Friday, April 24, 2009

Tunisia, land of opportunity

So, I found out (not that recently, just lazy poster... shall I say 3 weeks ago?) that I will be in Tunisia for the summer doing a marketing internship for some non-profit through AIESEC! I will be living in the centre ville area in an apartment with a Brazilian girl, a German guy, a Swiss girl, and a Canadian... add me as an American and you can have your own little sitcom, now throw us all into a mediterranean city in the Arab world... oh my. At least, these are the details I have been told, so lets hope they are accurate. 

I leave in one week! Eek! Time to polish up that Arabic.... Tunis, here I come!

Alhamdulilah, my parentals are coming for this one week, so its a nice break between by French adventures and my Tunisian adventures, and most importantly, they can take all of the extra winter clothes and other excess that I wont be needing in constant 80 degree weather that I've collected in France back to the US for me! Score.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Morocco, Marruecos, Maroc, المغرب... any way you say it, this country rocks

Wow, seeing as my adventure in Morocco was a direct continuation of my adventures in España, and certainly far before traveling to Budapest, this post has been a long time coming... but, idol days spent picnicking under the Eiffel Tower or on the steps of the Sacré-Coeur and perusing the streets of the Marais or shopping on Rue de Rivoli takes its toll. Also, having adjusted to the no-work attitude of the Parisians has made me lazy and fabulous. I remember little specific details, but the enticing pictures of my week-long tour of this fab Arab world country must be given justice.

The view from our amazing hostel in Marrakech

Jewish cemetery in Marrakech

Streets of Morocco

Jen and Molly (and me!) in Marrakech

Morocco included the cities of Tanger, port city where our boat landed; Marrakech, the quaint, but somewhat touristy, village that looks exactly like you expect Morocco to look like with bazaars abound; Rabat, capitol of the country and surprisingly modern; and Casablanca, avoid until you need to fly out of the country (although complete with one of the most amazing buildings in all the world, Mosque Hassan II).

Karen, Anna, Amine (our Moroccan friend), and myself in Rabat

Karen and I continued our travels into this arid climate and mingled with the locals. In Marrakesh we met Jen and Molly... what luck! We just happened to be in the same city in Morocco at the same time! Such a small world! We bought hookahs, jewelry, and ate the most delicious foods for pennies on the dollar. Moroccan currency is called the "dirham"... plural "dirAAham"... and a safe estimation of the exchange rate is 1 USD = 10 dirAAham. Full (and I mean FULL) meals of chicken couscous or lamb tagine, with bread, soup, mint tea, Moroccan salad, olives, and drinks comes out to be about 40 dirAAham, a STEAL!!!

Coca-Cola... the universal Equalizer

Even McDonald's is getting in on the action

In addition to the food, the souks (bazaars) of Marrakech and Rabat, among others, are filled with everything you could ever want, at miniscule prices and fractions of their real cost. Ray-bans, you say? They have them, at a tenth of the price... Wall-E? just 80 cents! Hookahs? Around 15 euro...? Sounds great! The legitimacy of some of these items is questionable... but hey, if it looks like the real thing and works like the real thing, why not!?

Souks in Morocco, you can buy ANYTHING here!

View of the ocean from a cafe in Rabat

Perhaps my favorite picture of all time- Anna, Karen and I at a destroyed mosque in Rabat

After 3 days in Marrakech, Karen and I left Jen and Molly (who had their own plans to head to the beaches of Essouira on the coast) and moved on to Rabat. There we met up with Anna (that little world traveler) who was on her AIESEC internship teaching English. Having a well established network, she introduced us to Amine, who was an amazing host and let us stay in his (legit) palace of a home for the few nights we were there. We then got to meet all of the AIESECers from Rabat and Casa at an AIESEC conference, and that night we went to an Moroccan club in Rabat! Let me just say, Muslims during the day and veeery different from Muslims at night! :) But then, I am referring to the young crowd, and all young people love to rebel, go drink and smoke cigarettes and dance the night away... which is just what we did.

After our couple glorious days in Rabat, and after a long, eventful, and incredible two weeks together, Karen and I had to part ways. She was leaving Morocco one day earlier than I was, and so we said our goodbyes and she headed to the airport. Anna and I continued our rampage into Casablanca for the day to do some sightseeing (specifically checking out the amazingly gigantic Hassan II) and where late that night I would meet up with Priya, Summer, Mike, and Molly (who were on their own Spain/Morocco adventure) in a hostel where we would rest up for our journey back to Paris in the morning. With much sadness it was that I left Morocco, but after two weeks of traveling out of a backpack I was exhausted, dirty, and ready to get back to glorious Paris.

Mosquée Hassan II in Casablanca

I really need to note, Moroccans are the NICEST people you will ever meet. While I say this at the ripe old age of 21 and being traveled in only Europe, one sparing country (and be it one of the most liberal of all of them) in the Arab world, and the Americas, I still think it deserves mention. Besides the every-so-often semi-frequent annoying man in the souks who wanted to sell us their wares ("STUDENT PRIIIICE!!!") I stand by my statement. Every person we legitimately met and spent time with was welcoming, gracious, generous, and kind. And to think, they were once under French influence ;) JK France, je t'aime!

Magyarország: Home away from home

Budapest's beautiful Parliament (beats London's fsho)

Before I write anything, I must make mention of the most wildly fascinating and strange trucs one will ever come in contact with, that being the Hungarian language. For example, Hungary is Hungarian is not even a close substitute for the country's real name, that being Magyarország. Yes, sweet home Magyarország... imagine taking English, pushing around 15 words together into one giant unnecessarily-accented word and then posting it up all over a city.. this is Budapest. I quickly became fluent in the language however (toughest language in all of europe to learn? My ass!) With my skillful command of yo (good), sia (hello AND goodbye... hawaiians, where are you? You will feel right at home), and kus (thanks), I tore thru the town at breakneck speed. Those Hungarians didn't know what hit 'em.
Oh, I should mention that the rest of the words of the Hungarian language were filled in thanks to my lovely and beautiful travel partner, and fluent speaker of the Magyar language, Anna. I mean, she's actually Hungarian-American but props to that one. Without her, I would have been lost in a torrent of Eastern European madness, not to be confused with the more beautiful and more elegantly dressed Western European madness.

Anna and I in front of a statue of King Matyas in the old city

Néanmoins... Budapest is a gorgeous city, albeit not the most tourist friendly. There are more forms of public transport in this city than anywhere I have been, and somehow there are no maps. The metro, the less-underground subway, the Villemos, and buses make up a complicated and intricate panel of transportation alternatives to choose from, aside from the walking and the cheap taxis. In fact, Budapest is a little like Paris, except in place of the Seine is the Danube, and in place of the two rives are the two sides of the Hungarian city, Buda and Pest. But there are tons of old and beautiful buildings of similar architectural style, a Jewish area, lots of museums, a hoppin' nightlife, etc. Oh, but MUCH MUCH CHEAPER! Praise Allah!!

Among the things to see in Budapest (mostly in Pest, the more commercial and touristique side of the city) include Hero's Square, the Parliament, the old city complete with hilltop castle and fortress, the Terror House, more statues of late king Matyas than you can shake a stick at, gorgeous churches, Europe's largest synagogue, and.... TURKISH BATHS! Ok these things are like heaven-sent direct to Hungary. They were built when the Turks controlled the area... imagine going back in time to ancient Greece where beautiful bathhouses with enormous stone and marble architecture filled the city where people would come to congregate, and discuss politics, art, and other intellegencia interests. That is what the Turkish baths are like, except everyone actually wears a swimsuit (albeit one that is barely there) and instead of discussing politics you come to tan, swim, and relax in endless pools the middle of what looks like some elegant Athenian Forum. Magnificent.

Well ya no, Budapest has a somewhat sordid past during the Nazi occupation...

P.s. I met a legit Holocaust survivor, and his wife made Anna and I lunch. p.p.s. that man is Anna's grandfather and his wife, the sweetest old lady and grandmother to Anna. I have now seen Anna's family home in the States and well as her many residences on campus, her parents' (and late grandparents') bourgeois apartment in Budapest, the Carry Bradshaw-esque apartment she is currently living in during her summer stay in Budapest, and her OTHER grandparent's apartment (the.. ahem... Holocaust surviving ones). SUCK IT TRISH!!! ;)

Europe's largest jew temple, in Pest
Nightlife in Budapest is... AMAZING. THE coolest bars/clubs I have seen are all in the downtown area of Pest, with rooftop lounges and open-air patios and underground dance floors, definitely a place to go to party. Anna skillfully directed me around her city and we hit up one or two places each night. Among our adventures: Drinks with Jen, Molly, and Brit who were traveling thru eastern europe and just happened to be in Budapest, meeting (and being bought drinks) by a group of English rugby players and their Italian opponents in their upcoming match at a club and watching them scrum (skrum?) all the way from the first place to another club while Anna took pictures and controlled police traffic in her fluent Hungarian, pushing people off the main dancing stage at a bar so that we could command the dance floor while raging to favorites like Black Eyed Peas (Hungary is a little behind the times ok...), meeting Andrea and her friends who also just happened to be in Budapest to rage, and being taken to a secret club that only Hungarians know of on the 8th floor or so in an old abandoned-looking apartment building.

The last day of my Hungarian whirlwind, Anna and I traveled to a beautiful and quaint little village about an hour outside of Budapest by train called Szentandre ("Saint Andrew" I assume is what those Hungarians meant) where we walked thru small cobblestone streets, lunched at the most amazing little cafe owned by a native Hungarian who had lived in Seattle for 20 years, dined at a bourgeois restaurant along the Danube, and made to sure take plenty of pictures of paprika, the national spice of Hungary. Seriously, these people shower in that shit... they put it on, in and serve it with evvverryything. And I only thought it was used to top deviled eggs... well ya learn something new everyday dontchya?

Petit Chemin in Szentandre I thought was a cool photo... random, yea

On the way back to Paris (that being taxi shuttle, bus, plane, bus, plane, RER, metro) to reach my apartment, I ran into quite a cast of interesting characters. Oh, my adventures never end. This rambunctious group included:
1. A Greek man living in Australia with whom I chatted about kangaroos and their meat all the way from Zurich to Paris.
2. An American woman who teaches French in Paris and who lived in Morocco for 6 months and shared tips with me about living in North Africa.
3. An African man near the exit to CDG who thought I was French and whom I had to help direct to the nearest taxi stand.
4. A priest from Senegal who was confused about the RER B who thought I was French and thus whom, in French, I had to direct to the express train to take him straight to Gare du Nord, avoiding all the banlieue stops.
5. A British couple about our age who spoke only English and, being ignored by the real French people, I directed how to get thru Châtelet-Les Halles and on to the 1 to get to Port Maillot.
6. A really sexy French Arab mec on the 14 who was eyeing me up (and vice-versa of course)

All in all, successful taste of Eastern Europe.