FEZ! (or that time we probably almost died or were almost kidnapped 5 or 10 times)

FEZ! (or that time we probably almost died or were almost kidnapped 5 or 10 times)

“Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world…”

If you don’t know where that quote is from, you might know even less about Morocco than I did a few months ago.

How familiar was I with this country before I got on a flight from Barcelona to Fes?

I’d seen Casablanca 5+ years ago.

I’d done a bit of research on, ya know, Pinterest.

I’d skimmed through a couple books.

I was vaguely familiar with the culture.

I’d checked out a Morocco travel podcast.

That was pretty much it.

The North African country wasn’t super high on mine or my friend Rosie’s bucket list, but when we were researching Spain and realized we could hop on a plane down to Morocco for almost no money at all, we knew it had to happen.

Fez

(or Fes. Both are okay, and there’s a solid chance I will switch back and forth between the two spellings.)

Fez is overwhelming.

The sites, the sounds, the maze of tight streets within the walled city. The spices, the people who stare and shout and rush by in waves and, before you know it, are giving you a tour you never asked for or have sold you something you definitely don’t want.

 

First Impressions

My friend Rosie and I arrived in Morocco late one Thursday night in October. Before we even got through customs my personal space bubble had expanded (by force, not by choice #strangerdanger). I was determined NOT to let the pushy family behind me swoop in front of us in the customs line, and I managed to block them off.

So proud.

Rosie didn’t even notice the full scale attack they were mounting against us, nor did she see my impressive counter-attack. She lives in India and is used to people not respecting lines (or other people, for that matter, at least by my reckoning). But the middle eastern/African culture is still fairly foreign to me.

Or, maybe I should say “was still fairly foreign.” Because I got a crash course in a new culture over the course of that long weekend.

When we finally made it out of the Fès–Saïs Airport (which is beautiful and funky, btw), we looked around for a line of taxis that I’d read would be waiting for us.

Except… there were no taxis. Just a line of men.

Uh, cool. 

“Should we have gone out the other entrance of the airport?” Rosie asked.

“No, no. It’s probably fine.” I said.

(It’s not fine, it’s not fine, it’s not fine.)

I was feeling a little uncomfortable as scenes from Taken rushed through my mind, and I thought of the warnings I’d heard many times not to get into an unmarked taxi.

One of the men came up to us. He was the only one who seemed fluent in English, and he used this skill to acquire customers for the line of taxi drivers. After fighting with him on a price for awhile, we decided to trust him, and went off with the cute little old man he told us would be our driver.

The little old man led us down some steps to a line of what did, in fact, appear to be taxis.

Ok. Sweet. Maybe we won’t get kidnapped tonight.

We began to drive toward the city (Probably. I mean there was no way for us to really know). We drove through some police check points and soon were in a city, at least. The interior of Fez is walled, and the very interior (the ancient city, the medina), is inside another wall.

After driving around for awhile we arrived at a spot that seemed to be in the middle of nowhere. There were some parks and athletic fields nearby, but it was just outside the interior city wall. Our driver pulled up to a group of men standing beside the wall and began to talk to one of them through his window.

Uh. Ok. It’s fine, right? It’s fine. He’s definitely not negotiating a sale of… us, right now. Right?

The man he was talking to ended up getting into the car with us. He was a young guy, probably 18 or 19, who spoke some English. It became evident that he was giving the man directions.

To our hostel, I hoped.

The cute little old taxi driver dropped us off jut outside the interior wall of the medina, (where cars can’t go). We thanked him, paid him, and began our first experience with an unwanted and unneeded guide.

I knew the way to the hostel from the place the man had dropped us off, but the kid he’d picked up happily grabbed both our large backpacks and began to lead the way. After about a minute he gave up and said he could only carry one bag.

I OFFERED TO CARRY MINE IN THE FIRST PLACE, KID.

Finally, we arrived at Riad Verus, our hostel!

I boldly gave our guide/unneeded helpful friend a tip, because whether we needed him or not, we had allowed him to help us.

Keep in mind this was my first experience with Moroccan Dirham. I think I literally gave him about 2 MAD which would be about 20 cents in USD. I knew it probably wasn’t enough, but I promise I wasn’t sure about the exchange rate and was just hoping for the best.

He was, understandably disgusted, after all the unwanted help he’d just given us. “This is nothing to me!” He said.

I gave him a little more. He left. I felt good about the amount I gave him. We had a good laugh over the “This is nothing to me!” comment and chewed it for the rest of our trip.

 

Our Hostel

Ah, the Riad Verus. So much I could say about this place! We had the best experience, although we spent a lot of time wondering what was going on, and laughed A LOT, both with the guys who ran the place and at our interactions with them. They were super helpful to us, but weren’t as kind to all their customers. We were even involved in an awkward fight between the hostel manager and two enterprising German customers on our last night there.

A riad is a traditional Moroccan house or palace built around an interior garden or courtyard. It was one of the prettiest and most unique “hostels” I’ve stayed in. Not sure if it can even be classified as a hostel.

The first night, they welcomed us with this incredible meal of couscous (FAVE), chick peas, vegetables, cabbage, and fresh Moroccan mint tea. Then, before long, Nor, the guy who ran the hostel, came and sat with us and asked us if we were planning on going to the desert.

We told Nor we wanted to, but it was so far and we only had about 3 full days in Morocco and we wanted to see Fez too. We were considering going to the blue city, Chefchaouen instead of the desert. Nor was the first person to inform us that while the blue city is great for potheads (it’s surrounded by hashish fields) and people who are only traveling for the gram, the desert experience would be one we would remember for the rest of our days.

Well, let’s just say Nor was quite the salesman, because by the next morning at 7:30, we were in a car bound for the Sahara Desert.

(More on that coming in my next post.)

When we came back from the desert a night early, we actually ended up sleeping on the roof of the hostel, because they were fully booked. 10/10 did not mind at all, even though it seems pretty shady in hindsight.

Exploring the Medina

We spent our last day in Morocco aimlessly exploring. We knew Fez was a maze of a city, and we allowed ourselves to just get lost in it.

Chouara Tannery

Fez is home to the world’s oldest leather tannery.

We both knew we wanted to get a leather bag, so a big destination of the day was the leather “souk.” Souks are markets, and they run together in the center of the city. Leather souk, metal souk, spice souk, etc.

The first thing that tipped us off to the fact that we were nearing the leather souk was the smell. The smell of animal hides and strong dyes and so much more.

Soon we had a man trying to force us to allow him to be our guide. (These “guides” are paid by leather shops to bring in tourists.) We told him no, of course, but I’m pretty sure he did end up leading us to one of the main leather stores even though we ignored him. We walked up steep stairs, past several floors worth of premium leather goods.

Somewhere along the way, we were handed sprigs of mint. When we reached the top of the building and stepped out onto the veranda we saw (or should I say smelled) why. The smell was pungent, and the tannery spread out below us.

Animal skins were spread out to dry. Workers hopped back and forth precariously over vats of dye, pigeon poop, and other gross things that the animal skins would be repeatedly dipped into.

We spent some time looking down in awe, and took some photos.

Then came the truly difficult part of the day: trying to find the perfect leather bag. One of the leather shop employees brought us mint tea, which we sipped as we looked at the many different bags, jackets, and everything in between.

We walked down the many stairs, and then back up. On the top floor, I asked to see many different bags, and eventually, we both found our ideal bag. When you know, you know. You know?

Then came the bartering. The attendant started out at for just my bag. Rosie, using her Indian skills, bartered him down to for both bags. It was entertaining to watch. And it felt good to leave having spent so much less money than we would’ve had we purchased similar bags in the states.

 

Fez was exciting, but I think we were both ready to leave. I could tell you a million other stories about this place, especially about our hostel and the people we met there.

A couple things that stood out to me: there were so few women out and about. Working in shops, restaurants, cafes, even our hostel? Men. Sitting outside cafes? Men. It definitely gave the whole city a creepier vibe than if there had been women out and about or children playing.

Second, you will get attention. People will try to take advantage of you. People will say creepy things to you, or leer at you, especially if you’re a woman in this environment. Especially if you’re a foreign woman in this environment. I think it would’ve been worse if we had dressed immodestly (I bought two longer dresses specifically to wear there, and wore leggings even though it was hot). It also might’ve been worse if we hadn’t been brunettes. Some people even mistook me for Moroccan! (This is a common theme in most places I travel, except, ironically, Germany/Austria/Switzerland, where I actually have roots!)

But, if you make smart decisions and keep your wits about you, you should be fine. You just need to learn to be rude and say solid NO’s to people.

Over all, Morocco is beautiful and exotic. If you get the chance, GO. If you don’t get the chance, go out of your way to go! And if you have questions, please ask.

Much love,

Carrie Sue

 

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24 hours in Barcelona

24 hours in Barcelona

Sangria and juices and tapas, oh my!

I’ll be the first to tell you, 24 hours isn’t enough time to get to know ANY city. Not really. Especially a city as big and full and exciting as Barcelona. But that’s what we had, so we tried to make the best of it.

We walked. Everywhere. We hoped to see as much of the city as we possibly could, and walking is the best way to do that.

Our hostel was beautiful, tucked down one of many sunny, airy Barcelona streets. It was a great first hostel for this trip. They must have been overbooked because they stuck us in a room with the male hostel workers! We didn’t realize this until we saw them moving our beds out of the room before we had even left the building. Lol.

The city is full of tall, stately, white buildings lined with balconies on balconies on balconies. It has a quirky vibe, too.

We happened to be there over the time Catalonia (the area of Spain where Barcelona lies) was trying to split off from the rest of Spain. We saw signs and some graffiti referencing the referendum, but not much else (no protests or anything).

We also walked down La Rambla, a beautiful tree-lined street with space on both the sides and in the center for pedestrians to walk. Two months earlier, a terrorist plowed through the pedestrian walking area in a van, killing 15 people and injuring many more. On the day we visited, nothing seemed out of the ordinary.

Barcelona was enjoyable, but we wished we had more time. We were able to try the food and see some of the main sites, but we didn’t leave feeling like we truly knew the place. Instead, the day after we arrived we took the bus back to the airport and caught a flight to Morocco. One day, I’ll return and see it all. (Ok but really, who wants to go to Spain with me tomorrow?)

 

xoxo,

Carrie

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Don’t Cry Over Spilled Milk”

This morning on the way to work I realized my right rear tire was flat. I was about two minutes from work so I just kept driving. (Bad? Probably.) I’m hoping there’s just a wee hole in the tire, and at most, I’ll only have to replace the tire, not the actual wheel (UGH).

It doesn’t seem like a big deal, right? It’s just a flat tire. It happens to thousands of people every day, and it could have happened to me in a much less convenient time and place.

It could have been something much worse. I could have had an accident, or my tire could’ve flown off into opposing traffic. You know, normal, every day occurrences.

Yet, here I am, trying to start my day at work, but I can’t stop thinking about that dang flat tire and whether fixing it will be a big or small bill. A flat tire first thing in the morning may not seem big but it has the potential to ruin my day. I can either let this start a flurry of “bad day” events, or I can stop it right here, and say not today, Satan.

So I have two options. I let it ruin my day, or I don’t.

I let it, or I don’t.

It all stems from whose voice I decide to listen to today. Do I listen to Satan’s voice, which tells me to make it a big deal, which pushes me, frightens me, discourages me, worries me? Or do I listen to God’s voice – a voice that calms me, reassures me, tells me I can?

Today I choose to listen to the second one.

#nottodaysatan

Hope ya’ll have a good day. I know I’m planning to!

Carrie

A Day at Denver Art Museum

A Day at Denver Art Museum

Any day at Denver Art Museum should start at Amethyst Coffee Co.

Seriously.

I’m obsessed. We went around 10:30 on a Thursday. It was pretty busy, but the barista was still super helpful. I had an iced key lime caramel latte, because I’m a sucker for interesting flavor combinations. I’d recommend it, although I would have preferred a stronger key lime flavor. I also tried a vegan apple spice doughnut.

The vibes were so good, the wifi was so strong, and the playlist was so dope (Manchester Orchestra anyone?) that I ended up coming back later in the afternoon to charge my phone, enjoy a cortado, and plan out the rest of my day.

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I asked the two baristas how to get to the art museum and they gave me detailed instructions. (It involves walking to the corner, turning right, and walking one block until you see odd-shaped buildings.)

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DAM

I’m a sucker for an art museum with cool architecture. If the museum itself isn’t art, I find it hard to trust that it will hold decent art.

The cost is $13 for adults, with an additional $5 to see the special exhibit. I figured future chances of seeing an exhibit on Western films and the art that inspires and is inspired by westerns were slim, so I sprung for a ticket to the special exhibit, The Western: An Epic in Art and Film.

I enjoyed the film clips spread throughout the paintings and other art. I am partial to art exhibits set up in interesting ways – not necessarily by medium or by time period, but rather, by how the pieces influenced each other (The Barnes Foundation in Philly is a great example of this). Pioneer painters and indigenous artists inspired western film directors, and those westerns in turn influenced later artists.

Here are a few of my favorite paintings in the special exhibit:

Emigrants Crossing the Plains, 1867 by Albert Bierstadt
Gunfight by N.C. Wyeth
Cowboy on Bronco by Roy Lichtenstein

The rest of the museum is beautiful. Each floor is a different time period/culture/movement. I confess to moving through the Spanish Colonial, Asian, and American Indian wings pretty quickly.

The European & American collection had a few really pretty Monets and other Impressionist paintings. (I’m a sucker for the French Impressionists, especially Cezanne.)

Here are two of my favorite paintings in this collection:

Examen de Danse (Dance Examination) by Degas
Dream of Arcadia by Thomas Cole

Another collection I enjoyed was the Modern and Contemporary Art collection.

The American Indian by Andy Warhol
Dune by Joan Mitchell

All in all, I’d recommend the Denver Museum of Art. I really liked the Modern and Contemporary section, and the museum itself was fun to explore.

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Looking down on the lobby from above

Bonus: this is one of the best museums I’ve ever seen for children. Every collection had fun areas for kids, including puppet shows, art projects, family patios, and rooms full of toys. I haven’t seen anything like it in any other art museum I’ve been to.

Pro tip: There are lockers at the museum, so if you’re roaming around all day with a suitcase in tow (like I was), you can leave it there – just be back before the museum closes!

WOAH SO COOL: If you visit the museum from Tuesday-Thursday during the summer months, be sure to check out the food truck festival in the nearby Civic Center Park. I was pleasantly surprised when I stumbled upon a large array of food trucks.

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Can I eat lunch here every week, please?

After stumbling around in a daze for awhile, unable to decide what I wanted to try, I settled on Venezuelan food and a popsicle, and was not disappointed in the least.

Have you been to this museum or any other art museums in Denver? Where should I go next time?

xoxo,

Carrie

 

 

rivers in the wasteland

rivers in the wasteland

It’s been a long and hard few months.

This whole winter felt like I was paddling against the current, and also didn’t know which river I wanted to be paddling down, or if I even wanted to fight the current or just let it take me.

So that’s what I did. I let the current take me. This way, then that way. Further from who I know I am. Further from the kind of person I want to be.

Meanwhile, Jesus was rowing beside me in a little canoe, offering me a hand up.

But I decided I’d rather let the current take me.

I have my life laid out in milestones. When I get to this place, I won’t have more problems. Then I get to that place, and I realize no person or relationship or job or level of responsibility will ever make everything okay or bring me to some level of completion. Stretching myself to my breaking point isn’t somehow going to turn me into a better or stronger person. Taking care of myself is going to turn me into a stronger and healthier person. Giving myself the same level of care I give the people around me, is going to turn me into a whole person.

I woke up on Monday morning in my friend Ruth’s bed, with this overwhelming feeling that I couldn’t do it anymore. The first thought I had, even before I opened my eyes, was, “I can’t let the current take me anymore because if I don’t stop now I’m going to drown.” So I got out of bed, took a shower with boy shampoo (thanks, Paul), and did the dishes from the night before. And I talked to Jesus and told Him I’m sorry and I’m going to try harder. But rather than telling Him I’m going to be better, like I have been telling Him for awhile, I told Him “Jesus, I can’t do better. I need you to come in and purify me again.” I said, “Jesus, I’m ready to get back into the canoe with You.”

And He said to me, “Carrie, you don’t have to climb back in; let me pull you into the boat. I want you here. I’m already doing a work in you. Just because you can’t see or understand what I’m doing, doesn’t mean I’m not working.”

This scripture from Isaiah popped into my head as I was doing the dishes. And then I came to work and opened Pinterest (as you do) and it was literally the first thing at the top of the page:

“I am about to do something new. See? I have already begun. Do you not see it? I will make a pathway in the wilderness. I will create rivers in the dry wasteland.”

That’s me. I’ve been that wasteland for too long. God’s created a river, a pathway out, and I honestly think what He wants to do for me is simply show me how to find Joy in Him again.

The thing is, I haven’t been. I’ve been trying to find joy in other things for the past few months, and that’s what’s bugging me, in the back of my mind. Carrie, you were just doing this last weekend, and you think you can just leave that behind and make Jesus your focus again? Pretty sure it’s going to take a little longer than that.

I’ve always been my own worst critic. Disappointment in myself is the hardest to overcome. I’m upset with myself. Not because I did anything “that bad,” but because I know Jesus. I’ve known Him for years. I know He is the only way. Yet, I still choose to walk away. Some days I still choose to ignore Him. That’s why I’m disappointed in myself. I’m disappointed not because I did anything “that bad” but because I’ve been putting other things over Him. Satan would love to catch me up in that. In the shame. He would love to catch me up in guilt. He would love to convince me I’ve used up Jesus’s grace. He’d love to convince me I’ve used up all my chances. Satan would love if I believed him.

You know what? No. (#nottodaySatan) I’m done believing the lie that shame always takes a long time to overcome. I believe my God is active. I believe He runs on His own timeline. And when I turn to Him and tell Him I’m ready to let Him do a new thing in me, I believe He will do it.

He’s always done it before, and I believe He’ll do it again.

If you’re in the wasteland today, keep believing for Him to bring you through it. Keep asking for Him to bring you through it. And please don’t believe the lie that you are the only one struggling. If you are struggling and think you’re worse than anyone around you, reach out to someone you trust. Reach out to me if you need to, even if we don’t know each other well. You’re not the only one with “real struggles,” although sometimes when you’re surrounded by “church people” and “church talk” it can feel that way. But guess what? We all struggle. Every single one of us.

That’s why we need Jesus.

xoxo,

Carrie