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Wednesday, March 3, 2021

All the Marrakech Musts

On our last Destination Date Night, we "traveled" to Marrakech. Since we learned a lot of cool things to see and do and eat, I thought I'd share some of these things with you if you've been thinking about planning a trip once this is all over and we're welcomed back into the world.

5 Things to See

Though you may only think Marrakech is made up of desert sands and buildings that blend into the surroundings, I've discovered these 5 things inside the city that are highly recommended and things I put on my own list.
  1. Jardin Majorelle - Designed and created by Yves Saint Laurent and Philippe Berge in the 1920s, this botanical garden has been owned and maintained by artists since it opened. In order to avoid long lines and crowds, go right at opening.
  2. Palácio da Bahia - Constructed by the Grand Vizier Ahmed Bin Moussa toward the end of the 18th century, this is one of the most popular places in the Medina. It's a wonderful example of Moorish architecture and craftsmanship.
  3. Anima André Heller Garden - This gorgeous garden full of lush plants of all kinds also offers sculptures and art installations throughout. It's not only full of wonderful photo ops, but it also gives you a nice break from the crowded city.
  4. Medina of Marrakech - This is the main attraction of the city, surrounded by the old city walls and named a UNESCO heritage site. You'll find miles of stalls in the labyrinthine souk/market, but even so it's teeming with people. In the square you'll see snake charmers and juice vendors. Pictures are encouraged, but you'll be asked for money from subjects. Fair warning: haggling is a must. This is also home to Marrakech's largest mosque, Koutoubia Mosque. A good tip I've seen is to get a table on the second floor of Café France just before sunset and order a tea to watch the sun set behind the mosque. 
  5. Musee Yves Saint Laurent - A whole museum dedicated to the past four decades of fashion and work from YSL. It's highly popular and also recommended to get their as close to opening as possible to avoid crowds.

5 Things to Eat

I love food. You'll never hear me say otherwise. Good food is the best part of travel and knowing what to look for wherever you're going is important if you're like me and want to immerse yourself in the taste of a destination. 
  1. Bestilla - You saw this in my last post. It's a chicken dish that's kind of like a baklava, but with the addition of chicken. It was originally made with pigeon, but in America pigeon is either really difficult to find or very expensive (it's usually called squab here).
  2. Couscous - A lot of places serve couscous cold and I'm super not into it. Warm couscous is an entirely different story. It's a versatile dish that can benefit from any addition really. It's made of durum wheat or semolina flour and is a starch that can be used like pasta or rice.
  3. Chebakia - A sweet pastry made from strips of dough, shaped and fried, then coated in syrup or honey. You'll find this most often during Ramadan, but not only during that time.
  4. Zaalouk - Classified as a salad, zaalouk is a dish of simmered tomatoes, eggplant and spices that is served with a drizzle of olive oil and a squeeze of lemon.
  5. Msemen - This Moroccan flatbread is made from kneaded, layered dough. It can be eating at any meal, and is commonly eaten at breakfast with butter and jam. We had it with a spinach dip.

5 Things to Buy

The souks (or markets) of Marrakech are a great way to interact with people and pick up some really unique items. As you may know, I love a market and I tend to purchase birthday and/or holiday gifts on vacation, so this is fantastic way to buy things with a purpose. Here are 5 things that you should look for in the souks either for gifts or souvenirs:
  1. Berber rugs - There are over 40 tribes in Morocco that each have their own unique weaves, so you'll find rugs with different embroideries. 
  2. Spices - I always look for interesting spices on my travels that I know I can't get at home. Saffron is grown in Morocco, but ras el hanout is a traditional spice blend that you might be interested in finding and bringing home. Other spices that are great to look out for are tamarind, cardamom, and turmeric.
  3. Tangine pots - These pots are essentially a way to make one-pot meals of all kinds, and these covered handmade pots are the traditional way to make them and come in many different sizes with tons of different artwork.
  4. Cashmere scarves - These make excellent gifts, as they are lightweight, warm, and high quality. You won't pay the same prices as you do in America, because they are made from Moroccan cashmere goat wool. There are also Angora goats, so look out for those products as well if you're interested.
  5. Harem pants - There's nothing I love more than great comfy pants, and harem pants are popular and quite easy to find in the souks. They're light and airy, so you can wear them in the middle of the summer. 
Don't forget to try the fruit juices sold everywhere. It's fresh and a total must to sip while wandering the souks. The fruit in Morocco is easily the best in the world, so you're really missing out if you skip this.

5 Words to Know

Marrakech has two official languages: Arabic and Amazigh, though Arabic is more widely acceptable. You can also get by on French, as it is spoken across the country. In the south, many Moroccans speak Spanish, due to being so close to Spain. Here are 5 words/phrases to know in any language, but here they are in Arabic:
  1. Yes: Wakha | No: La
  2. Good morning: Salam Alekum
  3. Goodbye: Bsslama
  4. Thank you: Choukran | Thank you very much: Choukran bezaf
  5. How are you?: Labass
There you have it. Now you have a good base of what to expect from a trip to Marrakech. you can easily add to this list to make your trip more amazing and include day trips and anything else that fits your travel style and how long your trip is. 

Have you put Morocco on your travel wish list?

Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Why You Need to Add Tennessee to Your Bucket List

You might think of music and good food when you think of Tennessee. But really, those two things are only part of what Tennessee has to offer. If you are thinking about where to travel to state-side this year, then here are some of the reasons why you should think about exploring and discovering what this beautiful and great state has to offer. 


Southern hospitality

If there is one thing that will attract you to visiting this area, then it needs to be the southern hospitality that will be in abundance when you visit. You can feel completely welcome in this state through the famous southerners and how much they make you feel welcome. From getting locals to recommend somewhere good to eat, to discovering new attractions to visit, talking to local Tennesseans will help you to feel welcomed no matter which part of the state that you visit. 

Music scene

Memphis and Nashville are two cities in the state that have really thriving music scenes, which you are likely to expect given the musical history of these two places. There are a range of musical venues in these cities, with local performers, industry leaders performing, as well as blues, and country music. There are also a range of museums that you can visit that are dedicated to music, such as the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, as well as the Stax Museum of American Soul Music in downtown Memphis.

Great food

You cannot make any complaints about the food that you will have in Tennessee. Known for BBQ food, there are some fried chicken places that will make your mouth water. There are a lot of restaurants that are also known for their southern dishes, with sides and meats, as well as a range of vegan and vegetarian joints. If you are looking for great flavors and home cooked-style foods, then Tennessee is the one.


Outdoor exploring

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is found in Tennessee, so if you are someone that likes to get outdoors and explore, then this will be a great choice for you. A Pigeon Forge vacation, for example, could mean anything from visiting Dollywood, to dinner shows, to great hiking trails, and outdoor adventures like fishing. If you like to get outdoors and explore when you travel, then you can get a mix of city and country when you visit Tennessee. 

Inexpensive to visit

The residents of Tennessee will know that it is an affordable place to live. But as a tourist of the state, you can make the most of the affordability too. There are a range of hotels and self-catered accommodation, as well as Airbnb places that are totally reasonable and inexpensive to stay in. Food and attractions are also really reasonably priced, which is a great thing to note. When you save on your visit, you will be able to make up with souvenirs, experiences, and other things that will help to make your visit to Tennessee really memorable. 

Saturday, February 27, 2021

Taking a Marrakech Staycation

It's that time again. We're on another Destination Date Night and this time we hit up Marrakech, Morocco. This has been on my list for a while, and it's giving me serious vacation longing. It's been almost a whole year since I've gotten on a plane to go anywhere and we've been talking about our first trip after we're both vaccinated. I can't wait, but these destination dates are some of the things really getting me through. So, let's talk about our date.

As you know, the setting is the most important part of my destination dates, so I had two backdrops made, since I couldn't find anything that wasn't a doorway. Much as I love doorways, I wanted to really capture the feel of the actual place. I chose a seaside scape and a market, because when I think of Morocco, I think of the souks and their many stalls and heaped, colorful spices. I adore a spice market, and Eric learned how much when we were at Borough Market in London and I spent a good hour in a particular stall choosing spices to bring home for myself and as gifts. In fact, he walked around and took pictures that I didn't even see until we got home. 

Because everything is so colorful, I tried to also make my table colorful, but not overly busy. I found these gorgeous plates in the clearance section of Cost Plus and snatched them up immediately. I already knew we would be "traveling" to Morocco at some point. I already had these starburst glasses, and I opted to use them instead of some other glasses I had my eye on. When I think on this destination, I also think of bright lanterns and Aladdin for some reason. For those reasons, I picked out this sweet little Moroccan style lantern and "genie lamp". All of this on top of a blue tablecloth to make everything pop.

As you know, we like to jazz up our looks on date night, so as an homage to the wonderful style and fashion, we did some fun headgear. Eric is sporting a little fez and I've got this pretty sweet hair jewelry. I said I was feeling Aladdin vibes, so I went a little bit that way with these looks.

Now, the main attraction: Food. I looked at several places that would deliver though UberEats* that had real, traditional Moroccan food, and not just random Mediterranean or Middle Eastern food, like shawarma. In fact, I found a local Black-owned restaurant that was in my delivery range. We have been trying to support more small, woman-owned, and Black-owned businesses, so this made me really happy.

Now, I know from experience that I don't love cold couscous, so I looked for different dishes. For starters, I ordered Bakola, a salted spinach dip with Moroccan spices and preserved lemons. This was spicy, and served with big pita bread. 

For mains I ordered was Chicken Bastila, and sweet and savory pastry made with phyllo dough. It looks like a doughnut, so I wasn't really sure what we were getting ourselves into, but you know I'm always up for new and interesting foods, so we had to try it. It was pretty awesome...and a lot bigger than anticipated. Three people could have had this as a meal. We also got Moroccan couscous, which is steamed and served with beef and veggies. Traditional, yes, but different than almost all couscous dishes I've ever had. We ended up with chicken, which was fine. The veggies were all large pieces, making it really rustic.  We have a lot of leftovers.

I don't normally order drinks, because I make my own, but I wanted to really immerse myself this week. I added a mint Tangier lemonade for Eric and a rose water for me. These sounded like very refreshing beverages to complement our meal, and they totally were.

Onto dessert. We did baklava as part of our Egypt date, and being part of a large Greek family, most gatherings with Eric's parents or aunts include a large pan of baklava. For that reason alone, I ordered rice pudding, which I know is also pretty normal, but I also thought it would go well with the Turkish coffee I was making. I had it once and I was in love with it. Turkish coffee is strong and flavorful and can be very sweet. Unlike regular coffee, it's definitely for sipping and taking your time to enjoy it. I got the special pot (cezve) and cups that I've been looking for an excuse to buy. I realized at the fact that we also did a different rice pudding during that Egypt date, but it was a great end to a great meal. 

*If you haven't signed up for UberEats yet, use my code eats-shereenr208ue and get $20 off your first order of $25+)

While we ate, we took tours of several souks, because we both love to see weird foods and cool handmade goods. We also took a tour of the top 10 things to do in Marrakech and learned some basic words and phrases, so we're ahead of the game for when we plan our trip there in the future.

If you want to plan your own Moroccan staycation, it's pretty easy to pull one together, even in a short amount of time. There are so many great walking tours online, as well as books and websites to plan a trip. Here's a list to get your started:

You can make your staycation a romantic date or a fun learning escape for the family. No matter how you do it, a trip to Morocco is a great trip even at home. 

Have you been taking any staycations during this pandemic?

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