Monday, September 30, 2013

Back in Berlin!





I have so much love for this city. Berlin isn't the most obviously beautiful city in Europe (there is a lot of competition) but it's definitely one of the most interesting. I feel at home here!  It's vibrant, a little rough around the edges (but safe), cosmopolitan, artistic and it was the center of one of the most important revolutions of my lifetime. My grandparent's generation fought in WW2 in Europe but it was my generation of Germans that tore down the wall when I was in college.  I came here in 2011 to run the Berlin marathon with some friends from CARA, and this year we decided to come back - (some same people, mostly new people).  We were all lucky to get in, the race sold out in 3.5 hours! I had to have Kimberley register for me because I was on a bus in Morocco last fall when registration opened. 

I landed on Friday completely recovered from jet lag and excited to see my friends.  I was really looking forward to the marathon expo (it was fun last time) but this year it was maddening.  My claustrophobia kicked in big time (this picture looks oddly empty of people). I bought a few shirts and picked up my bib. Usually I have a rush of emotion or excitement when I actually get my marathon bib and chip in my hands.  This time, I did not. I had been strangely ambivalent about the race for about a week, almost negative about it. I blame lack of sleep or maybe that I was tired. I needed to get that energy back. I believe that marathons are very mental and positive mental energy means everything in doing well in a long race. I can slog through a 5k with any state of mind but  a 13.1 or over needs something else.  I had an almost perfect summer of training but I was suspicious and felt that my luck had maybe run out, which is completely crazy.  




We ate bratwursts at the expo and I got a carrot-ginger heath juice thing that I hoped would make me somehow heathy and vibrant. 

I was able to finally check into my room at the Circus hotel, same place we stayed 2 years ago. I love that hotel. Reasonably priced and friendly with a great breakfast. I love the neighborhood too! 



I feel like this is the montrose brown line stop - my home! 




That evening I went to a Russian dumpling place that blew my mind. I met the others at their German restaurant to have a drink with them. 

I woke up in a much better state of mind, completely positive about the race again, thank goodness. You can't force the way you feel so I was relieved. Saturday morning we did a group photo shoot at the a East side gallery (top picture). It was nice to revisit all the artwork. 








A Trabant, an old communist-era car: 



After the photo shoot, Pankers and I took the train home while the others toured the city. We had the same idea - rest! I locked myself away in my room to read with my legs elevated. I had walked so much in Stockholm that I was worried. It was torture to be back in Berlin and not be able to walk around but it paid off in the end. That evening, we had a grandma-early pasta dinner and got all of our outfits ready before early bedtimes. 

Next: marathon day 





Stockholm - Reindeer and a soccer riot





I've never been to Scandanavia and several flights to Berlin had layovers in Sweden or Finland. I decided to create a 48 hour layover to see a new city!

SAS wasn't my favorite airline to be honest. I've had better coach experiences, but I've had worse I guess.  It wasn't packed, though so I was happy about that. Dinner was only one choice - meat stew. No fun local touches. Small seats. KLM last year was better. I alternated between reading and watching the are-we-there-yet channel:




One of the movie choices was Sideways. I forgot how absolutely hilarious that movie is! 

I took the cheap bus into the city and walked a mile to the hotel. 

I researched this weekend forever. I booked the Story hotel months ago, which is kind of an edgy hotel with a cool bar and restaurant. Sweden is crazy expensive but I paid for the room months ago so it wasn't as painful. 




Art in the hotel. I felt like this little girl was judging me for taking a two-hour nap. 



I got up and explored my neighborhood. It was so cold - in the 40s and many places had people sitting outside! I liked the concept of these fuzzy chairs for keeping warm in the cold:




I explored Sauhall, close to the hotel. 



It only got up to 52 that day. Being from Chicago where people wear shorts as soon as it hits 55, I appreciated that the Swedes didn't wimp out on the outdoor seating. They sometimes provided blankets! 


I loved this sign:




I explored Gamla Stan, the old historic touristy part of the city:





I was jet-lagged and loopy! But extremely happy to be traveling sonewhere new:




At 4PM I gave up walking and sat with a glass of wine while icy blasts of wind came out of the harbor. I kept telling myself "I am not cold I am not cold I am not cold this is great not cold"



I had been looking forward to this dinner for a month! I went to Kryp In so that I could try reindeer:




I had an incredible three-course meal! Fantastic way to tell my stomach that we are in Sweden: 


I walked home through beautiful streets back up to the main commercial part of town where I was staying. 




I bought the iPad mini a few days before the trip. It was a great decision. I used to travel with no phone, I would just go to Internet caf├ęs once in awhile that always had filthy keyboards and students in them.  This trip I took my iPhone,iPad and garmin GPS watch for the marathon. I feel like a total sell-out from my old more spontaneous days. I just don't understand at all how people can be afraid to travel when there's so much technology to help you. Going to Europe can be as easy as going anywhere at home: 



I used the Stockholm metro a lot to save my legs for the marathon. The metro was clean and easy to understand. A monkey could take the metro by himself, it was that easy. Unlike the CTA that might have chicken bones or an empty bottle of wild Irish rose rattling around on the floor, there were spotless seats and vegetable/flower markets in the Stockholm underground stations.  I still walked for miles because it was so much fun, I couldn't help it. And still wore myself into the ground.  My favorite thing to do is explore a new city. 




Stockholm residents were for the most part beautiful people. There are tall, beautiful people everywhere! Nobody was all done up and a lot of the guys wore cute ski hats and sported scruffy faces. Hipster dads everywhere pushing their babies in strollers.  Everything was sleek, modern or vintagey mid-century Swedish-modern (like the furniture shops). Everybody spoke near-perfect English.  Stockholm was like this magic little cheerful city where everything seems perfect. 

The second day I explored sodermalm, the more Progressive neighborhood. It reminded me of nicer parts of Brooklyn or Chicago. 


I was walking to dinner when there was a crazy ruckus on the street. I noticed that a lot of guys in black and yellow scarves had been drinking all day at a big outdoor bar. The were pre-gaming for a big soccer match. The team on the north side of Stockholm was about to play the south side team and they all walked to the game en masse, breaking bottles, singing, chanting and setting up smoke bombs along the way. They marched up the street, then street sweepers came and cleaned it all up as if nothing had happened! I'm glad somebody in this town caused some trouble, I was starting to think things were a little too perfect around here!




I had dinner at Pelikan, where a table of old men were dining together next to me and broke out into song. 






I took the metro home and went to 7-11 to buy yogurt and a banana for my 4AM wakeup before my flight to Berlin. I saw this bin of Swedish fish, which just said "pastellfisk"




I used my restaurant coupon to get a beer in the bar area of the hotel (this is the restaurant, below) where models were groping eachother to dance music,  it was that kind of place. I downloaded some photos from my day in the corner and went to bed. 




Saturday, September 21, 2013

Fez - learning to make Bastilla and over-the counter surprise medicine



10 months later I am finally getting around to writing my last Morocco post - about Fez. 

My hotel, Dar Seffarine, was down a tiny alley about 4 twists and turns away from a small square.  I tried to wander outside in the rain to find some dinner, but gave up quickly because I felt like I had the flu and got lost within 5 minutes.  I planned to just sleep it off and had a full day to recover before my cooking class at cafe Clock. Normally, I would be upset to be sick on vacation - but it always seems to happen.  I know I push myself too hard, too far and always catch some stomach bug. But with a room like this, I was actually excited to be sick all day.  My three-room upgrade was STUNNING.  This was the sitting room (my bedroom through the doors: 





Ornate tile in the doorway:




Once again, I was queen of the castle.  For a price that would get you a Holiday Inn in America, or less.  I love Morocco for this. If you were into design or boutique hotels, it is the best place I have ever been for both.  Here I am laying in my bed, being sick and loving it:




I met Andres at breakfast, an older Belgian man who was living in New York.  Like every other tourist I met in Morocco, he was extremely well-travelled and a little "been there, seen that" in demeanor.  I described my symptoms and he wrote down the name of an over the counter antibiotic I could get at the pharmacy.  Just because getting a prescription from another guest in the hotel who was not a doctor seemed like a fine thing to do, I went around the corner for some of this!






While I was walking home from the pharmacy, I was offered a big Moroccan cock from a young 20-something man.  After a week in the country, and emailing with my sister who let me know that it was OK to stand up to these guys (she lived in Egypt for a year) - and being sick and not really feeling like my polite self, I told him to fuck off, and that his Moroccan cock was likely small, and would he talk to a moroccan woman like that?  No, he wouldn't.  I was in a public square during the day and I half-expected another argument like I had in Marrakech.  As soon as the words came out of my mouth, I kind of felt like it was a mistake.  I really don't think that was what my sister meant when she said that it was OK to stand up to them.  But he just put his hands up and said "no problem" and scurried off.  Amazing. And - maybe I was lucky.  But don't mess with me when I'm sick, Morocco!

By dinnertime, I felt much better.  The cipro had carpet-bombed whatever was ailing me out of my stomach. I had dinner with Andres and another Belgian couple who had that adorable, low-maintenance breezy way about them that northern european couples seem to have when they travel together.  The hotel staff gave me special vegetarian options.  I had enough sketchy meat on this trip and my stomach told me in a very strong way that it wanted bland, vegetarian food tonight. We all had a nice conversation about being tourists in Morocco and the funny things that happened to us.  The Belgian woman had a 12 year old boy try to french kiss her after helping them with directions back to the hotel one night (the boyfriend had slipped through the door first).  I told them about the family that took me in for Eid Al Adha.  It was wonderful to end the day with some good company.

Rather than be offered more cock and have more arguments with men on the street, I sucked it up and hired a guide the next day, Idriss.  For about 20 dollars, he took me to all the sights in town and let me shop as much as I wanted.  Walking around with Idriss was like night and day.  Nobody looked at me, nobody made any comments to me, followed me or tried to get me to come into their shop.  I could feel my blood pressure going down to a normal level being with Idriss.

Here was a religious school's square we saw on our walk:



The tannery, which smelled horrible:


The rooftop of a museum I wandered up to:




Some old men just chilling on the street:



A sign displaying adorable rabbits and pigeons for sale.. for eating.. 


Fez was magical.  Usually I like to do things by myself, but I'm learning that I can only do so much.  I cannot stand up to Moroccan culture alone in every situation.  Morocco and me are just too different and as tough as I think I am, I can't just expect to not be harassed.  It's not Morocco's fault.  Africa is all about going with the flow.  Hiring a guide felt a little bit like a failure to my independent, backpacking self but it was a wonderful decision.  Later that afternoon, Idriss dropped me off at Riad Laroussa, where I had scheduled a 45 minute hammam and massage.

Riad Laroussa was like a little oasis in Fez - beautiful flowers growing in the courtyard and I could sit and sip mint tea as long as I liked.  I was taken into a steamy room that smelled like orange flowers with a fire burning in the corner.  I had to strip naked and lay down on a marble slab.  A woman came in and scrubbed me and threw buckets of hot water on me.  She showed me on the mitt how much grime and skin came off.  It was a little bit painful but I felt like a new person at the end.  After that I had a half hour massage.  I wish they had hammams in America.  Usually the Hammam is a social affair - women in a family might go together, or with friends to a public community hammam with a bar of soap and gossip to tell. I figured for my first hammam, I would go to a spa version where I could be naked around the least number of people as possible. 

The next morning, I allowed myself a good hour to find Cafe Clock, which was maybe a half mile away from the hotel.  Like Marrakech, every street was a maze and no map in the world would help me get where I was going.  It was trial and error. 

Cafe Clock was another place that tourists could escape the intensity of the Fez medina.  It's a cooking school, restaurant and concert venue all in one, started by a friendly British man.  I saw other travel-weary tourists decompressing on ipads and laptops. 

I was in a class with a free-spirited couple from the Florida keys, Paul and Heidi.  It was nice to be around other Americans.  They get your jokes.  After not being around any for awhile, I could feel myself relaxing just being around them.  I could not have had better company for my class, they owned a pot-bellied pig that played a little piano.  Heidi was a former stewardess who had also been on an "Oprah's favorite things" episode and won a car.  We had lots to talk about.  Together we picked a menu that we would cook:

chicken bastilla
b'sara soup
eggplant and pepper dip
coconut-orange water macaroons

Our teacher, Souad - who was fantastic!



Paul and Heidi:





Souad took us to the market where we picked out the ingredients and picked out a live chicken for our bastilla.  We got to look the little guy in the eyes before the butcher wrung his neck.  I have really mixed feelings about this, but like Anthony Bourdain says - if you are going to eat meat, be able to see the process through beginning to end.   We are really sheltered from where our food comes from in the USA.  Going to the market and meeting the farmer who grew your vegetables and meeting your chicken before he goes into your bastilla is the more honest way to live - and your food is fresh.   And you know where it came from.  

Heidi and I also bought some magical beauty potions from a stall - I have a magic powder that turns into a mask and some orange flower water that reminds me of Morocco. 


The eggplant dip and soup:



The bastilla with honey drizzled on top:




Coconut macaroons.  After I came home I made both the bastilla and macaroons.  They turned out great!





My hotel lobby:




The next morning before I left, I had breakfast with a couple I had never seen before at the hotel, an older British couple.  We were both going to take the same train to Casablanca so they invited me to ride in their hired car with them that afternoon.  So nice!  

We had different cars on the train, I was in a car with a Moroccan business man and an older lady.  The ride to Casablanca was uneventful.  Here is my coke:





I only had a few hours to wander Casablanca before nightfall and I was starting to really look forward to being in Paris. This was the one and only photo I took of downtown Casablanca:




I stayed at a non-descript hotel downtown and ate at the hotel restaurant.  Leaving Morocco was sad, I was just starting to get to know it.  It was difficult but rewarding.  My time in the Atlas mountains was really unforgettable.  Being invited into a family's home (see Eid Al Adha entry) for Eid Al Adha was one of the most special days I'd ever had in all of my travels, if not my life.  I believe that people are good everywhere you go.  Even my overnight Sahara desert "date" with my slightly-creepy guide was something that I will never forget and always cherish. 

I landed in Paris, one of my favorite places on earth.  I stayed in my favorite neighborhood, the St German area near Rue St Michel:




I've been to Paris a few times and coming from Morocco, I just wanted comfort.  I created this overnight layover on purpose.  I wandered and ate in the same one mile radius that I already knew and loved.  I stayed in the same hotel I was in 10 years before with Kathy and ate at a restaurant that Jen, Jeff and Regis had visited one week before - Au Terminus du Chatelet, which was everything I ever wanted in a friendly French bistro:




I told the waiter to surprise me with a cheese and wine to start.  I left it in his hands, and he did a great job. I ate my bourginon with mushrooms and had the best french wine.  I sat near a man who was also travelling solo, a wine importer, and we talked about wine and travel.  After he left,  a couple from Chicago who lived in boystown sat at the table next to me.  One of them was a runner.  Chicago and running - we had a nice conversation. 

I walked home over the Seine and marvelled at the Eiffel Tower in the distance with that sad, "I'm going home tomorrow" feeling. 




It was a perfect trip.

Next up - September 2013 Sweden, Germany, Croatia and Poland!