Monday, 9 September 2013


So... I went on a mini euro trip with my girlfriends and then went home to spend the summer with my boyfriend, family and friends. I have now moved to South Korea but felt the need to come back and complete my Euro trip posts before I get into my South Korean experiences.

Soon after I finished working in France, I packed up, shed some tears and said good bye to Clermont L'herault and Marianne. I was now onto a 13 hour train (three trains actually) ride to Berlin to meet up with my longtime hetero life partner Miss Lauren Greig. My train ride was quite easy, I traveled from Montpellier, to the North East city, Strasbourg, then took a 10 minute train through the German border to a city I have now forgotten the name of, and then a third train to Berlin. When I arrived in Berlin, it was quite late but thanks to some good hostel directions, I got to my hostel and my friend quite quickly.

We both had arrived that day, Lauren a little earlier than me. It was hello, hug, shower, and then into bed. We only had two full days in berlin and there was no time to waste.

The next morning we woke up early to get to our walking tour. I can't say it enough, but walking tours are the best way to see a city in a short amount of time. We had a great guide who, I think, is a historian or studied history and has written a few books on the history of Berlin and possibly Germany. She began the tour by explaining that she came to Berlin because where else would a historian like to be than Berlin?

 The walking tour started at the super iconic Brandenburg Gate. Almost as impressive as the gate itself is the hotel balcony that faces it, the location of the infamous Michael Jackson baby dangling. The gate was originally erected with the name "the gate of peace" with Eirene, the goddess of peace driving the chariot, holding an olive wreath on the top. That particular type of statue is actually called a Quadriga which originates in ancient Rome. It is a figure of any horse drawn charriot.
During Napoleon's occupation of Berlin, he decided that the Quadriga would look better in Paris. He relocated it to one of the Arc's facing the Louvre. It was recovered eight years later but Eirene was replaced with Victoria the goddess of victory, and the olive wreath was replaced by a staff. It was obvious at this point Berlin was taking on a new personality.

Just a short walk away from the Brandenburg Gate is the Memorial for Jews Murdered in Europe. Designed by New York designer Peter Eisenman.  At first it reminded me of a jewish cemetery and although Eisenman says he was inspired by a cemetery he would like for everyone to take it as whatever it means to them. Eidenman also said he wanted it to be a place where children play, people sit for lunch and just hang out. His goal was to create a place where people will have a constant reminder of the Jews that lost their lives. He didn't want it to be place of reflection you visit once a year or once in a lifetime. He really wanted it to be integrated into everyday life, just as the memory of those lost should be a regular thought.

In addition to being a city soaking with history, you will quickly notice that Berlin is also a city covered by memorials. They are all beautiful, touching, and often get you thinking. It's nice to see that Germany has taken responsibility for its past and shows it all through the country, it's cities and their streets. I believe the memorial to the right is to remember victims of war and tyranny. I really like it. The room is huge, hollow, cold and grey with just a statue of a mother holding her children. It gives you a feeling of lonesome sadness, much like what victims of war must feel.

On a happier note. I finally found some good fresh pretzels. Since my failure to have an authentic German pretzel in Hamburg, I've been even more motivated to get my hands on one. Lauren and I saw this guy on his bike selling pretzels in the corner of our eyes. We slid away for an impromptu pretzel break. The Pretzel was more than perfect!

Right in the middle of Berlin you will come across Museum Island. Museum Island is called that because it is an island housing five of the world's most internationally significant museums. I was so lucky to squeeze in a visit to the Pergamon Museum, which is home to a, to scale restoration of the Pergamon alter from Greece. This alter has carvings of Zeus, and other Olympic gods battling with the Giants - the New York Giants that is. In addition to the alter this museum also has a to scale restoration of the gate of babylon! Chant down to Babylon as Bob Marley would say.

After all the old stuff we decided to get a taste of some new stuff! We went a walking down the the famous East Side Gallery. This is a portion of the Berlin wall that has been reserved and painted, and graffitied all over by international artists. Most of the message have to do with peace and unity, while others are just beautiful, corky, or just plane weird!

I basically loved every single mural. Some, more than others but over all I think it is such a good way to preserve history while looking forward with optimism. One thing I realized about Berlin, is that it embraces its youth culture. It doesn't try to shut it up, something that is still being learned in North America. I loved how everything revolved around evolution, or reinventing one's self. After a horrifying history; World War I, then the Holocaust, then World War II and then East and West Germany, you can tell that Berlin is trying eagerly to redefine itself. I commend them for remembering their past and changing their future. 

Monday, 1 July 2013


Thanks to Woody Allen, Barcelona has been at the top of my list of cities to visit. But you know that feeling when you've wanted something so badly you not only hope for it to be the most perfect experience but you also try to make it the most perfect experience? Well that was Barcelona for me. For the past seven months I've been living in southern France, a mere three hours from the Catalonian city, yet only during my last few weeks did I make my way down to  Barca. This was because I wanted to badly for the weather to be perfect, yet at the same time not too far into tourist season. I wanted Barca to be everything I had dreamt it to be and my gosh did it deliver. Thanks to Gaudi, Picasso and the Catalonian people, Barca takes the cake for my favorite European city. 

When I arrived in Barcelona I went straight to my hostel to meet up with my lovely friend Lisa. The last time I had seen her was in Madrid where we went to see an amazing Flamenco show so we decided to spend our evening doing that again. We found a great spot not too far from our hostel, named Taranto, in Placa Reial. Although we got there ten minutes late, we were still just as captured by the show as anyone else who showed up on time. 

The next day, we woke early and made a B line to the magnificent Sagrada Familia. The Sangrada Familia is a Catholic Basilica, which began it's life in 1882. It is one of Gaudi's most stunning creations but unfortunately he never got the chance the admire it in it's entirety, as he passed when it was only partly complete. Although still in construction this basilica is a UNESCO protected sight and my god is it amazing!

This is a sight not to be missed. I would recommend that if you are going to visit the Sagrada Familia (and you should) to order your tickets in advance online, you can literally do it the day before or the morning of. Don't show up to a huge line and then decide you have better things to do with your time than to stand in line to see something as spectacular as this!

Another of Gaudi's brilliant creations is the Gaudi park or more formally known as Park Güell. When you think of a park, or at least what I've come to know as a park having spent the last few months in Europe, you think of manicured lawns, beautiful extravagant fountains, and perfectly executed trimming of trees, hedges and shrubs. This is not quite what you walk into when you walk into Park Güell. Don't get me wrong, it's perfect but in this kooky, eccentric, yet magnificent way. The mosaic ledge is perfect for cool "I'm just chilling in Barcelona, hanging with friends overlooking this amazing view of the city" but really not cause your surrounded by thousands of tourists eyeing you to get off the ledge cause they're trying to take the exact same photo.

As you keep walking through the park, you are constantly met by beautiful homes, and random mosaic art. Right in the middle of the park there is this huge cave like structure, that is completely brown and dirt like, but some how flows so well with the chic homes and mosaics.

I remember watching Vicky, Cristina, Barcelona, and seeing Vicky walk through this park, right where the following few photos were taken. In the film the park looks so peaceful and serene. Not a tourist in sight. Oh my! does reality prove a completely different atmosphere. Literally standing there for so long trying to get a photo without a million people posing for their own photo.

The building to the left is Casa Milà, another Gaudi creation. It's better known as La Pedrera and was built between 1906-1912. I didn't enter because it was a little expensive but I'm told it's pretty cool from the inside as well. Looking at this building and thinking about how forward thinking the architecture is for today, makes me wonder how people took it in the early 1900s. Barcelona is just that kind of place! For the super creative.

The building to the right is Casa Batlló, Another Gaudi building located down the street from Casa Milà. Casa Batlló is a building that had been remodeled by Gaudi in 1904. It is known as being very Gaudiesque. It's decked in beautiful, vibrant mosaics and and is so obviously inspired by nature, which is known to be Gaudi's muse of choice. The building looks like it's covered by some sort of deformed, reorganized skeleton. At first sight it gave me a very spooky, all hallows' eve feeling. I instantly fell in love. Mixing the morbid skeleton architecture with the joyful bright mosaic  gave the entire building this realistic life, that everyone could identify with. How could a human identify with a building? I don't know, but it happened... to me.

After my Gaudi filled day in Barcelona my friend and I were ready to return to our hostel for a rest. As we were walking down the street we noticed these stalls selling FC Barcelona match tickets. We were joking around about going to watch the match that started in a few hours. Then as a joke we actually stopped to check the prices, and then for real we started asking for tickets to buy. We found two tickets in the nose bleeds which happened to be in the same section that our two other friends had already bought tickets in. The tickets were fifty bucks each and they came with a free drink at some sports bar! WIN/WIN! And just like that we were on our way to Camp Nou!

After a long day of Gaudi Hunting and Barca cheering, I had half a day left in Barcelona and decided to take it easy. I went to the Picasso Museum, which I happened to get in line for just as they were switching over to their free museum hours. Seeing So much Picasso was mind blowing. The art that he created when he was just a child, 8,9,10 years old - It's unbelievable. Picasso in a way, reminds me so much of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. When you look at the art he created when he was a child, the paintings, portraits and sketches look like those of someone who had been studying art for years. Such depth and emotion. The complexity and the intensity of the paintings, you'd never guess it was a child drawing and painting these pieces. Then you get to later on in his career, and although still creating master pieces, all his work becomes so youthfull, and at times immature, and silly. His work when he's an older painter channels a child's mind for sure. He definitely developed as an artist backwards to a normal human-being. Just to give you an idea of what I'm talking about. The two pictures below are Picasso paintings. The one on the left was painted in his 50s and the one on the right was painted in his early teens. 

 Finally, after the Picasso Museum, I headed to a park that had been recommended to me by my friend Lisa. Parc de la Ciutadella, is this gorgeous mark, with amazing fountains, going back to more common European parks, but still had a very bohemian feel than any park I had seen so far. Or it could have just been the hippy festival going on. African tribal music, vegan snacks, and free trade venders lined the trails of the park. I love how when I went to sit down to enjoy some African music I was approached by a guys selling beers and mojitos. Somethings are just better in Europe.

All in all, Barcelona exceeded my expectations. The only thing I would have changed about the weekend would have been to make it at least a few months longer. I fell in love with the architecture that is just so unique and so different from anything I have ever seen before. There is definitely something in the water in Barca that generates the most creative minds. I love it's artistic flair mixed with the spanish love of life. And gosh am I happy I didn't get pick pocketed!

Thursday, 4 April 2013

Morocco: Marrakech, Essaouira, & Casablanca

Marrakech is one of those exotic, mystical cities everyone dreams of going. You imagine serpent charmers, men with turbans eating fire, and camels casually walking the streets. Marrakech is exactly this, but instead it's all put on for tourists. With all it's beauty and uniqueness Marrakech is undeniably a tourist hot spot and revolves around the tourists. Having said that, one of it's most wonderful quality is how tourist life and local culture collide. At every food stand, street band or serpent charmer, you will see just as many Moroccans enjoying the entertainment and food. 

The first place my parents and I visited was the Bahai Palace. This 19th century palace was for the sultan'z personal use to house his concubines (mistresses). The detailed work was suppose to be the best of it's time, given the name the Brilliant Palace, but it's said to have fallen short of expectations although it looked pretty good to me. It's decorated in a very traditional Moroccan Islamic style with most of the craftsmen ship completed in Fez. Generally in Moroccan architecture you will see the same materials used time and time again; cider wood, plaster, marble and green tiles. The detailing in the work is incredible and if you look closely you will notice that, not all but much of it is Arabic script. The gardens are to die for with Bitter Oranges (not for consumption) shading most of it. 

After the beautiful palace we were off to the legendary Majorelle Gardens. This garden was developed by french artist Jacques Majorelle. It is home to numerous plants from all over the world and one of the biggest collections of Cacti. 

In the 1960s when Majorelle passed away the garden was opened to the public but because of a lack of funding and care the garden began to fall apart. In the 1980s Yves Saint Laurent and his partner Pierre Bergé bought the garden and brought it back it it's old glory. The garden itself is absolutely amazing and so serene. Besides all the tourists and visitors  I would imagine this place to be incredibly relaxing for the soul. The true artist's touch is seen in the  blue and yellow coloured buildings. It stands right out amongst all the greenery. In the garden there is a small gallery of YSL's love posters, one for every year since he started designing them. He would send them out to friends, family, and close customers. There is also a memorial for YSL in the middle of the garden where his ashes' were spread. 

After a full day in Marrakech, my parents and I decided to head out to the countryside for the day. My parents had remembered, from their previous trip a town not too far away from the city where you could go for a nice but rocky hike, leading to a waterfall. We were on our way but before you would get to the town with the waterfall we went to a traditional berber home, for Mofletta and some mint tea. It is common for Berbers to invite tourists into their home for a bite to eat and some tea in return for money. We got to see how they live, and where they work. The owner of this home makes his living from pottery, making Tajines and other Moroccan ceramic goods and selling them. 

 When we got to the town we had to find a local to lead us up the rocky mountains. I must say, my parents did not prepare me for the kind of climbing we were doing. The local who lead us was so fast and literally was swinging me from rock to rock, so quickly I could hardly take a moment to breathe. I was pretty sure he was gonna swing my arm right out of it's socket. We successfully made it to the waterfall for a mini photo shoot.

Marrakech is an amazing city with so much to see. It's incredibly touristic so you must be prepared for some of it's cultural charm to be lost in commerce for all it's visitors. After Marrakech we were off to Essaouira, but before we arrived there, we stopped at an Argan oil co-operative. Argan trees only grow in Morocco and produce this amazing oil that is not only good for consumption but also for cosmetics. The nuts to make the oil grow on these big bushy trees. Goats love Argan trees and despite their many thorns, somehow the goats find their way around them. The goats get up high on the tree and are often seen climbing to the top towards the end of Argan season. It's actually really really cute!

At the cooperative we learned how Argan oil is made. At this cooperative, everything is made by hand and they employ local woman, and practice fair trade. The production is quite laborious. It involves cracking the nut twice, roasting, and then crushing it to produce an oil. I got to try to produce it myself. It's amazing how much work it takes to produce the smallest amount of oil. 

Essaouira is a costal city known for its surfer-like lifestyle. I felt as-though if it weren't raining I would have probably loved it, having said that I did like it. We didn't do much as we only had about half a day there, and it was raining, so here are some photos to enjoy.

The next day in essaouira we booked it to Casablanca where we were to catch our flight the next day. There wasn't much to see on the way back since it was STILL raining. We heard much of Morocco was under water by the time we got to Casablanca. We didn't do much in Casablanca, but we did manage to pay a short visit to Hassan II Mosque. This mosque is easily one of the grandest things I have seen in my life. Completed in 1993 it's the biggest mosque in the country, the 7th biggest in the world, and has the tallest minaret in the world. It's absolutely huge and it's insane to imagine the prayers during Ramadan when it's swarming with muslims. 

The mosque also sits side by side with a Islamic university, I believe one of the biggest in the world. Now, I not only love churches but Mosques are going on my list of favorite forms of architecture.

This brings my Moroccan trip to an end. I loved Morocco and I am looking forward to returning. I'd love to do a less manicured trip around the country. More spontaneous trekking and less organized driving. All in all, an amazing trip. I got to see my roots, visit where my family comes from, eat all my favorite foods and discover parts about my heritage. I am hopefully doing to do another blog post about Jews in Morocco as I've left out all the Jewish related stops I made throughout the trip.