Now we can, in good conscience, return to the beginning of this story. My adventure began on a Sunday afternoon (after working a 6 AM shift at The Bean) where I hailed a cab to JFK. I learned my lesson on trying to take luggage on the subway. Such a bad way to try and prove you can do anything on your own (a la Liz Lemon). My takeoff went much more normally and smoothly than my (theoretical) flight home from Spain, aside from having to wait a bit on the plane before we started taxying (is that a word?) because there were so many delays due to weather. I left NYC around 8 pm Eastern time and landed in Spain 7 AM Spain time. I essentially lost six hours of my night although I got a bit of sleep on the plane. So it’s no surprise that I felt like a complete zombie after gathering my luggage and parking it on a bench near the baggage claim. For a while I was eagerly staring at the door, waiting for Tommy to walk though, but eventually I resorted to leaning over my luggage and nabbing a few minutes of dozing. I was sitting up when I saw him, thankfully, and literally felt like an electric current went through me. I couldn’t believe I was actually seeing him, actually hugging him, actually talking to him not via some form of phone or computer. It was even better than I ever thought seeing him after 3.5 months would be!
Sorry for all the mushiness, but that’s just part of the story. We got on the Spanish Metro from the airport (let’s consider this, NYC!) and I had fun figuring out all of the lines we needed to take to get to our final destination (our Couchsurfing location). Being familiar with reading NYC subway maps definitely helped but the Madrid metro was very simple comparatively. We arrived at Puerta Del Sol, the “Times Square of Madrid” if you will, and wandered around looking for a cafe with Wifi so we could get the exact address of our spot and get some foods in my belly. I tried Spanish tortilla for the first time, an egg omelette basically, and we had some really simple but delicious soup and bread. I’m sure we did some long-term damage to our suitcases with how far we walked pulling them, but we arrived to our Couchsurfing spot with everything intact. Mitch, our host, was from London and had the BEST British accent. Just the classic kind where you keep asking them questions so you can continue listening to them say, completely legitimately, “wicked” and “fair enough.”
We took a hardcore nap before emerging to explore the city and headed to the Museo Nacional del Prado. We approached the area to find an enormous line wrapping around the building and we could not figure out why. Tommy, who went to the museum on his last trip to Madrid, said the line wasn’t where he entered, so we walked all the way around before deciding that really was the actual line. Once we got to the building in the very quick-moving line, we discovered it was a time period where the museum was completely free, so it was worth the wait! According to some Spaniards, this museum is the bee’s knees and is far superior to even the Louvre and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Having been to all three of these now, I must say I disagree, although it was a lovely visit with Tommy. There was an amazing temporary exhibit of a series of all of these super dark, almost demented paintings that I loved. We saw the famous Las Meninas, which apparently has a zillion layers/meanings to it if you study it for long enough, and some of Greco’s work, which is very popular and famous in Spain. Late dinner (aka normal Spanish dinner) was delicious pizza at a joint Tommy had researched and found in advance. The employees there were welcoming and friendly. Next we had a glass of Rioja wine at a bar that was giving off very mixed vibes (between a techno club and a casual post-work spot) but we enjoyed it. We finished up the night when we found a spot with beer on tap (not as common as you might think what with all of the delicious wine everywhere) and continued to enjoy each other’s company over a cold brew.
We awoke New Year’s Eve day and set out to explore the area we were staying in. Tommy got us a ton of fresh fruit from a local shop and we walked all around the city, I got my first cafe con leche, and we went in and out of shops as well as spending time in Plaza Mayor, a big courtyard area with all sorts of festive (mostly New Year’s hats which are apparently a thing, and some expired nativity sets, which are a BIG deal in Spain) vendors and street performers and giant bubble machines. Next stop was the Almudena Cathedral, where we spent some time inside just relaxing and enjoying the beauty of the building. The royal palace, Palacio Real, was our final touristy spot for the day which was beautiful and reminiscent of Buckingham Palace.
After a much-needed siesta (my sleep schedule never quite caught up the entire trip), we got dressed and bejeweled and make-uped (okay the last two were just me) and had a little photo session in our fancy attire. We were just so excited to be together on such a happy evening! Tommy chose a Japanese-French fusion place called L’Artisan Furansu that had a set menu with accompanying wines for each course. Our reservation was for like 8:30 and we were still awkwardly early because people in Spain are so slow and don’t start their evenings until my normal bedtime. But armed with my siesta, we had an incredibly delicious meal and I was ready for the night. (Tommy’s professional recollection of our meal for all you foodies out there: seafood purée, oysters, salmon tartare, cream of chicken and duck with shiitake duxelle, a sardine tempura with basil and umeboshi-fruit flavoring–literally don’t know half of the things I’m typing right now–fish with cranberry arugula risotto, beef tenderloin with mashed taters and créme bruleé for dessert. I can confirm that it was wonderful.) Even with our “early” reservations, we nearly missed midnight in Puerta del Sol, where the streets were filled with people celebrating. The Spanish tradition is to eat 12 grapes counting down from 12 seconds to midnight, although we are not sure how this is supposed to work practically as I don’t know of many people who can fit 12 grapes in their mouth at once AND kiss their date at midnight. Thanks to one Jess Manning’s suggestion, we soaked our grapes in wine for the day and had a special little treat at/around midnight. We didn’t do the timing exactly right, and plus they were green grapes with seeds and I didn’t want all of mine so Tommy picked up my slack 🙂 There was no formal countdown to midnight, we simply just caught onto when everyone else started yelling. It was kind of strange in that way but I also liked it. We were like, “Is it happening?? I think it’s happening! Oh! It’s midnight!”
We wandered through Puerta del Sol amid the celebrations for a bit and decided to journey onward to find our next spot for a drink. Strangely enough we couldn’t find absolutely anywhere to go for probably an hour and a half. We had a great time just walking around and being with each other, but we were so confused. Where were all of the bars? On New Year’s Eve?! We finally stumbled on an area with some options. First we went to this somewhat ghetto restaurant that reminded me of a Tex Mex place in America and had a terrible beer, followed by a drink in a relatively normal but crowded bar, and another in a more empty but quite lovely, dark-wooded bar. We started making our way back to Mitch’s and decided to make one last stop at a bar called Olivia’s. We split a drink here, got right next to the DJ stand, and danced like morons. It was a blast and we even specifically said how much we liked that bar and wanted to go back. Next morning we told Mitch this and he informed us it was a lesbian bar. Whoops….
The next morning was a bit slow as we got ourselves together to make it through the winding subway again to the airport. I reunited with good ole’ Ryan Air and “landed on time” in Tangier that afternoon. Even stepping off the plane, we could tell it was a different world. Giant Arabic letters covered the exterior of the airport. Our initial reactions were very seven-year-old in Disney World-esque, like OMG we’re heeeeere!!! In AFRICA! But then we really had no idea what to do so we consulted Tommy’s guidebook and decided to take a “tan taxi” as opposed to a “petite taxi,” which is blue with a yellow stripe down the side. The tan cabs are for longer rides, and we asked our driver to drop us right in the Grand Soco of Tangier, which is the town center. Exit two Americans, both with a rolley suitcase, clearly lost and confused. We had read about how “insistent,” shall we say, Moroccans can be when it comes to getting you to eat at their restaurant, “helping” you find where you’re going (and then demanding money for it), etc. etc. Clearly we were bombarded with requests and honestly it was a little scary. We didn’t speak Arabic or French, the two languages most everyone speaks, and we really didn’t know what our next move was. We needed to get in touch with our Couchsurfing host, so we looked for a place with Wifi. We chose a cafe like any other and ended up having an amazing, three-course late lunch, including olives (ew), bread (yay), soup, salad, beef and potato (!!!) tagine (the native Moroccan dish; it is usually a combination of meat and veggies and what makes it tagine is the dish it is cooked in), cous cous with chicken and chocolate crepes for dessert. Along with Moroccan tea, which is extremely sugary hot tea with tons of mint in it. I’m convinced that Kentucky should adopt this tea, what with our love of sweet tea and mint juleps. We got connected to the internet and Simo, our Couchsurfing host, told us to go to Banco Populare, which essentially means Bank of the People and he would meet us there before he had to leave for work.
We grabbed a petite taxi and the young driver spoke Spanish; Tommy told him our destination and he dropped us off right outside Banco Populare, but we couldn’t seem to orient ourselves based on the directions we were given. A man approached us, speaking pretty decent English, and asked if we needed help. We probably eyed him suspiciously because he said, “I don’t want money, just want to help.” So we told him where we needed to go and his first reaction was that we were a zillion miles from where we needed to be. At this point I was getting panicky because our Couchsurfing host needed to get to work and he was waiting for us. This gentleman, apparently a professor in Tangier, proceeded to give us extremely long-winded instructions on how to get to our destination, that there was more than one Banco Populare and we were at the wrong one, closely followed by how he cheated on his wife but he didn’t mean it and she should forgive him and you should always give people second chances. It was bizarre and frankly, I don’t care what language you’re speaking, you know that’s not an appropriate topic to bring up to complete strangers, especially when you know they’re in a hurry. Tommy (no offense dear) is terrible at saying goodbye/leaving so I cut Helpful Sir off and said we had to go. He still kept trying to talk but we got away and into another cab. By the time we finally conveyed to the driver where we needed to go and actually arrived, it was at least a half hour past our appointed meeting time. We stood on the curb with our suitcases outside the correct Banco Populare, fairly certain we were going to have to entertain ourselves for seven hours until Simo got off work at midnight and could let us into his apartment. Surely he had already gone to work. We had just agreed to try and find a cafe to spend the evening in when someone came up to Tommy and shook his hand. SIMO! He had waited for us!!! Like, what? So freaking nice. If you guys have never used Couchsurfing, you’re missing out. I’ve only ever had amazing hosts who go above and beyond to make your stay special. No one is going to be offering their place for free on Couchsurfing unless they’re a genuinely nice person, which Simo was. He literally dedicated his entire weekend to making sure we had a great trip. So he got us into his apartment, left for work (late, because of us), and Tommy and I settled in to watch the season premiere of Sherlock (SO GOOD OMG this show deserves its own blog post. Or show.). We had a relaxing night staying in and preparing for the adventures of tomorrow.
Day two in Tangier began with Tommy and I sleeping a bit later than we wanted to, and then not having a clue where Simo was. Tommy saw someone in the kitchen but it must have been one of his roommates, so we waited and waited around until we just decided we had to leave and try to explore on our own. Of course, after doubting our gracious host, we walk into the living room with a table set full of pastries, boiled eggs, coffee and bread fully prepared by Simo. A traditional, enormous, carb-y Moroccan breakfast. Yum. Traveling with Simo was like another universe since he could easily communicate with the cab drivers, not to mention he knew his way around and how much things should cost. A note about money: one dirham (Moroccan money) is equal to a little more than eight dollars. Things were incredibly inexpensive. So we took a cab to the Cave of Hercules, which was right on the African coastline. It was incredibly beautiful and only my photos will do even partial justice to the scene. Blue waters, natural rocks and CATS EVERYWHERE. Fish was being cooked in little restaurants all over the coast, and thus cats were waiting for fish to be dropped and/or given to them there. I certainly did not have my magical charm with them that I normally do with cats, but I still took about 100 pictures of them. We went inside the cave, which opens up to the water itself and is very beautiful. There were vendors selling trinkets all throughout the cave. We ate lunch at Simo’s go-to spot, complete with Moroccan tea, sardines, and fish-potato-carrot tagine. So tasty. And we maybe might have fed the cats a little bit–they ate entire fish bones!
We told Simo we wanted to ride camels while in Morocco, and he was casually just like, “Okay, this way.” And we literally walked down the road maybe half a mile to find a dozen camels chilling. We started petting on them and the camel man told us to choose our camels and we got on them. It was hilarious. Tommy and I were seriously cracking up, in the craziest way, just like LOL U GUYZ I’M ON A CAMEL OMG HAHAHAHAHA, I can’t really explain what came over us. Hysteria, perhaps. Our escort man led us around the edge of the beach and I have to say riding a camel was similar in feeling to riding a horse. Good thing we’re from Kentucky! It was so cool and the camels were so nice (no spitting) and they even smiled in some pictures for us. Definitely a bucket list item checked off. We walked along the windy beach and watched someone windsurf for a bit before heading back to Simo’s as he had to go to work. Tommy and I went out for dinner at a highly-spoken-of (via the interwebs, at least) Italian restaurant. It was very good, and I suppose worth all of the cab confusion, although Simo gave us an Arabic note with his address which we could just show the cab driver and he would know exactly where to take us (what did it say?!). By this point we felt more accustomed to how things worked in Morocco, but it was certainly a shock, as far as infrastructure of the city. Many dirt roads, cabbies driving like absolute maniacs (I put my hands over my eyes many times), and just an all-around general feeling of free-for-all. Many new apartments and buildings were under construction, but just as many were crumbling to the ground. Being in a third-world country was an eye opener, and I honestly noticed it more when we got back to Spain and everything seemed so neat and tidy.
Bright and early the next morning, Tommy and I took a cab to the train station to head to Fez, another major city in Morocco. We were a bit more prepared this time, having been in Morocco for a whole 36 hours, so when we got off the train we took a cab to the main area and found a cafe with a gorgeous terrace and a beautiful view of the area (and a little kitty). After enjoying the sunshine–the weather was warmer here than in Tangier–and the views, we entered the Medina, which is basically an open-air maze filled with shops on top of shops on top of food vendors. It even seemed like quite a few of the shops were closed up (or not rented out) and we were still overwhelmed. I got a real leather purse and backpack and Thom got a nice leather duffel bag, aka we smelled like cow butts carrying it around all day. But it was REAL leather, all three of those handmade bags, for like 100 bucks. Wild. There were also lots of kittahs about, searching for food and sleeping and being cute and stuff. I shared my delicious vendor lunch of chicken-something in a pita pocket with a furry little guy. We both liked it a lot. Once we wound our way through the Medina, we hiked (a very loose term, more like walking slightly uphill) to Borj Nord, where we had an absolutely incredible view of the entire city with golden evening light hitting the old fortress that is still there. It was lovely. Before sunset, we made it to Volubilis, a set of Roman ruins (I almost said “old Roman ruines,” as though that’s not implied) that were beautiful both on their own and in the glowing sun. I also tried to play with some sheep and goats but they weren’t very interested. I had some flashbacks of all of the baby lambs I tried to steal in the Lake District in spring of 2010… and/or Amsterdam (looking at you to understand this, Molly and Sarah).
We went back through the Medina, which I was quite hesitant to do. I felt more uncomfortable in Fez than Tangier in the whole being a woman/having light hair/having blue eyes/not covering those things up department and by the time the sun went down I was considering putting a scarf on my own head like all of the stylish Moroccan ladies (that is said in all honesty, they look great and have cool styles with their headdresses). But I was with Tommy and everything was totally fine and PLUS we got to eat a hand-fried-in-front-of-us dog nut (donut for all normal people) and it was delicious. We had accomplished what we wanted to in Fez–now we had to wait until 1:40 in the morning to catch the train back to Tangier, because that’s what you do when you are trying to cut corners and save money. You give up a night of sleep/sanity to not have to pay for a place to stay. So we went back to the main area once we got out of the Medina (and Tommy bought some cashmere scarves for supa cheap; also I don’t know how to spell cashmere, thanks for pointing out how classy I am, spellcheck) and talked to a friendly guy outside of a big building, which was called the Something Palace, that seemed to have many businesses in it. Kind of like a mall, you could say, except third-world style. We asked if he knew of anywhere with Wifi and he said we could go up to the highest terrace with the best view and have Wifi in his restaurant. He was very kind and spoke English, so we took his word and went upstairs. We had Moroccan tea until the cold got the better of me and we asked to move inside. It was only like 7:30 so we felt as though we should get some food if we were to stick around, even though we weren’t starving. We passed literally at least seven floors of dining areas on our way up, one of which I assumed we would go to, but instead our sweet little waitress showed us into this SECRET hole-in-the-wall (not a phrase in this case) room that was clearly part of this legit once-palace. The room was over-the-top decorated with chandeliers, squishy chairs and couches, table clothes, flowers, candles, a LIVE two-man Moroccan band, the whole bit. We sat down and Tommy said, “I don’t know what we just got ourselves into.” I was feeling a bit anxious about the whole deal at first because I didn’t want us to spend money on something we didn’t need, but Tommy talked me down and told me we were on vacation and it was his treat. We decided to order one of the smaller pre-fixe meals and good freaking thing because the “first course” came out as about 10 plates of various veggies in all sorts of shapes and forms. I can’t even begin to name them all. Tommy should probably write separate posts for all of the food…. Our main course was a tagine with little meatballs and it was sooo good. I love tagine and I’m going to have to find a Moroccan restaurant in NYC to satisfy my cravings. Our dessert was an enormous bowl of fruit, way more than one person could eat in any sitting (even Tommy) PLUS these sweet little donut nibblet things (Tommy is cringing at my descriptions I bet), so we took some of all of it with us for the train ride. The music was incredible and such an awesome background for a lovely, unexpected dinner.
We stretched our evening there to about three hours and burned our candle to a nub before taking a cab to the train station, where we discovered our train was delayed by 20 minutes, which doesn’t seem like long until it’s the middle of the night and you don’t know how you’re still awake. Luckily, a very adorable and playful kittah was there to entertain us for a good portion of the time. I am entertained by a cat’s mere presence, but this guy was chasing things around and jumping and running all over the place. (How many times can I mention cats in one blog post? Probs a lot when it’s over 4,000 words SORRY.) Unfortunately for us, after much confusion that I won’t bore you with, we found out that we had to switch trains at the second stop in order to get back to Tangier. So we sat down on the train around 2 AM, and I told Tommy we’d stay awake together so we wouldn’t miss the stop. He agreed and was asleep about 10 seconds later. I told him I would just stay awake until the first stop and then I would wake him up to switch, and I tried SO hard to keep my eyes open but I’m pretty sure I was extremely unsuccessful. Somehow we managed to get off at the right place and get on the right train (which I wasn’t fully convinced it was until we actually got back to Tangier), where we shared a carriage (Harry Potter style, minus chocolate frogs and magic) with two VERY LOUD Moroccan girls who had a LOT to talk about at 3 in the morning. Earbuds went in and I had one of the worst “nights of sleep” between being frozen and the compartment door sliding open and closed. But we made it back in time for a sunrise cab ride back to Simo’s where we took about a five-hour morning nap.
Simo got us out of bed around noon and we gathered our strength for a last day of exploration in Morocco. We went through the Medina of Tangier, which is similar to Fez’s but different in the sense that it was more open with more of a city feel in the streets. There were more commercial shops, certainly. We went to a museum that I can’t really describe because the closest thing to a language I could understand on the signs was French, so I mostly just looked at really old things and tried to appreciate them. The museum was set up in a palace courtyard type of place so that you went in and out of rooms all around the main area. Similar to the Roman Baths, actually. There was a gorgeous garden with a giant orange tree that I loved. I’m sure it is magnificent in the summertime when everything is in bloom. We went through “old” Tangier, where American writers like Jack Kerouac, Paul Bowles and William S. Burroughs, lived. It was a beautiful, colorful area. We checked out the coastline from another area, where Simo said if it had been a clearer day, we could have seen the coast of Spain. We also met a crazy dude who spoke great English and told us he saw Bob Marley perform in American in 1979. He was hilarious.
Simo took us toward the port where ships land in Tangier, then past that point where fisherman were loading their catches for the day and icing down their fishies. CATS EVERYWHERE HERE. He told us we were going to eat at one of his favorite spots, which turned out to basically be an alleyway between two buildings with an awning over it, mere feet from the water’s edge where all of the fishing boats were docked. Kitties roamed about, hid under tables, looked for scraps. There was no ordering involved, we just sat down and were each brought a giant plate of fried and boiled fish, including THE best shrimp I have ever had, covered in herbs and spices and so fresh. All of the fish had clearly been caught about half an hour earlier and it was all just so so good. I even picked the bones out in order to eat it. Thom doubts Bourdain could have found a spot so local 🙂 That night was Simo’s birthday celebration–turning 23 at midnight! So we went to another beach area with lots of discotecas, reserved a spot for later that night, and took a walk along the boardwalk of the beach. We went home and freshened up before leaving around 11:30 for the bday celebration at H20, da club. Simo’s friends were there and it was a little weird since we could hardly talk to any of them but it also gave Tommy and me a chance to be anti-social and hang out. We had group salad, pizza and cake before dancing the night away, quite literally. Until about 4 AM. Who knew Moroccans stayed up so late?! Being a Muslim country, they drink almost nothing, just go on pure energy and excitement. Although we were tired at first, it turned out to be a great night of dancing ridiculously to ridiculous techo music AND the night wasn’t over until I got the DJ to play Teach Me How to Dougie and, oh. I taught them.
On our last morning in Tangier, we woke up to a bunch of family members of Simo’s roommate in the apartment, bustling about, making breakfast and all sorts of domestic things. They were all incredibly friendly and seemed excited to practice their English and talk to Americans. We didn’t have long before we had to eat a few pastries and head to the airport. This time, our Ryan Air flight featured not one, but two screaming babies! Earbuds again 🙂 We landed in Madrid and wound our way back to Mitch’s for the night. Tommy was holding out on me to see the new Hobbit (Desolation of SMAUUUUG) so we went to dinner at a delicious Indian place Mitch recommended to us and then to the movies like a normal American couple or something. You all know my loyalties lie with HP but the movie was so good, in great part thanks to Sherlock and Watson.
The next morning we took off for Logroño, which is where my next blog post will begin. I commend you if you actually read this entire thing and you aren’t directly related to me. I am detail-oriented so thanks for sticking with me!