Friday, September 16, 2016

Nice, France | Sept 2015

After spending three days in beautiful Marrakech, April and I headed to Nice, France for the last leg of our trip.

First thing we did: headed to the beach, of course. It was absolutely gorgeous and about 84 degrees in September.


But guess what? The beach in Nice is rocky. And by "rocks", I mean huge round stones that were probably used to kill people in the bible. Walking on these things was torture. So we stayed in our beach chairs. We met this cool chick from Chicago who tastes wine for a living. You read that right. Tastes wine. And gets paid for it.

 She was kind enough to take our picture.

By the way, we had to pay to use these beach chairs and the service and attitudes were really bad. Maybe it's always like this, maybe the manager had a bad day. Who knows? I was just happy to be alive.

The next day, we caught the tram around town. [Short story: Since I don't know French, I used the kiosk and accidentally bought about $130 worth of tram tickets. I'm writing this post one full year later and I guess I'll never get my money back after incessant emails. And yes, I reported it and turned in the tram tickets before leaving Nice, which was an ordeal in itself. Ever visited Metro headquarters in Washington, DC? Do you even know where it is? Try it in a foreign country.]

Anyway, we met up with our Chicago friend to see the flea market and get lunch. She and April saw puppies, literal puppies in a window, and were mesmerized.

My henna tattoo from Marrakech from the previous day was still going strong.

The market had all kinds of goods like fresh cotton, flowers, specialty jams, and of course, pastries.

Now to the best part: The French Riviera not only includes Nice, but also Cannes, the town of Eze, and Monaco. So we were able to take a 4-hour tour and see all of them in one afternoon.

The hillside village of Eze. 

We visited the Fragonard perfume factory and learned how perfume is made, and learned the difference between "a la toilette" and "a la parfum". Do you know?

Next we went to Monaco. You can see nearly the entire country in the photos below. It's small but gorgeous. The whole country is 499 acres. And guess what Monaco is preparing for? Yacht week, of course.

Monte Carlo Casino

Where the Grand Prix is run, right on the streets of Monaco. The entire country shuts down for the race, and locals leave during this time, to avoid the crowds. 

Next, we headed to Cannes. I've always wanted to go to the Cannes Film Festival, but sadly, I've never received an invitation (the only way to attend). So this is it for me. The main strip (below) was full of high end shops, museums, and 5-star hotels. It was very, very, very fancy.

Oh and guess what? Despite being about 30 minutes from Nice, Cannes has sandy beaches! What whuuuuuut

On our last day in Nice, we ventured out for breakfast. I got a Grand Marnier crepe. This isn't quite what I expected, but I went with it.

Nice--I would certainly return to. The entire French Riviera: there's so much to see and do, and lots and lots and lots of shopping (not pictured). :)  Until next time,


Marrakech, Morocco | Sept 2015

After Lisbon, April and I headed to Morocco, by way of Casablanca. I read that Casablanca is the Wall Street of Morocco, so we decided not to spend any time there and head straight to the souks of Marrakech. I was so excited. My first time in Africa!

Our hotel was located down what appeared to be a dirt covered alley. Our taxi driver got out on the corner and just pointed. We were clueless. There was no hotel facade, name, nothing. Just an alley lined with numbered doors. People stared at us. Others whizzed by, helmetless, on dirtbikes. We were confused, but once the door was opened, we were greeted by a gracious host, Wasim, and welcomed into the hotel's roofless courtyard. It was beautiful and I loved it.

Our room. This is a 4-star hotel. We're clearly not in Kansas anymore.

Strange that there were no windows in our room, but the rest of the hotel was so open, we didn't mind. Time to get out and see the souks: the North African traditional open markets. They start late in the evening, so we were right on time.

We weren't sure what to expect, so our host, Wasim, accompanied us out on the street. We're so glad he did. He cautioned us about keeping our cell phone out of sight and staying close to him.  We passed people begging in the street (and by "street", I mean dirt covered alleys) and vendor after vendor selling....well, crap. Terrible dollar-store items like hot pink dish soap, toothpaste, spoons, socks, cell phone cases, basically anything. But then the street opened up into what we really came to see, the heart of the souks.

At this time, it's about 10 pm. And people were EVERYWHERE. Dancing, singing, and selling.

The air was thick with smoke, from shisha or incense or both.

Marrakech has a large Berber population and many danced and sang as their ancestors did. For cash.

That's one of many, many, many mosques behind us in the distance.

Vendors sold food, clothing, argan oil, lanterns, nuts, children's toys, you name it.

Believe it or not, as late as it was, we were still able to go to dinner. Wasim had a friend who ran a restaurant nearby, so we walked over. Everything is 2 or 3 stories high, so we ate on the 3rd floor of the restaurant. I had chicken tfaya couscous, probably the best meal I've ever had outside of the states. April had vegetable tangine. So. damn. good.

The next day, April and I hired a driver to take us to Essouira, which is about 2 hours away from Marrakech, on the coast. We were able to see a lot more of Morocco along the way.

Along the road to Essouira, every once in a while we would see a house, or what we thought was a house because what we would really see is a random wall, surrounding the perimeter of a house. And this explains the architecture of Marrakech--walls seem to govern, or hide, everyone's residence. I'm not sure what the reason is for this, but I found it somewhat limiting and contrary to the openness I felt upon our arrival. This is also why our hotel was nearly invisible and all we saw were door-lined alleys. There's no telling what's behind each door.

The landscape is very, very dry and desolate. To see a tree was kind of a big deal. To see a tree with goats in it, well, we thought we were hallucinating. Nope, a tree had real goats standing on the branches, barely moving. We had to get out and take a closer look.

That's something I don't think I'll ever see again. Apparently though, it's a thing, because later I googled "Goats in a Tree" and you can see photos of it all over the internet, taken in Morocco.

Next, we stopped at an argan oil factory and saw how it's made from the argan nut.

Some people put argan butter on their bread.  Pretty tasty.

Then, we stopped about an hour outside of Marrakech for a camel ride. These guys are just waiting on the side of the road for tourists like us.

Then, we finally made it to Essouira. It's a beautiful beach town, where people go to vacation. It was lightyears different from Marrakech. We were so hungry so of course we had to eat first. What did I get? Chicken tangine.

The Atlantic Ocean, West Coast

Random cat under our table. I forgot to mention--there were also random cats in the Casablanca airport.

If I'd known how beautiful it would be, I would've brought my bikini with me. Oh well. You know what we didn't see? People sunbathing in chairs. Vendors trying to get you jetski or hop on the banana boat. There were just people chillin.

Next, we walked over to the fish market. I wish I could photograph a smell so you could experience the wretchedness that is a fish market. Luckily, you could walk about 100 yards away and not smell a thing.

The market sold other items like clothing, shoes, leather, and dry goods like herbs and spices.

 I got a henna tattoo.

We got SO LOST looking for our driver at our designated meeting spot. The market was a maze. I like to believe I have a good sense of direction but it failed me that day. But we made it, finally, and headed back to Marrakech. I wanted to revisit Essouira before we even left.

Once we were back in Marrakech, that night, we went back to the souks. It was supposedly livelier than the night before. This time, we had dinner at a different spot, after walking around what seemed like forever to find it with the help of Wasim's young friend.

New light painting! This is the flag of Morocco. I decided that 'Morocco' was too long to spell in a painting.

Just like the first night, the souks were all the way live. These photos were taken around midnight.

Marrakech was amazing, especially the food, culture, and population of brown people. But Essouira was better. It's one of the places I really would love to return to! Next up: Nice, France.