Thursday, March 31, 2011

Je me sens bien

Never thought that I would be feeling this good while living abroad.  The leaves are back on the trees.  The sun is out more than it isn't.  I wear my mouth guard so my jaw isn't constantly hurting.  And to top it all off, not only did I not fail my courses last semester, but apparently I got straight A's.  I haven't even done that at UCSB.

Thinking ahead to the next six weeks, I know for a fact that May 17 will arrive and I will be wondering where the last nine months went.  I can still remember the first night Chez Michele, when she took me around and showed me how to get to SciencesPo.  It seems like a lifetime ago, but I'm sure I'll write a lot more on how I've changed closer to my departure.

Today all I want to do is just feel happy.  And that is what I am doing.  I'm sitting at my computer, listening to a great Pandora radio station looking at bright green leaves in the playground of the school that is across the street from house feeling good.  I had my normal lunch of ham sandwich, dessert and drink.  Later tonight I have choir.  And on Saturday I fly to Florence.  So far, I'm seeing nothing that can bring me down.

Since I haven't been keeping anywhere true to my New Years resolution of writing five times a week, I feel like I should recount some of the fun things that have happened since I last wrote.  The most notable one is that last Saturday, we successfully pulled off the surprise party for my roommate.  Not screwing up and telling her about was probably the hardest thing I've done this semester.  But luckily I didn't.

We had it set up.  I would go with Aliya over to Cam's house and just dial them to let them know we were downstairs.  Cam lives on the fifth (french) story so I raced up before Aliya to find everyone crouching down in the kitchen with the lights off.  Then she walks in and we all just shout "SURPRISE!"  She said she had NO idea.

That was probably one of the most fun nights I've had in Paris, though the next day and night were pretty fun.  The day after, Cam, Logan (Cam's bf), J.P. (Logan's friend who was visiting that I met the night before at the party), Sarah, Edmond Aliya and I all went over to Cam's to help him clean up.  It ended up being a second smaller party/brunch where we just ate the leftovers and watched youtube videos.  After we all went home and showered and got clean ourselves, I went out with Cam, Logan, and J.P.  It was J.P.'s last night in town, so we walked up around Montmartre and to the Moulin Rouge.  Then we had a great french dinner close to St. Michele.  We ended up back at my house, where unfortunately Cam had an asthma attack.  I told them that they needed to stay the night and that I could just go to J.P.'s hotel.  It wasn't too far from my house and none of us liked the idea of Cam climbing those five flights of stairs.

So that's basically been my life since Saturday.  Oh, I forgot to mention that I think I was pickpocketed.  I have to say though, I'm not even mad.  I'm impressed.  When we were at a supermarket picking up some drinks, I opened my wallet to find all of my smaller bills were gone.  I don't remember how much I had in my wallet, but it wasn't a lot.  I hid a fifty in the second fold of it though, which was still there.  But the weirdest thing was that none of my cards were missing, nor any of the other non-money things in my wallet.  And they did it all without me noticing.

Oh there was that and I almost got my iPod stolen.  It actually did happen to my roommate a few weeks ago.  Basically these three guys (who look like they are part of the Gypsies that plague france, more noticeably Paris) walk really close behind you.  If you have your iPod in your pocket, they will literally grab it and turn and walk away before you notice who did it.  Unfortunately for them when they did it to my roommate, she was listening to it so she felt them steal it.  Plus she had a broken wrist, so she basically had a plaster mace attached to her arm.  When she threatened to beat them, they gave it back.

My situation was a little different.  I saw these guys coming.  My metro stop is pretty crowded at night, luckily for me.  I first noticed these guys when one of them tried to cut between me and the wall on my right.  The weird thing is that there was only about a foot.  Then he turned around.  Some more people were coming through the exit going my direction, opposite from the three guys.  But they turned and started to follow me.  Right as one stuck his arm out to grab my iPod some stranger cut between us.  I finally realized what was going on, so I put my hand in my pocket and just booked it out of the metro.  I was a little jumpy until I got back to my apartment, but they weren't following me so all was good!

And despite all of that, I still feel this good! 

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Printemps et les Anniversaires

Spring has sprung!

I have learned (and I'm pretty sure I've already written) that I hate winter.  I can find very few redeeming qualities about it.  I'm not one for winter sports, so that takes a majority of the fun out of the season.  I don't like always being cold.  Having to put on four layers just to walk two minutes to the bakery gets annoying and cumbersome.  The lack of sunlight is just depressing.  And the fact that all of the trees loose their leaves makes the surrounding environment look like war torn Europe.

But spring has come back.  There are buds on the trees.  Some plants already have blossoms on them.  I can open my window during the day and actually have a semi-warm breeze blow through my apartment.  Instead of being a ceiling of gray, I can actually see the sun, feel its warmth on my cheeks.

Yesterday was my roommates birthday.  I have some school projects I have to do, so I was going to meet my exposé partner yesterday afternoon, but before, Aliya, Cam and I decided we would go to a park and have a picnic.  Honestly, I couldn't think of a better way to spend the afternoon.  Yesterday was all around a wonderful day.

After we had our picnic in the park, Aliya and I went to SciPo to meet with our respective partners.  We stayed there for about an hour, then headed home.  Seeing as it was her birthday, we were having people over for a potluck.  That required that we make things.  We got back to our house around 5:00PM and then headed right back out to the store.  I was making bruschetta, and I wanted to pick up some drinks for the party.  I haven't yet developed the taste for wine, so I wanted to get a mixed drink.  (Side note, passion fruit liquor and Pineapple juice is delicious.)

Anyway, we didn't really get back to our house until around 6:00PM.  We told people to come over at 7:00PM.  We were a little rushed.  And to make matters worse, our gas was shut off because they are doing construction out side of our house.  The guardian of our building came over around 7:00PM with a construction worker who was supposed to turn our gas back on.  It didn't work.  That meant that not only did I not shower in the morning, which I HAVE to do, but I couldn't even shower before the people got here.  After they went around to the rest of the building, they returned with a different construction worker and he got it work.  I took the best three minute shower of my life.

After being all cleaned I got dressed and people started to arrive.  I would say we had between ten and fifteen people here.  It was a lot of fun.  We were hanging out in our kitchen, eating, drinking, talking.  Honestly nights like that and people like those help me get through the times when all I am thinking about is being back in SB.

And it also helped remind me how much amazing is going to happen between now and when I leave.  This weekend my friend Alyssa from SB is coming to visit.  Then I have tickets to go to Florence.  The weekend after, I'll most likely be spending a few days in Bordeaux visiting my friends down there.  Then its off to Ireland with my roommate (tentatively).  Then easter weekend in Paris, followed by the arrival of my mom and grandma.  Then after a few days of touring Paris, we are going off on our cruise to Greece, Croatia and Italy.  The day after I get back from that I'll be heading to Barcelona.  Then I leave France for good on May 17.

Time is going to fly by.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Le Banlieu

I had never really ventured out of Paris except to go to a specific city.  Today that changed.

Last Sunday, Jerome, my host brother, called to wish me a happy birthday.  He also invited me over to his house.  He asked me the when I could come, so I said a week would be fine, next Sunday.  That was today.

I remember writing about how I always dreaded going to dinner with Michele and the family, but once at the table it was always fun.  That's how I felt today.  My stomach wasn't feeling so hot this morning, so I almost used it as an excuse to tell Jerome I couldn't come.  But something inside of me told me I had to go. I literally would have done nothing else today, so there was no legitimate reason for me to not go.  And I am incredibly happy I did.

Georgiana, Jerome and Lucas live in an incredibly nice suburb of Paris, about twenty minutes away from the Arc de Triumph.  It was a pretty simple train ride to get there.  I had to change twice, but all was fine.  I made it there a little early, so I just sat in the sun at the train station for about ten minutes before I told Jerome I was ten minutes away.  He told me where he could meet me, so I waited there for about twenty more minutes, and then he, Lucas and I walked up to his apartment.

Their apartment isn't anything spectacular until you see their view.  It is smaller than where I live, with a kitchen about a third the size of mine.  Their bedroom is probably comparable to mine.  And they have a great living room, maybe a little bigger than mine.  But the view from their living room is amazing.  Imagine what you would expect to see looking out from a five story building over a sleepy little french town.  Church steeples, roundabouts, gardens, gabled roofs... Yeah, that is what they see.  I don't think it could have been any more French if they tried.

When I got there, Michele, my host mother, and two other people were there already.  From what I gathered, one of the two of the people there worked with Michele at some point.  Never did quite get the details.  All I know is the man, who was very friendly, was from Greece so it was difficult at times for me to understand his French.  His (presumably) wife was French, but she grew up in Algeria.  I liked her, mainly because we commiserated on how much we don't like winter.

After we stuffed ourselves with Georgiana's fantastic hors d'oeuvres, everyone decided to take a walk.  The greek said he knew of a great park that would be wonderful for Lucas.  He was not lying.

We headed out of Jerome's place, baby in his stroller, and walked through the neighborhood.  I'm not really sure why, but there was a canal we followed on our way to the park.  It was pretty neat.  There were some french kids, dressed in blue dockers and sweaters with their collars of their polo shirts popping out playing with a boat in the canal's water.  Again, I imagined that I would see that exact image in a movie.

We got to the park and we walked around some more.  It was so nice, just being able to walk outside and not hate life because of the bitter cold that made you forget what your nose felt like.  The most exciting part of the walk though, was seeing buds on the trees.  The Paris city center still doesn't quite have that yet, but we don't get as much sunshine as they get out in the burbs...

The park had an interesting layout.  There were some large fields on the edges, but the actual park park consisted of a moat and an island with a smaller strip of green rimming the moat.  We walked onto the island.  One thing that was a little shocking was how many families were out.  I guess since it was the first day that you really could go to the park, everyone had the same idea as us.  By far the funniest/saddest part was seeing a group of three little boys playing soccer.  Then one of them kind of sits down and starts crying.  No one seems to notice, mainly because his family thought he was crying because the other two boys wouldn't let him play with the ball.

In actuality, he had peed himself.  I'm not talking about a little wet spot.  It was like he had just fallen into a fountain.  Poor kid...

But walking around that park I realized how much I miss sunshine and warm weather.  It may be because I have a little less than two months left in France, but most things here are reminding me what I love about Santa Barbara, whether they are good things or bad.  For example, the rain makes me love SB for its sunshine.  The sunshine reminds me that I go to a school where for a vast majority of the time it is just like this.

I will be sad to leave France though.  I was riding with Michele on the RER back to Paris, and I realized how incredibly lucky I was to get a host family like them.  They invited me to their house, they fed me, and after I moved out they still stayed in contact with me.

It's people like that, that I will miss most.

Friday, March 18, 2011


So tonight I had two friends from La Cañada come visit me.  It was probably one of the strangest things that has happened to me since leaving LCHS.

Remy and Lauryn were always good friends.  I've gone to school with them since 3rd grade.  When Lauryn posted on my wall on my birthday that she was going to be in Paris I was ecstatic.  Normally there is that feeling of dread when I am supposed to go meet people that I haven't seen in a long time, but I was just excited to see both of them.  I hadn't really talked to either since I had graduated, with the exception of a few instant message conversations over the last three years.

When they were here naturally we talked a lot about our experiences in high school.  We gossiped about secretes we didn't share because they were THE most important things in our lives, which now didn't mean anything (the secrets, not our lives).  We had a few drinks and just caught up.  It really got me thinking though, about how much I miss La Cañada.

When we were in Morocco, my dad and JoAnn closed the deal on our house.  For the first time I have no residence in California.  My mom moved to Boulder the summer after my senior year of high school and Dad did the same to Texas.  I always felt a connection to LC mainly becuase we were still renting out our house there.  But now that connection is gone.  Except it isn't.

It is kind of hard to explain.  I remeber when I was going off to UCSB, my brother tried to make me feel better about not going back to LC.  He told me that my social group moved on to college with me.  And that is very true.  I love the friends I've made at SB.  They are some of the best I have ever had.  But there is that little something that is missing.  The kids at SB only know college A.J.  Remy and Lauryn, and everyone else that I went from third grade to twelfth grade knew who I was, who I was becoming and all had ideas about who I was going to be.  It is really weird knowing that there are people I used to see every day for years that I haven't talked to in years.

I mean, these two lovely young women are a fine example.  I had classes with them throughout high school.  I would see them every day.  We all had the same group of friends.  We all were in the same AP classes.  We all kind of just knew each other.  And it is strange how simple it is for us to go years without talking to one another.  The even stranger part is how normal everything is when we got together.  It felt like we were right back in LC.  Instead of my kitchen in Paris, we could have been in Remy's living room or Lauryn's family room.  Nothing had changed, yet we are all incredibly different people.

I can't say that my experience is unique, in that I have changed a lot since going off to college.  I can say my experience is unique in that I am the only one who ever has or ever will experience it.  So I can appreciate those who empathize and sympathize with what I am feeling, but they will never one hundred percent understand what it is I am trying to portray.  They may come close, but this is an experience only I can ever really know.

The one thing that I have learned with all that I have gone through (granted in the grand scheme of things it isn't a lot) is that every decision, choice, everything I have ever done or said, has lead me to this moment.  If I could go back and relive any part of my life, I would do everything the same.  If I changed something, who knows where I would be now.  It is possible I could have an alternate reality that is much better than this one.  But I have learned to be content with what I have and love the ones I'm with. And I've also learned that there is an equally large chance that the alternate reality may not be nearly as wonderful as what I have.

I've always been one to take things for granted.  It is probably one of my biggest faults.  Instead of praising what is good, I denounce what is bad.  When I first got out of La Cañada High School all I could remember was how terrible the administration treated the students, how crappy some of the teachers were, some of the terrible decisions t hat were forced upon the student body.  Now that I have time, perspective and a little bit of wisdom I can remember the nights driving around with my friends, getting the 2:00AM Lucky Boy breakfast burrito, going to the high school dances and just having a great time.  I can remember the long conversations about our future and feeling how everything I was doing or saying was SO incredibly important.  I'm sure in ten, twenty or even thirty years I will look back on this blog and thing about how stupid I sound now for trying to sound all deep and wise, but c'est la vie.

That is the course that our lives take.  Every day brings more experiences that allow us to put what we go through in perspective.  I love my friends at UCSB, I love Paris and more and more I am remembering fondly my years at La Cañada.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Je serai comfotable bientot

I'll be home relatively soon.  I have some great trips planned, including Florence, Ireland, Bordeaux, Barcelona and Greece/Croatia/Venice.  But I am ready to get back to Santa Barbara.

I think the feeling that I have when I think about wanting to be back in SB isn't guilt.  It's more shame.  I feel a little ashamed that I don't like living abroad more than I do.  I've seen first hand how people I am close to think of those who refuse to travel, experience new cultures, see new things.  I would hate for them to think that I am as close minded as they think those others are.  But it is really hard living here.

Living here has taught me how much I really appreciate and am fascinated by the United States.  It also has taught me that the stereotype about Americans being very closed minded isn't fair.  I have always been open and interested in learning about where my friends come from.  And believe me, they love talking about their home countries and not only how great they are but how much better they are than the United States (especially the Canadians).  Honestly, I didn't know we were in a competition.  I mean, studying Globalization yeah I know about international rivalries and stuff, but that is for companies and governments, not for students.  My view is that we are supposed to come over here and not only learn about the culture we are trying to live in, but learn things from those around us.

I know a lot more about Australian politics than I ever thought I would because of the conversations I've had with my friends.  I know how the court systems of Canada work thanks to the conversations I've had with my roommate.  I've really learned a lot.  But I am so sick and tired of people always talking crap about the United States.  Even if that is how they feel, I don't think they realize how incredibly rude it is to insult something that someone may care strongly about.

I finally understand why my dad says my step mom can get so offended if I complain about the weather in Houston, and I am only mentioning the weather!  People here talk about Americans, as in the actual people.  They talk crap about our government, about the decisions our politicians have made, about our electoral process.  I can only say I disagree with Bush too many times before I start to get annoyed that they thought I agreed with him in the first place.

I do not think the United States is perfect.  But I don't think that it is fair for those who have never lived there or really even traveled there to judge it as harshly as a lot of people here do.  I am proud to be an American and I always will be.

Mon Anniversaire

It finally happened.  I am officially twenty-one.  And I have to say, Paris is a pretty cool place to turn twenty one. I'm not going to lie, it would have been incredibly fun to have all of my friends from SB surrounding me while I took my first sip of alcohol, but I am happy with how my night turned out for me.

On Thursday night, I had a friend from LCHS come and stay with me.  Katie Hale is studying in Florence, Italy this semester from NYU, so when I told her she should come over to Paris for my birthday she looked for flights and found a decent one.  Unfortunately, she couldn't get a good price home on Sunday so she had to leave Saturday.  But she still came, which meant a lot.

I had another friend come and visit.  I saw Amara in Spain, and she knew that she would be coming to Paris for my birthday since about November.  She got here on Friday morning and left Monday afternoon, so she was able to be here for my full day.

So now to the actual birthday part. said it would be raining all day on Sunday, so I had been praying to the powers that be for it not to.  Somehow I think they heard me.  Well, sort of.

I feel kind of unique in that I got to choose where I wanted to have my first drink.  I chose to have it at the Trocadero, which is the museum that is just across the river from the Eiffel Tower.  So the crew was me, my roommate, and some friends from SciencesPo, plus Amara and a guy that Aliya's friends introduced us to back in September who we have become friends with, named Xavier.  So the group all left my house to head down to the Eiffel Tower.

I also knew I wanted my first drink to be champagne.  Earlier that night Amara and I had gone to the store to buy stuff to make dinner.  On that same trip, I had bought my first alcohol.  We just let it chill in the fridge while we were waiting to go out.  Then we took the metro to the place.

The Eiffel Tower sparkles every hour on the hour for about five minutes.  I didn't trust my phone, so I decided I was going to let the sparkling lights tell me when it was 12:00AM on March, 13 2011.  As soon as that tower lit up I popped the cork and took my first sip.

It tasted terrible.

Luckily my friends knew it would taste terrible to me, so they bought be a palatable alcohol which I drank instead.  It was a fun night.  But I did say that the powers that be only sort of stopped the rain.  When we left the apartment it was barely drizzling.  When we got down to the tower it was more than a little drizzling.  But that didn't stop me.  I was going to have that experience so help me God, so we powered through.  What was a little strange is that the rain seemed to stop a few minutes after my birthday started.

After the tower, some of us headed to a bar.  The only thing that wasn't perfect about my birthday is that literally half the people we were with just left without saying goodbye.  No texts.  No calls.  Nothing.  I had already gone into the bar and they just bounced.  But c'est la vie.  I was feeling too good to really care.  Plus I really really loved the people that stuck around.  I almost think it was better that there wasn't a big number of us, because it meant that there were fewer people to take into account if we wanted to do anything.

Also, something really strange happened to me on the way to the Eiffel Tower.  I couldn't put any pressure on my right shin.  I was walking like a cripple.  Right before we started up the stairs at the Trocadero though, it stopped hurting. It was a birthday miracle!  I can't quite describe what it felt like.  It was like I had a bruise but it was on the bone itself.  It had happened before, but never for that long or that intense.

So that was the actual first drink story.  Champagne under a sparkling Eiffel Tower with some pretty amazing people.

Then there was the next day.  I didn't really know what I wanted to do during the day, so I took Amara around and we saw some stuff.  We went to a really good restaurant close to the Louvre, then into the Louvre.  I saw the Egyptian stuff (I go there every time I go to the Louvre) and we also saw the required sites (Winged Victory, Liberty Leading the People, The Mona Lisa, that kind of stuff).  Then we headed over to the Eiffel Tower so Amara could see it during the day.  Unfortunately the clouds didn't make for a pretty sky, but the cherry trees were blooming so we still got some good pictures.  Then we headed home.

I had made a reservation at a restaurant called Refuge de Fondue.  It is pretty famous for serving wine in baby bottles.  Yes, actual baby bottles, nipple and all.  I still don't have a refined pallete so the red wine I got tasted gross, and I couldn't finish it.  Thankfully my friend Owen was there to do that for me.  Again, I had a great time, except for the fact that so many people canceled last minute.  But those that did come I really appreciated.  I had five different nationalities eating with me, including French.  The fondue was delicious too!

Looking back, this may not be the best birthday I have ever had, but it will be one of the most memorable in my life.  I don't think I would change anything about either of my birthday nights.  

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Maroc: Jour 6 et 7

March 4 and 5, 2011

Morocco – Day 6 and Seven

From no name to Marrakesh/ Marrakesh

Sorry I didn’t post about yesterday individually.  Something peculiar happened to me in the morning at the hotel before breakfast.  In the middle of the night I had woken up shivering.  I honestly felt like I could never be warm again.  How I was able to get back to sleep I don’t know, but thankfully I did.  I woke up at 7:45AM and tried to take a shower.  While using the bathroom, I felt a little nauseous and then my vision started to go black.  The problem is I was in the middle of using the toilet.  I had two options.  Try to finish and risk passing out, hitting my head and vomiting everywhere or hold it.  Naturally I did the first one.  I made it back to my bed just in time.

I met everyone downstairs for breakfast, but I could only stomach a glass of Orange juice.  I hadn’t been sick, but the chills and almost passing out reminded me a bit too much of how I felt before Christmas break.  Turns out that was a crazy bad bacterial infection.  I really hope this just goes away.

Luckily for me, we had a three hour drive to Marrakesh that morning.  We left no name and the not-as-nice-as-the-other-hotels hotel and headed out.  I tried sleeping at first but I couldn’t.  Then I did.  I’m not sure if it was the cold fighting pills JoAnn gave me or if it was just a really good nap, but I woke up and felt much better.  It’s a good thing too, because I was about to go ride a camel!

I had ridden a camel one time before, in Egypt, when I was ten years old.  I don’t remember a lot of my camel ride, but I do remember how hard it was to get off the stupid thing.  It was just has hard this time.

We rode around this deserty area that was next to a club med.  It was a lot of fun, except for Miriam complaining about being on a camel.  Every three feet it was her saying “I want to get off” or “I don’t like this.”  I should note though, she is eighty-four years old and she has been a “trooper” as Dad and JoAnn say.  I don’t know many women her age that could do half of what we did on this trip, so it was fair

We rode around for about fifteen mintues, but by that time everyone (but me) seemed to have had enough.  We hopped off our camels, some with more ease than others.  I missed it, but apparently one of the camel guys had to pretty much bear hug Miriam and lift her by the under arms to get her off.  It was quite the scene, so JoAnn says. 

This was our last day with Aziz, and Miriam was devastated.  Aziz was a fantastic guide.  He was incredibly knowledgeable and truly presented Morocco in its best light.  He did a great job.  I don’t think that I really fell in love with this country until I got to Marrakesh.  The rest of the country surprised me a lot.  It was very green and lush.  I was expecting desert and more Egyptian style bazaar stores.  Marrakesh delievered.

We got out of our van right next to the Katuba (no clue how its spelled).  Basically it is a huge minaret that was built a long time ago.  It was built by the same king who built the Giralda in Seville.  It is a breathtaking piece of architecture, especially considering when it was built. 

After Aziz gave us a little lecture on it and how the following kings destroyed the mosque that was there because it was facing the wrong direction for Mecca, we headed into the main square.  This is what everyone comes to Marrakesh for.  They have snake charmers, Barbary apes, orange juice guys.  Anything you want, they have.  I got my picture taken with a monkey on my shoulder and a snake around my neck… not at the same time though.  I wonder who would win between one of those monkeys and the cobras. 

Anyway, we walked through the square and through the Medina.  It was exactly what I was expecting/hoping for.  It was just like the Egyptian Bazaars I remembered.  There was stall after stall of the guys selling the same stuff.  I was really excited to go in and shop.  This was just a quick walk through and onto our Riad.

The Riad we are staying at here is owned by the same lady that organized our tour.  It is incredibly nice and completely five star.  Miriam and I are on the third floor and Dad and JoAnn are on the second.  All of our roomes lookout into the courtyard.  The first level is a series of three areas.  The first is a small sitting room decorated with leopard spotted couches.  It sounds like it should be tacky, but it works.  The next part, right across from the pool/fountain is the dining area.  We had breakfast there this morning.  Then there is the living room, with the only TV in the Riad. 

The woman who organized our trip is Peggy, a stoutly grey haired American woman who I would say is in her early forties.   She is a great guide seeing as how she loves to talk…. And talk… and talk.  At lunch today I had to fake going to the bathroom just so I didn’t have to hear about her philosophical ideas about why America is going down the drain.  Again, that being said, she did a great job for us and her Riad is truly lovely.

Today we walked around the Medina.  JoAnn bought Jennifer some kind of Berber marriage rug.  Dad bought Nick a leather bag (like the one I got in Spain, though Dad loves to remind me he got a better deal that I did).  I even managed to find my lapel pins and vintage postcards I love to collect in every place I go. 

Peggy took us to some shop that her friend owns.  It was cool, but the other guide/co-owner of the travel company wanted to take us to the Musée de Marrakesh.  I would have rather gone there than to Peggy’s bosom buddy’s place, but her store was impressive. 

After hitting up the store, we headed off to lunch.  Then it was right back to the Riad.  I think Miriam was a little tired so she stayed here while Dad, JoAnn and I walked the Medina by ourselves.  Naturally I was wearing my Jalaba.  I now have a better appreciation of what women in most European countries go through when walking on the street.  Because I was a tourist in a Jalaba, every (or almost every) merchant made some comment.  One kid who was probably younger than me, actually took a blue scarf and wrapped it around my bead like a twareg.  It was pretty cool, except for the fact that he had a piece of fabric around my neck that he wasn’t afraid to use if I tried to leave.  Eventually one Euro later I got out of that store.

That is about all for my Moroccan adventure.  I cannot wait  to get back to this country.  

Maroc: Jour 5

March 3, 2011

Morocco – Day 5

Fes and some city whose name I have no idea

I need to preface this saying that of all of the days we’ve had here today has been the most mediocre, with a few noteworthy exceptions.  I also should warn you that I am going to talk about toilets.  A lot (it runs in my family, so I’ve learned).

This morning started yet again at 9:00AM.  Aziz was right there in the lobby waiting for us.  Since we stayed at the same hotel we did yesterday, there wasn’t anything new to the breakfast.  We checked out, loaded our bags into the car and headed off to go see the pottery place.

Now I love traveling with my dad and JoAnn, honestly.  The have allowed me to go to places and have experiences I never could have had without them.  I know that I reap a lot of benefits from how hard they work.  But there are some costs to them.  Like I said yesterday, we had spent most of the day shopping.  Now this wasn’t boutique to bazaar boutique shopping, you know at the places where I could pray to be able to afford something.  Instead we went to that rug store, and the antique jewlry store

(I forgot to mention something about that.This is a tangent from what my previous thought was but I HAVE to write it down.  At the antique store, Dad was sitting with Miriam, but I was over with JoAnn when we were getting ready to go.  I had to make sure the ring I was getting would fit.  It did and looks awesome.  But I already described that.  What I forgot to mention yesterday was the reason why the antique salesman gave us a pretty good deal.  He kept saying that JoAnn was a holy woman, twice holy.  The first time was because she brought her mother with her to this place.  The second reason was a bit subtler to JoAnn and I don’t believe she ever figured out.  When describing his second reason, he simply pointed to JoAnn – more importantly to her lower abdomen – and said “this is a very good time.”  I’m about ninety-nine percent sure he thought she was preggers.)

Anyway, we spent a lot of the day yesterday not really seeing sites but sitting in places where I had no chance of affording this place.  Luckily, both Dad and JoAnn claimed to be done with shopping.  Then we get to the pottery place.  The tour was fantastic, describing how they made the pottery, where the clay comes from, how they fire it.  We saw a man make a tajine in front of us, using nothing more than a foot powered potters wheel, a lump of grey clay and his hands.  We saw artisans painting unfired pots with incredible delicacy and detail.  We even saw the tile workers making the exact shapes for the mosaics.  It was truly astounding.  And in true Moroccan fashion, we ended the tour at the pottery shop.  I have to say, I didn’t hold my breath that we were going to get out of there without something.  But JoAnn did a great job.  I think she only got one thing!

After that, we were off to get me a Jalaba!  I think I’ve mentioned what they are before.  Basically they look like wizards robe, with a very pointy hood.  I needed one.  I not only wanted to blend in here in Morocco, but I figured it would make for a decent IV Party costume.  In addition to my Jalaba (which is a stunning black catus silk and gold cashmere stripped number) we all decided we wanted to get Fes’.  Dad, JoAnn, I and Nick and Jennifer, though they don’t know it yet, are all the proud owners of Fes’ from Fes.  I can check that off my bucket list.

While I was trying on my Jalaba and Fes, I think Aziz went up to the tannery to see if my jacket we had custom made for me is ready.  We had to wait a while in the shop because they had to scour all of Morocco to find a Fes large enough to fit over my father’s enormous bucket sized head.  It was ample time for him to retrieve it for me.  I would have happily gone up and gotten it myself, but I didn’t know Aziz had even left.  Just as a side note, I am thrilled with my jacket.  If I may say so, the combo of the Fes and the leather makes for one stunning looking young man.  Forget about it, if I put my sunglasses on.

Jalaba and Fes on, we were off to the car to go to the town that I have no idea the name.  But, we did make a few pit stops.  The first was in a small town, where King Hasan II and the King of Saudi Arabia had built a private business university together.  They focus on mainly international business.  In that little town, we decided we wanted to get some snacks, since we were still two hours away from lunch.  We headed to a bakery and got some croissants and cookies. 

After taking pictures in front of the huge stone lion, we hopped back into the car to go touch some Berber Apes.  I was super excited.  I was able to feed monkeys peanuts straight from my hand.  The little babies were the cutest and had no problem coming up to me if I had food.  They were a bit skittish if I was empty handed.  It was funny though, one of the monkeys thought my ring was something so every time I stuck out my had, it was like he was giving me a high five.

That ends the notable portion of my day.  The rest of the time was spent sitting in the car driving to no name town.  We stopped for lunch, and that is where I learned about my family’s favorite topic of conversation.

Bathrooms around the world are very different.  French ones have the toilet separated from the rest of the washroom.  In morocco, some times they don’t even have a toilet.  There could literally be two raised footprints and a hole you squat over.  You’re lucky if the guy gives you toilet paper before you go in. 

At lunch today, Miriam had to use the restroom.  God love her, sometimes I have no idea why she is laughing at some stuff.  She came out of the restroom all giggling and I didn’t think I wanted to pry to far into the cause.  Then JoAnn needs to use the restroom.  Now as I said, you’re lucky if they provide toilet paper, so JoAnn came prepared.  Little did Miriam know that JoAnn had some tissues in her pocket.  In her effort to help JoAnn, from across the room Miriam holds up the toilet paper and says, “here Jo!  You forgot the toilet paper.”  It’s kind of hard to subtly say that you have tissues in your pocket, especially when the room is looking at you. 

Now the reason I can recount that story so well, despite having been on the patio while it was happening is because my family cannot make it through a meal without talking about some kind of bodily orifice or what may come out of it.  Thankfully she was finished when I met them for dinner last night, but JoAnn recounted her semi-traumatic hammam experience from the night before.  From what I gathered it was a lot more invasive than she originally thought.  Dad also felt the need to tell me that he felt like he was being punched from the inside and that his pepto pills didn’t seem to be helping.  All information I could do withouth. 

That brings me to tonight.  Literally two minutes before I started writing this post, I used the restroom.  Now our hotel isn’t nearly as nice as the previous ones, but I couldn’t help but laugh when the toilet paper roll holder broke when I was reaching for some. 

Let’s hope that tomorrow and Marrakesh bring a bit more lively topics of conversation! 

Maroc: Jour 4

March 2, 2011

Morocco: Day 4


Today was a day of shopping.  Our day began at breakfast, which was at 8:00AM.  Naturally I got there at 8:20AM.  The hotel we’re staying at, Riad Fes had a wonderful assortment of Moroccan baked goods for breakfast.  Some of the same stuff was served yesterday in Chefchauen, but we were not sure what it was.  The mystery was not solved today.  Instead, we decided not to eat that.  I just had a simple breakfast of a crepe with jam, croissant, orange slice with some cinnamon on it (if you haven’t tried a Moroccan orange yet, you are missing out) and a mystery bread like thing covered in sugar.  All in all a good way to start the day. 

We were up and out the door at 9:00AM right on time.  I have to had it to Aziz, he magically appears right on time from wherever it is he is.  Our first stop was to the medieval city and the Jewish quarter.  Fun fact, that medieval city is actually called new Fes because it dates from the fourteenth century while the Medina dates from the ninth century. 

We started off at the Royal Palace here in Fes.  Aziz showed us the main entrance and its seven golden bronze doors.  The tile work and the detail in the bronze doors is astounding.  The best part is that the only polish those doors get is lemon juice.  No chemicals have touched that.  Aziz even says from time to time you can find the citrus seeds on the ground. 

After taking pictures at the gate, we walked through the Jewish quarter.  Aziz made a very strong point about how welcome the Jews were and are in Morocco dating back to the inquisition times.  He also mentioned several times that some of the original Berber tribes in Morocco were Jewish, because they were in this part of the world before Islam reached it. While in that area of the town, we went to one of the oldest, if not the oldest synagogue in Morocco.  I believe it dates from the thirteenth century I believe. 

Once we left the medieval portion, we were on to the walking tour of the Medina.  This was the part I was most looking forward to because I was told it was just a huge bazaar.  I remember when I was in Egypt in 2000 how much fun I had with Nana and Uncle Mel walking through the Bazaars and haggling prices with the merchants.  Now that I was here in Morocco with JoAnn (who is amazing at deal negations) I figured we could get some cool stuff and make some merchants cry while doing it. 

God bless her, Miriam came along with us.  Miriam is JoAnns eighty-something year old mother and is an absolutely delightful person.  She is always so upbeat and up for anything.  The only problem is she does need some help getting around from time to time.  I was wondering how the walking tour was going to be for her.  Luckily Aziz stepped up and Miriam always had an arm to grab if she wanted.  She grabbed mine, dads and to a lessor extent JoAnn’s, but Aziz was her main man today.

Now I have to say I was a little disappointed in the Medina.  It wasn’t like the Egyptian Bazaars I had been to before.  It wasn’t just shop after shop after shop.  It was more of a labyrinth with stores punctuating the sides of the pathways.  That is not to say there was a shortage of stores.  In certain areas, there were traditional bazaar style stalls.

 The first little alleyway we went down was the meat alley.  We say virtually every type of meat you can find in this country.  We saw live chickens, decapitated goat heads,  pigeons waiting to be cooked into Pastilla.  We saw liver being chopped up (by the way, liver is disgusting… I had it in Paris, not here, but man is it gross).  I wanted to take a picture of one of the sheep’s heads but the butcher said I couldn’t.  Oh well… I guess I’ll just have to keep that memory to myself.

A lot of the time was spent walking around.  After, Aziz took us to a traditional house in the Medina.  The walls of the Medina are nothing special.  I would have no clue if a mansion was behind one of those doors if it was another hovel like some of the shops.  The place Aziz took us proved that point. 

We walked down this alleyway, and into a side alley.  After a few blind corners, we got to the entrance to the house.  It turns out it was a carpet store.  JoAnn and Dad had been thinking about getting a carpet, and it was a good place to kill a few minutes.  We got a brief history of the house (dating back to 1315) and got to walk up onto the roof.  From the roof, I took some incredible pictures of the Medina.  Then we headed back downstairs to look at some carpets.

These carpets were amazing.  The only other experience I had had with Middle Eastern textiles was when we went to a textile factory in Egypt.  I remember those mainly because I got to tie a knot in one of those rugs.  I’ve always wondered where that rug is now…  Back to the point.  Omar, the carpet guy, said he would be happy to show us anything we wanted.  We must have looked at twenty different 8x12 carpets.  Needless to say, we ended up leaving with two.  Just as a side note, JoAnn was able to get both of those for the price of one…

All that negotiating wore us out so we headed off to lunch.  Aziz took us to this restaurant that specializes in Moroccan food.  A Moroccan restaurant in the Medina?  So strange.  A lot of the appitzers they brought us were the same ones I had last night.  The same spiced carrots, the same tomato and bell peper puree.  They did bring us some new stuff though.  I tried fava beans and eggplant.  My main course was yet another tajine, this time lamb.  I really need to figure out how to make tajines.  They are amazing!

After lunch, Aziz took us to an antique gallery.  We weren’t planning on getting anything here, but boy were we wrong.  The house was really neat and looked sort of like a really cluttered museum.  Most of the stuff in the store/museum was from the Berber tribes of Morocco, and all of it antiques or old.  The storeowner told us to be an antique it has to be over one hundred years old.  Other than that, it is just old. 

I looked around the store for a little while seeing if there was anything I could bring home to my friends.  I saw some Hands of Fatima that would have looked awesome on a necklace, but they were over two hundred dollars.  I like my friends, but I’m pretty sure I could find one that looked just like those for less than five.  I ended up finding a really cool ring though.  I had been thinking I wanted a ring for a while, I just didn’t know what kind of ring I wanted.  The one I found I couldn’t be happier with.  Like everything in that store, it is a talisman, meaning it is supposed to bring luck.  I am actually wearing it while I am writing. 

It is a silver band about a third of an inch wide.  There is another band in the center of that that is black.  On top of the black are fleur de lis.  The cool part is the black band with the fleur de lis spins on the larger silver one.  So basically I found a French/Moroccan good luck charm.  Couldn’t be happier with the purchase. 

Unfortunately, or fortunately, depending on how you look at it, we got more stuff.  That means we spent more time in the store.  In fact, between that place and the rug store, we were running out of daylight and we still had to go to the tannery and the tile makers section. 

Finally we got out and headed up to the tannery.  JoAnn had come here before and she was saying how incredible the tannery was.  Incredible is the right word.  Basically it consists of huge vats of liquid that people put the hides in to die them different colors, only after the hides had been soaking in limestone vats filled with water and pigeon poo.  Each color is produced naturally with plant pigments.  The red comes from poppy plants, the orange from saffron, purple from the indigo plant, you get the idea.

The one thing that I know this blog won’t be able to capture accurately is the smell.  I pride myself on having a sensitive sense of smell, but I don’t know if I can describe what the tannery smelled like.  The one thing I need to stress is that in no way could one make the argument that it smelled good.  In fact, when we walked in, the guy at the door gave us some mint leaves to sniff to hide the odor. 

The place we went too was actually just a leather shop.  It was huge, but they didn’t actually do any of the dying there.  Instead, it had a perfect view from above to the dying vats below.  We saw the men standing knee high in colored water dunking hides.  We saw men with machetes scrapping the fat off the already dyed hides.  We saw children playing and running along the edges of the vats.  It was truly a remarkable site. 

As I mentioned, it was a leather shop.  The part we were standing at was full of their shoes and bags.  I had never had a real leather anything until I went to Grenada and got my bag.  I figured I would take a look at the coats here too.  We walked upstairs and the guy showed us hundreds of coats in over thirty colors.  I found a black one I really liked, but it didn’t fit me.  The guy said that he could custom make it for me and it would be ready by tomorrow morning.  And the coolest thing, it coast less than a coat would in the US.  I got a tailor made hand stitched leather jacket for less than one I would buy at the Men’s Warehouse. 

We ended up running out of time because we spent so long shopping so we are going to do the tile works tomorrow morning before leaving Fes.  All in all, I do wish we had some more time walking around the Medina, but Fes is an incredible city.

Now its off to bed, then tiles and then it’s time for me to touch some monkeys! 

Maroc: Jour 3

March 1, 2011

Morocco Day 3

Chefchauan to Fes

Everyday here is a new adventure.  This morning, we were supposed to meet Aziz again at 9:00AM.  I’m not quite sure what he does from when we reach our hotel to when we see him in the morning, but he completely disappears.  The lady that booked everything for us on this tour says that he prepares himself for the next day, prays, and freshens up.  Basically to me, he is like a teacher.  He exists when he is our tour guide, much like a teacher during the school day.  Then when he is off, he simply just disappears. 

Anyway back to the day.  At 9:00AM we left our hotel.  It wasn’t as nice as the hotel in Rabat (it only had four stars) but it was still cool.  It was a riad located in the Media of Chefchauen.  Chefchauen is a Berber city that is nestled in the Rif Mountains.  The Berbers are not Arabs, Aziz made sure to tell us.  They are ethnically different, although since the Arabs came in the ninth century AD, the Berber ethnicity has been mixed into the overall Moroccan culture. 

This morning, Aziz guided us through Chefchauen, walking the narrow streets of the Medina.  It was a great walk and I took some pretty awesome pictures.  I have to say it helps when what you are photographing does all the work for you.  I just zoom, point and shoot.  The blue and white buildings of Chefchauen were stunning.  Aziz walked us through the Medina to the spring where the city gets its drinking water.  He told us that the water originates in a spring in the middle of the Rif mountains.

After taking some pictures of the stream, seeing some women washing their blankets in the water there, we headed off to the Roman city of Velubilus.  It was a roughly three hour drive from Chefchauen to the V.  The countryside was much like the rest of the country we had driven through.  Lots of green pastures with a river snaking through the countryside passed by my window.  Then we got to the city.

I can’t quite remember the history of what the guide told us about the city, but that’s what Wikipedia is for.  I’ll try to remember everything that happened as best as I can.  The first thing that we did when we got there was use the restroom.  They say as Westerners that you should drink bottled water.  I have had no problem drinking water in my time in Europe, so I still down my three liters a day.  That proves to be a bit uncomfortable when you are stuck in a car for a few hours at a time.  Basically I was about to burst, although I wasn’t the only one.

This was one of those pay toilets that people outside of the US are so fond of.  Now for one Moroccan Dirham, I’m expecting a little quality.  Miriam and JoAnn are in front of us and the attendant hands them some toilet paper.  Dad and I walk by him and we get nothing.  Good thing I didn’t have a big bran breakfast, I suppose.  Anyway, after seeing yet another hole in the ground with raised footprints to squat on, I finish up, wash my hands and walk down to meet our guide who will take us on the tour.  Dad and JoAnn catch up.  We wait.  And wait.   And wait.  A couple minutes later Miriam pops out.  None of us are quite sure what took her so long, but we decided not to press the matter. 

So after all four of us used the facilities we met our guide.  Aziz didn’t accompany us to the actual site of Velubuils, so we had another guide, Hasan.  Dad is terrible at remembering names so kept calling Aziz, Hasan, which is also the name of the father of the current king of Morocco.  I don’t understand how the man, who for fun quizzed me as a child about the most arbitrary of facts, cannot remember the name of our guide, whom he has known for the last two and a half days.  Anyway, he finally could remember someone’s name because he had been dying to call someone Hasan the entire trip.  

I don’t mean to make fun of the man at all because he was a great guide and incredibly knowledgeable.  The thing is he only had about three teeth.  Literally, his mouth was almost empty.  I figured it would be rude to ask to take a picture, but as someone with almost a decade of orthodontics behind him, I am fascinated by teeth.  Anyway, throughout the course of the tour, we learned that Hasan speaks English, Arabic, French and Spanish.  We assume he must speak some Italian too because aside from studying in Spain, he went on an archeological dig in Pompeii.  He told us all about what the city was used for back in the Roman times, and then what happened with the Berbers came.  I can’t remember most of it, mainly because I was distracted by his teeth and my picture taking duties (no one in this family besides me and Jennifer ever take any photos!). 

After we finish up with Hasan, we meet Aziz and go off to the first Arab town in Morocco.  It is called Mullay Idris, named after the first Arab ruler of Morocco.  It is said that Mullay Idris is a descendent of the Prophet himself.  In the town, we saw his shrine, but only from afar.  Only Muslims are allowed to get close to it. 

From there, we were off to Meknes.  By this time it was almost 1PM and none of us had eaten.  We decided to stop for lunch in Meknes.  Because we were already there, Aziz agreed to take us on a tour of the Medina of Meknes.  It wasn’t on our itinerary, but it wasn’t out of our way.  We saw a beautiful gate that is a World Heritage site.  We walked around and saw huge carts piled high with Sheep’s’ wool.  We even saw a few rug stores.  Meknes was a pretty cool town, but we had to get a move on to Fes (yes, it is also written as Fez, but the French way and the only way I have seen in this country is Fes). 

When we got here, we parked the van and took a walk to our Hotel.  This is probably the nicest one we’ve stayed at so far.  It is in the Medina of Fes.  For anyone who has been here before, they probably remember how narrow the alleyways of the Medina are.  It literally felt like walking in a hedge maze, just replace the hedges with forty-foot stucco walls. 

Our hotel is truly worth its five stars.   I have had my own room in every one of the places we’ve stayed in, but this one is amazing.  From the three windows I can access a little terrace.  I don’t think I’m supposed to go out there, but I did.  It’s pretty neat.  The lobby is this huge room with amazingly detailed tile work on the columns.  Blue and white stones are intricately interwoven to form amazing geometric shapes.  There seem two be two different courtyards, the main one with a bar on one side and a fountain in the center of it.  We had dinner at the restaurant just next to the bar, and the food was just as good as anywhere else!  They even found a way to make vegetables taste good. 

I’m excited to spend the full day here tomorrow!

Maroc: Jour 2

February 28, 2011

Morocco Day 2:

Rabat to Chefchauan

Today was a day full of driving.  We started off our day at the hotel eating breakfast.  Our guide, Aziz was supposed to meet us at 9:30AM at our hotel, so we agreed to get an 8:30AM lunch.  Naturally I didn’t get there until 8:45AM.  The breakfast was nothing special (croissant, pain au chocolat, yogurt and a slice of turkey) but the orange juice was amazing. 

I didn’t know this, but Morocco is known for their oranges.  And our riad had a plethora of trees growing on their property. I assume they just took them right off the tree and straight into the juicer.  It was heavenly.  Also, after that, I decided I wanted to try some mint tea.  Now if my roommate reads this she won’t believe me that I had tea.  I cannot stand tea, with one exception.  It is this amazing mint tea.  The first time I had it was at a hookah bar in Nice when I was there in 2007.  I didn’t hookah, so I just had the tea and I have been trying to find it since.  This morning I did.  It tastes just like someone just melted down a piece of spearmint gum and heated it up.  It was so sweet and minty and delicious.  I cannot wait to have more of it.  

After we were done with breakfast, we walked back to our room to get ready to go.  It was only about 9:10AM, but Aziz and Isman (our driver) were waiting for us.  I had packed the night before so I was almost all set to go.  I got down there first and had yet another wonderfully awkward five minutes with me and the two of them.  Luckily I found a way to stall by deleting some pictures on my camera.  A few minutes later, the rest of the family showed up and we were off onto our driving tour of Rabat.

Rabat is the capital of Morocco and the seat of the Monarchy.  Apparently, Morocco has a unique monarchy because the king both reigns and rules, meaning he still plays an active role in governing his country.  They do also have a Parliament, but our guide was saying that Parliament is not as trusted as the King is.  Our first stop on the tour was at the Palace.  It was a very interesting looking building.  It was within walls that were built in the twelfth century AD.  The palace itself though did not look that old. 

Our driver dropped us off right next to the royal Mosque which was located just across the road from the Palace.  Our guide explained that green is the color of Islam, so you can tell which building is a mosque (assuming the Minaret didn’t give it away) but the color of the tile used on the roof.  And these aren’t just regular tiles.  These tiles shine incredibly in the sunlight.  Although the roofs are cool, my favorite part about this part of the world is the architecture, mainly the doorways.  Every door has that Aladdin-esque keyhole shape.  I’m not really sure why I think that design looks so cool, but every time I see a door like that I have to snap a quick picture.  The palace had a few, so I think I got some pretty cool ones.

After the palace, we hopped back into the van to go to the Sala Necropolis.  It was just through the main gates of the twelfth century walls across a main street.  Everyone agreed that if one of use were driving we’re pretty sure we would still be waiting to make that turn, but Isam did a superb job. 

At the necropolis, we got out and saw some ruins.  A roman city that was constructed in 1BC had been excavated, but it was small, so apparently the Moroccan government said, “Nah, we have other cities like this.  We don’t need to do that great of a job at preserving it.”  So they just kind of uncovered it and that’s all.  It was cool and everything, but apparently the place we are going tomorrow is supposed to be incredible. 

Anyway, I know if you asked JoAnn what her favorite part of the day was she would say seeing the storks at the Necropolis.  Up in the trees all over the site, Storks had made their nests.  I mean, the real baby-bringing storks.  These things were pretty large birds.  And the strangest thing was that they would just slap the tops of their beaks against their bottom beaks in rapid succession, almost sounding like applause. 

I should probably explain why it is called the necropolis.  Back in the thirteenth century, a King of Morocco had a mosque built there and he is buried there.  There are some burial plots scattered throughout the site, but the main one was for this king.  In the mosque, which is now in ruins, you could still see some tile work on the floor.   Over in the Medersa (meaning theological school, also stemming from the word medrasa), you could see the outlines of the dorm rooms for the students.   On the other end of the mosque was a holy shrine.  They call it the eel pool, because there are eels in it.  Who would have thought?  This site became known as holy because the water in the fountain was supposed to have healing properties.  Sick people would come and bath there and get better, sterile women would wash and get pregnant, etc. 

After checking out that, we were off to the Casbah.  Casbah just means fort.  But it is part of the Medina in Rabat.  Our guide walked us through the gardens to a Café, where we tried amazing Moroccoan pastries, all having something to do with almonds.  The best was this cookie like thing that had coconut shavings in it.  Then we walked the narrow streets lined with white and blue buildings to get back to the van to take us to King Mohammad V’s mausoleum. 

The mausoleum was built by Mohammad V’s son, Hasan II, the father of the current king of Morocco.  It is located on the site of the Unfinished Mosque.  The unfinished mosque was built by the same King who built the Giralda in Grenada, so you can imagine what it would have been like if it was finished.  They said it was supposed to be the largest in the world.  Unfortunately the only thing that is left of it is the Minaret. 

The Mausoleum is an impressive building.  It is made of Italian white marble, carved very intricately in the Moorish tradition.  On the inside, one floor in the center is Mohammad V’s sarcophagus.  Hasan II and his brother are also located in that Mausoleum. 

After leaving the Mausoleum, we were off to Chefchauan.  It was supposed to be a three and a half hour drive, but because of heavy rains in Morocco this winter, the normal road was in bad condition, so it took us around five hours to get there.  I actually didn’t mind though because the countryside is gorgeous.  It is still very green.  I did notice a few surprising things. 

First of all, Morocco is not nearly as third-worldy as I thought.  That being said, in every town we passed, there were really large buildings, some that looked like apartment buildings, that were just abandoned.  I couldn’t imagine buildings like that just not being used in the United States, but every city we drove through had a few like that.  Now maybe they were just being renovated and no one was currently working on them when we passed.  I cannot say with certainty.  But it still struck me as noteworthy. 

The second thing I noticed was the dress.  The women dress like I thought they would, in the long gowns and the head scarf.  But the men do something I was not expecting.  Most of the older men wear something called a Jalaba.  Basically it is a monk’s robe, complete with pointed hood.  In all honesty I’m pretty sure if I got a white one and wore it in the US, people would think I was in the KKK.  I think when I get one I’ll try to stick to blue or brown. 

When we arrived in Chefchaun this evening, we met a few other Americans in our hotel.  Strangely enough, two couples were from ten miles of La Cañada, from Monrovia and Pasadena respectively.  We talked with them for a bit, then headed off to dinner.  Every meal in this country has been a Tajine (except breakfast).  At lunch I had a beef one and tonight I had a chicken one.  I think I’m going to have to learn how to make that.

Now its bed time and tomorrow off to Fez!

Maroc: Jour 1

February 27, 2011


Day 1:

So I am going to try to blog a little bit every day about what we are doing in Morocco.  I decided this would be a lot better than trying to do it all at once like I did with my Germanic trip with dad.  I do need to emphasize the fact that I am going to TRY to do this.  Here’s hoping…
Today was our first day in Morocco.  Much like Spain, I knew I wanted to go but I didn’t really have any expectations.  I think I figured since it was in North Africa, it would be mainly desert with a few oasis like cities.  WRONG.  Flying into Casablanca today from Paris, after we passed Gibraltar we saw field after field of green pastures.  And some donkeys.  Although we mainly saw those from the car.

Once we landed, we had to go through customs.  Again, I hadn’t given it much thought, but I didn’t think they would be that strict here with getting us through immigration considering how at CDG all I have to is show them my passport and I’m through.  Here, they read the card u fill out (general info like why you’re coming, where you’re staying, etc.), stamp that form, stamp your passport, then enter all that info on the computer.  It takes every person about two minutes.  And they had about have of the customs windows open, so it took them FOREVER.  And this was on top of our plane being an hour delayed leaving Orly.

After getting through customs, we could go meet our driver and guide.  But we figured we should change some money first (and by we I mean the people that actually have any money to change.  Needless to say I didn’t).  I said I would go meet our guide and driver while JoAnn, Miriam and Dad changed money.  JoAnn had made all the arrangements so she said that they should be waiting for us with a plaque saying Matthiesen. 

I walk out from the baggage claim area and found them.  I didn’t think it would take the rest that long since all they had to do was get money exchanged because we had all taken carry ons.  I was wrong.  I sat there awkwardly for about fifteen or twenty minutes with the two guys.  After exchanging the initial pleasantries, I kind of didn’t know what to say so I didn’t. 

Then everyone came out and we hopped into our Mercedes Minivan to go on a quick tour of Casablanca.  Everyone told me you could skip Casa because there isn’t much to see.  They are right.  BUT they didn’t mention the Mosque there.  Our guide let us get around and walk up to the doors of it.  He was describing it.  Apparently it is the third largest Mosque in the world (behind Mecca and El Medina in Saudi Arabia).  Construction was started in 1987 and completed in 1993.  They have the largest minaret in the world at two hundred meters tall.   It is truly a sight to behold.  The coolest part though is that it is literally build over the ocean.  It kind of juts out into the surf and there are windows that allow the worshippers to see the waves crash.  There are also glass panels in the floor that show the holy fountains where the Muslims wash before praying. 

After seeing the Mosque, we took a little jaunt through the city center where our guide said we could stop and take a picture.  When we got there we saw a bunch of police officers and some military guys.  There was a demonstration going on.  Our guide just kept us going and didn’t stop.  A little while later JoAnn asked what that was and he told us it was a demonstration. We figured that he didn’t want to let us stop there because I think they want to downplay the demonstration stuff here…

Basically after that we were on our way to our Riad here in Rabat.  It was a good hour and a half drive from Casablanca to our Riad, but boy is it worth it.  I’ve never stayed at a Riad before, but basically its like an oversized B&B or a small hotel.  But this one is incredibly nice.  JoAnn, Dad and JoAnn’s mother are on this trip so I think they wanted to kind of go towards the nicer end of things while here.  And I am A OK with that. 

We got to the Riad abour 7:00PM and went to our rooms.  At 7:30PM we had our dinner reservation in the restaurant.  In true five star style, this restaurant delivered on their food.  We started with traditional bruschetta and cheese plate appitzers.  Except that was not traditional.  At least he bruschetta wasn’t.  It had some kind of poultry mixed in with it.  I think it was duck.  All I know is that all bruschetta from now on should have duck mixed in with it.  For my dinner, I decided to go with a traditional Moroccan Tagine dish.  This one was lamb.  And holy jesus was it delicious.  It was cooked in its own broth but with these apples that were spiced with the perfect amount of cinnamon and god knows what else.  It was fantastic. 

And now I am sitting in my room about to go watch some good ole fashion French TV.  We are off to take a tour of Rabat tomorrow morning and then drive to a city I will need to learn how to spell tomorrow evening!