My Big Fat Greek Holiday

Today marks the last day of my summer in Greece, as I hit the road back to Madrid at 6:30am tomorrow morning. This summer has been magical in so many ways, and whatever the opposite of magical is, in even more ways. Well, maybe not even more, I’d say way significantly less, but it always happens that the bad overshadows the good in the grand scheme of things when the heart is thrown in and has to be involved. I feel stuck in a very weird place as I return to Madrid, and a bit like Carrie did when she moved to Paris for the Russian. Yes, Sex and the City is always relevant. Always. And the episode that fits the mood is usually always on right when it needs to be. Carrie and the Russian aside, this summer saw its fair share of ups and downs, and I’d like to think it was worth it. Matters of the heart always make a leap worth it, right? Right!

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Anyways! While I’m not one to be overly emotional on this blog (just in real life), I can’t help but be when I reflect on my time in this beautiful country, spent with that beautiful gorgeous man who drives me cray. So, in an effort to not make this blog a diary of deep, I’m going to show case what made this summer absolutely exquisite and one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. In the name of love or not, I stand by my gut that coming here was a smart move and 150% worth it. If only to treat my eyeballs and tastebuds.

In bidding adieu to Grecia, and saying a new, and hopefully refreshed hello to España (minus my Crocodile), here we have the most memorable things I’ve laid my eyes and heart on this summer.

My First Meal Which Looked & Tasted Like Garlic

I also had Gemista (stuffed tomatoes and peppers), which I think might be one of my favorite foods ever.

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Paying a Return Visit To The Acropolis & Its Beautiful Ruins

I’ve always been a fan of vintage things over new things, and letting the inner hatred for tourists in Tevas flow freely.

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Cruisin’ The Athens Coast

A Real Greek hooked me up with another Real Greek to show me the Real Greek coast. Athens sure is gorge when you get out along the agua.

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Pretty Pretty Parga

Spent an afternoon basking in Preveza on the Ionian Sea, followed by a stroll through the gorgeous port city of Parga.

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Wandering And Wandering Around Ioannina

This city is insanely beautiful, sleepy, tiny, and 150% worth a trip to. It might actually be my favorite city on the mainland that I visited, but I’m also biased and spent the most time here.

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Ioannina’s Pamvotis Island, From Near & Far, Wherever We Are

My first day in Ioannina was marked by a vespa ride up to the top of the mountain to overlook Pamvotis lake and island, and later in the week I took the boat out to the island, which is pretty as a picture or two.

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The Insanely Old Bridge, & All The Zagori

This part of Greece that I raved about to everyone near and far was some of the most beautiful ang lush nature I’ve ever seen. Truly breathtaking, even while driving and running through the mountainous cliffs in pouring rain.

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Sunsets, English Breakfasts, & All The Waters in Corfu, Paxos, & Antipaxos

I stayed in San Stefanos, in northern Corfu, surrounded by Brits on their yearly summer holidays. I popped off to the neighboring islands, and ate far too many English breakfasts. It was delicious, I probably gained a clogged artery or two, and it was more than stunning.

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San Stefanos beach

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Agios Giorgios beach was my fave!!

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Antipaxos like WHOA!

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Clogging my arteries with a pseudo British lad.

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Agios Giorgios basking.

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Hiking my sweaty ass to Arillas beach.

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At the edge of the freakin world!

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Cat whispering in Old Corfu Town.

Leaving The Greek’s Apartment Everyday With This View

No wonder Lambchops loves blue and green. You’re basically forced to.

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My Big Fat Greek Village Summer Festival

Perhaps one of my favorite things I did in Greece was attend a village festival just outside of Ioannina. Everyone goes back to their villages during the summer, there’s parties, dancing, food, and tons of alcohol aflowin’. I partook in the dance (of course), and it was such a unique experience! My Big Fat Greek Jewish Wedding anyone?? Hora and traditional Greek dance up the ying yang!

These Delicious Lambchops Served To Me By Lambchops

Inhaled alongside a local bottle of Retsina and Coke, followed by Greek writing lessons. Yummy.

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Dancing Umbrellas in Thessaloniki

These umbrellas are an art installation that overlook the sea on the Thessaloniki coastline. I found them on an Instagram search, and when I told the Russian girl I met that I needed to find them, we went on a stroll along the boardwalk, and voila!

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Swimming In Turquoise Water The Color Of A Highlighter In Lefkada

To get down to Egremni Beach, we walked down (and up!) 350 stairs on the edge of a cliff, only to be greeted by the perfectly crisp waters that surround the island of Lefkada.

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This Man & His Shiny Red Vespa

Thank you Mister.

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And with that, I’m off. Greece, you are stunning, and I hope you figure out your economic and political woes, mostly so certain people (eh hem) can lay off a heaping dose of the stress. Until next time, yassas, efkaristo, harika, cavla, kalimera, kalispera, kalinikta…and all that jazz.

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Greek Village Hip Hopping

When I first got to Spain and started tutoring Spanish kiddos, whenever I’d ask what they did the past weekend, or what they’re doing for the upcoming weekend, most responses (when they weren’t ‘nothing’ or telling me about the food they ate because I always ask about food) involved going to their village. I’d sit in my head thinking WTF do you mean your village? Do you own this village? I didn’t really think that, but conclusions were being drawn up. Then they’d tell me, matter-of-factly, that it’s where their parents come from, or their grandparents, or great grandparents or donkey – basically, where their ancestors originated from, grew up, herded sheep, made cheese; things they do in villages.

Then I got to Greece, and Lambchops began talking about villages too. This was becoming a very interesting word to me. Up until now, I don’t really think the word village was a common word in my everyday vernacular, outside of explaining that the city that Agoura Hills runs into is Westlake Village and they’re basically the same place. Then it kind of struck me how weird that was, that village is a strange word to me. I pinpointed it in going back to being an American hailing from a country of immigrants that’s quite a baby in the grand scheme of country ages. Quite au contraire, here I am in a country on a continent filled with ruins and people who conquered ish and discovered the New World. And made homes in remote places, where their families settled for generation upon generation.

Of course people didn’t ALWAYS live in big cities, and cities weren’t always cities, and they weren’t always big. People obviously lived in tiny communities, thus the village. We don’t have villages in America, towns yes, but not villages.Take a ponder.

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Some of the villages that are nestled in the hills of Zagori. Lambchops’ mom comes from the 2nd on that lil list.

Driving through the mountains of Zagori, home to approximately 50 villages, there are some of the most beautiful mountains I’ve ever seen, and then you round the corner and there’s a little village of around 100 residents tucked away on the cliff in the distance. Oh, and then you’re driving and, oh hi, there’s a cow dripping in rain water staring right at you, or a shepherd herding his flock of goats.

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Cows and goats aside, here are the pretty little villages we popped into, each for something different.

Big & Small Papigos

When we initially headed out into the mountains of Zagori, Lambchops told me to get in a bathing suit, for he had a couple surprises consisting of the water-play variety. The first was a pit stop at a river in one of the two Papigos, where the water was so cold I couldn’t bear to stand in it for longer than 7 seconds. It was so bone-chilling cold, but mista (and the family of Germans) was far more tolerant than I! It was so beautiful with aquamarine water and a bridge that I’m sure is hundreds of years old. We left to the second Papigo and my feet felt refreshed to the bone.

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Unfortunately for our sweaty bodices it started to torrentially downpour just before we got to the big Papigo, which I can only describe as a series of hot-spring type pools tucked away off the main road in its own little sanctuary. I wanted to jump in, but also feared for my klutzy self that I would slip and break my body on the slippery rocks. Instead we settled for selfies with the water that was tarnished by the dirty rain.

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Aristi

My first village introduction was in Aristi. When we drove through, along cliffs that are apparently of a greater depth than the Grand Canyon (I’m still skeptical), my first view was of the most lush greenery, only to reveal hoards of stone buildings coming around the bend. I thought it looked like the little town Belle dances through in Beauty and the Beast (I know, I said this about Prague too). When we drove back through Aristi on our way home, it was mid-torrential downpour and we needed something to warm us from the inside out (and fill our quite hungry tummies).

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Before the skies turned grey.

Well, we made quite a scene as we raced from car to taverna, only to enter the establishment sopping wet from puddle hopping and full of uproarious laughter. We sat down for some tapas style mystery meat and rice (devoured), and the deathly strong tsipouro. I may have grown a few hairs on my chest that evening.

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Manhood meets boyhood.

Dilofo

Perhaps my favorite village on our village-hopping tour was that of Dilofo. We only ate dinner here, but it had a majestic view and birthed a fun little anecdote.

It was quite a memorable drive in and over the mountains, as Lambchops and I were once again talking about root words and general meanings of words and their developments from Greek (like many things, shocker). We somehow got on the topic of the word ‘truth’, and the translation to Greek, ‘alithea’. I don’t know how this came up, but it reminded me of my Frenchie roomie’s friend Althea, and the time when Justin asked her the meaning of her name, because it sounded like the meaning of ‘truth’ in Greek. Well, flash forward to coming up the mountain, parking cliffside to take in all the pretty, and right in front of us was a hotel with no other name than that deriving of ‘truth’. We like to jinx ourselves a lot.

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Then on to dinner, prepared by one of his friends who hails from the same village as his mother. We noshed on beet root and goat cheese drizzled in some kind of balsamic glaze, some chickpea and eggplant amazingness, and chicken pie. It was so heavenly and hearty. And all that washed down with a view.

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Metsovo

Metsovo is located about 30 minutes drive from Ioannina, and is currently home to the highest population of Vlach people in Greece. Vlach, deriving of Latin origins, is the dialect that the Greek’s mother speaks, and fun fact, it’s entirely a spoken language. Once the last speaker of Vlach passes on, the language will be dead. Fascinating!

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The little village of Metsovo is famous for its local cheeses and wine, so of course we had to eat cheese, coupled with chicken and lamb souvlaki, and per the usual, the lamb won. The village also appears to be a rest stop for many trips coming down through the Balkans, so there were a handful of tourist busses littering the center of the endless cobblestone everything.

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The Bridge of Kokkorou

While it’s not a village, persay, the bridge of Kokkorou is nestled high up in Zagori, and is very worthy of a mention. Before arriving, Mr. Chops told me that we were going to see a bridge even more famous than the Golden Gate Bridge. Well, throughout Greece the bridge at Kokkorou is just as famous as the Golden Gate, and rightfully so. Built in 1750, the bridge is so intricately built of stone and what I’m assuming man sweat, and to me looked like the edge of the Earth was below us.

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And there you go for this week’s round up of the alternative side of Greece. This country is so magical with every stone, wave, and plate of tomato put in front of my face. Have you visited any villages in Greece? Did you stop to think about the word village and if I’m wrong about villages in the States? Have any other places I should trek my butt out to? Holler at me! 

A Summer Holiday In That Other Side of Greece

The last time I was in Greece was in October 2007 with my mom and brother. I’ve wanted to return so badly, and finally had the free time and a pretty sexy reason (if that’s even a requirement) to return. This time for a couple months (yikes) holiday in between my trip home and my return to Spain in October. Not too shabby and a lot a bit scary. I’m here this summer with absolutely nothing to do but eat tzatziki and the reddest tomatoes on the planet, walk around getting blacker by the second, jump in mediterranean waters, squeeze in some exam studying, tend to this blog which I’ve handsomely neglected this year, and see some untouched Greece along the way. Nothing to do. Who even has time to say that? Not many, especially the Greek I’ve come to see.

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My heavenly first meal.

So here I am in the northwest region of Epirus, neighboring the island of Corfu and Albania, in the city of Ioannina, which I’ve been told has about the same population as Santa Barbara County (for those interested in population counts and want a point of reference). It ain’t big, but my, is it beautiful and untouched, and a side of Greece that few, if any, think of when the country comes to mind. At its center lies Lake Pamvotis, with the unnamed island perched in the center. Surrounded by mountains on all sides, the city of Ioannina was once quite secluded and a journey to get to, until the initiation of a great highway system.

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The view from way up in the mountain village of Ligiades.

On my first day here, Mr. Chops zipped us around town via sparkling red Vespa, and my first thought after “I hope I don’t fall off this thing,” was “this is exactly what I envisioned for my European life!” those eons ago when I first planted the seed of a life in Europe in my 10 year old brain. The city consists of a bustling stream of cafes and shops surrounding the hushed part of town lying within the once-upon-a-time castle walls. There are cobblestone streets aplenty, renovated buildings side-by-side with ones in disarray and graffiti, a stunning lake, and of course since it’s Greece, captain of all things ancient and crumbling, a plethora of remnants from the Byzantine and Ottoman eras.

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Lambchops has been quite concerned for my boredom here, and how I’ll keep busy for a summer, which is unbearably sweet. To be honest, there isn’t a ton to do in the realm of excitement, so I understand, but I’m also not looking for a crazy time; and gorgeous places are within a mountain’s drive or boat ride away. I also like to wander, so I’ve done enough of that to turn about 5 shades of negro darker and find myself in a new part of town on most days when he comes to fetch me after work around plus or minus 3pm.

Of the ways I’ve spent my weekday afternoons while he’s been busy working his brain off and I’m not trying to add my womanly touch to his quarters (lots of scrubbing required), well, let me break them down for you.

1. Drink Coffee Like the Greeks Do, and People Watch

There are so many cafes in this city that it’s quite hard to choose just the right one. They’re all so cute, and when I look for a cafe to sit in I definitely look for a ‘cute’ ambience. I know, how girly of me. But after coming from Korea, land of the cafe, to Spain thats sucks as far as cafe culture goes, Greece has the cafe on lock. After you’ve chosen your locale, choose your coffee. Nescafé rose to fame some time ago with their Frappé, or simply Nescafé because they own that entire market. They’re quite sweet, and from the looks of the tummies on most men, consumed on the regular. I personally have been ordering an Espresso Freddo, which is essentially espresso over ice with sugar, only I ask for medium sugar because health (and I just can’t do espresso black because of sensitive tummy and bitterness). And when I’m feeling particularly in need of calming, and mind-traveling, a glass of white wine, because I’m in Europe and that’s what people do in the afternoon besides eat a huge lunch and nap.

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The lines of people waiting to retrieve their 50 euro per day is real.

2. Walk Through the Castle Walls

If you’re in the market for some quiet wandering, just walk towards the lake and you will be met with these ancient walls at one point or another. Once you enter it’ll amaze you how you can hear a pin drop. It’s so unbelievably quiet (unless you’re being followed by a hoard of loud and obnoxious out-of-work youths). These homes are from what I have been told some of the most expensive property in the city, and date back 100s of years. This region of the city has seen many changes in power whether under the Byzantine or Ottoman rule of Ali Pasha. Walking through here is one of those reasons why Greece is so fascinating to me as an American. It’s amazing to see structures like Ottoman bathhouses that have been preserved from seriously hundreds and hundreds of years ago.

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3. Visit Its Kale Fortress

As I already mentioned, it’s really amazing to walk through a modern city, and then stumble onto remnants of eras passed. Within the castle walls lies yet another set of walls, and the former home of the Ottoman ruler Ali Pasha. Sitting high on the acropolis overlooking Lake Pamvotis, this fortified area underwent massive amounts of renovation during his rule. While his palace is in ruins, there also lies Fetiyie Mosque overlooking the lake, with his immaculately designed tomb just in front, and the Byzantine Museum in between the two.

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Fetiyie Mosque, The Byzantine Museum, & the residence of Ali Pasha.

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The final resting place of Ali Pasha and one of his wives.

4. Ferry Out To the Nameless Island

A ferry leaves the main port in Ioannina every 30 minutes and makes its 10 minute journey over to the island, which plays home to approximately 100 people. Aside from the restaurants serving up fresh seafood (the specialty I hear is eel, and not my thang), there are a few streets filled with residents begging you to buy souvenirs of silver and baklava from their little shops. Delicious baklava I might add. Once you get past the main entry point, you are free to wander and roam through the white-washed walkways and see the many Ottoman-era monasteries that litter the tiny island. I walked past some, but frankly it was too hot to ascend the hills, plus I get cathedraled or religiositied out and am more into seeing how the people live and the picturesque streets and boats. I basically went to the island and spent a lazy afternoon walking around, swatting mosquitos, itching my bites, visiting the Ali Pasha museum where he was beheaded, drinking white wine by the lake, and talking to two little girls who were in awe of the foreign English speaker at their cousin’s restaurant on this tiny little island.

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The salvaged canon (and balls) used by Ali Pasha to protect from the Turks when Ioannina was seized between  1820 – 1822.

5. Visit Ioannina of the Mountains

This is of course just what I call it. One of my first days here, we took the vespa way up (about halfway up) the mountain on the other side of Lake Pamvotis to a lookout point, that also happens to bear a monument in memoriam to the people of Ligiades who were massacred by the Germans in October 1943. Fun little fact about Ioannina is that before World War II, it was also home to the biggest Jewish population in all of Greece. Who knows, perhaps the Greek side of Mama Schaeff’s family originated from here before settling in Odessa. I wonder! Though not religious in any sense of the word, I am fascinated by Jewish history, and love that Mr. Chops has enlightened me to that history of his city. And funny I’d end up here, in the land of Greek Orthodox.

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6. Jump In A Pool

When the heat needs to be beat, jump in a huge vat of water at a hotel pool. Ioannina is about an hour from the beaches of Igoumenitsa, Sivota, and Preveza (amongst others) which we have definitely visited, but you can see are a bit out of everyday reach when sans vehicle or public transport. So pool it is! Lambchops told me about Hotel du Lac which has a lovely pool open to the public for 8 euros a pop, which is more than worth it for a dip and a shade change in the dead of summer. They also have other nice spa treatments and massages which I may just treat myself to in the not so distant future.

7. Get Fit

Lambchops and I said we were gonna get active and keep our health regimes in check, which I think we’ve both done a decent time of maintaining despite the lack of cooking utensils and materials in his apartment. That aside, we are big meal sharers, and I found the studio Yoga Union which is excellent, unlike the yoga I signed up for in Korea (me, a sweater who never sweat, imagine that). I signed up for the month, and at the very least it gives me one thing I need to commit to!

8. When All Else Fails…

Take a nap, because the entire city turns into a ghost town between the hours of 3-5pm. The siesta culture here is insane. Even more pronounced than that of Spain, the country that claims the siesta. I was out walking around one afternoon and was literally in awe. It’s one of those things you don’t really fully believe until you see that absolutely nothing is open and any restaurant that is actually open is sans comida. I’m not kidding, there’s even a typed out reminder to keep your trap shut during said hours in the entryway to his apartment building.

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Now that you’ve seen the exhilarating ways I’ve been spending my early afternoons, stay tuned for the late afternoon/early evening excursions to come. They’ve been beautious and open an eye to a historical and lush side of Greece that you will definitely want to see if you haven’t already!

Four Sistas Morocc’d A Shmata, A Kasbah, & A Camel

I’m pretty well traveled, so I’m well-versed in the ‘feeling foreign’ feeling. However, the out-of-place feels that overcame me upon arrival at Marrakech Menara airport were unlike any I’ve ever been privy to. For the first time I felt completely out of my element and all my senses were in overdrive. I was quite the jumble of ‘OMG I can’t believe I’m in Africa!’ mixed with ‘OY, don’t say OY. Don’t say anything to upset the immigrations man’. It was weird, but all 4 of the Traveling Yarmulkas felt it one and the same.

We arrived around 11pm in Marrakech, and were fetched from the airport by the shuttle service for Riad Jona. My first thought being ‘Thank God we are being shuttled!’ I read all over the internet that taxi and bus services from the airport are extremely scarce, so a shuttle service is quite necessary. I remember us all being extremely polite and quiet while in the van. I think we were scared to talk. Imagine that! 2 Schaeffs and 2 Diamonds SCARED TO TALK. That never happens! As we were leaving the airport parking lot, our driver stopped to shoot the shit with the parking man, they laughed, the ticket man passed our driver his water bottle to take a swig of, they laughed some more, and we were finally off. Germ and joke swapping on lock here.

My eyes were glued to the scenery on our dark drive in. At first glance, Marrakech looked like a combination of up scale manicured tree-lined streets mixed with an old time world I’ve only seen in Disney movies. One in particular. Then we stopped, got out in the middle of a run down street and were escorted through what seemed like a maze of tunnels until we arrived at Riad Jona. I could not stop turning around to make sure we were all there. Excited and anxious nerves unlike any other were ever-present.

Well, as soon as we stepped through the doors of our Riad every ounce of nerve dissipated. It was like we walked into heaven. We were greeted by the lovely staff with the most DELICIOUS mint tea my lips have ever tasted, and were introduced to the hospitality that is Morocco.

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And so begins our whirlwind time in our gateway to Africa. Though we were not pleased to only have 4.5 days in this glorious country, and made a few very saddening sacrifices, we made the very most of our time. And, well, I’m here to tell you how you can get the best, and richest experience of two of its main cities and the Sahara Desert in just 4 days.

My biggest piece of advice for such a whirlwind trip is to…

Do Yourself A Favor And Snag Yourself An Escort.

This is a hard thing for me to say, being someone who loves to wander and explore and stop and document the life around me on only my watch. BUT, and that’s a big but, I can wholeheartedly say that having guides with us gave us a different glimpse into Moroccan life. One that we would not have seen (or ate our way through) had we been without. This was one of Cori’s must-haves, and I admit at first I was against it, but quite happy she stuck to her guns and sista and I tagged along. We had full days in both Marrakech and Fez, and in each we hired a tour guide to wisk us around.

Abdul from Marrakech Guided Tours fetched us from our Riad early on our first morning and we were ready to hit the pavement, err, the cobbled together streets of Marrakech. He was so soft spoken, calm, and pleasant right from the get-go.  He knew that we probably had things we really wanted to see, so we discussed the day’s sight line-up and we were off. One area I was really interested in was the Jewish Quarter, or the Mellah. I was unsure about bringing this up until he began talking about the peaceful coexistence of Muslims and Jews in the country. With that, I asked him about seeing it, and he more than incorporated it into our itinerary. He actually went on to tell us how it’s one of the most interesting areas in Marrakech, having a long and rich history, and spent a good amount of time walking us through.

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A synagogue in the Mellah that is entirely run by Muslims.

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A wide-eyed wander through the bustling alleys of the Mellah.

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One of my personal favorite parts of the tour with Abdul was when we got hungry. We had worked up quite the appetite by the time it came time for us to get a nosh in. Between mosque and palace hopping, and gawking at the most exquisite tiling I’ve ever seen, my hangry face was showing herself. Yes, irritable Danielle was out loud-n-proud. She turned around though when Abdul took us to a spot that was swarming with locals. They always say, if you want to eat well, eat where the locals eat.

We walked into a little hole in the wall with a man in the doorway serving up piping plates of stuff we weren’t in any way sure of. I’ll admit, I think we were all a little bit weary, seeing old men sitting on buckets with chicken bones on the bare table, scooping slops of food with their hands, and communal water cups. But hey, I’ve eaten Pho out of a bucket on the street in Ho Chi Minh, so I was ready.

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We ate chicken Rfissa with lentils, chickpeas with greens, Auburgine fritters, fresh bread, and drank water out of the smelliest communal table mugs. Amazing.

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The aftermath. Satisfaction.

The traditional fare is always one of the first things I research when planning a trip to a new country, and I sure came with a long list of cuisine to indulge in. To me, food is the best way to really immerse yourself in a country and its traditions. In a place like Morocco it’s a bit hard to know what you’re eating, especially in an instance like this, when food is just being slopped. I am so thankful for having a local like Abdul to tell us exactly what we were eating, as well as translation services while on our own to help decipher the ingredients of an entirely foreign language.

After stuffing our faces, scouring the picturesque back streets of Marrakech, and getting lost in the souks, Abdul took us to one of the most stunning places I’ve ever been. The Majorelle Gardens, once maintained by Yves Saint Laurent, are adorned up and down, left and right in my favorite shade of blue. None other than Majorelle Blue. These botanical gardens are the perfect place to sit and relax, people watch and just enjoy the peacefulness that that shade of blue radiates.

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Finally, we had to book our tickets out of Marrakech and up to Fez for after our return from the Sahara. Sista and I had done research on overnight trains, but apparently Morocco doesn’t keep their internet information up-to-date and we hit a dead end as there were in fact no overnight trains. Thanks to Abdul, our problem solver who swept us off to the CTM bus station to rejigger our overnight plans. He went above and beyond and was our voice in a pinch. From start to finish, Abdul was wonderful and an excellent find from hospitality to wealth of knowledge.

The Sahara Trek That Could Have Been Three Days, But Was Only Two.

The details of the length of our Sahara trek will come later so as not to ruffle up my feathers, but it could have been longer given the days of our stay, but that’s neither here nor there, now is it? Regardless, our trip through the Atlas Mountains was stunning and wonderful and surprising.

We booked a 2 day, 1 night trek roundtrip via Marrakech with Authentic Tours Marrakech. Our tour guide, Moha as we so lovingly came to call him, picked us up at 7:30am for our journey into the Sahara. Moha and I talked a lot while the sleeping beauties slept in the back seat for much of the early ride. We both had an Asian connection, he having lived in Japan for 10 years, and me in Korea for 3. And let me tell you, when you find another non-Asian Asian, you bond before you can say kimchi. So there was that.

The days of driving were long but so gorgeous. Winding through the Atlas Mountains we saw a side of Morocco we had no idea existed. Around one windy road the mountains looked like they were oil painted sand, and then around the bend were the most lush green mountains for miles. I had no idea Morocco bore such greenery!

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We arrived in Zagora, where a Berber man quickly adorned us with shmatas to cover our precious keppies. Then came camel time. At this point we were still a bit confused because we were expecting the dunes you only dream about, but we saw some rocky grassy patches with dunes in the distance. But, mount Alibaba, MohammedAli, Abu, and JackBlack we did and off into the setting sun we rode.

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We arrived at our camp for the night and were quite confused at first. We lounged until sunset was coming and then made the hilarious trek up the dune just behind our camp. But not without several questions. Do we keep our shoes on? Are there scorpions in this sand? Will somebody be waiting to take us on over yonder to where the real dunes are? All very important questions. We went with climbing sans shoes, and up we went to enjoy a sunset and yoga poses atop a Saharan dune, because that’s what you do in the middle of the desert with a pretty colored sky.

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Left my Koko mark in the sand.

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Because…. #sistas

After dismounting the dune we headed back to our camp, where the Berbers played music, drank mint tea under the tent, and got us hungry for our tagine filled dinner. I was also provided the perfect setting to channel my inner Princess Jasmine.

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When in an Arab desert.

The next morning we were back on our camel friends and off to drive through the Atlas Mountains again. Moha was a dear and saved the best for last. For our whole drive he was talking about kasbahs and harems, but we were still unsure about what a kasbah was, except for our only point of reference – rocking a kasbah. Turns out, a kasbah is a giant fortified city signifying wealth, and once housed many families within its walls. Aït Benhaddou serves as the biggest kasbah and still plays home to 4 families, one of which we got to visit with and lay our eyes on his wife’s beautiful handmade rugs. Not to mention, the kasbah has been the setting for many a Hollywood flick and television show, including Gladiator and that monster that I’m afraid I don’t watch, Game of Thrones.

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Yes, two sista klutzes forded the river without falling in.

We returned back to Marrakech around 8 or 9pm that night, where our Riad was nice enough to let us hang out until our bus left at 1:30am. We gave ourselves a good face wash and costume change and then relaxed with the staff in between being antisocial while connected to our beloved wifi. 

Fez Smells Like A Pungent Combination Of Donkey, Leather, & Saffron

After arriving in Fez at around 9am, we were tasked with finding a red taxi to take us to our Riad. The red taxis in Morocco are petit, and therefore only hold 3 people, so we had to split up for the ride over. Thankfully Moha had caught us at the bus station before leaving Marrakech and so nicely wrote the address to our Riad in Arabic for us. It came in tremendous handy after feeling a bit disoriented in a new city.

When we got to Riad Fez Kattani it was honestly the most magical room I’ve ever stayed in. We had a two bedroom suite again, but this time we had the entire floor to ourselves. We had a little living area with a couch, a central tea table area and our bedrooms off of it. We definitely felt like princesses now!

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Once settled, we had arranged for our tour guide to pick us up from the Riad at 1pm. Raschid came to fetch us and off we went through the bustling labyrinth that is the Medina of Fez. But you see, we soon found out that this bustling would be short lived. For we had arrived on a Friday, and Friday is the Muslim holy day of rest. That meant everyone was leaving the Mosque after prayer. Within about an hour of being escorted through the maze, Fez was DEAD. There was no one around. No one.

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Which brings me back to the Sahara trek. If you happen to find yourself in a tight schedule bind like us and Friday is one of your city days, opt for a longer trek. We could have done a 3 day / 2 night trek, traveled from Marrakech to Fez, and seen our luscious dunes. But, c’est la vie. 

With a dead Fez on our hands, Raschid did his best to educate us on what we were able to see. Even amidst the quiet, I knew Fez was so beautiful in this down and dirty medieval sort of way. Instead of continuing on for the day, he dropped us off at our Riad, and instead we woke up bright and early the next day for the tour we had hoped for!

Saturday was a whole new Fez. It was smelly, had donkeys around every corner, and was alive with people going to market. Through the narrow roads, all our senses were percolating. From the beautifully tiled structures to the chicken fat laying on the side of the road, from the freshly picked mint to the stench of soaking animal skin in the 14th century Chouara Tannery, the juxtapositions were unfathomable. Fez felt like we had hopped into a time machine.

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An entry to University of al-Qarawiyyin, the oldest university in the world, circa 859 AD.

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Medrasa al-Attarine

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Chouara Tannery circa the 14th century. Remember, sheep is cheap when you make your next animal hide purchase.

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And finally, perhaps all of our favorite part of Fez was a trip to the compound where all of the pottery that is bought and sold is handmade, hand chiseled, and hand painted. We learned that all the tiles used in restorations or for sale in the country are completely chiseled by men who spend their day with a hammer and stencils in their lap. We learned how the clay is made and stored, how the dyes for the paint change, and how no two pieces are the same. Sista even got to try her hands on the pottery wheel and made half a baby tagine! Needless to say, we were all in heaven and did all our shopping straight from the source.

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My sister, the potter, using two fingers to widen. Teacher’s orders.

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With a slammed morning behind us, we headed back to the Riad to fetch our bags. We made our way through the souk, which was an entirely different type of souk than that of Marrakech. People in Fez use the souk for everyday life things. It’s where you go to buy your wedding gown, your meat for tonight’s meal, your bath oils and your handmade rugs, and to maybe see the head of a beheaded camel. It’s not so much a place to find your chachkies to take home like the souks in Marrakech.

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Totally normal.

Totally normal.

And that concludes our whirlwind tour of Morocco. It was a jam packed 4.5 days, but we definitely made the most of it. The major attractions of note that we wanted to include in our stay were an additional day in the Sahara to include the dunes at Erg Chebbi, and perhaps the most heartbreaking to Sista and me, a trip to Chefchaouen. The blue city has been on our brains ever since she discovered it a couple months before our trip. But, thanks to Ryanair and shortening our time it was unfeasible.

Morocco has since etched its way into my heart. As the first Arab country I’ve visited, I was so overwhelmed with happiness to know that different faiths coexist in complete harmony and respect for each other. The people we met had such a warmth about them, and the hospitality is in a league all its own. Morocco, I will be in you again soon.

And that’s that! Have you been to Morocco? Did you discover any off-the-beaten-path gems you’d care to share? Since I’ll be returning, what new cities should I add to my must-see list? Please do let me know in the comments below. 





Where Have I Been You Ask?

Oh, hello there! It’s been a while, I’m quite aware. I hope you’ve been well since I last wrote to you many moons ago. In all honesty, I’ve sat down to pen some posts, and then got distracted by life. I’m also beginning to think Spain just doesn’t provide much stimulation to my senses quite like Korea did. I don’t feel that much I’ve done here lends itself to a story that I’m excited about. And well, perhaps that’s to thank for the lack of postings. But, on the other hand, I literally have no time for me in this country. Between school, private classes, Spanish classes, sporadic weekend travels, visitors, and getting my teaching license, I’ve been more exhausted here than anywhere else. I don’t know how I feel about it, but it’s overwhelming.

So that’s that, and I’d like to fill you in on the probably not-so-exciting-haps since I last posted here so you’re not completely out of my loop.

Goodbye Seoul Tapper, Hello Tapperilla

Did you notice the domain for my little home on the internet? Yep, I finally made the purchase of my little home, and seoultapperilla.com is all mine. It came to be quite randomly, actually. I was up really late one night (per the usual) and had been researching domain purchasing, and at that wee hour I just decided to do it. It had been long enough that I was still non-committal, so I decided it was time to be a woman and commit. So yes, come here or go there, and you’ll still end up here. YAY!

I’m Gettin’ Edumacated

Maybe you glossed over it in the above, or maybe you already know because I’ve been at it since December, but I finally bit the bullet and decided to get my teaching license! This has been something I’ve been sitting on for quite a while, since before my 3rd year in Korea to be exact, and well, I want to be a legit teacher and have my own classroom and plan my own lessons sort of like I did in Korea, but more. Spain has provided a bit of a stifling experience since coming here to ‘teach’, so now is the time to use it for what it is and work towards something more. It’s all online, and my job here in Spain is acting as my practicum. I will finish at the end of October, when I will then need to complete a series of tests, and pending my passing, I’ll be a real teacher – FINALLY. A real teacher in that absurd state of Florida, or wherever the wind blows me. I’ll be in the market for International schools, of which I’ve got a location brewing, and we’ll see what happens once I complete those tests and map out my remaining time in España.

Get Outa Town!

In the past couple months I’ve been on an ‘I must get out of Madrid’ kick. This city is exhausting. In March Jen and I popped off to El Escorial just outside Madrid, and then mid-month we had a long weekend where we hit up Barcelona for some Gaudi (in my gaudy), and Zaragoza in Aragón for some delicious tapa hopping and Medieval castle time. It was a completely last minute trip after rain rerouted our journey to Gibraltar, but with some quick research on the fly, we devoured our way through both cities.

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Barcelona was made for us.

In Barcelona we ate the best paella I’ve probably ever had. At least since my first trip to Barcelona back in 2006. It’s damn hard to find a solid paella in this country! While in search of Gaudi’s first commission, we also stumbled on a hidden gem in Bar Tomás, which serves up the greasiest plate of Patatas Bravas con Ali Oli. We had two plates and probably left with a few clogged arteries. But it was worth it.

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Goodbye arteries.

Added To My Chain of Visitors, & Conquered Another Continent

It’s no secret that people love to come visit my homes-away-from-home, and in the last month I added 3 new ones, plus a second offender. Over Semana Santa (Easter week), sista and the Diamond sistas came for a visit. The Traveling Yarmulkas ate too much Tortilla Española in Madrid, wandered through the medieval Alcazár of Segovia that inspired Walt Disney’s castle, and jumped continents to AFRICA. We all got far too excited when our 8 feet landed in Marrakech. I don’t know why, but that continent seems like a tremendous deal. We explored Morocco in the quickest way possible as we rode some camels, slept in the Sahara, ate tagine up the ying yang, rocked a Kasbah and a shmata, and acquired a stalker. It was a fabulous whirlwind of sista time!

Shmata rocking through the Atlas Mountains

Shmata rocking through the Atlas Mountains.

I also had that second offender in a Lambchop, who was my chariot for a weekend. I got rowed around by a dreamboat through the Retiro Lake, and then we rented a beautiful little Fiat that he whizzed us around Spain in. I finally got to see Toledo, Spain’s once-upon-a-time capital, and we returned to Segovia’s Alcazár. Since I had promised him in a letter written at 15 that my family would take him to Disneyland, what better alternative than Disney’s inspiration? We took the scenic routes, and my, how Spain’s beauty opens up when you’re not traveling via public transport. The view and the company was absolutely divine.

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Castle with a view.

To Infinity & Beyond

As for the future, 7 months in Spain have come and gone, and my first contract is nearing its close at the end of June. Come end of the month, I will be popping back stateside with a chop on my arm, a coast of California to road trip, a wedding to attend, too many beautiful faces to see, and a couple tests to be taken. After jamming all that into the mix, a summer of Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants in Greece awaits me. And, well, then it’s back to Madrid in October for my second contract, and who knows…

Of course, these are just snippets of what I’ve been up to, but I have full intentions of logging all of the stories behind the haps. Perhaps I left something out, I very well may have. Questions? Comments? Concerns? Will you be in Greece this summer? Holler at me! And of course, if you’re not already, you can get the day-to-day scoop over on Instagram where I actually keep track of my life in real time. 

Prague Is Bad To The Bone

This winter took me traveling around what I always called Eastern Europe, but which is more Central Europe. But that’s all technicalities as far as I’m concerned. You read previously about why I became obsessed with Berlin, and now I’m going to let you in on the next destination on my winter escape, Prague.

For forever and a day, Prague has been boasted about to me by everyone and their mother in waking life and on the interwebs. You’ve probably heard it too. No one can keep their trap shut about how Prague is the most enchanting city on the planet. And while it is enchanting and stunning and reminded me of Beauty and the Beast at every corner we turned, its people are horrendous, which somewhat overshadowed a bit of Prague’s wonderment. A bit like Paris, they’re damn lucky they’ve got such a visually pleasing city.

With that out of the way, I will get onto the good of Prague, and really one of the coolest things I’ve ever bore witness to.

Jen and I entered Prague on the floor of a train, and after that haggard train ride, had a little tricky situation getting into our Airbnb. Twas a bit of a tumultuous morning, but once settled we came to realize our host was excellent. Martina happened to work for Czech Tourism, so she was a whole wealth of knowledge when it came to must-eat foods to add to my ever growing list, and where to eat them. Based off her recommendations, the two of us ate like queens during our time in Prague.

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Kielbasa my damn Jewish face off.

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Memories of Koko as I greasily ascended up to the castle.

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A nightly tradition of parting the Red Sea. Here we have duck, bread dumplings, red cabbage, schinitzel, and mashed potaters. Oh, and Radler. Yummy!

As for the sites, I could sit here and yammer on to you about the must-sees that Lonely Planet or Señor Rick Steves will tell you to see, but I like the out of the ordinary so I will spare telling you to go see things like…

The Astronomical Clock and Name Day Calendar

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This face isn’t unenthused over the spectacle, but rather of the Chinese tourist I thought to be in my shot.

Prague Castle and its insanely exquisite gothic architecture.

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St. Vitus Cathedral is in the center of Prague Castle. The view from the top of the mountain cannot be accurately depicted. Must be seen with your eyeballs.

The Charles Bridge with Prague Castle in the background.

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A wander over this bridge will lead you to Prague Castle. Fun Fact: We spent NYE at the ‘biggest club in Europe’ just next to the bridge.

Or Frank Gehry’s eyeball-tickling Dancing House.

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And of course, the Jewish Quarter of Josefov, formerly the Jewish Ghetto. This deserved much more time as it’s mystical and beautiful and boasts one of the largest Jewish museums.

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The Old New Synagogue, which I fancied to look like a menorah.

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Rabbi on a string.

While you should see all these because they’re spectacular, the highlight of Prague to me lies an hour’s train ride outside of the city in Kutna Hora. I first learned about The Sedlec Ossuary in Kutna Hora from a group of girls I met in Berlin on a Third Reich tour. They told me if I did only one thing in Prague I HAD to go there. And I did!

The Sedlec Ossuary, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is a Roman Catholic chapel decorated entirely of skull and cross bones. Yes, you read that correctly. The interior is the most beautiful display of bones you will ever see, and while it’s quite macabre, it’s exquisite at the same time. To think of living the remainder of eternity as the most bizarre artwork is quite a spectacular thing to imagine.

Above the chapel is the cemetery, that holds a special history. In the 1200s, an abbot of the monastery returned from the Holy Land with some holy earth to be sprinkled on the cemetery grounds. When word of this broke out, it became one of the most prized burial sites in Central Europe at the time. In the 1300s, after the Plague swept through Europe, the cemetery had to be enlarged to compensate for all the additional bodies to be buried there. Then, in the 1500s, after the chapel had been built in the center of the cemetery, bodies that were exhumed to make room for new ones were piled up in the cathedral. The bones were later organized in the 1800s into the masterpiece that it is today. It’s strange, and creepy, and extraordinary, and this kind of ish fascinates me!

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Craziest chandelier I ever did see!

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New meaning to human shield…

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The only kind of selfies I take.

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Hello sir.

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And one more for inappropriate measure.

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Crazy, right? If you are intrigued just as much as I, I suggest carving out a morning or afternoon to get your badonk out of Prague to see it. You can either do it on an organized tour or by yourself, which is what we did. Many of the tour companies don’t do it everyday, so you’re left to do it yourself. It’s open everyday except I think Christmas and New Years Day.

Getting to Kutna Hora on your own:  From Prague train station, purchase a roundtrip ticket to Kutna Hora Main for 183czk. From there, basically just follow the herd, but it’s about a 10 minute walk from the station to the Ossuary and quite self-explanatory once wandering. A suggestion is to check the train times back to Prague at the station before you head out to the chapel, because we ended up waiting 2 hours for the next one from the time we were done. When you purchase your entry tickets, you can buy for 1, 2, 3, or 4 of the UNESCO sites. We bought for 3 of them and decided we didn’t want to see the others after the 2nd one (which was a huge let down after the bone chapel). The final 2 are in the city center, so a train or bus ride away.

Well there you go! I hope you weren’t too creeped out and have now decided that you will hop on a plane just to go see this miraculous chapel! Have you been to the Bone Chapel before? Did you go to the other UNESCO sites? What did you think of them? Did I make a stupid decision to throw them to the wind? Were there any other off-the-beaten-path wonderments I should have seen while in Prague? Did you think the Czech people were as rude as I did? Let me know all of your whathaveyous in the comments! 

If you liked these photogs, follow my life through Instagram filters over on Instagram.

 

 

Berlin: Wars & Sausages & Fur Hats, Oh My!

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East Side Gallery-ing

Up until December I wasn’t too fond of Germany. My only experiences with it were ones of feeling super Jewy when I visited Munich back in 2006 on MayMay & SchaeffSchaeff’s Eurotrip. I thought Munich was so pretty, so clean, and that the people were almost too nice. I felt like it was a completely sterile place, and maybe that was because they were trying to cover up a horrible past. Or perhaps I was projecting. Who knows, but I’m not the only one to have these thoughts. I’ve heard the same from non-superjews alike.

I still hold these feelings towards Munich, however, my feels towards Germany changed after visiting Berlin over Christmas. Since then I have found myself telling people that Berlin is my new favorite city in Europe, and perhaps the world. I am obsessed with Berlin, and I only scraped the WWII and Cold War surface. I have never really been one for wanting to return to a city if I’ve already been there, I’d just rather visit somewhere new. But, that is totally not the case with Berlin. I NEED to go back. And I must return with sista so we can get our WWII Jew on.

Berlin has the history, it has the art, it has the architecture, and it has the sausages. All things that make Danielle a very happy camper.

Quite a chunk of my time in Berlin was spent doing walking tours. I usually like having the freedom to wander off down who knows where, but after taking a look at the walking tours offered by New Berlin walking tours, I decided that many of the things I wanted to see were best seen when you get the full story behind them. I could show up at the Reichstag building and look at it, but not get the full story of how Hitler came to power here, or search and search for Hitler’s bunker, only to find out that it is located in the middle of an apartment complex. Or I could walk along the Berlin Wall memorial and not know that the circular placards on the sidewalk were for those who successfully escaped over the wall. The tours were so well led, and so fascinating. I feel like I left Berlin with a whole new stash of knowledge.

The day after Christmas, Jen and I went our separate ways for the day after a snowy morning stroll through Tiergarten park. She went to a photography museum while I went on a Third Reich walking tour to get my daily fix of Hitler knowledge.

The tours all meet in front of the Starbuck’s in Pariser Platz in front of the Brandenburg Tor. With a student ID (thank you España) tours cost 10 euro (12 euro full rate). My tour guide was an Irish guy named Mark, and he was excellent. Now, to highlight some of my favorite sites seen on this walking tour, because quite frankly, it’s a lot of historical stuff, and you probably learned all about it in your high school history classes. But, to be there was quite something else.

1. Hitler’s Former Bunker

I was really excited for this, though I thought we were actually going to get to go into his bunker. Unbeknownst to me, the actual bunker itself has since been destroyed, so as not to serve as a mecca for neo-Nazis. However, the location of the place where Hitler made the most brilliant decision of his stupid life now lies underneath a very industrial set of apartment and parking complexes at Wilhelmstrasse 77. Even if nothing was underneath my feet, it felt good to stand above the place where that horrible excuse for a human being spent the final days of his life.

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 2. The Reichstag Building (Renamed The Bundestag) 

This is the German Parliament building, and where Hitler rose to power in 1933 after being appointed Chancellor by President Paul von Hindenburg. This building suffered a fire in 1933, which is still unsolved to this day, and is also home to the memorial to the 96 Murdered Members of the Reichstag who voted against the Nazi party and were inevitably sent to their deaths – many at Sachsenhausen concentration camp in Germany. The building also stood as a huge target when the Cold War began, physically lying in West Berlin, yet still close to East Berlin.

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Sachsenhausen was the first camp established in Germany, and was where many political prisoners were sent to die.

3. The New Synagogue In Oranienburg

Kristallnacht (‘the night of broken glass’) happened on November 9, 1939. It was a night when all Jewish establishments were torched and destroyed. One of the few temples to survive the horrible night was the New Synagogue, located on Oranienburgstrasse. The story goes that during the night, the inside of the temple was in the midst of being destroyed and burned. In the morning, a police officer arrived on the scene declaring that this temple is a protected historical landmark, and any destruction to it is illegal. With that, the temple was salvaged, and good thing it was, because it is majestic and beautiful, even in the moonlight.

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4. The Holocaust Memorial To The Murdered Jews of Europe

I’ve seen so many Holocaust memorials, and I really look forward to them. The memorial in Berlin is one of the more interesting ones that I’ve seen, mostly because it’s so industrial and a bit cold. Though, maybe that was the aim they were going for. It is essentially a sea of cement blocks of varying heights. You have the freedom to walk through it, and watch the blocks get smaller to taller as you move through the wavy alleys. If anything, it makes for a cool photo shoot.

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5. Stumbling Stones For The Taken

Throughout the Jewish quarter of Oranienburg, there lie small golden squares on the sidewalk. They lie anywhere; in front of apartment buildings, in front of restaurants, anywhere. They are an everyday reminder and remembrance to the Jews who were taken from their homes and the dates they were taken. They lie in front of wherever they lived, and I found this to be an incredibly thoughtful and jarring everyday reminder of the lives lost.

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It’s no surprise that war history fascinates me, and Berlin has no shortages of that. The next walking tour that Jen and I went on was about the Cold War. Though the Cold War wasn’t so much a war as an occupation and divide, it still falls in the war history category. Before visiting Berlin I was pretty unknowledgeable about the Berlin Wall and East and West Germany. Really all I knew was that there was this massive wall put up, and that my mom had ‘accidentally’ hopped off a train in East Germany and got right back on after being bombarded by sights of soldiers with rifles in the station. Other than that I was pretty clueless. However, after a visit and some dropped knowledge, and staying in an Airbnb apartment just on the Eastern side of the wall, I can say there is no way to describe the feelings you get while being in a city once divided and with such a recent tragic history. With everyday reminders everywhere, it’s intriguing and mind blowing, and exuded some of the same vibes Cambodia gave me.

1. Berlin Wall Memorial And Staying In The Former East

When Jen and I were walking to our Airbnb, we had no idea we were walking along the Berlin Wall Memorial. We just thought it was a bunch of reminders like we had already seen dispersed around the city. We later learned that we were in fact staying in an apartment just beyond the Eastern border, and that the memorial was in fact THE memorial, and a chance to walk amongst the Death Strip of the wall. The girl, Katherina, that we were staying with was the same age as me, and was born and grew up for the first 6 or so years of her life in East Germany. This information alone blew my mind. Sure she was probably too young to remember anything insane, but still. One of the things she told us about were typical East German names, and how you could pick out an East German based on their name. Fascinating. Living history.

The memorial has former Stasi spy tunnels, images of people who’s homes literally straddled the border when the wall went up and were forced into life or death situations, homage to those who lost their lives trying to escape over the wall, homage to those who successfully escaped over the wall, and a chance to walk in the Death Strip – the space between the Berlin Wall and the smaller wall, where escapees were caught and usually killed.

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Standing on the Eastern Side of the wall.

 2. Staying At A Former Ghost Station Metro Stop

Our metro stop in Berlin was Nordbahnhof. When we first got off at the exit there were so many information placards up on the walls of the station. I was immediately intrigued and read every one. After reading them I still didn’t make the connection that the stop we were in fact staying at was once a former Ghost Station; a station in the East that was blocked off to trains that had to travel through in order to get to the West. It never occurred to me that the metros were effected. I had never thought about all the logistics that go into dividing a CITY.

After getting this bit of knowledge dropped on me, I immediately thought of the story my mom had told me about her time in Berlin. I never really understood the history behind her story until that moment, and of course – MIND BLOWN. My mom was traveling Berlin in the summer of 1974, and when she hopped off the train in East Berlin, she was faced with so many guards and their rifles that it freaked her out and she got right back on the train. I’m still unsure of how she was able to hop off the train in the Eastern side, BUT, it all made sense when our tour guide said that all ghost stations used to be guarded by soldiers. When trains would pass through these stations, they’d slow down, but not completely stop. Travelers would be able to see into the desolate stations, but only the view of guards making sure no one escaped through the stations to the west. I immediately could not wait to tell Mama Schaeff the story behind her hop-off-hop-right-back-on story in Berlin. The only logical thing that I can think of as to how she hopped off, is that maybe ghost stations were still glitchy that early in the game, OR, just that this is Mama Schaeff and that would only happen to her. I’d like to believe the latter, since I am my mother’s daughter.

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3. Checkpoint Charlie And Exiting The American Sector

After WWII Berlin was divided into 4 parts: The French, British, and American in the West, and the Russian in the East. Checkpoint Charlie is the most famous crossing point between the East and the West. Now it’s a bit of a tourist trap, but has a museum (oddly selling American keychains), and apparently a place for you to get a stamp in your passport, should you chose to do that.

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Since no more Korean peace sign, this is what I now do with my arms.

 5. The Cute Berliner Amplemann 

First, how many of you knew that the little guy who tells you when you can and can’t cross the street is called an Amplemann? Because I did NOT! Well, that is what he’s called, and when Berlin was divided into East and West, the East adopted their own special Amplemann, which is so cute and different from any I’ve ever seen. After the reunification, they decided to keep the Eastern Amplemann as a ‘souvenir’ of the East, and now you can see them and their little hats scattered throughout the East and the West.

ample men from the east, that have since become a symbol of berlin. love them.

 6. The East Side Gallery

The East Side Gallery, otherwise known as the longest strip still remaining of the Berlin Wall, was turned into an art gallery for street artists in 1990 after the fall of the wall. We went on Christmas night, and it was absolutely freezing. I’m proud of us for braving the cold for as long as we did, though I wish we had gotten to see more of this spectacular gallery of street art. It’s painted with controversial works, works of love and abolishing divides, and everything in between. I especially love how something that tore so many families apart was turned into something unifying and so beautiful. It’s spectacular and was one of my favorite sites in Berlin.

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Other notable things I loved about Berlin were:

1. This Russian Spy Hat I Purchased, Juxtaposed With This Speckled Metro Seat

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 2. Sausages & Pretzels All Day Errday

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3. Christmas Spent In True Christmas Market Fashion, Complete With Warm Glühwein 

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Gendarmenmarkt was our favorite Christmas market!

 4. The Vibrant Metros & Tiles Circa The 1930s

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5. The Majestic Brandenburg Gate, & This Selfie With A Creeper

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 6. The Very Multi-fashioned Berliner Bear, Errwhere

Here's a personal fave, the Athens Berliner Bear ;)

Here’s a personal fave, the Greek Olympian Berliner Bear 😉

7. The Best Russian I’ve Ever Stuffed My Face With, Thanks To Random YouTube Girl

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Pasternak served up the best Beef Stroganof, Potato pancakes, Pierogi, and not pictured, Borscht, that I’ve ever had.

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Just enjoying this very Russian wallpaper, in my Russian hat, by candlelight.

8. Leaving Berlin, Via Train, In The Jewiest Way Possible

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Though proving for a most uncomfortable 6 hour journey, this is the best story I could have ever imagined for my German Jew departure.

Well, there you go! Even though my German journey came full circle to my Jewish heritage, Berlin has really barreled its way into my heart, and I’m not ashamed to say I’m obsessed with it. The city is thriving with delicious food, terrifying history, unbelievable sentimentality, insane street art, and what I’ve heard to be a poppin’ nightlife. I’ve put it on my horizon as a potential place to plant my feet for some time, and I just can’t wait to return. Have you been to Berlin? What are some places you’d recommend for a future visit? The more offbeat the better! 

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