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vacation

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A Weekend Away

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In what will likely be the last time the two of us are able to sneak away together for a long time, Mike and I spent our weekend at quiet cabin in the woods. The cabin is owned by friends who generously let us stay there and use all the amenities. I realized when we there that it's been way too long since we've had a few days with no TV, minimal phone usage, and plenty of time to just enjoy nature and each other's company. 

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In the absence of TV, I started and finished two books: a collection of essays by my talented friend Chloe Caldwell and another collection of essays by my author crush Lindy West. I loved both of them.

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On Saturday we went for a hike that went straight uphill but was ultimately worth the view. 

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We spent a significant amount of time working on a puzzle of various candies. It looks so sweet and innocent, doesn't it? I found my patience for it in spurts, and in between I read my books. My sweet husband worked diligently in my absence, exhibiting once again a level of patience that exceeds normal human expectations.

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We enjoyed a decadent meal at a French restaurant called Rendevous before allowing ourselves the ultimate indulgence of sleeping in until 11:30 on Sunday. 11:30! I was probably a teenager the last time that happened. We squeezed in another hike before Mike hit the hot tub and I basked in the sunshine. 

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Two food-related lessons I learned this weekend: The Not So Boring Bar and Grill in Boring serves amazing veggie burgers and Joe's Donut Shop in Sandy serves the best donuts. We ate our dinners out but made all our breakfasts, lunches and snacks at the cabin. Highlights of this included a sandwich we made both days with whole wheat bread, chili-roasted sweet potatoes (I roasted them the day before we left), nectarine slices, white cheddar and spinach. We also took some of our avocado-egg salad to eat with bread and crackers, plus grapes, kale chips, trail mix and mini vegan chocolate chip cookies.  

Other lessons learned: It really pays to get away, even if it's just for two days.

Sleeping in like a 14-year-old is possibly the most blissful activity on this earth.

Taking a break from technology and spending time in nature is so good for the body, mind and spirit.

I have the best husband (I mean, this is more a fact than a lesson. He just is the best.)

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Morocco Day 7: Madrasa, Museum, Art Cafe, Cooking Class & Henna

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If you are interested in supporting my writing, please visit my Patreon page to find out how you can donate as little as $1 a month to help keep me afloat: patreon.com/kristenforbes.

This was the only day of our entire trip that we slept in. Jian in all her wisdom thought we'd be exhausted after our desert trip and suggested she wait until 10 to come over to the house and serve our breakfast. Getting a few extra hours of sleep after all our early mornings felt quite luxurious. As usual, Jian set out a breakfast spread (pastries, cake, smoothies, tea) that gave us the perfect start to the day. 

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After breakfast we walked around town and visited the Ben Youssef Madrasa, which used to be an Islamic college next to the Ben Youssef Mosque. We saw the living quarters where students once lived and we both agreed that the architecture in this building was even more impressive than in the palace we'd toured a few days prior.  

 

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At this point in the week I just couldn't do another couscous or tagine, as much as I love both dishes. We found a place for lunch that served vegetarian sandwiches, which we enjoyed on the patio with sparkling water and mint tea. 

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After lunch we visited the Museum of Marrakech, a former palace restored and converted to a museum in 1997. Jewish, Berber, and Arab cultures come together in this museum with a mixture of modern and traditional Moroccan art. The big gold chandelier-esque light is the centerpiece of the main room.

 

 

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After the museum we walked to the Henna Art Cafe for our cooking lesson. We arrived a few minutes early, so I enjoyed a virgin mint mojito and Mike had coffee. 

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We were pleased to learn our cooking lesson would be a private tutorial. We learned which spices, liquids and veggies (for me) and chicken (for Mike) to combine in the terra cotta Tangia pots. We learned that Tangia originally started as a quick stew single men threw together at the beginning of the day. They'd drop their pot of stew off at a nearby hamman, where the heat from the hamman's fire would warm the stew up. At the end of the work day, they'd pick up their Tangias and dinner would be ready. We walked our own Tangias down the street to a hamman, where they were lined up alongside other pots by the burning fire.  

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Since the stew would take several hours to cook, we had some time on our hands. First we went back to the art cafe and I got a henna tattoo on my palm. The entire process took about twenty minutes and was very comfortable. 

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We walked down the block to a vegan restaurant called Earth Cafe, where we split a pear tart and even more mint tea. As we were sitting inside, a huge downpour released outside, then abruptly stopped a few minutes later. We went back to our riad to relax for an hour or so, where we discovered the house turtle Caroline had nearly made her way across the room. Go Caroline, go!

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When we returned to the cafe, our Tangias were ready (along with the several other courses: bread, olives, salad, mint tea, mousse and crepes). The staff knew we were on our honeymoon and set us up at a table on its own. Like many other times during this trip, we were treated like royalty. 

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We stopped at a bakery on our way home and picked up treats to eat the next day. We finished the rest of Wall-E, relaxed and tried to wrap our brains around the fact that in only one day, we'd be on a plane back to Portland and our honeymoon would come to an end.

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Morocco Day 6: Sunrise in the Desert and a Film Studio Tour

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If you are interested in supporting my writing, please visit my Patreon page to find out how you can donate as little as $1 a month to help keep me afloat: patreon.com/kristenforbes.

This was another early morning. Mike and I woke up around 6:00 a.m. so we could climb a sandy dune and watch the sun rise over the desert. We were tired and the climb was steep, but it was so worth it.  

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We came back to camp and ate bread, pastries, crepes, eggs, orange juice and tea for breakfast. Then we rode our camels back to meet Mohammed at his SUV. This time we were linked with two other tourists during the camel ride, but once back to the car it was just the three of us again. 

Along the way, Mohammed stopped at a souvenir shop and we tried our bargaining skills again. I eyed a bracelet but but their starting price was way more than we were hoping to spend, so that ended that. The man at the shop tried very hard to sell us a rug, but we said no dice. 

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We stopped for lunch (I had vegetarian couscous, Mike had vegetarian tagine, and we both agreed we were getting a little couscous and tagined-out.) 

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Moroccan bread is one of those things that looks deceptively simple but is actually way more delicious than the bread I'm used to eating. Since it was my once-in-a-lifetime honeymoon, I had no qualms about hitting the bread basket hard during the meals. 

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On our way back to Marrakech we stopped in Ouarzazate, a desert city known as the Hollywood of Morocco thanks to all the films that were filmed there. We took a tour of a film studio and saw the sets from the various  movies filmed there, mostly biblical or epic movies. We'd walk down one hallway and see a room set up to look like Egypt and another hallway and find a room that looked like Jerusalem. Giant pillars were made of styrofoam and other props like massive stones were actually light enough to lift with one hand. 

It took several extra hours to make it back home because we got stuck in a convoy of European students in VW bugs making their Spring Break trip to Morocco.

When we finally arrived home after 7, Jian made the most amazing meal — NOT couscous or tagine! — soup, salad, eggplant and tomatoes, bread and fried potato cakes, topped off by a sweet concoction with yogurt and bananas. Jian really spoiled us during our stay. 

After a few days in the hot desert, a shower never felt better. We made it through about half of another animated movie (this time Wall-E) before falling asleep. At this point in the trip it was hard to believe it was coming to an end so soon. 

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Morocco Day 5: Exploring Ait-Ben-Haddou & an Overnight Trek Via Camel

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If you are interested in supporting my writing, please visit my Patreon page to find out how you can donate as little as $1 a month to help keep me afloat: patreon.com/kristenforbes.

This was another bright and early morning for us. Gian came over the night before and left us  with everything we'd need for breakfast. Mike and I groggily ate the pastries and cake (cake for breakfast is definitely a thing in Morocco), attempted and failed to make our own tea, and were met at the door by our driver Mohammed at 7:30 a.m. He told us he'd had a difficult time finding the place (we NEVER would have found it without the help of our driver on the first day) but that Gian had talked him through it over the phone, proving yet again that she was so much more than a housekeeper.  

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We walked with Mohammed to the main square where his SUV was parked and started the long 400 kilometer drive to camp. Luckily my parents had the foresight to gift me with a pressure-point anti-nausea bracelet before the trip, because the drive through the Atlas Mountains was incredibly windy. We made stops along the way to stretch our legs and  take in the rugged beauty of the mountains. No matter where we stopped, there was always someone by the side of the road with something to sell — usually dates. Though I didn't buy any, I felt like I was in the right country as someone who loves eating dates.   

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We stopped and walked around in Ait-Ben-Haddou, part of the Ouarzazate province, This collection of dwellings is along the former caravan route between the Sahara and Marrakech and was used as the backdrop for scenes in movies like Lawrence of Arabia. The architecture was beautiful and the weather was glorious, but I have to tell you: I was sweating my clothes off. For some reason it hadn't occurred to me that I didn't need to spend the entire eight-hour day wearing the heavy clothes I'd want for the camel ride that evening, so there I was on a beautiful 78-degree day with jeans, wool socks, tall boots, long sleeves, and a vest. Needless to say, I was a little uncomfortable. 

 

 

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We stopped for lunch (salad, vegetarian couscous, fruit) and I lost a little more sweat in the sunshine before getting back in the car and continuing the trip.

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We took one last stop to catch another view of the Atlas Mountains before we drove to the spot where we'd meet our camels. (Mohammed, by the way, was lovely and enjoyed speaking both English and German with us (the latter after he found out about Mike's background). He was especially excited when he learned a new English word, like during a conversation about cheese when he heard "cheddar" for the first time.) 

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We finally reached our destination. Our guide's name was Hasson and he led the camels that Mike and I rode to camp. It was a very bumpy and somewhat uncomfortable ride, but all of that was secondary to the fact that we were really there, riding camels in Africa. (!)

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When we arrived at camp there was a big group of other tourists (mostly German with a sprinkling of English and Japanese). The staff fed us tea, nuts and dates (you never have to go long before your next date in Morocco) and entertained us with African music in an open tent. 

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We were served dinner (soup, vegetarian tagine, fruit) in a separate tent. The tent where Mike and I stayed was private and plush, with electricity and warm blankets on the bed. The bathrooms also had flushing toilets and showers, which is something I did not expect to see in the middle of the African desert. After dinner, our hosts lit a bonfire and played more music and eventually we went to bed — though several dogs stayed up all night barking and the Germans stayed up playing music until the wee hours. 

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Morocco Day 3: Beach Day at Essaouira

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If you are interested in supporting my writing, please visit my Patreon page to find out how you can donate as little as $1 a month to help keep me afloat: patreon.com/kristenforbes.

We again started our morning with pastries and mint tea from Gian, this time with the addition of vanilla yogurt. The weather was perfect: sunny and in the upper 70's, so basically the opposite of Portland.

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Abdu picked us up and took us on the three-hour drive to Essaaouira. Being a passenger in a car in Morocco is an experience that definitely takes getting used to. Most drivers have a fast and aggressive style that includes a lot of honking and close calls. The harrowing drives added a sense of ruggedness to the journey and made it that much sweeter every time we reached our destinations. In the middle of this drive, we stopped to look at goats in an argan nut tree. 

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Along the way, we also stopped at an argan oil-producing facility. We watched as women squeezed the nuts by hand to create the oil, which really makes me think about the amount of labor that goes into our products. Here, we stocked up on honey, almond butter, lotions and soaps to bring back to our families. 

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Abdu dropped us off near the beach and we walked around the marketplace. The stalls here were much more laid back than those in Marrakech: most of the prices were fixed and there was no hassling or haggling. We bought a few trinkets for our nieces and nephews and were relieved when we didn't have to put our nonexistent bargaining skills to the test.  

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We ate lunch along the pier at a place Abdu recommended. I ordered a cheese omelette. Mike had salad, fried sardines, and salmon tagine. You know you're in a committed marriage when you can watch someone eat around fish bones and still love him. We were sitting outside, which was lovely until we were joined by a flock of seagulls and several cats. There are feral cats everywhere in Morocco, which is why as a non-cat person I found myself saying, "I could live here if it weren't for the cats" more than once. The food was tasty and we split a bottle of sparkling water and a caramel dessert. 

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We walked along the beach with our bare feet in the sand and enjoyed the perfect weather. In hindsight I realize I should have at least touched my toes into the water to test the temperature, but at the time we were content to stay on the beach. We sat for awhile on a wall, looking out at the water and taking it all in. 

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We walked back to the main square and bought a few more gifts for our family. We also picked up some pastries from a street vendor, which was exciting because they seemed to have an endless assortment and we could pick and choose what we wanted and pay by the pound. We had some time to sit outside at a restaurant and enjoy some mint tea (for me) and espresso (for Mike) before Abdu picked us up to take us back to Marrakech. 

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The ride home was as treacherous as ever but I was starting to get used to Moroccan driving and getting better about just not watching the road too much (what I don't know can't hurt me). I know I sound like such a repressed Portlander every time I say this, but I just could not believe how clear the skies were and how perfect the sun felt on our skin.

 

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When we arrived home, Gian fixed us vegetarian tagine, mint tea and fruit cocktail. I took a hot bath in our big bathtub and we spent the rest of the night relaxing and reading. I think our first two nights were marked by jet lag and a general feeling of being overwhelmed with sensory overload, but this was the day I started fantasizing about what it would be like to stay in this beautiful country and just never come home.  

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Morocco Day 2: Exploring the Medina, Souks and Food Stalls

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If you are interested in supporting my writing, please visit my Patreon page to find out how you can donate as little as $1 a month to help keep me afloat: patreon.com/kristenforbes.

I started my first full day in Morocco bright and early when I woke up at 4:30 and couldn't get back to sleep. An hour later the call for prayers over the loudspeaker and the crowing of a nearby rooster woke up Mike too. When we finally fell back to sleep we passed out hard, stuck in a deep sleep until Gian came in around 9:15 to fix our breakfast. 

 

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Gian served us a delicious assortment of pastries, bread and crepes with jam and butter, along with orange juice and mint tea. Mike and I quickly realized we could get used to starting our days like this. As I mentioned in my last post, Gian was so much more than a housekeeper. She also operated as a concierge of sorts, helping us organize our outings and assisting us in getting where we needed to go. 

 

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Our riad was located about ten minutes away from Jemaa el-Fnaa, the main square and market place in Marrakech. Gian showed us how to get from our house to the square, pointing out the buildings and landmarks we needed to remember to find our way back. She also took us to a restaurant she recommended and got us a reservation for lunch. Though the streets seemed busy (again filled with pedestrians, scooters, horse-drawn carriages and carts carrying goods), she told us this was the quiet time and the square really came alive at night. 

Our first walk through the carts and stalls was a bit overwhelming as everyone tried to sell us their wares. Not yet confident of our bargaining skills, we did our best to walk quickly, browsing but not spending too much time looking at any one thing.

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After walking around the square for awhile, we found respite in a nearby cyber garden, where the calm and tranquil vibe was in sharp contrast to the frenzy a few blocks away. When we got tricked into buying pastries from an older man, we realized we learned our first Moroccan lesson: when someone offers you something and it seems like it's free, it isn't, no matter how sweet the accompanying words.

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As Portlanders, we could not stop marveling at the blue sky. We also noted how incredibly clean everything was. Shopkeepers were constantly sweeping the streets outside their stores and we didn't notice any trash on the ground. When it started to rain right before our lunch reservation, we made our way to the restaurant. 

 

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We walked up a long, winding staircase to reach the top level of the restaurant and sat by a window with a view of the square below. Mike ordered a salad and all the ingredients were served in individual bowls. We shared this as I went to town (for the first of many times on this trip) on the bread basket. To me vacations and bread baskets just go hand in hand. I ordered a vegetarian tagine, which we shared along with a bottle of sparkling water.

 

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Since we were feeling the effects of jet lag on our first day, we decided to take it easy for the rest of the day and spend some time lounging on our rooftop terrace. The rain that pelted down as we safely sat indoors during lunchtime was mercifully short, unlike Portland rain, so we were able to take our books to the roof and get a dose of sunshine and a small nap.

Exhaustion kept us from heading back to the square for dinner, so we decided to have a true night in instead. We stopped at a "store" (a cart where food and water were served behind a counter) and picked up baguettes of bread, chips, cookies and bottled water. I was on a mission to try anything that looked different from the things I typically eat at home. The chips were ... interesting. The cookies tasted like the cookies I'm used to eating. We made ourselves some lazy sandwiches and again spent our evening curled up on the couch in the living room with books, an animated movie in the background, until we decided to retire early to be ready for a day at the beach the next day.

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Morocco Day 1: Arriving at Our Riad

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If you are interested in supporting my writing, please visit my Patreon page to find out how you can donate as little as $1 a month to help keep me afloat: patreon.com/kristenforbes.

After leaving from Portland early in the afternoon on Saturday and stopping in Amsterdam, we arrived at the Marrakech airport Sunday evening. We were exhausted from traveling but so thrilled to be there. 

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The weather was perfect. Our driver Abdu, whom we booked through the AirB&B where we were staying, picked us up, carried our luggage, and led us to his waiting van. Navigating the streets of Marrakech was an exercise in insanity. I didn't think it couldn't get worse than the narrow streets of Belgium or rush-hour in Paris, but apparently it could. The streets were even more narrow. The traffic rules seemed loose. Cars turned from every which lane. Bikers, pedestrians, scooters, cars, and horse-drawn carriages were all together on the same road. One-way traffic from one direction butted against one-way traffic from another direction, often converging in the middle of a dark tunnel. People crossed the streets willy-nilly with no sidewalk on either side. The streets were crowded with produce carts, food stands, and masses of people milling about. 

 

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We arrived at our riad and were introduced to our housekeeper Giann, who came to the house every morning to fix us breakfast and tidy up. She also fixed dinners on request and helped us coordinate all our outings. The pool was too cool for this time of year, but the rooftop balcony was beautiful. We also met the house turtle, Caroline. 

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Giann made us vegetarian couscous, fruit salad and mint tea for dinner. Many people warned me it would be difficult to find vegetarian food in Morocco, but I didn't find this to be the case at all. It was comforting to have a home-cooked meal after such a long day of travel. 

Exhausted, slightly scarred from our drive from the airport, and not yet sure how we'd find our way when navigating the endless twists and turns in the streets of Marrakech, we opted to spend our first night in, cuddled on the couch in the living room, dozing with an animated movie (Planes) in the background after unpacking and getting ourselves cleaned and settled (a hot shower never felt so good). 

"We're in AFRICA," my husband and I kept saying to each other in disbelief. If not for the sheer exhaustion, we probably would have stayed up all night, marveling at how crazy and rewarding our lives turned out.

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