bless the rains

Ever since my friend Lani told me about a whirlwind trip to Marrakech, it’s been on my mind. Last year, when I learned we (well, Ed) would be going to Barcelona for the conference, I put on my planning hat and did what I do moderately well: start planning a complicated trip. I like planning things. When I don’t have any plans brewing, I get anxious and cranky.

Several spreadsheets later, I had drawn up a couple of different itineraries that would take us to Marrakech. Going to Madrid was sort of an afterthought – as we’d already done Barcelona, I really wanted to go somewhere new. It was also cheaper to fly to Morocco from Madrid than it was from Barcelona, AND we’d get to take the train. It was a solid, if somewhat convuluted, plan.

On Monday, Ed and I woke up early to grab some breakfast and get to the airport. The flight to Marrakech was only two hours or so, and it went by fairly quickly. Our flight landed on the tarmac, so when I tripped down the stairs I got my very first view of an entirely new place:

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i never said it was a GOOD first view

I had been worried (because it’s what I do) about two specific things when landing in Marrakech: how do I get money, and how do I get internet. These two things were literally addressed within the first ten feet after exiting passport control: there were two booths set up with girls offering free SIM cards, and data at about €1/GB. €20 later, Ed and I were armed with 10GB of internet each for three days, which is probably enough.

Getting cash was simple, as well. The Moroccan currency is the dirham, 1 of which is around $0.14 CDN/$0.10 USD. Two large kiosks were set up in the airport: one for cash exchanges, and one for credit cards. A short queue later, we were on our way to the taxi stand with a fistful of dirham so Ed could try to haggle his way into town (it didn’t work – taxis are pretty much the only way out of the airport, so they’re pretty firm on the price. Getting back to the airport cost a great deal less.).

Because this was our first trip into new territory, we didn’t have any grand plans to explore outside of the Red City. Our taxi dropped us off outside the medina, and gave us vague directions to our riad – most of the hotels and inns in the centre of Marrakech are within the cramped, twisty walls of the old city, and cabs cannot get you there. It wasn’t a far walk, and it gave us some ample gawking time at the activity buzzing all around us.

We reached Riad Jona (picked at random) around 3pm, and I was delighted to see that the riad closely resembled my only previous experience with Moroccan architecture – the second level of the video game No One Lives Forever. The staff sat us down in the lounge, and prepared Moroccan mint tea and cookies for us to enjoy while we filled out some paperwork:

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just like the videogame!

We got a full tour of the riad while our bags were taken to our room, then were given some tips on how to navigate Marrakech. This was super useful and provided the answers to a lot of questions that we had, so we really appreciated it. It was also explained to us that meals were available in the riad, but dinner had to be requested several hours in advance so they could prepare it. We scanned the menu, and ordered several things for dinner that night – never having had Moroccan food before, we really didn’t know what to expect so we choose what looked interesting and hoped for the best.

Okay, that’s all the boring logistical stuff – now for the reactions.

You guuuuys, Marrakech is FUCKING AMAZING.

The food – especially the meals we had at the riad – was incredible. We ate dinner there every night, because the food was so good there was no reason to go elsewhere. Our favourites were this chicken, almond and cinnamon pie thing that tasted like a sweet, savoury, flaky, cripsy miracle, and a stew baked in a tajine with monkfish and other things that weren’t monkfish but crazy delicious. Both of those were ordered twice during our stay. The riad also served breakfast each morning, full of fruit and tea and delicious crepe things with homemade yogurt and jams. In the afternoon after walking our feet off, we’d find a random cafe in the souk and have a snack while people watching. We ate SO WELL in Marrakech, and everything we had was incredible.

The market in the centre of old Marrakech was enormous and beautiful and chaotic. I couldn’t stop taking pictures of colourful displays of pottery, leather goods, fabrics, and spices – oh god, the spices. Everything smelled so good, thanks to the incense burned at various stalls. I could have happily spent a week getting lost in the winding, twisting streets of the souk, finding stray cats and narrowly avoiding the donkey-pulled carts and scooters coming from both directions. It was amazing. Both Ed and I agreed that between Madrid and Marrakech, this was the best and most exciting vacation we’d ever had.

I had a done a lot of reading on Moroccan culture and the things to do and not do, so armed with that knowledge and the information given to guests at the riad, we were fairly well suited for our trip. I had done a lot of worrying (again, because me) about my wardrobe – I didn’t want to call attention to myself and I definitely didn’t want to offend anyone with my tendency to wear clothing cut nipple-low, so I had purposefully chosen dresses that were long enough to cover my knees, high enough to hide my huge rack, and light enough for the weather (which was sunny and hovering around 24C/75F the entire time). It was cooler in the evenings, but the clothing we both packed was perfect for the environment.

Haggling was interesting. It was the thing I was least looking forward to, because I am very bad at talking to people. Ed handled most of it, but I was starting to feel comfortable going back and forth towards the end of our trip and even attempted to haggle for myself a few times (but likely still paid way too much for things because I don’t want to insult anyone or not give them what the item is worth). Many of the shops in the souk sell identical items, so it’s easy to find something you love, not come to an agreement on the price, then find it elsewhere with someone more willing to bargain. We walked away from several places, and were either convinced to return or simply found the item somewhere else.

Shopping in the souk was so much fun. Everything is bright and colourful and smells good. I wanted to bring so much stuff home with me, but I was limited by the size of our carry-on bags and Ed’s watchful eye. I still brought home a lot of cool stuff and gifts for friends, but had to acquiesce on things I logicistally could not manage: gorgeous brass lamps, tajines for Moroccan cooking, tea sets, donkeys. Luckily, the internet is beautiful thing, and after we returned home I was able to find several Moroccan websites that would ship the things I couldn’t bring home with me. Take that, wallet!

We did have a couple of small run-ins with really aggressive people in the marketplace. We had been warned about the Henna Ladies, and the only one that managed to get close to us had an iron fucking grip on my hand that required both Ed and I to free myself from. The Henna Ladies will trap you by applying henna to your hand unasked, then extort money from you. Ed still has a smudge of henna on his hand from where he intercepted her brush on its way to my skin, but we got away relatively unscathed. The other incident was an overly friendly shopkeep who kept hugging me, calling me princess, begging for a photo, and ultimately kissed my neck – all of which I was/am HELLA UNCOMFORTABLE WITH. Ed once again ran interferance for me, and afterward I needed a stiff drink (of orange juice) to calm my nerves. Did not like. F—–, would not be mauled by strangers again.

However, the rest of our time in Marrakech was lovely as fuck. Ed describes it as “relaxing chaos”, which it really was. If you ever get a chance to go to Morocco, I highly recommend it – I’m already planning another visit to see Fes and Casablanca in the future. As much as I loved it there, it’s probably not a place I’d go to on my own .. I’m sure I could manage, but I don’t wanna. So I won’t. And it gives me an excuse to plan another magical trip, which is always a great thing.

Also I didn’t see a single fucking Tropius so clearly I need to go back to Africa.

 

spanish fly

We just got back from Spain and Morocco, and it was fucking amazing.

For most of the first week, we were in Barcelona. This part wasn’t vacation – Ed was attending MWC with his company, and I was working from the hotel. I was also sick, having the symptoms I felt the day before we left turn into a full-blown flu/cold thing. We landed late Saturday night, and by noon the next day I had completely lost my voice. This sucked. I was 2/2 for Sick in Barcelona (albeit nowhere near as sick as last time), and I was over it before it had officially begun. I’m starting to think Barcelona is a somewhat cursed destination for me.

Still, my only real plan until Friday was to work, so instead of working in a sunny Spanish cafe somewhere, I stayed in my hotel room and worked and felt horrible. I did force myself out a few times to wander the Gothic Quarter in search of food, visit Casa Batlló, and have some amazing tacos, but for the most part I was left to my own miserable devices and recovery. The recovery part was essential, because as of Thursday at 5pm, our vacation was starting and I had plans. Many, many plans.

Luckily, by this time I was feeling much better so on Friday, I officially got my Barcelona Do-Over. We walked from our hotel to La Boqueria for some fruit and chocolate, then headed to Sagrada Familia which neither of us got to see last time (I was on my deathbed, and the others went only to find it closed due to an emergency). It was okay I guess:

lol jk it was fucking magical

I have a serious boner for stained glass, and it fucking delivered. The day was overcast, but we got some sunlight during our visit and it looked like this and holy shit. I understand why it moves people to tears (not me though, I’m way too cool to cry) (okay, my rage at the idiots doing photo shoots kept the awed tears at bay) – I have never seen anything like it. It’s amazing. If I ever go back to Barcelona, I will go visit again after I recover from whatever illness will strike me then. We took the elevator up one of the towers, and had some stunning views of the city:

so uniform! so orderly! so jealous.

Saw Gaudi’s grapes, walked backed down the spiral stairs and got shaky-leg, tingled in the pants over the stained glass some more, and generally just had a great time admiring the insanity of Gaudi’s vision.

From there, we went to Park Güell which I had also missed last time ’round. The weather was nice, and we enjoyed walking through the park .. but wasn’t crazy about the teeming crowds of people, all trying to take selfies and fashion pictures of each other. I still wasn’t feeling 100% so we didn’t climb up into the park, but did spend a good amount of time admiring the structures and park features:

you’re pretty okay, barcelona

With that, our week in Barcelona was over. Next stop: Madrid! We’d never been there before, so we hopped a train and had a pleasant ride to the capital of Spain.

Madrid was really nice – in fact, we both agreed that we like it more than Barcelona (sorry). It reminded me a lot of Paris for some reason, except cleaner and friendlier and less tower-centric. I had picked our hotel at random some months before, and once again hit the jackpot – it was outside of the bustling tourist area, but a fantastic location for walking (and a block away from all the art), quiet, comfortable, and had an EPIC breakfast each morning. We’d absolutely stay there again. Our train got in around 5pm, so after checking in we wandered around the neighbourhood in search of food, finding an incredible Mexican restaurant several blocks away. We ate ourselves stupid, then rolled back to the hotel to sleep.

As it was our first time in Madrid, we booked tickets on the hop-on-hop-off bus tour to get our bearings. Sunday in Madrid was super nice, so we round the routes several times to take in the city. There was much we wanted to do, but we really only had the Sunday to play with .. because the next morning, we were off to friggin’ Morocco. I had booked the hotel in Madrid for the entire week (we’d be leaving from the Madrid airport instead of Barcelona), in part so we could leave the majority of our stuff behind and travel light to Marrakech. It’s a somewhat extravagant luxury, but amazing for my overthinking brain and general anxiety.

I’m gonna end this here, because Marrakech deserves its own post. Madrid was awesome, and we’re hoping to go again next year if Ed does MWC again. We didn’t have time to check out the museum or palace or Primark or the Madrid equivalent of Times Square – our 2.5 days wasn’t nearly enough.

for example i only got to make one superman pun about this building and i’m capable of so many more

 

everything old is new again

You know, everything was fine. I was more or less resigned to the fact that I would never get to live in the UK because I couldn’t get my visa situation sorted out (and that whole “Ed likes to crush my dreams” thing, but we try not to think about that). I was perfectly happy to sit here in my outraged misery, trying to be content with visiting London as often as I could instead of moving there – even temporarily – to bask in the rolling green fields and eggs that don’t go in the fridge. I endured. I acquiesced. I mourned my dreams in – well, not silence, but with heaving sighs and an aching longing that could not be quenched. Basically, I Scarlet O’Hara’d all up in this bitch.

Then, today. I was writing a post on reddit to complain about my ancestral paperwork woes and researched the requirements again to make sure my post was accurate. It was then I discovered that the Ancestry Visa Requirements for the UK had changed slightly:

Ancestry Documents

You’ll also need to provide:

  • your full birth certificate
  • your marriage certificate or civil partnership registration document if your husband, wife or civil partner wants to join you
  • the full birth certificates of the parent and grandparent your ancestry claim is based on
  • marriage certificates for your parents and grandparents if they were married

Those bolded and underlined words? Those were not there before. And they completely remove the blockage I had with my application. I’ve never been able to locate my grandfather’s birth certificate, and cannot prove he and my grandmother were actually married. It always pissed me off, because he wasn’t the relative I was claiming ancestry through – yes, my great-grandfather moved his family from Ireland to Canada, but the Ancesty Visa only goes back two generations so it was a moot point. I HAVE my grandmother’s and father’s birth certificate, and a valid reason why I don’t have a marriage certificate for my grandparents. With those 6 words, my path to an Ancestry Visa is suddenly clear. I could apply for this. I have, or can get, everything I need to make it go, up to and including the painful £516 application fee.

But .. getting that visa is not going to change the fact that I have a life here. We’re not even a year into our new place. Our cats are here. Ed does not want to move, even temporarily. I desperately want this – like, bucket list item that ranks even higher than that multi-dick scenario I keep talking about – but getting that coveted, I-assume-stamped bit of paper would do nothing towards making my dream actually happen.

The temptation to do it just because I CAN is strong, but I think it would just make me even sadder to think about. I’ve done ridiculous things out of bureaucratic spite before, but $1000 is a lot of money to pay for something that would make me cry and mope endlessly.

But damn if I’m not super tempted.

btw, going to spain. this’ll be me in 4 days.

an inconvenient floof

Lemon has never been the most affectionate of cats. It took almost 7 years before we got purrs out of him, and to this day they can only be heard if you press your ear up against his belly. He’s also a grumpy pain in the ass who hates almost everything, but does – albeit somewhat reluctantly – at least tolerate us.

Most of the year, Lemon finds somewhere comfortable in the house to sleep and everything is fine. In the winter, however, he apparently cannot sleep without being in total contact with me at all times – and he is the worst person I’ve ever shared a bed with. Basically, it looks like this:

Lemon insists on sleeping on my legs. He is a great big fat potato – I actually can’t move him when he’s in brick mode – and he radiates the heat of a thousand suns. I spend every night either squished up in a ball in the 1/4 of the bed alloted to me while Lemon takes over the entire bottom of the bed, or fighting him for leg room. On the rare occasion I fall asleep untethered, he’ll come to bed and take up his usual spot which means I wake up completely dehydrated, drenched with sweat, with cramped legs because they’ve been held in one position all night, and with an aching back because I couldn’t roll over.

These days, I’m getting three to four hours of sleep a night, and they’re not exactly comfortable. As a result, my brains are foggy, I can’t get my day started, I obviously feel like crap, and I am very grumpy towards the huge pile of bricks that refuses to sleep anywhere else on the bed. Look how much room there is! Dilly is in the corner, sleeping by Ed’s feet away from him. Hobbz isn’t even shown, because he is a pretty princess who sleeps on the armchair next to the bed. Lemon’s love and weight is reserved for me alone, and while on some level I appreciate whatever affection he throws my way, I am fucking exhausted. And sore. Is it summer yet?

My mother is coming to visit Halfwack today for the first time. Ed is frantically vacuuming the stairs, I’ve hidden most of the gay porn, and I have no idea what to do with her for the next three days. Wish me luck.

I am so tired.

“New series, coming soon: Coroner! They investigate the dead and solve their crimes!”

.. that’s not how it works. It’s not how CSI works, or Bones, or Criminal Minds, or any other of the hundreds upon hundreds of procedural TV shows in which the protagonists do every step of investigation, up to and including the persecution (and sometimes beyond! Why are you undercover in Rikers, forensic podiatrist? Get back to feet!). Don’t get me wrong – I love good crime TV as much as anyone else, but I often wonder how many people went into forensic science because they wanted to catch bad guys by looking at blood splatter or saying “enhance” at your computer to figure out license plate details from a 3 pixel traffic camera photo taken with the best technology 1994 had to offer.

I started to wonder if, as a technical writer, I could also start solving crime. The writer angle has been done of course, but they weren’t technical writers. Why couldn’t I work in a coroner’s office, documenting procedure or writing up instructions, but also have a knack for finding clues overlooked by actual professionals? It could happen. It doesn’t have to be my specific profession, either – a traveling salesperson peddles knives – and crackpot motives! A plumber, always in the right place – at the wrong time! Social Media Rockstar tweets as the voice of your brand – and of the newly deceased! Oh, yes. All of these are excellent ideas.

crimes were did

.. by me. what a twist!

I’m gonna start asking my boss for crimes to solve. Crimes other than the criminal lack of punctuation and grammar in my work, that is.

it was the blurst of times

In just over 12 hours, we will officially stick a fork in 2018 and call it done. This is a good thing. This has been one of the most difficult years in recent history, and I am more than ready to wipe the slate clean and enter 2019 full of hope and Diet Coke and big dick energy.

That’s not to say 2018 was all bad, though. There were a lot of really neat things up in here, like:

  • Finally moving into our new home
  • Visiting Hong Kong just because
  • Not one but two trips to New York, again just because
  • London/Lille/Brussels
  • We really love our new home

It is amusing to me that my two recurring themes are at war with one another: travel and being at home.

Anyway. We had a lot of fun with friends and family, most of our cats are mostly healthy, and we are both gainfully employed. Really, what more could we ask for?

I could use a win or two in the health column, if I’m being truthful. For some weird reason, being stressed out for 10 straight months is somewhat detrimental to good health. While the stress has been temporarily resolved, I’m still dealing with the fallout in terms of anxiety, sleeplessness, and existential dread. And did I mention the temporary resolution? The whole thing will start all over again in a few months, and I already want to cry. But! Tonight is New Year’s Eve. The tears can wait. I have friends to party with, an outfit that requires multiple battery packs, and 4 litres of Diet Coke. Frankly, I have everything I need.

Regardless of how your 2018 played out, I hope tonight is everything you need and you enter 2019 full of wonder at the unspoiled potential stretched out ahead of you. Be safe, don’t forget to hydrate, and do you as only you can.

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