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Yasmeen, Artist and Activist via Pxhere

Rome is my favorite city. I’m always saving up to go and have managed to visit 3 times in the last 2 years. They say when the Rome bug bites, the itch never goes away, and that’s very true for me. The city is filled with statues and monuments that were once nothing more than stones. In ancient years, some creative creature with a limitless imagination looked at those stones and said, “let’s bring them to life.” And they always did! Everything is larger than life, it takes your breath away that casual public spaces are nearly nonchalantly teeming with sky-high pillars, statues that seem to be breathing with you, and fountains continuously refreshing the city with spring water coming straight from mother Earth herself.

Rome has been sacked and pillaged countless times, yet rises up again in all of her brilliance. If you look closely, all of those beautiful monuments and even humble little alleyways have cracks like veins, testaments to the suffering in its history. Yet, still the city stands and thrives in all of its resilience.

Coming from Palestine, a place in which people come from all over to aid and learn about occupation, it’s refreshing to go to a place in which you’re finally not the object of focus. In Rome, I’m finally getting an opportunity to feel like an outsider looking in. I get lost in something unfamiliar and experience something nearly whimsical if only for the sake of joy. In Rome, meticulously crafted food and simple cones of gelato are experienced just for the sake of joy.  

Rome stands out from every other place because Romans truly live the phrase 'la dolce far niente' (the sweetness of doing nothing). There are no to-go cups or to-go boxes. Espressos and cornetti are enjoyed in the café while chatting with strangers next to you; a meal is eaten completely in the restaurant, with nothing left to take. You enjoy everything in its moment, not letting life’s pressure endlessly pull you out of the moments and connections.

When I’m there, I love to photograph analogue. I take my camera and photograph the city all day, leaving the pictures to be developed and seen when I get back home to develop them. I take endless photos, hope they turned out well, and then continue to be in the moment I’m in. I go to see monuments, visit new exhibitions, eat 2 cones of gelato a day, and have pizza and pasta. I practice my Italian then connect with locals in the Roman underground electronic music scene. Then I always get tastes of both classical and contemporary Rome.  

Fares, Interdisciplinary Artist and Writer via Ahmed Fares

I’ve travelled a lot, both abroad and domestically, but my happiest place is a hotel in Alexandria, in Mahatet Erraml. I feel more at home there than I do anywhere else. It’s a quaint little hotel, like a pensione, with three rooms on each floor. These rooms all overlook the sea. I always stay on the second floor, in the room in the middle – 405. The minute I step into that room, I disconnect from the whole word. I don't think about how I'm going to make rent, or how much work I have to do. When I'm in this room, the world can go to hell.

I run away from anything clouding my judgment or stressing me out, anything that I’m made to worry or even think about. I could sit there thinking about everything making me miserable, but I don’t have to. I think of the time I spend there as timeout, I’m on a break from everything. I could use this time to do anything; I could work, but most of the time, I write. If all writers had a place where they wrote their masterpieces, this would be mine. I always do my best work there. 

I remember everything that happened the first time I went. I was going with a band I was representing and we were referred to that place by artist Nabil Lahoud. So we went for the first time, and we stayed in my now favorite room. I didn’t want leave or step out for any reason, not even for the work I was there to do. I was in college at the time; it wasn’t until three or four years later that I went back to Alexandria, but I couldn’t for the life of me remember what the pensione was called, so I walked along the corniche looking for it! And when I did, I almost cried [laughs], I ran across the street with joy! I took the room and I was the king of the world again.

I write, I have breakfast, and drink chai latte - they have the best cheese I've ever had, and I listen to music. Sometimes I go out, but the important thing is that when I come back, I’m happy. I either go meet friends or go to a café with a nice view of the sea and write. Sometimes, I’ll just stay in and watch a movie. 

Mai, Pilotvia ShutterStock

Mauritius is my happy place. The island is very beautiful and it inspires a sense of peace inside you - no facilities, no modern conveniences, just the nature God gave us: air, sea, and good people. It was incredibly relaxing. In my line of work, there comes a time when you can’t stand people – you’re fed up, you want to be alone. You don’t want to be somewhere crowded or noisy, you just want to relax.

The first time I went, I spent my first day walking around for eight or nine hours, just to empty my cup, so to speak, and drain all the negativity and the stress. I kept walking along the shore until I reached a completely different area – I didn’t know where I was anymore. It was a great experience. And then I started to explore, and experience local life, and the activities it has to offer. I was myself, nothing to weight me down - nothing but my backpack and my slippers. I'd walk into the horizon, swim when I wanted, talk to people when I felt like it. 

I got a map, studied it, figured out the transportation, and figured out my budget. It took me five or six days to go around the whole island, everywhere, and I completely embedded myself into local life – not like a ‘tourist’. I took public transportation and shopped at the local farmers markets - you want to have that experience, see something you’ve never seen before, and you’ll never experience that being an outsider.

It’s quiet, it’s calm, it’s a paradise. You look at this natural beauty and you start to see the pattern in which God has created the universe, everything following a certain order. Everything was so simple, people were uncomplicated and very kind; it’s not stressful, it’s not crowded. And it’s not luxurious – it’s not like Europe. It’s nothing but the ocean, the diving sites, and the mountains. So you mainly hike and do water sports and camp and just surround yourself with nature. I learned how to talk to nature and let it heal me, so it was incredibly beautiful and different from my other travels.

I came back a different person. I was engaged to be married at the time and it was there that I decided to break off my engagement to this person - he just wasn't the right person fore me, and enroll in career advancement classes.

When I needed this place, it was there for me. I just have to keep going back, so when I’ve followed through with the decisions I made the first time I was there, I can commemorate that moment, the fact that this place inspired me to change my life.    

Sara, Writer and Archaeologistvia Sara Ahmed 

I would replace happy place with calm place, or the place where I feel most serene, most myself. It's a bit hard to narrow it down, but off the top of my head, it’s around Lake Geneva in Switzerland. I was visiting my brother and, everyday at 5 or 6 in the evening, I would go on a walk by the lake. It's breathtakingly beautiful, and you can see 2 mountains coming very close to each other in the background. Usually at that time, the sunset would be very intense, so it was like an organge-ish,pinkish sky, and you’d find crushed red flowers on the floor, so it's a very beautiful environment. I don’t know why, but this walkway is very memorable for me because I still walked it on the days that it was rainy, it would take on a different aspect, it would become grey, it would become wet, it’d become windy, empty, but it kept that essence, you know. It’s just a very serene place.

I’ve always found walking to be very therapeutic; some people meditate, I walk. A lot of nature and the perfect balance of trees, foliage, and water – for me that’s the perfect setting to go on a walk. It’s really beyond me. I remember at that time, my family would all be sleeping and no one would want go walk with me. So I would walk anyway, because it brings about a certain peace of mind. I don’t know what makes me want to walk there; I guess I want to see something beautiful, I want to get distracted by the beauty of my surroundings. There’s this particular setting in cameras where you can take a picture on top of another picture, and there’s a very particular result at the end, and that’s kind of how it feels because you’re walking around and you’re absorbing everything around you, visually. I’m very much myself when I do it. It’s not something that costs money, it’s not something that’s based on performance, it’s something that’s very meditative, it makes you almost transcend.

Everyday life is so complex and riddled with ideas and thoughts and decisions. When you’re put in a situation where you get to be in nature and observe it, you’re looking at things at different stages in their own life. You’re looking at trees that are still growing, or leaves that are dying, or the sun setting, so you’re looking at a cycle, right? And you’re reminded that everything has its own life cycle – start and end and it goes through change, but in a way it’s very harmonious and there’s no disruption that’s brought to this flow. You’re reminded of how simple life can be, maybe. So you’re just observing life and it gives you a chance to breathe. You leave your everyday routine, where there’s a lot on your mind and so much weight on your shoulders.

Noticing these things around you, you go home with a better attitude because you see how things around you are very smoothly changing and evolving, there’s no obstinacy in life. You realize that there's no infighting in nature - Earth fights for particular reasons and within a certain order, but nothing is trying to disrupt the flow, just things passing along very very serenely. I think that calms me down and makes me accept things I’m not likely to accept if I’m sitting in my room, if I’m on my computer, if I’m reading horrible news.

One of my dreams is to camp by Lake Geneva and climb the mountains around it. I would happily relocate there, but I think it’d be kind of scary - I’m scared that I might like it too much, and wouldn't be able to go back to ever being able to work in my life; I’d just totally bum out for the rest of my life. Especially if I’m there and I’m writing or reading. Maybe there will come a time when I’ll miss the hustle and bustle and the energy of the city life, but I think it’d be a great place to be if you’re in the right mental state.

When I’m stuck in traffic, 50 minutes in a car to get from point A to point B, I look out the window and there’s no greenery – everything is monochrome, and everybody looks the same or there’s too many people. I can’t breathe the air. These are the things that immediately make ma think, ‘oh, wouldn’t it be nice if I was in Switzerland right now! In Vevey, taking a walk.’ If I'm walking in the city around sunset, I find the colors in the sky very reminiscent of my Lake Geneva's walkways, and I think to myself, 'I’d like to be where I’ve seen these colors before.' Or if I’m having a really hard time and I want to be by myself – because Switzerland is very spaced out, there isn’t that density you find in any other urban cities, so you feel like you can stretch out. In situations like these, when I’m surrounded – by my responsibilities, my family, my problems, or whatever – I feel like I want to stretch out, spiritually. And these are the moments when I think of my walks in Switzerland.

I’m totally an escapist, totally, and I’m very nostalgic, which sucks because it means that you’re living in the past, thinking about all the good times, or sometimes, if you’re creative enough you’re re-imaging the past in a way that’ll never match your present. So you think of the past as an alternative universe, which is silly.

So it has made me an escapist. I always feel like leaving everything and just going, but we’re so tied by logistics today that it’s impossible. We’re not in the 16th century when you could pull an Ibn Battouta and just  travel, you know. Now, you have to figure out your budget and get a visa. These things, they take the charm out of the whole experience. The whole idea of travel is for it not to be planned, you should be free to roam, and when you’re going through all these logistics and practical things it kills you a little bit.

Youhannah, Adventure Travellervia Ahmed Fares

I’ve been going to Marsa Matrouh for a very long time, since elementary school, so it became my summer getaway. At the time, I didn’t have to deal with career stress, but I still haven’t felt the urge to escape and go somewhere, and just take a break. Marsa Matrouh is a place that you go to because it’s beautiful and you enjoy it – not so you’ll disconnect from the things making you unhappy.

What sets it apart from Sahel, Alexandria, and even Dahab is that it’s very quiet and remote so not many people go there often. It’s usually very quiet and the water is amazing, so you really get to enjoy it. You get to decompress. A typical day would go like this: you wake up in the morning, have breakfast, go to the beach and stay there – read, swim, eat – until sundown. Then go home or go biking with friends, have dinner, go to sleep. Repeat.

It would be great if you could spend your entire life in a place like that. Sometimes you go to places like that and you feel at ease when you see natives leading simple and quiet lives. One of the best things that can happen to anyone is to be able to move somewhere like that and live a simple, uncomplicated life. I wouldn’t miss modern conveniences, I wouldn’t miss city life.

When I was in Nepal, I’d climb to the villages atop the mountains; they don’t have internet, network coverage, and water isn’t very accessible there. Yet, you can still feel that people are happy, and their lives are very simple. When you encounter similar communities – in Sinai, Siwa, or even Fayoum, or the Red Sea – you see the same pattern throughout. You realize that there is something missing in our lives, and we don’t really pay attention to it: simplicity. So it’s not really about the destination as much as it is about the people there – most of the time, people who live in simple places, not cities or major touristic attractions, have the same lifestyle and the same approach to life.

Mia, Business Executive via Jean Chamel

I don’t think there is one place that I can call my happy place. I think it just depends on where you are, and who you are with – that’s what makes a destination memorable, or a place that allows you to think and reconnect with yourself. But, whatever that place may be it has to have a sea and a beach that instantly makes you feel free. But I think if I had to pinpoint a place it would be Dahab. I used to go there all the time, every single vacation I got, even on weekends. I would go there so much that I became so familiar with the place.

I’m happy there because it doesn’t have much government control, you can do whatever you want and nobody cares. Bedouins are so nice and it’s so relaxing and it doesn’t have that crazy party life so you can be yourself, nothing but the sea and the mountains. We used to sleep out in the open, on the ground, and watch the sky, which is so breathtakingly beautiful. It’s one of the destinations that I’ve been to by myself to be alone with my thoughts.

If we are going based on Dahab it’s the fact that there is no control – it's a little island that is ruled by a group of people living there. The seafood is amazing, the sea is beautiful, the mountains are breathtaking, and it’s really a place where you can be yourself and concentrate on you.

I love meditating there, to refresh my mind. It humbles you because people don’t have much, but they are extremely happy and that’s the life that they know. It’s still a reason for them to get up in the morning, to fishing and feed their families, sell bracelets to tourists, and they’re happy. It humbles you and teaches you to appreciate what you have.

There was a time when I was serious about moving there; I wanted to buy a place there, but Bedouins never sell their land. I thought about opening up a diving center just so I could stay there, but I was still in school, so it would not have been possible at the time. But it’s definitely a place that I would love to go back to and show it to the people I care about because it’s a beautiful town.

I’ve been living outside my home country, Morocco, since I was 16. I’ve just recently moved back. When I was young, I wanted to leave, to be independent, to live the life I wanted, but now being back after growing up is different.

In my own country I made a discovery trip, because I had never explored what my country has to offer, and I found a lot of beautiful places. My hometown is a coastal one, it reminds me a lot of Dahab, and the fact that it has delicious seafood and beautiful laid back people brought back a lot of beautiful memories.

I never feel like running away, it’s more of an itch to go out there and discover – because I have so many countries on my bucket list that I want to be able to go to. So that is what I’m working on right now. But again, it’s not so much about the destination, but more about the people and the lifestyle there.

Hussein, Journalist via Jochi

I’ve lived in Egypt and Lebanon, but my happy place is a city in Morocco called Chefchaouen. I never knew such inner peace as I did there. It’s a city atop a green mountain – a green city, divided by a stream cascading down the mountain. It’s all green and the people are very kind.

I sit by Ras El Ma and watch the water streaming down the mountain. It’s a place where I go to relax. There’s a yard there called Outa El Hammam for staying up late and eating. Local artists stay up late there playing music and singing. I thought of moving there, but it was a bit difficult. It’s a small town, around five hours from the capital, so it would have been hard to be based there. Also, back then I was a freelance video journalist, so I had to stay close to the capital. That's where the news is.

Whenever I see green mountains in southern Lebanon, my mind is immediately triggered. I'm right back in Chefchaouen. 

Sarah, Adventure Traveller via Sarah Ghaly

I like nature, so I often get the urge to get out of the city – escape the buildings and the concrete. I really appreciate sunsets, and the sun in general, and the moon. I also really hate crowds, so I try to get as far as I can from people. I have a thing for animals, so anywhere with amazing wildlife will do it for me. I don’t want to spend any time with people.

I went to this remote farm in Namibia, far from the main city. It’s a huge farm, housing all kinds of rescued animals – cheetahs, leopards, lions, baboons, and meerkats – where they rehabilitate them and then release them back into the wild. The place itself is so clean and simple, and all they care about is to care for the animals and interact with other life forms and species, and the animals respond in kind. That makes me really happy.

There are enclosures of varying sizes for each animal, and then there’s a wider area – called the lifeline – where animals are settled after they’ve received the medical attention they need. So they’re released there, and their movements and their lives are monitored to make sure they’re adapting to life independently, and then they’re released into the wild.

I volunteered there. I fed the animals, cleaned after them, walked them, and monitored their progress. I even fed a lion! There are limits obviously, you don’t go and pet the lion, but if you’re there for a long time and the animal has known you their whole life – since they were a cub – you can go into their enclosure. But it was different for us, we fed them from behind a fence, but we also went in with the cheetahs – they’re not super aggressive. You can't do that with leopards, but we still cleaned after them when they were taken into a different partition within the enclosure.

I thought of moving to Namibia and getting a job there, but I don’t think I could do it, even though it’s one of the best places I’ve ever been. I could never live somewhere this quiet, though, I’d implode. And I’d stop appreciating it; I'd stop thinking that this is the place I want to be in. I wouldn’t miss city life, but I think you have to suffer the bad to appreciate the good. I would like to go to these places more often, but I couldn’t live there.