One morning we stopped in the village of Tinghir. Tinghir is home to nomadic berbers, who often leave for long periods of time during the year.

While walking around, I got a good taste of what community life is like for them. Of course everyone knows each other, but it seemed like everyone takes care of one another as well.

My favorite part about Tinghir was visiting a women’s Berber carpet cooperative. Our host invited us in for a cup of tea, as he explained the different symbols hidden in the thread of the carpets.

The carpets were made out of sheep and camel hair – each one cleaned and dyed by hand, and then woven into distinct patterns. He showed us depictions of sand dunes, tents, and animals; all of the critical factors of Berber life were intricately woven into each work of art. One unfolded after the next, all beautiful.

I wanted to buy one not only to support the cooperative, but also as a beautiful reminder of my trip. But as I am on a budget, and a nomad myself, I held back. I’ll just have to come back!

Dades Valley

I was absolutely amazed by the Dades. The contrast of the orange clay and the luscious green was breathtaking.

Along this plush river, families chose to build their kasbahs, and villages were created. Each family in the village tenderly cares for their own plot of land. They grow food for their animals.

We spent the night alongside this river. Although it was freezing cold – it was gorgeous and the sound of the river was really soothing.

The Dades valley is also called, oasis valley. I can see why!

We also spent an afternoon in the Gorges du Dades – a beautiful gorge near a bigger berber village.

I absolutely loved trekking through these little villages. The nomadic berber culture is so different than that in Marrakech. Soon we were off to Tinghir…

ait ben haddou

Then we went to Ait Ben Haddou, the oldest ksar (fortified village) in the world. It was constructed in the 11th centry – and still remains a great example of South Moroccan architecture. There were seven Berber families living in the ksar. Thankfully, UNESCO recognized the need for someone to renovate and protect the ksar, and they’re helping the families move back in (actually because of our Nancéens Jacques Majorelle’s paintings!).

UNESCO also set up a water irrigation system – before the families used to have to travel 12 kilmoeters by donkey to get water. They also started renovating some of the infrastructure. The houses are made by lime, clay, and straw; this keeps them cool in the summer and warm in the winter. We saw a man making bricks the same way, and letting them lay out to dry in the hot sun.

We then got to visit a berber families’ house. Berbers are the native people to Morocco – before the Arabs invaded. Mostly in the region where we were, we met nomadic berbers. This family was fully equipped – t.v., stove, lots of kettles for tea. We also saw their animals; yet another up-close encounter with a cow.

We learned that lots of movies were filmed here; like Gladiator, and Lawrence of Arabia, Indiana Jones, Babel, and Cleopatra. I wonder how that effects village life for the berbers?

This was one of my favorite excursions in Morocco; it was definitely a site like I’d never seen before. What are some of your favorite visits?


So, the next morning, we arrived at our meeting point, handed over 700 durhams cash, got into a van on a street corner without so much as a few words, and drove out of Marrakech without the slightest idea of where we were going.

Le sigh. Of course, we had organized a tour of the Atlas, the Draa Valley, and the desert; but the company could have been a bit more professional if you ask me.

After a few hours driving, when we finally stopped, I asked our guide, Where are we? He just laughed and said, you don’t know? You’re in Morocco! Instant bonding with Abdu, our driver and Arabic translator. He called us, les franco-américaines gazelles, or French/American beauties. He also called Christine, Fatima, but that’s a different story. (A small parenthèse on language: almost everyone in Morocco speaks French. But Arabic is the key to effective conversation – and lots of Berber dialects. English – not so much).

We were in the Atlas mountains! Once you get out of Marrakesh, there is just one single windy road all of the way through the mountains. The scenery was so incredibly beautiful. Abdu cranked the Moroccan jams, and I felt like I was a character in a movie, the soundtrack playing behind me.

We passed lots of Berbers, hearding hundreds of goats by foot. Where were they going? How did they know the way? The mountains were endless, lucious beauty. We also saw lots of people trotting by the road on donkey. I got a close up of this guy! Soon we would be in at the site of the oldest kasbah in the world…

How does language effect your travels? Have you ever had any mishaps or because of a language barrier?


le brushing

Let’s take a break from Morocco – because I am happy to report it’s Springtime in France! Recess has been long these past few days – as the teachers have been enjoying the sunshine more than the kids.

I have been in a little slump since getting back from vacation. But that’s all about to change. My dad and brother are coming to visit me in France next week! I’m going to Paris on Friday to pick them up :) It was a surprise/last minute cheap ticket decision. I can’t wait! It will also be a change from traveling with mostly females.

In celebration of sunny days and family visits, I got a haircut. While petrified that I would somehow accidentally say I want a mohawk, or even worse I’d like a curly perm, I came prepared with some trusty hair vocab words. What resulted was a cute new doo, raie (part) on the side, tres degradé (layered)!

The best part was le brushing. I love this word! It means blow-out and styling in American English, but how doesn’t it sound more beautiful in French? I could have saved some pennies and gotten un séchange naturel, but I couldn’t resist the sound of le brushing.

What are you doing to get ready for Spring?

Place Jamaa el-Fna

After our amazing trip to Jardin Majorelle, we found our way out of Guéliz and into the walled Medina, stopping only at the Koutoubia to take some photos. The oldest mosque in Marrakech, although we were not allowed to enter, it was cool to see such a dominating force of the city close up (I never got used to the sound of the call to prayer – it woke me up every morning around 5.30 am).

Even though I was petrified to go into the main plaza of Marrakech (being still my first day), when we finally gained strength it was electrifying. Storytellers gathered in front of huge crowds of people, monkeys danced around on chains (so sad), women begged us to have our hands painted in henna, and men sold orange juice for a mere 4 durhams. Drums beating, the smell of brochettes filling the air, we ambled through the crowds and closed our eyes at the snake charmers and their mighty flute.

Once some men blocked our way, standing in our paths in order to get us to dine at their station, and then shouting insults at us once we walked away, up we went to the terrace for a more distant view.

We sipped fresh mint tea and watched as the sun slowly set on the UNESCO world-heritage site. After a long day of travel and sightseeing, we were ready to return to the comfort of our riad. Not wanting to go to bed hungry, we had some veggie couscous with kefta before trekking out of the craziness. Not to mention some delicious spicy olive dip!

Walking back to our riad at night – we were still in culture shock. But as we entered the corner and turned into our little neighborhood, we passed through the teeny streets and hear children playing – kicking a soccer ball around before bedtime. We entered the oasis of our Riad and drifted right to sleep.


Marrakech – The Red City

Soon after the 1/2 marathon in Paris, we were off to Marrakech. When we flew in, all I could see was red. Red buildings as far as the eye could see. When we hopped into our taxi, bikers were flanking the car, the sun shining against the red walls.

As soon as we got out of the taxi, boys approached us asking us where we were from, where we were going, and if they could take us to our hostel. Of course, we were in culture shock. As much as I had read about the country, and as much as everyone had told me about the city, we still were frozen by the change.

After a stressful arrival, we got settled in our beautiful and tranquil riad. We were greeted by green tea and cookies, and the smell of rose petals which was a soothing retreat from the busy city. Tummies grumbling, we set off for our first meal at Café Palais el-Badi. Lemon chicken tajine with olives, a fresh salad with beets, and freshly pressed orange juice filled us right up – not to mention cinnamon covered oranges and tea cookies for dessert. The view from the second-floor terrace was amazing, and the sunlight was so refreshing.

Afterwards, we started the long (and confusing) walk to the Jardin Majorelle – designed by our very own Nancy painter Jacques Majorelle, who lived there while he was coping with tuberculosis. Later, Yves Saint Laurent used this beautiful home and garden as his summer retreat.

What was particularly striking was the beautiful blue color, against the green of the cactus and various fauna.

There is also a collection of posters that Yves Saint Laurent used to send from Marrakech as holiday greeting cards.

The Majorelle Gardens are a luscious sanctary from the crazy city life in Marrakech – and I would highly suggest a visit. Have you been to Morocco? Did you experience culture shock?


Paris 1/2 Marathon

In the US, I was a gym lover. I lived for Zumba classes with my friends in college. I loved taking a break from running to do some yoga, and BodyPump was my favorite way to get some strength training in.

When I moved here, to rural France, I knew a gym membership would not be in my budget. While my diet totally changed, I knew I had to keep my fitness up, so I signed up for a half-marathon in Paris.

I have never considered myself a real “runner”. I certainly don’t have the build, and always had more fun participating in team sports like basketball, tennis, or lacrosse. But somewhere between penciling in 20k runs and working out for basketball on my off days, I got into a routine. I looked forward to my long weekend runs, and concentrated on the feeling I got when I was done.

I also gained a new appreciation for my town. While it is rural, I discovered some really pretty running routes through my training. I also love that I haven’t stepped in a gym in a few months. When I think of how many hours I’ve spent chained to an elliptical or a treadmill, it seems silly compared to the joy I get from running outside.

When the day of the ½ marathon approached, I was so excited! I felt prepared, and the energy of running with 40,000 others was amazing. We started at the Chateau de Vincennes (only in France do races start at chateaus) and ran into the suburbs, coming back into Paris and passing the Bastille, the Hotel de Ville, and catching a beautiful view of Notre Dame.

Around 12 kilometers, just when I started to need some inspiration, I heard a shout-out. I am known for wearing obnoxiously bright colors while running – and this race was no exception. I was sporting my brother’s Phillies jersey he sent me for good luck. Hey Philly! – a guy with a Phillies cap came up behind me and gave me a high-five. We ended up running the rest of the race together! That was great – considering I didn’t have any family encouraging me along the way, we supported each other.

I finished in two hours and two minutes! Not exactly speedy, but I was proud of myself for accomplishing something I’ve never done before. Afterwards I even climbed the Arc de Triomphe (all 200 steps) to get a beautiful view of Paris at night.

Next up? I am doing a little bike race with my students in May. I love the fact that I have learned to stay in shape without a gym – in a country where women aren’t known for exercise. Do you need a little inspiration? Try signing up for a race in a new place! Not only will it I give you something to train for, but also a new travel style. Racing is a great way to see a new city and meet new people.

Here are a few blogs I read for work-out inspiration:

How do you stay in shape while traveling? Have you ever run a race in a new city?


When I first got to Madrid, I was the opposite of enthusiastic. My flight came in late, I was tired and grumpy, and not looking forward to finding my hostel. But as soon as I got on the metro, I was amazed at the vivacity of the city.

People were talking, laughing, and ready for a Saturday night out. Old people, young people, everyone was having a good time. I got off the metro at Sol, right in the center of Madrid. There were people everywhere swarming the streets. I was shocked! Movement? Noise? Laughter? At 1 am? Like nothing I have ever seen on the streets of Paris.

I didn’t get to spend enough time in Madrid, but from what I saw, I loved it. A friend from university that moved back to Madrid took me out for tapas one night, which gave me a great taste of Spanish culture. I hung my coat on the little hooks at the tables assembled all over the restaurant, while Fransisco ordered up patatas bravas, croquetas, and tortilla espanola. Of course, as he explained, you don’t just go to one restaurant, you hop around to many! We enjoyed each course with a yummy beer. The one downside – no napkins!

We ended up in a local bar, and I loved meeting all of his friends. The people next to us were bumping right into us while giving their friends hugs and kisses. Even though I can’t speak Spanish, I tried to say some basic sentences. What ended was a big fat beso on each cheek upon leaving. Success! Generally, I find that Spanish people are much more tactile than my fellow francais – while at dinner in Vaughan Town there was always some sort of contact when someone is addressing you.

The trip ended with a whirlwind tour of the major sites in Madrid. I didn’t have time to go into any museums, which in my opinion was tragic. I had an amazing moment while standing outside the gardens of the Royal Palace. An old man started talking to me in Spanish, and while my immediate reaction was just to say “no hablo espanol” and flee the scene, he seemed insistent about telling me something, so I listened. He started telling me about the architecture of the gardens, and once I told him, “vivo en Francia,” he went wild! Although I could only understand a bit of what he was saying, I was touched that someone wanted me to learn more about his country.

Before heading to the airport, I sat at an outdoor café and ordered a big serving of paella and basked in the sunlight. Glorious!

So Spain, I am not done with you yet. Maybe I should stop trying to pretend I am dainty and polite and just pick up and move to Espana. There is only so much formality a girl can put up with (and hey – I was told I look a little Latina).

Have you ever been to Spain? What did you think of it? A great resource for travel in Spain can be found here (and check out her list of free things to do in Madrid here!).

Why France? Talking with Anne

Happy Saint Patty’s Day! Today we have another amazing guest post from Anne, at Pret à Voyager. In this series, I want to take a look at why people come to France. Everyone has their own personal struggles and triumphs as an expat – but I would love to take a look at patterns and similarities between each individual.

I use Anne’s blog all of the time as a resource when I go to Paris – it’s lovely to see the city from a designer’s point of view! For example, today she posted about busking! Ever heard of it? She also highlights other designers on her series Boarding Pass.

1.)   How did it come about that you moved to France? Did you want to move here? What were your apprehensions?

This is my third time living in France. The first time I was a study abroad student, then I taught English for a year. This time I thought I was going to get a job in France. Ha! Yeah, right! It’s a good thing I found the perfect Master’s program for me – an MA in Global Communications from the American University of Paris.

I never really had apprehensions, but then again, all the blogs and resources online didn’t exist like they do now. Also, I moved around a lot growing up, so I guess it was less scary because of that. But for anyone thinking about taking the plunge, just realize it’s not a walk in the park, but just roll with the punches and you’ll be fine. It makes for great material in writing stories!

2.)   What were your first impressions once you arrived? How did that change as time went on?

The first time I ever stepped foot abroad was my junior year of high school with my family. We stayed with dear family friends in their apartment. Perhaps having the “authentic” experience is what really sold me on this place. Each time I’ve returned though, I think the struggle to find an apartment never ceases to amaze me. Apartments are petite here to say the least, but you learn to love and appreciate that. Now I try to chronicle my impressions of life in Paris through my {Un}Glamorous Paris column, where I try to take a humorous look at the less than perfect sides of living here.

3.)   Do you speak French? How important is language to living abroad?

I’ve been studying French since I was in high school (which was a long time ago now). I don’t know if I’ll ever consider myself 100% fluent, but as I learn the intricacies of the language in an advanced French course I’m currently taking, I’m learning to understand the French a bit more too. Learning a language in school is very different than using it in daily life. While you can easily get by in France from speaking English, for me the true pleasure comes from having exchanges with everyday people here.

4.)   Do you feel integrated into life in France?

When I lived here 8 years ago, I wanted people to think I was French, so I didn’t speak much and was afraid to take risks. Now I fully embrace that I’m an American in Paris (who often gets mistaken for French!). I love going to my regular haunts, and most people know I like to conduct my business in French. I love my crepe man who is Sri Lankan – it’s great speaking with other foreigners because they won’t judge you. For me everyday life is a game, and often a challenge, but that’s where I get the pleasure. As with anywhere I’ve lived, it’s taken me a good year to feel fully settled, but yes, I feel like I have a real life here.

5.)   What do you miss the most about your native country?

The space! It’s funny that the older I get the smaller my apartments get. While I am up to 12m2 (129sf) from last year’s 10m2 (110sf), I miss the wide open spaces of the US. While it can be charming to be quite close to the people sitting next to you at a restaurant here, it’s also nice to have some breathing room. I also really miss Target and Trader Joe’s! Ironically though, you can find most things from home here these days.


6.)   What is your favorite thing about living in France?


I love the quality of life. It’s taught me to be more balanced. I like that people appreciate taking holiday and vacations (hello, 5-9 weeks per year!), don’t work all the time, spend hours talking over great meals and go to the market every few days. I’m also a huge fan of public transportation.


7.)   What is your favorite French wine? I probably could have answered this better 10 years ago, but a Côtes du Rhone is always a safe bet by me. As a designer, I still prefer to shop by prettiest label 😉