Mountains, Medinas & Other Must See Morocco

The Scene at Djemaa el Fna in Marrakech, Morocco. Photo by Author.

Sitting on the upper ridge of North Africa, Morocco has developed its personality with influences from the leisurely Mediterranean, bustling West Africa, and the devout Middle East. It may be no destination for tranquility seekers, but Morocco delivers a fascinating experience to anyone with energy for and interest in discovering a new perspective. Whether you primarily hit major cities or try to stay off the beaten path, there are several very distinct regions of Morocco that you can’t miss. If you’re looking for the complete Morocco experience, you’ll have to strap in for the medinas, gear up for the mountains and prepare yourself for a vacation you’ll never forget.

1. The Atlantic Coast: Whether you make it to Agadir, Essaouira or Casablanca, the Moroccan Atlantic Coast is an undeveloped stretch of beach towns, forts and harbors that sit outside the inland chaos. You’ll have the chance to remember what stillness feels like as you face away from the street and wait for the hazy neon sunset to come.

2. The Medina: The medinas of Morocco are walled cities that house everything essential in Moroccan daily life. From the chaotic souks (markets) selling dates by the kilo and lavishly decorated leather shoes, to the more tranquil hamams (baths) and mosques, half the fun is in getting lost. Whether you’re wandering around the medinas of Fes or the more manageable Marrakech, the journey is actually quite fun as long as you have a major landmark, some extra time and a big sense of adventure.

3. The Sahara Desert: The Sahara Desert has a certain prestige amongst deserts. Still hosting generations of nomadic groups who continue to live by traditional survival methods, the desert has managed to remain very much the same in a rapidly urbanizing world. A trip to the Sahara is mysteriously alluring for visitors to Morocco. In spite of the harsh climate, its absolute vastness and true remoteness gives you a chance to see something that you really can’t imagine without being there yourself.

4. The High Atlas Mountains: This tall mountain range in Central Morocco spans east toward the Algerian border. While this North African mountain range is an interesting spot for climbers, there are also plenty of opportunities for the less vertically inclined. Its steep peaks can challenge even the most experienced climbers, but the High Atlas also offers a chance for travelers looking to escape the city or connect with the country’s Berber population on shorter trips.

It takes the right kind of attitude to enjoy, but if you’re ready for a big change of–pace, scenery, climate, and altitude–Morocco will deliver.

Ever been to Morocco? What was your favorite spot? (Click here if you can’t see the comments below: Mountains, Medinas, & Other Must See Morocco)

Get out of Dodge (and by Dodge I mean a snow bank)

If you’re currently enjoying the fall colors, crispy-crunchy leaves and cooler weather of the Northern Hemisphere, but not exactly looking forward to the bone-chilling temperatures that are coming in the next few months, this list is for you. Thanks to the equator, the universe, and gravity, the Southern Hemisphere happens to be quite balmy while the other half freezes. Check out our hot list of warm destinations perfectly tailored to a December or January escape:

1)   Australia – Head down under for warm weather, world-class beaches and the iconic fauna the Aussies are lucky enough to call their own. Drive the Great Ocean Road for unbelievable views, watch the penguins parade home, or visit metropolitan Sydney – you really can’t go wrong, whatever you choose.

2)   Brazil – Anywhere in South America is really a great option, but Brazil is especially choice during February – Carnival, anyone? Bright costumes, crazy parties, and warm sunshine are only a few of the incredible things about a trip to Brazil.

3)   Bali – Yes, an island paradise sounds pretty great year-round, but the awe-inspiring sunsets and lovely culture of Indonesia will really hit the spot in the middle of deep dark winter. Put an umbrella in your drink and forget about show for a while.

4)   New Zealand – This island nation has no shortage of gorgeous Pacific beaches, islands and incredible inland scenery. Don’t miss out on the Bay of Islands, the Waitomo Glow Worm Caves, or the warm weather!

What warm and sunshiny spot are you dreaming of right now? Let us know in the comments or on facebook.

24

10 2012

The Highs & Lows of Traveling with the Weather

An Especially Untimely Visit to Bangkok during the Floods of ’11. Photo by Author.

The mistake of visiting Southeast Asia during monsoon season or Northern Europe during winter is one that you only make once. You may not even realize just how much the weather can affect a vacation until you make a serious misjudgment. Traveling during unfavorable times of year can affect anything from opening hours to availability to comfort, but there are some advantages to visiting during the down season. Before you travel next, at least check this list, then check the weather to make sure you’ll get what you’re looking for from your vacation:

  • Stuck in the Hotel Room - In some countries, the changes in season are so severe that even the locals head to the hills (or the beach) for some refuge. Be sure to check online for drastic weather conditions in the country you’ll be visiting to ensure that you time it right.
  • Is Anybody Home? - Certain countries take what seems like a nationwide vacation during the “bad” seasons of the year. If you visit Spain in August, you can expect the majority of stores to be vacant or the hours of operation to be cut short so the vendors can escape the heat. Check in advance that the activities you want to do are actually available during the time you plan to travel.
  • The Jumbo Suitcase - Traveling light is an amazing thing. The first time you travel with JUST a 10kg bag for your week long vacation, you might never lug a huge bag again. However, weather conditions mean the difference between packing winter parkas & rain boots -vs- tank tops & flip flops. If you want to pack light, it’s best to travel during times where no jacket is required!
  • Your Crystal Ball – Check out BestTimetoGo.com for comprehensive advice about… well… the best time to go to your vacation spot.
  • Finally… forget all my other advice - There is a good part about traveling during “unfavorable” times of year. NO tourists. Imagine yourself wandering alone through world wonders that are normally packed. Sure, you may be covered to your knees in mud, sweating profusely or unable to feel your toes, but it’s still kind of awesome.

Ever been trapped in a tropical storm or caught underdressed in a blizzard? Tell us about your most ridiculous weather story from your travels in the comments below or on Facebook! (Can’t access the comments? Click here for a link to the full story: The Highs & Lows of Traveling with the Weather)

Sneezy, Sick & Sleepy: How to Save Your Vacation When You Get Sick

Your worst travel nightmare has happened…

You’re FINALLY off and away on your one week of fun and relaxation that you have been been working so hard for and planning for months… aaand now you’re sick.

First of all, don’t freak out. I know that getting sick on vacation is no fun. I’ve been there, and I want to help you get better. Depending on where you’re at, your resources will vary, but here are a few things to remember if *knock on wood* you get sick while on vacation:

1. Don’t Freak Out: You’ve heard the horror stories about malaria and Japanese Encephalitis, but chances are you’re fighting off a simple flu or stomach bacteria. Keep an eye out for the warning signs of something more serious, but don’t let your mind wander early on.

2. Stock Up on Supplies: The environment may have changed but the rules are basically the same. Pick up water, bananas, tea, white rice/bread, 7Up/sparkling water, and a local version of noodle soup should be available in just about every country. If you’re staying at a nice hotel, ask if they can provide it for you! Otherwise, send your travel companion out to a local pharmacy for some ibuprofen, vitamin C, oral rehydration salts, cough syrup, tissues, and any other basic medications that you can comfortably prescribe yourself.

3. Sleep: If you’ve been traveling cheaply, now’s the time to splurge. It may be worth paying for the private room just so you can sleep, sleep, sleep as long as it takes for you to feel alive again.

4. Waiting is OK but Then Call the Doctor: If I’m not deathly ill, I usually prefer to wait a day or two to see if it’s worth the hassle. Getting a taxi to the hospital can be half the battle on some vacations, but if you still feel just as terrible after some time has passed, get checked out by a doctor to be prescribed any necessary medications. Don’t forget to save a copy of the bill for reimbursement by your travel insurance company (note travel insurance is included with some credit cards).

5. Get Back Out There!: You don’t want to totally waste your whole vacation! The moment you feel well enough to walk outside, give it a try. I don’t recommend you try to scale the highest peak in Latin America on your first day out of bed, but you can at least go for a walk or dip your feet in the water. Sip tea at a cafe or read on a bench in the sunshine so you still feel like you’re on vacation, even if its not exactly what you imagined.

Ever been sick abroad? Whats your best remedy? Tell us about it on Facebook or write us in the comments below! (Click here if you can’t see the comments: Sneezy, Sick & Sleepy: How to Save Your Vacation When You Get Sick).

19

10 2012

Top 5 Moroccan Foods: Eating as the Moroccans Do

“Hello, madam. You like cheap, good, clean food?”

Actually, I prefer expensive, tasteless food with E. Coli, I thought, sarcastically. I had been offered the same pitch all day, but I suppose  it was starting to feel like lunch time.

I have heard from a few true foodies that Moroccan cuisine is one of the best in the world. Needless to say, I came to Morocco ready to eat. And I guess that cheap, good, clean food is a great start. So I followed the man inside, and sat down for a full Moroccan meal.

Undo the top button on your jeans, and lets eat Moroccan food.

1. Tagine: Though tagine was traditionally prepared in it’s namesake cookware, modern Moroccans normally skip the slow cook in favor of a quicker meal. Tagine is most basically a stew of tender vegetables and meat, but are made unique through the addition of olives, dried fruit, or perserved lemon alongside a blend of Moroccan spices.

Harira. Photo by Rui Ornelas on Flickr.

2. Harira: Any Moroccan will brag about the seemingly simple Harira, but the boasting is not without cause. This traditional Berber soup is a popular appetizer made from a base of tomatoes and flour loaded with just about everything in the pantry. Lentils, onion, Moroccan spices, and chickpeas give this seemingly simple soup a Moroccan flare.

3. Cous Cous: While the adventurous American household might serve up cous cous on occasion, it probably doesn’t rival the Moroccan preparation. Though simple, the grains are soft and served with stewed vegetables, tender meats, and rehydrated raisins for a warm and delicious entree.

Uncooked Kefta. Photo by jlastras on flickr.

4. Kefta/Kofta: If it looks and tastes like a really delicious meatball, its probably a Kofta.

5. Pastilla: Seperatists of sweet and savory should steer clear of the pastilla, however, if you are willing to mix, you’re in for a treat. The pastilla is a pastry of filo dough that is about the size and shape of a pita loaf filled with pulled chicken or pidgeon, cinnamon, and raisins. The top is dusted with a thin layer of powdered sugar for a sweet and fabulous finish. Dessert optional.

If you like this article, you might also want to check out “Top 10 Middle Eastern Foods: Eating as the Jordanians Do“ Have you eaten Moroccan food before? What are some of your favorite dishes not mentioned above? Tell us about it in the comments section below! (Click here if you can’t see comments field: Top 5 Moroccan Foods: Eating as the Moroccans Do)

18

10 2012

The Traveling Snacker’s Guide to Long Bus Rides

I’m not an addictive person for the most part. I’ve never seen the allure of cigarettes and I usually find a good moment to stop when alcohol is involved. I do, however, suffer from one serious addiction.

I am a snacker.

Even if you feed me a filling five-course meal after Thanksgiving lunch, you’ll probably still find me rummaging in the cereal box or digging through the fruit bowl before bed.

Sometimes this can be a problem, but for the most part, I swap out large meals for small ones and snack healthily to accomodate this compulsion. But, this also means that my supply for a snack bag on any bus/plane/train journey exceeding 2 hours is enough to supply a 1950′s fallout shelter.

On my travels, I have found that shopping in foreign markets can be confusing and that offerings aren’t always the same. Granola bars can be sparse while cookies, chips and overpriced in-flight meals are plentiful and tempting. So if you’re a snacker like me and panic before a long journey on vacation, here are a couple of healthy snack items I have found almost universally available to get your snack fix on the road:

1. Bread: Though the shape may differ from loaf to bagel to pita, nearly every culture integrates bread into the diet. Bread is easy to store, easy to pair and good to have around if you want a snack between meals.

2. Fruit: The variety of fruits available in foreign countries is perhaps one of the most fun food-related things to observe. Swap out your usual apple for a rhombutan or pomegranate, and enjoy!

3. Nuts: Nuts are high in protein and healthy in small portions. They are portable enough to keep in your bag on day trips or long journeys and sold almost everywhere.

4. Yogurt/Spreadable Cheese: While dairy is not a central part of the Asian diet, I have found that nearly everywhere in the world you can find yogurt or spreadable cheese wedges readily available. It’s not the most practical for long journeys, but if you want some protein, try to find some dairy.

5. Local Snacks: Look no further than the streets for the greatest variety of snack items. From momos to samosas to baklava, local food vendors are often cooking up interesting snack foods right under you nose. Walk slowly, browse the offerings and buy bravely.

What are your favorite travel snacks? Tell us about them in the comments below! (Can’t see the comments? Click here to link to the full story: The Traveling Snacker’s Guide to Long Bus Rides)

15

10 2012

Hop-On, Hop-Off, Hop Into Madrid

Sunsets at El Arco de la Victoria in Madrid. Photo by Author.

It was 2 months into my stay in Madrid when I first realized I had spent way too much of my time underground.

The metro had whizzed me to Sol, Argüelles, Plaza de España, Tribunal and La Latina so effortlessly that I hardly realized I had no idea where I was, really. And what was more, the feeling of comfort had begun to set in as it does when the novelty of a thing wears off, and my desire to move on to a new city had started to burn. I felt like I had done most of the things I wanted to when I first arrived in Madrid, but I decided I shouldn’t leave the city without taking advantage of my super cool job with Gray Line… So I hopped on a Gray Line bus for a day-long tour of the city I thought I knew.

Rather than utilizing the hop off feature of the tour to revisit places I had been inside more than a few times, I instead took a front row seat, plugged in my headphones, traded off between two of the 14 language options, and spent the day watching Madrid sprawl out before me.

Route 1 began on the curb outside El Museo del Prado (a stop on it’s own, housing the works of Goya and Velázquez). The city tour took us along the lively Plaza de Colon and past the walls plastered in political graffitti and other thoughtful street art of the grungy-hip Fuencarral. We breezed along the roads just outside of Plaza de España where theater companies decorated entire buildings with enormous advertisements for upcoming shows. Our bus swirled us down the ritzy Calle de la Princessa, and through the university neighborhood of Argüelles where students sipped coffee at roadside cafes while reading chemistry textbooks. We passed the absolutely enormous El Palacio Real and cruised the wide boulevards of Plaza de Isabel to Calle Mayor. Curving steadily around the city’s many roundabouts and looking up at the should-be-famous buildings lining nearly every street, I watched how neighborhoods evolved into one another, transitioning sometimes smoothly and sometimes abrubtly into new ‘hoods and often entirely new scenes. The tour finally dropped us back at El Prado where I hopped off to start Route 2–a route showing an entirely different sector of the city–without much of a wait at all.

So it was atop a Hop-On Hop-Off bus amongst first time visitors to the city that I really learned the city I had been wandering for weeks. The rich history of war and reconstruction gave the city’s sights new meaning and I discovered a renewed enthusiasm for the classically charming, yet edgily modern Madrid.

I was never sure that I was the open top bus type, whatever that means, but my city tour in Madrid made me a believer. The hours I had spent browsing museums, strolling alleyways and munching on tapas all came together to form a mental street map. And rather than viewing Madrid as a fragmented city of destinations, I felt like I finally appreciated it for its atmosphere… I liked the feeling of Madrid and that’s something you can’t really get bored of. I suppose sometimes all it takes is a new vantage point to make you look at a place in a whole new way.

Stay tuned for a photoblog from my tour!

Want to take your own Hop-On Hop-Off Tour of Madrid? Check out the Madrid Hop-On Hop-Off City Bus Tour from our guys at Gray Line Spain!

In your opinion, what city has the best vibe? Is it quickly identifiable or does it take time to grow? Let us know in the comments below! (Can’t see the comments? Click here for a link to the full story: Hop-On, Hop-Off, Hop Into Madrid)

01

10 2012

We All Know About the Twister But What Do You Know About the Cylcone?

I just got back from a trip to NYC. I hadn’t been to the city in a while and was really excited to catch up with old friends, eat some great food, and of course see a show. With those 3 things in mind, I’m happy to say it was a successful trip.

I got to see Once the musical and if you have an opportunity to see it, DO IT! It’s easily one of the best shows I have ever been to and the venue is a gem. If you happen to run into Paul who works security, be nice to him. He is THE MAN! Seriously though, he let my friend and I leave during intermission to make a bathroom run, despite the fact that we lost our tickets! Not only that, there is literally a bar on the stage(!) that you can order drinks from!! They may be expensive, but they come in Once sippy cups (adorable) and they don’t skimp on the pours…

My last day in the city, I was invited to go to Coney Island for a friend’s birthday. I’ve never been and I was eager to get my hands on a Nathan’s Famous hotdog and stroll down the boardwalk. Little did I know that the highlight of my time there would be a roller coaster – The Cyclone!

 

Heard of it? Of course you have! If you haven’t, well now you know. The Cyclone is a national landmark and was the first wooden roller coaster in the US.  It’s THE standard to which all rides are held. Here are some facts:

  • The Cyclone made its debut in 1927 and is one of the oldest roller coasters still in operation
  • Height: 85 feet
  • 1st Drop: 85 feet at 53 degrees
  • Top speed: 60 mph – feels faster
  • Number of Drops: 12(!)
  • Changes in Direction: 16
  • Number of 180 Degree turns: 6
  • Number of Elevation Changes: 27
  • Duration: 1 minute 50 seconds

There was something so terrifyingly wonderful about this ride. Don’t let the fact that it doesn’t look too intimidating from the ground fool you as it did me. I was not expecting so many steep drops. You know how most roller coasters are, they start you off with the steepest drop and then it’s smooth sailing from there. Not the case with the Cyclone. Once you have recovered from the last drop, you are jerked to the right and you find yourself falling again – lifted out of your chair – stomach in your throat – holding on for dear life. They say if you’re sitting in the back car you can actually feel the coaster lift off the tracks!

Once the ride was actually over, the #1 comment everyone made was how long the ride felt! Regardless of length, I can honestly say my equilibrium was off and I couldn’t hardly stand, as you can see in the photo:

The Aftermath

If you are in the city, you should really take some time to hop on the train and head out to Coney Island to ride the Cyclone – it would also be a good idea to wait to eat your Nathan’s hot dog until afterwards… jus’ sayin.

And seeing as how New York is known for its food, here’s a plug for a restaurant you have to try. If you are in the East Village, check out the chic new restaurant Ducks Eatery at 351 e 12th street, New York, New York, and tell them Sonja sent you. Great food (especially try the jerky, pig ears and wings), great drinks and great people. I may be a little biased on the last one, seeing as most of the staff is from my hometown of Taos. And finally, here’s a shout out to Alie Valerio for providing the uncaptioned photos :) !

Have you been to Coney Island? What was your favorite ride? What did you think of the Cyclone? Share your comments below! (Click here if you can’t see Facebook comments: We All Know About the Twister But What Do You Know About the Cyclone?)

Dairy Diaries of an International Traveler

Despite my professed apathy for a straight cup of cow milk, I truly love cheese, ice cream, yogurt and all other milk byproducts. That’s what made my transition to the travelers diet quite heartbreaking. In spite of spicy noodles, savory stews and tangy stir-fries, I couldn’t stop thinking… where’s the cheese?

October 20th, 2011 - Indonesia: “…Amazing! I love Asian food. Dumplings, sate, and fried rice galore. Saw some American guys eating hamburgers at McDonalds… heh. What a cop out! I could eat this kind of food forever.”

January 3rd, 2012 - Thailand: “…I’m slipping. I have reverted to my old ways of yogurt and cereal for breakfast even though it has nearly doubled my daily food budget. Yesterday, I bought a block of cheese that tasted more like salted plastic and grass than cheese–I ate it anyway. My idea of a diet is only having one Chocolate Royale cone a day. I also ate from a block of goat feta that my friend’s family carried to Thailand in a suitcase on a 17 hour flight. Desperate times have already fallen, and 10 months remain.”

April 27th, 2012 - India: “…Paneer is cheese! But it’s spongy and wet. Hmm… this isn’t too much like cheese after all. Where’s the cured cheese? The ice cream is usually freezer burned and the yogurt sits in unrefridgerated pyramids with the excess dripping down the bottles… I tried my luck with the ice cream. I got sick. I guess now I really have to wait”

June 30th, 2012 - Israel: “Yogurt and spreadable cheese wedges! Ice cream is still outlandish, but I think we’re definitely moving back into milking territory. Staying with a family friend that buys REAL cheese. Life couldn’t be better.”

August 8th, 2012 - Spain: “Milk, gelato and cheese, woohoo! Cream soup, cream cheese, cream sauce, oh no. I think I’m going to be sick.”

October 20th, 2012 (Prediction) - USA: “Checking out at the grocery store with a cart full of ingredients to make Pad Thai… my bottle of fish sauce costs three times more than my block of swiss cheese. Oh, how things change.”

Alright, foodies. What food do you miss the most when you travel? Give me your most vivid description in the comments below or on Facebook. (Can’t see the comments below? Click here for the link: Dairy Diaries of an International Traveler)

How to Sleep in the Desert: Bedouin Camping Trips

…I apologize in advance if you’re expecting a desert survival guide; I think any advice I gave on the topic would be more likely to leave you dehydrated, burned, and withering away. But what I can tell you is what to expect on a Bedouin camping trip!

If the idea of spending a day four wheeling through an expansive desert past camels and rouge rock walls doesn’t excite you, you haven’t seen Aladdin or Gladiator recently enough. There is something incredibly vast and mysterious about one of the world’s harshest biomes, and something unnerving about camping out underneath a finally-visible universe of stars above.

What to Expect from a Desert Camping Trip:

As with anything, what you can expect on a Bedouin camping trip varies significantly depending on the price and the country in which you’re traveling. For the lower end trips, you can expect basic provisions—a guide, a car with a usually-functional engine, a simple tent and facilities, a heavy dinner, and all the tea you can drink. On the other end of the spectrum, there are more expensive camps that can offer up hot showers, an air-conditioned vehicle, and even electricity.

A day in the desert is best described as long, hot, and dusty. You’ll spend a lot of time in the car traversing to different natural landmarks, a lot of time resting, and the remainder of the time at the camp sweating out gallons of water. Bring a book, cards, plenty of snacks and water, a flashlight, and comfortable (conservative) clothes to wear for your downtime at the camp in between outings. Believe it or not, there’s not a whole lot to do if you don’t bring it with you.

As night falls and the air chills, you’ll revel in slight relief from the heat. Expect a meal heavy on carbohydrates and protein, but low on fresh fruits and vegetables–you are in the desert after all. That being said, most of the camps stock up on modern items like Laughing Cow cheese wedges and pita bread. Before heading to sleep, your mind will wander as you forget any discomfort and watch the sky illuminate with a million stars above. This is the part that’s really worthwhile.

If you’re traveling somewhere arid like Morocco or Jordan, there’s no better recommendation than to just embrace it and head right into the desert… with a guide of course. It may not always be comfortable, but it is certainly a fascinating and thought provoking way to pass a few days of vacation. Have you ever slept in the desert? Tell us about it on Facebook or in the comments section below! (Can’t see the comments? Click here for the link: How to Sleep in the Desert)