Meditation 🙏

🙏 Blessed 🙏

I have been meditating for about a year and a half now, but what I experienced today during my 40 minute practice was something out of the ordinary.  I’m going to describe it in words here but it’s difficult to express something I’ve never felt or experienced before.  Besides, how do I explain something when I don’t even know what it was exactly?  But here goes…

I was meditating when all of a sudden I felt like I was tapped or nudged by someone/something.  I felt like I was immediately woken up from a nap/sleep, only my eyes were still closed from my meditation.  I was aware that I was still in meditation when I felt like I was seeing the following visions through my forehead (like there was a projector on my forehead!)  My spirit felt like it was leaving my body and hovering over an ocean.  I could see and hear the waves below me, and the golden sun felt gentle, kind, and nurturing.  I truly felt like my spirit/soul left my body and I was fully aware that my body was below me while I (my spirit/soul) hovered above.  It was like I was witnessing this outside of my physical body that was meditating below me!  I could even feel that I was smiling and aware of my physical sensation of the smile, yet my spirit was floating above me and witnessing this whole experience.  I tried to bask in the warmth of this feeling as well as the warmth of the sun knowing full well that this high, this state, this whatever ecstasy was temporary.  It was like I had two levels of existence and I was very conscious of it,  and I was fully alert and aware.   When I came out of my meditation I felt fulfilled somehow, and  I even felt a deeper connection to the world if this makes any sense.

Has anyone else experienced this state before during your meditation practice? Please reach out to me if you have and tell me what it was.   It was such an amazingly cool feeling!

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A Detour to Madrid

View of Gran Via from my hotel room

When I was planning my route to go from Tangier to Lisbon, I didn’t like the price of the flight at the time which was almost $200 USD.  It seems like every time I plan a trip, I always look at where else I can go near the place.  I figure that since I’m already there, why not see as much as I can of this beautiful world?  My curiosity led me to discover Ryanair with a flight from Tangier to Madrid for, get this, only $33 USD!  🙌  How could this be?  I guess it was more of my curiosity that led me to buy the ticket because I swear, I couldn’t believe it.  So after taxes and my check-in luggage, the entire flight would cost me $70.68 USD!!!   This is one of the reasons that I wish I lived in Europe as airfare from city to city, country to country, can be so much less than in the U.S.  Plus, you can take a train from country to country, too.  But I digress.  Although I have been to Madrid already, it was many moons ago.  I thought it was worth the adventure (or maybe it was to confirm the Ryanair price that I wasn’t hallucinating) to take a detour to Madrid before arriving in Lisbon.

When I landed, it was cloudy and it looked like it was going to rain. Yes, it did rain.  And rained and rained.  It was damn cold, too.  I had to buy a coat which was so, so stupid since I live in Chicago and own many coats.  At least I brought an umbrella, I thought. Luckily, my hotel was on Gran Via, a very lively street with lots and lots of shopping.  So I walked in the rain, in the cold, but I was very happy that I was being rained on in Madrid. After buying a coat I was still chilled to the bone, and although I was in Spain I didn’t want tapas.  I wanted a hot bowl of soup instead.  I found a Japanese restaurant near my hotel to have udon noodle soup, and although it wasn’t very good,  I was, again, so glad that I was in Madrid!  Somehow the mundane isn’t so mundane when you’re in another continent, in another country, in another city, and experiencing a new adventure.

Since it was still raining the next day when I woke up, the natural thing  for me to do was to go to the Prado Museum.  I so love museums!  I was there before many years ago but nothing seemed familiar including the building itself.  Besides, the architecture is not iconic like The Louvre or the Rijksmuseum so it was easier to forget, perhaps.  For some reason I recall Diego Velázquez’s Las Meninas from my college days as being one of  THE highlights of the museum, but nothing resonated with me that day more than Hieronymus Bosch’s masterpiece, The Garden of Earthly Delights.  I don’t know what it is about seeing such an iconic work of art in person after years and years of reading about it and seeing it in books or online, but the experience truly moves me each and every time.  Just seeing that one piece of art was worth the detour, especially since my flight was so ridiculously cheap!

It was still chilly with only a few intermittent drops of rain when I got out of the museum.   The dreary weather affected my mood that day, and I just wanted to stay in my room under the covers.  Of course, I couldn’t do that.  I was in Madrid!   So what else could I do to cheer me up other than go shopping?  Two scarves, two pairs of shoes, two pieces of luggage, and a buttery soft leather jacket brightened my mood, all bought along the street of Calle de Serrano.  Everything is SO inexpensive in Spain compared to the U.S. so I LOVE shopping there so much! ❤️

Because I had another flight to catch in the morning (and it was still raining and cold) I just grabbed a seat at the bar at Mercado de la Reina that was attached to my hotel.  I started with their sangria (oh, so delicious!) and ordered grilled asparagus, grilled shrimp, and grilled octopus. Potatoes, too, of course.   I should have had this the prior night, I thought, although I wondered about their olives.  They were the normal green color, and I SO missed the yellow ones that I had in Granada only about a week prior overlooking The Alhambra while the sun was setting.  As I write this, I realize that travel has ruined me. When I see olives from now on,  I will always think of the yellow ones from Granada. When I see pistachios, each and EVERY time I think of the ones from Turkey–double roasted twice and dipped in rose water!  Green tea ice cream?  Forget about it.  I cannot have it here in the U.S. as I had the most delicious taste of it in Seoul.  I could go on and on…

After I couldn’t eat or drink anymore I walked a few steps to my lovely hotel room.  The room was a bit loud for deep sleeping because it was on  Gran Via, such a lively and fun street, but how could I complain?  I was the luckiest person on the planet as my flight to Lisbon awaited me in the morning.  ✈️

Statue of Goya outside The Prado Museum

Thanks, Ryanair!

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The Kiss of Tangier

Sunset in Tangier

I spent the last day in Tangier getting lost.  When I travel, I turn my iPhone off only allowing myself access to WiFi at the hotel and at restaurants.  It makes me truly appreciate the authenticity of the place by having a map in hand, for example, rather than relying on technology as I would back at home.  You learn a lot about the people of each place, too, when asking for directions.  Although most people of Tangier I ran into that day could not speak English,  they were so kind in trying to help.  I spent over an hour trying to get to a certain place, and my frustration level was so high that just wanted to take a taxi back to my hotel and wait around for dinner time until David would rescue me.  Thank God I didn’t do that.  It was my last day in Tangier and I wanted to be on foot exploring the beauty.

I was lucky, finally, when I ran into a particular set of young boys who got so frustrated speaking in Arabic to me, using body language by pointing this way and that,  that they actually took me by the arm, walked me toward the direction that I should head in, and then turned around and went toward the opposite way from me that they were headed before I stopped to ask them for directions.  Those young boys made me smile inside and out back then as they do now.

It was time to meet with the young woman I met at the roof of my hotel from two days prior.  She brought a different friend than she was with when we met, and their spirits were so beautiful to me.  We sat very close to the beach at a coffee/tea shop called La Veranda,  and it was windy and chilly in that late afternoon in February.  We ordered hot drinks to keep us warm, and of course, I had one of the most fond memories of my travel life talking to these young girls.  They were so innocent yet so wise at the same time.   They asked about my life in America, and after showing them pictures of Chicago’s architecture and the lake view from my apartment, I invited both of them to visit me whenever they wanted.    They said they would love to, but they mentioned Trump and how because of his then recent ban of Muslims to the U.S., they would probably never get a chance to visit me.  And the tone in their voices paralleled how I would have felt if I wasn’t allowed into a country for my religious beliefs:  I would never want to go there.   I felt so sad at the world at that moment, and I was actually embarrassed to be an American.  What is interesting is that when I was in Granada and Seville just a week prior,  many shop keepers mentioned Trump, too, and the tone was definitely not a pleasant one, either.  But I digress…

We moved our topic of conversation to music.  The two girls were so interested in American music!  I shared the anthology of my music collection on my iPhone, and the girls pretty much knew every one of the artists that I liked.  When I told them that I saw Bon Jovi in concert, they actually swooned.  I love how music unites people.  At that moment I was not just an American in Tangier.  Instead, the three of us were suspended in one unified place, space, and time.   Oh, how I wished the two of them would visit me so we could all go to a concert!

As time often passes too quickly when you don’t want it to, it was almost time to say goodbye.  I was being picked up by David nearby, and the two girls walked me there.  I felt so well taken care of and so grateful to the girls as I write this.  Looking back I felt like royalty, the two young girls guiding me and protecting me from getting lost or being hit by the passing cars on the main road, the Avenue Mohamed VI.  It is so rare that I’m being led by someone, let alone two teenage girls, and I feel so much gratitude for their generosity as I write this now.  Oh, how I wished we had time to go shopping together as was originally planned before our time ran out!   Our goodbye was a brief one  since David’s car was at a stopping point perpendicular to the main, busy road.  When I got in the car, he said that he thanked the girls for taking good care of me.

Before dinner, David wanted to show me his favorite spot to catch the sunset in Tangier.  I have no idea where he took me but it was on a slight hill by car, and after parking we had to walk down a little to see the panoramic view.  While walking he mentioned that I wasn’t dressed warm enough for the chill of that night, but he probably forgot that I was from Chicago.  Something about a sunset is better appreciated in silence, I feel.  Being mesmerized before a beauty of that magnitude requires respect, and I always feel awe when I witness sunsets around the world.  This one was no exception.  When it became too dark, it was time for dinner.  As usual, I was famished.

The place was called El Tangerino.  I smile as I write this now as the paella was delicious, and I can still hear David’s low voice as we shared the most delicious octopus.  They were sliced thin and presented on a wooden board with potatoes, also sliced,  that tasted like Yukon Gold potatoes.  We had lots to drink, too, but we were sober since there were a lot of food.  We talked about life, love, and everything truthful.  David was surprised at how blunt I was.  He said he never met someone so matter of fact, and he laughed.  Let me assure you that we weren’t being flirtatious.  I was just being honest, and maybe he was used to having women give him bullshit since he’s a good looking single doctor.  Who knows.  He said he found me refreshing, and he surprised himself  even with his own candor and truth with someone he just met.  I am smiling now as I think of his smile, his surprise, and his new-found honesty with a stranger.  When it was getting too late, I paid the dinner bill since he paid the night before.   I had a plane to catch in the morning.

The ride back to my hotel was beautiful, as all travel memories are in retrospect, especially at an exotic locale like Tangier.  The night ride in a car after a good meal, lots of wine, and good conversation as well as good company leaves a very satisfying feeling of contentment.  As the car was driving through the Medina in the dark, we stopped at my hotel.  David got out and we both stood in front of the hotel’s large door to say goodbye.  As we hugged, I didn’t expect him to kiss me but he did. It wasn’t disrespectful, though.  He knew we were just friends, but the curiosity in him took over, maybe.  We both smiled, and as I went up the marble stairs to my beautiful room in the Hotel Nord Pinus labeled “Ocean View,” and with thoughts of a brand new adventure awaiting me the next morning, I knew I would sleep with the sweetest of dreams in my last night in Tangier.

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The Feast of Tangier

#yummy ❤️

I will call him David.  I was supposed to meet David, the Moroccan doctor that I met the night before, at a bar called Morocco Club which was very close to my hotel in Tangier.  I was absolutely starving so I decided to go there a little early so I could have an appetizer or two before meeting him.  Since my hotel was in the Medina I felt a bit uneasy walking there in the dark by myself.   When I stepped out of my room, an older gentleman was just coming down from the hotel lounge where I spent the night before.    As I was turning my room key to lock it, the gentleman and I greeted each other since the stairway was very narrow and one couldn’t avoid acknowledging each other.   I asked the man if he knew where this place called Morocco Club was.  As I write this,  even I don’t believe what happened next.    He said that he was just going there and that he and his brother would walk me there.  The two men in their sixties were from Belgium, and they couldn’t be friendlier.  As we walked there the elder of the two men told me that they were in Tangier to golf, and that Morocco Club was owned by his friend whom he hasn’t seen in 15 years, and that they were having dinner there in the fine dining room.  As we entered lounge area downstairs, the place had a very cool vibe, and the three of us took seats at the bar.  The elder Belgian man ordered a bottle of French white wine, and the three of us raised our glasses for one of the best toasts of my life.  They ordered some appetizers and insisted that I share, and of course, I happily did.  When they ordered a second bottle of wine, I had to stop myself.  I didn’t want to be drunk when David got there.  And sure enough, after I declined the amazing French wine that I surely wanted more of,  David walked in.  He was probably surprised, as any man would be, to see me at the bar with two new men drinking, eating, laughing, and looking so damn happy!  And yes, I was SO happy.  When I travel solo, I feel so free.  There are no schedules, no rules, no job to attend to, no to-do lists, and no time constraints to adhere to.  I am completely free, and my happiness, I feel, attracts these amazing adventures of meeting new people where great things happen.

Alas, it came time to say good bye to the Belgians since their fancy dinner was awaiting upstairs.  As the elder Belgian man gave me his contact information, he said he would take me on a food and wine tour whenever I decided to visit him.  What an amazing and kind gesture!  When you meet people abroad and exchange contacts, you never know if you will ever see each other again.  However, there is always a certain bond, and I always believe and hope that we will meet again somewhere in the world in the near future.

David and I caught up on each other’s day, and after a couple more appetizers and one more drink, we were on our way to dinner and some belly dancing.  (That is, watching the belly dancer and not actually partaking in it. LOL.)  The restaurant of the Mövenpick Hotel had a tented theme, and we were seated in a very large round table.   Of course, we had a feast.  The Moroccan people are very hospitable, and David made sure that I got a taste of everything.  When we were done with our meal, the belly dancer still didn’t perform so David asked the waiter for her to come out.    I don’t know why I had visions of several women dancing for us (probably because the restaurant was very large) so I was disappointed when only one dancer came out to entertain us.   She had fair skin and dark hair, and as we watched her gyrating hips, I, too, wished I could move my hips like that!

It was close to midnight, and I was exhausted.  David wanted to go somewhere else but I didn’t want him to think that I was going to sleep with him.  I am not that kind of girl.  Really.  When he dropped me off at the hotel in his car, he said that he would see me the next day for dinner.  Okay, then.  Since I didn’t have any plans, and I love to eat, why not?

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My Love is Blue

I allowed myself enough time to have breakfast at my hotel before being picked up to go to Chefchaouen.  When in Morocco, you never want to miss breakfast because the presentation is beautiful.  But then again, every meal is beautiful.  And delicious!   I sat at the same lounge and same chair where I chatted the  prior night away, but this time the view was much more beautiful since the morning sun and the blue ocean made me smile inside and out.   While I was lost in a quiet contemplation over the blessings in my life, a blue tray arrived with a silver teapot caressed by an embroidered white linen around the handle (a signature Moroccan presentation), a bowl of fresh berries, fresh squeezed orange juice, an assortment of small pastries and breads, a little pancake-like sweetness, and five ramekins offering different kinds of jams and butter.  Of course, everything was so pretty I had to Instagram it.

I wanted to linger a little longer over my breakfast but my driver was waiting for me downstairs.  His name was Chawne.  His English wasn’t that great so I was glad when he made a phone call to hire my guide  that would take me through Chefchaouen.  Luckily, the car radio was tuned to an American pop station, and although the reception was terrible, Chawne and I bonded over our love of music.  Surprisingly, he knew the words to many of the songs playing on the radio.  As I travel the world, the fact that I hear American pop music in every city somehow surprises me.  As two strangers were comforted by the universal language of music, time flew by, and all of a sudden, although it was over two hours later, we were approaching the Blue City.

The sight surprised me.  A whole city seemed to be perched upon the sky while we were driving toward it.  Situated on the Rif Mountains, Chefchaouen is much bigger than I thought.  After picking up my tour guide we headed toward the entrance.  The sun felt fantastic against my skin, and I was thankful so that I could take good pictures.  Then all of a sudden my guide thought it would be fun (for him, maybe) to have me pose with a peacock while having the local costume and hat thrown on me.  I don’t know what it is about Morocco and posing with monkeys, snakes, and now, a peacock, but whatever.

Unfortunately, I didn’t really like my tour guide since his English was kind of difficult to understand.  This is kind of unfair, I know, and I felt bad about it.  But after seeing him be so kind to so many kids during my tour, I changed my mind about him.  He would buy the kids sweets and pat them on the head as well as talk to them with a smile.  They all seemed to know him well.  So I sucked up my Western attitude and allowed myself to be led by him through the blue portals to heaven.

The endless shades of blue of Chefchaouen on a beautiful sunny day is a sight to behold.  There are two theories on why the entire town is painted blue.  One is that it keeps the mosquitos away.  The other is that it reflects the colors of the sky and heaven.   As my guide and I walked, my camera ready, the morning sun filtered through the quiet pathways of the heaven of blues.  I heard the sound of children playing, saw the meandering of stray cats, witnessed the alluring colors of the markets with their exotic carpets hanging against the walls, and I wondered how it was possible to fall more in love with the beauty, discovery, and wonders of travel.  With this thought I am reminded of the Sirens in Greek mythology.  The Sirens lured the nearby sailors with their voices and intoxicating music to shipwreck the sailors.  And as for me I must give in to the seduction of all my senses while I travel because it makes me feel SO alive!  I feel scared at times that maybe one day my luck would run out, and maybe, just maybe, I would be in danger for my life.  But until then, I will gladly yield to all my sensory experiences while I travel, and I will allow myself to fall deeper and deeper in love with the world.

When it was time to ride back, I wasn’t sad like I usually am when leaving a place because I had a dinner date with the man I met from the previous night.  The ride back seemed more pleasant as well as shorter than the ride there.  The driver and I were used to each other, and he felt so comfortable belting out the songs on the radio although he didn’t know all the words.  But then again, this seemed no different than most people when singing songs out loud.  After laughing I told Chawne that if everyone in the world sang out loud to one another, we would not have any wars in the world.  He absolutely agreed.

While driving toward my hotel through the medina, I was amazed how my trip to Chefchaouen happened at all.  I had no concrete plans of actually going there as it was merely a thought.  I only read about the city as well as seen the shades of blue on Instagram.  But just like with all the other trips in my life, crazy good things happen to me and for me.  How is it possible that just the day before when getting off the ferry a man was there at the right time taking me to my hotel for $5 Euros?  In a pastel colored Mercedes no less!  And how is it possible that a guy named Mohamed Ali was waiting at the hotel so he could take my 50 lbs of luggage up the spiral steps to my hotel doorstep?  And how amazing is it that I met a man the night prior who would take me out to dinner the next day followed by some belly dancing?  As often is the case when I think back on all the trips in my life, I am left speechless. Were my adventures real or were they just dreams?

Back in my hotel room after a day of seeing the most heavenly shades of blue I wondered…am I crazy for going out to dinner with a man I just met?  In Tangier of all places?  As we didn’t set a time when we said goodbye the night before, I wondered if I would even see him at all that night.  But then, was any of this real?  When I checked my phone from the room, finally having a wifi connection, he sent a message hours earlier asking me to come to his office around 5 pm and that we could watch the sunset on the beach before going to dinner.  Maybe my adventure and good fortune would come to a screeching halt as it was almost 6:30 when I read his text.  I would find out more by calling him.  And just like that the Gods favored me again.  I would meet him for drinks first, he said, at a bar near my hotel.  It looks like my night would get interesting after all…

Nothing is prettier than a Moroccan breakfast!

Forever blue 💙

Hello, sunshine! 💙

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The Intoxication of Tangier

The Hotel Nord-Pinus Tanger 💙

While Mohamed Ali, my guide, was waiting for me downstairs, I thought I might be able to escape from him somehow by checking out my hotel’s rooftop deck.  I don’t know why I felt scared, so out of control that I would have to escape from him.  Everything happened so fast from my pickup from the ferry to the cab ride to the hotel to the plans of going to Chefchaouen, the Blue City, the next day…all without ever truly committing to these plans.  And yet, there I was.  Things were happening FOR me.  I then saw two girls that were just lounging around on the rooftop so I asked one of them, “Is this place safe?”  As she sensed my fear, she assured me that I am perhaps in the safest place in all of Morocco.  I felt relief immediately, and we exchanged phone numbers in case we would meet again.  When I told her I was born in Seoul, she almost acted like I was some sort of celebrity as she confessed that she watches Korean videos and that she was obsessed with K-Pop.  I couldn’t help but smile.  I hoped that we would meet again.

When I was comfortable and ready for exploring in the medina with Mohamed Ali, I went downstairs to find him patiently waiting for me.  I wasn’t scared anymore.  He took me to local shops where the beauty and craftsmanship were undeniable.  I felt pressure to buy at the first place since I was the only patron there.  Then the second shop was much more friendly and without pressure.  Mohamed Ali gets a cut, I assume, if a person he brings to the shop buys something.  Then at the third shop, although I had no intention to buy, I saw something that intrigued me.  Actually, if you are ever in Morocco, you want to buy everything since the beauty and unique items are impossible to buy in the U.S.  After some bartering, which is a MUST in Morocco, I bought a box (like a jewelry box) made of camel bone and I forget what else.  LOL.  When you open it, there are leather fringes dangling from the lid….and it is beautiful!

While having my first meal in Tangier with Mohamed Ali, he was trying to sell me on all his tour services.  I told him that I didn’t want to go to Hercules Cave, for example, but that I did want to visit Chefchaouen the next day.  He called the driver who would take me there and confirmed my ride.  I took Mohamed Ali’s number in case I needed him but I felt guilty knowing that I would never see him again.

When I came back to my hotel, I stepped into the lounge area which was pretty much a few steps up from my room.  I wanted to check it out, and as I happened to ask a question to one of the guests there, I ended up sitting with the couple over a glass of red wine.  The man was more social and quite jovial while the woman, his employee, was pretty quiet.  After much talk about travel, life, and all happy things, the man invited me for dinner the next night.  He said we would have a good Moroccan meal and watch some belly dancing.  I was up for that, although I hoped that we wouldn’t have to partake in the actual dancing part.  I would find out, I guess.

As I didn’t feel scared any longer, I went to my room and felt so, so lucky.  Tangier, as well as Morocco, feels like no other place in the world.  I can’t quite put into words.  The gorgeous architecture, the beauty of the designs I saw while shopping , the colors, the food, and the fear (if you could call it that) I felt that day made me feel completely intoxicated with the greatest high of life.  And with this intoxication of Tangier I went to bed in my gorgeous room while dreaming of all the shades of blue that I would see the next day.  Chefchaouen, the Blue City, awaited me in the morning…

The hotel lounge…💙

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The Journey to Tangier

View of the Medina in Tangier 💙

There are so many seemingly insignificant and mundane things in life, especially when traveling on a bus from one city to the next.  But if you are traveling as a solo female in another country as well as in another continent, it is far from insignificant.  On the first Tuesday of this past February I was getting on a bus from Seville, Spain which would take to me Tarifa, the southernmost tip of Spain, so I could take a ferry ride to Tangier, Morocco.  How exciting!  There are so many intoxicating rewards of traveling solo, and no matter what I say or write about it, most people won’t try it.  The unknown is scary for most, and uncertainty makes people uncomfortable.   But isn’t most of life full of the unknown as well as uncertainty anyway?   Perhaps I’m the weird one with this philosophy but in this case I’m proud of it.

The bus ride from Seville to Tarifa took about three hours, and because the warmth of the sun accompanied me, I felt so comfortable and relaxed.  Then…everything changed.  There were maybe a hundred passengers that had to get on the ferry, which looked more like a huge cargo ship.  We just parked our luggage in no particular order at the bottom level of the ship, and I was sure my luggage would be mistakenly stolen by the end.  Then all the passengers had to go inside the ship and get our passports stamped.  For no real reason that I could figure out, we all stood in line for the duration of our ride which was maybe about 40-45 minutes.  I had no idea why we couldn’t sit.  I felt like some migrant crossing the border, and looking back I would guess  that everyone else felt the same way.  We all felt relieved when the ship docked, and when I went to look for my luggage, I felt happy again.

The adventure began when a man asked me if I had a ride to my hotel upon disembarking the ship.  I actually forgot to schedule my ride from the hotel, but then again, I’m used to finding my own way once arriving.  But in Morocco or Turkey, you must always ask how much, which I did this time to the man who approached me.  5 Euros.  Done.  All the cabs were faint pastel colors, and they were all Mercedes!  The man sat in the front seat but he wasn’t the driver.  He was a tour owner/operator, and he was calling his people on his mobile as he was questioning me on how long my stay was, where I would be interested in going, etc.   He was very polite but assertive.  As the car was going through the medina, the old part of town that is very maze like, I became highly uncomfortable, maybe even scared.  First of all, I had no idea that my hotel was in the old medina as the pictures showed it being modern.  In case you didn’t know, it is impossible to go around on your own in a medina.  A typical Westerner would get easily lost, and I am terrible with directions.  Second, I felt like I had no control whatsoever.   Upon arriving at the hotel there was a tall, handsome guy named Mohamed Ali (that was truly his real name!) that was supposed to take me around, and I felt strangely uncomfortable.  I didn’t ask for Mohamed Ali’s help, and I don’t recall hiring anybody!  But when I realized that there wasn’t an elevator and there was only a small spiral set of marble steps to my room at the hotel, Mohamed Ali took over without me asking.  He climbed the stairs with my luggage (very quickly, I might add) like some super hero, set my luggage in my room, told me to take some time getting situated, and he told me he would be waiting downstairs for me!  WTF?  My head was spinning then and I didn’t know what the hell was going on.  There was no conversation of my wanting or needing to hire anyone to take me around whatsoever.  I became highly uncomfortable, almost scared.  I have never, ever been scared this way while traveling.  For some reason my only reaction was fear at that point.  But in looking back, I realize now that God was looking out for me.  He was making sure that I would be taken care of  very well, and just like my first time in Morocco, I would be given the royal treatment.

…to be continued…

View from my own little terrace of my hotel room 💙

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A Love Letter to the World

At the Alhambra!

Humbled…

It is is not easy to write, period, and it is not easy to write about a place while traveling.  Although I set the alarm each morning while abroad, I’m exhausted by the day’s end from being on foot all day.   Then upon returning home from my exotic trips abroad I go straight to my normal job that pays the bills, and before I know it I’m back to reality.  Reality kills my creativity, and I cannot write about my travels until some time has passed.  Usually a memory that is triggered by something I see or read starts the writing process, such as today, a lazy Sunday in May.  I want to thank Frances Mayes as I started to read A YEAR IN THE WORLD.  The first chapter takes place in Madrid, one of the many cities that I just visited in February, and the amazing memories and visions in my head makes me WANT to write about it!

My last post was about the day before visiting the Alhambra so I will continue the story.  On the day of my Alhambra tour it was a very cold morning, and I wasn’t prepared.  I needed a winter coat, and my hair was wet.  Walking to the meeting station at 7:30 in the morning was uncomfortable since I was freezing, and it was way too early for me.  Also, I didn’t have time to eat breakfast, although I brought a Kind bar in my purse.  As my group started to walk toward the Alhambra, I was already annoyed that the tour guide was speaking first in Spanish and then again in English.  It was supposed to be an English speaking tour, and because we had to wear headsets, it made it worse as I couldn’t tune it out.  I should have paid for a personal tour instead.  Too late.  The fact that I was freezing on the way too early morning, listening to Spanish on an empty stomach made me regret my instincts.  I should have paid for a private tour.  At least the the tall Spanish guide had a deep voice which was somewhat of a pleasure in itself to listen to.

The Alhambra didn’t wow me like I thought and expected it to.  Perhaps it was my discomfort in the cold, my hunger, my regret that I was in a group tour maybe.  I don’t know what it was.  Yes, it was beautiful, of course.  Maybe I expected too much.  Maybe the groups of people not allowing me time for a quiet contemplation while taking a photo was to blame.  Everything seemed rushed, and I vowed after this experience to never, ever go on a group tour.  I was reminded of my tour in Machu Picchu, and I don’t know why I chose to participate again in a group.  Lesson learned.

I took a bus to Seville leaving Granada’s beauty of the cobble stoned streets behind.  I don’t know what it is about a long bus ride on foreign soil that makes me so happy.  I get to completely relax and just stare out the window, and I can dream.  It was warmer in Seville, and I even liked the hotel and it’s staff better than the damp boutique hotel of Granada, recommended by the book, 1,000 PLACES TO SEE BEFORE YOU DIE.

I woke up to a beautiful, sunny day in Seville on my first full day there, and I loved seeing the orange trees right above me while I had my first lunch near the Cathedral.  I sat outside and couldn’t wait to walk around.  There were horse carriages with bright yellow wheels, beautiful architecture, the sun warming my soul, and more orange trees as well as palm trees! What a welcome change in spirit from the cold of Granada, I thought.   I saw a Flamenco dancer performing in front of a very large tree, and I was reminded of the Tree of Life.  As I stood in line of the Giralda, the bell tower of the Seville Cathedral, there was a man from Madrid who was there visiting his mother.  We were just chatting and we exchanged numbers for when I would arrive in Madrid in a few days.  Less than a couple of hours after we parted ways, he messaged me asking me out for drinks later that night.  I agreed.  Nothing happened other than just talking about what areas I might visit in Madrid.  I didn’t know if I would see him again or not.

I took another bus ride to Córdoba to visit the La Mezquita, the Mosque of Córdoba.  I would have liked to spend a night in Córdoba but you can’t plan everything in life.  The town was lovely as well as beautiful, and I was so blessed to have seen it.  The charming city was full of sunlight on the day of my visit, and I so was happy that I chose to go there.  I had asked another seasoned traveler about my travel plans, and he thought I was too aggressive in my journey hopping from plane to plane, bus ride to bus ride.  But when it comes to international travel, I consider myself an overachiever!

After spending another day back in Seville, I was ready to take a trip to Tangier, Morocco.  The funny thing is, I didn’t have a clear-cut route on how to get there.  I knew my journey involved a bus ride but the route wasn’t clear.  I took a risk of waiting until arriving in Seville to finalize my plans, a bold move, I thought.  I asked the hotel front desk about the route to Tangier, but no one there has ever journeyed there.  The only answer I got was from a man who Googled the route, and he said that I would have to take a cab from the hotel to a certain bus station.  When I tried to buy my bus ticket on line, there were technical glitches, and I could not buy my ticket.  I went to the front desk for them to try and it wouldn’t work for them, either.   I would only know if I could go to Tangier on the day of my trip, and I would have to go there early to ensure that I got a seat on the bus.  I would have to take all my luggage since I would fly to Madrid from Tangier so I would HAVE to get on that bus!

It is strange how clear some memories are and how vague others are during my travel life.  On the morning of my travel to Tangier, my memory is crystal.  I can still feel the cool air of that morning, too, as well as see my breath in the air.  I almost missed my bus ride as the signs were not clear, and thank goodness I asked two girls about the correct bus to get on.  Otherwise, I would have surely missed it.  As I look back on all my journeys over the past 5 years of my wanderlust, I am humbled.  All the people that have come into my life to help me along this great life of mine moves me to tears.  I don’t know how to thank them.  So here goes:  to the bus drivers, cab drivers, pilots, tuk tuk drivers, hotel employees, passengers who sat next to me, the buskers, street musicians, the waiters and waitresses, and the random people I have had the sweet pleasure of talking to, THANK YOU.  To the people of Turkey, Italy, Spain, Seoul, Bali, Peru, Bangkok, Morocco, Prague, Cambodia, France, London, Portugal, as well as the good old U.S.A.–Thank you, Thank you, Thank you!

To continue my story about Tangier will require more time and energy than on this lazy Sunday night in May.  I can’t say when but I WILL continue my story…

Good bye, Spain ✌️

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Granada the Great

Castles on the HIll

Castles on the Hill

If you ever dreamed of seeing the Alhambra, then of course, you must go to Granada, Spain.  As I booked this trip on a whim (as I usually do), I didn’t do too much research. I feel like this type of travel allows me to fully embrace my inner child, and the feeling is intoxicating. Nothing feels better than going back to the state of when you were a happy child, always smiling, always learning something new, and discovering something about the world.

My first day was spent in the beautiful hillside opposite the Alhambra called the Albaicín where the Moorish ancestry is felt. The cobble stone alleys are all up hill, and every villa, mostly all white, were decorated with flowers, gardens, and colorful tiles. There were orange trees, even. As every villa had high walls, I wanted desperately to knock on each door just so I could get a glimpse of the interior beauty. Instead, I took my time walking uphill and taking pictures at every step.   I love looking at the horizon in between buildings, and because the Albaicín is across from the Alhambra, the view was spectacular from every step and every corner.

When I got to the top to a place called the Mirador de San Nicolás, the views of the Alhambra were jaw dropping.  Two guitarists  were sitting on the walls of the overlook, and behind them  was the grandeur of the Alhambra.   Their passionate singing along with their guitar skills  immediately drew a crowd.  I realize now that  I will NEVER forget that moment because well,  yes, it was THAT spectacular as I felt like I was watching a movie on the big screen with surround sound included.  I can still hear the music as I write this.   As the sun was about to set, it made the Alhambra more beautiful if that’s even possible.  When the two guitarists were finished with their song that probably lasted 6 to 7 minutes, I approached them toward their open guitar case that had their CD’s as well as their too- little tip money, and I happily bought their music so that I could bring back a piece of that moment with me.

It was hard to leave the music but I needed to eat something. Right in front of me on the right side after the small dirt path that lead downward was a restaurant called El Balcón de San Nicolás. The views of the Alhambra were stunning, especially because the balcony/deck part almost jutted out so you felt suspended in air. They brought me a portion of olives along with my Spanish white wine while I decided on something. I decided that I will never have a better tasting olive back in the States. I can’t really describe the taste other than they were freakin’ delicious, and I don’t even like olives all that much. They were yellowish in color, and I was in love. Drinking my Spanish wine with that gorgeous view of the Alhambra as I watched the sunset on my very first day in Granada would go down as one of my all time favorite memories of travel. My first day in Granada couldn’t have been better. 💛  How lucky was I that the Alhambra was the next day!

Beautiful memories of my first day in Granada

Spanish wine and Spanish olives! 😍

Spanish wine and Spanish olives! 😍

Almost sunset

Almost sunset

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Next! 😎✈️

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