Despite the spell Marrakech cast on me (I fled the city only to return on several occasions) I managed to break away one night on a whim, buying a ticket for the overnight train to Tangiers, only leaving myself 2 hours to prepare. I bid farewell to new friends and set out on foot hoping to basque in the Moroccan air just one last time.
The hostel in Marrakech that I was staying in, Auberge Riad Douzi, rests deep within Jemaa el-Fnaa. This is where most of the action happens: snake charmers, fire breathers, food carts, and a wide display of goods from holistic herbs to camel’s milk. Here I am, on the opposite side of town from the train station attempting to avoid too many distractions so I can make it before the train departs.
Since it would be my last jaunt through the Moroccan streets I had to document it properly. The journey to the train station and my last few hours in Marrakech begin.
Opposite the Royal Theater rests the Station Marrakech, which connects the major rail hubs of Morocco. Inside I collapse from the heat. Within the grand hall of Station Marrakech there are a few eateries and a post office, selling maps and knick-knack souvenirs.
Moroccan Dirhams can’t legally be exported, or even imported, so it’s crucial to either buy, buy, buy or exchange your dirhams for whatever currency you would be needing next. To be completely honest my anxiety of leaving Morocco manifested in “shopaholic” tendencies! So I stock up on postage to send out all the letters I had penned out over the last two weeks.
On que, I dropped the last of my postcards into a receptacle as the 9 o’clock train rolled in. The station was nearly empty by now so I made way to the loading dock with ease. Only to be corralled to a lonely car at the end of the beast where I was escorted into a cabin of four bunks with a raging airconditioner.
Settled in I kill the lights saying my goodbyes to Marrakech.
Within moments the lights flicker back on with a burst of energy as two rowdy Canadians hijack my cabin. Paying no attention to me they drop onto the bunks adjacent to mine in a haze of B.O. and smoke.
The lights are back out just before my eyes adjust and we travel in darkness for the next 10 hours.
Like time travel, Tangiers appears instantaneously. My roommates are gone and I’m quick to follow suit. In a dark terminal I merge with a mass of travelers moving into the city where the two Canadians, Christopher and Matt, are waiting for me. I quickly learn that in the past 72 hours they had crossed over from Spain, hit up a Tuareg colony, arranged a trek into the desert for a nights camp and now they’re “hightailing back to Espana”. Very efficient! As seasoned travelers of the region they invite me out for breakfast and ask if I’d like to tag-along in crossing Gibraltar. Bingo!
Over the ceremonial mint tea and sweet pastries we share our travelogues, fighting for who would impress who with the last word.
Tangiers rests atop a slanted plateau, leading you up then down from one street to the next. We pass through a few bazaars that have yet open for the day working our way to the port. I have little time to worry about missing any sights as we’re hoping to catch the boat as soon as possible.
With the docks in sight we’re forced to decide whether to catch the express ferry or to take the economical, far slower, boat. It was 3-0 for the express route, again I chose to follow their lead, looking for more insight on Spain. I later found out the reason for their haste was due to their sisters wedding taking place that day! Apparently they had abandoned the party three days ago for an excursion into Africa. And to avoid all argument they hadn’t filled their sister in on any of this until just yesterday. These guys are gutsy!
With our tickets in hand we hit customs. There were a dozen ticket holders racing us to the boat and as soon as our feet landed on the stern whistles bellowed sending us off to the north!
The Canadians fall into their seats and pass out in sync. With 45 minutes to go I head out to the stern. In the wake there’s a school of dolphin and out beyond I catch one last glimpse of Morocco.
With an X over Barcelona I have no idea what to expect.
Here’s a quick sketch of the Parthenon from the rooftop of my hostel. Though the site had been occupied for millenniums it wasn’t until 447 BC that the Acropolis really hit the map. At the height of Athens’ “Golden Age” Pericles began a project in the name of Athina. His building program went underway and 2,500 years later still holds the power to drop jaws.
After several months of eyeballing the various billboards and signage around KC, Jaclyn and I paid a visit to the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. On display are some of the richest and most iconic portraits, still life and mixed media pieces to come out of Mexico since it’s founding.
Amassed by Natasha & Jacques Gelman (expats from Eastern Europe who migrated to Mexico in 1942) the exhibit is being held in the Bloch Building, a later addition to the Nelson’s (near) centenarian shell. Over the years they nurtured relationships with many masters of Mexican art, thus beginning an unrivaled collection.
Apparently many of the pieces on display havent, to this day, visited the region so I feel honored to have witnessed them. The brush strokes are just as Frida Kahlo left them. Diego Rivera’s lilies were so textural you could almost smell their sweet fragrance. Examples of the regions political and economic times are seen in the haunting images created by Gerardo Suter. The list goes on and I admit to being unfamiliar with the majority of these beautiful artists.
Being to close to these pieces is just surreal. Growing up in San Antonio, Texas my admiration of Latin American artists blossomed at an early age. Portraits of Frida can be seen graffitied alongside coral colored buildings.
This piece is one of Kahlo’s more etherial works that jumps beyond our own world into a metaphysical search for existence and purpose.
Diego Rivera’s own self portrait
A portrait of Natasha Gelman, by Diego Rivera.
Mediums have expanded and the times have changed but the essence of Mexican art remains the same.
I highly urge you Kansas Citians and citizens of the world. Make the visit, explore history. Bare witness to the transformations and current portrayals of Mexico through the eyes of those who knew, or know, the country intimately.
Beyond the Nelson-Atkins being one of the finest art collections in these States, it sees traveling exhibits that have inspired generations for nearly 100 years.
So i’ve spent the last two years writing about my experiences on the road. Istanbul, Marrakech, Barcelona… the list goes on. Scribbling about iconic cities thousands of miles away it’s easy to become adjusted to fixing one’s eyes on the horizon, even when some of the worlds most striking sites are right out your front door.
While working on my current project I came across a picture that took me a few moments to place. A photograph displaying a colorful spread of fresh fruits and veggies at some farmers market, a beautiful image… but where was this? Here I am with this blank expression trying to figure out where this shot was taken. I have to play it backwards. The wine tastings, the B & B… a long bus ride from… Ah! New York City.
How could I have neglected the most populace city in the United States? Let’s blame it on my memory, the one which leaves me here with a fragmented collection of photographs and receipts stuck between the pages of an outdated NYC guide. So I present to you a vague collection of memories on a very Big Apple.
New York City
Day 1- Manhattan, China Town, Korea Town, Greenwich Village
We land at JFK, catch a cab to Manhattan, and the jaw dropping begins. This is my first trip to New York after all.
We’re staying at The Roger, a boutique hotel teetering Korea Town at Madison and 31st. Settling in we quickly head out working our way south to China Town. Under Mandarin awnings we hide from the rain. There are roasted ducks hanging between paper lamps. Exotic colors, rare teas and imported goods pour into the streets. Settled in the 1800’s the neighbourhood continues to be the epicenter for Chinese heritage in the US and I feel a beautiful sense of pride from the people here.
We grab a snack at a wee Chinese cafe (Steamed buns, aloe vera juice, moshi, and pastries with sweet bean paste). I would highly urge, at the very least, having lunch in China Town. Pho, dumplings, and lobster are common among a countless collection of legitimate eateries.
After the long walk from the hotel to China Town a cab ride is in order for the jaunt to our dinner destination in Greenwich Village, Joseph Leonard. This was one of my favorite places we hit up and I highly recommend eating here. It’s a rugged yet cozy brasserie, namely American in design and menu. When we arrive the place is packed with a bit of a wait but shortly we are seated at the bar and thoroughly enjoy our dimly lit dinner with cocktails while the rain still falls on and off outside.
Completely drained we hail a cab back to our hotel and celebrate our first day in this grand city with a few more cocktails on the rooftop bar. Pass out. End scene.
Day 2- Central Park, The Museum of Natural History, Lower East Side
With the day to myself I head out for Central Park and the Museum of Natural History. It’s a much longer walk than I thought it would be so I wind up grabbing a classic NYC bagel slathered in peanut butter and an espresso to keep me going. I breeze through the Garment District, Times Square and into the terrarium that is Central Park. I’m left speechless at first. The greenery in this massive space really leaves one with the sense of being removed from the concrete jungle.
I do a quick run by Central Park Zoo before cutting across to the Museum of Natural History. My archaic cell phone begins the inevitable bleeping of a dying battery. And here I am, the guy without a camera, entering a museum full of wonders crying out to be photographed. I have to decide between snapping shots of dinosaurs and the remains of early hominids or reserve whats left to keep in touch with Jaclyn. Damn. The Museum is under restoration (at the grand entrance) stripping all the photogenic qualities away. I squeeze through the entrance to be corralled into a line that takes 40 minutes to get through. Dart to the stairs and climb to the second floor (Human origins, Anthropology, and foreign flora/fauna), then to the fourth floor (Dinosaurs) working my way down from there.
I make little progress before being summoned by Jaclyn to meet her in the Lower East Side (LES). So, lesson learned, the museum is a beast. Dont underestimate the time it takes to see each floor, even sparingly.
I’m running through the streets, searching for a subway entrance and trying to soak in everything I just saw. Remnants of our planets, and extraterrestrial, going ons. I’m daydreaming the entire sub ride. Dinosaurs, space travel… Arabia. So inspiring. Arriving in the LES it takes a moment for me to locate Jaclyn. Before dinner we run to a few of the shops recommended by our guide. B-4 It Was Cool, a quirky collection of vintage objects with a focus on lighting. It has a very steam-punk/curiosity cabinet feel. And Assembly NYC, a boutique focused on hard to find/one-of-a-kind fashion labels and accessories.
Our stomachs soon lead us to the Ten Bells. Chalk boards line each wall with scribblings of the days eats, an unbelievable wine list, oysters, and charcuterie to tempt the iron fisted vegetarian. We crush through a variety of oysters, downing wine and beer along the way. The friendly staff send us through gastronomic ecstasy. The vibe is intimate with a dark hipster slant, but what establishment in NY isn’t? Indie tunes hang low alongside the lighting allowing for a comfortable environment.
We’re stuffed, and the bottle has run dry. Moving on we flag down a cab and we’re swerving through the Theatre District to the Hudson. Take every image you can conjure of sophistication in architecture, apply a chic core and a stylish twist of lime and multiply that a thousand times over. This place defines swanky! After touring the first floor bar areas we head to the rooftop. Spectacular views and lounging with overpriced drinks is a paradisiacal way to end the evening.
Day 3-Brooklyn, East Village
We make it a point to head out early as it’s our last day in the city and we’ve a lot of ground to cover. We dart out on the subway to the East Village for a quick visit to the storefront of one of Jaclyn’s design idols, John Derian. A master of decoupage and other handmade goods his storefront combines an assemblage of vintage objects, unique lighting and stationary including bygone pamphlets and art in his quirky collection of ephemera. All displayed between his own line of furniture and decorative goods.
It’s back to the subway and onward to Brooklyn! The station actually drops us off right outside The Brooklyn Botanical Garden. Resting on 39 acres that were reserved in 1897, the Gardens combine an envious collection of flora with a respectable sense of architecture that dances with the greenery. Just another one of those NY sights which could easily consume an entire day. We trace a route through our map of the park to help us stay on track.
The main path leads you around the rhombus shaped garden without missing a beat. Beyond the vibrant colors and alien foliage of the first few sections we reach the Cherry Esplanade. It’s dreamy and the odors in the air intoxicating. We wander through the rest of the reserve in a state of euphoria.
After a refreshing kombucha from the Terrace Cafe we enter the Bonsai Museum where 30 trees are on display at any given time from a collection of 350. Outside we wander the Lilly Pond where I find a collection of lotuses, a plant which i’ve nurtured a healthy obsession with.
Onward we hit the Japanese Hill-and-Pond Garden. It’s breathtaking. Playing off aesthetic asymmetry and an equal balance of natural versus man-made environments and littered with relics of Japanese history.
Emerging from the Gardens we race against the clock to scratch off our list the last stops of the day. Down the block we hit Eponymy, a small boutique recommended by a friend who previously lived in Brooklyn. Intrigued by their blend of old and new, quirkiness and classicism, we are happy we made the stop. After canoodling with the shop dog, Bianca, Jaclyn purchases a bracelet and we carry on.
Around the block its on to Cog & Pearl. This is where I would do ALL of my gift shopping were I a Brooklynite. Cog & Pearl’s memorable items for me were cool jewelry (Jaclyn also bought a pair of earrings here) and fun/funky handmade items like terrariums with tiny people and animals inside. Plus they had a great selection of books, cards and the uncategorizable “I gotta-have-it things.” It’s hip and maybe a bit trendy but we are totally feeling this Brooklyn thing so its a memorable stop.
With a raging appetite we’re down 5th Avenue to a highly recommended Latin bistro for dinner, Bogota. This is where two vegetarians lay it all on the line and order the Bandeja Paisa or Colombian Platter. Fit for a king or a starving dinosaur it’s a spread of grilled skirt steak, pork chicharron, white arepa, rice & beans, fried egg, maduros, avocado, cabbage salad. Hot damn! With drool inducing aromas in the air we dig in.
With a side order of… whatever this crunchy corn tortilla with guacamole and goat cheese is called! It’s nothing short of scrumptious.
And most importantly the cocktails. (Mojito) It’s only appropriate!
After dinner Jaclyn pulls out a crumpled piece of paper. On it, the directions to a lesser known bar called the 124 Old Rabbit Club. It takes us back to Greenwich Village. The bar is essentially a dungeon with an eclectic array of beers. The space is small and lit only by the odd tea candles which are scattered across the bar and the half dozen tables. Between the libations and punk rock I fall in love with the Big Apple. Sad to say, this was our last night in the city. We drink and drink… and drink our way back to the Roger, where it all began.
As this adventure came to an end our time in NY was far from over. Next Stop- Long Island!
We had gotten lost so many times on the island of Crete that we decided to wake up and leave extra early for the airport, “just in case”. Our superior traveling skills got us there on time and although we were sad to leave our oasis behind at the cottage of Eleonas, we were decidedly ready for the next leg of the trip and another adventure.
Landing in Turkey with little to slow us down we rushed through customs to get our visas. This goes relatively fast and as soon as we’re through we hit up the currency exchange booth and grab 200TRY. Our plan is to head to the tram station that will take us to a stop near our lodging. The terminal winds about leading us underground. Like the subways of NYC we align ourselves with the outbound car that separates us from Sultanahmet (Old Town) and Ataturk Airport.
From the airport its about an hour to our destination with one transfer to make. The last leg of the ride is standing room only, and we are packed in shoulder to shoulder, me with my heavy backpack on and Jaclyn with her suitcase by her side. Just when I sense Jaclyn can take no more we hit the 16th stop, our destination.
Stepping off the bus we’re hit with sensory overload. The Muezzin begins calling out just as the heavens open in a heavy downpour and the fog rolls in from the sea blanketing the city. Thankfully we can see lights from the various minarets but in a city like this it’s not easy to navigate by the unfamiliar structures in this monsoon.
A later view of the Blue Mosque
Our Pension is just southeast of the Agia Sophia. So with our heads held high against the rain we confidently work our way to the monument where we run into the Hippodrome… which is actually northwest of the Agia Sophia! In our discombobulated state we thought the Blue Mosque was the Agia Sophia.
Now backtracking, the right way, we decide to ask for a little assistance to which a local obliges to show us the way. “Just here” he says, taking us around a colorful complex lined with swanky cafes emitting their scent of sweet pastries and coffee. Just what the soul needs to recover on a day like this.
Completely soaked to the core we hit our destination, The Side Pension & Hotel. Pronounced “sii-deh”, a family owned operation that stands up to its reputation as a warm establishment with the sophistication of a Byzantine guest house and rates for the global traveler that still has bills to pay back home! We promptly strip down and unload our packs as they were not impervious to the storm we just encountered. Our room starts to look like a laundry mat.
At this point we are wet, tired and hungry. Our plan is to spend the evening over dinner and drinks. After changing into some dry clothes, we narrow down our choices of cafes and restaurants from Rick Steve’s guide on Istanbul to Cankurtaran Sosyal Tesisleri. A local gem with a view to the Sea of Marmara. They serve a variety of seafood dishes, kebabs, and most importantly, kunafeh (a pastry of shredded wheat with cheese, honey, and pistachios. I’m mildly addicted!)
After the perfect introductory dinner we wander the streets for a while but decided to call it a day so we could get up early and get straight to our long list of sights in the city. The next morning the clouds had parted and we started with the complimentary breakfast on the rooftop with these views.
Foolproof calculation suggests that I’m in fact 24 years old. 8765.81 days to be exact! Birthday celebrations always bring to mind the activities of birthdays past and the miles in between, many of which were spent among family back in Texas or as most recently over brunch with loved ones.
A year ago however you would have found me wandering the Egyptian Market of Istanbul, cruising down the Bosphorus Strait, or on a less exotic note doubled over from some stomach virus!
So here’s a tribute to my 23rd birthday- Spent in the great cities of Byzantium, Constantinople, and Istanbul.
Leaving our Pension to catch a tram down to the Galata Bridge. Catching colorful sights of national heritage along the way
Down at the Galata Bridge, men call out “Bosphorus, Bosphorus, Bosphorus” luring us to a cramped kiosk where we bought tickets for the “Şehir Hatları” or traditional ferryboat that would take us from the Golden Horn (where the Bosphorus connects to the Sea of Marmara) to Anadolu Kavağı (a small fishing village on the shore of the Black Sea). A voyage that would run approximately 6 hours which includes a 3 hour layover at Anadolu K., a town known for their fish market and archaeological ruins.
Looking back at Istanbuls’ “Old City” aboard the “Şehir Hatları”. Minarets reach towards the heavens across the entire skyline of Istanbul proper.
The “New City” on the Asian side. To our right is the Galata Bridge. Straight ahead the Galata Tower (aka Christea Turris, Latin for “The Tower of Christ) a medieval tower built in 1348.
Residences along the Strait
Catching another glimpse of “New Town” before it’s out of sight.
Watch Tower 1 (European Side)
Watch Tower 2 (Asian Side).
Yoros Castle (aka the “Genoese Castle”) is a product of the Greeks and Phoenicians. Anadolu Kavağı rests as the base of this castle which has overlooked the Black Sea for thousands of years. A three hour layover leaves just enough time to explore both the town and ancient castle.
The land is littered with remains of Istanbuls’ past. Watch towers and ruins of great walls, lighthouses and castles can be seen all along the Bosphorus.
Anadolu Kavağı, a small fishing village with markets known for their fish, cafes and ice cream.
Fresh clams with chips and a view to the sea…
It’s clear where the Black Sea begins as the water gets choppier and the clouds more ominous.
Fresh ice cream produced from the local livestock. Life is good here, slow paced and all around a foodies delight.
Back aboard the Şehir Hatları, revving up the ferry to make our return trip.
Refreshed we find ourselves at a restaurant recommended by Rick Steves… well his travel guide “Rick Steve’s Istanbul”. Where to start but with two craft beers from Istanbul.
The sneaky chef sends out a B-day drink, no questions asked 🙂
So this is where it all began. On an archaeological dig out in Jordan I found myself spending a little too much time wandering aimlessly through the country. After the longest, sleepless, most bone chilling night camping out in Petra I found these beautiful creatures. Running through the narrow Siq I was more than ready to get back to Wadi Musa for some breakfast but who could pass up this opportunity?
Now a year later, back home, going through all the pictures and mementos I came across this image once more. With it I knew there was a story to be told. And with this image an idea was planted to share my journey. So here we are, in the vast sea of blogs on the World Wide Web with a new story to be told…
Though only 6 hours (460 km) separate Marrakech from the oasis town of M’Hamid I could have dedicated six days between the two place names. The villages that scatter Ourika Valley hold their own against the more popular Imperial Cities (Marrakech, Fes, Meknes and Rabat) and it’s out here in the wilderness of the High Atlas Mountains that I come across the Cafe Tajine.
An hour outside Marrakech the Cafe Tajine emerges from an icy riverbed along the narrow road that parallels the River Ourika. Makeshift bridges of repurposed woods and carpets reach across the river at many points along the route, leading to mud-brick villages, markets, and, in this case, one of the finest dining experiences i’ve had to date.
Here, for a few dollars (it’s truly a steal), you can feast like royalty. A spread of three tajines, salads, breads, mint tea…
It’s about time I bring you up to speed. Excuse the short entry but I felt an update was in order. Within 48 hours, this happened…
Austin, Texas to Casablanca, Morocco
Waving goodbye to my loved ones I embarked on a 21 hour multi-flight jaunt over the Atlantic Ocean; Austin, Texas to Chicago, Illinois, then the great airport of Heathrow in England for the short leap to Casablanca, Morocco. Whew! Luckily I had plenty of reading material between beefing up my Arabic vocabulary and maintaining, at the very least, a coherent understanding of my coursework.
Before long Morocco broke through the clouds emerging from the Atlantic. I had to snap a photo to capture the memory. Though it doesn’t show well, the materialization of Africa out of the deep blue is something of an emotional experience. Let the adventure begin!
Casablanca to Marrakech
Meeting an old friend in Casablanca we caught the first train to Marrakech. There, we would hook up with a group of French backpackers to begin a week of exploration, and long-term partying.
We hit our destination late in the cool spring evening. While the mudbrick structures were holding onto the warmth of the day.
In minutes we were in the great square of Jemaa el-Fnaa. Where the fragrance of saffron dances in the air which can sweeten the toughest brute while a few steps away you can be slapped in the face by the putrid aroma of livestock and the trill siren-esque call of the North African ‘Rhaita’ (a double reed flute) which is both haunting and poetic. Attempting to criss-cross the streets of metal and beast feels suicidal though becomes effortless and the locals are more than ready to accomodate your awkward swagger. Monkey’s, snake charmers, fire breathers, medicine men, and acrobats, vie for your attention as you’re swept away by a refreshing, cool glass of camels milk or freshly squeezed orange juice. This is going to be wild.
Down one of the fingerling souks we found a riad to drop of our gear before hitting the markets… or should we start with the “bastilla”? I’m bordering starvation and the impulse to move at 1,000 mph… or is it 1,000 km? With my camera, a handful of “dirhams”, and an open attitude i’m heading into one of the greatest cities this world has had the pleasure to concoct.
Marrakech is somewhat of a Genie. The embodiment of an alien world while welcoming and warm.
I’m more than ready to begin exploring the legendary city and i’ve come to conquer… myself that is. Let’s find out what this world offers while getting to know ourselves through adventure travel, history, and our brothers/sisters on the other side of the world, that’s my plan! So long as I make it to Amman, Jordan before my classes begin in April, i’m basically going with the flow here.
Don’t pic the oranges! The Garden of the Koutoubia.