A Quick Walk Around an Alien World (Copenhagen)

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With a 6 hour layover in Copenhagen and an easy train ride into the city I decided to go see it. I stored my luggage in a container and set off to explore with the limited time that I had. The first thing that struck me was the abundance of blonde haired people. After living in Spain and hardly seeing any, it was like crash landing on an alien planet. These aliens also used a two wheeled man powered vehicle to get around everywhere. They call them bikes and there were more of them than cars! They had special bridges, roundabouts and signs specifically for them. Their houses along the river were painted a plethora of colors and they had a market area where you can try foods from other alien worlds.  After filling my stomach with food from the Alien country called South Korea, I headed back to the airport and made my way to the Baltic states!

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The Palazzolo’s Come to Spain

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After months of planning and preparation the time finally came for my family to come visit. For my dad and younger sister it was their first time in Europe, for my twin, it was her first time in Spain and for my mom it was her first time in Andalucia or any city other than Barcelona.  We had a tight schedule with a lot of things planned, a tour of Andalucia, places I have seen and visited over the last two years living in Jerez all packed into 9 days. I was excited to show them the country that’s been my home for the last three years, but nervous and stressed about the timing of our plans. They arrived to Madrid on the 24th. The night before I hardly slept, the hostel was hotter than a sauna and I went to bed thinking their flight was going to arrive early, only in middle of the night I checked and it was delayed by almost an hour. On top of this Madrid was the epicenter of gay pride week, so I imagined more traffic than NYC at rush hour, being that Madrid has one of the biggest gay communities and parades in Europe. We had a specific train to catch and if there had been a line at customs and if their luggage had not been the first out, the trip might have started very differently.

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In 9 days this is what we did:
6/24: We arrived to Jerez at 7pm
– We walked around the city
-Saw a 10 pm flamenco show at Tablao Pura Arte
6/25: In the morning we walked around the gypsie market near the Alcazar
-Went beach in Cadiz
-Took a train to Seville
-Had dinner on the waterfront
-a failed attempt to see Plaza España at night

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6/26: We did an Alcazar tour in the morning
-Ate lunch
-Toured the Seville Cathedral and climbed the Giralda, we waited for a half hour at the top so my dad could see the bells move, but they didn’t. A hammer hit the bell. I guess some hours they move, other ones they don’t
-Walked to Plaza España
-Took at taxi to the mushrooms and walked atop them during sunset
-Had dinner at the oldest restaurant in Spain, el Rinconcillo. Established in 1670.

6/27: Picked up the rental car
-Drove to Jerez
-Saw the 12 pm dancing horse show
-Did a 2pm Tradición bodega tour
-At 7pm we drove to Cadiz, walked  around the city and ate dinner at 9:30 at la Tapería Columnela. One of the best places I’ve eaten at.
*the morning was very stressful because originally I had planned to drive to the hotel my mom and dad were staying at in Jerez, drop the car off and then take a taxi to the horse show, that way we could walk to the bodega. However due to the long line at the rental place and other foreseen events we drove straight to the horse show. The horse show got out at 1:45, but we were able to drop the car off at the hotel and walk to the Bodega making it just in time for the 2pm tour. Until we got to the Bodega I was stressed about the timing all morning.

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6/28: Toured the market where I bought my fruit and vegetables over the last two years and introduced my family to my meat friend Abraham
-Stopped by my school
-Drove to Ronda
-Walked around Ronda and toured the bull ring
-Drove back to Jerez, at 9:30 we saw some flamenco, just for 20 minutes because I wanted my family to experience it in a different way and then we had 10pm reservation at a nice restaurant, La Carbona where we did a Sherry and food pairing

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6/29: Caminito del Rey at 2pm
-Drove to Granada
*getting to the Airbnb we drove through the oldest part of Granada, Albacin, through streets where cars have gotten stuck. Luckily ours didn’t, but there were moments where on either side of the car there was only an inch of breathing room. My dad was directing me and did an excellent job, while my mom was having a panic attack in the back. We got through unscathed, but I would never want to drive through those streets again
-We ate some bad watermelon
-We spent the rest of the night enjoying the view of the Alhambra from our terrace

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6/30: We didn’t know it was the bad watermelon yet, but we had an 8:30am tour of the Alhambra and my dad had been up all night sick, my mom felt a little ill and my stomach wasn’t feeling that great. My two sisters were fine
-We made it through the Alhambra tour
-I showed my mom and sisters more of Granada while my dad stayed home, I joined him after some time, while they did shopping and navigated the city on their own
-Had dinner at El Agua, a fondue place (except my dad)
7/2: A sleep in day!
-Mitch came to visit, we met him in the center around 2 and did a tapas tour
-Mitch left at 7, we chilled on the terrace then climbed up the mountain and made our way to Casa Juanillo in Sacramonte for a 9:30 dinner reservation.
*in Granada we spent a lot of time on our terrace looking out at the Alhambra because it was, without a doubt the best view of the Alhambra you could get.
7/2: the final day with the fam and another sleep in day!
-Left Granada at 12:30 and arrived to Jerez at 4:30
-They had a 7:30 train to catch so we spent the rest of the time packing. We had to make two trips because all the luggage couldn’t fit in the car.
-At 7:30  I said goodbye and helped them load their stuff onto the train trying not to get trapped on, I didn’t.
-Dropped the car off
– I met Jose at 11pm for dinner

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9 continuous days together, morning afternoon and night with the only reprieve coming with sleep; more consecutive time spent together than ever before and everything went perfectly. Colombus or Magellan couldn’t have planned a more perfect route around Andalucia and WD-40 wouldn’t have made it go any smoother. I’m glad they came and even gladder that they enjoyed it at much as they did.

*I didn’t know where to put this, but I did have to put up with answering a million questions, many of which were answered more than once, many that had an obvious answer if only it was thought about and many of which I didn’t have the answer to because it was my first time doing something. I wish kept a record of some of them.

Paris! at last

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Paris like London was one of those places that I never had a huge desire to visit because other cities interested me more.  Also like London I felt that I needed to see it before I left Europe and again like London I had a friend that I could stay with.  When you have friends in places you have to visit them while you can because you never know what the future will bring.
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I arrived to Paris Friday night and had four full days to explore the city .  On Saturday, my first day in Paris I did a tour of Montmartre in the morning.  Looking back on my trip it was probably one of my favorite areas because it is so different from the rest of Paris and at times it felt as if you were in the country.  For lunch I ate with an old lady who did the same tour as me.  She was traveling around France for her 75th birthday with some family members, but did the tour alone that morning.  When we got to the Sacre Coeur she was nervous and scared about making it back to the Moulin Rogue, so I said I’d walk with her. On the way we got a baguette from the winner of the 2010 and 15 Paris baguette competition, some cheese and strawberries. We found a table outside a bar that wasn’t open yet and sat down to eat.
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After I went to the armory museum and on my way I saw for the first real time the Eiffel tower from the Pont Alexandre III.  The night before I caught a glimpse walking to the metro, but it was only the very top between buildings.  It was so brief and it had this rotating light like a lighthouse I wasn’t even sure it was it.  The armory museum was huge and very in depth, I spent about three hours there.  From there I walked to the Eiffel tower.  Seeing the Eiffel tower in person was surreal.  You see it in so many pictures and films and in pictures it looks big, but it is so much more monumental and beautiful in person.  I immediately feel in love with it.  After encircling it for a bit, I climbed to the top (the 2nd floor),  which is as high as you can go using the stairs.
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After climbing the tower I walked over to the inception bridge
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then to this other spot where I waited for the sun to set so I could take more pictures of the tower.  While there I met a Korean girl and talked to her a little about Korea.
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After taking enough pictures to fill a scrapbook I had dinner and then walked to the main spot to the the light show.  I didn’t get back to my friend’s house until 12:30.  I had only been in Paris for one day, but I felt like I had seen the whole city.
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Sunday was the day of unsuccessfulness.  I had a 12:30 tour of Notre Dame and the latin quarter and I planned to do three things beforehand, one was to see 59 Rivoli, the second was to see San Chapelle and the third was to see the covered hallways.  When I woke up I realized I didn’t have the adapter for my camera charger and my battery was down to half.  I didn’t charge it before I came because I brought my charger and and I knew I had the adapter for my phone.  However my phone adapter is only usb and the camera charger needed the prongs.  Roxane (the friend I was staying with) thought her friend who lived in Canada might have one, so I delayed leaving in the morning until Roxane was ready and then we walked over to her friends place only to discover  that she didn’t.  I then went to the covered passageways, but for some reason they were closed.  So I went to 59 Rivoli only to find that it too was closed. On my way to San Chapelle I stopped in an electronic store to see if they had an extra battery, but they didn’t.  They told me about a store that would BHV.
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Finally when I went to San Chapelle and something positive happened.  I didn’t have to pay to get in! because of my Spanish student visa.
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After San Chapelle my day started turning around, but it still wasn’t without its setbacks.  At 12:30 I did the two hour walking tour.  It was very informative and the tour guide Chris was great.  During the tour I asked him if he knew where BHV was and I explained to him my predicament. He said he had a canon charger and if I wanted I could have it, I told him not to worry.  After the tour I went inside Notre Dame.
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After the mass I tried BHV and they didn’t have a battery or an adapter.  They told me another store to try.  As I was leaving I connected to wifi to see what time it closed and to wish my Dad a happy father’s day.  I wasn’t going to check whatsapp, but did by chance.  The tour guide had texted me (I contacted about the tour through text because he didn’t receive my email) asking me if I wanted the canon charge, this time I said yes instead of trying another store.  I met him at his place on the island next to Notre Dame, which was only about 15 minutes from where I was. When I got there he brought out the charger, I looked at it with a sinking feeling because it looked slightly different.  I tried my battery and it didn’t fit, his charger was unfortunately an older one.  Then he came out with a converter! so I was able to charge my battery for 20  minutes, which was enough to keep it going the rest of the trip.  Feeling slightly happier and relieved that my camera wasn’t going to die I went back to 59 Rivoli and this time it was open.  After Rivoli I went to the Lafayette building because I wanted to see the inside, but it was closed so I walked over to the Opera house to check it out and go inside, but there was a show starting later so I couldn’t.  After those two failed attempts I went home.  Overall it was a good day, I got to see more of Paris.
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On Monday I went to the Louvre with a 10:30 entry time, but was able to get in around ten.  I spent four hours there exploring the halls and I enjoyed every minute of it.  My favorite parts were the arts of Africa, Asia, Oceania and the Americas and Egyptian Antiquities.  The first exhibited sculptural masterpieces from around those regions.  I had never seen art like it, to me they seemed like modern art, but without trying to be.
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 And the Egyptian art was fascinating because of how old it is.  To see hieroglyphics on papyrus and a mummy! was incredible.  It’s kind of funny if you think about it that 2,000 years after whoever is in the mummy was buried he is now on display in a museum for people to see, when at the time he wouldn’t even be able to conceive what the future would be like.
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After the Louvre I walked through the gardens, saw two goats eating grass and then went to the Orangerie museum.  I spent about two hours in the museum with a majority of my time spent in Monet’s oval rooms.
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 When I got out of the museum I was exiting the park and there was a police by the exit checking bags. I thought it was weird, then on the street there were a lot more police grouped together.  I was going to go to the Arc De Triomphe via Champs Elysees next to the petit palace, but it was closed off and there were at least 50 reporters waiting nearby.  It turns out that an hour before someone tried to crash into a police van.  Nobody was hurt except the driver who was killed and I had to walk the long way around.  I was able to get into the Arc for free because of my student visa, but even if you had to pay I would definitely recommend it because it provides beautiful views of the city.
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On Tuesday and my last full day in Paris I went to Versailles in the morning. I arrived at 9:30 and stayed until 4.  I chose the wrong day to wear black because I spent the whole time outside and it was the hottest day yet in Paris.  I toured the palace and was overall disappointed because I expected a lot more, though the hall of mirrors was spectacular as well as the gardens.  I walked the gardens for a bit and then toured the other half.  I saw  the smaller palace and got lost trying to find Hameau de la Reine, Marie-Antoinette’s fake rustic village.  It’s completely out of place and really strange to see, it had a farm with all sorts of animals.
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I then walked back to the other gardens to see the fountains on.  I ended up doubling back many times because I came across ones that were off thinking they were on, it was like a maze. it was extremely hot and they had no water fountains to drink from. I bought one small water bottle for 3€ and couldn’t find it in myself to buy another. I don’t think I sat for more than 2 minutes, the gardens are too big and there was too much to see.  To reward myself I went to best crepe place in Paris according to my tour guide, called Au’ptit’grec
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On Wednesday my flight was at 9 something and I had to be at the bust stop around 3:30, so I spent the morning walking around Paris.
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Paris was incredible, probably one of my favorite cities that I’ve visited.  I would really like to go back to experience the cuisine and night life because when I was there I mainly explored the city.  The day I left was the beginning of a music and dance week which would have been amazing to experience.  It is definitely a city I want to go back to and if money was not an issue a city I could live in. I’d have to learn the language first though.

A Visit to the Zoo

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I’m not a big fan of Zoos because I find them extremely sad, unless they’re rehabilitation zoos where the animals will eventually be put back into the wild or zoos where the animals are there because they wouldn’t be able to survive on their own.  However, the zoo of Jerez is neither of these.  As brought to my attention and taken from their website “The uniqueness and importance of the collection lies in the large number of endangered species which houses. In this sense develops a series of playback in coordination with Europe’s major Zoos. These projects, called EEPs, based its actions to achieve viable populations with a view to their future reintroduction into their natural habitats. The Zoo is currently involved in more than twenty-five projects EEPs. We also participated in a large number of projects (Studbooks) ESB.”

In the region of Spain where the crisis is still felt and youth unemployment rate is one of the highest in the EU, you can imagine the conditions of the animals if the people are struggling to live in the city where that zoo is.  The area of the zoo is gorgeous because it is also a botanical garden; in a city that lacks parks, the zoo is the most beautiful and greenist area in Jerez.  Perhaps to distract you from the conditions of the animals.  The spaces provided doesn’t make sense with some being far too small for the animals sizes.  For example, they have a bird row with great birds of prey, like different types of eagles and vultures in cages that are no bigger than my bedroom, they have no room to fly and can’t, but this small colorful bird has a huge area. The lions are in a cage no bigger than my living room, but the Iberian lynx has an area ten times that.  The hippos have a water section only slightly bigger than their size lengthwise.  A lot of monkeys are crammed into areas with hardly any room to jump around, to swing and to play. Above all, the animals that have hair seemed to be losing it in patches, they didn’t look all that healthy. It’s sad, but in a city where a family might only be making 1,000 euro a month, change is a long way from coming.

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A Quick Trip to London

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When I first came to Europe three years ago, London was never high on my list and it wasn’t even on it for some time. However with the impending realization that I’ll be leaving Europe at the end of this school year, I began to think that I needed to go, to experience it and to see it. Maybe it goes back to my colonial routes of rejecting the crown, or maybe because I was annoyed that in the English world of Spain everything is British, from the accent and grammar they speak, to the flags and decorations they have around the classroom, or perhaps I was drawn more to different cities like Prague, Budapest and Vienna. Whatever the case was, I have friends in London and I wanted to go while they were still there. A week and a half ago we had a puente/long weekend because of the Féria, so I left for London on Thursday and came back to Jerez on Sunday.

I was really impressed by London, but even more so by the people.  Every interaction I had, whether it was asking for help in the underground, or asking for directions above ground, talking to people on the train, to the staff in a restaurant/bar or to the workers on the ferry, was positive.  It’s left me wondering if everybody in London is that nice or maybe I caught the right people in the right moment of their day.

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It is the people that make up a city, but without buildings and spaces their would be no city, and the buildings and spaces of London really impressed me. It’s a beautiful city that feels as if it’s five cities in one, different buildings juxtapose each other one after the other. Walking along the bank of the Thames you can find the Neo-gothical Big Ben, across the modern London Eye, further along there are various bridges all ranging in different styles from the modern millennium bridge to the iconic gothic revival Tower Bridge; across from the tower bridge on one side of the Thames is the castle of London flanked by skyscrapers; the shard, the walkie-talkie and the gherkin. Each is a unique, individual building that represent the every changing architectural landscape of London.

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I enjoy traveling alone, but having the opportunity to visit friends is also something I enjoy. I stayed with my friend Aoife, who is the best friend of my friend Niamh, who was one of my roommates in Costa Rica and who I spent Christmas with in Ireland three years ago. My other friend is Mike, a friend from Delaware who I did habitat for humanity with spring break sophomore year. He’s living in London and when he took a trip to Andalusia last year he stopped by Jerez and we had lunch together. Aoife was a great host and luckily I was able to combine those two worlds. Friday night Aoife, a friend of hers and me had plans to eat at a steak restaurant, called Flat Iron; 10£ for an amzing steak. It’s the only dish on their menu. It’s located  in the Williamsburg of London, coincidentally right around the block from where Mike lives, so we put our names down and then met with him at his place for about an hour and a half. Once your number is called you have 15 minutes to get there or they give your seat up. It was amazing, one of the best meals in recent memory and it was affordable, cheap for a city like London (but still a lot more than what I’d pay in Jerez). After dinner we met up with Mike and his friends and we went to a divey, but awesome Jazz bar. Hearing something other than live Flamenco Music was nice for a change.

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Saturday we went to Greenwich.  I realized while walking around the Royal Navy College that I had learned about it in one of my architecture classes. While traveling I often stumble upon something that I’ve learned about, not knowing it is where I am and every time a wave of excitement passes over me.  Also in Greenwich is the famous Cutty Sark ship, which up until that point I knew only as a cheap whisky in Spain. I had no idea it was an actual ship.  We also stopped by a cute little craft market with food trucks. For lunch I ate Ethiopian food for the first time. We also went to the oldest pub in Greenwich and one of the oldest in London, the Plume of Feathers. It was established in 1691 and is just outside the touristy part of the city, it’s cozy and friendly, the perfect place to hang out in winter. It was also the first time I saw a pump tap, I don’t know if that’s the proper term, but it was like a lever that the bartender had to pull toward her a few times to fill up the pint. Later that day, Mike and his girlfriend and a friend of Aoife came over to her place and Aoife as the gracious host made a delicious dinner. We hung out and played a board game, ending my time in London.

One thing I was extremely disappointed about was the Natural History Museum. People kept telling me how great it is, how you need to go and even one of the Night at the Museums was filmed there. I expected a lot and it didn’t live up to it. The building is beautiful and when you go inside there’s a glowing orb that you take an escalator through, but that’s where the excitement ends. The rooms were cramped and to me seemed poorly designed, the exhibitions were outdated and have probably been there since the museum opened, all the interactive displays seemed as if they were going to fall apart in need of a new coat of paint, and the displays were dirty and dusty. I remember looking at one of the worlds largest cut diamonds and being amazed at the large smudge over it. The dinosaur skeletons were awesome, but the room they were in didn’t allow you to appreciate them. Maybe I’m just not used to history museums.

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I was however impressed by the Victoria and Albert which is right across from the Natural History museum and the Saatchi Gallery, which, with the exhibitions they had, might be one of the best galleries I’ve ever visited. One of the rooms, about the size of a 5 lane gym swimming pool had projections on each of its walls of  thousands of  YouTube videos of people explaining something simultaneously playing. From afar the wall looked like a bunch of little boxes of color, but as you got closer you can see the people’s faces and when you’re right in front of it you can focus on one individual box or person. At the same time the sound of all those videos together was constantly playing in the background creating a very unique feeling as if you’re in a crowd. In the gallery my favorite pieces were created by Daniel Rozin. He had two interactive works that moved according to your position in front of it. They were really fun and I spent 20 or 30 minutes interacting with them.  If you go, make sure to not confuse the Saatchi & Saatchi with the Saatchi Gallery, they’re two distinct places.

The Weekend of Many First

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Last weekend I did many things for the first time, we had a puente, long weekend and each day I did something new.  Normally if I’m not traveling or trying to save money I end up doing nothing, so this past weekend was a really good one.

My first new experience: Visiting a bodega in Jerez.  Jerez is the birthplace of sherry and over the last two years I have consumed liters of sherry, but until Saturday I have never visited a bodega here.  Bodegas are where they produce and create the wine, which is a little different from the term bodega back home.  Saturday morning at 11am Jamie and I toured the Lustau bodega.  Lustau was founded in 1896 and today it is considered one of the worlds best wineries ranking 7th worldwide in 2012.

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My second experience: Biking the Via Verde.  Vias Verdes are greenway cycling/walking routes located throughout Spain.  In 1993 the Vias Verde plan was introduced to turn more than 6,000km of abandoned railway lines into environmental friendly tourism within rural areas.  So far it has been a success and the route my friend Miriam and I did on Sunday is considered the most beautiful, it was voted the best Greenway in Europe in 2009.  It’s located in the mountains of Cadiz and is a 36.5km path connecting the towns of Puerto Serrano and Olvera.  We only road to about the halfway point at 15km and even if we wanted to we couldn’t have gone further.  About 1km from the halfway point in the middle of a kilometer long tunnel my front tire went flat.  Luckily we weren’t far and only had to walk a short distance, once there I was able to get it repaired.  There’s a bike rental place along with a playground and restaurant there. I was worried it wasn’t going to hold the whole way back (to walk 15km takes about 4 hours), but it did and it even got me to and from school today.

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My third experience: Visiting Setenil. Setenil is a place I have wanted to go to for a long time now, we were suppose to go in December, but a couple of days before it fell through.  Five months later, with no school on Monday I had a second chance! Jose, Jamie, James and I made the trip to the town under rocks.  Setenil is a very small town (pop 3,000) located about an hour and a half from Jerez.  Historically it played an important role as a line of defense for the Muslims region of Granada against the Christian north, its watch tower, dating back to the 12th century is one of many that dot the region.  However, people don’t go to see the watch tower, they go to see the buildings tucked into the rocky cliff face.

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There’s Blue and Green to be found in Morocco

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A visit to Morocco isn’t complete without visiting the blue city of Chefchauoen.  Chauoen as the locals call it is located in the north of Morocco and it is situated in the Riff Mountains.  Legend has it that it used to be white, but during the summer months nobody could see because of the glare, so they painted it blue and every year since then the women of the city maintain its apperance.  Visiting Chauoen was like going on vacation, nobody in the streets bothered you, nobody hassled you and you were free to take pictures of whatever you want. As touristy as it is, it’s an anomaly, the black sheep of Morocco where the shop keepers have somehow made a pact to not bother tourists.  The few to break this promise are the drug dealers scattered throughout the city, hiding in dark alleyways.  It’s as if their perceived notion of where a drug dealer should be found and how they’re suppose to act comes from those they’ve seen in films.  I wouldn’t be surprised if they use them as their training manual.

Aside from the occasional drug dealer asking you if you want something, Chauoen is a beautifully relaxing city.  It is also where I had my first hammam experience.  A hammam is like a Turkish bath where Moroccans ritually go to cleanse themselves about once a week.  There are the touristy hammams and the traditional ones.  With Kevin and Ryan (I mentioned they were with my until the end) we went traditional.  Before you go, you need to make sure you bring the essential items which include a swimsuit or an extra pair of underwear, a hammam glove (used to scrap away the dead skin), and soap, once you have all those you are ready to go.  The one we went to consisted of three different steam rooms of varying temperatures.  The first step is to make your way to the hottest, sit or lay on the floor while you poor hot water over your body. Once you have sufficiently opened your pores, you use your hammam glove to scrape off the dead skin, you need to ask your friends or if your alone, an old Moroccan guy to help you get your back.  After you have successfully removed the dead skin (it should feel like you’re missing your epidermis), you make your way to a cooler room where you apply soap and let it sit for a few minutes.  Once a few minutes pass you dump buckets of water on yourself to wash it off.  After that you’re pretty much finished, you can lounge around and relax for however long you can stand the heat, or for a couple extra euros you can have a “massage” by the attendant (these are known to be vigorously rough) or you can leave.  By the end you’ll feel like a newborn baby and if there wasn’t a breeze before you went in there will be one after.  Aside from purging the dead skin from your body it’s a great way to relax and to disconnect.

Not far from Chauoen is the town of Akchour where you can do a two hour hike through a beautiful green landscape you wouldn’t know existed in Morocco to a 100m waterfall.

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