Checking out Fez

6 October 2014

As we walked up the main street of the medina the sheep skins that once lined the streets were now stored behind one of the shops walls. We had seen two men working the night before to stack up all the skins and while the doors were all shut; my nose knew we were out in front. Luckily it didn’t linger long and the smell of rotting flesh wasn’t too over powering since this morning brought fog and much cooler temperatures to the desert.

Remnants from yesterday's slaughter. Intestines hanging on the same clothes lines as the newly blood free clothing

Remnants from yesterday’s slaughter. Sheep parts hanging on the same clothes lines as the newly blood free clothing

Our plan for the day included the Roman pillars. We could see these pillars from our roof top and the reasonable weather made today the day we went to see them up close. It was a short walk outside of the Medina and up a small hillside to the pillars.




As we walked up and looked out at the densely populated Medina, we caught a glimpse of something we hadn’t seen a few days, open space. Just on the other side of the pillars was rolling hills with a few homes and plenty of olive trees. I was more impressed with the Medina views and being able to find our riad.




Back on the road outside the gates of the Medina we made our way towards the Royal Palace. We came across beautiful and peaceful looking park that was closed for the day. In all the chaos of the city life this park looked like a true refuge.

We walked thru what I assume to be the newer medina, with wide walk ways, but still lined with small shops, before we arrived at the Royal Palace. We spent a short time there taking photos and when I walked from the main entrances toward a smaller door which had lots of beautiful details I heard a whistle and a guard point at me directing me to walk back from where I had come from. I guess they really only want you to look at the main gate door.




From here we walked up to the new town, with big wide roads and many round a bout, Pizza Huts and shopping centers and cars zipping by. However even in this, we saw a few sheep carcasses lying on the very wide sidewalks. Soon enough we were at the train station to pick up our tickets for our train ride to Marrakesh in a few days (we figured we’d already done one 6+ hour train ride without seats so it would be a good idea to pay the extra few dollars to ensure we had a seat in first classs). The station was surprisingly calm and there was only one guy behind us who I thought was trying to cut in front of us, otherwise the line looked just like a line.

After our lunch just up the street from the train station we caught a cab only a few meters from where we picked up our first one when we arrived. This time however we got the metered price which was just under 10 dirahm as opposed to the 50 we paid Friday. You gotta love when you learn you paid the tourist/holiday rate.

For dinner our guesthouse host brought us some leftover’s from last night’s celebration. For a few days, the meals are part of the celebration and only certain parts are consumed. Last night it was the stomach, so tonight we were able to try it. While the flavors were nice, the texture was a little odd. Most bites were fine, but occasionally there were pieces that were just weird. I am glad we were able to try this dish knowing that this was probably the first and last time I would have it.

Today’s Travel:  From the Medina to the Roman pillars to the new town with a stop at the train station before catching a cab back to the blue gate.

Accommodations: La Maison Maure

Apocalypse now…oh, um I mean Fes Medina on Eid al-Adha

5 October 2014

I had to make up for the lack of water during the day with almost 2 liters of water in the late afternoon/evening, which meant nature was calling just before the pre-dawn morning call to prayer. This morning it was a little different; I only heard one mosque when typically there are three or four. Also for the first time I was paying close attention and I heard during this longer than usual call the mention of Ishmael a handful of times.

After that the city was silent for what seemed like hours. Typically you can hear the city buzzing with conversation, people moving about and kids yelling. Today I only heard a few random moo’s from a cow until about 10am when the city started to wake up. As we sat on the terrace we could see families congregate on their rooftops and begin the process of offering a sheep. And that is when the day started to feel like the apocalypse. The first step was cleaning of the animal which the animal adamantly protested and you could hear their cries before they were tied up and slaughtered. In the distance every now and then you could hear a women cry out in prayer which only made the hair on your neck stand up. The men of the family were responsible for the killing and skinning while the women cleaned and hung out the intestines to dry on the line as if they were hanging clean laundry. We could then see smoke rising from the streets and smell the burning of hair and flesh and see pieces of ash float by.

It was now late afternoon and we wanted to venture out to see what the streets looked like today. I thought I had been prepared for what I was going to see. Upon arrival here our host told us not to be alarmed when we see men covered in blood walking down the streets carrying knives as they are most likely butchers who work overtime today for the families who want to hire them. Additionally he told us about the fires we would see in the streets with sheep’s heads burning to remove the hair would all be ‘normal’ today. As we walked down the street everything became a bit too real and the holy shit look I had on my face I think made the kid walking by me stop to say bonjour with a smile and giggle as I barely noticed his presence until I heard is laugh. I don’t think there is a proper way to react to seeing men, teens and young boys with bloody clothes and others walking down the street with huge knives as others were smashing the ram’s heads into the ground trying to break off the horns or the small kid with a pocket knives scrapping off the burnt bits from the bones or the men dragging the skins up the street to pile them up.





The look on this cats face pretty much sums it up

The look on this kitten’s face pretty much sums it up

Somehow in all of this, I missed the women walking by with a hacksaw and as Adam called it out, I couldn’t even process it to turn around as I could only look to the streets in front of me in shock. In my mind it was crazy, jaw dropping, what the hell is going on madness. The streets were otherwise empty and almost all shops closed expect for the one or two open restaurants and the few guys selling loose cigarettes. As you walked by the roaring fires with what looked like old mattress springs used as the grill I would sometimes run by hopping over bones and flesh and just crossing my fingers that the kids would take note of me going by and not go to stoke the fire or flick off a bone as I hurried by.


We stayed mostly to the main alley ways only venturing off slightly and making a turn a round after we heard some shady looking characters offering up some hashish. The smells were so pungent and there was no place to get relief from the smells. After our short trip around the city we grabbed lunch before retreating back to the comfort of our riad’s roof top.


Today’s Travel:  A walk on the main road of Fes Medina

Accommodations: La Maison Maure

Sensory overload

4 October 2014

The day started with a lovely breakfast on the terrace and after weeks without a cup of coffee we savored the French press coffee. We then headed up stairs to finish getting ready for our mid-morning tour of the Medina. But the teeth brushing had to take a back seat to what was going on across the way on our neighbor’s rooftop. While I thought we wouldn’t see any slaughtering until tomorrow, I was wrong, really wrong. All before 11am, we would see two cows get ready to become dinner. It was much like watching a car crash, I wanted to look away, but I was so intrigued by the whole process. I thought for a moment that maybe the cows were just getting a bath until one man came upstairs carefully carrying a towel when I realized he was being so cautious as he had a huge butcher knife underneath the towel. Then the three other men begin to tie up the cow and at this point his friend (the other cow) realized what was going on a relieved himself. At that point the young boy was put on comfort duty and took the cow to the other side of the roof to keep him claim, by gently patting him on the head and making sure he was looking in the opposite direction.

You can see the cow in the bottom left become dinner, and his friend on the right being consoled

You can see the cow in the bottom left become dinner, and his friend on the right being consoled

And here's Adam brushing his teeth while taking this all in

And here’s Adam brushing his teeth while taking this all in

Then it was a finely orchestrated process with three women cleaning and the four men working after the cow was dead to skin and butcher the animal. While we thought they were done for the day the little boy then brought over the next cow, I guess this family was planning a big celebration.

The whole city was making finally preparations for Eid al-Adha. This brings with it lots of smells, there is sheep poop everywhere and it smells of hay.

The city is filled with sheep tied up waiting for the festivities

The city is filled with sheep tied up waiting for the festivities

Kids in the neighborhood, starting about 10 days prior, start selling hay and oats in the streets. And other kids are buying up big bags to feed their sheep which are hanging out on the rooftops. People are buying bread, preserved pickles and olives, knives, vegetables and whatever else they will need as most shops will be closed for the next few days -some even weeks. And this was of course, the day we decided to take a guided tour thru the Medina.

Before I begin, here are some fun facts about the Medina that just might help paint the picture of where we are. There are over 9,000 alleyways in the city of one million and in the medina itself is about 300 hectares (yeah, that is about a square mile) so to say the people here live on top of one another, might be an understatement and ‘personal space’ is a phrase most are not familiar with. Lucky for me I got over my need for personal space a few months ago.

One of the "streets" in Fez

One of the “streets” in Fez

The garbage truck

The garbage truck

As we power walked thru the alleys, everyone here power walks and if you try to walk slowly you will get passed by a 70+ year old woman. Plus if you walk slowly, people will think you have nowhere to go so they will try to talk you into coming into their shop, so your quick tip for traveling in Fez is power walk everywhere. Our guide was telling us about the traditions of marriage, the holiday, about the size of the city and so many other facts, it felt like my head might implode. That or everything going on around me was really testing my capacity of comprehension. But one fact that I found very practical, was the way families move within the Medina. If you are to move within the Medina, you move using the rooftops not the alley ways, which are just a few feet wide and sometimes smaller and just a few feet high in many sections. You would just ask your neighborhoods to use their rooftop as you transport your belongings from one building to the next.



As we wandered thru checking out little narrow passage ways that seemed to lead to nowhere but really connected you to another section of town or walking up to old home doors that required me to keep my hunch my shoulders and keep my elbows in tight, we somehow made it to the Quartier des tanneurs aka the tannery of Fes. While I always like to pride myself on knowing how to get from point a to point b after being somewhere just once, based on all the landmarks I remember, this is one place where I would have absolutely no clue how to get back. But as we got closer, the smell of chemicals began to sting my nostrils, luckily before we went up to the rooftops for a view they handed us mint leaves. I kept mine close to my nose while I had a good laugh watching other simply stick the leaves up their noses. As we watched the men work under the scorching sun I began to develop a new appreciation for leather goods.





Of course the building we had entered also sold every type of leather good you could imagine in every color and size we managed to walk thru without being noticed, or we just looked like we were cheap, before heading back out to the streets.


Our next stop was to Bou Inania Madersa the former university. When we walked in, this building immediately reminded me of the Alhambra in Granada, and even our tour guide called it out. I think there might be some connection, but I wasn’t really paying too much attention at that point. I am really like a kid in a candy store when I see all of the intricate details in these buildings and I really can’t focus on much else.





I think it also might be Adam’s new favorite pass time to mock me as I call out to him, ‘oh, look at this, isn’t it stunning?!?!’

We then found ourselves entangled with a large tour group as we reached the doors to the Kairaouine Mosque (Mosque of al-Qarawiyyin). We had to weave our way around the group of 40 or so which had taken over the entire walkway making it nearly impossible to move. I guess I can’t complain about the zonies taking over SD in the summer, as the residents here have deal with this daily. It was just a quick stop here as we could only look in from the open doors. Unlike Turkey, in Morocco there are only three Mosques where non-Muslims are allowed to visit.

One of our last stops was to a carpet shop. At first I thought we were just going to check out another cool building which just happened to be full of carpets.



I guess it was a mix of the heat, dehydration and trying to process everything we had seen today, but by point we were exhausted and probably a little delirious.  We were lead up to the roof top of the shop to take in some of the city views. By this point in the day standing on the rooftop felt like we were being cooked. It was so hot and I could not stop sweating and the sun was blinding as it reflected off the white building and green tiled rooftops. From the roof top of the carpet shop we could see from the roof tops University of al-Qarawiyyin or al-Karaouine. We were then given a weaving demonstration on how to weave carpets which was a very awkward experience.


And moments later we got to experience firsthand the legendary Moroccan carpet scam and it was everything we had heard and somehow we walked out with a rug. As the fast talking salesman stated lines like “You could easily buy a few and sell them on eBay. Many people come here and buy three or four carpets and sell them on eBay and make lots of money,” or “We are a co-op and give 80% to widowed and poor women,” or “Here is our fixed price list by rug type and size, this is set by our great king Mohammad the VI (with a gesture pointing to the ever present no matter where you go picture of the king).” I had read that these are all the classic lines that you are being scammed or the biggie, never buy a rug (or any items) when a guide leads you in as the guide will get a commission so that means a higher price for the buyer. But as the rugs were rolled out, we sipped our sugar high inducing mint tea and pointed out the ones we liked and didn’t like as the salesman continued on with his fast paced pitch (I think he could give the micro machines man a run for his money). As we debated back and forth between two rugs, we settled on one that we (I’ll be honest it should be said that it really was me that liked it) liked and we were give a ridiculously high price (ie we have paid less from rug from West Elm). The seller walked off as Adam and I debated the price we wanted to pay, we wrote down a reasonable price and then began some more negotiations. The seller kept asking us to meet him in the middle and we both just shrugged our shoulders and gave a half furrowed brow and said we couldn’t afford to go higher. I thought we were going to walk away emptied handed, but no sooner than that thought had crossed my, we were walking up the stairs to the office to make our purchase. It was like we were going thru the motions not really believing that it was real. As we handed over the credit card, Adam was pretty upset that had to pay a 3% fee for using our card as the seller suspiciously walked off in that moment we said ‘wait’ only to see our card being run thru the machine. And on top of that it was requested that we give a 100 dirham tip to the guys who rolled out the rugs. While I know we got ripped off I was still pretty content with our purchase and although expensive by Morocco standards it still ended up being a pretty good deal.

We were feeling very wiped out after our carpet scam, I mean purchase, and were ready to call it a day as we were now hungry and thirsty. However we had just one more stop at the Shrine of Moulay Idriss II, where we learned many women, usually poor make their pilgrimage here. As we could not see inside we admired the ornate carvings on the outside of the mosque and the offering box. It is here where you can make an offering just outside the temple for good luck and fortune. The metal star where the offering slot is located is very worn and made for some cool pictures.

Orginally we were going to take a taxi back to the other gate to our riad, but with the holiday we could not get one, so we continued on our power walking way back to the riad.

When we returned home around 2:15pm my head was spinning. We had seen so much and maybe it was the lack of food and water or the constant observation and sensory overload but we both felt like we had been hit by a truck. So after some mint tea and a big bottle of water we headed out to find lunch. With the markets still buzzing along the Bab Boujeloud – kids carrying dough on pans to the baker, shoppers haggling with shopkeepers –  it was an easy feat as we grabbed to large pita like sandwiches bought more water and retreated to our roof top terrace. As the food kicked in we began to feel human again and just took in all the sounds from the various calls to prayer, animals crying out and what I could only imagine as a group of women dancing in their home as I could hear clapping and celebratory chant.

And of course after we were full hydrated and had a full stomach we began to discuss our rug purchase and how we didn’t haggle enough. I thought that we could have easily saved $100 on the rug, but hindsight is 20/20, right?

Later that evening we ventured out for a light dinner. For some reason I thought it might be quieter out since it was after 8 and all day the streets had been packed. I was wrong, the streets were still crowded and most people were still shopping. As we found a small café next to the knife seller/sharpener it was perhaps one of the best people watching spots. From the kids yelling over the sounds of the blades being sharpened and searching thru the pile of knives as if they were Legos to the women buying knives and mops and the shop selling pickled products that was packed all day long it was just madness. This was nice distraction from the fact that I felt like I might be having an asthma attack even though I don’t have asthma. I think it is a combination of the elevation, the crowded city, all of the hay and the heat that made me feel like I could barely breathe. For the first time we were debating cutting our time here short and heading out because I just felt like crap.

Lying in bed and trying to process all of the day’s events was next to impossible. I thought we had seen lots of chaos and crowds in the last few months but nothing can compare to today’s events. From the constant fast talking touts, the blazing desert sun, the packed walk ways, everyone acting as if they are your ‘friend,’ over sugared mint tea, the detail and beauty of the mosques and universities and the smells of animals, the tanneries and the food I can only imagine what tomorrow might bring.

Today’s Travel:  A tour of the Fes Medina

Accommodations: La Maison Maure

Standing room only

3 October 2014

Our day started out with a visit to Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca. And because our favorite way to get around in the city is by foot, we set out just after 9 to try to avoid the heat.


Old church from the french colonial days

It was pretty funny to see the looks on many people’s faces as we walked thru the city. I guess this is not a common route most visitors take.

We had checked online on various forums and blog posts and read lots of conflicting information on whether or not the mosque would be open on a Friday. We asked the girl at the front desk and she stated that it was closed to visitors on Friday’s as it is a day of prayer. This all made logical sense so we decided we could sleep in a go to the mosque later. However as we got closer, we saw bus after bus pull up.




We thought it was a little strange, that was until we found an entrance, about thirty minutes after wandering around the grounds only to get turned away as we didn’t have a ticket. If only we had walked closer to the tour group! The guard at the door told us we could get tickets for a late afternoon visit. While we were annoyed we had no other choice but to walk away. The moral of the story is to just go early even if you think a site is closed and who knows it just might be open. On the bright side the courtyard and exterior of the mosque provided numerous detailed patterns and designs that provided plenty of stunning sights to make the visit well worth it even without viewing the interior.







I think I could have taken 1000+ photos of all of the tile details and doors and it would not capture the beauty of the building. I have had an obsession with tiles and Moorish design after my first trip to Alhambra and this visit has only feed this obsession. By this point it was getting toasty and we had a train to catch so we wandered the grounds for another 20 minutes before we headed back.

Trying to find shade wherever we could, which was a hard job as the sun was almost directly overhead we sweated it out (the theme of our travels) as we walked back to the hotel.

It was then time to catch the train to Fez. But first we had to buy tickets. I stood guard over our bags tucked away just to the side of the “line” adjacent to a support beam and got to watch all the action while Adam braved it and bought the tickets. At first things seemed to be fairly orderly in the world of organized chaos but soon it turned comical and I had to turn my head as I started to laugh out loud.

The lone security guard doing his best to maintain a sense of order slowly lost control of all order. First it was a select few towards the end of the line that decided the temporary posts with retractable straps were in their way and not allowing enough people to crowd their way towards the front of the line so those we ninja chopped down. The mass crowding that was the line then turned into what looked like a meeting of two bodies of water. One section just began to flow around the other. At this point off to one side I saw a few lurkers who were waiting for the guard to turn his gaze away so they could cut in line. A few minutes later the guard took notice of them as well and began to push the temporary posts and strap barrier out when a slightly heated exchange began. The large crowd in line took note of this distraction and ran forward to get into the lines (that kinda did resemble single file lines) in front of the individual ticket windows. As the guard yelled out at the crowded telling them to get back those lurkers on the side took advantage of this moment to duck under the straps. The guard and a few others from the massive blob like line then started to get into a fairly heated exchange. Within the last few moments of chaos, Adam had already secured a place in line in front of a window, and I silently cheered him on as he held his ground from those lurkers from the side trying to cut in front of him.

While we had arrived at the train station at 12:15, thinking we had lots of time, to buy tickets for a 13:10 train we finally had tickets in hand at 12:55. Adam rushed off again to find some food, two croissants, before we made our way out to the platform.

It was once again a fun game of pushing your way thru the crowd and holding our own space (those years of playing defense in basketball and lacrosse have proven to be more helpful in traveling than I would have ever imagined) as we had to show our tickets to make it out to the platforms. Along the way Adam picked up a cheese sandwich and some chips, after all it was a four hour train ride.

Once outside and walking along the train we began looking for some open space with the cars. As the first two we passed were packed with luggage and people already crowding and spilling out of the cars. We finally decided to jump in the fourth car which was already out of open seats but at least had enough space to enter. We walked down the narrow aisles with our bags shimming past the few people walking by as well until we came to the center of the car and saw more people in front of us making their seats in the aisles. I of course had to pee but there was no way I was moving any further or even going to make an attempt to use the toilet on these trains. So we just looked at each other and started to laugh and shake our heads at this adventure.


We thought we would have a good story with just buying the tickets but now we were standing on the train hopping that maybe we would get a seat in an hour or so when the train was scheduled to make its first stop. But until then we used our backpacks as seats, which were pretty comfortable. I was even able to fall asleep while sitting on mine. Lucky for me at the first stop a women in the car where we stood in front got off so I took her seat and we were able to get some luggage out of the aisle. This made it much easier for everyone else who did want to walk by as it was always a fun dance to maneuver around as someone wanted to walk by as you jammed yourself and your bags into the wall to create just enough space. While sitting on this car I learned quickly that when coughing and sneezing, covering your mouth is a learned behavior and that memo had not made it to my fellow train car companions.

The ride, at least the parts I was awake for, including speeding by shanty towns with satellite dishes, typical looking suburban towns with apartment complexes and shopping centers that looked just like they do all over the world – and here always including a Pizza Hut, endless flat desert, shepherds tending to their flocks with the easily recognizable white earbuds, vineyards, olive trees, lumber yards and as we approached Fez rolling hills and mountains. As we rolled to a stop out in the middle of nowhere here and there those sitting near the doors would jump out for a smoke/pee/stretching break which just made me laugh every time. And at other times we would pass by a guy holding a placard, one side red the other green, out in the middle of nowhere who was giving us the go-ahead when we switched tracks. And here I was thinking Vietnam was old school with the guys that rolled out the crossing guard in the cities.

Our four hour train ride became a five and a half our ride (which was shorter than I thought the delays would be) and we now had to make our way out of the station to find a cab. But first I had to pee. As I made my way into the restroom which was free, clean and had three attendants (are you taking note Europe) I noticed how protected the attendant standing out the women’s restroom was. She stood perpendicular to the door which was next to the men’s making sure only women got passed her.

We quickly learned upon arrival that Sunday was a holiday where there was going to be the sacrifice of a sheep. At first I thought the guy at the taxi station telling us this was a little off, but when we arrived at our hotel and heard the same story I had to find out more. Turns out the celebration is one of the largest in Islam and is called Eid al-Adha. The tradition starts with Brahim (Abraham) about to sacrifice his son Ishmael (Isaac), until Allah (God) intervened by sending a ram to be sacrificed instead. Yes, Catholic friends and family you also know this same story. All we were really told at first was there will be a killing of a sheep in the morning, then the families will bathe and put on clean clothes before they go out to meet with friends and family and celebrate this holiday. We were told that sheep can go for as much as 4000 dirham (about $450). Here I thought had a general understanding of Islam but once again I have learned something new today.

As we settled into our new home and had a few glasses of mint tea we decided to head out to dinner at one of the places our hotel recommended. We also decided to have one of the restaurant employee’s come pick us up. We had read about all the narrow alley ways in the city but once there it was an overwhelming maze. All the buildings looked the same and with so many people making final preparations for Sunday it was sensory overload, so we just took the easy route of having someone guide us to and from where we wanted to go. I was less concerned about someone else trying to harm us and more concerned that after a long day of travel, hunger would overwhelm us if we got lost and we just might hurt each other. The restaurant had very impressive tile work and the food was very tasty.




Like most white chicks, I have a love of all things pumpkin and since there are no pumpkin spice lattes to be found, I made sure I ate pumpkin in every dish I could and here in Morocco it is very easy to do. Who knew it was such a functional food. Now I will just have to remember all of the dishes to try to recreate these at home.

Today’s Travel: Walking around Casablanca to Hassan II Mosque on the tram to the train station and a standing room only second class train ride to Fez.

Accommodations: La Maison Maure. A recently restored riad this place is pure relaxation in the heart of the medina. While there is lots of chaos just outside the doors, the rooftop terraces and various seating areas throughout the home provide a place to recharge. Our room on the fifth floor opens out to a lovely terrace and above our room is another terrace with 360 views of the entire medina. Our room is spacious with two closets hidden behind the bed with the floor to ceiling headboard, a separated shower and toilet (I never knew how important this was until we started traveling) and a nice chase lounge.


And the included breakfast has been one of the best we have had. The French press coffee and various breads and jams plus a special item of the day gets us off to a great start. The staff is also wonderful and super helpful in making arraignments and providing suggestions. If I didn’t have a desire to see more of Morocco I could have spent our entire time here.

Adios Barcelona, Bonjour Morocco

2 October 2014

Today the weather was playing nice and we had a full morning to explore the city. We started our adventure with a walk down to the Gothic Quarter. It was a fun maze of small alley’s and beautiful stone buildings.



Wandering down the alleys and into a few large open squares we found our way to Santa Maria del Mar.


The building was so imposing surrounded by the much smaller shops. Once inside you could tell that this church was built for royalty. While not as ornate as some of the churches we had seen in Italy, the stone work, chandlers and ceiling arches made my neck ache. If the church wants to make an extra buck, they should really place a few reclining lounge chairs around so you can take in all the detail.



We continued our little afternoon expedition thru the area by exploring the Born neighborhood. We made our way thru a market just before the actual neighborhood and just followed the roads up, down and around. It instantly became my new favorite area in this city. And there was still some much that we could explore there, but our time was running out and we had to walk back home to grab lunch and collect our bags. It just goes to show that even with a third visit to a city there is still so much to find, see and experience. Maybe on our next visit to Barcelona I will feel more confident in saying that I have truly explored the city.

Our last meal was at the same place we had our first on this visit at tasqueta de blai where we enjoyed our last tapas and got our fill of pork before we head back to a Muslim country.

Feeling like a pack mule, we walked up to the street to the airport bus. As much as I love traveling, I would like to get rid of my heavy bag and/or it is time to start to get rid of some of my clothes. On the brightside it wasn’t humid. It was an uneventful ride to the airport, but little did I know that we were in for quite the adventure to Morocco.

As we sat on the plane waiting for all the passengers to board I sat in shock. We have been on a few flights in the last 10 months but this one takes the cake as the most bonkers. I should have realized in this moment that we were heading to a country I just might not understand at all. I have never seen so much carrying on luggage in my entire life. People were carrying so many large bags and the overhead bins were almost spilling over before the plane was half full. Plus the kid next to me was a nervous wreck, wiping his sweaty palms on is jacket over and over and checking is phone every 10 minutes or so. For the first time flying I was a little on edge myself and closely watching every action of the kid next to me.

Upon arrival we waited in the long lines to clear immigration, where they still do everything manually, before getting our bag and making our way to the train. As we stood in line, or really in more of a cluster, where I made sure I held my space, it was a quick reminder again that we have left Europe and it really time to pay attention to how the locals act and try to blend in as much as possible. We got our tickets just in time to make it on the train. Once at the city center we left the station at found our way to the tram. Just our luck with only paper bills the tram ticket machines only accepted coin. It was a quick oh crap moment until a very nice gentlemen noticed our predicament, as we looked around the machine with a paper bill in hand, and he offered to change our bill for coins and told us the cost of the first and second ticket. And a few minutes later after going thru some very nice looking neighborhoods and a few that had me making sure I knew where my things were located, we were at our hotel.

Not wanting to travel too far for dinner, we found a restaurant close by that also happened to be across the street from the French embassy. The service was great, the building was stunning (I am seriously going to have a problem not taking a picture of everything) and the food was tasty. It was a very different pace from what we had just seen in the airports, but I guess this is how the fancy people see the country.

Today’s Travel: The walk to the gothic quarter and the born neighborhood before walking back home and to pick up our bags and walk to Plaza Espanya to take the aeropuerto bus and catch Veuling flight # VY7340 to Casablanca

Accommodations: Park Suites Hotel & Spa. My mother always said if you have nothing nice to say you shouldn’t say anything at all. Well, sorry mom, I have to say this hotel was pretty much a dump. The thing about this city though is every hotel is ridiculously expensive and they all have poor ratings unless of course you are spending a 300+ a night. When we walked into our room I instantly wanted to gag as it smelled like a two pack a day smoker had spent the last 5 years living in the room and every day the cleaning staff sprayed and horrible floral scent to try and mask it. It also reminded of a place that might have been nice looking 5 years ago when it was brand new but the shody craftsmanship was starting to show. But it was just one night and it was close to the mosque and in a relatively nice area of the city.

Barcelona is always a good idea

1 October 2014

We continued on with our short stop in Barcelona visiting some of our favorite places. Our day started out with a visit to Park Güell. This was our first time to the park since they instituted the new ticket policy and making it a much less crowded experience. That or it is not high season. The design and execution of the buildings and sculptures is still as beautiful as the first time I was there. It is one of those places that I will always visit when I am here.














After our morning in the park we made our way down to the beach for some relaxation. But first we had to stuff our faces with paella. And we made sure we ate ourselves into a food coma. The portions were huge, but it was so tasty that we both had a hard time stopping.

Our bellies were beyond full so we took a short walk along the beach, before laying down our blankets for some sun bathing and napping.

That evening we wandered around our neighborhood enjoying our last night in the city. We even treated ourselves to a fancy Mexican restaurant. The food was fantastic and I had to stop myself from drinking the hot sauce. I have a suspicious feeling that when we return to San Diego I will be on a Mexican food bender.

Today’s Travel: The subway to Park Güell and walking around the beach

Accommodations: Airbnb

Settling in, in Barcelona

30 September 2014

It was a rainy morning so we took care of the not so glamourous practicalities of Adam getting his haircut, we did some laundry and we did some research on Morocco and Portugal. Today was also the day that we bought a ticket back to the US. It was so weird to book the flight and have a real end date. I think it might take a while for me to accept that reality. Pretty boring stuff but it also meant that I was able to finish my book and just lounge around the house. With the whirlwind pace we have been traveling at over the last few months in Europe it is so nice to just sit on the couch and not do too much.

With the weather still questionable we headed out to find lunch at a Mexican restaurant called Nino Viejo. As it turns out they weren’t going to open for lunch service until next week. The restaurant had not been open that long so we had to find another lunch option. We kept our eyes open as we wandered back along various side streets but we didn’t see anything that caught our attention.

So after our walk we ended up across the street from our apartment at Quimet y Quimet. Based on my pinterest research this place seems to be very popular and it was dumb luck that we found a room across the street. And the tapas here were as good as claimed however it was also a big tourist draw so it was us and many other travelers enjoying a meal here.

We let another rain cloud pass before venturing back out for a walk down Las Ramblas to La Boqueria.




It was near the end of the day so many of the stalls were closed up but we did find a few places to grab a few snacks including jamon.


Truth be told, about day four or five when in Spain I begin to curse jamon and by the end of most trips here I tell myself I will never eat jamon again. So of course we laughed as we ate the yummy jamon. I guess with a three day trip here I wouldn’t be cursing this food.

That evening we grabbed pizza and watched futbol with our hosts and spent the evening chatting about our mutual love of travel.

Today’s Travel: Around Barcelona

Accommodations: Airbnb.

Next stop, Barcelona

September 29th 2014

While we thought a 10am flight would mean plenty of time to sleep in before heading out the door, we clearly were not thinking about the time on public transportation to get to the airport. As with most European cities the airports are located on the far outskirts of town and there is usually just one our two lines that head to the airports which translates to, multiple transfers. For us this meant taking a 6:40am train to make it to the airport at 8.

It was a quick flight and we were in Barcelona before lunch. We decided to take the train to the metro which was the longer but cheaper route to our Barcelona home. And when we arrived in the city our phone ran out of minutes as we tried to answer a call from our host. We easy found the place, but in our fog from the last few days (aka hangover) we didn’t realized the apartment number was in our email. It only took us about 15minutes of standing in front of the building and trying to think of what to do next with no cell service or wifi for us to realize we had all the info we needed. At that point I think our host thought we were probably silly Americans who could not read an address. We settled in quickly and began making plans for our short stay in the city. We booked ourselves an evening tour at the Sagrada Família. This would be my third visit and Adam’s second to the ever evolving and still under construction church. The church should be completed in 2026; just 144 years after construction began. And now it is a basilica as the Pope gave this once cathedral this title about a two months after our last visit here. As we walked in we found ourselves pointing out all the things that had changed and all the new details. For the first time it looked and felt like a church and not just a construction site. The architecture is like no other building, let alone church, making it one of our favorite places to visit. Even though the prices to enter continue to rise, it is well worth every penny. And with the evening entry, just before we were about to leave we realized we were just one a handful of people inside so we took that opportunity to just enjoy the silence and find new details in the building.













It had been a long day so we decided to keep it local for dinner. Lucky for us we had picked a home that was just around the corner from a handful of tapas bars so we headed to la tasqueta de blai for a great selection of tasty tapas. And while I had sworn off alcohol just a few hours earlier, I couldn’t pass up a glass of cava.

Today’s Travel: The early morning train from Watcherhof to the airport where we hopped on Veuling Flight #VY1813 to Barcelona where we caught the train then transferred to the metro to Parallel before walking up the street

Accommodations: Airbnb.  This was a perfect spot for our short stay in Barcelona. To stay within our budget we went with the private room option on AirBnB which meant we had the downstairs extra bed and bathroom of a lovely couple. We could spend a sunny afternoon or late evening out on the terrace is a great way to enjoy the sights and sounds of the city. Plus you are just a few steps away from some of the best tapas in the city, a short walk to the beach, the gothic quarter, and the metro line is at the corner for trips across the city. But it really is hosts like Alba and Gian who make Airbnb a great choice when traveling. From the moment we booked we had instant information on how to get to their home, a response to my questions within moments and upon arrival in the city it felt like we had local tour guides. They provided information on places to see outside of the ‘must-see,’ gave recommendations on places to eat and treated us like old friends as we traded travel stories. Next time we are in Barcelona we will be back!

Oktoberfest: round 2

28 September 2014

We initially hadn’t planned on going to Oktoberfest for a second day, but with the slightest bit of arm twisting we were making our way back to the festival grounds to the Augustiner-Festhalle tent. With this being a Saturday the tents get extremely crowded so we set our alarm for 6:00am so that we’d be able to make it to the beer tent nice and early to be sure we would get a seat (nothing like starting your beer drinking before 10:00am).


We entered the beer hall which was already packed and managed to find some seats next to some friendly canucknucks and ordered up some beer. Unlike the last beer hall this one was family friendly. There were strollers and babies everywhere and the crowd was fairly reserved.



And when the few that tried to chug their beers stood up on a bench to show their talents to the world they were quickly pulled down by security. There were just a few that were positioned far away from security to chug their whole liter. This time we were smart enough to have more than just oatmeal for breakfast so we weren’t so inebriated after our liters. The best laugh of the day came when everyone discovered that I may have a little bit of difficulty with being able to wink and everyone proceeded to have a good laugh mocking my lack of winking skills.

The closest to a wink I've ever achieved.

The closest to a wink I’ve ever achieved.

Explaining that I can't wink

Explaining that I can’t wink

How I normally wink

How I normally wink

And now the mocking begins

And now the mocking begins







We hung out in the beer tent through the early afternoon before we made our way out into the sunlight to wander around the festival gardens before heading downtown to stroll around for a while and grab some dinner.


Today’s Travel: The train from Watcherhof to Munich central and a walk to Oktoberfest

Accommodations: Airbnb.

Cinderella, Cinderella….

27 September 2014

Needless to say, we had a slow morning and didn’t get going until late morning. Today was the day we were taking our day trip to Neuschwanstein Castle and it was also the day that public transportation was not on our side. We missed the train at Watcherhof by only a few seconds, our tickets were printing as the train arrived and the process was completed as the train pulled away. Since we had to transfer this missed train now meant we added about an hour on to our already long travel day.

As we headed out of the main station we were soon greeted by corn fields, cute community gardens, suburban homes, more rolling foothills and fields and then suddenly the foothills became the Bavarian Alps.

After about four hours, on trains, buses and a few short walks, we finally arrived at King Ludwig II famous Neuschwanstein Castle.


The plus side of the long journey was that all the walking and travel in the fresh mountain air did make us feel like a human again, that and the mid-afternoon brat we picked up for a snack.





Once we had wandered around the castle for a while we of course we had to make our way to Marienbrücke (St Mary’s Bridge) to snap our own pinterest worthy shots of the castle.


While on the bridge we did a quick time check and realized that we would need to make our way back to the bus stop to catch the 5:05 train. And to continue with our not so great travel luck for the day, we missed the bus by three minutes, so being the first in line we noticed that the next bus would not arrive for another hour so we decided to set out on the 3km walk back to Fussen. Well I think it was more like 4km which meant that we arrived after the 5:50 train so we had to wait until the next train.

We finally arrived back home, exhausted around 8:30 and our plans to meet up with friends went out the window. Tomorrow we were crazy enough to head back to Oktoberfest so we were at least smart enough to make sure we got some sleep.

Today’s Travel: On the train from Watcherhof to Munich central to Fussen then on the bus to the bottom of the hill and a walk up to Neuschwanstein Castle

Accommodations: Airbnb.