Gnomes Roaming Rome

Tragically, we were not afforded a break during our entire fall semester. We study so very hard and no academic respite?! Well, finally, because of some timely Spanish holidays, we had 4 days in Italy rather than the regular brief weekend break. Italy was the perfect trip to bulk up for the holidays so that we fit in with all the other chubbies when we return home. Just trying to alleviate potential reverse culture shock, you know.

Continuing the overarching theme of all my trips and virtually the entire quarter abroad, we made every meal count in Italy. And by “count,” I mean “as large and delicious and legendary” as possible. Which we proudly achieved, starting with the perfect pizza at Dar Poeta in Rome, for which we waited an hour, shivering in the rain down an unmarked alley to taste a slice entire pizza of heaven. Literally. Every pizza thereafter paled in comparison; my standards have been shattered by Dar Poeta. Sad story. Just like San Crispino gelato, boasted to be the “best in Italy,” made me see that icy goodness in a whole new light. But we had to keep trying every gelato shop, for scholarly empirical purposes, of course.

food.food.food.food.food.food.food.food.food.food.food.food.food.food.food.

So other than stuffing our faces, Brittney and I dominated two days of  the Monument Marathon, hitting literally every major site in Rome and then some. With the help of friends that had been living in Rome and studying the history of the city, we were privileged enough to stay in an amazing apartment and go on personalized walking tours with super-tour-guide Maiah. And by personalized I mean: consisting of lots of food breaks and hearing fun facts about every beautiful building, of which there were many more than many.

Our first day, we hit the standard landmarks like the Colosseum, the Forum (such cool “myths” behind the creation of the Roman empire that they’re actually finding evidence of beneath part of the Forum!), a stroll down Corso, through Trastevere neighborhood where our friends live, the Pantheon, Piazza Navona, and countless other buildings and piazzas that I recognized from art and architecture classes, but didn’t appreciate as much until they were HUGE and right in front of me. I was sincerely surprised by how much I enjoyed being a super-tourist in Rome; the Italians were much more tolerant of us blatant tourists than the unapproved Spanish. No shame here!

After a long day of “oohs and aahs” supplemented by a constant stream of gelato, I had about zero energy to conquer the Roman nightlife. Which I’m told wasn’t much to miss in comparison to Barcelona, unless you enjoy being called “Lady Gaga” by every Italian man you pass. Which some girls may.  Late to bed and early to rise, I was off to the gratefully uncrowded Vatican around 8 am. I remember learning about the details and nuances of St. Peter’s for about a week in architecture class, when I finally experiences the space I just thought it was really, really, really, impressively big. And that in all of its grandeur, the Sistine chapel was relatively really, really small. It’s the stuff “everyone” has seen, but it was still an amazing experience to visit such spectacular buildings.

Then the real trek through the city began, with a salad (health? what?) lunch at Trevi Fountain, a visit to “Some Old Famous Rich Guy’s” Palazzo (beautiful but too many names), Spanish Steps, sunset at another big obelisk, Piazza del Poppolo, the Capuchin Monastery (SO CREEPY/COOL), and numerous other impressive places that I lost track of. Wandering the streets was just as entertaining, because the entire city was decked out in Christmas lights and bustling with holiday buzz and scrumptious goodies like my new favorite, chestnuts! Yes, they do have significance outside of the song.

And to finish it off right, a night at Trevi Fountain with wine and Nutella, a truly authentic Italian experience. Sure.

A Moveable Feast

Fittingly, it was Thanksgiving night when I arrived in Paris, the home of Hemingway’s moveable feast. Yet the traditional feast wasn’t moving with me, as my friends would come in the next morning and the classic Thanksgiving family dinner devolved into a sweet-feast with my Brazilian-Parisian host. No complaints here, as coconut sugar balls are far superior to me than picking around the meatiness of Thanksgiving. It was a decidedly uneventful holiday, but after a shaky flight and a too-long introduction to the crowded, sweaty metro of Paris (even in -5º C), I was ready to hit the hay in order to conquer the next day. Yay.

Brazilian beijinhos are a traditional birthday party candy. I’m going to deem it an everyday candy, because they’re damn delicious and so easy to make!

After getting acquainted with my Paris Couchsurfing host and reaping the benefits of his Brazilian bonbon expertise, I clocked in a couple of the very few hours of sleep I would get over the weekend. We woke up early to beat the crowds at the Louvre; it was amazing to see the massive museum in the frosty sunrise with no one around. Beautiful, but freezing, so I spent half of my day inside wandering the infinite halls,  people-watching just as much as I was attentive to the art. Loved the ancient Egyptian collection, the visiting Russian modern art exhibition, and Napoleon’s apartment, but honestly the endless Renaissance and medieval art was about as exciting as the snowflakes falling outside. The most impressive thing about the Louvre to me is the building itself; the monumental scale and boundless possibilities are mind blowing. Calls for a pastry break.

This is what happens when a.) Cinema class consists of two hours of a silent movie about a drawing pencil, b.) I have no internet access, c.) I rescue myself from death by boredom by resorting to creating a useless collage of a more ideal Louvre.

Yes, snowing, no, I do not have a proper coat here. So the weather dictated much of the weekend, forcing Tina and I to dash inside whenever possible and spend copious amounts on coffee, tea, and pastries at a Paris premium so we could snuggle inside the cafes and warm up for our next sprint to see/do/eat something else. The surprise snow also resulted in my purchase and wearing of a heinous touristy beret, that should only be worn as a costume. Ever.

Hat offense, strike 1.

Paris during the holidays is inevitably charming, and unfailingly freezing. While we did walk virtually the entire city, my fellow honeymooner Tina (both new to Paris, and we took more than a few romantic couples shots) and I were always grateful to enter the next heated place, whether it be museum, cafe, church, or in desperate cases, any random shop that would let us pretend to browse. The first day we covered the Louvre, touristy but endearing Montmarte, the massive Christmas market on Champs Elysee bursting with holiday treats and mulled wine (necessary for warmth), dinner in Marais and the nightlife of Bastille. When in Paris…

Along the way, we fueled up on endless macaroons, crepes, and any pastry that crossed our path, desperately trying to make up for lost food-babies from lack of Thanksgiving dinner. Apparently I was attempting to sample every flavor macaroon of every baker in the city, as evidenced in the conception of food-triplets after four days on the pastry diet. The best macaroons definitely came from Pierre Hermé, where a passion-fruit chocolate macaroon initiated my addiction.

We might as well solidify the tourist stereotype by taking pictures of everyday food–I already had the beret, how much worse could it get?

So from then on it was monuments and museums galore, as we were trying to hit all the major sites and sights to fulfill our obligations as novice Parisian tourists. That we did, with stops at the Pantheon and Notre Dame, followed by a quick snowy picnic at the Eiffel Tower and further cafe hopping and pastry gorging. I mean, dainty sampling.

I loved wandering through the Jewish Quarter, and not just because of the delicious smells emanating from every bakery. There were too many cool shops to check out and tons of people out for the evening. The National Museum of Modern Art is hands down the best museum I’ve ever been to, in both overall design and collections, and a refreshing remedy after so much “old” art.

In between all the iconic landmarks and cliche Paris photos, I felt like we got as real of a taste of the city as possible in just 4 days of running around all day and staying out all night. We went nonstop, moving the feast with us as we scurried along the wet, snowy streets, and then bringing the whirlwhind with us all the way back to balmy Barcelona. I left knowing that will I have to return because I couldn’t stop hearing, “You should have been here in the summer!”


Wham, Bam, Amsterdam

And thank you, ma’am! Although it’s beyond cliche to say that it just keeps getting better…it just keeps getting better. Maybe as the tourist vibe wears off and we become a little more Euro-travel savvy, jumping from city to city on these all-too-brief weekend trips becomes more routine and less frenzied. Or maybe as the tangible fear of returning to challenging classes and “real” responsibilities lingers ever-nearer, we just try harder and harder to enjoy every second here. (Enjoy= eat every food, drink every drink, wander every street, do it to it.) Whatever it is, me gusta mucho.

That said, Amsterdam was AWESOME. In so many eloquent words. I was expected a touristy, crowded smokers’ haven, but what I found was a beautifully designed, richly cultured, and refreshingly friendly city. After arriving as a shivering blonde ice cube on the train from Brussels, I met my Couchsurfing host at the Amsterdam Bibliotheek–the most spectacular library ever. Not only did it have a full-service bar and huge top-floor restaurant, every floor looked like it was an exhibit at a modern museum. So within 15 minutes I was already impressed just by the public library…then I met Laura, my host, who literally welcomed me with open arms into her life for the weekend. After sitting in on a Dutch language class she was teaching to other Couchsurfers at the library, we walked back along the water to her flat; the cityscape at night is fantastic with canal reflections, few cars, and the impressive Dutch architectural vernacular.


Other than sharing the obligatory pastry suggestions like stroopwaffles and oliebollen, Laura shared some of the weird nuances of Dutch culture with me. I learned about Sinterklaas, which makes Santa Claus even more of an upsetting lie. Sinterklaas is a way cooler dude; he rolls in on a steamboat from Spain with oranges and rides a horse names Amerigo through the streets. So kids actually get to party with Sinterklaas while Santa Claus just rides away on his high-sleigh. Coincidentally, there are Sinterklaas songs that mention deporting naughty kids to Spain…maybe that’s where my host family’s children came from.

Sinterklaas Cupcakes & Stroopwaffle…I’m easily impressed.

More culturally pertinent, it also seems that the Dutch all speak perfect English with very little studying done in school.  As Laura explained, “We watch too much American TV and listen to too much American music.” Voila, education problems solved: just plop kids in front a TV, stick some headphones on ‘em, and they’re trilingual. Because Dutch programs aren’t dubbed like French or Spanish TV and film imports, the Dutch are able to speak English with the same California colloquialism as those kids on The OC. Maybe the Dutch government should only allow its citizens to watch the Discovery Channel, and then we’d have a country full of David Attenborough narration. Delightful!

Laura’s “flat” was modular pre-fab housing, quite the contrast to the Canal Loop

I spent my first day freezing my butt off, yet again, and warming up with a constant stream of pastries and espresso, yet again. For hours, I wandered along the canals and bicycle-lined streets, which were saturated with intimate cafes, enticing boutiques, and stunning galleries, all housed in spectacular 18th century buildings. Walking down the more residential streets, especially in my favorite area, Jordaan, every home seemed impeccable decorated; is everyone in Amsterdam is a discerning designer or something? I also met too many too nice people. Their sincere friendliness caught me off-guard at first–you want to have a pleasant conversation with me? And buy me a cappuccino?! I love this place! Let’s just say that local interaction in Spain is limited to currency transactions or disapproving glares. Barcelonians are not the friendliest group. At any rate, after a day of exploring the city and chatting with genuinely friendly people, I was surprised to find myself feeling more at home in Amsterdam than I have yet in Europe.


I didn’t really intend to visit anywhere in particular, I had reserved the day for aimless ambling. When there’s no plan, every discovery is serendipitous, and thus much more rewarding. Wow, I found this amazing place! And although it’s in 387 travel guides, I stumbled upon it on my own. Being relatively clueless ensures some sort of excitement in my day.

On this gray, gloomy day, the city’s bright spots seemed even more spectacular…Other than strolling around snacking on stroopwaffles, my friends (when they finally arrived) and I visited the Anne Frank House. I don’t think I’ll ever experience a more extraordinary “exhibit” in my life; it can’t really be called an exhibit or museum because it was reality for many people not so long ago. The Secret Annex was left relatively untouched, save for necessary renovations, and the entire experience is as eerie as can be achieved when you’re walking through a small house with a hundred other visitors. Impressive and moving…needed post-Anne sugar to cheer us up.

Lifting our spirits with stroopwaffles outside of Anne Frank House!

Oh, THIS guy again?!

Quantitatively, I “did” far less in Amsterdam, but experienced far more. By bypassing museums and keeping it economical by Couchsurfing, I was able to avoid most of the unappealing tourist traps and just hang out with some locals and spend a day with my equally-infatuated American friends. Literally, we were inFATuated after this trip. I don’t think it was in the cookies, though, the city itself is such a sincere place from its genuine people right down to the straightforward modernist architecture. Study abroad 2011 in Amsterdam?

See, they really are a straightforward bunch.

Brussels= Waffles, Chocolate, Beer. The End.

(I may or may not play in Photoshop instead of paying attention to Pricing Policy.)

I flew into Brussels, Belgium, on my pilgrimage to Amsterdam to a.) check another country off my list, b.) explore another amazing European city, and c.) sample gorge on the plethora of delectable culinary treats for which Belgium is so famous. (Infamous?) About 9 hours in Brussels consisted of cycles alternating between museums, eating, monuments, shopping, and eating. Not much to say about that except “yay,” so here are some moderately interesting photos and some babble:

As is glaringly obvious, food usually guides my travel goals and habits. Belgian waffles (The gooey, doughy ones with a crispy exterior and coated in sugar chunks. The REAL thing.) definitely belong at the top of my European food favorites. Opening a Belgian waffle house in USA= instant fortune.

I started my wanderings in Grand Place, the cultural center of Brussels. A huge open plaza surrounded by amazingly intricate buildings such as this one, Grand Place certainly gives a sense of grandeur. (And chocolate shops.) The universal European concept of establishing a city center is so much more logical and “explorable” than the sprawling nonsense of most American cities. (Boo LA!)

This is (debatably) one of the best European monuments. The Manneken Pis, literally “little man pee” in Dutch, is a puny little bronze fountain sculpture of a boy peeing. Simple and sweet. There are quite a few legends about this little chap, but the only one I remember/my favorite states that Mannekin Pis represents a baby king that the Dutch put in a basket during a war, then he peed on the opposition and the Dutch won. Epic war story.

Also, little pee dude is dressed up in international traditional clothing several times a week. I guess the day I went was Mexican pee boy day. And there was a TV crew filming a Dutch folk singer for some reason. Music video?

Delirium Cafe holds the world record for most kinds of beer available. This constitutes an important international site of global interest, thus I had to investigate. They have more than 2100 types! That’s a few more than America’s 99 bottles.

The end.

Pastry Lust, Lisbon Love

It’s not that I wasn’t expecting much from Portugal, I just had no idea what to expect from this little country on the edge of Europe. Friends that had already visited raved about Lisbon, but they couldn’t pinpoint exactly what it was about Portugal that made it just feel so…good. Maybe it was the plethora of delectable pastries, or their national specialty, port, but really it was something more than gastronomic seduction. The Portuguese people were genuinely nice, even though they’re constantly bombarded by annoyingly jaded tourists like us and often viewed as just “that country next to Spain.” Well, it’s anything but.

We (gasp) actually paid for a tour on our first day in Lisbon. The name of the company alone, We Hate Tourism Tours, lured me in, and we were able to see the nearby beach towns  of Sintra and Cascais in a van decked out in awesome stickers, with frequent pastry stops and minimal guidance. Kind of like the anti-tour tour of the Lisbon peninsula.

I need that mustache decal for my Vee Dub.

At our first stop in Sintra, we began our torrid affair with Portuguese pastries. These queijadas de Sintra are exclusive to the handful of little cafés in Sintra, and taste like an extra gooey snickerdoodle snuggled in a crisp  shell. Cinnamony, custardy, crunchy. So, basically the best thing ever. I wish I had just filled my backpack with those little guys. Later on, we sampled (ok, gorged on) the pastry local to the Belém area, from a shop famous for its queijadas de nata, or cream tarts. Sprinkle some cinnamon and powdered sugar on top, and you’re addicted for life. For the rest of the weekend, we really applied ourselves and committed to finding the best pastries in Lisbon. After extensive research and unfaltering dedication, we concluded that the best pastries were those from the first day. Yes, we sacrificed ourselves for the betterment of baked goods. You’re welcome.

Other than stuffing our faces on the tour, we visited the Sintra National Palace then explored the grounds of an amazing estate, the Quinta da Regaleira, an amazing, romantic palace with even more impressive gardens–winding paths, secret underground tunnels and dungeons, grottoes, tennis courts for some regal playtime, and the customary fountains and unnecessary but interesting structures like lookout towers. Essentially, it was an aristocrats’ playground, now a playground for hyperactive, pastry-fueled tourists like us.

Kate is a little tipsy, and Leo’s up to something…

We also visited the western-most point of Europe, where the scenery looked uncannily like California’s central coast.

Later that night, based on a suggestion from our tour guide, we tried out a locals’ favorite restaurant with authentic Portuguese fare. Ended up being a little bit too authentic, with every dish drowning in butter and every animal staring at us from the plate/hanging kebab. I’ll stick to baked goods from now on.

Although guides, books, and locals told us to get to the Feira da Ladra Market (Thieves Market) as soon as it opened at 6:30 am, we lazily arrived at around 10:00, to just about the same knick knacks and trinkets for sale. Late bird gets the worm, too, suckas! A traditional flea market with offerings from artisan crafts to bizarre goods (Barbara Streisand tapes? Vintage Ken dolls? Mannequin body parts? Got ‘em all!), we wandered for a few hours and scored some great jewelry and I bought a sophisticated poncho. It’s potato sack chic.

I was hoping to score those new Rossis!

To get back to our hostel, we wandered through the labyrinthine Alfama district, using the trolley tracks as our guide. This area of Lisbon is really, really, really old. Descriptive, I know. Some buildings were constructed as early as the 12th century! I think dinosaurs were around at that time. The narrow streets wind through crumbling, but brightly painted, alleyways, full of enticing smells guiding us to our next pastry investigation site.

I mean narrow streets as in, suck it in when the trolley comes by!

When we made it back to our beautiful hostel, that would deserve four stars if hostels were rated, I plopped down in the most comfortable bed I’ve had yet, in the nicest room I’ve stayed in yet. Every room at Living Loung Hostel was commissioned by a different local artist or design agency, so each is unique and impeccably designed. Every inch place was seriously awesome, from Taschen books on the vintage coffee table to the recycled water-bottle chandelier in our room. Oh, and homemade crepes all morning? Can I become a permanent resident?

Well that’s swell! You just make me wanna order a drink!

Sunday contradicted the gloomy, drizzly forecast and surprised us with a sunny day. Hopped on a train, and 30 minutes later we were in the “Monaco of Portugal,” Cascais, where the bikes are free, the beaches are pure, and the gelato is devastatingly delicious. We rode some clunkers along the coast to Guincho Beach, famous for surfing but the conditions were not ideal in November, sadly. Some clouds rolled in after our beach picnic, and then all of a sudden there was a DOUBLE RAINBOW ALL THE WAY ACROSS THE SKY!! So bright. So vivid.

I really can’t imagine a more gastronomically and culturally fulfilling trip with some of my favoritest girls in the whole wide world; the only downside is that now I am addicted to yet another type of baked good. I guess it could be worse.

And a Fado farewell!

Saharan…Snowboarding & Foot Massages?

Morocco Part 3As extraordinary as camping in the Sahara was, I can’t imagine a more tourist-happy activity than camel rides, even if it was on local Berber-rug saddles from a campsite to a puny village. Just like riding elephants in Thailand, the whole idea is exotically enticing but then your butt just hurts and the camel in front of you pees and sprays on your leg and the wind whips sand in your face and…yeah an hour later it’s not so romantic anymore. But it was still good ol’ fashioned fun and who can say that they’ve ridden a camel named Lady Gaga through the Sahara? Or that’s what Muhammad told me she (he?) was named…

So after sufficiently abusing our gluteus maximuses, we gracefully dismounted our regal creatures and staged a photo shoot with them. Camels love having their picture taken. Or they’re just completely apathetic. Probably the latter. Anyway, with that accomplished, we entered the tiny village closest to our campsite where most of the workers live with their families. Virtually all of the revenue in the area comes from tourists, so they haggled us accordingly for just about every trinket. I had already splurged on a Berber rug in Fez, but opted for some amazing jewelry at a shop in town. Rather, the shop in town–it was just a few mud huts grouped together around a few trees, with nothing to distinguish the buildings from each other. As the guides told us, architecture is more about what is inside the house, so that you impress your family and guests, not make your neighbors jealous with gaudy external decoration. So I’m sure French colonial style went over really well when they moved into Morocco to decorate.

The turban is an essential fashion accessory for this season’s desert-explorer look. Keeps the sun and sand out, and your lack-of-shower-stench in!

After a bit of wandering around this desolate village, I wished that I had been aware of the situation of the people that would be hosting us on “their” land. It would have been great to be able to bring toothbrushes (definitely something they needed), or even toys or candy for the kids. Anything would have been great to bring to share, after seeing how little they had and how hard they worked.
That being said, we returned to camp to hang out on the dunes, and promptly received foot massages from a crew of little guys. When we giggled and insisted that they stop, they kept wanting to so…of course we let them? They thought my frostbitten toes were hilarious, which they are, and after awhile they proceeded to climb on us like monkeys rather than rub our feet. How boys change…

After a oddly satisfying foot massage from 7-year-olds, my friend Ashley and I proceeded to make friends with the “sandboarding resort workers,” aka the guys that owned the Burton snowboards that had been converted to sandboards. Converted= ruined. After chatting with them for awhile in Spanish, they let me hop in the bindings, barefoot, and ride the dunes. Shreddin’ the gnar! Well, hardly. The friction on sand is a little much, so the board basically crawls, but it’s a fun ride down. After a few runs of this, our new friend asked me on a date and explained how hard it was to find a wife: girls marry at 17 to 28 year old men in an arranged marriage. “Nunca hay amor,” he told me; there’s never love in marriages, it is just for family connections. So I felt terrible for him, but not bad enough to be his wife. It was also impressive that the local Berbers had never attended school and couldn’t read or write much more than their own names, but many were tri-lingual at the very least, learning fluent Spanish and English just from spending time around tourists. Wish I could do the same in Spain!Global warming is inspiring the next extreme sport!

Our last night at camp consisted of (another) amazing dinner, and after dinner entertainment consisted of a rockin’ local tribal band! I totally would have bought their CD. Or tape. Then some of the locals proceeded to teach us how to traditionally dance, but it just turned into me trying to Thizzle-dance with one of them. He got the idea, and hopefully the Hyphy Movement will now be reborn in the middle of Morocco. Camp at night…wish we could have stayed longer! I love the no-shower excuse.

After two days that far surpassed my expectations for a trip vaguely described as “camping in the desert,” we headed out in 4×4′s to Erfoud. A better description might have been, “a once in a lifetime experience that is too spectacular to put into words, and one that you will never forget.” Goodbye, beautiful Sahara, hello “real” world. In Erfoud, we boarded back onto those dreaded buses for 8 hours to Meknes, a relatively modern city that we didn’t see much of beyond a little wandering around our hotel. A brief night’s sleep, then back onto buses, and then I pretty much passed out on the bus and had an instantly debilitating sickness. I love the way you taste, Moroccan food, but apparently my body doesn’t love you back. So the 24 hour trip back to Barcelona was indescribably miserable, as were the 3 subsequent days of staying in bed. Being sick is always awful, but even more so when every minute that passes by could have been one spent wandering around Europe. Oh well, hakuna matata! Or the Spanish equivalent, ¡manana manana!Crawl on, little beetle. Right on into Kaitlin’s bed…

 

Dunes, Dude.

Morocco Part 2

Waking up at 5:00 am never felt so good.

Back in the buses, back on the road, into the desert. Another 8 hours towards the village of Erfoud (the area in the movie Babel, which we ironically watched on the bus. Ironic because Cate Blanchett gets shot in a coach bus in the same desert.), with minimal pit stops and maximum numbness of the gluteus maximus.

Although the ride was 8 hours through a supposedly desolate desert, my eyes were glued to the scenery and not to the TV. It’s hard to imagine that the impossibly puny, isolated villages that we passed could be self-sustaining, which they must be, being so far from anything and everything. Sometimes we would pass a lonely wanderer, at least 30 km from the next sign of life along the highway, just hiking alongside the road. Stick your thumb out, dude.

Watching the sun go down over the increasingly sandy and decreasingly inhabited desert was stunning. Equally as stunning as taking an hour 4×4 ride across the rocky desert and sand dunes to reach our campsite, where we were greeted by glowing tents, flickering Moroccan lanterns, and a thumping drum circle. We grabbed a tent, grabbed some grub, and laid under the blindingly bright stars. I’ve never seen, and don’t think I ever will see for quite some time, such lucidly glowing stars, or ooed and aahed at so many shooting stars. Then we hit the hay (I’m actually fairly certain that’s what our sleeping mats were made of) to get a few hours of shut-eye before waking up at dawn to watch the sun rise.We arrived at camp so late that first night, then woke up so early the next morning, that we didn’t really have a grasp of where we were beyond the reach of the little lanterns lining the perimeter of camp. Thus, the first glimpses of the endless sand dunes surrounding us were under the light of the rising sun. How’s that for dramatic effect?

The lighting changed every few minutes, going through different phases of colors…Sister Robert and the three poor little African children

And then after the sun had risen above the horizon, the nice man that had been guiding us through the dunes and telling us the history about the surrounding area, Abrahim, set down and opened his knapsack. “Oh crap,” we thought, more coercion into buying trinkets that we don’t want or need. As grateful as I was for Abrahim’s guidance through that treacherous powdery soft sand, we initially thought it was out of hospitality that the local Berbers were guiding small groups of us. BEEP wrong. Although his shiny rocks were pretty, I don’t think Mom is really into soap dishes comprised of deep sea shell fossils. So after a perfect morning just wandering the dunes and watching the sun rise, we had to persistently turn down his insistence that Grandma would just love a fossilized fish. Sorry, Grams.

Sunset, sunrise, then onto those gallantly galloping camels…it’s a tough life…

NO. THANK. YOU!