Chefchaouen, Morocco.

28 Nov

Now that I’ve finally made it back stateside, I have endless access to my wonderful computer and am able to upload some more photos documenting the trip. After Tangier, I took a sketchy night bus to Chefchaouen, the Blue City, only to find that my bed had been given away. Never fear, they gave me a bed in a double room for the same price as my bed that was booked in a nine person dorm (less than 6 Euros). I met my roomate, Tom from Boston, and he told me he was going on a hike in the morning. That sounded fantastic, so when we woke up we ate some “moroccan pancakes”, thicker crepes, and had them slathered with honey and jam, and drank some avocado juice, much like an avocado milkshake. Dreamy.

Did a quick walk through some blue-doored alleyways before taking a 45 minute cab into the Rif Mountains, where we attempted to hike to a waterfall climbing with monkeys. We were never told how far it was until about two hours down the trail, where we met a couple from Portugal who told us we still had another hour. Unfortunately, the cab was meeting us so we didn’t have time to make it all the way, though Tom ran ahead for awhile trying to get there. While he ran ahead, Alec, an American studying in Spain, and I, decided to sit at a side-of-a-small-waterfall “cafe”, basically Berbers with some tagines and running water, where we split a vegetarian tagine and had a pot of mint tea. I was confused as to why I didn’t see any fresh mint in it since the paths we walked were lined with bushels of it. Side Note: Previous to this meal, Alec decided to drink the water from a stream despite our pleas to stop him (and despite the fact that he had a water bottle), and spent the whole night feeling miserable. I gave him a charcoal tablet or two and hoped that would be enough to tide him over on his three hour bus ride back to Tangier all alone.

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The hike was absolutely breathtaking, studded  with small waterfalls and bright red berries with jelly centers. The Portuguese couple told us if you ate enough they’d start to ferment in your stomach and you’d get tipsy. Can’t remember their name though…Just that they were delicious. Took the beautiful hour cab right back to Chefchaouen and bumped right into Myles being haggled by some sort of [insert “authentic” craft//rug]-salesman, and boy was he glad to be saved by us. “Maybe later, my friend’s here,” and we headed off to Pension Souika. We regrouped here before going out to a hole in the wall place where I ordered the most amazing Kefta (ground beef cooked in spices) topped with an egg. It came bubbling in a clay pot and was delicious.

Had a nice night hanging out in the hostel before hitting the sack early with the intentions of waking up for another hike, this one being up the hills surrounding Chefchaouen. This hike was a little more physically demanding than I had mentally prepared myself for, but I made it! All in time to make the midday bus to Fez.

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Rewind—Giverny, France

10 Nov

During our stay at the cat farm, we house-sat for a week while Patricia and John went to the Netherlands to pick up some more kitties. They left us with lots of animals, a car, a stocked fridge and wine collection, and 100 euros for gas and food. It was an amazing time that was documented in an earlier post. When they returned, they allowed us two days off. The first day we just relaxed at home, but the second day we woke up early and drove two hours to Giverny, home of Claude Monet and his infamous water lily gardens.

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We were lucky to make it, as it closed for the season in a week. Aunt Faith told me I had to see this place, and since I missed Arles I really wanted to make sure to get there. Also Clare really wanted to go, so we made some eggplant pasta and hit the road. The gardens were beautiful even in fall bloom. The foliage had begun to change, which offered beautiful contrast to the very blue sky.

I saved the water-lily garden until last. The still waters perfectly reflected the puffy clouds above.

Captivating.

We also saw some chickens with pom-pom heads.

Tangier, Morocco

10 Nov

I took a train to Algeciras in the South of Spain and slept there in order to take an early ferry to Tangier. The train ride from Granada to Algeciras was carved through the mountains.

When I finally got the Algeciras, a relatively sketchy city, the lady who ran the hostel told me the restaurant downstairs had good paella. I ordered it and had the most delicious paella of my life with the freshest fish—tuna and some white fish, so fresh, and perfectly al dente rice. Can rice be al dente? Woke up early and took a bus to Tarifa, followed by the “fast” ferry to Tangier.

Finally getting to Morocco!

And there I was greeted by a strange man in a white abaya who told me that the next bus to Chefchaouen was actually at 8 and not 10—So, about ten hours to kill and no desire to really be in Tangier. Never fear! He would take me around and show me the sights… all for a small fee of course.

While it seemed a bit sketchy at first I realized I’d just have to try and have some faith in the guy. He drove me many miles away, past palaces and a new Saudi mosque, to Hercules’ cave, the alleged home of Hercules.

After this we relaxed under some pine trees where he ordered us some fresh mint tea.

We relaxed here for a bit while I ate some Moroccan bread and cheese. Finally we returned to the bustle of Tangier, a port city on the Atlantic and Mediterranean. He showed me around the medina and brought me to a local “pharmacy”, where I got a demonstration of all the herbs and oils.

Then we headed to Berber’s carpet shop, where I was ripped off for some absolutely beautiful blankets because I felt bad for the guy with no teeth. Oh well, I just hope they actually get to me since I mailed them home. I felt safer than I would have otherwise, and I guess the book was right—it’s good to be introduced to Africa with a guide. We walked around and went to cafes for hours. He took me to the bus station to buy my very cheap ticket and showed me the local shops, the local kids, and beautiful views. All in all it was a great experience. Tangier is a city of beautiful slums—a jungle of two and three story houses. We watched the sunset at Café Baba before he brought me to the bus station.

I got on a night bus to Chefchaouen, where I was greeted by a sketchy guy who walked me to my hostel in exchange for a few euros. I arrived and was told that my bed was given away, so instead of paying 60DH for a bed in a 9 person dorm I would pay 60DH for a bed in a two person room=score! Woke up in the blue city for a day of hiking in the Rif Mountains…

This was the doorway to my hostel, the first blue doorway of the day:

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Pomegranate, Spain

10 Nov

Oh, Granada. What a wonderful place! I wound up in Granada after a crazy adventure from the cat farm, which consisted of the following: a train to Paris, a day of shopping with Clare in chic and expensive vintage shops, falling in love with a (second hand) fur hat, taking the RER to another RER to the airport, a plane to Barcelona, seven hours of trying to sleep in the Barcelona airport using said hat as earmuff/earplugs, another plane to Granada (one of the most beautiful places ever with amazing rolling mountains that glimmer in the morning light), an hour long bus ride to the center, a 15 minute walk during which I got lost, asking two people in Spanish where this street was and them having no idea, and finally some random lady coming up to me and pointing me to the hostel. It was ten a.m., so I made it with an hour to kill before the free walking tour=Tapas!!

Well, tapas are kind of a night thing but I still had the common tapa, bread with garlic smeared with tomato and olive oil. Tapas come from the verb “tapar”, meaning to cover, because the Spanish love their Sangria and fruity wines and yes, so do the fruit flies. So, pop a little food cover on and voila, no drinks filled with drowned flies (genius!). Went on the free walking tour and learned about all the Moslems getting kicked out of Spain, but only after they were permitted to live there and teach the Spanish how to run their city. They had aqueducts and hammams (spa-like places where you get someone to scrub all the dead skin off), and the Spanish needed them to teach them how to run these things.  We learned that Granada means “pomegranate” in Spanish and then decided to eat one at the top of a hill. Took a siesta and then hit the town for the tapas tour. Best tapas of the night= bread with ham, carmelized onions, and balsamic reduction, and calamari. Yes, Granada is a wonderful place where tapas come free with every drink! Amazing calamari for free=unbeatable. Some places you can choose but a lot just bring you what they’re making. The last night we returned to the calamari place, El Pescador, and got three drinks there, all which came with a different tapa. The ceiling had sharks on it =). An annoying standard tapa= ham and cheese sandwiches that haven’t been toasted.

Went to the Alhambra the next day at 7 am in the pouring rain. I believe the line was shorter because of this… Surprisingly they had the most amazing pain au chocolat at the little café there…best one of trip, which is saying a lot considering I spent most of it in France. I wasn’t expecting that much because the girl I ate the pomegranate with told me she was disappointed, which only made my time there more enjoyable because it was absolutely stunning. The Moorish architecture only increased my anticipation for Morocco. There, the pomegranates droop from the trees, bursting open with ruby red seeds peeking out from behind their tough skins. They looked perfectly ripe and delicious.

Got a great spread of Moroccan food for lunch because we were so cold and wet and the cozy Moroccan places looked very inviting in my mind, so I convinced the girls we had to go to one. And we had the most AMAZING thing ever= a Pastilla, pronounced Bastilla, which became the highlight of my cooking class in Fez. The Pastilla is traditionally anAndalucian dish which was supposedly “perfected” in Fez. It is a pastry filled with a layer of crushed almonds, sugar, and cinnamon, chicken stewed in delicious spices, “onion sauce”, and then another layer of the almonds and sugar, baked and then dusted with sugar and cinnamon. I will include the recipe in my Fez section as it should be recreated absolutely everywhere. Traditionally it is filled with pigeon, but usually you find it with chicken, other meats, or veggies. SO GOOD!

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The last day we went on a walking tour to the gypsy caves which line the mountain across from the Alhambra. Supposedly they cave in every 10-15 years but today they’re pretty expensive. They’re called the gypsy caves because when Franco was in charge he ordered all the gypsies to live in them as to keep them out of Granada proper. While they have high rent, there’s another mountain just across the way with hippie caves, which are pretty much free of all rent and rules. The last day I met Myles, a lovely Australian who told me was also headed to Morocco. I had the most amazing rice pudding (flavored with orange blossom water) with him at La castañeda, before taking a very long walk around checking out local street art. We decided to meet up in Chefchaouen, Morocco, the blue city…

Outside Marrakech, Morocco

9 Nov


As I write this I’m rolling through the hills surrounding Marrakech, headed for a waterfall in the atlas mountains. In the distance I can see snow capped mountains and I wonder if anyone has perished trying to reach the water. Another overworked mule passes…then another. I’m in a van full of mostly australians, but the couple next to me is from mother Russia. We just passed a giant marketplace in what at first appeared to be the middle of nowhere. Tents of vegetables and donkeys everywhere… It’s unclear if they were for sale or simply the means of transporting all the veggies, but there were so many I’m guessing they were for sale.

Also saw some sheep being carted away for their looming sacrifice tomorrow. Tomorrow has been compared to Christmas–but here they kill their lambs of god and then eat them. I had an amazing cooking class at souk cuisine yesterday. Gemma, the owner, is a Dutch lady who has lived here six years. She told us that while the sacrifice is done inside the home (presumably and hopefully in the yard), the sheep heads are all brought the giant bonfires in the street. She also said of this is anyone’s first day in Marrakech they will never come back. It will be my last day in morocco, so we will see how I feel when I leave.
I’d never guess morocco would have so many pine trees. My first day in tangier my guide took me to hercules’s cave, a giant cave where legend has it Hercules resided. All along this street little boys were trying to sell pine nuts to passers by. As we roll through the countryside, I see entire mountains covered in pine trees.
Just returned from our journey to the ouzoud cascades. While the guy who sold me the tour told me the tour guide was included, the tour guide told us we could either wander around on our own or pay him 30dh, around 5$, for the tour. We basically had no choice. It was worth it but it’s the principle of feeling yet again taken advantage of in morocco that leaves a sour taste. Besides that our trip was lovely.

We began by going into a local Berber village and saw how and where the women make argan oil.    After this we walked through some 1000 year old olive grove towards the top of the waterfall. Here he showed us some wild asparagus. Along the route to the bottom he pointed out a 500 year old fig tree. Greeted by a wild but tame bunch of Barbary apes, we sat down at a waterside cafe and I ordered a mint tea.


So many kittens! They preceded to “accidentally” double charge me for the tea, not that I let them get away with it. Monkeys followed us down to the bottom, where some rode on make shift boats for about 5 minutes and 3 euro. I simply walked across the make shift bridge we watched them hammer together while we were at the top of the falls. Got  some great pictures! Then we headed up to the other side of the falls, where we saw an amazing rainbow.

Sat down at another cafe, where I refused to order and be ripped off, but the nice German guy with us let me try his Berber omelette…an omelette cooked in a tomato sauce in a tagine. Very delicious. I got to successfully use my French! Because they were getting overcharged, around 12$ for a tagine that’s usually 5$, I got one couple a lower price because they didn’t want the salad which somehow cost 5$. The other couple wasn’t so lucky and got charged around 5$ each for a measly plate of fries. All in all I’m thoroughly satisfied I brought my own lunch. No plate of eggs is worth 12$ in morocco. We came out to a lovely panorama of the falls and the hills, where I translated the tours price in Russian and then he raised his initial price for them after seeing a 200dh bill. Aye. All in all a great trip but it’s very annoying and tiring being taken advantage of at every turn after finding out I payed more than a couple on the same tour. Let’s see if he actually takes me to my Riad as promised. Morocco is a wonderful and beautiful country that is unfortunately also plagued by the desire for money. Westernization or instinct? One may never know…

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Ps just made it to Jordan!! Updates tomorrow 🙂

Putanges, France

20 Oct

For the past week Phoebe, Clare, and I have been house sitting, having a lovely time getting acquainted with various species’ feces. But that’s not all we’ve been doing–oh no. We’ve also spent the days getting down in the kitchen. I gave them a brief knife skills lessons and it really took off from there– slicing, dicing, draw with straddle, etc etc. You wouldn’t believe how quickly they caught on! All about the forward motion…

Anyway, so the past week has been a delight. We spent Friday afternoon in Camembert, home of the famous Camembert cheese. We had a lovely picnic of sandwiches and apple cider beside a beautiful little pond before heading back to Argentan, where we picked up Inisfree, Patricia and John’s daughter, from school. We passed Saturday by putting strawberry plants into new pots for next season and ripping up blighted tomatoes for the burn pile. Then I decided to make chicken francaise for dinner, served with pasta in a buttery carmelized leek and garlic sauce, sprinkled with capers, and a stuffed squash from the garden.  White wine to drink. Sunday we decided to have a Sunday brunch/tea party, which turned out absolutely amazing. Phoebe was the house photographer and got some incredible shots… While I worked on a quiche, Inisfree made crepes, Phoebe made banana bread with almond extract, and Clare arranged cheese and meat plates. The quiche was such a hit that I will include the recipe:

Quiche Francaise… Lined a quiche pan with puff pastry, poked all over with a fork, and placed in 200 C oven for about ten minutes until golden brown. While baking, I carmelized leeks and onions in butter and bit of olive oil, adding chopped garlic towards the end of the carmelization process. Added white wine when I added the garlic and let the wine cook off. Chopped leftover chicken francaise and added this to the pan until just slightly warm. In a large mixing bowl I whisked together four eggs, milk, and chicken francaise sauce. Added carmelized leek and chicken mixture to the egg, took out slightly browned pastry crust, and poured filling on top of crust. Then added chunks of blue cheese, chevre, and sprinkled shredded parmesan on top. Baked until golden brown, about 15 minutes.

 

This one definitely got me extra points with the ladies as they requested it again… I made it last night with fresh french onion soup, served with a salad. The secret to this soup was not only carmelizing onions for 45 minutes, but also adding white wine to cook off the onions, and then at the very end adding a dash of cognac to the broth right before taking off the heat. Will have to make this one again, too, seeing as we’re in france.

The Frencken’s arrived back to La Vallee Corbon last night, so we had/have today and tomorrow off. They arrived with one day old kittens and an 800 euro cat wheel. Yes, like a giant hampster wheel for cats. The beauty of it is the inside is lined with rubber so they can actually catch their nails in it without slipping. Patricia claims she’s watched many youtube videos of two cats running beside eachother and a third cat patiently waiting his turn and then jumping on when one cat jumped off.. Cant wait to see this in action. Haven’t met the kittens yet but probably will in a day or two.

We spent today in Caen, eating a French-style 2hours+ lunch at Le Bouchon. The food was absolutely excellent. Thank you, Lonely Planet. My meal began with a salad topped with melt in your mouth fish and a tomato stuffed with chevre. My entree was a delicious beef and duck creation topped with buttery mashed potatoes mixed with chives, again topped with a miniature crepe. The whole thing looked like a round tower (much like the Norman castle nearby) surrounded by a moat of gravy. Phoebe ordered a beautiful fish dish surrounded in dots of red sauce, with the entire plate outlined in a green sauce. For dessert I had an incredibly rich chocolate mousse with pistachio sauce, topped with a dehydrated orange slice.

Tomorrow we will visit Giverny, home of Claude Monet and his waterlilly gardens!

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Photos by Phoebe Parros.

La Vallee Corbon… aka Cat Lover’s Paradise

16 Oct

My next adventure was one of the only planned bits of the whole three months…a three week stay at a cat breeder’s house//exotic cat farm. I arrived in Argentan and met the lovely Phoebe, who works in the film industry (LA), and Clare, a comical writer from Ireland. The two together make are something like peanut butter and jelly, always enhancing the other and making things absolutely delightful. The past four days we’ve been house sitting… which consists of taking care of the chickens, turkeys, golden pheasants, geese, dogs, savannah cats, house (bengal) cats, and yes, a serval (an african savannah cat). After this we usually spend some time in the vegetable garden, weeding and pruning strawberries for next spring. Oh, life…

I arrived to Argentan where I met Patricia, an excellent cook who was the youngest pet groomer in Europe at the age of 14. She probably still holds that record, but dont hold me to it. She is a very generous lady who greeted me with a huge and delicious salmon feast. Claire, Phoebe, and I are staying in Le Petite Corbon, which is their four bedroom Gite.. My room has a remote control bed and a sink and I absolutely love it ;)… the owls are always hooting out my window. What a change from sharing a small room with ten people.. ugh, hostels. We cook dinner every other night and have an amazing fully stocked fridge and access to the wine cellar.. France <3. Today we had a boozy sunday brunch, consisting of a chicken francese quiche (carmelized leeks & onions simmered in white wine, left over chicken francese and sauce, chevre, blue cheese, and parmesan), amazing freshly made crepes, a meat and cheese plate, lox and cucumbers with capers, banana nut muffins, some kind of strawberry shortcake dessert from the patisserie up the street, mint tea, and plenty of white wine. Pictures soon to come… we’ve been cooking non-stop and spending some quality time with the animals… I’m partial to the cats and chickens. For those who need a pick me up, finding an egg or two in the morning is fantastic and I’d recommend investing in some chickens…

The serval is fun but throws lots of hissy fits. We feed him and the savannahs raw chicken for dinner. Cats can eat the bones if they’re uncooked… but it does make them rather stinky. I doubt Layla, Riley, or Pierre would ever eat a piece of raw chicken. Interestingly the serval is much like my house cats and refuses to eat pate cat food, preferring instead the gravy variety…

Cheers (aka time for more wine)!

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P.S. Pictures include pictures at William the Conqueror’s castle in Falaise, and a trip to Omaha beach (D-day beach).