5 Ways To Relax In Marrakesh

When you’re planning a trip to Marrakesh, everyone has a tip or gentle warning that they’ve gained either from personal experience or a friend of a friend. They are all well intended. Beware of the vendors in the souks. Don’t walk around by yourself.  More than likely you’ll get lost. Always negotiate!

All of these tidbits are so very true. The souks can be absolutely maddening. I’ve been called Rhianna, Nicki Minaj, Lady Gaga, Chocolate, Sister Obama and my personal favorite, Africa, all in the name of trying to sell me a $2 scarf.

Wait. Aren’t we all African here?!

And if you aren’t careful enough, you can wind up in the direct path of a speeding moped making its way down the narrow alleyway.

Yes, you will most definitely will get lost wandering the medina, but that’s a part of the fun.

Negotiating is the way of life.  Always start with a third of the asking price, especially with the taxis!

I’m so thankful we walked into this experience with this information; it’s definitely given us a leg up. But what I wish someone would have shared with me was how to minimize our exposure to the craziness and actually have a relaxing day in this bustling city.  Because at some point, I can guarantee, some man will call you Chocolate and you’ll want to lose it right there in the middle of the street.  Rather than making a fool of yourself, it’s best to find a way to block it all out. And I’ve got just what you need to do that.

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1. Relax Inside your Riad. These dwellings were designed to provide privacy and keep the noise out.  Where we stayed, at Riad Soundouss, was the perfect place to lay back and enjoy the tranquility.  Pascale and her team went out of their way to ensure that our experience was restful. We probably could have stayed within those four walls for a while, but travelers guilt weighed heavy on me, so we moved on to other peaceful activities.

 

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2. Visit Les Jardins Majorelle. Depending on where you’re staying you’ll have to venture into a wee bit of craziness, but once there, it’s an ideal escape just outside of the medina.  It’s one of the most popular attractions in Marrakech, but doesn’t feel too crowded while there. You can stroll the manicured lanes of the gardens, enjoy the collection of cacti and plants, breathe in the fresh air and delight in the shade from the tall trees.

 

 

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3. Explore a Palace. While you  can’t step foot near the Royal Palace of the King of Morocco, you may explore the palaces of the past.  These beautiful displays of grandeur are really and truly a step back into time. You can wander the grounds imagining how the rulers may have lived.

 

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4. Take Refuge. Tucked away in a deserted alley is a gem of a place called Dar Cherifa.  You must ring the door in order to enter into the 16th century year old house.  Within the courtyard, you can lounge on sofas and eat a delicious meal, cozy up to a good book from their literary corner or appreciate the art of the featured exhibit.  You could literally hold up here for hours.

 

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5. Schedule a Hammam. A hammam is a wonderful treat that I think everyone should experience if traveling to Morocco. It involves an intensive scrubbing of the body. But trust me, it’s an incredible experience. You first start with a complete cleansing, followed by a head to to exfoliation.  After, you’ll rest in the lounging area to enjoy mint tea and sweets You will be amazed by how soft your skin feels.  I swear, you’ll never feel cleaner.

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Essaouira!

Top on my list of things to do in Morocco was a day-trip to Essaouira, a coastal town about two hours away from Marrakesh.  From my research it was a must-see and I figured a quick visit to the sea would be a great change of scenery.

We rose early to make our Supratour Bus just as the clouds were gathering over Marrakesh, turning darker by the minute.  They were intense and clearly weren’t there for show.  Oh, no.  The bottom was about to fall out and we couldn’t be more relieved to be driving away in the opposite direction from where they were coming.

Our ride to Essauoira on the Supratour bus was quite comfortable, despite the assigned seat debacle that had both locals and tourists confused. Nonetheless, the gray clouds were thinning as we distanced ourselves from our home base and the scenery was beautiful while we were awake.  It was one of those bus rides where our tiredness would overcome our every intention to keep our eyes open and observe the surroundings or catch up on some reading.  Every once in a while we would catch a glimpse of the desert, what appeared to be whole towns under construction or a pair of trees where goats stood on high limbs, like oranges waiting to be picked, as a small gatherings of tourists waited their turn for photos.

As we approached Essaouira, the Atlantic Ocean grew larger and larger until we could see the sprawling sandy beach and the waves breaking on the shore.  Essaouira is a beautiful coastal town, with white-washed buildings and blue painted doors and shudders. The city was strikingly different to Marrakesh. I would call it the cool, laid-back younger sibling. Just chill.  As I guess you would expect any coastal city to be.

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We took to their medina first, noticing the breathing room to explore without the near death experiences from passing mopeds and the constant vying for our attention from vendors. For once, we were able to browse the goods without having to put up with the hustle.  After we made our way over to the marina, where the aroma of fish took over our senses.

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We found the true chaos, but it wasn’t directed towards us.  They couldn’t even be bothered with David and me. The fishermen fresh off their morning trip to sea were busy trying to sell their catch to the locals for their dinners.

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It was exciting to watch the craziness ensue, but we grew hungry. Fast.  But before seeking out lunch, we took a slight detour to the Portuguese Ramparts to get those coveted coastal views of the city.

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For lunch, we followed the guides and headed straight for the seafood stalls, where you pick out your fish that was just caught and they grill it up for you on the spot. Man did we eat well! We had a lobster, sea bass and shrimp. I grabbed a fresh pressed orange-grapefruit juice and life was good.  In those moments between the delicious bites and the beautiful ocean view, we had just about everything we needed.

The Bourgie Traveler Is Back

Passport Photo BT Is Back

I’m about to leave the country for thirty days and life couldn’t be more normal.  In a matter of hours my grandmother will be cruising her way through Atlanta to pick up David and me to go to the airport and I’m in my PJ’s casually making breakfast. What the hell is wrong with me? Preparedness. That’s David’s explanation. To his point, our trip has been seven months in the making, but that doesn’t reasonably describe why were so relaxed and reserved this morning.

A smile crossed my face when I woke and realized that today was the day, but where’s the unabashed enthusiasm? Thirty days. 3-0 days of vacation. On the inside I feel like a kid cracked out on a giant pixie stick, the blue one of course, but on the outside I’m the exact opposite. Why aren’t I dancing in my underwear to Donna Summer?? Could it be that I’m…tired? NO!

Clearly I need to pull myself together here.  In less than 24 hours, I’ll be stepping foot on European soil and you know what that means. Beautifully manicured parks, buttery pastries stuffed with chocolate for the hell of it and glass after glass of wine just because I can. There will be no real sense of time unless I’m chasing the sun for its grand morning appearance or it’s lazy descent into the horizon. It’s only a matter of time until I’ll be staring up into a vast starry sky from the comforts of my desert tent, post camel ride. And I can’t forget about all of the gelato I intend consuming. My guesstimate is about twenty cones, a little conservative, but we’ll see.

I’m psyched about the countless experiences that are before me, I just need to have someone pinch me to remind that this is real. It’s real and it’s happening right now. Maybe when I’m being felt up by TSA, a fun beat will pop into my head.  And when I order a milkshake in the terminal as a toast to America, my shoulders will begin to shimmy in time to my hips. And finally, when my butt hits my seat on the plane, I’ll have an uncomfortably awkward smile plastered across my face as other passengers pass me by, because this trip is going to be AMAZING (my preferred vacation descriptor of all time, at least so says my dear friend David Munz)!

So the long of the short of it is that the Bourgie Traveler is back! And it’s high time that we all get excited for what’s to come.

Secret Places

I’ve lived in Atlanta for nearly 10 years and I still find myself discovering different nooks and crannies of the city; secret places that I wonder if others know exist.  Recently, I stumbled across an outdoor haven, just a stone’s throw from my home, that is virtually untapped.  A little piece of woodland, where the hum of the city magically disappears and it’s just you, a cool breeze, the cracking of tree limbs as they fall towards the earth and the rustling sounds of small critters prancing from one tree to the next.

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When I was in college, I had a place similar to this where I would like to go to feel small; it’s a strange concept but it always helped me put my problems into perspective.  I would sneak into Bobby Dodd Stadium at night and lie there at the 50 yard line and stare up at the stars. Somehow, all my worries drifted up to the sky to finally rest. This new place, which doesn’t require me to break laws or codes of conduct, has been that refuge for me; a place where I can ease my mind, take in all that’s around me and just breathe.

Atlanta Hiking Trail

This past weekend, as I prepared to go for a visit, I thought it was about time to reveal to my husband where I had been disappearing to.  So, I shared my secret place and his reaction didn’t let me down.  He was amazed that all of this was tucked away so close to the house, within the city.

Atlanta Hiking Trail

Maybe by now, you have figured out the location of my spot. But I ask you not to share because that’s the only way it will remain a secret.  If you do decide to see what this place is about and you happen to see someone there lying on the ground who looks half asleep; that’s just me, letting my cares drift away.

Atlanta Hiking Trail

Urban Hikers

I’ve been completely out of my normal exercise schedule recently.  This cool weather has left me hiding under my covers and snuggling up with my husband on the couch.  I’ve lost sight of the gym and forgot the joy I once received from my morning sweat session.  It’s getting a lot out of control.  So when my friend, Robin, asked if I wanted to go hiking on our day off, I jumped on it.

We started our morning with coffee from the Dancing Goats coffee bar.  I have been eyeing this place for a while and am so glad it made our agenda.  I’ve been searching for quality coffee and think I’ve found just the spot.  It was a little expensive, but the wonderful tastes more than made up for it.  My absolute favorite part was the outdoor seating area, more specifically, the swinging sofas.  I must get one.  I can picture myself  indulging in a trashy book and a glass of wine, lazily swaying on my sofa swing.  Christmas is around the corner.

Typically, if I go hiking, I’ll need to drive at least 45 minutes outside of the city.  Which is one of the few downsides of living ITP (inside of the perimeter). With the guidance of Atlanta Magazine, we set out to do a little urban hiking and test out the trails that are close by. Giving into a guilty pleasure, the two of us car-danced to Taylor Swift’s Shake It Off as we made our way to Constitutional Lakes Park.

Fall was all around us; purple leaves covered the sidewalk path which eventually opened up into a wetland.  Who would have thought that there was a marshy piece of land inside of the city?  Atlanta never fails to surprise me.

After a respectable number of photos were taken, we continued on in search of the Doll’s Head trail.  Just a few hundred feet away and we found the sign directing us to the trail’s beginning.   That alone should have been a warning that this was going to be more than just a hike.  I faintly remember Robin mentioning that this was an artsy hike but dismissed the comment out of pure incomprehension.

The sign guiding us to the beginning of Doll's Head Trail...

The sign guiding us to the beginning of Doll’s Head Trail…

Quirky pieces of what I guess we could call art were scattered alongside the trail.   It appears that trash that once disgraced the property had been transformed into something one could potentially appreciate.  As we continued on, signs of encouragement appeared, urging hikers to re-purpose any new trash into their own pieces of art.

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I was really starting to enjoy the vibe until Robin scared me.  I learned the hard way why they called it Dolls’ Head trail.

Doll's Head Trail

The vision of this creepy looking doll’s head poking out of the stump of a tree made me scream as if an ax murderer was about to end my life.  I was ready to end Robin’s in that moment.  As we moved forward even stranger doll’s heads appeared but I’m not going to lie, I was really into it.

Doll’s Head Trail at Constitutional Lakes Park was like crossing the misfit toys of Toy Story with the inspirational quotes of Oprah and hiding them in a 200 acre wetland within the city of Atlanta.  Almost hard to believe unless you witness it for yourself.  But it was real and we have the proof.  At the end of the trail, each hiker has the opportunity to leave their own personal mark.  Maybe one day, if you’re lucky, you’ll find ours.

Bye Felicia!

Sips of Happy

It’s official, both of the Finks are back in the states.  David arrived into town yesterday afternoon, bringing with him small treasures from our trip.  I can’t wait to crack open that liter of pumpkin seed oil and hand out those bottles of wine to friends.  We’re slowly adjusting to life at home. We were met with a freezer door that somehow froze over and now we can’t open it, a month’s worth of junk mail to throw away and a DVR full of our favorite shows. To be honest, it’s a bit overwhelming, there’s so much TV to get caught up on.  Do I find out what’s happening with Olivia Pope and Fitz or maybe I should check on Mindy and the gang to see how they’re doing? 

In honor of our return, we enjoyed an American classic, cheeseburgers and fries from one of our favorite burger joints.  Mine tasted just as good as I hoped it would be.   So far, I’ve had Chinese, Mexican, Thai and Burgers.  All that remains on my Foods I Must Eat list is sushi and a steak dinner.

For me, the adjustments has been filled with wonderful times and some moments that I would prefer to forget.  To start with the good stuff, I spent lots of time with my family and close friends over this past weekend.  The younger crowd enjoyed a makeshift tailgate and fantastic seats to watch our team defeat a division rival.

After, we joined the rest of the family to celebrate my grandmother’s birthday, where I got to hold my sweet baby cousin who is absolutely adorable. The baby was so sleepy and was yawning and wiggling in my arms as I held him; so precious. 

My sweet cousin yawning...so cute!

My sweet cousin yawning…so cute!

I’ve managed to survive my first few days  back in the office.  Let me just say, my first day was awful.  It wasn’t bad because of a certain incident, honestly the day was practically uneventful. What made it so unpleasant was the overall feeling on the floor.  When I swiped my badge and opened the door, it was as if I was hit with a thick cloud of doom and gloom.  Dark clouds of depression hung over everyone as they sat at their desks.  Even though the sentiment has not been outright expressed, you can see the hopelessness in my coworker’s eyes.  Fortunately, each day going forward has been a bit better and I’ve managed to start every day with a  good attitude. 

Despite the ugliness that surrounds me, I commit to doing my best to maintain my Croatian state of mind.  This isn’t my forever or even close to being my everything.  I’ve got an incredible man for that.  This is a blip on my radar that will pass.  My focus will be on the good times, those moments that warm up my heart and remind me that life is still good. Or as I like to call them, sips of happy.

A sip of happy- Enjoying the changing leaves in Atlanta.

A sip of happy- Enjoying the changing leaves in Atlanta.

Cheers to You, Croatia!

I’m ending this month long adventure the way I started it, with a Donna Summer dance party. She has definitely perked up the mood from a little mellow to downright upbeat.  I’m dancing around and finishing packing up my things.  It’s a little weird seeing my life shoved into four suitcases.

I took care of the essentials today; worked out, sipped some coffee while doing a little people watching and I got a manicure.  Mirna killed it this afternoon with my nails; I’m absolutely in love with them.  With my new paint job and Donna singing Bad Girls, I’m feeling a little sassy.

I’ve realized that I’ve done everything that I wanted this month and very little I planned.  Pre-Croatia Nikki probably would have freaked out over this; but it actually feels good.   I’ve had the trip of a lifetime and experienced more than I ever imagined I could in a month.  For whatever reason, I thought I would come out of this experience feeling more settled down but if anything I’m left with an even greater appetite to explore and discover.  Thankfully, David and I are on the same page.  We’ve got dinner tonight to toast to this opportunity and to our future.  I’m happy, we’re happy, life is good.

So, what’s next? That’s what I’ve been asking myself. Quite honestly, I’m not sure yet.  I know in the immediate future I have a flight out to Frankfurt that is obscenely early and this weekend is homecoming, so there will be football, family and friends.  This should definitely lighten the harsh blow of reality.  As far as my next international adventure, I’m sure I’ll stumble into something, but that doesn’t mean everything will go dark.  Now that I’ve discovered the pleasures of blogging, I don’t plan on stopping. I’ve got a lot to say.  There are untold Croatia stories that I need to share and I know I’ll have plenty of tales to tell from the trouble I get into back home.

Like I told my friends here, I’m not saying any goodbyes.  So, I’ll see you soon.

Life’s Balancing Act

I went to bed last night in a bad mood, I felt anxiety creeping up from my stomach and into my throat.  My days in Croatia are few and I was starting to freak out.  I thought I would wake up this morning and write a long, dramatic entry of how I wasn’t ready to leave, but I’ll save myself the embarrassment. I do feel like I’m not ready to go yet;  there’s so much still to explore and many relationships that I would like to continue to cultivate.  But honestly, who would be ready to leave behind an adventure.   Longing to stay is almost the best way to go.  It gives me more of a reason to come back.  I would hate to be the exact opposite, pissed off at a country and damning it to anyone who would listen.

My biggest fear or the thing that has been hiding in the shadows of my mind, ready to pounce when I was the most vulnerable, was not that this amazingly wonderful opportunity would be ending but that when I return, I will revert back to being the person that I was before I left.  Pre Croatia,  I was a woman  who was crazy stressed-out, anxious and unhappy the majority of the time.  Think of any character Katherine Heigl has played, and that was me.  I hated the way I was leading my life and the person who I had become because I knew that wasn’t me.  Being able to come here  was an opportunity for me to reset and come out refreshed with a clear mind.   And my time here has been just that.  There is a noticeable difference in who I am today and what I was then.  And as cheesy as it sounds, Croatia has led me to remember what it was to enjoy life and how to be happy.  The last thing I want to do is to lose that feeling and be that neurotic lady again.

My bible study this morning was titled “It’s OK to Enjoy Your Life”.  I think the title alone is a lesson in itself.  With everything that most people have going on, we do sometimes need to be reminded that life was meant to be enjoyed.  It went on to say that there is a time for accomplishment and there is a time for enjoyment. We can’t lead a life worth living if we have one without the other.  Life is a constant balancing act between two.   Today’s lesson, which I think is probably the major lesson of my journey, has dramatically changed my outlook on my impending return.   It’s time to tip the balance back towards the middle.  As I start one of my final mornings in Varaždin (at least for the time being), I refuse to be sad. I’ve got a 12 hour trip home for that.  Besides, there’s far too much life to enjoy today.