Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Au Revoir, Paris...Hello, Canada.

Greetings from Toronto. That's right--I've already made my way back across the pond after three delightful days in Paris. And now I have an eight-hour layover--not so delightful. I can't even pop into the city because I had to go through U.S. Customs pre-clearance. I guess I'll talk to the internet instead.

Paris was about as fabulous as you'd expect it to be. Once again Catherine and Arnaud came to the rescue and put me up in their apartment. The first night they kept asking me if I wanted to see Vice-Versa at the movie theater, insisting I'd know what that was. Turns out Vice-Versa is the French title for Pixar's Inside Out. We saw it in English, though. It was good--I haven't seen a Pixar movie in many years. And we got to go to the fancy theater at La Défense.

The next day was a lovely lazy one. Our big activity was simply a leisurely walk in Bois de Boulogne, a huge park just outside Paris. Catherine and Arnaud pointed out this yellow and red tape on some of the trees and light posts; apparently France has these walking trails that stretch for hundreds of miles connecting all the forests in the country, marked only by this tape. That sounds like it would make for a fun trip, honestly: walk the entirety of France. The park had ponies and lakes and the avant-garde architecture of the Louis-Vuitton Foundation. The park also has many prostitutes, apparently, but we were too early to spot any of them.

Sunday was the best, for my baby sister Molly and our dear friend Ashley arrived in Paris! I met them at their hotel and we had lunch, but then they were quite jet-lagged, so I decided to go see the end of the Tour de France. Just your average Sunday. I tried to meet Catherine and Arnaud at the finish line, but I got trapped at the Louvre, as the route went through there, too. However, this worked out in my favor--there was almost nobody there, so I had a front row spot. I think the sparse crowds had less to do with waning French enthusiasm for bicycling and more to do with the chilly rain that was falling all afternoon. My umbrella did what it could, but it was not nearly enough. I waited there for two hours, and it was over in just a few seconds. Still, I think it was worth it. I got some killer footage.

That evening I met Cathy for dinner. We had crêpes on Rue d'Odessa and talked translation for a few hours. I could not be working on my project with a more charming or intelligent person. Excited!

I know I said Sunday was the best, but Monday could certainly vie for its position. My final day in Paris was packed with the essentials. First, Molly, Ashley, and I went to a certain tall tower.


Did you know that it is 15 euros to take the elevators of the Eiffel Tower, but only 5 euros if you want to climb the over-600 stairs to the second floor? Guess which we chose.

To be fair, we got the chance to take a nice long break on the first floor before we hiked up to the second. The fact that you cannot take the stairs all the way to the tippy-top is a travesty. We didn't go to the tippy-top at all, as the line for that final elevator was outrageous. It doesn't matter--the views were great from the first and second floor. See?


My favorite part of the Eiffel Tower was that when we got to the first floor, they were playing Kanye West. You can't make this stuff up.

We then had some crêpes for lunch! That's right--I had crêpes two days in a row. France is the best.

After lunch, we headed to a certain literary cathedral.


The line for Notre Dame was long, but it moved quickly, and I'm glad we went inside. It's as imposing as I expected, and very beautiful. Also creepy.

We followed that up with some meandering through the Latin Quarter, and then I had to part ways with the girls so I could go back to Catherine's and pack up my things! Luckily Paris said goodbye with a stunning sunset over the Seine.


A warning to all those traveling back to the States from Paris: Charles de Gaulle airport is a nightmare in the mornings. I got there 2.5 hours before my flight, and it was barely enough. But I made it, and...now I'm in Toronto. I will arrive in Vegas at about 11 p.m. this evening local time, at which point I will fall into my bed and sleep sleep sleep.

I'm as surprised as you are that my summer travels are already over. Looking back over my blog posts from the last few months, I feel nostalgic--and also like a privileged asshole. Seriously, if I ever complain about anything ever again, just hit me over the head with a baguette until I shut up. You have my permission.

I miss you already, France. At the same time, I'm looking forward to flying over those neon lights...

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Au Revoir, Toulouse

I'm not sure how this happened, but it seems that tonight is my last night in Toulouse. Tomorrow I return to Paris for a few days, and then I catch a plane back to good ol' Vegas. Actually, I catch a plane to Toronto, where I have an eight hour layover, and then I catch a plane back to good ol' Vegas. Ugh.

I've been trying to squeeze in a few more memories before I head out. The other night I went to La Cinémathèque de Toulouse to see Jacques Demy's 1961 film Lola, starring Anouk Aimée. The film was shown outside in their historic courtyard, and I drank an Orangina. The whole evening was oppressively French. I enjoyed the movie very much, and was pleased that I could at least understand the plot. My favorite part was when Frankie, an American sailor and one of Lola's lovers, said he was from "Shee-cah-go, Ellynoy." I was also entranced by the beautiful score, and immediately looked it up when I returned home, only to discover that it was the second movement of Beethoven's 7th. I really wish we'd had music appreciation courses forced on us in high school.

Yesterday I picked up a few more books, because I definitely need more of those. It's not as though I have whole stacks of books I haven't read yet or anything. Maybe that can be a project for the upcoming school year, since I won't have any lit courses: diminish the backlog. Anyway, I bought another book by Maylis de Kerangal, since I liked Réparer Les Vivants so much. This one is called Dans Les Rapides, and it's apparently about three friends in 1978 who love Blondie. Quelle coïncidence--I love Blondie! Figured it'd be a perfect fit. The other one I bought is called Faillir être Flingué by Céline Minard. It intrigued me because it's an American Western written by a French woman. Also, it won a big prize in 2014, so that can't hurt.

Today I packed, and then I walked into the city and mentally said goodbye to things. Au revoir, groovy vintage stores! Au revoir, tree-lined and pétanque-infested Cours Dillon! Au revoir, Batman graffiti that I walk by every day! Though I miss my friends and I'm excited to see them, I wish I could solve the problem by transporting them to France rather than going back to the United States.

But I must live in the moment. I have 3.5 days in Paris to make the most of...and rumor has it that a certain baby sister and another very good friend will be joining me there. (!!!)

Monday, July 20, 2015

I Left My Heart in Bayonne

My friends, I am in love. I am in love with a city called Bayonne.

 Bayonne is famous for its chocolate.

Given, my adoration may have something to do with the circumstances of my stay. It was my first time using Airbnb, and I'm never going back to hostels. Basically all I've ever wanted to do is to live in a historic building with a rehabbed kitchen and bathroom on the banks of a charming river, and that is precisely what I got to do for several days, for roughly the same price as a hostel. The only downside was that the wood floors of each room were at different levels and I kept tripping on them--but for that apartment, I would trip happily and often.

My Airbnb was in one of these buildings.

The other delightful thing about Bayonne is that it has weather. There was a thunderstorm my first night there, and I was thrilled. I try to be grateful for the constant sunshine in Vegas, but sometimes I want a little variety. Toulouse is almost always sunny as well, and ferociously humid, so the trip to Bayonne was refreshing.

If you're more of a constant sunshine person, though, don't worry--you can find that just a few short miles from Bayonne in the seaside town of Biarritz. I suppose it's not always warm and sunny there, but the day I visited it was perfect beach weather, as evidenced by the vast crowds laying out on the sand. I walked along the coast of the Atlantic (a big theme overall for my trip), right past the summer villa Napoleon III built for his wife (now a fancy hotel), all the way up to the lighthouse towering above the town, and then I climbed that, too--all 248 steps (nothing will ever be as much of a workout as the Vatican). Biarritz has all these amazing rock formations in and along the water, and you can climb out on some of them from the street.

 The path to Rocher de la Vierge in Biarritz.

If life in France is getting a little too French for you, Bayonne also offers the perfect solution: you can pop into Spain for the day. On Saturday I took the train to Hendaye, where I switched to the Euskotren and traveled on to San Sebastián (Donostia in Basque). Another popular beach town, I spent most of my day wandering the streets of the old city, ducking into beautiful churches. I climbed Monte Urgull, too--the large hill at one end of the bay. I'm working on a theory that you can tell what European country you're in based solely on the wrought-iron balcony railings: in France there are lots of flowery motifs, in Italy there are curving lines but fewer flowers, and in Spain they're darker in color with more curlicues and corkscrews. At one point I encountered a small parade that consisted of large puppet people, men in traditional garb playing instruments, and young boys with paper-mâché heads beating innocent bystanders with what appeared to be inflated animal stomachs of some kind. My knowledge of Spanish history and culture is weak, so I was rather amused, but I didn't know what was happening. I went to a tapas bar, since that seemed like a rather Spanish thing to do, and I found it to be extremely stressful, as I was unsure about the proper etiquette and people kept reaching around me. I've had tapas served to me in the States before, but that is not how tapas works in Spain--it's like a crowded, hectic buffet. Luckily there was a friendly Canadian who also had no idea what to do, so we ate together.

Isla de Santa Clara in Bahia de la Concha, San Sebastián.
 
For the record, the members of the official Passport Stamp Tattoo Committee (me) have convened, and we (I) have decided that international trips short enough to lack an overnight stay do not warrant a new tattoo. If I want Spain on my arm, I have to earn it.

Perhaps you're just tired of existing at sea level. Bayonne can help you there, too! Thanks to my strong Google skills, I figured out how to get to the small village of Sare via public transit. Sare is at the base of a mountain in the Pyrenees known as La Rhune, and there is a tiny train from the 1920's that will lug you and many other tourists up that mountain for a reasonable fee. That's how I wound up walking around in the clouds. With ponies.

At the summit of La Rhune.

 Wasn't kidding about those ponies.

After a few hours I descended and took the bus back to Saint-Jean-de-Luz, another coastal city famous for its corsairs. (I'm looking at you, Carmel Catholic High School.) I enjoyed Saint-Jean-de-Luz--it was like a slightly less pretentious Biarritz. And the houses were beautiful, many in the traditional Basque style with red and green shutters and colored wood beams.

The fishing port of Saint-Jean-de-Luz.

Can we take a quick moment to talk about traditional Basque food? Freaking delicious. I'm going to have to exist solely on salad for the next few days, as I definitely overate. But I couldn't help it! Axoa (ground veal, onions, tomatoes, potatoes), txistorra (sausage flavored with garlic and paprika), jambon de Bayonne (Bayonne-specific rather than Basque, but still delicious), fromage de brebis et confiture de cerises noires (sheep cheese with black cherry jam)--I ate it all, and enjoyed every minute of it.

Axoa. Yum.
 
It's a shame I couldn't stay in Bayonne for another week or two--the Fêtes de Bayonne was about to start. Millions of people come for the 5-day festival with dancing and parades and bullfighting. (Yes, I agree that bullfighting is cruel. That doesn't mean I don't want to see one.) Maybe it's good that I missed it, though--I had the quiet city all to myself. And besides, one day when I write a bestselling novel and purchase a beautiful apartment in a historic building with a rehabbed kitchen and bathroom on the banks of the Nive River, I'll be able to go every year.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Basque Country

Exciting news! Tomorrow I'm headed to Bayonne, a city in the heart of French Basque country. I had such a hard time deciding where to go for my last trip before I head back to the States, but Basque country won--because it was cheaper. I guess this just means that I've covered the south of France fairly well, but the next time I visit I'll have to tackle Normandy and Brittany.

I'm staying in an Airbnb right on the Nive River, which should be lovely. Bayonne is a great location because it's easy to take day trips from there. I hope to visit Biarritz, the nearby seaside city. Both Bayonne and Biarritz are known for their chocolate industry, by the way. I might try to visit Saint-Jean-de-Luz, another seaside city further south. I may go inland to Pau.

The real question is whether I want to cross the border into Spain to visit San Sebastián. This is a conundrum mainly because of my passport stamp tattoo. I have tattoos from staying in a country as little as three days, but to not even get a hotel room there? To visit just for a few hours? Does that count? I'm not sure it does. But then when I do go to Spain for a real visit one day, it will feel wrong to have that date stamped on my arm forever, since technically I would have visited Spain before.

It's tough when you have to base your travel plans on aesthetic considerations.

I'm looking forward to the train ride tomorrow. Three hours--plenty of time to write. Don't worry; I'll blog all about it when I get back.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité

Remember when I said that France was a staunch ally of America during our Revolution? Well, it turns out that the French people weren't too happy about King Louis XVI spending money on things like America instead of making sure that people had enough food to eat. In 1789, they started their own revolution by storming the Bastille prison in Paris.

Guess what day they stormed the Bastille?

TODAY! Happy Bastille Day, everyone. In France they call it La Fête Nationale. The French celebrate their independence much the same way we do--holiday, fireworks. There's a giant military parade in Paris, too. Tonight I'm heading to Prairie des Filtres for a concert featuring Toulousian band Cats on Trees, after which the city will have a fireworks display.

If you've never listened to the French national anthem, "La Marseillaise," I recommend it. It's a rollicking military march, and the lyrics...well, let's just say the French have a single word, "égorger," which means "to slit the throat." The last line of the chorus is "may their impure blood water our furrows." It's basically one of the most violent songs I've ever heard.

What else have I been up to? Yesterday I took the train to Albi, a town northeast of Toulouse, where the famed artist Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec was born. Like many French towns, Albi is beautiful and charming. It was an episcopal city, which means that bishops ruled over it for many centuries instead of secular lords or dukes. Apparently the commoners weren't huge fans of the bishops, which is why the bishops built themselves the gigantic, fortress-like Palais de la Berbie to live in. That palace now holds the Toulouse-Lautrec museum.

Palais de la Berbie/Toulouse-Lautrec Museum

The museum has a lot of Toulouse-Lautrec's famous posters, but it has even more of his early paintings. I liked looking at those. Since he was still learning and formally training, the early works are much more realistic than his later style--but you can see his later style in there somewhere, ready to burst. At that time he painted many horses, for instance, and their legs are always a little too bubbly.... I liked this one a great deal. Unfortunately, it's not famous, so they don't have prints of it for sale. When it comes to his more famous paintings, the museum also has several of his initial sketches along with the final products--and I often liked the initial sketches better. The unfinished versions usually had brighter colors. They seemed more whimsical to me. 

The other main attraction in Albi is the Cathédrale Sainte-Cécile--the largest terra cotta brick building in the world. I cannot explain to you how enamored I am with this place; it's easily one of the coolest churches I've ever visited--and I've visited a lot of churches. Where to begin? The vibrant, vaulted ceiling which has never needed to be restored in all these hundreds of years? An organ so large that only 1/10 of its pipes are visible? The gigantic painting of the Last Judgment below it? The elaborately carved choir and roodscreen? The museum filled with creepy relics? Take a look:

Ceiling by Italian Renaissance painters
 
Organ and Judgment Day
 
 Ceiling and roodscreen
 
Bell tower
 
So good.
 
Plans are in the works for one final trip before I fly back to Paris, and then back to the U.S. I'll let you know more about that as it happens. I have no idea how it's already mid-July. June dragged along, but July feels nonexistant. Probably because I've finally settled in. And wouldn't you know it? Any time you settle in somewhere, it's already time to move on. Going to have to make the most of these last few weeks in France.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Sunbathing at the Baie des Anges, and other stories.

Just got back from my very quick trip to Nice, and once again I'm inclined to blog rather than do anything responsible. Sometimes responsibility is overrated.

I arrived Tuesday evening, and immediately checked into my hostel. I think I'm getting too old for hostels. It's not so much the dorm situation that bothers me, but rather the repetitive locking and unlocking of the storage cabinets, the dragging of toiletries to the bathroom and back again, the constant vigilance to make sure you haven't left your things anywhere. Also, the young English girls in my dorm were discussing how much they wanted to meet Justin Bieber in an entirely unironic way. Hostels are just so much cheaper, though. Sometimes one must simply put up with general discomfort and Beliebers in order to do awesome things.

That night I explored the old town, and I hiked up to the top of Le Château, otherwise known as Castle Hill, to get some panoramic views of the city. As the name suggests, one can scurry through the ruins of an old castle up there. And you know how I love ruins. When I say I hiked to the top, I mean the tippy-top, the highest point atop the ruins, and what was the first thing I encountered? An entirely naked man. Not a statue, a real one. In his defense, it was extremely hot outside, with about 70% humidity. He wasn't bugging people, so I went and took some pictures of the view anyway.


Fact: when I walked back down the hill, I discovered a pair of pants, leather belt still through the loops. Lower still, an empty pair of leather shoes...

Later I had some dinner at an adorable restaurant called Chez Mêmêre, which I would highly recommend if you're ever traveling in Nice. I ordered the "small" menu, which featured about nine different local dishes, tapas-style. Very tasty. I knew I had to walk off that meal, of course, so I trekked along the coast. I ventured down the Promenade des Anglais until I was a little ways past Le Negresco hotel, and then I turned around and walked all the way to Pointe de Rauba-Capeu. Took some lovely pictures of the bay at night, like this one:


I dedicated my Wednesday to art. In the morning I took the bus to the Chagall Museum. It's funny--I love bright colors, so you'd think I would adore Chagall, but it's simply not the case. I'm not a huge fan of the way he painted humans. But I am a fan of the way he painted plants, so I enjoyed that aspect. His mosaics are impressive as well, and I liked the design of the museum itself. It was peaceful. I then took the bus to the Matisse Museum, which is situated in an old villa next to some ancient ruins and an old monastery. Yes, I walked through the ruins first and the monastery after. I'm partial to Matisse's later work, so that was my favorite part of the museum. They had a bunch of the paper cutouts that he didn't end up using in his pieces, and you could sort of flip through them like posters. They also had the architectural models for his chapel in Vence, and several of his original palettes, which was great.

The whole reason I decided to travel to Nice in the first place--aside from the fact that I want to travel pretty much everywhere--was to attend the Nice Jazz Festival. Specifically, I wanted to see two of the artists playing Wednesday night. Earlier this summer, a friend brought the Israeli artist Asaf Avidan to my attention. His vocals sound sort of like Tallest Man on Earth, but with a twinge of Freddie Mercury. Some of his songs sound like Tallest Man on Earth, too, but others have a jazzy vibe, or a rock vibe, or a blues vibe, or a just plain weird vibe. I was immediately obsessed, so I looked at his website; lo and behold, he was touring France this summer! He wasn't passing through Toulouse, but Nice sounded like a beautiful place to visit, and when I saw that the band Jungle was playing on the same night, I knew it was meant to be.

His set was absolutely phenomenal--one of the best shows I've seen in a long time. His vocal range is stunning, and he knows how to work a crowd. I cannot understand why he hasn't caught on in the United States. He's absurdly talented, and he's headlining festivals in Europe. Seriously, United States, get your shit together. Here's a sampling of some live stuff. WHY ARE YOU NOT LISTENING TO THIS ALL THE TIME? Don't you want to be happy?

Sorry. I'll stop ranting now. Back to Nice.

Today was my last day, so I spent the morning doing what you're actually supposed to do in Nice: sunbathing. My hostel was a mere 5-minute walk from the water, so I just popped down there and unrolled my towel at the nearest public beach. I unfortunately couldn't go swimming, as there wasn't anyone to watch my things (the perils of traveling solo), but I did walk in the surf for a while. And I looked like a total babe while doing it, too. Evidence:


I'm honestly not much of a beach person, but I have to say, the Côte D'Azur is pretty impressive. The pebbles were far superior to sand--nice and warm, did not encrust my body--and the water is so gorgeous it looks fake. The pictures don't do it justice. That first blue, before it gets to the deeper blue, it's so perfect and clear. It's the color they try and fail to achieve by painting the bottoms of swimming pools, and it's bizarre to see the real version.

Now that I'm back in Toulouse, I'm already thinking of where I'd like to go next. I have only a few weeks left in France, but I think I can squeeze one more side trip in there...

Monday, July 6, 2015

French Riviera

Tomorrow I'm off to Nice for a few days. I suppose I'll have to go to the beach, won't I? Every summer I go to the beach because I feel like I ought to, and then I'm reminded how much I don't care about the beach. It's lovely being near the water, but sand is horrible; it gets in my bags and my hair and in every crevice of my body and I hate it. Maybe the beaches in Nice are pebble? One can only hope.

I also hope there's a breeze. Toulouse is so humid. I'm fairly certain I'm melting. Or I'm losing all my body weight in water. I've never been so sweaty in my whole life. It's gross--no other way to put it.

Today I went to get a salad for lunch, as I didn't want to buy new groceries before my trip. The salad came with two small pieces of buttered bread in it. I was also given a roll larger than my fist. Then the owner came around and gave a cookie to everyone who was eating there. Why is the obesity crisis in America again?

I also bought a beautiful notebook today at La Mucca, a store that specializes in paper products. The notebook I brought with me is almost filled up, because I guess I'm a writer or something. Speaking of which, I ought to type up what I wrote earlier, and then pack. Ciao, mes amis. We'll talk when I return from the Côte d'Azur. 

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Today I America

Yes, you read correctly: I just used "America" as a verb. Do you honestly believe that our great nation can be so many things--a bastion of immediate gratification, the epitome of large living, the paragon of political polarization--but it cannot also be a verb? Where is your patriotism?!

I poke fun, but in truth, America is a pretty swell place to live. So is France, though. And in all fairness, the United States probably wouldn't exist without France--they were our staunch allies during the Revolution. What's more, we definitely wouldn't have the Statue of Liberty without France. So if I have to spend Independence Day outside the States, I'm glad it's in Toulouse.

Don't worry: I'm planning on making today as American as possible. First, lunch and a beer at L'Atelier du Burger. (I love it when English words creep into French.) Later this evening, I'll head to La Cinémathèque de Toulouse. Yesterday they launched their summer "cinéma en plein air" series--outdoor movies. Tonight they're showing Rebel Without a Cause--in French, La Fureur de Vivre. I can think of few things more American than James Dean.

I'm wearing my "IL <3 you forever" shirt and my jorts. Let's do this.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Voyageuse au Maroc

This weary traveler just got back from Morocco, and she would rather blog than unpack. Which means: lucky you! You get to read about my adventures in Marrakech that much sooner.

I arrived on Monday evening and took a taxi from the airport as close as I could to the riad where I was staying; inside the medina (old city) of Marrakech, there are many streets where cars can't drive. Which isn't to suggest that motorbikes and donkey-pulled carts can't drive on them, of course. Tip #1 for traveling in Marrakech: watch where you're walking at all times--sidewalks often don't exist. A man was waiting for me where the taxi dropped me off--this turned out to be Ahmed, an employee (and possibly the owner?) of Riad 34, who is basically one of the nicest humans I've ever met. But I didn't know that at the time, so I could only hope that the man leading me down several labyrinthine back alleys was telling me the truth. Tip #2 for traveling in Marrakech: bring a map, but remember that many of the smaller streets are uncharted.

Riads are essentially the Moroccan equivalent of a bed & breakfast--beautiful old houses with a center courtyard and large, airy rooms, which are rented to tourists. For the record, I cannot recommend Riad 34 highly enough. My room was beautiful, the courtyard was beautiful, the rooftop terrace was beautiful, the breakfasts were gigantic and delicious, and Ahmed, Rashida, and the other employees were sweet and gracious. I (unfortunately) didn't have time to go on any out-of-town excursions, but they can help arrange excursions for you, and the per-night cost of staying there was roughly the same as a dorm in many European hostels. If you go to Marrakech, you should stay at Riad 34.

That evening I befriended some Danish tourists who were also staying at the riad. In fact, I started off by translating for them. Ahmed speaks French fluently, but only a little English. The Danish tourists speak English, but not French. And apparently I speak both. I cannot tell you how much easier it is to speak French with people who are fluent in it as a second language. The people in Morocco speak French so clearly and slowly, whereas French people mumble and abbreviate and I don't understand a thing. Tip #3 for traveling in Marrakech: learn some French--it's a whole lot easier than Arabic. Anyway, the Danish couple and I headed to Jemaa el Fna to grab dinner. Jemaa el Fna is the large public square in the center of the medina, where you can find cheap and yummy street food, vendors selling all kinds of souvenirs, acrobats, snake charmers, and extremely persistent henna tattoo women. (Seriously--I once had to sort of run away from one of the women because she was grabbing my hand and trying to draw on it without my permission.) There are many restaurants on the square, usually with rooftop terraces for the view, and most of them are pricey. But my new Danish friends had been in Marrakech for a while, so they brought me to this place called Aqua. We sat on the terrace, ate some tagine, and drank some mint tea. Tip #4 for traveling in Marrakech: always drink the mint tea.

The view from our table (that's the Koutoubia Mosque in the background):


On our way back to the riad, we picked up the largest watermelon I have ever seen in my life--nearly the size of my torso--to give to Ahmed for his hospitality. (It was a few hours after the Ramadan fast had been broken for the day.) He immediately cleaned and sliced it, and between the five of us--Ahmed, me, the Danish couple, and a tourist from Hong Kong--we couldn't even finish half of it. Before bed, we all sat on the rooftop terrace and talked for a while, which was lovely. The next day the Danes headed to the Sahara to ride camels, so I sadly didn't see them again. And I have no idea what happened to the guy from Hong Kong.

But that's alright--I'm a capable woman, and I know how to have fun adventuring on my own, which is exactly what I did for the rest of the trip. Tuesday morning I got up early, had some breakfast, and headed to Palais de la Bahia, which was just around the corner. Tip #5 for traveling in Marrakech: hit as many of the historic sites as you can--they're gorgeous, and usually only 10 dirham for a ticket. Built for one of the wives of a 19th century grand vizier, Palais de la Bahia is amazing. Walls decorated with colorful tiles and intricate marble carvings, delicate arches, elaborately painted ceilings--I think pictures will do a better job in this case:




I thought Europe had a strong ceiling game, but I think Morocco might be the champion of ceilings.

After that I walked to Palais El Badi--the enormous ruins of a sultan's palace. Tip #6 for traveling in Marrakech: if it's inside the medina, don't take a taxi--you can walk. No ceilings here--just crumbling walls and dozens of spindly storks. Little did I know that storks make a creepy, alien-like clicking noise. It's true.



From there I headed to the Kasbah to see the Saadian Tombs. I believe I mentioned in a previous post how much I enjoy visiting burial places. The architecture was--once again--stunning, and there were lots of beautiful flowers as well. 




All that walking around in the over-100-degree heat finally got to me, so I stopped for lunch and then returned to the riad for a quick nap. By "nap," of course, I mean that I lay naked and unmoving on my bed for an hour, basking in the air conditioning, as I am almost incapable of sleeping during the day. During the evening I decided to return to Jemaa El Fna for more exploring. I meandered up and down the streets leading to the square, turning down any offers for henna, slippers, watches, caftans, and tea kettles with a polite "non, merci." When I was researching Marrakech online, lots of people wrote that the shopkeepers are aggressive and won't leave you alone. I didn't find that to be true at all. They certainly tried to talk to me and get me to look at their wares, but if I just nodded and walked away or said no thanks, they didn't seem angry. Plenty of other tourists to ask, after all. It was funny--a lot of the shopkeepers tried to pull me into a conversation by guessing where I was from, and almost nobody guessed the United States. I got a lot of Norway, Sweden, Germany, Netherlands, and England, but no U.S. I wonder if it's because not many people from the United States travel there, or if it's because I have blonde hair, blue eyes, and I'm not fat. Who knows? Maybe both.

When the call to break the fast echoed from the mosques, the busy streets of Marrakech quickly lost their bustle. Just me, a few other tourists, and the stray cats.


I had dinner on the terrace of a quiet restaurant on the road back to my riad, and then I hit the sack.

Wednesday I once again awoke bright and early to take full advantage of my short time in Marrakech. By "bright and early," of course, I mean 8:15 a.m. I'm not very good at mornings.

I decided to walk the opposite direction and head to Medersa Ben Youssef, an ancient Islamic university that operated until 1960. (If some of my spelling seems odd, it's because I had a French guidebook, so I was mostly familiar with the French names for the sites. Medersa is Medrasa in English.) In order to get there, I had to walk through the souks--tight, winding, covered alleys with thousands of shops pressed close on either side. I am not personally a fan of either haggling or shopping in general, so my goal was to get through the labyrinth as quickly as I could; the good news is that if you do like haggling, Marrakech is your dream come true. There are lots of tourist souvenirs in the souks, but I saw lots of locals doing their shopping there, too--for clothes, pastries, fruits and veggies. Tip #7 for traveling in Marrakech: get lost--it's fun.

I finally found Medersa Ben Youssef, and it was everything my guidebook promised. Unlike most European or American historic sites, there aren't many recreations or glass cases; you can wander wherever you please in the buildings (almost), hopping in and out of rooms, exploring every corner. At Medersa Ben Youssef, I especially enjoyed the corridors with the dorm rooms.




I popped into Dar Bellarj, a nearby cultural center that Ahmed had recommended, to look at a photography exhibit, after which I headed to the Museum of Marrakech, which is right next door to the Medersa. The museum is in another old palace, so the building itself is quite a sight, not to mention all the traditional, pottery, weapons, jewelry, and clothes inside.




It was about time for lunch, so I decided to find the Henna Cafe--a restaurant and cultural center where all the proceeds are used to educate and aid local Moroccans. Getting there was something of a chore. I wandered in a direction I thought was the right way (it wasn't), a young man offered to guide me for 10 dirham, he took me in exactly the wrong direction, and then I turned around and found my way back to Jemaa El Fna. Tip #8 for traveling in Marrakech: all roads lead to Jemaa El Fna. From there I was able to navigate through the souks again and up to the cafe. I ate some crazy delicious khleer (cured lamb + egg) and watched their pet tortoise zoom around the patio. Though I did not partake, you can get a henna tattoo there from a reputable artist.

On my way back to the riad for another "nap," I stopped in the souks and bought myself a small lantern. I knew I wanted one souvenir, so I braced myself for a long haggling session, mentally reviewing the bartering skills I honed in China. (I realized that my "but I'm a student!" tactic isn't going to work for much longer.) Fortunately, I didn't really need my skills. The shopkeeper seemed happy to lower the price when I asked.

Everyone I spoke to in Morocco was extremely friendly. Undoubtedly many of them were trying to get me to purchase things from their stores, but some of them said that they wanted to practice their English, and I honestly believed them--I had long discussions with people without feeling pressured at all. Tip #9 for traveling in Marrakech: don't believe everything you read on the internet.

The lantern I bought looks a bit like this. Not something I haven't seen before, but I'm sure I got it for less money than I could have in the States, and the important thing is that I know where it's from. When nightfall hits Jemaa El Fna, lots of vendors set up rows of lanterns and light them--so pretty it's swoon-worthy. All the colors and lights appeal to my mockingbird sensibilities--shiny objects!

That evening I decided to grab street food for dinner at the tents in Jemaa El Fna. I figured that's something everyone ought to do once. I guess you should sometimes believe things you read on the internet; I was indeed served an appetizer that I didn't ask for but for which I was expected to pay. You know what? That appetizer was tasty. I'm glad I was served an appetizer that I didn't ask for. Tip #10 for traveling in Marrakech: take everything in stride.

One last freaking awesome photo of Jemaa El Fna, all aglow:


I bought a box of pastries for Ahmed before returning to the riad. Of course, he wanted me to help him eat the pastries, so we had pastries and tea, and we talked for a few hours in the courtyard. He wanted to know more about America, so we mostly discussed geography and politics. (I think I may have been the first American guest to stay there; he mentioned never having seen an American passport before when I checked in.) I learned the hard way that my political French vocabulary is lacking, but I guess that's just something I'll have to work on in the future. I jumped in a taxi early this morning, and here I am, back in Toulouse.

Overall I think two full days is enough time to see Marrakech, as long as you stay in the medina. I didn't bother going to the Guéliz--the newer, colonial European part of the city--because I figured I could see all the European architecture I needed to see in Europe. From what I understand, the Guéliz mostly consists of expensive shops anyway--not my cup of tea. Though there are supposed to be some beautiful gardens. Two full days is not enough time to see Morocco, however. All I want to do is go back and see Casablanca and the Sahara and Essaouria and Rabat and Chefchaouen and Tangier...

Bonus Tip: See more than Marrakech, lest the wanderlust get to you.