days as we got stranded due to rock avalanche – true adventure for the family 🙂

The total drive to Franz Joseph was estimated to be 5-6 hours. Our first pit stop was at “Makarora” (strangely it’s very similar to a punjabi swear word – but lets not go there). I recommend packing sufficient nourishments & spare clothes etc for this drive – you will most certainly need it! We drove through valleys of green hills and periodically would get a stretch view of the Tasman sea. The Haast Pass crossing was amazing – you could see the rivers converging into the ocean – plain beautiful. Finally, reached Fox Glaciers, it was drizzling and foggy, so we couldn’t see it from the lookout and decided to drive further to Franz Joseph. It started raining at Franz Joseph but we decided to keep walking and came across a beautiful waterfall – pure joy. The weather was not in our favour and we didn’t get to climb the glacier, but managed to reach the foot – it was good enough – wasn’t keen on taking risks with the kids around.

Galciers

Waterfall @ Franz Joseph Glacier © as|fa

Our intention was to drive back to Queenstown, but the stars has something else planned for us – we stayed overnight at Haast due to rock avalanche resulting in road closures. The next morning, we left around 8am – the scenery on the way back had changed from green hilly valleys to snow touched mountain peaks – there was snowfall overnight and we witnessed some spectacular views – how lucky!

Day 6:  Glenarchy & Paradise 

Glenorchy

Glenarchy © as|fa

Needless to say we all slept in on Day 6. Went for a swim in the hotel pool then an afternoon nap. Feeling refreshed around mid afternoon we took out the map and decided to go exploring close by – our chosen drive was via Glenarchy (a small town famous due to the Lord of the Ring series) through to a place called “Paradise”. We were curious to find out what a place called paradise looks like – I think its better for the picture to tell you the story as opposed to me struggling to describe it – the only thing I will mention is that the streams are freezing cold and they run over the roads – so if there is high tide, there is a strong possibility you can be stranded (4WD recommended).

Paradise

Paradise © as|fa

Paradise

Paradise © as|fa

Paradise

Paradise © as|fa

Paradise

, Paradise © as|fa

Day 7:  Skyline, Markets & Fergburger

We started the day with exploring the local arts & crafts of the Q-Town markets. Absolutely loved everything – so unique and crafty 🙂 Q-town is abundant in arts & culture, plenty of local artists displaying their creative talent – the art galleries is a must do for those with avid art lovers.

The kids were ready for a final adventure and we made our way to the Q-Town Skyline for a Gondola & luge ride – the views were just sensational – we were lucky that the skies were clear – it was the perfect weather for a family race down that heavenly track =) The best ever luge ride!

lugeAnd finally, to end the day on yet another high, we mustered up the courage to stand in queue for a Fergberger – only in Q-Town. It’s true, you haven’t had a burger until you’ve had Fergburger – never in my life had I tasted something so deliciously sinful. Bliss. Highly recommended – if you can hold your hunger, the queues relax after 8.30pm!!

That’s all from my NZ memory box folks – I’m relieved that I have penned this down finally! We love New Zealand and would definitely go back – my advise for first timers, is to visit North Island first and then South Island – saving the most scenic part of your journey as icing on the cake 🙂

© as|fa

Encumbered|Materialism

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Upfront Caveat:- I sometimes make massive generalisations, so if the person reading my post is not thick skinned, then best quit reading now =)

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My walk in wardrobe has been bothering me for some time and I feel the need to de-clutter, clearing the crap to keep my mind sane. I cannot function otherwise. Do I really need so much junk ? I cant even remember buying some of the stuff – let alone wearing it! What is wrong living with just pure basic necessities ? Isn’t that in our nature as humans? For the vast majority of our time in this planet, we have lived as hunter-gatherers, moving from one place to another – its not in our blood to accumulate – but the new age humans have evolved…

So this got me questioning why materialism makes us happy? In fact, the happiness levels are so excessive sometimes, that it transpires into being broadcast over various social media platforms…

I don’t have a problem with people sharing news relating to major milestones, life achievements, kids successes etc – but it’s baffling when I read posts about material possessions – designer sunnies, jimmy choos, luxury house-on-4-wheels (oops, I meant a car) or even the latest smartphones. The need for societal acceptance by sharing accumulated material wealth is something I cannot relate with. Don’t get me wrong, I like things too but I’m not big on flaunting it – I purchase things for personal satisfaction. Period. I’m in constant competition with myself and don’t have the time to think about “Keeping up with the Joneses“.

Coming back to my being encumbered with worldly possessions – ever since mom passed away, this conundrum has been circling my thoughts in a constant loop. One of the most difficult task in my life has been to sift through my mothers belongings one by one, sorting it out, keeping some of the things that I couldn’t bear parting with and distributing the remaining to charity. That whole process gave my entire existence a jolt of lightening – ashes to ashes, dust to dust.

What will happen to my things when I’m no longer alive ? This very question keeps coming up in my mind after every purchase I make (god knows why it doesn’t come up before I make that purchase!) I’m coming close to the point where I’m almost ready to give away a lot of what I have accumulated over the years – its just gathering dust mainly sitting in various wardrobes around the house..clothes, jewellery, watches, bags, wallets…I don’t feel connected to it all any more and haven’t been for a couple of years. Its just that encumbering materialistic weight being carried around that no one appreciates – it needs to go – because the key to my happiness is not my possessions.

© as|fa