Archive for the 'Hotels' Category

My oh My Marrakesh

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It was strange to be back in a city all of a sudden and that first day was a bit overwhelming.  After dropping off our bags we walked into the center, elated because there was so much to do (unlike the last two places) but a bit confused by seeing all the things we’d appreciated not having, i.e. McDonalds and the like.

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Really?!

We took a cheap cab back to the hotel and rested up for what would be a completely packed visit in Marrakesh.

No this is not for you, from me, not yet

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We woke up for our first day in Ouarzazate to beautiful weather, we had opted for the room ‘on the roof’ which was right near the washing station and a bit cheaper than those below.  Our hotel was a little quirky but we were excited that it had a pool and the owner was especially nice.

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Ouarzazate comes from the Berber phrase “without noise,” and carries the nickname “door to the desert” because for most people it’s where to stay before heading out to the Draa Valley.  Maybe it’s better to go there before the desert because coming from the desert Sister and I were not very impressed.  We walked around town and found mostly touristy shops with a sort of sad repetition of all things typically considered Berber and Moroccan.

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Construction site that seemed to be using the same ‘hold it up’ techniques as our desert tents.

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I still have no idea why the majority of trees in Morocco were painted white at the base.  If anyone knows please, tell me! It seemed to be only in towns and cities, ending on the outskirts and not happening at all in the countryside.

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Man loading bread into his car.

We headed to the Kasbah, a site which is highly recomended in Ouarzazate but were a bit unimpressed there as well.  Maybe it was our lack of research about Kasbah culture but other than being an interesting looking building with some beautiful ceilings it seemed to be more of the same- shops with traditional garb and shop owners constantly telling you, “Welcome, come inside take look.  Only a look, please.  You are welcome.”

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Kasbah

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Nearby there was a little market, most of the same desert clothing and painted pottery but one man had a sea of things that piqued my interest.  I wish I had taken his picture, he was just what you’d imagine, a bit hunched with leathery skin and eyes that looked just past you.  He didn’t say a word when I walked in, which was refreshing.  After sifting through some of the slightly sandy treasures he had out I was feeling good about my finds, I went to pay and something rather odd happened.  He laid out the odds and ends and quoted each with a price then took one of them away.  I haggled for a lower price on all the items together then asked how much for the little tree he’d taken back.  “No.”

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Me Optimistic: “Con bien?”

Him: “No.”

Me Confused: “Por qua?”

Him: “No, not you, no this.”

Me A little offended and confused: “Why not for me?”

Him: A lot of fast French.

Me feeling/looking like I’m 5

Him: More French, laughter, a sigh “Not now, this, not for you now.  Later.” then a lot more French that I didn’t understand.

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I was still confused, but after a lot of gesturing and trying to purchase four different types of objects that all had trees on them I realized that this man just knew he would not sell me specifically anything having to do with the tree of knowledge.  He couldn’t seem to tell me why.  It just was that way.  We both ended up shrugging our shoulders, I paid for my things and wondered what any of that meant.

Later we went back to the center of town and met another shop keeper, this one much less pushy (even the old man got pushy with other products in the midst of our ‘why you can’t have a tree’ conversation).  My Sister and I wanted to try on some pants and we asked for a place to try them on, he said of certainly, we could change there while he went across the street to grab a pot of tea.  And so he left us with his shop, closed the door, and after about ten minutes came back to share a pot of green tea with us.

First he poured the tea into the cups, then poured the cups back into the pot.  He did this three times.  I asked him why, expecting some romantic answer then feeling silly when he told me it was simply to mix the sugar into the tea.  Later while looking at a plate I almost knocked over the entire stack, I looked at him nervously and apologized.  He told me it’s good baraka when someone breaks something in your shop.  I asked why.  Just because it is. I wondered again about the old man, why I needed to know why something was.

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Later, the shop keeper walked us to the best tagine in town (leaving his shop unattended).

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The morning we left it was pouring and unfortunately during one of the many taxi strikes, but we made it just fine and boarded a nice CTM bus (like greyhound) bound for Marrakesh with plenty to think about and even more to just let be.

The Desert

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After our sleepless night on the bus the surreal quality of the desert was only intensified.  We freshened up and sat drinking tea, playing more Rummy, and taking it all in.

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Then it was time to ride our camels into the desert.  I had a lot of trouble getting my turban on but, my Sister it turns out was quite the pro.

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That night we ate tagine and listened to the guides play drums and sing.  After the other guests went to bed we wondered out into the dunes to lay on the sand, watch the occasional night traveler (when the moon is full or close to full they go in the night to avoid the wind and heat of the day), and tell/translate jokes using our common knowledge of a little French, Spanish, and Italian mixed with English.

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Our tent complete with candle surrounded by rugs and sticks.

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Our guide Ibrahim posing proudly with one of the camels, he was explaining to us how important it is to respect and be kind to them which was nice to hear.

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In every photo I have of this camel he looks like he’s flashing his best smile, really he’s chewing his cud but we’ll pretend.

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The photo just doesn’t do it justice.  I’m not a big fan of super hot climates and sandy beaches (more of a mountains and lakes kind of girl) but I was blown away by how wonderful I felt there.  It was disorienting in a really calming way.

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The next day we didn’t really have anything planned, and since we didn’t have a car (like most of the Spaniards there) we just tried to be comfortable with just relaxing.  We played a lot of cards, read, drank a lot of mint tea, and while my Sister napped I had a little conversation with my camera.

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Scarab and camomile from a walk in the dunes.

As it turns out most of the action happens in the evening, after enjoying another wonderful dinner these men of the Nowa tribe of Sudan came to play.  After a while the staff joined in and then everyone was on their feet.  After dancing and jumping for hours Sister and I cartwheeled out to our tent, grabbed a blanket and enjoyed a gorgeous view of the stars. We might have slept out there if our star gazing hadn’t been interupted by some of the staff guys who kept asking if they could visit us in America.  When I look back on it I’m sure I’ll omit the cheesey lines and just remember the view but, if you’re going to visit don’t expect all peace and quiet- even in the desert.

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Fire pit outside our tents.

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Sand in my bed.

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Hooray desert! Thanks for the wonderful visit!

Mint Tea on a Hot Day in Fes

The Riad we stayed in didn’t seem real, gorgeous mosaic over every inch and an opening to the sky in the center so that the light of the day seeped in.

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We headed out, repeatedly having to remind each other that we were here in Morocco, taking the trip we’d talked about over dozens of dinners at Mogador.

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Fresh squeezed orange juice stands everywhere

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The way we look in Arabic

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Graveyard

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Lounging donkeys

My Sister and I have developed a great dynamic, we both like to see the sights and have those days that are so filled they feel like weeks when you look back on them but in order to appreciate them we also have lazy afternoons.  Plus she’s gotten really understanding about stopping a thousand times for me to take or take and retake photos.

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Spices in the Medina

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After getting our bus tickets, walking through the Medina, checking out the tanneries (where I haggled for a camel leather bag), and taking tons of pictures we ended up on a terrace sipping mint tea, playing cards, and smiling about how amazing everything was.

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Fes had the best mint tea

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The Tannery

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A Berber Pharmacy

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Cafe Clock view from above and lunch on the roof

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mint, everywhere

Before we left when my Sister was planning things she had asked me if I was ok with an overnight bus trip so that we would have enough time to see Fes and the desert.  I had almost scoffed at her worry; listen I’ve been working through nights lately a bus ride where we can sleep sounds nice.

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We met some Spanish clowns at the hotel bar

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Fresh Kefta, yes please.

And you know it could’ve been, we were prepared for nearly everything.  After having some wine at the one bar in Fes (inside a very nice hotel) we grabbed some delicious kefta kebab, had a coffee, used the bathrooms, bought some water and boarded the bus at 10pm.  We even had the whole back seat to ourselves to stretch out.dsc_0338

When you think of Morocco frigid temperatures don’t really come to mind, certainly not mine when I packed.  My Sister was able to run out and grab her pack at one of the stops since my coat was not doing the job.  As we drove through the High Atlas Mountains we proceeded to layer on every item of clothing my Sister had packed, with the holes in the seats opening directly to the air whizzing past the speeding bus it was really no use.  We hugged each others feet and shivered our way to Merzouga.

Flying into Fes

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I fell in love with a stranger sitting in front of me on the flight over, turning courteous considerate gestures into a personality I admired.  He only carried a newspaper onto the plane which is something that always attracts me since I am the girl with the giant bag of two or so books, an iPod filled with podcasts, and some postcards to write in case.  We didn’t speak at all but in the course of the flight I imagined how we met, why I loved him, the troubles we faced together, and the happy conclusion of why it was better that we go our separate ways.  We were both better for having had the experience and would always reflect fondly on our time together.

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The colors of Morocco instantly awoke me and the giant back pack felt like nothing compared to the weightless excitement I was experiencing.  I hoped into a taxi and showed him the address and the hand drawn map I’d copied from google maps at 6am that, no wait, the morning of the day before.  I tried not to think about how little I’d slept in the past week. Too many good things were coming up.

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The taxi driver taught me the word for sunset in french as I clicked away with my camera, he kept looking at my grin and breaking into a smile himself, “you will love Morocco, you are welcome.”  This phrase would come back many times in the next two weeks but hearing it for the first time it felt like it was just for me.

After arriving to the landmark closest to the Riad where I was supposed to meet my Sister (which she had warned would be impossble to find) the driver apologized, he couldn’t drive into the medina.  He grabbed a shop owner nearby that seemed to be a close friend.  The driver pointed to a cart that looked like a backwards wheel barrow, “he can take you.”  I politely declined and started to walk when they insisted I let the shop owners son take me.  A shy boy about 6 or 7 lowered his head and stepped forward.  Soon we were walking throught the medina, a little wobbily in my state, attracting attention from each group of people in each narrow passage.dsc_0137

I made some friends, felt a bit helpless and overwhelmed, but an hour or so later my Sister and I were hugging and swapping travel stories.  We had some delicious dinner before heading to the Riad where we started our Rummy tournament, Morocco 2009.

Never Like This

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Hours of work had been getting longer and I’d been sleeping less, but after almost a month of agonizing over whether to go to Morocco with my Sister or Amsterdam with the studio I had finally come to a decision.

I would do both. Plus I would go to Rome.

Two of the other interns had been working on these columns for the Rome show and it was assumed one of them would attend one of the artists to set it up. Once I heard the show was happening in the beginning of April (Morocco and Amsterdam were both set to happen during the second and third week) I offered to go in exchange for missing the first weeks of set up in Amsterdam.

So there I was standing in the shower trying to remember how to conjugate Italian verbs and wondering if I needed to pack anything other than work clothes. As I’ve mentioned before, I have a special relationship with Italy. I studied and lived there, learned Italian, and planned to move there before a weekend trip to Berlin changed things. I knew it would be wonderful to be back in a place where I could understand the language and see a culture I admire but I was a bit nervous, like seeing an ex that knows you better than your current love.

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We ended up working the entire time we were there, no sleeping, and certainly no time for idle chat or reflection. I left Ed behind to continue working and only in the last moments en route to the airport did I start to realize how strange it felt to be returning home to Germany from Italy. While I was chatting with one of the women at the gallery I told her I had once planned on moving to Rome but changed my mind for Berlin. She paused and nodded her head, “you made the choice that was right.”

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I made my way back to Berlin alone, drifting between dream filled sleep and deep reflection.  It seemed so wrong to be returning home on a two hour flight away from Italy but, to be honest, it felt so good to go back home to Berlin.

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The whole story of my new home

I’ve found an apartment that I really love.

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At first I looked for studios and one bedroom apartments, they were still cheaper than any rent I’d seen anywhere decent to live in New York and lately I’ve really been craving my own place.  A kitchen that I want to sit and sip coffee in, a hallway with artwork, and a bathroom that is not relatable to a dorm bathroom in any way.

Then I realized I’m moving to a new city where I don’t speak the language and don’t know anyone and I kind of freaked out.  The appointment I had with a realtor about an apartment that required a year lease and proof of income from the last six months, it didn’t help.  Plus most of the places just came with a bed or in some cases just a mattress, and sometimes a desk. So I started looking at the rooms/sublets page of Craigslist and after a week of not so great appointments I was about to buy a plane ticket back to the states.

It was raining and I had taken the wrong train and the directions I could’ve sworn I’d put in my day planner were missing.  How did I get here? What the fuck am I doing here? Argh. I missed my friends and knowing what street signs said and overhearing conversations.

So after six appointments that ranged from really nice to quite scary looking I ended up at what would be my final meeting.  It was in Prenzlaur Berg, lots of coffee shops, cozy restaurants, and a park.  The building was 17/18 and the bamboo plant near the door leaned a bit as if it was waiting to see who was coming out.  When K answered the door I realized how funny I must look.  I was soaked with flakes of snow and my glasses were so fogged I could barely see.  He offered me a cappucino. He was much older than I’d thought and in the hallway I noticed a bunch of kids drawings proudly displayed.

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view of the kitchen from the window

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kitchen from the other side

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living room

K is American; he moved here about 9 years ago and has 2 kids, Lucy (pronounced Lootzy) and Leon and his girl friend N runs a company that rents rooms and apartments to students and travelers.  The kids are here with him every other week.  I would be taking the room across from the bathroom towards the front of the house, currently Ross was living there, another American who’s doing his masters here in German History. He was set to move to another place at the end of February, I would stay in K’s room until then, and K who was going to Italy in two days with N would be gone for a week anyways.

When I told my Sister and my friends, I kind of sort of didn’t mention the kids.

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book shelf in the living room

So I’m 24, I consider myself an independent lady, I’ve lived away from home in a number of places and situations.  When I imagined my life in Berlin, it was very chic and sophisticated, going to the great parties and dating and being in the know about all those things I’m supposed to be in the know about.  I’d throw dinner parties and have minimalist art work on my walls and start wearing heels more often.  I’ve met the realization that I’m not this person many times, and I honestly don’t even want to be that person.  I like my disheveled collection of post cards and my to do lists and big unflattering sweaters.  And even though it is a bit difficult for me to admit to myself and my independent friends: I really like the idea of living in a home that reminds me that there are things bigger than my take on the world.

dsc_0005my room (for now) the one I will be in is bigger and white.  I’ll post photos at a later date

For right now, that is seeing kids (although not being responsible for their care) and living with someone who will ask me how my day was and being reminded that not only am I not only a hot 20 something artist but that the rest of the world isn’t either.

So there you have it, my new home, feel free to send me letters and postcards!  (just email me and I’ll be happy to give you my address).

Sickinger Hof

When I arrived late Saturday night to the Haupbanhauf Station in Berlin it was almost as I had remembered it but that was why it wasn’t the same as the first time I came, I already met this place, albeit briefly.

I took a cab to my hotel since I hadn’t been feeling so great.  It could have been the Ritz and I wouldn’t have noticed all I cared, I was in such need of rest that I sleepwalked through the first impressions.  When I woke in the morning and went down for breakfast I pushed past it then too.  But after my jam and bread, coffee and orange juice, and out of place hard boiled egg I finally met the Sickinger Hof Hotel where I would be staying until I found an apartment.

A friend once told me he and his family had to live in a hotel for a while when he was a kid; he talked about it with this sort of unfinished face about it like even after all these years he still didn’t know how that had made him feel.  Seeing that face had made me instantly regret envying him.

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At the Sickinger Hof my room had three bed like pads, a window, a sink with a mirror, a tv above the sink, and a rather sad empty closet with nothing in it.   There was a bathroom down the hall as well as a public shower that was either scalding or freezing.  I didn’t see many people while I was there; a british couple that were always rolling their eyes and yelling at each other, a group of Germans, and an older Italian couple that I instantly felt obligated to help.  At breakfast a few other people were sitting solo but it’s harder to spy on people that are also spying on you.

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Most of my days were spent out, it felt like I visited all the train stations in Berlin.  Without knowing the city I ended up making appointments throughout the day in all different places and usually took the less than direct routes to get there.  Other than that it was coffee shops with wireless, keeping to myself, and calmly sipping while panicking about my future.*

I wonder when you stop being a tourist in a place?  With trying to find an apartment and a job being my main priorities I stopped seeing the city as the places I had to see before I left.  Now that I had no immediate plans of leaving I wondered in areas picturing myself walking home everyday.  Adopting landmarks instead of taking I was there photos.  It doesn’t surprise me that every person I know that was born and raised in new york has never been to the empire state building.

* it sounds bad but believe me if I have the time to write a blog post reflecting about it, I am certainly well enough.  I’m sorry if my previous posted caused concern (Mom).


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