Ramadan 2013 – Videos I like to watch on YouTube

Assalamu alaikum everyone! So, as always, I have failed to post as often as I would like to. But that’s ok, I was busy doing the things I should be really concentrating on during Ramadan – that is faith, worship, increasing knowledge, etc. Woohoo!

While I missed socializing at lunch time with co-workers, I did enjoy the videos I watched during that time. I’ll share some of the videos with you as I feel they are worth listening to and will probably return to some of them throughout the year.

Qur’anic Gems by Qur’an Weekly
I had this one video series I would listen to every day. Why? Not because I am obsessed, but because the people at Qur’an Weekly would put out a video every day during Ramadan. The series was entitled “Qur’anic Gems”. The topic? Picking one passage from the Qur’an every day (as part of our recommended daily reading – see this post which mentions it) and explains it. I have learned so much from these videos. They not only teach you more about Islam and the Qur’an but also about yourself. It’s a great series to watch if you’re looking to better yourself (not only as a Muslim, but as a person).

A link to the playlist:Qur’anic Gems playlist
And a link to their main YouTube page where they have many other videos:Qur’an Weekly YouTube page
Notable mention to the Superstars series: The one about Khadija had me crying.

Nye Armstrong
These videos are much more light-hearted. While they can be informative, they are much more about personal experience. Sister Nye Armstrong, who puts up the videos, is an American convert (or revert, whichever you prefer). She is often joined by another convert friend of hers, Rebecca. Together, they really make a great team and the friendship they have is something so beautiful. Honestly, on days where I wasn’t feeling the most positive, I would load up one of sister Nye’s videos and feel better instantly. The only downside to watching the videos was the realizing (even more than before) that I don’t have that much of any friendship with another sister. Now, this is not to discount what I do have, I know a few other Muslim females that I get along with and talk to, but nothing that is a really close friendship, where you see one another on a regular basis. It probably doesn’t help that I have yet to really feel this whole “sisterhood” thing I keep hearing about. I am very active on pages and message boards online, but in person… Lets just say I get nervous just getting dressed to go to the masjid. That is another post all on it’s own.

But yes, I do really enjoy the videos though and it makes me feel a little less lonely sometimes, like they’re almost there talking to me. Sounds crazy, I know! But I think you’ll get it if you watch a few of their videos.

A recent video of theirs – What is Ramadan?
One of their most viewed videos – Parents not Muslim… But you are?
A short video that sister Nye put together about what Muslims experience, especially converts – Blind Hate

Bayyinah Institute
These videos are a bit more advanced – they are mainly about the interpretation and explanation of the Qur’an and its passages (ayat). This process if called Tafseer. I have just recently started up on listening to these kinds of lectures and while they are really interesting, eye opening and informative, I wouldn’t suggest it for general consumption. I actually need to keep a pad of paper and pen when I listen to these in order to take notes.

Link to Bayyinah Institute’s YouTube Channel
Link to Bayyinah Institute’s Podcast (this is how I usually access the tafseer lectures)

Qalam Institute
The Qalam Institute is putting out an amazing series on the life of Prophet Muhammad (sallalahu alaihi wasalam – Peace and blessings be upon him). This is called the Seerah. I will admit that I have always felt a bit of a hard time connecting to our Prophet for some reason. My possible explanation: Prophets were always the subjects in stories when I grew up, almost mythical. So I guess it’s hard to get close to or relate to them. But this series is meant to bring you closer to Prophet Muhammad through explaining his life story. The series is ongoing, currently at 50 lectures and increasing, but I am only at lecture 20. It’s a very long series but, so far, I am loving it! The lecturer really goes into the history and details, and you really get to see the human side of the Prophet (SAWS), his childhood, people in his life, struggles, outlooks, etc. And it’s all chronological too.

A link to their Podcast page.

For all of these different groups, all I have to say is SubhanAllah (glory be to God) – they put so much time and effort into these projects, it’s really amazing. And I really do hope they continue because they are teaching many Muslims (and non-Muslims) about our wonderful religion. If not making us better Muslims, then at least sharing knowledge and informing. This is in and of itself a beautiful gift. Jazaahum Allaahu khayran/Jazaahunna Allaahu khayran (may Allah reward them with good) to all these groups.

Alhamdullilah, 3 things I am grateful for today:
1- My parents accepting my Ramadan dinner invitation for last Saturday.
2- Having the means to put food on the table (with guests or just Salem and I).
3- The love my family has for me. Insha’allah (God willing), they know just how much I love them too.


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Assalamu alaikum tout le monde! Comme de fait, je n’ai pas été capable de publier des articles aussi souvent que je l’aurai voulu. Mais c’est rien de sérieux car j’était occupée avec des choses qui sont plutôt importantes durant le Ramadan; la foi, vénération, éducation, etc.

Certes, socialiser avec mes collègues lors de l’heure du diner m’a manqué, mais j’ai vraiment aimé les vidéos que j’ai regardé entretemps. Je vais partager quelques-uns de ces vidéos avec vous car je crois qu’il valent la peine d’écouter et je vais probablement y retourner au cours de l’année.

Qur’anic Gems par Qur’an Weekly
Ceci était la série que je regardais à chaque jour. Pourquoi? Non, pas parce que je suis une obsédée, mais parce que l’équipe de Qur’an Weekly téléchargeait un vidéo par jour durant le mois du Ramadan. La série était intitulée « Qur’anic Gems ». Le sujet : un passage tiré quotidiennement du Coran (basé sur notre lecture quotidienne suggérée) et son explication. J’en ai tellement apris grâce de ces vidéos; ils t’enseignent sur le Coran mais aussi sur nous-mêmes (individus). C’est une très bonne série si vous désirez vous améliorer en tant que Musulman ou en tant que personne.

Un lien vers la série : Qur’anic Gems playlist
Un lien vers leur page principale sur YouTube ou l’on peut visionner plusieurs vidéos : Page YouTube de Qur’an Weekly
Aussi à noter : leur série Superstars – celui sur Khadija m’a fait pleuer.

Nye Armstrong
Ces vidéos sont beaucoup plus légers. Ils sont tous de même informatifs, mais sont plus axés sur les expériences personnelles. Sœur Nye Armstrong, qui télécharge les vidéos, est une convertie américaine. Elle est souvent accompagnée d’une autre sœur, Rebecca. Ensemble, elles forment un très bon duo et il se voit facilement que leur amitié est de toute beauté. Honnêtement, j’écoute un de leurs vidéos les jours quand je ne me sens pas trop positive. Le seul bémol est quand j’ai réalisé (encore plus qu’avant) que je n’avais pas une telle amitié avec une sœur. Pas pour dire que je n’ai rien de bon; j’ai quelques copines qui sont musulmanes avec qui je m’entends et avec qui je peux parler, mais je n’ai pas d’amie proche dans ce groupe avec qui je pourrais voir régulièrement. Je n’ai pas encore fait l’expérience de la « sororité » entre sœurs que nous mentionne souvent notre religion. Je suis très active sur des forums et pages sur l’internet, mais c’est autre chose en personne. Disons que je commence à m’énerver dès que je commence à m’habiller pour une visite à la mosquée. Autre sujet, autre fois!

Pour y revenir, oui, j’aime bien les vidéos et parfois je me sens un peu moins isolée quand je les regarde; comme si elles étaient là, en train de me parler. Je ne suis pas folle, je vous le jure! Je pense bien que vous comprendriez si vous regardez leurs vidéos.

Une vidéo récente – What is Ramadan?
Une de leurs vidéos des plus populaires – Parents not Muslim… But you are?
Un court vidéo créé par sœur Nye adressant ce que vivent certains musulmans, spécialement ceux qui se sont convertis – Blind Hate

Bayyinah Institute
Ces vidéos sont un peu plus avancés; ils parlent plutôt de l’internprétation et l’explication du Coran et ses versets (ayat). Ce processus s’appelle le Tafseer. Je viens tout juste de commencer à écouter ce genre de lecture et, bien qu’elles sont très intéressantes, révélantes et informatives; je ne les suggèrerais pas pour tout le monde. En fait, j’ai toujours un bloc notes et un stylo pour prendre des notes quand j’écoute ces lectures.

Lien vers la Page YouTube de Bayyinah Institute
Lien vers les Podcast de Bayyinah Institute (souvent je les écoute plutôt que les regarder)

Qalam Institute
Le Qalam Institute produit une série sur la vie du Prophète Muhammad (sallalahu alaihi wasalam – paix et bénédiction d’Allah sur lui). C’est ce qu’on appelle le Seerah. J’admets que j’ai toujours eu un peu de mas à forger un lien personnel avec notre Prophète. La seule raison dont je peux penser : Les prophètes faisaient toujours parti de comptes qu’on nous contait quand nous étions jeunes, des gens un peu mythiques. Alors je crois que c’est peut-être pour cela qu’il est difficile de s’en rapprocher et de former ce lien avec eux. Cette série a comme but de nous rapprocher au Prophète Muhammad (saws) à travers l’histoire de sa vie. La série n’est toujours pas complétée mais contient 50 sessions à date (ils en rajoutent toujours) et je ne suis qu’à la session numéro 20. C’est une longue série, mais, à date, je l’aime bien. Le conférencier rentre vraiment dans l’histoire et les détails et nous donne la chance de voir le côté plus humain de notre Prophète (saws), son enfance, les gens dans sa vie, ses peines au cours de sa vie, opinions, etc. C’est out en ordre chronologique.

Un lien vers leur page Podcast .

Pour tous ces groupes, tout ce que j’ai à dire est SubhanAllah (gloire soit à Dieu); ils dédient tellement d’effort et de temps sur ces projets. J’espère qu’ils continueront car il enseignent à plusieurs musulmans (et non-musulmans) sur ce qu’est notre religion. Si nous ne devenons pas de meilleurs musulmans suite à ces projets, du moins partagent leurs connaissances avec nous. Ceci est un superbe cadeau! Jazaahum Allaahu khayran/Jazaahunna Allaahu khayran (que dieu les bénits de bonnes actions) à tous ces groupes.

Alhamdullilah, 3 choses pour lesquelles je suis reconnaissante aujourd’hui:
1- Mes parents qui ont acceptés mon invitation pour un souper du Ramadan samedi dernier.
2- Avoir l’argent nécessaire pour nous nourrir (invités et nous deux tous seuls).
3- L’amour que ma famille ressens pour moi. Insha’allah (Dieu voulu), ils savent jusqu’à quel point je les aime aussi.

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Ramadan 2013 – Video link: Oxford University Debate: is Islam a religion of peace?

Assalamu alaikum everyone, rather than write out a very lengthy post today, I decided to give your eyes a break, but perhaps not your ears and your minds.

Over the weekend, Salem and I came across a video on Facebook. It’s about a debate that took place at Oxford University in May of 2013.

What was the question? “Is Islam a religion of peace?”

Now, with everything we see in the news papers, on the television and what we hear from our friends, family and neighbours, most people in the Western world would most-likely answer “No, Islam is not a religion of peace”. Given the importance of the media in our perception of the world and it’s people, that the media loves to focus on negatives and extremes, and are corporations funded by people or groups with their own agenda, then I certainly can’t really be all that surprised.

I invite you to take a few minutes to watch this video in defense of our religion (and I am saying our religion, not people who claim to practice it and twist it and cherry-pick passages in order to suit their own means). What I really like about the arguments put forward by this gentleman are that they are based on figures and logic – it’s not about preaching.

Click here for the video on YouTube

Enjoy!

Salam.

Ramadan 2013 – What is Ramadan? C’est quoi le Ramadan?

Assalamu alaikum warahmatulah wabarakatu. On this second day of fasting, I am bringing you a bit more basic info about Ramadan. Do you have your pens/pencils and paper ready?

What is Ramadan?
Ramadan is actually the 9th month of the Islamic calendar. It is the month in which the Qur’an (our holy book) was first transmitted from Allah to Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) through the angel Gabriel. It is the month in which Muslims partake in a complete fast during daylight hours for 29-30 days.

Some verses from the Qur’an on fasting (taken from islamicity.com)
2:183 O ye who believe! Fasting is prescribed to you as it was prescribed to those before you, that ye may (learn) self-restraint,-
2:184 (Fasting) for a fixed number of days; but if any of you is ill, or on a journey, the prescribed number (Should be made up) from days later. For those who can do it (With hardship), is a ransom, the feeding of one that is indigent. But he that will give more, of his own free will,- it is better for him. And it is better for you that ye fast, if ye only knew.
2:185 Ramadhan is the (month) in which was sent down the Qur’an, as a guide to mankind, also clear (Signs) for guidance and judgment (Between right and wrong). So every one of you who is present (at his home) during that month should spend it in fasting, but if any one is ill, or on a journey, the prescribed period (Should be made up) by days later. Allah intends every facility for you; He does not want to put to difficulties. (He wants you) to complete the prescribed period, and to glorify Him in that He has guided you; and perchance ye shall be grateful.

What does Ramadan ask of you?

During this month, Muslims abstain from food, drink and sexual relations from dawn until the sun sets. Abstaining is often extended to include smoking, swearing, and participating in anything that is ill-natured (such as gossip and backbiting, looking at unlawful things, etc).

Fasting is obligatory for all Muslims once the age of puberty has been reached. That being said, some people are exempt, such as those who are: ill, traveling, pregnant, diabetic, women going through menses or post-natal bleeding. Once these obstacles are no longer in place, one must make up for the days missed. If that is not possible, then one must make some form of donation (usually in the forms of feeding the needy). Fasting during the month of Ramadan is one of the 5 pillars of our religion – I’ll be listing the 5 pillars further in this post.

What are the benefits of fasting and Ramadan?
For many, this is the ideal time to purify the soul through increased spiritual acts (more prayers, turning to Allah, praising Allah; reading the Qur’an); pulling back from daily distractions of normal, everyday life; practicing patience, humility, self-discipline and sacrifice; being charitable and multiplying good deeds. It is also an ideal time for forgiveness and to strengthen the bond between friends, family and community (often through meals).

What else happens in Ramadan?
We have special prayers that we do every night during Ramadan, called tarawih, which is done after the sun has fully set.

Acts of charity and kindness are multiplied during this month, so many people decide to give their obligatory zakat (charity based on a % of savings) at this time, there is also another type of donation one can give (sadaqah) which is voluntary and can go to a number of projects, and it is customary to give zakat ul fitr (charity for Eid) which is the amount it costs to feed one person a meal.

Reading the Qur’an is a very important part of Ramadan, many people trying to read the whole book in the month, which can be divided into 30 parts (1 part a day) or others have subdivided into reading 4 pages after each obligatory prayer (making a total of 20 pages a day).
It’s a great time to increase acts of worship such as dhikr (supplications to Allah), making extra duas (special demands after prayers), memorizing parts of the Qur’an, and increasing general Islamic knowledge.

People tend to go to gatherings more often either for prayers (FYI – men must go to the masjid for prayers!), there are also communal iftar at many mosques so people can break their fasts together. Families actually get together and make time to share a meal.

There are countless other things that happen during Ramadan, but it would take me an eternity to write them all (and even then, I would forget some).

What are the 5 pillars of Islam?
1- Shahada: confession or testament to the faith, testifying that you believe there is no god but Allah and that Muhammad is his messenger.
2- Salat: prayer – we have 5 compulsory prayers a day
3- Sawm: fasting during Ramadan
4- Hajj: pilgrimage to Mecca once in your lifetime
5- Zakat: charity

What does my typical day look like during Ramadan:
2:45 am – Rise and shine (or not!) I like to get up a few minutes early to do extra prayers or other acts of worship.
3:00 am – warm up breakfast (suhoor) and eat, make sure to get 2 tall glasses of water in.
3:20 am – it’s Fajr (our first prayer, at dawn)! Time to pray! Afterwards, I often do a few invocations and then head off to bed.
7:20 am – Get up and get ready for work. Do an extra prayer before leaving (if no time, do it at the beginning of my lunch break).
7:45 am – Leave for work, read Qur’an in the train/bus.
8:30 am – Work day starts.
12:00 pm – If I didn’t have the time to do a little extra prayer before leaving for work, I do it now. If I’m staying at my desk, I like to take a 20-30 minute nap or watch religious videos on YouTube (I will put up a few links to some of my favorites in another post).
12:50 pm – Do an extra prayer.
1:00 pm – It’s Dhuhr, our lunch-time prayer. I also like to throw in an extra prayer here afterwards.
5:00 pm – Leave for home. Finish reading my daily Qur’an reading on the train.
6:00 pm – Arrive home (if I don’t have any errands), pray Asr (afternoon prayer). Take a nap – if I can manage to fall asleep.
8:00 pm – Start up on supper (Iftar).
8:45 pm – It’s time for supper! We usually break our fast with a few dates and some water. We then pray Maghrib (evening prayer) and then get to our supper which is usually fatteh (a Lebanese dish – click for my recipe) and then move on to a meal with proteins, veggies and some kind of carbs. And don’t forget to drink lots of water!
9:30 pm – do the dishes, clean up, whatever else needs to be done. You can also do an extra prayer here too.
10:40 pm – It’s time to pray our last obligatory prayer, Isha, and then get on to tarawih – our special Ramadan prayers. This can take a while depending on how many you do and a few other factors. We customarily finish up with a witr isha prayer (basically the last prayer for the night) and then head off to bed. We’re pretty much zombies by the time we go to bed.

Bolded times indicate the time our fasting begins and ends.

Voici la version française

Assalamu alaikum warahmatulah wabarakatu. Pour le 2e jour de jeûne, j’aimerais vous parler un peu plus du Ramadan et vous donner un peu plus d’informations de base. Êtes-vous prêts?

C’est quoi le Ramadan?
Le Ramadan est, en actualité, le 9e mois du calendrier Musulman. C’est le mois dans lequel notre Prophète Muhammad (que la paix et le salut soit sur lui) a commencé a recevoir la transmission du Coran de la part de Dieu, à travers l’ange Gabriel. Ceci est le mois où nous jeunons (pas d’eau, pas de nourriture) pendant le jour pour une durée de 29-30 jours (un cycle lunaire).

Quelques versets du Coran concernant le jeûne (à partir du site coran-en-ligne.com.com)
2:183 Ô les croyants! On vous a prescrit as-Siyam (le jeûne) comme on l’a prescrit à ceux d’avant vous, ainsi atteindrez-vous la piété,
2:184 pendant un nombre déterminé de jours. Quiconque d’entre vous est malade ou en voyage, devra jeûner un nombre égal d’autres jours. Mais pour ceux qui ne pourraient le supporter (qu’avec grande difficulté), il y a une compensation : nourrir un pauvre. Et si quelqu’un fait plus de son propre gré, c’est pour lui; mais il est mieux pour vous de jeûner; si vous saviez!
2:185 (Ces jours sont) le mois de Ramadan au cours duquel le Coran a été descendu comme guide pour les gens, et preuves claires de la bonne direction et du discernement. Donc quiconque d’entre vous est présent en ce mois, qu’il jeûne! Et quiconque est malade ou en voyage, alors qu’il jeûne un nombre égal d’autres jours. – Allah veut pour vous la facilité, Il ne veut pas la difficulté pour vous, afin que vous en complétiez le nombre et que vous proclamiez la grandeur d’Allah pour vous avoir guidés, et afin que vous soyez reconnaissants!


Que dois-tu faire pendant le Ramadan?

Durant ce mois, les Musulmans ne consomment ni nourriture, ni eau (ou liquides) et nous devons abstenir de relations sexuelles du lever du soleil au coucher du soleil. Ceci inclut souvent aussi s’abstenir de fumer, jurer et participer dans ce qui est considéré comme étant désagréable (tels que commérages, médisances, laisser tomber son regard sur des choses illicites, etc.).

Le jeûne est obligatoire pour tout Musulman à partir de l’âge de la puberté. Ceci étant dit, certains en sont exemptés tels que pour des raisons de : maladie, voyagement, grossesse, diabète, femmes qui ont leur règles ou lochies (saignement postnatal). Les jours manqués sont à rattraper dès que ces obstacles ne sont plus en effet. Si ceci est impossible, alors on doit faire un don quelconque (souvent il est demandé qu’on nourrisse un pauvre pour le nombre de jours manqués). Le jeûne du Ramadan est une des 5 piliers de notre religion; je vais énumérer ces piliers un peu plus tard dans cet article.

Quels sont les avantages tirés du jeûne du Ramadan?
Pour plusieurs, ceci est l’occasion parfaite de purifier son esprit à travers l’augmentation du nombre d’actes spirituels (prières, se tourner vers Allah, louanges à Allah, lecture du Coran), diminuer les distractions de la vie quotidienne, pratiquer la patience, l’humilité, l’autodiscipline ainsi que le sacrifice, être charitable et multiplier les bonnes actions. C’est aussi le temps idéal pour demander le pardon et pour renforcer les liens entre amis, famille et la communauté (souvent en passant par la table!).

Il y a d’autre chose qui se passe lors du Ramadan?
Nous avons de prières spéciales que nous offrons chaque soir durant le Ramadan, elles s’appellent « Tarawih » et sont faites une fois le soleil complètement couché.

Les actes de charité et de bienfaisance sont multipliés durant ce mois alors plusieurs pratiquants décident d’en profiter pour payer leur zakat obligatoire (don de charité basé sur un % d’épargnes) ainsi que faire d’autres genres de dons volontaires (sadaqah) pour divers projets. Il y a aussi le zakat ul fitr (Don de charité pour l’Eid) qui est équivalent au montant nécessaire pour nourrir une personne, pour un repas.

Aussi très important ce mois ci est la lecture du Coran. Plusieurs ont comme objectif de lire le livre au complet dans ce mois, ceci est accompli en le divisant en 30 sections (1 section par jour), d’autres divisent la lecture par prière (4 pages après chaque prière obligatoire, pour un total de 20 pages par jour).

C’est une merveilleuse occasion pour augmenter le nombre d’actes de vénération tels que dhikr (supplications envers Allah), prières pour faveurs de la part de Allah duas, mémorisation du Coran, et pour approfondir ses connaissances de l’Islam.

Les gens sont plus aptes à se rassembler ou pour des prières (SVP notez que les hommes doivent se rendre à la mosquée pour chaque prière!) ou pour casser le jeûne iftar en communauté. Ceci se fait souvent aux mosquées. Aussi, le monde s’assure de prendre le temps pour casser leur jeûne ensemble, en famille.

Il y a innombrables autres choses que l’on peut faire à l’occasion du Ramadan, mais il me prendrait une éternité pour vous compiler une liste (et j’en oublierais encore!).

Quels sont les 5 piliers de l’Islam?
1- Shahada : attestation ou témoignage de notre foi : Je témoigne qu’il n’y a pas d’autre dieu qu’Allah et que Muhammad (Mahomet) est son messager.
2- Salat : 5 prières obligatoires par jour
3- Sawm : le jeûne du Ramadan
4- Hajj : pèlerinage à la Mecque, une fois au cours de sa vie
5- Zakat : don de charité (% d’épargnes)

À quoi ressemble ma journée lors du Ramadan:
2:45 am – Debout les enfants! J’aime me réveiller quelques minutes plus tôt pour faire des prières en surplus ou autres actes de vénération.
3:00 am – Je prépare le déjeuner (suhoor), on mange et je m’assure de boire 2 grands verres d’eau.
3:20 am – C’est Fajr (la primière prière du jour, à l’aube)! Par après, je fais quelques invocations et je retourne au lit.
7:20 am – C’est le temps de se lever et se préparer pour le travail. Je fais une petite prière en extra si je le peux avant de quitter (sinon, je le fais en début d’heure du dîner).
7:45 am – C’est le départ pour l’ouvrage, je lis le Coran sur le train et l’autobus.
8:30 am – Ma journée au travail débute.
12:00 pm – Si j’ai pas eu le temps de faire ma prière en extra avant de quitter le matin, je la fais maintenant. Si je reste à mon bureau, ou je prends une sieste de 20-30 minutes ou je regarde des vidéos informatifs sur YouTube (religieux, bien sûr! – j’en rajouterai les liens dans un autre article qui suivra).
12:50 pm – Une autre prière en extra.
1:00 pm – C’est Dhuhr, notre prière de mi-journée. J’aime aussi rajouter une autre prière en surplus par après.
5:00 pm – Départ pour la maison. Je finis souvent de lire ma section quotidienne du Coran sur le train.
6:00 pm – Arrivée à la maison (si je n’ai pas de courses à faire) et je fais ma prière de l’après-midi Asr. Faire une petite sieste (si il est possible de m’endormir).
8:00 pm – Je prépare à souper(Iftar).
8:45 pm – C’est le temps de casser le jeûne! D’habitude, on casse le jeûne avec des dates et de l’eau. Ensuite, on fait notre prière Maghrib et par après, on soupe en commençant avec du fatteh (un mets Libanais – cliquez pour la recette) suivi par un repas avec protéines, légumes et un féculent. N’oubliez pas de boire beaucoup d’eau!
10:40 pm – C’est le temps de faire notre dernière prière obligatoire Isha. Une fois terminée, on commence les prières du tarawih; nos prières spéciales du Ramadan. Ceci peut prendre du temps, tout dépendant du nombre de prières qu’on fait, ainsi que d’autres facteurs. Nous finissons le tout avec la dernière prière du soir; la witr isha (dernière prière de la nuit) et on se couche! Par le temps qu’on fini le tout, nous sommes morts de fatigue!

Heures en caractères gras indique quand le jeûne commence et termine.

30 days (or 29) and 30 posts in Ramadan – 30 jours (ou 29) et 30 articles durant le Ramadan

Ramadan Kareem (happy Ramadan) to everyone! Je souhaite un Ramadan Kareem (joyeux Ramadan) à tous!

Ramadan Kareem (happy Ramadan) to everyone! Je souhaite un Ramadan Kareem (joyeux Ramadan) à tous!

Assalamu ‘alaikum warahmatullahi wabarakatuh, I am greeting all my readers with our full-on, official, standard Muslim greeting today (and probably for the next month) because it is officially our holy month of Ramadan. What does this sentence translate into? “May the peace, mercy, and blessings of Allah be with you” Amongst Muslims, we often use the shortened version “Assalamu ‘alaikum” (peace be upon you) but I figured today warranted a special something extra.

Insha’Allah (God willing), I will be posting every day this Ramadan in hopes of providing info to our mixed audience. Please note, I am only trying to share the knowledge I have, I am not a scholar nor am I perfect, so please forgive me if I make any mistakes although I will be spending time researching posts before publishing anything. There will be some more introductory info, some more in-depth info and some opinion pieces as well. For my first post, I will start with one question (which lead to another) I was asked a few times over the past few weeks.

When does Ramadan start this year?

This is actually a question I ask numerous times myself in preparation for Ramadan. Partly from excitement over the coming month but also for planning purposes. Unfortunately, we can only ballpark our answer down to 1-2 days, and we don’t really know until the evening before we start fasting. Here comes the follow-up question…

Why?

The Islamic calendar is not planned out the same way as the Gregorian calendar (the one use on a daily basis). The Islamic calendar is actually based on the phases of the moon. A new month starts when the moon (or crescent) is sighted after the new moon. This is why we can’t give a doubt-free answer until the night itself. This is also why there are some people who begin fasting earlier and others later (this applies to Eid as well, at the end of the month).

From what I have read, there are 2 ways to “sight” the moon. Either by the human eye, or through mathematical calculations. I’m not going to get into a debate about this as I am certainly not a scholar but I would point people towards their local mosque – this way you can fast during Ramadan with the rest of your community, attend tarawih (night) prayers with them and celebrate Eid together.

I would also like to add in a little something personal with these daily posts:

Alhamdullilah – What I am particularly thankful for today
Each day, I will post 3 things I have been particularly thankful for.

1- Air conditioning: there was none when arriving into work today, predictions were for 38 Celcius with humidity. Thankfully, they fixed it before noon. Alhamdullilah!
2- People being open minded in spite of the negative image being put out by the media on all sides. I was at a social gathering yesterday and people were curious and respectful of my religious beliefs and Ramadan. The media in my area has been very negative as of late concerning language and culture. It really warmed my heart to see that it really is a case of only a few bad apples ruining the batch.
3- Water. Yep, that’s the thing I miss the most during Ramadan – not food, but water.

If you have any questions, please post them in the comments section and I’ll try my best to answer them.

Love, ~C

Assalamu ‘alaikum warahmatullahi wabarakatuh, aujourd’hui, ainsi que pour le restant du mois, je vous souhaite tous bonjour avec notre salutation formelle entre Musulmans. Pourquoi? Parce que c’est maintenant officiellement le mois du Ramadan. Que veux dire cette salutation? « Que la paix, la miséricorde et la bénédiction de Dieu soient sur vous » En temps normal, nous utilisons souvent Assalamu ‘alaikum « Que la paix soit sur vous » mais je croyais que cette journée méritait quelque chose de plus que la normale.

Insha’Allah (Avec la volonté de Dieu), Je vais rajouter des articles chaque jour durant le Ramadan en espoir de partager des informations avec mon public mixte. SVP gardez en tête que je ne suis ni spécialiste (ou érudite), ni parfaite alors je vous demande de me pardonner si je fais quelques erreurs; même après les recherches que je fais avant de rajouter un article sur notre blogue. Je compte avoir des informations de base, des informations sur des sujets plus complexes et, bien sûr, mes opinions et ma perspective.

Pour mon premier article ce mois, je vais commencer par une question qu’on me pose souvent dans les semaines précédentes le Ramadan (et cette question mène souvent à une autre).

Quand débute le Ramadan cet année?

Je me pose souvent cette question en me préparant pour le Ramadan. Partiellement par enthousiasme pour ce mois mais aussi pour commencer la planification nécessaire pour ce mois. Malheureusement, on ne peut donner une réponse concrète jusqu’à la soirée avant le commencement du jeûne. Alors voici la question qui suit souvent cette réponse…

Pourquoi?

Le calendrier Musulman n’est pas basé sur le calendrier grégorien; celui qu’on utilise quotidiennement. Le calendrier Musulman est basé sur les phases de la lune. Un mois commence dès qu’on aperçoit la lune (ou un croissant) après la nouvelle lune. C’est pourquoi nous ne pouvons pas donner une réponse avant le soir même. Ceci est aussi pourquoi tout le monde ne commence pas le jeûne en même temps; ou ne célèbrera possiblement pas l’Eid en même temps à la fin du mois.

De ce que j’ai lu, il y a 2 façons « d’apercevoir » la lune ; par l’œil (à l’aide de télescopes, etc si nécessaire) ou à l’aide de calculs. Je ne vais certainement pas rentrer dans un grand débat concernant ces 2 méthodes car je ne suis pas spécialiste. Je préfère suggérer que les gens s’informent auprès de leur mosquée. De cette manière, on peut jeûner, faires nos prières du tarawih (prières du soir) et célébrer l’Eid avec le restant de notre communauté.

Je souhaite aussi rajouter un petit quelque chose plus personnel à chacun de ces articles quotidiens ce mois-ci :

Alhamdullilah – Je suis particulièrement reconnaissante de… aujourd’hui

Chaque jour, je vais nommer 3 choses pour lesquelles je suis reconnaissante.
1- l’air climatisé : l’air climatisé ne fonctionnait pas en rentrant au travail ce matin. On prévoyait des températures de 38 degrés Celcius avec le facteur humidité. Heureusement, ils l’ont réparé avant midi!
Alhamdullilah!
2- Les gens qui gardent un esprit ouvert malgré la mauvaise publicité des tous les côtés grâce aux médias. J’étais à une rencontre hier et les gens étaient curieux ainsi que respectueux envers mes croyances et le Ramadan. Récemment, dans ma région, les médias ont peint une image très négative en ce qui concerne la langue et la culture. Ça m’a vraiment touché de voir que ce n’était pas le cas, que c’est seulement quelques personnes qui causent des ennuis pour tout le monde.
3- L’eau. Oui, ceci est la chose qui me manque le plus lors du Ramadan; pas la bouffe, mais l’eau.

Si vous avez des questions, SVP ne soyez pas gênés. Vous n’avez qu’à les ajouter dans vos commentaires et je vais faire de mon mieux pour vous répondre.

Avec amour, ~C

Puerto Rico – April 2013 – Day 3

Morning

Today, we finally got to go on a catamaran trip. We had originally wanted to go on one when in Cuba, but with my cold and the weather, it didn’t work out. Salem’s work was paying for a choice of one out of a series of activities: golf, spa day, zip lining through the trees, catamaran or rhum factory tour. Catamaran please! I didn’t even really need to see the other choices.

We were up at 6 (our bus was leaving at 8). We both didn’t feel too great that morning – I was feeling nauseated (is this becoming a habit for me and bus trips), Salem wasn’t too hot either. Thank you Gravol for your help – it eventually passed. The scenery along the way was very similar to Cuba’s – lots of greenery and hills but I will admit that the houses and roads are in better shape, yet I noticed the majority of the houses had burglar bars on the doors and windows. Hmmm…

The bus ride took about an hour. We went to the Luquillo area, just past Fajardo to the Puerto del Rey Marina. Our trip was with East Island Excursions. I’d say the group was made up of about 60 people and the ship had 4-5 crew members.

The first leg of the sail took about 45-60 minutes, headed north-east to the Palominos/Palominitos islands. The ride was a bit turbulent and Salem doesn’t have sealegs. Just to reassure you, he didn’t end up getting sick on this trip, Alhamdulillah, but lots of Gravol was ingested and I think we came close to having a mess a few times. We were also trying to stay covered considering our sunburns. I looked like quite the weirdo, hiding under blankets in the heat!

We pulled up to the shore of one of the islands and stayed there for a little while (maybe 2 hours) for some snorkeling, beaching and lunch. While the beach was really nice, Salem and I didn’t see any fish, even after snorkeling for about 40 minutes. What was for lunch? A sandwich buffet: baguette, deli meats (they had turkey but it was on the same tray as the ham and salami), cheeses, veggies, pasta salad, chips, fruits (I got to try fresh tamarind!), virgin and not-so-virgin drinks. I made us a cheese sandwich and had some veggies, fruits and pasta salad. Salem has a few bites of the sandwich and some banana. Haram! 😦 He felt pretty crummy.

Puerta del Rey Marina.

Puerta del Rey Marina.

Palomino island beach. La plage de l'île Palomino.

Palomino island beach. La plage de l’île Palomino.

Salem on the catamaran. Salem sur le catamaran.

Salem on the catamaran. Salem sur le catamaran.

Take it easy buddy. Prends ça relaxe mon homme.

Take it easy buddy. Prends ça relaxe mon homme.

Salem looking hot in snorkeling gear. Beau bonhomme avec un tuba.

Salem looking hot in snorkeling gear. Beau bonhomme avec un tuba.

We had a second short sail (maybe 5-10 minutes) to a reef for some “deep snorkeling”. It was amazing! Salem and I were snorkeling for 1.5 hours straight! We could’ve easily stayed there all afternoon! You can do in and swim or bring a floater belt (which is nice when you want to relax to stay afloat). But it is nice to take it off once in a while and dive deeper – but watch for your ears! Holy pressure!

Swimmers and hill in the distance. Des gens en baignade et une côte à l'horizon.

Swimmers and hill in the distance. Des gens en baignade et une côte à l’horizon.

I could blab on and on about the fish and coral, but I’ll just let the pictures do the talking. Please keep in mind that these guys aren’t there to pose and this is only a tiny fraction of what we saw. Travelers note: It would seem fish like bread and bananas.

The ride back seemed faster and smoother (I was even falling asleep on Salem’s shoulder). We napped on the way back to the hotel in the bus. We knew we wouldn’t have time to nap before getting ready for dinner.

We were invited out to dinner by the Canadian GM to a restaurant nearby called El Livin. All in all, the food was very good, prices seemed decent (but we didn’t pay since we were invited out) but I know the appetizers were about $13 and mains mostly around $18-20. The service was very… odd. Some people in our group were finishing up their desserts and others were just getting their main course. And we were there from 7:30-10:00. Thankfully, we were spread amongst 4 different tables, but still. I guess their kitchen just wasn’t manned by enough people to serve everyone all at once – I can’t really fault them for that, we were a group of about 40-45 people.

What did we order? Appetizers were the fried mahi mahi nuggets with a black bean and corn hummous along with a ceviche in coconut milk next to some plantain fritters. It was to die for! The main course options were more limited because a lot of the things either had wine in the sauce, chorizo or ham in the rice or was straight up pork. We selected the skirt steak with mashed yuka. Puerto Ricans seem to really know their steaks. The sauce was really good too and the yuka was a welcome change from the usual potatoes.

Breaded mahi mahi nuggets with blackbean hummous, blackbeans and corn. Ddes croquettes au mahi mahi avec du hummous au haricots noirs avec des haricots et du maïs.

Breaded mahi mahi nuggets with blackbean hummous, blackbeans and corn. Des croquettes au mahi mahi avec du hummous au haricots noirs avec des haricots et du maïs.

Coconut milk ceviche. *Drools* Ceviche au lait de noix de coco. Mmmm....

Coconut milk ceviche. *Drools* Ceviche au lait de noix de coco. Mmmm….

Salem ready to eat a good dinner after a day at sea. Salem prêt à manger après une journée passée à la mer.

Salem ready to eat a good dinner after a day at sea. Salem prêt à manger après une journée passée à la mer.

Skirt steak, sauce and yuka mash. Very tasty! Un biftek de hampe avec un sauce et du yucca pilé.

Skirt steak, sauce and yuka mash. Very tasty! Un biftek de hampe avec un sauce et du yucca pilé.

We were too full for dessert and a bit pooped from our excursion (the sun will do that to you) so we left around 10. We went straight to our rooms and were surprised by a gift of a cheese platter, crackers and wine (we gave that last bit to away to someone). The cheese and crackers came in handy a few days later.

Puerto Rico – April 2013 – Days 1 & 2

Day 1

Our trip to Puerto Rico was an unplanned trip and quite a pleasant surprise. No, it wasn’t a last-minute trip but rather a gift of recognition to Salem for all his hard work over the years. Salem was nominated as an employee of the month during 2012 and was one of the chosen few to be sent off to the annual Summit Club trip. It’s a different location every year – this year it was San Juan, Puerto Rico. Both the US and Canadian divisions of the company go on this trip together along with their spouses. How many people did that make this year? Between 200-250. Some people brought their children as well but they were not covered for activities or food – which is fine. I think it’s generous of them to foot the bill for their employee and their spouse for airfare, 4 nights stay, 4 breakfast buffets, 2 dinners (we also got one bonus dinner thanks to the Canadian GM), $250 spending money and one activity (we opted in for the catamaran trip since we didn’t get to do it when we went to Varadero).

We had a morning flight with American Airlines departing at 11:55 from Montreal to San Juan with a layover at JFK in New York. Checking in was a breeze as there was next to no one there – mind you I think it’s rather stupid that there’s a $25 checked luggage fee – why not just include it in the price of the ticket? Our way of paying only $25 and not $50 – pack all our crap into one large suitcase. My only complaint – would it kill US Customs employees to at least return my “good morning”? I’m not even asking for a smile, but if you see someone who’s in a good mood and wishes you good morning, a hint of civility would be nice. What did I get? A stone face! That put quite a damper on things. Honestly though guys, at least return the greeting.

I was also randomly selected for a pat-down or to go through the new bodyscan machine. Guess what I chose? High tech gadgetry all the way buddy! And guess what else – I’m still alive!

Uneventful flights, we arrived an hour before what was indicated in our tickets. No complaints here! But be prepared, no free snacks are provided on the flight – juice/water/soda/coffee is, but anything else will require you to pull out your credit card. The smaller flight (YUL-JFK) had no entertainment but it was only a 1-1.5 hour flight. The second flight had a movie though – one screen for every few rows.

I finally got to see New York! Well, sorta – from the plane. It’s huge! I’d like to go back some day and actually get to see the city. Probably not anytime within the next year though. Hmmm…

Above the clouds - Au delà des nuages.

Above the clouds – Au delà des nuages.

JFK airport - a mammoth of an airport!  L'aéroport JFK - une presque-ville.

JFK airport – a mammoth of an airport! L’aéroport JFK – une presque-ville.

Welcome to San Juan, Puerto Rico! Bienvenu à San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Welcome to San Juan, Puerto Rico! Bienvenu à San Juan, Puerto Rico.

A highlight from the flight – I finally got to take a look at the Sky Mall catalogue. Wow! I had heard about it before but I never knew it was so full of weird crap. I laughed so much that I brought a copy home with me.

We landed and had a 15-20 minute shuttle ride to the Caribe Hilton (near Old San Juan). The hotel itself is very nice – they have a few restaurants, a Starbucks, conference rooms, a nice pool with bar and a grill, a nice semi-circular beach, very well equipped gym (we were pleasantly surprised) and nice sitting area in the lobby with parrots (in a cage, obviously).

Checking in was quick and easy and there was a welcome table setup for Salem’s work. What did we were given: spending money (in the form of a credit card) along with a nice beach bag, water bottles, local info and itinerary.

We were booked for room #730 – which, to our very pleasant surprise, was an oceanview room. Wooohoooo!!!!!

View of the beach from our room. Vue de la plage à partir de notre chambre.

View of the beach from our room. Vue de la plage à partir de notre chambre.

View of the ocean from our room. Vue de l'océan à partir de notre chambre.

View of the ocean from our room. Vue de l’océan à partir de notre chambre.


The room was nice and clean, nice artwork, nice washroom, there was a mini-fridge and there was also a table and 2 chairs on the balcony. Perfect! The only issue we had later on in regard to the room was the shower. The thing always clogged and started backing up after 1 minute of showering. Grrr + Ewwww! And we also thought it was funny that the bathroom door was on a track – like a closet door – and it never closed 100%. Couples – please be sure you feel very comfortable with one another – you might hear or possibly spot (through the crack between the door and the wall) things you never cared to see your partner do. Just saying. Salem and I are all good though!

The very comfy bed. Le lit très confortable.

The very comfy bed. Le lit très confortable.

One view into the washroom - and the famous door. On jette un coup d'oeil dans la salle de bain et la fameuse porte.

One view into the washroom – and the famous door. On jette un coup d’oeil dans la salle de bain et la fameuse porte.

Trying to take in the whole room. On tente de prendre une photo de la chambre au complet!

Trying to take in the whole room. On tente de prendre une photo de la chambre au complet!

 The rest of the evening was spent relaxing – that’s what flying will do to you. We just picked up some sandwiches at the Subway next door and had supper on the beach even though it was quite windy and the sun had already set. Still, we enjoyed our time there – fresh sea salt air, waves crashing, and utter silence for the rest. Needless to say, we didn’t stay up late.

Day 2

We were up bright and early – ok, 7 am is early for us when on vacation – because breakfast was provided for by Salem’s work for the first 4 mornings of our trip. No complaints here! It would seem it’s the Hilton Caribe’s buffet (I heard it’s something along the lines of $25 per person). Where is it? On the second floor of the main building. You can sit indoors or outdoors – we ate outside every time, of course! What’s available? Patisseries, eggs, muffins, cereal, bread, breakfast meats (no thanks), fruit, juice, milk, coffee, tea. A good selection overall.

Salem had a short meting at 9 so I headed to the beach to wait for him there. I was surprised at just how very few people were on the beach at that time (maybe a handful). I was in the water by 9, no one else went in for at least another 30 minutes. Honestly, nothing beats a morning swim on an almost deserted beach.

Of course, I just had to get a nasty sunburn. I was careful! I used waterproof sunscreen, I put it on when I got out of the water. And there was my problem this time – I was in the water for a 2 hour stretch at one point. I guess I will never get a break eh?

There were quite a few people seated near us from the Canadian division of Salem’s work. It was oddly relaxing to talk to people in the water. It’s just really nice to have relaxed discussions with people, none of the daily distractions, tensions melted away.

A few of us decided to go to the Atlantico Pool Bar & Grill for lunch but it was utter chaos. In the end, the people from our group that did order from there had to wait well over 30 minutes before getting their food (it would take 10-15 minutes to put in your order).

Salem and I decided to check out the Pina Colada Club that’s part of the hotel. We sat outside and promptly put in our order. 1 order of soft-shell mahi mahi tacos and a chicken avocado wrap. Oh my! Oh my! The food was great! The mahi mahi tacos had lightly breaded and fried mahi mahi pieces, guacamole, sour cream, salad, cheese, peppers and tomatoes with a roasted habanero salso on the side. I really wish we had something like this in Montreal. I’d be eating it all the time! 3 tacos (I had to give one to Salem, I was too full) for $17.00. The avocado chicken wrap had avocado, chicken , lettuce, cheese, fried plantain (chips) and tomato and came with a side order of fries – all for $12.00. We had really good service, the staff was really nice and friendly. We knew we’d be back!

Caro in anticipation for her fish tacos at the Pina Colada Club. Caro attend impatiemment ses tacos au poisson.

Caro in anticipation for her fish tacos at the Pina Colada Club. Caro attend impatiemment ses tacos au poisson.

Salem is anxiously awaiting his food too. Salem a hâte de manger aussi

Salem is anxiously awaiting his food too. Salem a hâte de manger aussi.

Pina Colada Club's chicken and avocado wrap. Le "wrap" au poulet et avocat du Pina Colada Club.

Pina Colada Club’s chicken and avocado wrap. Le “wrap” au poulet et avocat du Pina Colada Club.

Fish tacos! NOM, NOM, NOM!!!!! Les tacos au poisson, aucune description y ferait justice!

Fish tacos! NOM, NOM, NOM!!!!! Les tacos au poisson, aucune description y ferait justice!

We were back on the beach after lunch (quelle surprise!) and stayed there until the end of the afternoon. We went to the gym afterwards and had a nice workout. The Hilton’s gym was actually really nice and pretty well equipped! I was able to do my full workout, with a few small substitutions.

View from the beach in the afternoon. La vue de la plage en après-midi.

View from the beach in the afternoon. La vue de la plage en après-midi.

Look who I found on the beach! Ah ben! Ah ben! Voyons qui s'est installé à la plage!

Look who I found on the beach! Ah ben! Ah ben! Voyons qui s’est installé à la plage!

That night, there was a beachside dinner, the Canadian team was spread out over 3 tables. We had some really good conversations and also some interesting happenings. I won’t go into details, but I will say I have never been more ashamed and embarrassed by someone who embodies the worst stereotypes of my culture (and then some). Lets just say I don’t think I have ever been so unable to even look at someone, had my eyes go so wide in surprise or exchanged so many awkward glances with people all in one sitting. One tablemate summed it up pretty well “Well, THAT was interesting!”.

Alright alright, enough of that, what about the food? It was buffet style with a salad bar: mixed greens salad, dressings, tomato and bocconccini salad, jicama and veggie salad and a shrimp and veggie salad. All of which were very tasty! We had to be a bit more vigilant with the hot buffet: Puerto Rican rice (with ham), chicken with sauce, pork with sauce, red snapper in a garlic, caper and cream sauce annd with some meat-stuffed pastries and plantain. Given that the sauce being served with the chicken had no incredients hinted, we stuck with the red snapper, plantains and salads. The meat-stuffed pastries looked good but the coordinator couldn’t tell me what kind of meat. That’s ok, there are plenty of other things to eat! Dessert was really tasty as well – though have you ever heard me complain about dessert? (actually, I did in a previous post, but I think that was the only time) Available was: chocolate cake, vanilla cake and some sort of mango mousse with a fruity syrup at the bottom, served up in a champagne flute.

One of my plates of salad. Une de mes assietées de salade.

One of my plates of salad. Une de mes assietées de salade.

I noticed most people left around 9, but we stayed until they closed up at 10:30. Salem and I ended up heading off to the lobby and spending the rest of the night there before going back to our room.

Hanging out with my 'bi. Une soirée accompagnée de mon mari.

Hanging out with my ‘bi. Une soirée accompagnée de mon mari.

Mmmm coffee... Un petit café pour terminer la soirée.

Mmmm coffee… Un petit café pour terminer la soirée.

Salem + map = not a big surprise. Salem + une carte routière = quelle surprise! Pfffff.....

Salem + map = not a big surprise. Salem + une carte routière = quelle surprise! Pfffff…

Our trip to Varadero – Days 6, 7 & 8

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This is the last post about our trip to Varadero, Cuba in October of 2012.

Day 6 – The day after the hurricane.
Ok, not to sound quite so dramatic, WE didn’t experience a hurricane, more like the tail end of Hurricane Sandy – a tropical storm. It wasn’t a horrific experience, it could have been MUCH worse given that the hurricane hit the eastern end of Cuba, but it was still something that neither Salem nor I had ever lived through before. That being said, I will take a blizzard any day of the week over a fierce tropical storm. I cannot imagine what living through a hurricane would feel like. Then again, I am sure many people living in very warm places would feel the same about some of our winter storms.

We went out for a walk around the hotel and on the beach. There was a bit of flooding around the resort and the beach looked like it had taken quite a beating with seaweed everywhere, beach chairs strewn about, beach hut roofs tossed around and part of the beach-side eroded. We walked all the way to the tip of Varadero and found a nice little spot there where the water was calm but the sand was so unstable that we didn’t go in. We just stuck around to enjoy this quiet little place no one really ventured to.

Flooding at the resort. Des innondations à l'hôtel.

Flooding at the resort. Des innondations à l’hôtel.

Red Flag - No swimming, kids!   Drapeau rouge - pas de baignade les enfants!

Red Flag – No swimming, kids! Drapeau rouge – pas de baignade les enfants!

Washed up on the beach. Retrouvé sur la plage.

Washed up on the beach. Retrouvé sur la plage.

Seaweed. Des algues.

Seaweed. Des algues.

The beach. La plage.

The beach. La plage.

Our little "private" beach.  Notre petite plage "privée".

Our little “private” beach. Notre petite plage “privée”.

The next 2 days were going to be about relaxing, enjoying the sun and swimming. I was starting to feel better but,unfortunately, Salem started feeling sick that day. Since the beach was off-limits to swimmers, we stayed by the pool which is not what we usually do. But you take what you can get!

The pool! La piscine!

The pool! La piscine!

A little bridge over the pool. Un petit pont pour traverser la piscine.

A little bridge over the pool. Un petit pont pour traverser la piscine.

The sun, water to swim in, my husband and a book - what more could I want? Le soleil, de l'eau pour aller me baigner, mon mari et un livre; pourrais-je souhaiter pour mieux que ça?

The sun, water to swim in, my husband and a book – what more could I want? Le soleil, de l’eau pour aller me baigner, mon mari et un livre; pourrais-je souhaiter pour mieux que ça?

Fresh coconut water for Salem! De l'eau de noix de coco frais pour Salem!

Fresh coconut water for Salem! De l’eau de noix de coco frais pour Salem!

Caro had some too! Caro en a profité aussi!

Caro had some too! Caro en a profité aussi!

Food was mainly from the buffet for breakfast and lunch. As always, a great assortment of things.

Lunch buffet - fixings and pickled things! Le buffet à l'heure du dîner - des marinades!

Lunch buffet – fixings and pickled things! Le buffet à l’heure du dîner – des marinades!

The lunch buffet - fruits galore! The buffet du midi - des fruits, des fruits et encore d'autres fruits!

The lunch buffet – fruits galore! Le buffet du midi – des fruits, des fruits et encore d’autres fruits!

It's not a buffet without desserts! Ce n'est pas un buffet sans le dessert!

It’s not a buffet without desserts! Ce n’est pas un buffet sans le dessert!

More walking around the hotel too (of course).

Pool seen from the lobby. La piscine à partir de la réception.

Pool seen from the lobby. La piscine à partir de la réception.

Hotel grounds where they host shows. On vient ici chaque soir pour les spectacles.

Hotel grounds where they host shows. On vient ici chaque soir pour les spectacles.

Show plaza. Quartier des spectacles.

Show plaza. Quartier des spectacles.

We tried out the resort’s Italian restaurant, Firenze. The lighting was a bit bright but the food was good and the service was great, as always! A nice little bonus: a pianist played a bunch of love songs. Funny thing: I told Salem we’d have to get up and dance if they played our song. As it so happens, he started playing our song just after we got our main meal. We didn’t get up to dance though – we’d look a bit weird dancing alone, no actual dance floor, our food getting cold. We did get a good laugh out of it though and it made us enjoy our evening that much more.

Bread basket to start off dinner. Un assortiment de pain pour débuter le souper.

Bread basket to start off dinner. Un assortiment de pain pour débuter le souper.

Alhamdullilllllllaaaaaaaahhhhhh!!!!

Alhamdullilllllllaaaaaaaahhhhhh!!!!

Pasta with an alfredo sauce - we kept it simple. Pâtes avec une sauce alfredo. Nous avons décidé de simplifier les choses.

Pasta with an alfredo sauce – we kept it simple. Pâtes avec une sauce alfredo. Nous avons décidé de simplifier les choses.

Chocolate covered ice cream ball. Yummies!   Boule de crème glacée recouverte de chocolat. MMMmmm....

Chocolate covered ice cream ball. Yummies! Boule de crème glacée recouverte de chocolat. MMMmmm….

We also walked around the resort and on the beach to end the night.

The (empty) pool at night. La piscine le soir.

The (empty) pool at night. La piscine le soir.

Pool and pond at night. La piscine et l'étang le soir.

Pool and pond at night. La piscine et l’étang le soir.

A show at night. Un spectacle la nuit.

A show at night. Un spectacle la nuit.

The beach at night, long aperture opening without tripod...  La plage le soir avec l'objectif ouvert pendant plusieurs seconds (sans trépied).

The beach at night, long aperture opening without tripod… La plage le soir avec l’objectif ouvert pendant plusieurs seconds (sans trépied).

Beach at night, again, no tripod, aperture open for a little while. La plage le soir, toujours sans trépied et avec l'objectif ouvert pendant quelques secondes.

Beach at night, again, no tripod, aperture open for a little while. La plage le soir, toujours sans trépied et avec l’objectif ouvert pendant quelques secondes.

A palm tree and the full moon. Un palmier et la pleine lune.

A palm tree and the full moon. Un palmier et la pleine lune.

On our last night at the resort, we tried out the French restaurant – Marseilles. It has a very nice decor – white, flowing curtains and lots of low lights. We ended the night with our usual stint at the lobby – coffee and espresso!

Getting ready to go eat some French food! Salem prêt à manger de la bouffe française!

Getting ready to go eat some French food! Salem prêt à manger de la bouffe française!

Marseilles, the French restaurant. Marseilles; le resto français.

Marseilles, the French restaurant. Marseilles; le resto français.

My starter - asparagus and cheese shavings. J'ai commencé avec des asperges et du fromage.

My starter – asparagus and cheese shavings. J’ai commencé avec des asperges et du fromage.

A huge shrimp cocktail. Des crevettes géantes!

A huge shrimp cocktail. Des crevettes géantes!

Chicken with vegetable vol au vent. Du poulet avec un vol au vent aux légumes.

Chicken with vegetable vol au vent. Du poulet avec un vol au vent aux légumes.

Caro on our last night in Varadero. Caro lors de dernière journée à Varadero.

Caro on our last night in Varadero. Caro lors de dernière journée à Varadero.

Another view of the hall with its huge chandelier. Le hall avec son immense chandelier.

Another view of the hall with its huge chandelier. Le hall avec son immense chandelier.

The lobby at night. Le hall au soir.

The lobby at night. Le hall au soir.

Day 8 was our departure, bright and early! Everything went well except for our return flight home – I had the worst experience I have ever had on a flight. Cabin pressure + what’s left over of a headcold = you feel like your brain is going to come right out your ears! It was excruciating and everything I tried didn’t help (chewing, taking a decongestant – too late, and drinking water). Alhamdullilah for the flight attendant who knew a trick that worked for me almost instantly – 2 little cups with paper towels stuffed in the bottom that have been moistened with hot water. Put that over your ears and give it a few moments. I am forever thankful for that. I apologized to the woman seated next to me for my crying and general state of panic for a good 5 minutes. It honestly was one of the worst feelings I have ever had in my life. Nowadays, I take 1/2 to 1 decongestant before takeoff in hopes that it’ll work. So far, so good.

After all that, our trip was over. We were back home, happy to see family and our dear little Pumpkin. Although we were trying to decide when we could go back for our next trip.

All in all, we really loved the resort, we really couldn’t complain. The food was good and we had plenty of selection, the staff really tried to do all they could to please you as well. The grounds were well maintained, so were the rooms and the beach. You feel safe walking around and taking public transit. The only somewhat negative thing – people will hassle you here and there when you’re walking around in the towns or cities. Most of them are just trying to make a living, offering you a service or selling you some artwork, etc. It’s fine, we all need to make a living.

I’m honestly debating making a post about my impressions of Cuba – on a more political level, simply based on my observations from this trip, but also from our latest trip to a very similar place (trip journal to come soon). Maybe Salem could join me on this one given that he loves politics. We’ll see what the demand or interest is.

Otherwise, please do go to Cuba if you can – it is a place so very different from what we are used to. It can be a very cultural experience, like it can be a relaxing one – you decide which one you want.

A little DIY – Homemade deodorant

Yes, you heard me! Homemade deodorant!

Most people who know me best know I can be quite the granola person. That, and I like to make things! Why buy it when I can make some myself? Pfffff…

A few months ago, I purchased a book by a fellow Canadian – Ecoholic Body by Adrea Vasil. She also has a column in a Toronto newspaper and has a blog. Her book opened up my eyes even more to just how much crap we put in (and on) our bodies. I got very paranoid about so many things, considered throwing out all of my body products and starting from scratch although that would be wasteful and would also cost me a lot of money.

What was I to do? I decided to be smart about it and take baby steps. Phase 1 consisted of going through the products I had, keep a few to work through, give some away to the people I know or pass it on to the Salvation Army (we have a center near home). I still had plenty of things left though. Phase 2 had me buying better alternatives to replenish my stock when needed (or making my own natural alternatives).

Already, I wasn’t too happy with the results from my own pharmacy-bought deodorants, the price was a bit nutty (3-5$ a stick) and the ingredients made me worry. Natural food stores sell deodorants but they are at least 5$+ a stick and I’ve heard mixed reviews on them as well. So off I went to look at online recipes used by others. I tested a few things out, talked to Salem about it and he agreed to try it out with me. I was surprised that Salem would give in to some of my granola stuff, but very happy!

It’s been nearly a year now since we took the plunge into homemade deodorant and I doubt we’ll ever go back to the store-bought stuff unless we have it as a backup in our gym bags for convenience. Salem says it’s the best stuff he’s ever used and even gets a bit cranky when he gets low on his stash.

So, if you’re looking for a more natural alternative, willing to spend a few bucks on basic ingredients and have about 10 minutes to throw it all together, here’s the recipe.

I love my deodorant! J'adore mon déodorant!

I love my deodorant! J’adore mon déodorant!

Homemade Deodorant
Yield = enough deodorant for 2 people for 3+ months
Ingredients
-4-5 Tbspn coconut oil, room temperature
-1/3 cup corn starch
-1/6 cup arrowroot powder
-1/6 cup baking soda
-.5-1 Tbspn jojoba oil
-15 drops tea tree essential oil
-10 drops “scented” essential oil (Caro’s mix: 2 drops cedarwood, 3 drops of lime, 5 drops of lavender – Salem’s mix: 5 drops of lime, 5 drops of cedarwood)
-a container (with lid) of your choice (or 2 if making a batch with 2 scents, like I do)

Putting it together:
1- In a medium ceramic bowl, mix all ingredients with the help of a fork (mixes better). The consistency should be fairly thick, almost like semi-soft cake frosting. Too thick? Add a bit more coconut oil. Too thin? Add more corn starch or arrowroot powder. Your consistency will differ depending on temperature so just go by eye.
2- Transfer your mix to a container of your choice, let set for 24 hours until hardened.

To use: take a small amount onto your finger and spread it under your underarms. Your body heat will help melt the oils and it will disappear into your skin.

White lines: Yes, it can leave white lines on your clothes but they will quickly go away with a bit of friction. Nice bonus though: this stuff doesn’t seems to leave some weird accumulation like some deodorants do in the armpit section of your clothes.

Temperature changes:
As we all know, room temperatures are not the same year-round. Your deodorant may be harder during the winter and very liquid during the summer – no worries, it still works! Just stir it a bit when it feels melted (to avoid separating) and apply as usual. This happens because of the melting point of the coconut oil. If it really bothers you, put the deodorant in your fridge, but be ready for really cold pits in the morning!

Enjoy!

***********************

Aujourd’hui, je vais vous parler de notre déodorant! Oui, vous m’avez bien compris, du déodorant.

J’ai toujours été un peu granola et j’ai toujours aimé faire des choses moi-même. Pourquoi acheter un item quand on peut le faire soi-même? Pffff….

Il y a quelques mois de cela, je me suis procuré le livre Ecoholic Body de Adrea Vasil, auteure canadienne, qui parle des produits chimiques que l’on retrouve dans plusieurs des produits qu’on achète quotidiennement dans une chronique et sur son blogue. Quelle horreur! J’étais en mode “paranoïaque” pendant quelque temps mais je me suis dit de me calmer.

J’ai alors décidée de passer à travers tout les products que j’avais à la maison. Première phase: Au lieu de me débarasser de tout, et de me coûter très cher en nouveaux produits pour tout remplacer, j’ai décidé de garder certains produits et en donner le restant aux gens que je connais ou en faire des dons à l’Armée du salut. Deuxième étape: acheter (ou faire) des produits naturels au fur et à mesure.

Il y a quelque temps de cela, j’ai pris la décision d’essayer de faire mon propore déodorant. Je n’étais pas super enchantés par les résultats obtenus avec ce que je trouvais en pharmacie et ce qui avait dans les magasins d’aliments naturels était plutôt cher ($5+ par bâton) et j’avais entendu des commentaires mixtes. J’en ai duscité avec Salem et j’ai été capable de le convaincre d’essayer un déodorant fait maison. J’étais surprise qu’il décide de suivre sa femme “granola” mais j’était très contente.

Ça fait maintenant presqu’un an qu’on utilise le déodorant que je prépare à la maison. Nous somes très satisfaits des résultats, même que Salem commence à se plaindre quand il commence à voir le fond de son contenant. Je ne pense pas que nous achèterons à nouveau ce qu’on trouve en mangasin à moins d’en garder un dans notre sac pour le gym.

Alors, si vous souhaitez essayer quelque chose de plus naturel, êtes prêts à dépenser un peu d’argent pour les ingrédients nécessaires et avez 10 minutes pour préparer le tout, je vous présente ma recette de déodorant.

Déodorant fait à maison
Rendement = assez de déodorant pour 2 personnes pour une durée de 3+ mois
Ingrédients
-4-5 c.à.table d’huile de nois de coco, température de la pièce
-1/3 t. fécule de maïs
-1/6 t. poudre de marante
-1/6 t. bicarbonate de soude
-.5-1 c.à.table d’huile de jojoba
-15 goutes d’huile essentielle de théier
-10 goutes d’huile essentielle de senteur de votre choix (mélange de Caro: 2 goutes cèdre, 3 goutes de lime, 5 goutes de lavendre – mélange de Salem: 5 goutes de lime, 5 goutes de cèdre)
-un contenant (avec couvercle) de votre choix (ou 2 si vous préparez 2 senteurs différentes)

Instructions:
1- Dans un bol en céramique, de taille moyenne, mélangez tous les ingrédients à l’aide d’une fourchette. La consistence devrait être environ comme du glaâce à gâteau à température de la pièce. Trop épais? Rajoutez un peu d’huile de noix de coco. Trop liquide? Rajoutez un peu de fécule de maïs ou de poudre de marante. La consistence va dépendre de la température de la pièce alors c’est à vous de juger.
2- Transférez votre mélange à votre contenant et laissez reposer 24 heures, jusqu’à ce que le mélange durcisse un peu.

Comment appliquer: Prenez un petit montant sur votre doigt et l’étendre sur le vos aisselles. La chaleur de votre corps fera fondre les huiles et le tout disparaîtra.

Lignes blanches: Oui, ce déodorant peut laisser des traces blanches sur votre linge. Il est facile à enlever avec un peu de friction. Point positif: nous trouvons que ce déodorant ne laisse pas de drôle accumulations sur le linge au niveau des aisselles.

Changements de température:
Comme nous le savons tous, la température de la pièce ne rete pas la même à l’année longue. Votre déodorant pourrait être plus solide l’hiver et plus liquide durant l’été. Ne vous en faites pas, il est toujours bon! Simplement le remuer un peu (si liquide) pour vous assurer qu’il est bien mélanger et l’appliquer à la normale. Ceci est dû au point de fusion de l’huile de noix de coco. Si ceci vous dérange beaucoup, vous pouvez toujours le mettre au frigo, mais attendez vous à un petit choc le matin lors de l’application.

Bonne journée!

Our trip to Varadero – Day 5 – Habana!!!! Part 2

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So here is part 2, no worries, it’s a lot shorter than part 1!

Greater Habana tour map. Où nous sommes allés à la Habane.

Greater Habana tour map. Où nous sommes allés à la Habane.

After our tour of Habana Vieja, our tour took us to a restaurant near the El Morro fortress. The lunch was actually quite good and included in the price of the tour. Thankfully, it was fish with a shrimp-based sauce so we were good. Woohoo! Please remember to tip the nice waitresses!

The view of Habana from the restaurant. Notre vue de la Habane à partir du resto.

The view of Habana from the restaurant. Notre vue de la Habane à partir du resto.

We then got back on the bus and were whisked away passing by the monument dedicated to Máximo Gómez y Báez (a military commander in the Cuban war of Independence in the late 1800s), along the Ave Malecón (which had been closed earlier in the day due to violent tides flooding the avenue), around the monument dedicated to Antonio Maceo (the second in-command in the Cuban Army of Independence) and then down to Plaza de la Revolución (Revolution Square and monument to José Marti).

Revolution Square was used as a meeting place for many political rallies and and where political figures addressed Cubans on special occasions. It has a memorial dedicated to José Martí (a Cuban intellectual referred to as the “Apostle of Cuban Independence”) and a 100m tall tower behind the statue. The Plaza has many government ministries around it and this is where you can see 2 buildings with the images and quotes of Che Guevara and Camilio Cienfuegos – 2 major figures in the revolution and very close allies to Fidel Castro.

Che Guevara mural at Plaza de la Revolucion. La murale de Che Guevara à la Plaza de la Revolucion.

Che Guevara mural at Plaza de la Revolucion. La murale de Che Guevara à la Plaza de la Revolucion.

See the monument, see the tower, see the touristy husband! Venez voir la tour, le monument et le mari "à la touriste"!

See the monument, see the tower, see the touristy husband! Venez voir la tour, le monument et le mari “à la touriste”!

Back on the bus, we got to drive by what I call the non-touristy (or off-the-beaten-path) part of Habana. It’s quite eye opening to see the major tourist hubs and then the regular, every-day reality of the Cubans living in this city, even if just for a few moments, as we a zooming by. I actually wish we could see more of this kind of thing. Travel isn’t just for fun, or to experience the nice things destinations have to offer – I think it should also include a good dose of reality, to open our minds to the lives and experiences of others, make us more aware of what is going on in the world and get out of our bubble. Perhaps next time?

Non-touristic Habana. La partie de la Habane qui n'est souvent pas "destinée" aux touristes.

Non-touristic Habana. La partie de la Habane qui n’est souvent pas “destinée” aux touristes.

Look Dad, more cars! Regarde P'pa, d'autres voitures!

Look Dad, more cars! Regarde P’pa, d’autres voitures!

El Capitolio is, as you may have guessed it, was the seat of the Cuban government until after the 1959 revolution. It’s no the Cuban Academy of Sciences. Looks familiar? It was actually built by a U.S. firm in the 1920s, and made to resemble the U.S. Capitol building in Washington. We didn’t get to go inside, but we did get to walk around the block for a few minutes.

A note to tourists: Yes, the classic cards are nice and shiny. I must warn you though (as our guide warned us) that there is a picture scam going on. The guys will agree to let you take a picture of their car for 4-5 pesos. Once the picture has been taken, they will often double that amount. When you refuse to pay extra, they call in a “witness” who vouches for the 10 peso price tag – these people are often the actual owners of the cars. You’ve been warned!

Take pictures as your tour bus is pulling in - it costs you nothing! Prenez des photos des belle bagnoles à partir de votre autobus; ça ne vous coûte rien!

Take pictures as your tour bus is pulling in – it costs you nothing! Prenez des photos des belle bagnoles à partir de votre autobus; ça ne vous coûte rien!

More free car pictures! D'autres photos gratuites!

More free car pictures! D’autres photos gratuites!

Colourful buildings across the street from El Capitolio. Des édifices de toutes le couleurs de l'autre côté d'El Capitolio.

Colourful buildings across the street from El Capitolio. Des édifices de toutes le couleurs de l’autre côté d’El Capitolio.

El Capitolio.

El Capitolio.

Afterwards, we went off to the craft market – be ready for sensory overload! It’s in a warehouse-type setting crammed with narrow rows of small booths to both sides of you. Vendors make noise, try to talk to you, invite you into their small booth to look at what they are selling. Artwork (get a certificate for paintings – you need this to take the artwork out of the country), crafts, jewelry, food, clothing, etc – it’s a freaking zoo I tell you! After 20 minutes, I started feeling a bit aggressive after 10 minutes. I think the best thing to do: do a first sweep to get an idea of what there is. Then dive in and bargain. Vendors are really nice, eager to get you to try things on, make a sale. To my surprise, some even spoke French!

What did we get? Jewelry, of course! And things in which to put the jewelry! I think we were there for 45 minutes. We were on sensory overload and pooped by the time we got out. This marked the end of our Habana tour.

Tips for the market:

  • Get certificates for paintings in order to take them back home with you – they could be ceased if you don’t have this!
  • Be polite.
  • Breathe.
  • Bargain but don’t be too stingy either. You’ll get a feeling as to when you’re low-balling it too much
  • Breathe!
  • Canadians: do not buy black coral – it’s illegal to import into Canada
  • Put your purchases away in your backpack before leaving!

The ride back to the hotel started off well but it got pretty bad a little less than halfway there. Why? Well, while it was beautiful in Habana, this just happened to be the very same day the Hurricane Sandy hit the eastern half of Cuba. Thankfully, we missed the Hurricane but we got a taste of our very first tropical storm. All of a sudden, the skies darkened and it started getting windy and the rain started to fall.

Tropical storm along the countryside. La tempête tropicale!

Tropical storm along the countryside. La tempête tropicale!

When we got to the town of Matanzas, it had started flooding (some places had over a foot of water in the streets). I’ve never seen anything like this before. Once back in the hotel section of Varadero, it was dark as night, the rain pelting the tour bus as well as the wind (the road is on the coast) and I was getting really worried at times. Thankfully, the driver was amazing and got us back to our hotel. It was pouring and so windy! We made it to the buffet, somewhat wet and had dinner (we were hungry). The power went out for a few moments twice but, as they say, third time’s the charm! It went out for good. Here we were, sitting at our table, hearing the wind blow, watching the protective blinds of the buffet get batted around like no tomorrow (the buffet is open at the entrance and for a few feel on 2 other sides). We could see the palm trees swaying violently, the rain beating down outside. Once in a while, a water-drenched couple would come in to seek refuge from the conditions. It was quite a sight to see. After a few minutes, we decided to go to the hotel lobby and ask them if this was normal and how long these types of conditions usually last. Their answer – this is normal, things should get better in the morning. The fact that the staff was not panicking was nice, it seemed as though it was business as usual.

After an hour of waiting it out, we figured the rain and wind wouldn’t let up so we might as well make a run for it to our rooms. The walk from our building to the buffet usually takes about 3 minutes. We ran it in about 60. We were completely soaked by the time we made it about 40% of the way. The storm was angry! Salem held onto my hand, we tried to run and stay low all at once. I remember being stopped in my tracks by a huge gust of wind when we got to the basketball court. Its one of those times when you consider throwing yourself to the ground for fear of getting blown away. “Hold onto my hand!” I heard Salem scream at me, and off we were, running again and that’s when I lost it – I started laughing! As crazy as it sounds, running in this crazy wind and rain it made me feel so alive. I was actually enjoying it! Salem, on the other hand did not!

Once in our room, Salem was shouting to take our clothes off or we’ll get sick. Still giddy from the adrenaline, I remarked “I’m already sick!”. He was getting mad at me as I was trying to snap pictures of us, soaked to the bone in our powerless hotel room. This gave me one of my favorite pictures of our trip!

"Take off your wet clothes! You're going to get sick!". J'adore cette photo.

“Take off your wet clothes! You’re going to get sick!”. J’adore cette photo.

We cleaned up and went to bed around midnight to the sound of the wind blowing through the vents. I was fine until the power went back on and our phone emitted this horrible alarm sound. In my half-asleep mind, I thought it was an alarm and that they were evacuating the hotel. Needless to say, my heart was racing and it took me a good 45 minutes to calm down enough to finally drift back off to sleep.

Our trip to Varadero – Day 5 – Habana!!!! Part 1

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This is the day we went to Habana! I will have to break up this day in a few parts simply because of all of my blabbing and all the pictures. Part 1 is based on our departure from our hotel and includes our walking tour of Habana Vieja (Old Havana).

We booked a tour through our rep at Sunwing and opted for the day tour (we left around 7:30 am and got back around 5 or 6 pm). If I recall, the cost was about $90 for a guided tour, transportation and lunch. There were 2 other options for the Habana tour but paying considerably more to go to the Tropicana show didn’t interest us at all. Thankfully, we were able to grab a few things at the buffet before we left (our buddy Yadrian helped us out).

Unfortunately though, I was still very sick – actually, I think this may have been the worst day of my cold. But I took more pain killers, some Gravol and had a whole roll of toilet paper for my mucus-y self. It was bad! I’ve never felt car sick in my life but I was eye-ing the toilet at the back of the bus. Thankfully, I held on and used the washroom at a hotel along the way because, it turns out, the toilet at the back of the bus was locked (I guess no one had the keys?). Thankfully, I started to feel better a little more than halfway to Habana.

I must say that the scenery on the way is actually quite nice – Cuba is very green and has amazing coastal views. They have hills and valleys and it just makes the time pass by quickly while stuck in a vehicle for 2-3 hours. A note to travelers thinking of taking the public bus to Habana: From what we could see of buses we encountered along the way, it’s very crowded in there – sometimes standing-room only, and the trek is longer (I’ve heard closer to 3-3.5 hours). We also went through the town own Matanzas on the way to our final destination. There was a stop but for alcoholic drinks of some kind (Pina coladas? Mojitos?) and a bit of a washroom break – Salem and I simply stretched our legs there.

The coast along the way to Habana. La côte le long de notre trajet.

The coast along the way to Habana. La côte le long de notre trajet.

A few facts about Habana

  • You can pronounce it Havana, or do as the locals do and say Habana
  • Habana the capital of Cuba
  • It has a population of about 2.1 million, making it the most populous city in the Caribbean
  • Habana was founded by the Spanish in the 16th century (settling in the area around 1514-1519) and declared a city in 1592
  • Originally a trading port, attacks by pirates and other entities active in the region called for the building of fortresses in order to defend the territory and exert more control over trade in the area
  • The city attracts over a million tourists each year
  • Habana Vieja was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1982
A map of where our tour guide took us. Une carte des endroits dont on nous a apportés.

A map of where our tour guide took us. Une carte des endroits dont on nous a apportés.

Our tour of Habana Vieja started in the Plaza de San Francisco. It’s the second-oldest plaza in the city. Main points of interest here are the basilica/convent/monastery/church built in the late 16th century and remodeled around 1730. Also of interest are the old stock exchange building and a few cafés in the area. Buy a cone of peanuts from one of the peanut ladies for 1-2 pesos to enjoy during your walk. Also enjoying the Plaza with you: the local pigeons.

A view of the Plaza and the basilica. La plaza et la basilique.

A view of the Plaza and the basilica. La plaza et la basilique.


Another view of the Plaza with cafés and the old stock exchange building. Quelques cafés et l'ancienne bourse.

Another view of the Plaza with cafés and the old stock exchange building. Quelques cafés et l’ancienne bourse.


Finally off the bus! Finalement arrivés!

Finally off the bus! Finalement arrivés!


The pigeons love it here too! Les pigeons aiment aussi jouer aux touristes!

The pigeons love it here too! Les pigeons aiment aussi jouer aux touristes!

We walked down a few streets to take in the colourful buildings and mixed architectural styles of Habana. Please note that some streets are paved with asphalt or cement while others are made of cobblestones so make sure to wear some comfortable walking shoes – this is, after all, a walking tour!

Our second stop was at the Plaza Vieja which was first emerged in the mid-16th century. Its purpose changed many times from residential to public entertainment to market – it has been the place to go to partake in many things from executions to bullfights to shopping to fiestas. It still contains colonial houses and lots of restorations have taken place here. Honestly, this is one of my favorite plazas which we had the chance to visit during our tour. It’s just a shame we didn’t get to see it at night as it would seem that’s when it comes to life. Maybe next time!

A view all the way through to El Capitolio! Vous ave même une vue du Capitolio.

A view all the way through to El Capitolio! Vous avez même une vue du Capitolio.

For some reason, I just loved this little corner. J'ai vraiment aimé ce petit coin isolé.

For some reason, I just loved this little corner. J’ai vraiment aimé ce petit coin isolé.

Colourful laundry hanging on a balcony in the Plaza. Du linge de toutes les couleurs mis à sécher sur le balcon.

Colourful laundry hanging on a balcony in the Plaza. Du linge de toutes les couleurs mis à sécher sur le balcon.

We proceeded down a few more streets and took in even more of the mixed flavours of Habana. I’ll let the pictures do the talking.

Cafés dot the streets here and there. Les rues sont parsemmées de cafés, ici et là.

Cafés dot the streets here and there. Les rues sont parsemmées de cafés, ici et là.

I actually quite likes Calle Mercaderes - each house is different. J'ai bien aimé la Calle Mercaderes car chaque maison y avait son propre charme.

I actually quite likes Calle Mercaderes – each house is different. J’ai bien aimé la Calle Mercaderes car chaque maison y avait son propre charme.

Unfortunately, architecture no longer includes this kind of amazing detail. Malheureusement, l'architecture de nos jours ne contient auncunement ce genre de détail.

Unfortunately, architecture no longer includes this kind of amazing detail. Malheureusement, l’architecture de nos jours ne contient auncunement ce genre de détail.

Simply breathtaking. À couper le souffle.

Simply breathtaking. À couper le souffle.

A small green space - perfect for a break. Un petit espace vert; j'aimerais bien m'y installer!

A small green space – perfect for a break. Un petit espace vert; j’aimerais bien m’y installer!

While walking along Calle Mercaderes, the group stopped off at the Armeria 9 de Abril which contains arms donated by Fidel Castro relating to the revolutionary struggle (one of which belonged to Che Guevara). We then continued down the street to reach Obispo and our next destination.

There is no shortage of stray animals in the city. Il y a beaucoups d'animaux sans-abri dans la ville.

There is no shortage of stray animals in the city. Il y a beaucoup d’animaux sans-abri dans la ville.

Hotel Ambos Mundos is a coral-pink and white building, it’s hard to miss and it’s very nice to look at. So, what’s so special about this building? Well, Ernest Hemingway stayed there for part of his writing career. They even transformed his former room into a mini museum of sorts (which we didn’t get to see). I must admit, the lobby on the ground floor looked amazing! It also contains (from what we were told) the oldest elevator in Habana – there’s even detailing on the iron! The real treat for this place – the rooftop terrace which offers you refreshing beverages and a view of different sectors of the city (some good, some not so good).

Fancy lobby! Très beau salon!

Fancy lobby! Très beau salon!

You can see the El Morro fortress in the distance. On y voit la forteresse El Morro à l'horizon.

You can see the El Morro fortress in the distance. On y voit la forteresse El Morro à l’horizon.

Salem posing on the rooftop. Salem prêt pour faire prendre sa photo sur la terrasse.

Salem posing on the rooftop. Salem prêt à faire prendre sa photo sur la terrasse.

I have to get a picture up here too! Moi aussi! Moi aussi!

I have to get a picture up here too! Moi aussi! Moi aussi!

A few blocks away is Plaza de Armas – no multi-coloured glass building, no China-town, or BMO here! (Sorry, I just had to throw in a bit of a Montréal joke) It’s actually my other favorite Plaza in Habana and one of the oldest. Near the El Templete building is a tree and it’s said this is where the first square of the city was built in the late 16th century – unfortunately, the original tree is no logner there, but another has taken its place. Another important landmark is the Palacio de los Capitanes Generales, constructed in the second-half of the 1700s. It has had many incarnations but is now a museum. Fun little factoid: the generals staying in this building complained of the noise created by the hooves (and carriages) going over the cobblestone. The solution – replace the stones with wood! Unfortunately, we did not get to go into this museum.

Of note to fellow bookworms (and I was not aware of this prior to coming back from our trip): it seems this square has an amazing second-hand book market.

If you have the time, do see if you can take a bit of time to relax in this plaza. There’s a green space in the middle, where locals tend to gather to play cards or dominoes. The tour guide did bring us to Casa del Cafe – a cigar store with good prices but the employees are not the nicest (I got mocked by one woman working there for asking a cigar-storage question – sorry for not being an aficionado). Still, we made some good purchases – now put those in your backpack, you’ll soon find out why (check the pictures)! Oh, and don’t buy the contraband cigars sold by the guys just outside of the store – it would seem the quality isn’t all that great.

The Palacio with used books for sale. Le Palacio avec des livres à vendre.

The Palacio with used books for sale. Le Palacio avec des livres à vendre.

Wooden path in front of the Palacio. Le pavé en bois en face du Palacio.

Wooden path in front of the Palacio. Le pavé en bois en face du Palacio.

The cigar shop. Où on peut acheter de bons cigars.

The cigar shop. Où on peut acheter de bons cigars.

In the Plaza with El Templeto in the background. À la Plaza avec El Templeto en arrière-plan.

In the Plaza with El Templeto in the background. À la Plaza avec El Templeto en arrière-plan.

Obvious tourist + bags full of purchases = $ One guy from our tour got followed and heckled for 2 blocks by these 2 musicians.  Un touriste + des sacs pleins d'achats = $ Ce gars de notre groupe s'est fait suivre et quêté pendant 2 blocs par ces musiciens.

Obvious tourist + bags full of purchases = $ One guy from our tour got followed and heckled for 2 blocks by these 2 musicians. Un touriste + des sacs pleins d’achats = $ Ce gars de notre groupe s’est fait suivre et quêté pendant 2 blocs par ces musiciens.

Our last stop on our walking tour had us going to the Plaza de la Catedral. Prepare for a bit of a tourist trap! The square was completed in the late 18th century and contains cafés, terraces and lots of people. While there, a group of locals dressed in colourful clothes, making noise and banging drums came around. If they catch you taking a picture, one of the girls will come and shake a collection plate at you until you give them some money. What are the funds for? Restorations from what I understand. Thankfully, I know the art of taking pictures without looking as though I am taking pictures. One of our fellow tour-mates was not so lucky.

And here I have a little story to share. As previously mentioned, when visiting Cuba, you will often be approached by locals, big smile, eager to start up a conversation, and often offering you some kind of service (check out my artwork, crafts, a special restaurant deal, etc). And that’s all fine and dandy, we all have to make a living. Salem got tired of always being asked this question. He joked a few times about giving them some BS answer. Well, the time finally came where Salem had had enough. Here we are in the plaza, we had wandered maybe 10 feet away from our tour guide (quite a few of us dispersed for a few minutes) when a local comes around and starts trying to chat up Salem. I immediately turn around and start taking pictures of the cathedral, hoping not to have to deal with answering the question. “Where you from, frien’?” Salem replies, in a broken English, “no english”. So the guy asks the same question again, maybe with more gestures, possibly slower. So, Salem turns to him and says “Afghanistan”. At this point, I’m trying not to turn around and look at them and laugh. The guy’s response “Ahhhh! Comrade!” and shakes Salem’s hand! He then went on his merry way. We still laugh about it months later.

This last stop concluded our tour of the old city.

The Plaza, terraces, tourists and locals asking for donations. La Plaza, les terrasses, touristes et les gens du coin qui ramassent des dons.

The Plaza, terraces, tourists and locals asking for donations. La Plaza, les terrasses, touristes et les gens du coin qui ramassent des dons.



A few notes to tourists:

  • Bring a backpack, water and some snacks. You can put your purchases in your backpack, avoiding harassment from locals – see picture. And you can have a drink when you feel the need for it.
  • Locals survive on tourism (yes, I am repeating myself) – be careful who or what you take pictures of – they may seem very friendly but may very well ask for monetary compensation.
  • Watch out for sketch artists – one they start sketching you, they will ask you for money to get the sketch. Better to stop them in their tracks or turn away if you’re not interested.
  • There are a lot of stray animals – you’ve been warned.
  • Be nice, be courteous, smile and enjoy your time in Habana.
  • If possible, make it a daylong trip. Guided tours are great for first-timers. If you’re a bit more adventurous but still want a guide, there are a few taxi drivers mentioned on the Trip Advisor site that give custom tours in blocks of 3 hours. I think we might opt for something like this on our next visit – Yes, I would LOVE to do a return visit.