Recently I found myself back in Germany, only two-hundred kilometers northwest of my birthplace (Mainz) in the city of Düsseldorf, strolling along the Rhine River with my friend,Tracy. I’d first met Tracy at a German-language meet-up in Seattle over seven years ago, before she moved back East, to Boston.
These days Tracy’s been living abroad in Deutschland, working on her PhD, and exercising her general awesomeness in day-to-day life. So, I was super-excited to be able to catch up with her in Düsseldorf — a Germanic metropolis I hadn’t yet visited. Being able to explore a new town and meet up with an admired friend makes a great travel twofer in my book!
I arrived in Düsseldorf on November 20th, and my plan was to spend a little over a week in Germany, visiting family as well as some parts I hadn’t wandered through in over 18 years — back when I was learning German in Limburg an der Lahn and in Wiesbaden.
I recently returned from an eight-day solo trip to Morocco, or al-Maghrib as it’s called in Arabic, meaning the place-where-the-sun-sets. Morocco is a country I have wanted to visit for most of my life. Or since I was eight years old, to be precise.
There are many wonderful reasons a person would want to explore Morocco, such as to do any of the following:
Trek across Morocco’s diverse countryside, climb its craggy mountains, or meander through one of its sun-kissed beach towns
Join a camel caravan making its way through sandy Saharan dunes
Experience the famed imperial cities of Fez, Marrakesh, Meknes, or Rabat
Partake of delicious cuisine while sipping on Moroccan mint tea
Marvel at the existence oftree goatsand snap their pictures
Or, perhaps, simply to rock the Kasbah, rock the Kasbah
Another compelling reason for visiting would be to experience Morocco’s rich culture, which has been influenced by so many peoples: the Arabs, Sub-Saharans, Romans, Andalusians, and originally, the Amazighs (also known as Berbers), who are the indigenous people of North Africa.
These are all pretty dang good reasons to go.
And they all sound very appealing to me too, now that I’ve written them down! But they’re not why I went. They’re not why I’ve spent thirty-two years thinking about going to Morocco.
Before I talk about my recent experiences in Morocco, I figured I should first explain my reason for going. That’s what this blog post is about.
When people would ask me what happens when I eat gluten, I used to joke: “You really don’t want to know!” Wink wink, nudge nudge! But when a coworker (on whom I’d already used my little line) asked me yet again to clarify, I realized that my polite reply was more evasive than explanatory. People were not “getting it.”
So now when they ask, I give the straightforward answer:
Really. Bad. Diarrhea.
There, I said it.
And that’s a great segue to the topic of being socially awkward.
It can be socially awkward having to ask for “special” food whenever dining out or with friends. People often assume that you’re just being picky or that you’re into annoying fad diets.
Although the review in my handyRick Steves’ England guidebookwasn’t exactly a glowing one, I decided to make the visit anyway. I had grown up on Jane Austen novels and their television and film adaptations. Besides that, I also thought the underappreciated 2013 comedic film,Austenland, was rather a hoot. So why not check out the Jane Austen Centre as well?
After all, it’s not everyday I get to visit the Georgian-Era spa town of Bath, which my guidebook tells me has more “‘government-listed’ or protected historic buildings per capita than any other town in England.”
In fact, I had only ever visited Bath once before, on my thirtieth birthday, to be precise. I had managed to escape from the seafaring toils of my then floating home and workplace, the RMS Queen Mary 2, by escorting a passenger tour from Southampton, where the cruise ship was docked for the day.
This May, almost exactly ten years later, I was looking forward to revisiting the lovely English city, including the Royal Crescent, which had left quite an impression on me the first time around.
The Royal Crescent is a Georgian-Era row of 30 terraced houses — the seven-year-long construction of which was completed just two years before the US gained its independence in 1776. (Back when it was still just an unruly colony.)
From the expanse of manicured green lawn within the embrace of the crescent’s arc, one enjoys a fine example of the beautiful symmetry you’ll find all over Bath.
Georgian architecture, incidentally, gets its name from the time span of its reign, which coincided with that of four successive “George” monarchs: George I, George II, George III, and George IV, between 1714 and 1830.
Bear with me while I reminisce about my first. I remember it distinctly: that very first sip of coffee with milk frothed up by way of pressurized steam.
Some of my earliest recollections revolve around the time I learned from my parents that we’d be leaving our home in Wichita, Kansas, to move to Greece. The idea was very confusing to me. I was four years old and fairly confident that Greece was a blob in a frying pan, not a habitable location.
Spoiler Alert: I was wrong.
We moved to Athens. Everything was so new and different. It was the first time I could recall having encountered something along the lines of café culture. In those days I was too young to have been able to form any such concept of lifestyles and how they differ based on culture — yet still, I had noticed a difference.
The streets were full of people. People out walking or shopping at local markets. People who enjoyed watching people. Lively social interactions were part of the daily street scene. Life in Athens was livelier and more pedestrian-centric than what I had been used to in small-town, USA. (Not that I was drawing on much experience at that point in time.)
Now back to that first sip. I think I was already five by then, and we were getting settled into life abroad.
I was with my parents and sisters in a public gathering place — let’s call it a coffeehouse or café — but I did not know what a cappuccino was. My parents had each ordered the frothy beverage, and it looked so inviting, so tempting, so… YUMMY.
I’ve been trying to get this blog up and running for what seems like eons. The idea started forming around 2009, I think. Four years later I actually bought the domain name. Woop!
While ideas ruminated at the back of my mind, the site sat in limbo for several more years, feeling all neglected. Wah waah.
Another thing that drives me nuts is the opportunities I’ve let slip by. Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy with many things I’ve done. I don’t mean to be all negative or down on myself, but I’ll just explain.
I feel very fortunate to have done a bit of traveling in my lifetime.
I just wish I had kept a journal or blog during my summer on Crete, my six weeks in Amsterdam, the seven years on cruise ships, or that time I drove across the US when I was twenty. Not to mention those three cold winter months learning German in Germany, in an intensive-language program where I was the only American in a class full of Russians.
Jawohl! Fun times.
And then there are the more recent travels I wish I had documented.
This June I returned to Seattle after six incredible weeks spent in Europe, starting in Istanbul, followed by travels in England and Wales, then Switzerland and Italy. Not long before that I was lucky to be able to spend ten days in Paris celebrating my 40th birthday and running the Paris marathon.
Yippie! My bucket list felt very fulfilled that week.
And last November I got to spend a week in Cuba (una semana en Havana!) exploring the most unique, historically- and culturally-rich, as well as the largest city in the Caribbean — while also trying to improve my rudimentary Spanish skills.
The question now is, did I take full advantage of those amazing opportunities? Did I share pictures on my blog? Or any of the day-to-day stories? Did I even get my blog up and running in time? Did I?
[Insert heavy sigh of regret here.]
Well, at least not yet.
In my defense, I did keep a detailed journal while in Cuba, and I hope to share some of those stories soon.
I also took less thorough notes during my recent travels in Europe. And I suppose the good thing is that these missed opportunities have made my resolve grow stronger.
So here I am, writing my first blog post!
[Insert me giving myself a pat on the back here.]
Travel has been a huge part of my life for as long as I can remember, so I thought it was about time I take more care in documenting and sharing the little lessons, anecdotes, humorous stories, and cultural exchanges I’ve been experiencing along the way.
Our little planet has so many unique and amazing spots just waiting to be discovered and shared. Some of them are right in our own back yard! And for me, the greatest reward of travel is the people I get to meet along the way.
It’s the people we meet that open our minds to different ways of seeing things. It’s the people that make travel so memorable and worthwhile.
As Mark Twain once famously wrote: “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”
So here’s to less vegetating, and more exploring! I’d be so pleased if you’d join me on this journey. I’d also be pleased if you’d share your own thoughts and experiences with me in the comments section. What is it about travel that you love most?