Saturday, September 27, 2014

Getting Lost in Morocco


 It hurts to admit it, but while I adored Morocco for a thousand reasons, it damn near killed us

It was mostly our fault really. Due to other commitments, we zoomed through Morocco, visiting four cities in just eight days which for us was intensely fast. That combined with a nice dose of culture shock and a lingering bout of food poisoning, Tom and I left feeling conflicted. There were moments were I was (ashamedly) so frustrated or upset that I wanted to jet back home. Fortunately, the magic and beauty of Morocco along with the kindness of many of it's people overshadowed any hard feelings.
Morocco has left me raw and thinking. In a good way. 



It's hard to tease out my own personal experience of what other people might experience in Morocco. I've heard of people hating it and other people absolutely loving every second.
 In our eight days we visited Marrakesh, Fes, Chefchaouen, and Rabat. In my opinion we happened to travel from the most touristy to the least touristy. We flew in and out of the country and then travelled by train and bus. 

In Marrakesh

We arrived at the airport in the dead middle of night and took a cab to our colorful  and awesome hostel, Marrakesh Riad Rouge. The staff was friendly and I had the first of many glasses of mint tea.Waking up in the colors and chaos of the hostel didn't prepare us for the chaos we would experience outside. We were really close the the famous square, Jemaa Fna and the shopping maze known as the souks.  Everyone -- and I mean absolutely everyone -- was trying to get us to buy something, eat something, sit down just for a tea, "here hold this monkey and take picture" all with the signature Moroccan charm. After a little shopping and poor attempts at haggling we were lost. When we finally made it back to our hostel we were exhausted and entranced.  Wandering in Marrakesh, my poor little brain was struggling to keep up with all the smells, the sights, and the pure energy of a thousand people attempting to get your attention with a smile. It was exotic, beautiful, messy, and wild.

That night we ate dinner at beautiful rooftop terrace and tried our first tagines and pastillas. Our favourite was the delicously lamb-y prune and lamb stew. Watching the sunset over the medina was calming.
The next day we left the medina to visit the Jardin Majorelle, a stunning 12-acre garden featuring plants from all over the world first started in 1886 by Jacques Majorelle and later curated by the designer Yves St Laurent. It was a relaxing haven of cacti and blue. The antithesis to the madness of the medina.

That night we ventured into the Jemaa Fna for dinner to visit a recommended food stall, number 14. At night the square becomes a sea of hundreds of food stalls, all in fierce competition with each other for your business. Craziness. After politely refusing about thirty different stalls we bumped into the rudest man in Morocco. Now at this point we'd had many wonderful genuine interactions with people, peppered with a couple really, almost amusingly, uncomfortable ones. This was the height of awkward. After sweet Tom had extremely politely refused this dude's culinary advances, the dude got in his face and started yelling at him, " YOU ARE STUPID! Go to HELL!" and tried to block his path. Thankfully, we had just spotted our stall and edged around angry-man and squeezed onto the packed bench. As we walked away he leaned over to me and yelled, " You are a wife of a stupid!". As shook up as I was, I just burst out laughing. Who knows what was going on with that guy but he continued to harass everyone who was unlucky enough to walk past.  The other stall workers seemed equally alarmed by him losing his sh*t at everyone. Thankfully, the hot fresh calamari and fish we ate at stall 14 was delicious and cheap (four dollars for BOTH of us) and we walked away full and happy.
The next morning we woke up at four to catch the seven hour train to Fes.





Dinner with a view

Friday, September 12, 2014

Our 2 Month Update (Finally)

Today marks our 83rd day on the road.



And shamefully this is only my third blog post while traveling. I am still figuring out how to balance the doing, eating, and sleeping with recording, editing, and writing. I have to say most of the time I'm eating. Instead, Instagram has become my quick way to update those who are bothered about what occurring in our travels. 

So what have we been doing in these past weird and wonderful eighty three days? We have been walking around with our eyes open, munching on everything, and taking in as much as we can- good or bad. So much has happened since we left that this post would be forty-two miles long if I attempted to write about it all. I'll spare you. Instead, I'll give you the best and the worst because that's the truth of it anyway,

Destinations Visited 


Since we left Washington D.C. on June 24th we have been to six countries:
Iceland- Reykjavik and the southern coast.
United Kingdom- Manchester, London, Winchester, Laxfield, Aberdeen, Stirling, and Edinburgh.
France- Strasbourg, Colmar,  and Paris (With plans to return in October.) 
Portugal- Lisbon, Sintra, the Western Coast, and Porto.
Spain- Granada, Sevilla, Barcelona, and Menorca (Madrid and San Sebastian coming up after Morocco)
Morocco- Marrakech, Fes(So far).

Between these six countries we have spent the night in twenty-two different... err... settlements, ranging from nights spent in a car in towns consisting of one building, tiny French wine towns with French families, to massive iconic cities like London and Paris.

Because of  our goal of travelling based on suggestions, we have not been travelling in the most rational (or economical) fashion. We decided early on that we would much rather stay and experience with friends and family and visit when is best for them, than not see them at all. So we have been through London four times- Definitely worth it to see Tom's lovely English family for the first time in nine years.



Technical Details


We have taken all sorts of transport. So far we both agree that trains and car rentals (road trips)  are our favorite ways to get around. We have taken a whopping ten flights, ten train rides, four buses, and three road trips.

In eighty three days we have slept in cars, one horrible night in a bus, homes of friends/family, apartments of strangers (hello, Couchsurfing and Air BnB), hostels, and even a five-star hotel for my mum's birthday. All have had their pros and cons- except for the bus. That sucked.

We are permanently indebted to the kind family, friends, and strangers who have taken us into their homes and shared their towns, food, wine and laughs with us. I have found that the times we shared will be my brightest and most colorful memories.

We have spent a bunch of money.
Despite our valiant beginning efforts to record every euro or kroner spent, we have kind have given up on intense records.
However, by looking at our Credit and ATM card history we have figured out that we have not broken our $100 a day average budget thus far.
Shocking really, since we've been in some of the more expensive cities in Europe and done almost everything we would have wanted to do. Tooting our collective horn here. Toot.
Still the more money we save now, gives us either more days on the road or bigger foothold for when we decide we are done.

Challenges


There have been fewer challenges than highlights (phew!) so it's a lot easier to curate these memories for y'all. The big ones that weigh on me are planning and keeping our energy up. Occasionally, our desire to see absolutely everything on a very limited budget has put us in a couple planning pickles.  

A mild example: The dreaded overnight bus mentioned earlier was from Strasbourg to Paris. The bus was way late and then extremely cramped, and not even very cheap. We woke up in Paris, grouchy and hot and headed straight to a furnace (coffee shop) where Tom proceeded to go comatose (sleep) until we met with the lovely lass whose apartment we were renting. Her little apartment was somehow even hotter than the 95 degree day outside.We were melting and exhausted. Now, I know it sounds like I am whining. Maybe I am whining, but it's these moments where you really think about whether saving that ten euro was really worth it. Or how much of a big baby you are. That ten euro actually went towards buying a fan anyway. In the end every puddle of sweat was worth waking up and having a coffee in Montmartre.

Again this is just a tepid example of how travel planning can mess up your mojo. Worse are the unplanned little challenges. The beautiful city of Granada ate my ATM card and then we missed our train by seconds. Not the end of the world of course, but while travelling these little things can really put a kink in your chain. Fortunately, I had two backup cards and there was another train that day. 

Though writing this will probably embarrass me later, the worst so far has been the very few and far between skirmishes between Tom and I. We went from seeing each other pretty often to being together 24 hours a day for months. Even though 96% of the time we get along extremely well, we expected to disagree about things occasionally. Add sleep deprivation and not having any other ties except each other and you've got the not fun kind of fireworks. Fortunately they all have been short-fused and meaningless in the grander sea of how well we travel together. As uncomfortable as it is to write about, it's the honest truth, travelling alone with anyone can have it's low moments. In the end these experiences have forced us to be more mindful of each other and has made us stronger. 

Highlights

The highlights for me mostly lie in the surprises. I love surprises. Having no preconceived notions about the Iberian peninsula and Iceland really accentuated all the lovely times we had there. Gobbling delicious tapas in Sevilla with my little brother, hiking to hidden hot rivers in Iceland, weird and wonderful architecture and art in Portugal and Barcelona... these experiences felt so adventurous because I had no idea how they would be. It is so darn exciting (and some times frightening) to wake up have no routine. No safety net. Might not sound terribly wild, but for a mildly anxious lass like me I might as well be sky diving (which Tom insists we will be doing later).

 Another highlight has been getting the chance to travel with my numero uno. Despite the thimbleful of arguments, seeing the world through his lens and his interests has been an almost separate happy adventure. 

Meeting and hanging out with so much of our family and friends and strangers has been too much fun. My best friend's sister's wedding party in Strasbourg, drinking with aunts and uncles in Scotland, british barbecues and the pubs (Oh the pubs!) with Tom's family in England, my childhood friend's fab art gallery in Lisbon, My mum's birthday in London, all come to mind.

And now more random highlights: 
Having a pate/cheese/wine picnic under the flashing Eiffel Tower with a friend from New Orleans.
Eating the freshest langoustine at the a tiny lobster festival in the town of Hofn, Iceland.
Jumping into the Icelandic sea with Damien Rice.
Dancing (badly) at a proper salsa dancing club in Porto.
Hiking two hours to a hidden nudist beach on Menorca only accessible by boat or feet.
Fabulous castles of all shapes and sizes.
Fancy port tasting in Porto.
Time travel in the Alhambra in Granada.
Underground flamenco show in an old coal store in Sevilla.
Whizzing through the Scottish Highlands in my grandpa's convertable.
Whizzing through the vineyard towns of the Alsace region of France in someone else's convertible.
Dancing (still not well) while stuffing my face with tart flambee at Sierra's wedding in Strasbourg.
Visiting the magical mountain town of Sintra, Portugal.
Wandering in the tiny streets of the Alfama district of Lisbon.
Observing the mad genius of Dali in Figueres, Spain.
And ALL of the delicious food we've had.

There are many more highlights I could mention but due to the fact that I haven't quite figured out how to balance the writing and the doing all I can offer is snippets and rambling. Which is my typical modus operandi anyway. Hopefully If I write these monthly I can be a little more precise.

Coming Up...

The rest of Morocco and then Madrid, San Sebastian, Bordeaux and Bezier and France and then Germany!