You are currently browsing the tag archive for the ‘Travel’ tag.

We are safely arrived back from the land of the midnight (well, 10 PM) sun. When we left for Sweden last week, we really didn’t know what to expect from our trip. Neither of us had ever been to Stockholm, and we did next to no research about the city before going: I checked the weather forecast a couple times, and then we skimmed a free TimeOut guide on Gabe’s iPod as we were waiting to board the plane. What’s more, we’d only met the family we were staying with very briefly, and then under fairly busy, hectic circumstances. So we went there expecting nothing and open to anything.

I think I speak for both of us when I say that our trip exceeded even our wildest hopes. The city was of course beautiful, which OK, I had pretty much expected it to be. But we also got really lucky with the weather: after one or two cold and rainy days, it turned gorgeous, and stayed that way for the rest of the week.

From the instant we arrived, Gabe’s cousins truly felt like family we’d known forever, not at all like people we’d first met less than six months before. Even their sweet little collie dog, Valle, was our best friend in a matter of minutes — and I don’t usually like dogs! They were all incredibly warm and generous, with their home and with their time, as Gabe’s cousin B and his wife S both took the entire week off to spend with us and show us around. And how — in fact I think they were determined to pay us back for the paces we put them through when they came to California!

The evening we arrived, all we did was walk down their lilac-lined street to the nearby grocery store. That was excitement enough, for after ten months of small Portuguese stores with meager selection, I was stunned at the sheer amount and variety of food. Want yogurt? OK, here’s twenty types, from drinkable to Greek and everything in between. Need lactose free? Here’s an entire section of it. And yes, they even had cottage cheese. Bliss!

The grocery store was also close to the mothership IKEA, the one that started it all, which is still the biggest in the world (and also happens to be where our cousins’ daughter works.) I felt like I’d arrived at mecca:

Vodpod videos no longer available.

We spent the weekend doing touristy stuff close to town, starting with a trip to B’s work followed by a real smorgasbord lunch with some colleagues of his. They explained that smorgasbord literally means “butter goose table,” which sounds a lot less appetizing than it actually is. The first round was salty fish of all varieties, followed by cold meats and then warm dishes, and finally cheese, fruit, and dessert. Each course required a different plate and silverware, of course, and we all rolled away from the table at the end, having thoroughly enjoyed our butter goose table experience. We then walked off some of our butter with a stroll around the nearby lake, as it was a beautiful day.

By the time we returned home with the intention of taking the boat out, however, the rainclouds had rolled back in. The boys, determined to go out on the boat, still made a hopeful trip to the dock, by which point the threatening clouds had started to produce actual rain. I think they would have gone on undeterred were it not for the presence of myself and B’s daughter, K, as we were not terribly excited about going out in the rain. Another day, we said.

Of course as soon as we gave up and went home, the sun came out and it was a gorgeous evening… all the way til the sun finally set around 10 PM. It rose again around 3 AM, which made for a few nights of disrupted sleep before we got used to the change in schedule.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Saturday looked like rain again, so we set out to visit a museum and the old town. The museum was one my mom had recommended: an intact 17th century ship that had capsized in the harbor immediately after sailing, and was then preserved for over 300 years by the brackish water of the Baltic until it was raised and restored in the 1990s. Today it sits in an enclosed dry dock, where you can wander up and down four floors of displays and gawk at the different perspectives each provides onto the massive ship.

We then scudded across the river to the old town as quickly as we could, as immense black clouds were piling up on the horizon. We saw as much as we could before it started pouring, then fled for the shelter of the restaurant where we had made reservations for dinner. This was another recommendation of my mom’s, one of the oldest restaurants in Sweden, which predates the foundation of our country by a good fifty years. The food was amazing and much welcome after a day of walking in the cold, wet weather:

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Sunday was once again clear, so we revisited the boat tour idea with much more success. B has a fabulous speed boat, or go fast boat, as we liked to call it, the kind you see in movies like Miami Vice and such. It’s somewhat at odds with the rest of his otherwise quiet, modest personality, but great fun nonetheless.

Heads turned wherever we went in that boat, most of them male, so it was pretty much the boating equivalent of being a supermodel. It looked fast even when standing still, but when B let it loose, the thing reached massive speeds, plastering your cheeks against your bones and your hair all over your face. Gabe was ecstatic — I was pretty sure I’d have to surgically remove the grin from his face before it caused lasting muscle strain:

Vodpod videos no longer available.

On Monday, we took advantage of yet another gorgeous day to make a trip to the world’s first outdoor museum. To my mind, Stockholm would not be the ideal candidate for such a museum, since it’s cold and dark for nine months out of the year. But Skansen, as this place is called, was wonderful, part zoo and part living museum.

Houses from all places and times in Sweden’s history had been reconstructed there in painstaking detail, including people sitting in the houses, dressed in period costume, ready to answer your questions about their “lives” in impeccable English. (The Swedes start learning English at eight years old — only in Israel have we found as many English speakers!) In the center of “town,” there was a functioning machine shop, a glassblower, and a furniture maker, with their wares all for sale, of course.

The other half of the park was devoted to a Scandinavian zoo, complete with brown bears, wolverine, wolf pack, owls, a mink, and of course moose and reindeer. Conveniently, this let us answer the burning question that had been haunting us for days: is reindeer kosher? The answer is yes, it is, as it has a cloven hoof and chews its cud. So there you go.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

The rest of the week was spent way off the beaten path — so far off, in fact, that we could only reach our destination via a very long ride on B’s go-fast boat. S’s family owns a few islands way out in the Swedish archipelago, which for an American sounds like a Bill Gates level of wealth, but apparently is quite common for Swedes. There are after all about a million islands out there, ranging from rock-size to quite large. Our cousins’ islands are towards the small side — the one we stayed on took about 20 minutes to circumvent on foot, and about five to cross in a straight line. The other island, set across a small channel of water, is slightly bigger, with three houses belonging to various family members perched on different parts of it.

Both are incredibly beautiful, peaceful, rustic — all the things you’d imagine a far-off island in the Scandinavian archipelago to be. After living in a capital city for so many months, I was delighted to be in nature again, surrounded only by a cacophony of birds, waves, and wind. We saw a surprising variety of wildlife during the 24 hours we were there, including a mink, an eagle, and a deer in the water, very calmly swimming to the island from who knows where. S swore we were blessed, as she’d never witnessed such a thing before. It was a very strange sight indeed!

Despite its remote location and the lack of facilities (that outhouse had the best view of any in the world, I am certain of it!), somehow that little island felt like home in a way that no other place has in the past six months. Maybe it’s because I could feel how special it was to our cousin’s family, who had been coming there for their entire lives: S has been going there since she was  a baby, and started bringing her own girls when they were also tiny. I know that kind of Very Special Place, and it was a privilege to share theirs during such a beautiful time of year.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

On Wednesday, we explored the other island, ate a typical Swedish lunch of hard-boiled eggs, meatballs, and salty herring, then made our slow way home on the boat. The trip took nearly five hours, but it was a fabulous view of Stockholm that we would not have had otherwise. We arrived back at the house dirty, tired, wind-burnt, and thrilled to the core. That called for celebration, so Gabe and I treated our Swedish family to our version of Mexican food, inspired when I saw taco seasoning at the grocery store earlier in the week. The burritos were a huge hit!

(Please note: the last picture in the set above and the first in the set below were taken at 10 PM and 4:30 AM, respectively, to demonstrate that it was in fact light at both times. I even walked out to the little inlet outside the cabin at 4:30 AM just to see the world in full daylight at that hour. Amazing!)

Vodpod videos no longer available.

For our last day in Sweden, we decided to continue the outdoorsy trend. We went for a 5 KM hike in the woods outside of the suburb where they live, and I was amazed at how quickly civilization turned into green farmland and forest. We walked by two lakes, stopping at one for lunch, and marveled at the groves thickly covered in blueberry and lingonberry plants, which grew wild everywhere.

I enjoyed hiking in a different woodland than the typical Californian one, and kept expecting to see redwoods where there were none. No matter how different though, the smell of sun on pine needs still made me feel like I was in the woods at home. It’s amazing how sensory triggers can be so universal.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

After a restorative nap back at the house, we then hopped on the family bikes to go to our goodbye dinner at a chic restaurant set in a former insane asylum, surrounded by a beautiful park. As we ate, and later as we biked home again through the mild, lilac-scented evening, I was struck by how sad I was to be leaving. In just one short week, that red house in its green garden with our wonderful family had really started to feel like home — or the closest thing to it since we left California in January.

As we boarded the plane yesterday, I found myself wishing that it wasn’t to go back to Lisbon, but rather to Home. Being with family, no matter how far away, made both of us long for the people and places that we love. Luckily, this was the final trip of this well-traveled third quarter of sabbatical, which we spent largely outside of our host country.

Now begins our fourth and final quarter. We have a little more than six weeks left in Lisbon, during which time we have many visitors to entertain and a great deal of packing to do. Then it’s off to recover in England for two weeks before flying home in August, which is when the real fun begins: moving back into our house! I can hardly wait. I’m sure by then our trip to Stockholm will seem like a dream, a far-off idyll. In fact, it kind of seems that way already…!


I’m not sure exactly when or how it happened, but at some point in the last five years, I’ve become the official planner for the family. For whatever reason, just as Gabe’s brain can make sense of the obscure squiggles he works with all day, planning comes easily to me.

What’s more — and this is the weird part, for which I get made fun of mercilessly, usually by the people who rely on my ability the most — I actually enjoy planning. I like laying everything out beforehand, figuring out all the moving pieces in my head, determining a plan of attack (usually involving spreadsheets), and then executing it. Call me a control freak if you will, but I get great satisfaction from creating order out of chaos.

Most of all, I enjoy the end result — the smooth, well-planned trip or event, along with the knowledge that I’ve made someone’s life better or easier. It’s the same feeling I got when writing papers in grad school: find the most important components, create an argument, piece it together in a logical, compelling sequence, and voila, you have a comprehensive, streamlined, beautiful whole.

At least ideally. I will admit, sometimes things don’t always go according to my plans (Morocco, I’m looking at you.) But when Gabe teases me by saying, “He who plans early plans twice,” I inevitably respond with, “Yes, but what if SHE actually enjoys planning twice?!”

So it’s little wonder then that I’m the one my family turns to when it comes to making plans of any kind. Family vacation? I’ll research and organize the hell out of it. Need a memorial service, wedding, or publicity campaign? I’ll help plan and captain it, even from a different continent. Moving to or from said continent? Guess I’ll be masterminding that one. I’ve been referred to as The Organizing Principal, misspelling intended, which will some day be the name of my own business — if I ever stop organizing other people’s lives long enough to set it up.

About this time last year, my mind was already turning to our move to Lisbon, even though it was three months away and we weren’t even entirely sure that this was where we’d end up. What’s more, I was just winding down one publicity campaign and gearing up for another. You’d think I’d have been all planned out and would have left things for later in the summer, but no — I can’t help it. That’s just how I work.

So out came the spreadsheet, and I started thinking about everything we’d have to do in order to pack up our house, rent it out, put our lives into four suitcases, and move them over thousands of miles to set up a new home for a year.

In the end, it was a good thing I started early, because from mid-June onward, we were working pretty much flat out to get the house ready and packed up before we left. It became a full time job for us both (in addition to the jobs we already had, of course), and all of it masterminded by that spreadsheet, which told us exactly what we needed to do when.

We worked down to the last day, but in the end, we did it. I did the planning and packing, Gabe did the heavy lifting and repair work, and together, we did it. We moved to a different country and set up our temporary lives without too many major mishaps (at least until we got here, at which point the Portuguese bureaucracy showed me a thing or two about the joys of planning twice. Or three times.)

Now, as much as I might try to fight it, my brain is already turning to how we go about reversing that process. Our end date lies little more than three months away, with a trip to England before that. That means we have about two and a half months left in our flat, with travel and visitors taking up a large portion of that time. Inevitably, the to-do lists have already started, the visits to the Ikea website, the dates discussed and preliminary emails sent. I haven’t yet begun the spreadsheet, because that will make it more real than I’m ready for just yet. But I’m sure that too will come before long.

As you’ve seen from my recent posts though, I have been anticipating the move home for some time now — perhaps even since we got here. I am so looking forward to the day we walk back into our beautiful, quiet, light house near the ocean. How grand it will feel compared to our tiny European flat! So the planning becomes doubly a pleasure for me, as each step in its implementation will mean that we are that much closer to being Home once again.

OK enough of this… I’m off to look at paint colors.

To continue on our visual tour of Israel… here’s a set from our trip up north last weekend, to Ceasarea, a Roman pleasure villa on the ocean, then on to Haifa, where we stayed with family near Acho.

The next day, lunch with more family on their kibbutz near the Lebanese border, then a wandering path back down to Tel Aviv, via a stop to see some more friends. On down through Tiberius to wave at the Sea of Galilee before hitting up a late dinner with yet more friends in Tel Aviv. Good Lord, I’m exhausted just writing about it…

Vodpod videos no longer available.

More photos here, these from a stroll we took around the souk in Tel Aviv last weekend. While it paled in comparison to the Fez medina, it was nonetheless vibrant, fascinating, and enjoyable.

Just up the street was a long pedestrian strip blocked off for a street fair, with vendors selling everything from beautiful jewelry to intricately decorated hamsas to strange little sculptural models and funky paintings. When you throw in a few stops for more nonfat chocolate gelato, a big lunch salad, and iced coffee, can you say anything other than: bliss?

Vodpod videos no longer available.

In our absence, spring has come warmly to Portugal. The trees are suddenly in full leaf, the days are warm, the evenings mild. I had imagined lots more of this when we moved here. So far we’ve had a lot more days in the cold, rainy gray category than I’d expected, but I’m hoping we can make up for lost time in the months remaining.

To continue on our photo tour of Israel… here are a bunch from a day trip we took last week down around the Dead Sea, up to Masada, then to Jerusalem. Yes, all in one day. It was a whirlwind tour indeed, and one that involved about as many changes in temperature and clothing as it did locations, since Masada was warmer than Jerusalem by about 10 degrees centigrade. Definitely would’ve been a good day to bring my jacket — which of course I did not do!

Our intrepid friend and guide also served as our very own personal paparazzi, resulting in more photos of us together than I think we’ve taken this entire year. Enjoy. (The first picture in the set is our last name in Hebrew, as seen on a dump truck! Sweet!)

Vodpod videos no longer available.

I’m going to be adding pictures here slowly, since I got so far behind. Here’s some from a quick jaunt Gabe and I did down the coast to Yafo, the old Arab town to the south of Tel Aviv, which you could see from our hotel room:

We hopped on two of the free cruiser bikes our hotel had on offer — Gabe was particularly enamored of the bright pink flowers, never has he felt so manly — and rode down the ocean front walk to the old town, where we spent a lovely hour or so wandering around. All the streets were named after zodiac signs and signed in blue-green pictorial tiles, which I particularly liked (e.g. number two Aries lane had a “2” with a ram’s head after it.)

Here are pics…

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Yesterday we took it pretty easy, as  five days  of nonstop travel were starting to take their toll, both mentally and physically.  Plus we had a lovely house to laze around in.  So we only went out into the medina twice, first in the late morning to scrounge some lunch from the food stalls, and later on to hear some live Moroccan music we’d seen advertised at the cafe we ate at on our first day.

The first time, we wandered around an area quite different than the more touristy shopping district we’d explored the day before. We were treated to workshop after workshop making ornate silver wedding thrones, intended to both carry the bride and groom and to house them while they were photographed. Shortly after, we passed through the jewelry street, where store after store displayed huge rows of gold and silver bracelets. I often had to jostle with Moroccan women for a look at the goods, proving that some things, like love of beautiful jewelry, are indeed universal.

We then dived into the food area in search of sustenance. Gabe procured us two round loaves of bread filled with freshly grilled skewers of chicken, one spicy, one plain. Soon after that, we discovered the produce and fish  stalls — along with half the other people in the medina, it seemed. We pushed through the crush of people, coming to a complete stop whenever a cart or donkey tried to make its way through, and fended off beggars who decided we looked affluent enough to buy them a meal as well. For our pains, we came away with a bag full of colorful olives, a bag of dark red strawberries, a melon, some loquats, and a few huge apples, bought from a man who smiled at me kindly when I turned to him with wide eyes, overwhelmed by the press of people and smells and sights.

Laden down with goodies, we made our way home, back through the gold lined streets. We cobbled together a lunch from what we’d bought, taking it and some plates and silverware we scrounged up to the rooftop terrace — much to the amusement and consternation of the little maid, who watched us fumble through her kitchen, laughing at these crazy Americans wanting to make their own lunch without help. We sat up there and read for quite a while, occasionally taking a break to watch the men in the tannery through the binoculars, and laughing at the girls on the rooftop next door, who were trying out their limited phrases in English and French on us.

After we were somewhat rested, Gabe and I gathered ourselves together again and went back out into the hustle and bustle in search of a taxi. We found one just as he was disgorging three women, along with various bags and children, and jumped in en route to the Mellah, the former Jewish area of town. Along the way, our taxi driver picked up another man waiting for a lift, then let him out just down the street — they are always willing to fit more people in the car.

We didn’t really do justice to the Mellah, as I was still feeling a little run down and unable to deal with the press of people. We did make it to the old synagogue, where the caretaker was thrilled to have people to show around. He took us down to the ritual bath, and made Gabe go back up to the top, where he could take a picture of my hands over the water through the tube in the ceiling, supposedly designed to let the bride’s family witness her cleansing before her marriage. I was convinced the guy was telling me to get in the bath itself, and was relieved when he let us off with just the photo.

I could tell that Gabe was glad to see the synagogue, but also that he was saddened by how deserted it was. Once upon a time, Fes had a vibrant community of Jews, all in this area outside the city walls. You could still see their influence everywhere, especially in the open balconies of the buildings, as they did not have to hide their women from the world as the Muslims did. But as for the Jews themselves, they were nowhere to be found.

We hopped in another cab to go back up to the medina, where we took another turn past my favorite camel head (I hope a different one) to the cafe where we’d eaten a few days before. We were greeted as old friends by the British proprietor, who I’m pretty sure greets everyone as old friends, and settled down on a couch to drink mint tea and watch the people come in.

To my disappointment, by the time the music started, it looked like we were in a bar in Santa Cruz, surrounded by Americans and modern day hippies. Not the Moroccan experience I’d intended to have.

At least the band was Moroccan, wearing matching blue djelabas with neat white collared shirts underneath. They had a grand old time, rocking out on their little drums and singing away, while the girl who was there doing henna and I laughed at the antics of the owner. She and I had about 4 words in common, but we shared some knowing looks and laughs nonetheless.

We left early, detained only momentarily by two very Santa Cruzian individuals who refused to pay 30 dirhams, or 3 euros, for the one tea they’d split and the twenty minutes of music they’d seen. And that was after the owner had cut their entry fee in half.

We’d originally thought to take a cab back to the house, but ended up walking back through the medina, which was a much easier task at night than during the crowded midday rush. We only got slightly lost, and were guided unwillingly by a persistent young boy with a light-up yo yo, who kept up with us for quite a while. When we’d found our way to the gate we needed by asking directions at every turn, he still demanded money, claiming he’d gotten us there by himself. We had to give him something for his persistence, thereby of course reinforcing his behavior. But I did have to admire his entrepreneurial spirt. Gabe tried to teach him a phrase of English to say “Let me guide you,” but all was forgotten as soon as he had dirhams in hand. Alas.

So we returned to our sanctuary once more, ready for another lovely Moroccan dinner and, again, bed. This time I slept through the call to prayer until the birds and light streaming in through the colored glass windows woke me to start our last day in Morocco.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

My Easter Sunday began at 4:30 AM, when I was woken by the eerie call of the muezzins all across the town calling their faithful to prayer. We have of course heard the call many times since arriving in Morocco, but I haven’t yet been able to just sit and listen to it without a myriad of other sounds and input layered over it. So I laid in bed and listened to this strange chorus until it finished, wondering at the kind of devotion that makes people get out of their warm beds that early and put their heads to the floor in obeisance.

The sudden silence when they all finished was kind of stunning, which amplified the beauty of one tardy muezzin’s song, which continued on into the space left behind by the others. This one took his job with pride, sliding on a lovely musical scale up and down as he proclaimed his God’s greatness. What a fabulous way to start the morning — although I was very glad when I fell back asleep quickly and was woken again by birdsong a full three hours later. And then again by the sound of construction starting up next door, as Sundays are a work day like any other here. So much for a nice quiet lie-in.

I needed the extra rest because yesterday was a day of epic adventure, in a week of equal excitement. Our host from the first place we stayed in Fes helped us to transfer to the next, sending our luggage ahead with a couple of guys and lagging behind with us as we slogged our way through the crowded medina.  Never have I nearly been taken out by so many assorted objects as I have here: large raw sausages stuffed with God knows what kind of meat, huge canisters of gas, donkeys bearing massive loads of sodden animal skins and piles of boxes, a Fassi hearse (i.e. a wooden stretcher, which our guide explained was to take out the dead), guys running along the street with arms full of brass teapots and plates, and of course loud scooters and even trucks, up closer to the gates. Walking takes on a whole new meaning here.

We successfully deposited our bags in our new riad, which is a gorgeous old house surrounding a garden courtyard. The suite Gabe and I are in is bigger than our whole flat in Lisbon, and the rooftop terrace overlooks the entire city, including the nearby tannery, where you can see the men clambering around the dye pits just as well as the tourists who pay for the same (much smellier) privilege. We didn’t have much time to stop and enjoy it though, as we soon set off yet again through the medina, this time in search of the car park and our host’s ancient old BMW convertible, which was the only car he had functioning at the time.

After we had all done our best imitation of getting in to a clown car and applied the necessary scarves, hats, and sunscreen, we set off to see Meknes, another of the ancient imperial cities, and Volubilis, a Roman city. We rattled over dusty roads, drawing many a stare from the people we passed, as I think perhaps a convertible full of white people is not an every day sight here. But as we stared back just as intently, no harm was done.

We got too late of a start to see much of Meknes other than the famous mausoleum and the prison, which runs for 7 kilometers underground. The latter was a fearful place, and we could imagine all too easily what it would have been like to have been piled in there along with thousands of other people, dark, hungry, and afraid. The electric wall sconces and holes in the ceiling, which were added to let in light in recent years, didn’t do much to dispel the impression. Our guide told us that these were added and most of the tunnels blocked off after one Moroccan family lost their way and died in the labyrinth. Probably an apocryphal story, but again, all too easy to imagine.

After that gruesome site, we piled gladly back into the car (this time with the top up, as it was growing cold) and went on to see what we could of Volubilis before dark. I’d read about the site in advance, so knew it was one of the largest Roman ruins this far south in the world, but I was unprepared for just how extensive it was. The walls reached for what seemed like miles, with columns springing up randomly throughout, and beautiful mosaics sprinkled around the floors.

At the same time, I couldn’t help  but think what it would have looked like had they made a better effort at preservation. The same sultan who built Meknes also used the miles of tunnels under it — and the prisoners housed therein — to carry bits of the Roman ruins off to make his capital, and then of course the Victorians came in and “restored” a lot of it later on. More recently, a desultory effort has been made to keep people off the ruins, with a few ropes thrown in to keep people from actually walking on the mosaics. But there was no effort to actually preserve them from the weather, either rain or sun, and I’m sure in twenty years it will look nothing like what it did now.

We wandered there for at least an hour, puzzling over what the mosaics depicted and laughing at the stork who had built his nest on one of the columns. He (or she?) sat there, completely impervious to the people and magnificent ruins below, as if to say, “Romans, sultans, tourists, they’re all the same to me.” I liked its attitude.

Soon it became too cold to stay out any longer, so we turned back for Fes, climbing up and over the rutted mountain roads just as dark fell over the fields of massive old olive trees. We arrived back at the riad, frozen through and tired, well ready for the gluttonous Moroccan dinner that awaited us. And soon thereafter, bed, where I slept like a Roman colonnade until woken by the muezzins’ call.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Our first day in the medina yesterday. It was… impressive. Luckily since it was Friday, most of the crush of people cleared out around midday to go to prayers, so we could explore the streets without completely being overwhelmed.

We were promised a guide by our hosts, but after we’d waited more than two hours for him to show up (“He says five more minutes, shwiya shwiya”), we decided to take off on our own. We’d only walked for maybe ten minutes before he caught up with us on the street – we knew it was him because we’d been told he only had one arm. And one arm this man did have.

He set off down the street at a rapid pace, barely stopping to make sure we kept up, saying something about catching up with a bus load of Spanish tourists. We found them in a palace off the main street, and dutifully went in and looked around as much as we could. When we went back onto the street, the one-armed bandit was gone, his faded red fez nowhere to be seen. We’d been ditched. Oh well.

So once again we headed out into the streets on our own power. Sensory overload was indeed the right description for it, but in a good way, as long as you could duck into a quiet museum or café to catch your breath every once in a while. The food section was the craziest, as we walked by before prayers and it was still in full swing. We saw the famed camel head hanging from the butcher’s stall, but much worse was the stall where you could get a freshly slaughtered chicken. I had to avert my eyes rather quickly.

Amazingly though, we managed to find some of the main things we were looking for. “Let’s go to that Café,” we agreed, and then suddenly, the tout standing on the street was for that café. Perfect! Not only that, but the water clock we were also looking for was right above it (although you couldn’t tell it was such from looking at it.)

The rest of the afternoon continued more or less like that – we kept happening upon great things that we hadn’t even known to look out for. We stumbled upon a spice stall that was recommended in one of the guidebooks I have for Fez, which of course I’d forgotten to bring along with us yesterday. He very proudly showed off his picture in a dirty, battered edition of the book, and I lamented the fact that I wouldn’t be able to get his autograph. But he sold us some amazing spices, which made for a fragrant experience every time I opened my bag all day.

We also happened upon a museum of woodwork and art, which was in a lovely cedar-lined building and had a tea house on the roof terrace. The head-scarved ladies working there adopted me, saying that I looked like a movie star, and giving me a hug and kisses on the cheek when we left. They were wonderful.

In fact more than anything I am surprised and impressed by the warmth of the people here. There are plenty of touts and people longing to part you from your money, but mainly they are just interested in talking, or practicing their few words of English. The little spice guy, the women at the museum, even people on the street – they always return my nod or smile when we catch each other’s eye, and I get the distinct impression that they are more used to being treated as tourist attractions than as people.

When we stopped to consult the guide book at one point, an old man selling stamps at the stall behind me pulled out a chair for me to sit on, and was totally thrilled when I told him we were from America. “Oh, America! Very good!” he said. It was a relief that he didn’t curse us soundly.

Our hosts are equally warm and welcoming, if slightly fluid in their interpretation of time and logistical arrangements. Last night I found myself in the inner world of Moroccan life, inside the courtyard at the center of the house, where the women rule. I had henna done on my hands and leg, and I suddenly became the center of attention for every female in the house: the wife, the cook, the nanny, the little street urchin that ran errands (who also had her hands done, and proudly shared my spot in front of the heater as we dried), and of course the henna lady herself.

At one point I had three ladies bent over my leg inspecting the progress, lifting it so that the girl could reach around my ankle. I have never felt more pampered in my life! Until of course the wife decided that I also needed my nails done to offset the henna, and gave me a French manicure with flowers dotted on my nails. I think they look better than they did for my wedding!

So that was our first day in the medina. Exhausting, exhilarating, and wonderful.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

I’m quickly discovering one all-important word to describe traveling in Morocco: insh’allah, or, in Portuguese, oxala. They both mean “God willing,” which normally seems like an idle wish, but here is meant as an actual prayer. Nothing happens here without the will of God. Trains, taxis, breakfast — it all is completely dependent on the will of God.

Thus, insh’allah, we finally made it to Fez yesterday afternoon, just late enough to lend the meandering walkways of the medina an ominous gloom. Just late enough to make us start to wonder if perhaps this time God was not in fact willing.

But we got here OK, and now are eating a sumptuous breakfast of bread, fried bread, Nutella, olive oil, jam, hard boiled eggs with cumin on them, and tar-like black coffee. And then… the medina. Insh’allah.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

“Treat history as a springboard, not as an anchor.”

- General John G. Medaris

When I Wrote It

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 6 other followers