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 earlier, 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!
Wilkommen in Düsseldorf
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 was thrilled to be able to spend time with my family in Germany! But I was also looking forward to partaking in something else:
Christmas markets! Weihnachtsmärkte!
Christmas Markets! Weihnachtsmärkte!
My arrival in Germany just happened to coincide with the opening of the first Christmas markets in some of the places I’d be stopping in: Düsseldorf, Limburg an der Lahn, the tiny town of Burgschwalbach, and Wiesbaden.
With the mere mention of Christmas markets, I feel a festive tangent coming on! It’s just too easy to get sidetracked by these Teutonic markets of merriment (and how wonderfully gemütlich they can be), but I should stay on task. This is supposed to be a blog post about my journey to the Kingdom of Morocco, after all.
So instead, let’s continue along the Rhine River. With Düsseldorf’s Ferris wheel behind us, Tracy and I went by Fuß in the direction of the Rheinturm. Erected in 1981, the Rheinturm is a 789-foot TV tower — the symbol of Düsseldorf.
We were busy catching up and exploring Tracy’s temporary town, when my imminent travel plans came into question. After visiting family in Germany, I would have eight days free to go somewhere — anywhere — before I needed to be back in Paris to catch my flight home to Seattle.
Spontaneity in Travel
Normally when I travel, I plan out my entire trip ahead in detail, with every accommodation booked and each bit of transportation in order. This time I was going to be more like my friend, co-worker, and fellow-adventurer, Stephen Alvarado.
I was going to be more spontaneous!
I told Tracy that I was on a budget, and that I wanted to go somewhere new, yet friendly on the wallet.
“Perhaps Albania?” I said.
I had heard good things about Albania, and it’s supposed to be less expensive than other parts of Europe. Or perhaps I’d go to a different destination in Eastern Europe. I’d never been to Romania or Bosnia and Herzegovina either. Nor had I been to Georgia, Bulgaria, or Montenegro for that matter.
Eastern Europe or Morocco?
Tracy just looked at me and said in a slight you-must-be-crazy drawl, “Eastern Europe? It’s NOVEMBER! It’s COLD!”
After a pause, she continued, “You should go somewhere warmer, like Morocco.”
“Like Morocco?” Hmmm.
Suddenly the gears in my mind were working overtime. Yes, why not Morocco?
If you’ve read my previous blog post, “Morocco Beckons: Where the Journey Began,” you’ll know why Morocco, a country I had never before set foot in, has had such a special place in my heart. Eight days isn’t the perfect month-long trip I’d imagined and been waiting all these years to embark on. But — indeed — why not Morocco?
After a laughter-filled day with Tracy, I went back to my hotel and began investigating options. I found a cheap flight from Frankfurt Hahn airport to Fez. Frankfurt Hahn isn’t actually in Frankfurt, but it’s conveniently close to where my family in Germany lives, and it’s a hub for budget flights.
And Fez was the town I had to visit.
Not “had to” in the sense of some necessary burden. On the contrary, I had long been yearning to visit Fez because of my personal family history.
I made up my mind. Armed with nothing but the forty-something-year-old address of where my birth father (whom I sadly have no memory of) once lived in Fez, I would embark on this journey.
I would go to Morocco and see what I would find.
I was skeptical as to whether I would find anything at all, though. On multiple occasions I’d tried entering the old address into Google Maps and came up with no search results.
And I did not know if my Moroccan birth father — who passed away in Germany when I was a toddler — had had any siblings or cousins. All I knew was that a mother and father had brought him into the world. And chances were that they were no longer with us.
Furthermore, when I considered how many times I had moved in my own lifetime, I was pretty skeptical as to whether I would find anyone related to my birth father at that old address. If the address still existed at all.
Morocco it Is
But, I decided I would at least try to see what I might find.
And if I would be visiting Fez, I might as well explore a couple of other Moroccan towns while at it.
I wanted to explore Tangier. It’s the gateway from Europe to North Africa, and Rick Steves covers it in his Spain guidebook. So, I figured it would be interesting and useful for my job to experience Tangier firsthand. As luck would have it, I managed to find another cheap flight: from Tangier to Paris the day before I was due to fly home from Charles de Gaulle back to Seattle.
And then there’s that other town that had piqued my interest. A town completely unknown to me until very recently, when I came across some pictures of it on Instagram: gorgeous pictures of a blue city. Beguiled by all that beautiful azul, I read the description and was tickled to learn that the town, Chefchaouen, is in Morocco!
Google maps confirmed that Chefchaouen is located about half-way between Fez and Tangier. Wunderbar! I took it as a sign. Everything was falling into place.
I booked the trip.
Stephen would be so proud of my spontaneity!
I confess that I didn’t actually know very much about the ancient city of Fez prior to going. Almost everything I knew about Fez, I had learned from Anaïs Nin. From not being able to put down her diaries after picking them up in a bookstore on Kauai at the age of 20 or 21.
Anaïs Nin’s Fez
"Fez. One always, sooner or later, comes upon a city which is an image of one’s inner cities. Fez is an image of my inner self. This may explain my fascination for it. Wearing a veil, full and inexhaustible, labyrinthian, so rich and variable I myself get lost. Passion for mystery, the unknown, and for the infinite, the uncharted." "Fez is a drug. It enmeshes you. The life of the senses, of poetry..., of illusion and dream. It made me passionate, just to sit there on pillows, with music, the birds, the fountains, the infinite beauty of the mosaic designs, the teakettle singing, the many copper trays shining..." "The layers of the city of Fez are like the layers and secrecies of the inner life. One needs a guide." "There were in Fez, as in my life, streets which led nowhere, impasses which remained a mystery." --The Diary of Anaïs Nin, Vol. 2: 1934-1939
I had also heard stories of tourists, especially unaccompanied women, being pestered in the streets of Morocco. Conversely, I know solo-female travelers who’ve shared with me wonderful memories of their time in the Kingdom.
I wasn’t sure what to expect, but at this point I wasn’t turning back.
Please follow along on my next blog post to hear about my arrival in Fez!
“If you think adventure is dangerous, try routine; it is lethal.”
Have you taken a trip outside of your comfort zone recently? I’d love to hear about it in the comments section!