Archive for April, 2008

Cancelled in Athens

As some of you may have noticed, Meaghann, my friend that is coming to Greece, left a comment in the last post that our Greek cruise has been cancelled.  It is a new ship and it’s still in the shipyard.  (Don’t I know how that works?!)  It’s a bummer because it was so cheap (just over $300 for the both of us not including food) and got us to a lot of the islands.  All well, I’ll just roll with even though it’ll be a bit more expensive than I anticipated.  Plans will hopefully soon come together and I’ll keep you updated.  Luckily the hostel in Athens we’re staying at has a travel desk and last night I had a dream about Santorini and scooters…


A Week in Rome

Almost seven years ago I threw a coin over my shoulder into the Trevi Fountain which is supposed to mean that someday you will come back to Rome.  It worked for me and I found myself spending another wonderful week here.

Back in 2001, with my university’s art department, I came to Rome for the first time.  Less than a couple of hours after our long flight to Italy our professors took us on a walking tour that we later nicknamed the “Death March” because we were jetlagged and wanted to nothing more than take a shower and sleep.  This year a group of us from the hostel did what I called “Death March – Part II – At Night”  We walked all over Rome after sunset to see the monuments lit up.  Then when I thought it couldn’t get any worse – the Spanish Steps appeared.  We needed to climb to the top to reach a street that would take us back to the hostel.  It’s the equivalent of 12 flights of stairs!  I will have perfectly toned calves by the end of this trip.

Another reason I wanted to come back to Rome is because I missed an important piece of art in the Vatican Museum.  Being an art major you would think I would love art museums – not so much.  In 2001, I blazed through the museum to get to the Sistine Chapel and realized after I left that I missed Raphael’s °School of Athens.”  This time I realized where I had went wrong.  There is one route throught the Vatican Museum until it splits – one sign has just the Sistine Chapel while the other listed a whole slew of rooms with the Sistine Chapel last.  So of course, in 2001, I chose to go directly to the Chapel and to skip the other rooms.  This last Wednesday I chose the longer route and it did not disappoint.  What I love about frescos is that they can never move, they are part of that room, and you are standing where the artist worked.

The next day I went to the Colosseo (in English it’s the Colosseum).  I had never been inside and decided to take a guided tour.  The guide was boring for the most part but I did learn a couple of things.  The Colosseum was not called the Colosseum originally.  There was a huge statue about the same height as the stadium that was called Colosseum and when it fell down the name was transferred to the stadium.  Also, more surprising to me, was that there was a removable canopy that covers the stadium during rain or intense sun.  Imagine the world’s first retractable roof stadium!  Pretty impressive them ancient Romans!

Yesterday, I went out to Ostia Antica.  I’ve read that if you can’t make it to Pompeii you should go here.  It was an easy 1 hour trip outside of the city.  The site is massive and a lot of the buildings, well at least their bases, where still standing.  I would try to imagine what it would be like to live during its’ peak as I walked down the main street.  What would I hear?  What would I smell?  Who would I see?

Today, I went to Villa Borghese which is a large park.  I packed a baguette sandwich and brought along a book and my Ipod.  It was pretty but I still have the inability to just do nothing.  I always feel like I have to do something because if I don’t I feel guilty for wasting away the day.  I only spent a couple of hours before heading back to the hostel via the very crowded Spanish Steps – apparently it’s a three day weekend here in Italy.

Oh, I’m still trying to figure out what gelati flavor I like the most… oh poor me!!

On Monday, I leave on my long journey to Athens.  I will take a train, followed by a 16-hour ferry (I splurged on the dorm bed so that I can get decent sleep), and then either the train or bus (I haven’t decided yet).  I will hopefully arrive in Athens in the early evening on Tuesday.

Morocco Wrap-Up

Here are my stats and likes/dislikes for Morocco.  All dollar amount conversions are approximates.

Total Spent: $661.70
Cheapest Day: $18.55 in Meknes
Most Expensive Day: $91.86 in Essaouira (where everything is most expenisve)
Cheapest Hotel: $9.66 in Meknes
Most Expensive Hotel: $48.28 in Essaouira (a traditional riad)
Cheapest Meal: $3.45 in Rabat (Cheese Panini and Fries including tip)
Most Expensive Meal: $27.59 in Fez (Almond Chicken Tagine and lots of other stuff – a feast!)
Small Water: $.41 (as a comparison the same size water is $1.57 in Rome)
Big Water: $.69

City: Marrakesh and Essaouira (I can’t choose one.)
Hotel: Dar Afram, Essaouira (The food, the music, the super friendly owners…)
Meal: Dar Afram, Essaouira (By far the best meal – Beef Tangine with carmelized onions, prunes and almonds – mmmm)

City: Rabat (not much to do, intimidating cafes/restaurants)
Hotel: Hotel Regina (dark, cold room with a hard, hard bed)
Meal: Chicken Couscous in Marrakesh (didn’t care for it)

Overall the people were extremely friendly but I would have had a better time if I spoke more French and met more travelers.  The last two days in Essaouira were fantastic because of the other travelers I met and the town was much more relaxed than anywhere else.  I have come to realize that traveling is not just about the sights and the culture but also about the meeting other travelers from around the world.

The Magic of Marrakesh

Close your eyes and visualize your typical county fair.  There are animals, performances, artists, and most importantly food, right?  Now, replace the animals with snake charmers, think of the performers as storytellers, dancers, and drum beaters, the artists are pushy henna ladies (stay away from the henna ladies!), and forget about corndogs and popcorn instead think of snail soup, sheep’s head stew, and the easy on the stomach chicken kabobs and fries.  Now, add thousands of people, mostly local, and you have Djemaa el-Fna also known as “La Place”.  This spectacle of food, performance, and artistry happens every night in Marrakesh.

Marrakesh is the tourist darling of Morocco and an easy weekend trip for many Europeans.  I was taken aback by the sheer number of tourists as opposed to the other cities.  Some of the tourists were dressed in a very provacative manner is terms of Muslim culture – string tank tops, tube top dresses, etc.

I didn’t stray far from “La Place” because it was so enchanting.  Everything about it and the surrounding souqs were touristy but I didn’t care.  It was a welcome change from the French language and being intimidated to go into restaurants to eat.  Waiters stood outside and coaxed people into their restaurants.  I had the most delicious chicken schwarma sandwich.

But, the real treat is to eat at the various stalls in “La Place” when the sun goes down.  The stalls go up around 5pm and are taken down every night.  Here you can get kabobs and fries for around $5.  The waiter explained to me that one portion is 5 pieces and as I was looking at the skerwers it looked about 5 pieces per.  Imagine my surprise when 5 kabobs came my way!  Thank goodness I didn’t order two portions.  And the best part – all white meat!

Now, I’m in the laid back Essaouira (essa-we-rah).  I found a cool, funky place to sleep and it looks like I’ll get to meet other travelers later tonight.  Maybe I should have started here!

Oh, if you know how to pronounce “Djemaa el-Fna” you get bonus points.

Recent Goings and Detour

After, Meknes I traveled to Fez – the center of handicrafts in Morrocco.  It’s medina, the old city, dates back to the 8th century and unlike the other medinas I visited this one feels like it is lived in as oppossed to just shops.  Water is fetched the same way it has for centuries – from one of the many fountains.  I hired a guide from the hotel for a whopping 20 dollars for a tour through the old medina, otherwise I would probably still be lost somewhere inside.  I’d probably cry!

I was pleasantly surprised that my guide was not only a female but spoke excellent English.  She took me every which way and she showed me all the handicrafts made in the medina.  Of course, they all had shops attached, but for the most part it was ok if I didn’t want to buy.  I did splurge and picked up a handmade, hot pink Camel skin bag next to the smelly tanneries.  I did a lot in one day which is not surprisingly the first day in Morocco I didn’t take a mid-afternoon nap.  Nap!  Heck yeah, it’s part of the culture!

Today, I took the train to Marrakesh… seven hours long!  I even forced myself up early so that I would arrive at a decent time.  Marrakesh is the tourist epicenter of Morocco or so I’ve read.  There’s a hugh open space where when the sun sets a bunch of food stands pop up and the story tellers, snake charmers and such emerge.  If you were to tell a citizen of Fez that you are going to Marrakesh they would ask why and tell you that there’s only a square.  A bit of a rivalary!

On to the detour… I am leaving Morocco a week early and going to Rome before heading off to meet Meaghann in Athens.  I bought a new ticket to Rome for the 22nd.  My orignal flights included a layover in Rome anyways and I’m still hoping to catch the second part of the orginal plans which would be the Rome to Athens flight.  But, I need to cancel the Casablanca to Rome flight on the 29th so that the airline does not cancel my entire original intinerary because of a no show in Casablanca on the 29th.  Whew!  Does that make sense?

I politely asked my mom to call for me from the US (Thanks Mom).  The Expedia rep said that I am confirmed on the Rome-Athens flight and that just because I miss the first flight it does not cancel the rest of the itinerary.  I’m inclined not to trust the Expedia rep, so hopefully I will work this out at the Casablanca airport or when I arrive in Rome.  I only booked five nights in a hostel just in case I have to take the overnight ferry to Greece – much cheaper than a last minute air ticket (I know I’ve checked).

Ok, so to the reasons for leaving.  Firstly, the people of Morocco have been nothing but genuine and nice even saying “Welcome to Morocco” as I walk by.  But, in all honestly, it has been very lonely.  I thought it would be easy to meet other travelers (as the Morocco Lonely Planet says) and I have done everything I can think of to meet other people including hanging out in common areas and eating at Lonely Planet recommended places.  The other tourists are either part of a tour group or are traveling as a couple.  On top of that, the official langauges are French and Arabic.  Therefore, Morocco has a lot of French-speaking tourists.  My two years of high-school French over a decade ago doesn’t help so much.  So, imagine being with only your thoughts and your thoughts alone and not being able to communicate for the better part of the week.  It starts to get to you.

And just when I’m getting used to these keyboards! (If I were to type like I would in the US the last line would look like this: Qnd just zhen Iùù, getting used to these keyboqrds1)

One last humorous antedote.  On two occasions the following coversation took place with a Moroccan woman and also at Soumia’s house:

“Are you married?”
“Have you not thought to get married?”

No, I forgot.

Genuine Moroccan Hospitality

I am finishing this post because I was cutoff last time.  Sorry for the repost.

Morocco has had it’s ups and downs already.

The passport inspector at Casablana airport asked me if I was coming to Morocco to get married.  So much fun already!

I arrived in Morocco yesterday.  Independent traveling is not a vacation in case you are wondering.  To get from Madrid to Rabat it took 2 metro lines, a flight, 2 different trains with a taxi between the stations.  Outside the train station in Rabat I was not even bothered with.  I finally flagged down a taxi and he would not take me to the hotel because he said I do not need a taxi that I can walk.  So different than India or Thailand in that respect.

Eating is a challenge here.  Not so much the actual food but by not being intimidated to go in.  Rabat is not on the tourist trail and it is very lonely here because there are not a lot tourists.  All in all, Rabat is ok.

I took the train this morning to Meknes.  On the train I met a student named Soumia she invited me to her house.  I took the offer because she seemed very genuine and she is female.  I arrived at her family’s house to warm open arms.  With my limited French and Soumia’s limited English, I had a great time.  Imagine nine people around a 4 foot table eating from a communal plate.  They kept saying Stacy eat, eat!!  The table was a complete mess.  A truly Moroccan experience that I would not have had if I was traveling with a group or with someone else.  I even tried new things and everyone knows how picky I am.  But, I can safely say that I don’t like beets, or olives, or those little pickle looking things.  After lunch, there was fruit, mint tea and a well deserved nap.  The Moroccan way!!

After the nap, Soumia and her brother took me to find a hotel.  Soumia’s brother even had his policeman friend in on the search.  They stumbled onto a hotel recommended in the Lonely Planet.  So, it is good enough for me but let’s just say I’m thankful for the toilet paper Dave gave for Christmas.  But, what can you expect for about 7 dollars a night.  When, I left the hotel to find a ATM the hotel owner gave me a piece of his dessert (something like an elephant ear).  Meknes is much better than Rabat and I haven’t even been here for one night.

You’ll have to forgive me if there are any typos or punctuation problems- this French-Arabic keyboard is very different.  There’s so much more I can write but I’m afraid it might take me all night!

By the way, welcome Whidbey-News Times readers!


Madrid Wrap-Up

I know I am spoiling you with posts but the hostel has free high-speed internet.  Don´t get used to it.

All in all, Madrid is ok.  I´ve only taken two photos.  I´m just not inspired here.  I think I´ve realized that I am not drawn to Europe as much as I have been in the past.  I can´t wait to get to Morocco.

I went to the Reina Sofia Art Museum today.  It has more modern art including room after room of Picasso.  The museums´ superstar is Picasso´s ¨Guernica¨.  I could tell I was getting closer because I could here the crowds.  Again, like ¨La Meninas¨ yesterday, it was a lot bigger than I had expected and made it that much more impressive.  After the museum, I took the Madrid Vision Hop-on Hop-off bus around town and saw the rest of Madrid.

Things I´ve learned:  Crossing the street is an artform.  When the bird sounds start and the little green man lights up always wait because they will always be that one last car speeding through.  When the bird sounds start slowing down (I liken it to a sick bird) that´s when you hurry up.

Fashion is huge in Madrid.  Never have I felt more like a tourist than here.  Even the other travelers dress well.  I keep telling myself that I´m on a much longer trip and don´t have room for nice jackets, scarfs and such.  To me, Madrid fashion is much more apparent than in Paris.

My first hostel experience is going well.  All four beds in my room were taken.  Tashi is a Japanese student studying French in France.  Chris is German/Australian here for a five day break.  Tashi and Chris left this morning.  There´s also a tall (tall!) Finnish girl who can speak five languages.  She´s staying another night.  I wonder if the other two beds will be taken tonight.

The one thing I´m getting used to is the dorm locker.  Everytime I want to get something (like for example a pair of socks) I have to unpack everything out of the locker to get to it.  I need to think of a better way.

Off to Morocco tomorrow!

Where’s Stacy?

Stacy is in West Virginia and totally amazed by the power of Math. (Nerd, I know!)


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April 2008
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