IMG_8234 2One of my first rules of traveling, of writing, of eating, of sleeping, of everything: make use of the time that you’ve got. I love having a full time job and a home base, but a full time job in the US means that I don’t have very many vacation days to use.

Which brings me to my weekend trips. I take a lot of weekend trips and I sometimes wonder if it’s even worth the effort to go through the time and energy it takes to plan a trip to a new place if I’m only going to be there for 72 hours or so.IMG_8249But for now, weekends are what I have. I save many of my precious vacation days for Christmas so that I can fly back from New York to Los Angeles to spend time with my family over the holidays, so I don’t have very many days left after that.

And so, a couple of weekends ago, I decided to take advantage of a long holiday weekend + 1 vacation day so that I could spend 72 hours in a completely new city: Fez, Morocco.

I feel like I fit a crazy amount into 72 hours, but even so, I also slept a lot and read on the rooftop, I had leisurely breakfasts and dinners, and I didn’t feel like I was rushing around from place to place.

I’m grateful that I had the sense to ask my hotel about hiring a tour guide for me (and guys, it was so inexpensive: $25 for a private tour guide for 5 hours). The Fez medina is essentially a maze and I think that if I had tried to wander around un-escorted, I would have spent most of my time miserably lost. My guide was fantastic – he grew up in Fez and knew every person we came across, even people running past us on the streets.IMG_8295IMG_8290IMG_8268And the streets — so narrow and such tall walls. I would have been lost forever. Many of the streets seemed like they didn’t even have names, and if they did, I obviously wouldn’t have been able to understand them.

People were leading their donkeys around dropping off deliveries; women — and only women — were grocery shopping; there was a man selling live snails from a basket in the market and he offered me a handful of them for a discount, which was generous, but I took a raincheck.

There are different souks (markets) for various things: copper, food, textiles, leather. My guide took me to the tannery, which smells so strongly of urine and animal hides that you’re immediately handed a sprig of mint when you enter, so that you can hold it to your nose as you wander through. I was also taken to the factory where those famous, beautiful rugs are woven, and I met the two ladies weaving upstairs. The man working there tried to get me to haggle with him, but I am probably the world’s worst haggler (one time in Central America I was even haggling against myself accidentally. Jackie travels.)

My guide loves to take photos, apparently, so he asked me to pose several times throughout the tour and took some photos of me with my camera, which was very nice of him. I don’t usually have many photos of myself when I’m traveling alone.IMG_8284IMG_8260He’s traveled a lot as a tour guide and so we talked about our favorite places we’ve ever seen. He told me that he’s a huge fan of the US (mostly Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon), but I think he was only saying that because I’m American. We also both raved about Switzerland, because you really can’t beat Switzerland.

And he was so energetic and excited about everything, even though he must give these tours all the time. He kept stopping abruptly to go, “JACKIE! LOOK AT THESE STREETS! HAVE YOU EVER SEEN STREETS THESE NARROW?” or “HERE, HAVE A TASTE OF THIS! HAVE YOU EVER TASTED ANYTHING LIKE IT?” and then he’d grab something from a nearby vendor and hand it to me, and I ate it without asking any questions, which is probably why I had stomach problems for a week after I returned.

It was a quick glimpse of a complex country, a place that obviously requires much more than just 72 hours to fully understand and appreciate. But 72 hours was what I had to work with. And I’ve found that the hours feel longer if you fill them right.

Writing Retreat #3: Morocco

by Jackie D on April 19, 2016

Fez MoroccoEven though this weekend writing escape lasted the same amount of time as Madonna Inn and Montreal, it felt so much longer — in the absolute best way. I felt like I squeezed so much eating and sleeping and writing and wandering around into just one weekend.

I feel like each of my writing “retreats” has had a certain theme so far — not intentionally, but just that certain patterns have arisen that I didn’t expect. Madonna Inn was all about embracing the ridiculous — it’s a ridiculous hotel in every possible way, and likewise trying to write a book is a ridiculous thing in almost every possible way.

Montreal was about powering through — 20 hours on a train, and the only time I wasn’t on a train it was -15 degrees outside. No choice but to stay inside, sit there, and write.

Morocco 2Morocco 3Morocco felt like a few different things. Mostly: keeping the faith that things will work out. This started when I booked my hotel — more expensive than the hotels I usually book, but the photos of it absolutely stunned me and I couldn’t stop thinking about once I’d seen it. I even had a dream about it (my dreams have been all over the place lately — I even sort of Inception-ed myself recently, you guys. It was terrifying and Leonardo wasn’t even there).

But after I booked the hotel I got so anxious — was this really worth spending my money on? Was it worth the trip just for a long weekend?

And then on top of that, when I got to the airport in Paris at 6:30am, I almost missed my flight. I was standing in line for security for an hour and a half — things were still insane because it had only been a few days since the Brussels attacks — and I was so furious, wondering why I was putting myself through this stress and expense and using up one of my few and prized vacation days when I wasn’t even sure it would be worth it in the end. Fez MoroccoFez MoroccoAnd then I got through security and learned that they had delayed all of the flights from Paris to Morocco that morning because so many of us were stuck in that line, so we all were able to make it in the end. It worked out.

And then I got to my hotel, and I saw the lobby. And the receptionist handed me mint tea and set me up with a tour guide for the following day, who ended up being the best tour guide I’ve ever had, and whom I never would have found had it not been for this hotel. It worked out.

And I spent so much of this weekend wandering around the hotel just marveling at everything, at the effort and time put into every single inch — literally every surface was either tiled or carved or painted. Elaborate rugs lay across even more elaborate tile floors. Everything had a scent. None of the fabrics matched each other but they were all bright and beautiful. There were so many little quiet nooks where you could sit and read or in my case, try to write. The rooftop looked out over the medina, the pool was warm and absolutely spotless, there were plants and fountains everywhere.Fez MoroccoFez MoroccoFez MoroccoIt was literally a paradise. It’s the most stunning and intricate place I’ve ever seen in my life. I’ve started to realize more and more that I really have a thing for hotels, the way they are designed and the type of people who pass through them — and I guess this makes sense. My home surroundings have always had a profound effect on my mood and optimism, so it makes sense that my temporary traveling homes would have the same effect on me.

I love them so much that a hotel is actually playing a large part in what I’m writing right now. And it’s kind of fun to imagine my own hotel from scratch, what I would do if I were creating one with no limits (which I technically am, because that’s the beauty of fiction).

And so this trip, while more expensive than my usual trips, was worth it for me. It reminded me not to worry about the money if it’s something that I know I can ultimately afford, even if I’ll have to budget a little tighter in other areas for a while. It reminded me not to worry about the stress of a trip if I know it’s a level of stress I can ultimately handle.

And it reminded me to keep the faith in the things I love, which is weird because that’s not something I generally need a reminder for (I’m cynical about many things but weirdly optimistic about my goals for my life). I love hotels, and bigger than that, I love to travel, and bigger than that, I love to write. And these are not the smartest things to love because they are expensive, time-consuming, risky things, but hey — never said I had smart taste.

Expat Life in Paris: Part 2

by Jackie D on April 14, 2016

expat in parisCurrent wardrobe situation: Guys, my wardrobe has improved! I think. I’ve done quite a bit of shopping in my few weeks here and I’ve added many more black items of clothing to my wardrobe. It’s at that point where it’s almost warm enough to start wearing spring clothes again, which is good, because all I’ve been buying are spring and summer clothes. And one really cute pair of sandals that I want to wear maintenant.

Current weekend getaway situation: One of the things I was most looking forward to about being in Paris was the fact that I would have so many weekend getaway options available to me. Everything is so close together!  I went to Morocco over Easter weekend, and I went to Belfast last weekend — posts about those to come — and I’m going to Bordeaux next weekend. That will probably be it for my weekend getaways — my parents are coming to visit in two weekends, and then honestly I just want to be in Paris for the rest of my time here. I’m still just kind of Leslie-Knoping all over Paris all the time, pretty much.

Current vocabulary situation: My favorite French words of the moment: cool is still my absolute favorite because it seems to be a crowd-pleaser whenever I say it with my French accent; la reine, which is queen, because someone at work referred to me as a social media queen in French and I actually understood what they were saying, so I was excited; it’s been raining quite a bit and so I’ve been using my parapluie (umbrella), which I like to say because I can pronounce it really well (with that guttural “r” in the middle);  poubelle, which is probably the prettiest word for trash that I’ve ever heard; a jamais — I asked my coworkers how to say one of my favorite phrases of all time, goodbye forever, and this is what they came back with. I love it because a demain is how you say see you tomorrow and so a jamais literally means see you never.

Current work situation: We just launched a contest at work that I helped put together. We’re sending the winner on a train trip through France and Switzerland and part of the trip includes a ride on something called the Chocolate Train, which is literally the greatest train ride of all time because you get to visit the Gruyeres Cheese Factory and the Nestle Chocolate Factory. And I am one of the people escorting the winners on this trip, meaning that I also get to ride the Chocolate Train. I’m probably still hyperventilating as you read this.

Current croissant situation: Unchanged since we last spoke. Still pretty much eating one croissant everyday — except today. Today I had two. Guys, croissants are only 1 euro at the boulangerie and they are always always warm and fresh no matter what time of day it is, I mean Jesus Christ how can I not.

Last weekend I was out of town, so this weekend it will be nice to wander around my neighborhood again, read more of my French Harry Potter, and maybe actually do some grocery shopping because I didn’t have time this week. This week was busy — and by that I mean that by tomorrow I will have spent 4 of the 5 nights bar-hopping with friends and co-workers after work, because c’est la vie and all that jazz.