New York!

After being in countries that are quite different from Canada, then getting (somewhat) climatized back to something familiar in Europe ……being back in North America was quite strange. My first habit when I land somewhere new is to ask ‘Do you speak English? I need to find a way to get to…..’. Well….I felt pretty silly asking someone in JFK airport if they spoke English. D’OH! Realized I could also stop carrying tissues in my bag for bathrooms, I can stop asking for an English menu, and I will not be woken up at 4:45am with calls for prayer.

New York is always very energizing, vibrant and very multifaceted. It doesn’t matter what you are into, you will NEVER be bored in NY. A friend once said ‘If you’re bored in NY, it’s your own fault’, how true.

First stop in NY was to meet up with my Vancouver bestie Loreena who recently relocated to the East Coast. We have each been going though quite a bit of change in our lives within the past few months and I was eager to catch up! Loreena also has an adventurous spirit and we usually end up meeting interesting people or getting into trouble somehow.

As I waited in the hotel pub for Loreena, I started chatting with a group of older men, travelling together as friends. One person was asleep in his chair and his friends complained ‘he always falls asleep on us, we have a pile of pictures of him sleeping on this trip!’. I motioned for him to get his camera ready as I snuck up on his sleeping friend and planted a big kiss on his cheek as he slept. His friends LOVED it! The poor man still did not wake up after that so I ended up chatting with his friends some more as they bought me drinks. After Loreena arrived, the sleeping man woke up and his friends showed him the picture to take back to his wife. He loved it and bought Loreena and I drinks as we both planted more kisses on his cheek now that he was awake. Always great to make new friends.

After catching up and grabbing dinner, we quickly passed out to rest up for a day of shopping in Manhattan! Amsterdam was not the shopping hub I had hoped it would be for tall people and Paris is way too expensive. While NY is not cheap, the variety can not be beaten. Walking around the streets you feel very surrounded and almost protected among the giant, stunning buildings. Grand is the only word that comes to mind trying to describe the Manhattan skyline. Most buildings are quite old, Art Deco in style and very grand in stature. Grabbing a bite in Eatly, replacing some of the clothes and shoes I got sick of and thew out after 4 months of wearing consistently, we ended our day at the train station to go back to Loreena’s home in another state. Felt like a homeless person dragging all my shopping bags from the day, luggage from the past 4 months and laptop onto the train.  Oh well, at least I had a great pair of new shoes and got properly fitted for some great bras!

Spent the next couple days unwinding at Loreena’s home in a picturesque farm setting and checking out the local town before going on a quick road trip to Baltimore, Maryland! Still unsure how we decided upon Baltimore, but I always admire Loreena’s willingness to try anything new. Baltimore is located on the seaside, with east coast, old world style buildings and everyone we met was super friendly. After walking around all day in our new shoes we each got huge blisters and had to take a break to load up on bandages and a couple of cocktails. Drinking wine helps blisters right?? ; )

There’s an abundance of great local shops along the waterfront and we saw every one of them. Got fitted again at a local bra shop. I am sensing a pattern of having women I do not know either scrub, massage, apply mud to or shove my breasts into a bra. My North American modesty is now long gone. A quick drive back to Loreena’s place and then I hopped a train to my hotel in Manhattan!

Had to get up early on Sunday morning as I wanted to go check out a Gospel church service in Harlem. Heard visitors were always welcome to Sunday service in Harlem and it was a very lively, heartwarming experience. After visiting so many temples, mosques, synagogues and churches in the past few months the one thing I did not find in any of them is joy. Quite a few were very meditative and inspiring but I was looking to find joy in a house of worship. I checked out a few websites before deciding on First Corinthian Baptist Church (FCBC). A good tip is to go to the first service as there will be less tourists.

Well, I wanted joy and I got an abundance of it at FCBC! Everyone was super friendly and kind, the singers performing at the beginning of the service had booming, clear, powerful voices and got everyone (including myself) up clapping and singing along within a couple of minutes of hitting the stage. Received an abundance of hugs from people in the congregation and listened to a passionate minister speak about agape love. Love, kindness, loving others, loving our enemies, “it embraces a universal, unconditional love that transcends and persists regardless of circumstance”. Very inspirational.

Met an awesome couple while in the Galapagos who live about 2 hours outside NY and we were able to meet up and check out the Warhol exhibition at the Whitney Museum! This is a fairly new location for the Whitney, close to the Highline, so after exploring the huge exhibit we took in all the people and buildings on the Highline route. The Highline is about 1.5 miles, elevated park built over an unused portion of rail tracks. It’s a public park with public art, gardens and great architecture along the elevated pathway. Checked out the Meatpacking District and grabbed a bite to eat afterwards. It was so great to reconnect with Jennifer and Steve! What was an awesome stroke of luck was seeing a billboard promoting the Galapagos in the skyline and getting our picture with it!

After being in NY for a few days already, I felt a bit guilty that I had not gone to see my friend and inspiration, Vincent at the MOMA. His Starry Night is my starting point for falling in love with art. I bawled the first time I saw it in person a few years ago and still love how it affects people to this day. The MOMA always has a wonderful collection of modern art and this time I fell in love with Joan Mitchell’s work on display.

Now it was time to meet up with friends Judy & Dave from Morocco! Judy is a fellow art lover as well and a perfect companion to go to the Guggenheim to see the Hilma af Klint exhibit along with selected Robert Mapplethorpe pictures. Hila is a Swedish artist born before her time. Most of her work was created between 1906 – 1915 and she incorporates mindfulness, sacred geometry with a large does of spiritual elements in her work. Very colourful and diverse. A quick peek in the Neue Gallery and lunch in their stunning restaurant, David then took me for a guided walk in Central Park. They both have such great knowledge of New York, it’s history and architecture. We were able to catch up some more at a fabulous Italian restaurant Morso under the 59th Street bridge. The night view of the bridge, the wonderful food, friendly and colourful staff, awesome company and it was a perfect night!

Checked out the Apple store across from Central Park. Heard it was open 24/7/365. I was chatting with a sales rep and she told me ‘we are building a new store to replace this one. It will be as big as a football field.’ WHOA! New York does everything BIG!! Next up was to tackle the Metropolitan Museum of art! I say ‘tackle’ because the museum is MASSIVE with a wide range of art, antiquities and exhibits to see. It can easily take a week to see everything here and I did not have that much time…to be honest, I do not have much interest in Egyptian antiquities either so it was easy to skip over that section. I wanted to concentrate on old favourites like Impressionism and the new exhibit on Epic Abstraction: Pollock to Herrera. While I am not a huge fan of Abstract Expressionism, Judy was a wonderful companion as she coached me to “sit with it, observe it, there’s a lot going on there in the lines, texture, colour and shape”. She was able to give me a new perspective and appreciate that genre more than I would have in the past. Saw some more Joan Mitchell and fell in love a wee bit more.

Spending the day with Judy, checking out Strand Books (a MUST if you are a book lover) and having her guide me through the Rubin Museum of Art exhibit on the Power of Intention: Reinventing the (prayer) wheel was a highlight. I was not overly optimistic at first as the Rubin is known more for Tibetan art, which is not an area I was excited about at first. Seeing how the stories of Ganesh, Buddha and all other Gods are intertwined is always interesting. Had an great interaction while waiting for Judy.  A class of grade 3/4 kids are finishing their tour. One boy comes up to me and says ‘Hi’, I ask how he liked the tour, he said ‘I loved it but no one has been able to answer my question’. What’s that I ask? “Why are humans put on this earth?” (Deep question for a kid around 9). I said ‘I like to think we all have a unique gift. It’s our job to find out what that gift is and then give it to the world’. His friend says ‘my gift is singing! And playing the drums, I’m a good thinker too.’ Another says ‘my gift is video games!’ The first boy said ‘but the world will end in a million years’. I responded ‘then you have a lot of time to figure out what your gift is’. He nodded and liked my response.

One thing I love doing in Manhattan is walking across the Brooklyn Bridge. Try to go early to avoid the crowds or go during sunset to see a spectacular view of the skyline. You will still have lots of crowds, but the view is always worth it. Lots of vendors, people posing for their Instagram pictures and always colourful crowds. The stunning architecture, wires and lines on the bridge offer a unique look at a NY classic structure.

Was lucky enough to go with Judy and Dave to Lincoln Center for an opera and chamber music recital! A friend was unable to go so I was the lucky recipient of the extra ticket! Never been inside the centre before or really explored the neighbourhood very much. There is so much culture and variety of art in NY, I almost felt spoiled. I have aways had an appreciation for opera but not much exposure to chamber music. I am so grateful for such a wonderful opportunity to broaden my horizons and appreciate something new with great friends.

The next day I heard there was a cat within a few miles of my hotel that I had not yet met and needed another admirer. The Algonquin Hotel has a resident cat/manager named Hamlet (after customer John Barrymore’s most famous stage role). He is a super calm, very soft, orange tabby who casually greets people at the reservations desk in the front lobby before leaving to fulfill his day of ‘doing nothing’. The hotel has a variety of cat sized passageways cut into the doors around the front desk for Hamlet to have easy access whenever he gets bored of his admirers and wants to leave.

Hamlet was exactly the distraction I was looking for after receiving the news earlier that my mom had passed. We had spoken a couple of days prior and I knew how excited and happy she was for me to be on this adventure. My relationship with my mom has never been an easy one. Thankfully we had made our peace before I left and she encouraged me to go on this adventure and explore life while her’s was ending. While her passing was not a surprise, it was still surprising.

Thankfully I was able to meet up with Loreena in Manhattan again before leaving for Vancouver. Such a surreal thought…..going back to Vancouver. But first, I had to get to JFK. Did some research on how to get to the airport as my flight was leaving at 7am so I should be there by 4am to 4:30am. Cabs are regulated and cost about $60USD, car from the hotel is $80USD, too early to struggle with the subway while I was 1/2 asleep so I settled on a shuttle for $25USD. So cheap! It sits about 8 people so I figured even if I have to wait while the driver picks up others it would not be a big deal. Got a notification that the shuttle would pick me up between 3:30am to 3:45am. Whoa, that’s early! OK, set the alarm clock, plan time for a shower and spent the night packing and seeing what would fit into my suitcase and what would have to be left behind. 3:10am rolls around and I get a text that the shuttle is outside waiting for me!!!! CRAP!!!! Just out of the shower!!! FUUUUUUCK HE’S EARLY!!!!! As I run around dressing, drying my hair, calling the front desk to ask him to get the driver to wait, wrestle with all my bags downstairs, have my jewelry hanging out of my mouth to put on in the van, ensure with the front desk I am paid and good to go as I trip out the front door to the van thinking ‘he’s early, at least we can pick up the other passengers now’……as I enter the van, I was the last person to be picked up. I had left EVERYONE waiting for about 10-15 minutes. CRAPCRAPCRAPCRAPCRAP! Tried to start a conversation with ‘So where is everyone from?’ but no one was buying it.

In quite a few ways, I do not look at Vancouver as ‘home’ anymore. One thing travel has given me is the appreciation for some wonderful things in Vancouver/Canada and also the ability to see the city for what it is….stunningly rich in natural beauty and not much else. A friend commented ‘Vancouver is a tough city. Hard to meet people, not much art, history or culture’, realizing this is quite true. I am grateful for living most of my life here, having great access to the ocean, parks, trees, mountains and nature. Also realizing, ‘home’ is wherever I am. My friends and family are always close by. Now it is time to look at something bigger. What to do and what city to do it in is the next question.

Some Things I Miss Already

  • Being in countries that do not speak English. Being lost in crowds and not understanding the conversations around me. Kinda nice not listening to mundane conversations.
  • Most countries do not use or even know what a facecloth is.
  • In most countries the lobby is considered floor 0, the floor above it is 1 (the first floor). Messed me up a BUNCH of times trying to find places
  • Seeing older women in Europe aging naturally and looking AWESOME! They do not appear to have lots of fillers/surgery or try and look like they are 20something. They seem to embrace who they are, their age and their awesomeness.
  • Do not miss having strong police/security /military presence. Hotels outside North America will have a scanner and security checking bags upon entry. Every museum I have been in has a strong police presence, some with scanners. The Old City in Israel has multiple UN/police/security/military screenings everywhere you go. Grand Central Station has a large military presence at entrances. Understand the need for it and while it is not threatening….it is draining.

Lessons

  • Getting out of my comfort zone is a WONDERFUL and scary thing
  • After spending 4 months pretty much by myself, you really realize what you do/don’t need, what is necessary, what your triggers are, what can fall away and what can stay
  • There is so much beauty and joy in the world!!
  • Everything will be fine. EVERYTHING.
  • We are so much more alike than we are different.
  • Don’t overthink things or NOTHING will get done. I don’t need to know the entire path before starting, it will emerge with each step I take.

Stats to date

21 flights, 16 airports, 63 097km+ flown (!!!)

#herosjourney #journeyisitsownreward

Awesome apps!

Maps.me – you need wifi to download maps for anywhere in the world and then you can navigate while off line. No wifi or data required! You only need to download the map once and it will be on file for future use.

Citymapper -will plug into ANY transit system to let you know your best options for getting around. I used this in Amsterdam, Paris and NY and it’s SO easy to use! Will tell you what exit to take, route to walk, transit price…everything! If will give you the best transit combinations (subway, bus, train), time it will take to get there, how often they run …..EVERYTHING. Most times you can just enter a destination (ie Grouse Mountain), not an address and it has it on file. Only draw back, you do need wifi/data to use

XE Currency – pick the currency’s you will be using to preset your home screen and you don’t have to continually search the country. Just enter in the amount and you’re good to go for exchange rates.
Google Translate – a lifesaver! Download a language you want while you’re on wifi and then you do not need data or wifi to use the camera app! Just put the camera on the text you want translated and it will translate! You’ll find out the drug you’re taking is banned in Canada and the US or it will save you from ordering tripe off the menu.
Viator – awesome tours offered around the globe! Urban Adventures is another app but I found Viator has a lot more options for day tours.

Overdosing on Paris

The last time I was in Paris was about 25 years ago. I was unsure if I wanted to include it on this trip or somehow work in Bali instead, but I remembered a promise I made to myself 25 years ago to come back here and spend more time and it was time to fulfill that promise. Also, if you want to explore art, culture, history and beauty….there is no where else to go but Paris.

People seem to either love Paris or hate it, no in-between. After the charm, laid back life style and relative smaller crowds of Amsterdam, have to admit,  I felt a bit overwhelmed. Paris culture, history, beauty is so abundant I (almost) found myself wanting to watch a stupid reality tv show to somehow get a balance back. On a walk back to my hotel one day, I came across a small park with a mausoleum.  The mausoleum was closed but I noted the name to check it out online. The Chapelle Expiatoire was built to commemorate where they found Marie Antoinette and King Louis XVI bodies in a common grave after they were killed. They have since been moved for a ‘proper’ burial elsewhere but this was built to commemorate the location where they were found. I felt like I just tripped over history. Everywhere you look is something of awe and wonder….or just something really SUPER cool. Quite often I felt like I was brought to my knees with so much grace, abundance and humanity. The French place a high importance on preserving art, buildings and it’s history. Even the subway stations are  (mostly) beautiful. You have to love a city that names subway stops after famous philosophers (Voltaire), and has the signatures of famous students of the Sorbonne placed on the ceiling in tile at the Sorbonne station.

My first day in Pais I walked to the Musee D’Orsay and Musee D’Orange. On the way I kept seeing posters, billboards, signs all over for Atelier des Lumieres. Never heard of it but there was a picture of Vincent attached so I had to check it out but first MUSEE D’ORSAY!! While the Lourve is the largest museum in the world, it does not house Impressionist art, the Musee D’Orsay is the place to go for Impressionism and it does not disappoint! Wide range of Vincent’s, Manet, Monet, Gaugin, Degas, Renoir, Cézanne, Pissaro, Cassatt, Rodin and Toulouse-Lautrec’s housed in a beautiful former train station.

Paris is a wonderful place to get lost, wander the streets and criss cross every bridge that intersects the city as they each have have unique personalities and are very different. There’s always something of historical value looking at you in the face or something beautiful and unique you’re afraid to miss for fear it won’t touch your heart.

The Musee D’Orange is a much smaller venue across the river from D’Orsay and is known for it’s large Monet displays that engulf the room and surround the viewer. Lastly was Shakespeare and Company Bookstore by the Notre Dame. It is housed in a building that is crumbling, about 400+ years old and is very eclectic, housing various writers in the rooms above the store over the years. It is quite small, with narrow rooms, winding halls and a huge variety of books, hard to find books, first editions and collectables. So much character!

Visited the Picasso museum, Centre Pompidou, and then it was time to hit the Mothership of all museums….the Louvre. I planned my attack before going in, I have minimal interest in Egyptian antiquities, and I reviewed the map to scope out the easiest route to what I wanted to see. I knew it would be overflowing with crowds of tourists, school kids and artists from the moment the doors opened. This almost felt like a covert operation. Try to stay clear of Lisa as she will have the biggest crowds but looking at the map I was unsure. And I was right, there was a section being renovated at the museum so I had to cut through the room where Lisa is to get to where I wanted to go. A huge room to hold all of her admirers while they move to get a better position to see her or take a picture. Such a small picture and SO many admirers, about 15 people deep, easily over 100 people in the room.

The museum houses quite a lot of statues which usually do not hold my attention for very long. However my jaw dropped after seeing Winged Victory and then Cupid and Psyche. Creations by Michelangelo and the Venus d’Milo statue are housed here but Victory and Cupid brought me to tears. The grace, beauty, passion, softness and sensuality that was brought out of a chunk of marble stopped me cold. Winged Victory is missing her arms and head but her commanding presence made me want to board whatever ship she was leading and follow her!

Walking around Paris in the rain, I kept getting lost in the architecture. Even the newer buildings have beautiful statues, detailed finishes and generous curves built into them. Got lost one day and I just kept following some music that I heard being played off in a distance…a French version of Hallelujah. Walked around a corner to find myself in fronton the Opera house with an awesome busker singing. The building is jaw dropping, Grecian statues are holding up the street lights outside, artists like Beethoven, Mozart in statues lining the rooftop, students, locals sitting on the steps eating lunch. I felt like I was being smacked in the face with beauty, culture and humanity.

After overcoming some nerves, it was time to do a small pilgrimage to Auvers Sur Oise. A bit skeptical about a small day trip, on my own, multiple trains/busses/subways to a place I was a bit unsure of but….that is ALL part of this journey. I knew if I thought about it for too long I would go down a rabbit hole and NEVER do it and the thought of NOT doing it scared the crap out of me. It didn’t help that the Nord train station is bigger than most airports!!! Thankfully, my high school French and some gestures came in handy to get a multiple train tickets and a schedule to see Vincent.

Auvers is a tiny, country side town. The downtown core is maybe 5km’s and you can easily walk around. Auvers is where Vincent died and is buried (his brother Theo’s body joined him in the cemetery about 14 years later). You can buy tickets to view the room above a restaurant where he died and take a walking tour of the town. on your own. The town has multiple signs posted to show what Vincent painted at that location so you can see the different 130 years makes….not much in this tiny town. Looking down, I noted the entire town has dots all over the streets saying ‘Vincent’ to map out a path. The town has not changed very much, the homes are all charming and were built in the 17th and 18th centuries. A small park was built to commemorate him but you can easily see the wheat fields he painted have not changed, the town hall, church, Dr’s house. Everything is very recognizable.

A quick walk past the church, up a small incline and you have a small town cemetery. No signs leading the way to his grave, very understated, reflective and quiet. I walked among the old gravesites, looking at names, dates and the details of some of the headstones and …..the moment I find Vincent’s….the church bells ring out. NO LIE! I like to think it was Vincent welcoming me.

His grave very understated and simple. Theo died about 6 months afterwards and was buried elsewhere but his wife moved him to be beside Vincent about 14 years later as they were so close in life, they should be close to each other in death. Afterwards, Dr Gachet’s son (Vincent’s doctor in Auvers) donated some ivy from the Dr’s home to grow over the two graves and connect them even more. The room he died in is tiny, humble and very dark. Odd for an artist known for his bright colours and painting sunflowers using only 3 shades of yellow (and a bit of green) to show light and brightness. His fine resting place is also very humble. It was a beautiful day I will never forget.

I was also able to get tickets to Atelier des Lumieres! Every day was sold out except for the my last day in Paris! I just squeaked in! Went to a converted warehouse, not over crowded wth people, for a timed digital show. I was able to get a seat in the balcony to look down on everything but soon after the show started I realized this was not a great idea….much better to be on the floor and be a part of the paintings as they swirled around you.  The show is in chronological order of his work so they go from very dark paintings to the entire room engulfed in the vibrant yellow’s of his sunflowers or teal from his Almond Blossoms. The show is displayed on the walls, floor and ceiling with music accompanying (everything from opera, jazz to Janice Joplin). The images are blown up so you can get inside the colours and brush strokes as they dance around you. It is an amazing feeling to be wrapped up in his work (literally) and I have no doubt even Vincent would be amazed at the medium used could evoke so much emotion.

Heard about another great Impressionist exhibit from a couple I chatted with. The Foundation Louis Vuitton is housed in a stunning Frank Gehry museum. A bit of a challenge to get to as it is located deep in a large park but for 2 Euro’s you can get on a small museum bus at the subway that runs every 20 minutes. La Collection Courtauld is exhibiting to raise funds for a proper home for these works and they are impressive.

One big lesson Paris taught me is to stop, look, breathe and appreciate. While it did feel like I may pass out or need oxygen from all this abundance of literally everything, it is a good feeling to have.

Amsterdam, Stalking Vincent

Wow, as I write this so much has been going on. Mom’s health is rapidly declining, I am a few days from flying back to Vancouver, to a place that doesn’t feel like home anymore and I am unsure what I am stepping back into. Looking back I am amazed at the journey and am excited about the road ahead.

After the dizzying colours, food, culture and life in Morocco, Amsterdam was a great place to get back to something familiar and yet, oh so wonderful. Excited to start the last portion of this journey and dive deep into ART!!! Ecuador/Thailand were all abut animals, Jordan/Israel/Morocco were all about world religions and now….exploring art in Amsterdam/Paris/New York. Always curious if artists feel their work is being created BY them or THROUGH them. Driven by a source from somewhere else and they are just a vehicle for this insperation. Either way, this entire journey is a trip through the Divine/God/Universe/our connectedness whatever name you want to attach to it. Exploring the world and seeing how EVERYTHING, literally EVERYTHING is connected.

Booked into Hotel Hallen, just outside of downtown Amsterdam. More quite, less tourists and from the pictures online, it looked pretty funky. It used to be a large, old train hall with part of it being converted into a small hotel. The rest of the property has a movie theatre, food hall (lots of great food and alcohol stalls) and a variety of boutique stores. It is located in a very residential area with the side street converting into a daily open air market.

So glad I booked here! The staff were wonderful, the location was walking distance to just about everything, the room was very modern and it was a great nesting place for the week. I was welcomed in my room with a note and tin of stroopwafels! They are Dutch cookies that resemble tiny waffles with caramel syrup sandwiched between two layers. Yes, I can be won over with food and I was quickly won over.

First day consisted of wandering the streets, market and finding a hairdresser for a quick trim and dye job. The street market has a wonderful vendor who sells different types of Spanish ham wrapped around dates, cheese and a variety of other foods. I was in heaven!! HAM! PORK! BACON!!! BRING IT ON!! Did not realize how much I missed bacon and pork after being in religious countries for so long. Have to admit, I visited that stand daily for a quick hit. Beef bacon just doesn’t cut it.

Day 2 was V Day, VINCENT!!!! The day I have been waiting years for!! I cried when I booked my ticket online months ago, this museum has been on my bucket list for years! I think I vibrated with excitement the entire walk to the museum. Unfortunately, there’s NO photography allowed inside, and there’s security everywhere so I can not share images of what I saw. Loved seeing some of Vincent’s possessions like his paints, stand and the huge desk his brother Theo kept all their correspondence in. The museum has an interesting story, after Vincent passed, his brother Theo died about 6 months afterwards leaving a wife and a young son about 1 year old behind. Theo’s wife Johanna is the one who really spread the word about Vincent, his works and the letters between him and Theo. She carefully,  thoughtfully and slowly released some of his works to galleries, exhibits and got increasing interest in Vincent and his art. After she promoted Vincent’s work, the son (also named Vincent) was the person who created the museum and donated the family’s paintings and artifacts. The museum opened in 1973. After reading a few articles, he has said of the priceless Sunflowers painting ‘odd to see it in a museum, it hung over the couch in the living room for years’. The painting Almond Blossoms was given to Theo and Johanna to celebrate the birth of their son Vincent, it hung in his bedroom. He has said ‘I am surprised that painting survived all the pillow fights we had in that room’.

One thing I am always surprised by is the wide variety of people who are drawn to Vincent. His fans are from all backgrounds over the globe and always passionate about his art, story, letters and illness. There is a common thread that draws people to him like no other artist, it is the emotion that is evoked. There are millions of artists, a lot who are technically far better than Vincent but once you evoke an emotion, you feel a kinship. I always refer to Vincent as ‘an old friend’ because so much of his story resonates with myself and a large portion of the population. I was grateful to hear other fans refer to him this way as well.

The museum is well laid out starting at the bottom with his early work and finishing at the top with the last unfinished painting that was found drying in his room in Auvers when he died. The museum lists his death as suicide (while he did not have a gun) and there has been evidence to suggest he was shot by a local child playing with a gun. Seeing his dark paintings in the bottom and watch the progression as he moves to Paris and starts experimenting with colour and then how his paintings almost explode wth light, vibrance and colours as he moves to the south of France and then to Saint Remy where he painted Starry Night, his most popular work.

After doing some research, there’s another museum billed as the ‘second largest Vincent collection’, Kröller-Müller about 90 minutes outside Amsterdam. I made a mental note to research tours and transportation there, thinking I would go later in the week. Unfortunately, the day I had planned to go, was the day the museum is closed! DANGIT!! A good excuse to come back in the future.

After Vincent, I visited the MOCO museum in the building right behind Vincent’s. There’s a few art galleries within a 3 block radius including the Rijk. While the MOCO is in a small house, it has an fun exhibition of pop art statues outside and a great Bansky exhibit inside. Some Warhols, Haring, Basiquat, not a large exhibit but very fun and it rounded out some great art by similar artists.

One thing I loved about Amsterdam was the pace of life there. Lots of people out in cafe’s, parks, families riding bikes, and there was not a large number of vehicles on the roads. I was told, ‘bikes have the right of way, then pedestrians then vehicles’. Bikes here are a huge way of life, it’s not a sport like it is in North America. When going anywhere in Amsterdam, look both ways before crossing any street then then check again just because of the sheer volume of cyclists. People riding to work in rush hour wearing their work clothes on their common street bikes. So used to seeing people in full biking gear on expensive mountain, road or hybrid bikes while in Amsterdam it is a way of life for most people young and old. A couple of things I liked about Amsterdam is that it is pretty much a cash less society, even small coffee shops have signs ‘card only’, coffee shops have signs saying ‘laptop free zone’ to discourage people from using their computers and to socialize more. English is very commonly spoken and it is so easy to get around.

The next day started with the Dutch Masters at the Rijk. While I am not a huge fan of this genre, I was excited to see what it entailed. Mostly Rembrant and Vermmer and a lot of Dutch antiquities detailing the history of the country. The museum is massive in what appears to be an old castle but it was conceived as a museum as early as 1798. Afterwards I eagerly anticipated the arrival of a bestie from high school to help take over Amsterdam with me!! We had reunited while she was visiting Vancouver but has called Europe home for years now. I can not begin to tell you how it wonderful felt to see a familiar face again after being on my own for months. Someone who knows you and that you share a common history with was priceless. Jennifer is always a bright ray of light and always finds a way to reflect some wisdom onto me.

We started by taking a tour of some hidden churches. After the country switched from Cathoosism to Prodestant, quite a few Catholic’s started to build ‘hidden churches’ in their homes. Some more elaborate than others, then a canal tour on an open boat throughout the city and we met up with a guide to give us a walking tour of Amsterdam. Seriously, we clocked about 22k that day. I think I know every nook and cranny of Amsterdam. Looking at the ‘dancing houses’ that are so old, narrow and have started tilting so they almost look like they are drunk or dancing. Looking down on the ground I noticed a bronze imprint of a breast with a male hand over it in the red light district (seriously). I asked out guide about it and he said it was to mark the spot where a man grabbed a women breast in public a few hundred years ago and was thrown into prison. This was a travelling sailor grabbing a breast in the area known for prostitutes. Odd thing to memorialize but…ok. Our guide then showed us some markers in the ground outside of some neighbourhoods that listed the names of Jews who lived there before the war who were taken away and killed. An artist has just started a project that takes this to another level by placing plaques outside specific homes in Amsterdam listing the Jewish people who lived in that home who were killed in the war.

In a hard to find spot in a back alley, we were taken to Wynand Fockink, a local watering hole that sells it’s own brand of spirits. The place is TINY and PACKED but the bartenders there are not in any hurry and they will engage everyone and have a lot of fun in the process. Try a few samples, see which one you like before buying a shot or a bottle. Very fun, lively spot to try.

Sadly, it was time for Jennifer to go back home and leave me in the wake of her joyous personality and wisdom. I spent the next night at the food hall behind my hotel chatting with locals and wishing I could stay longer. Would love to explore the possibility of moving here. But….Paris awaits!

Morocco…..Toto, we’re not in Kansas anymore

Sitting in Marrakech as I write this, reviewing pictures, itinerary and my notes thinking….holy crap! We did  a LOT of stuff and covered a lot of territory! Only 2 weeks later and some stuff seems like a blur. But to me, that kind of sums up Morocco….a wee bit confusing, disorienting, stunning, colourful and you wonder what just happened?? But you keep moving forward because you know there is something new just around the corner.

Arrived in Casablanca a day and a half early prior to meeting my new tour group. Still wondering what I had gotten myself into booking another 2 week tour of the desert so close to finishing Israel/Jordan. But my mantra has been ‘trust myself and my itinerary’, things have a way of coming together for a reason that is beyond me. This was starting to become apparent the moment I got off the plane in Casablanca.

Met my driver at the airport as he was picking up another couple for the tour. They’re  from NY and we quickly became friends before we even got into the car. They were quite experienced travellers going to remote places to do volunteer work and they quickly took me under their wing. We quickly established our own tiny ‘ice cream club’ where we would keep an eye out for good ice cream places to try nightly. We had about 36 hours on our own before meeting the other adventurers and started by getting lost looking for a place to eat. No street signs, lots of small, twisted streets, minimal signage for store fronts and ……we were lost. After asking multiple people, we finally found the restaurant we were looking for! YAY! We were rewarded with a great dinner for our efforts and wisely decided to get a cab back to the hotel. First impressions of Casablanca got me a bit nervous. Very busy with locals, cars and motorcycles everywhere. Being 6’1, I have a physical presence and I am usually not nervous in new places or walking alone at night, but here I was grateful to be with others as we walked around.

The next day we grabbed a cab to visit Hassan II mosque, the largest mosque in Africa and the 3rd largest in the word. It is beautifully situated right beside the Atlantic Ocean, as ‘the thrown of God is beside the water’.  Everything was hand carved and designed by a French, non muslim friend of the King and only took 6 years to build. Typically holds abut 13 000 people but can have up to 100 000 people during Ramadan. The minaret (tower) is over 600 feet tall. There are 360 speakers inside hidden from view, a wooden siding roof (no air conditioning) but pigeons come in when the roof is open and…well….they do what pigeons do and poop on everything. They also (coincidently) have a large cleaning staff.

Pictures show the scale of the building compared to the other infrastructure in the neighbourhood. It is massive and very detailed and elegant inside. You can get lost in the tile work and colours. From my previous tour, I learned that Muslims do not use people in their religious art work instead using calligraphy, wood or tile work. Noticed in other works of art that the face is mostly not created in any great detail and is usually an afterthought. The mosque has a large area for men downstairs and the women are upstairs. In the first floor there are purification rooms filled with about 41 fountains in each room! The fountains are in the shape of lily pads and are used to purify before prayers by wash mouth, hands, face and feet 3x before praying. Afterwards we walked around the ocean boardwalk and realized how much I missed the sound of the waves and clean beaches. People in Morocco tend to speak Arabic, French, or Berber with English coming a distant 4th.

 

Had a quick meeting and met our new tour guide and other travellers. Our guide Said is an indigenous Berber living in a small, very remote Berber village. He has a huge infectious smile and was a great resource on Moroccan, nomads, Muslim and Berber culture. He would educate us on local tribes, traditions, food and history. Hotels and some restaurants have wifi. If you need to be connected, get a SIM card as most Canadian companies do not have a travel plan that includes North Africa. The Orange tele network is the largest and (where there is data available) is the only one to supply parts of the Sahara. Another tip Said gave us was if you are having issues with a bank machine and are concerned it will eat your card, hit Cancel and 0 at the same time and it will spit out your card. Apparently this works all over the world! Someone tried it in our group and happy to say it worked. Bathrooms are a mixture of toilets and holes in the ground, often at the same place. Our guide said ‘you have to be a sniper to use them’. Quite often there are bathroom ladies to tip but to be safe…..BYOP. Bring your own paper.

Being in a Muslim country, a question everyone had was about alcohol as quite a few places did not serve it. “If alcohol is not served in most places, can we buy a bottle of wine and have a glass in our hotel room?” Said responded “of course, not an issue. Do you have a corkscrew?” Everyone drew a blank stare…..you could hear crickets….I responded that I had one given to me from a wine tasting tour we did in Israel. For that moment I was the group hero and felt a tiny bit redeemed from the Israel tour as I felt I was the ‘weak link’ due to my nasty chest cold/hacking, cough/throwing up on the side of the highway 2x. I was making up for it now with my corkscrew!! YAY! #Makingfriends

Met my new roomie for the trip who is similar age, single from Ottawa. Always odd to share a room with a stranger for the first night but she is so friendly and thoughtful we got along easily. The rest of the group had a couple from ON, a single male traveller from China, and a group of 5 women who met on another tour a year or so ago and decided to do Morocco together. We all bonded quickly, keeping an eye out for each other. I am always amazed at the people I meet on these tours. I would NEVER have the privilege of meeting these people in my day to day life but for some reason we are thrown together to experience this adventure together.

Our first day was a visit to Meknes (Berber capital) and see Roman ruins. Seriously, those Romans went everywhere! They installed sophisticated (for the day) water ways and beautiful tile work while creating this village.  This first day in Casablanca was also my birthday! We went out to a local restaurant for ‘Moroccan Chicken Pie’ also known as pastilla. Made with sugar and cinnamon and very yummy! We saw a casbah earlier in the day so I can say I ‘rocked the casbah’ on my birthday in Casablanca ; )

 

The next day we were off to see Fez! Started with a visit to the world heritage site the Medina (also known as a souk or market)! This is a confined, walled space in town from the 9th century that still has vendors, homes and is the still heart of daily life in Fez today. We had a local guide who grew up in the Medina give us a tour and even he said ‘I am always finding new alleys and I still get lost myself’. WOW! This experience blew my mind. We started out pretty early in the day so it was not crazy busy but the experience left my head spinning. Most of the market is covered, a bit dark, with teeny, tiny, narrow halls, stair wells. Some parts are a bit wider to accommodate donkey carts packed wth goods. We were told ‘if you get separated from the group, stay where you are, do not try to find us or we will never find you. We will retrace our path to find you’. I would not be surprised if there are still people lost in there who never get to see the light of day again.

The market is a mixture of bright colours, sounds, smells, music and assertive vendors. Outside in the square are the ‘tourist attractions’, the snake charmers, monkeys on chains and in diapers, acrobats and locals dressed up to charge tourists to take their picture. The actual market is more authentic, it is divided up into sections consisting of  food, metals, clothing, dyes, tannery, knife sharpening and weaving. There used to be a spice section but….it now sells electronics and sun glasses. Odd to be in this ancient market and see them selling Hello Kitty phone cases and accessories. We were told we could barter for prices but generally they do not bargain for meat so everyone can afford it. Fish is bargained for as they come from different places and vendors can justify  higher prices. After about a couple of hours of going around the market, getting a bit dizzy from the teeny stair cases that run into other teeny star cases, halls and cross sections the look exactly the same, bumping into locals, tourists, keeping to the side of the wall to not lose anyone and not get run over by motorcycles or donkey carts….I came face to face with a camel head hanging from the ceiling at a butchers! ACK!!! Thankfully it still had all it’s fur on it (unlike a cows head I saw being skinned). After this experience we went to the tannery section, the largest in Morocco, and were promptly given a large sprig of fresh mint to keep under our noses. This did not sound good. Thankfully we did not go to the main level to get up close with the vats of lime and pigeon poop to help skin the leather and the vats used to separate the fat from the animal skin. I was still very grateful for the spring of mint.  They clean, separate, tan and dye the leather here. A one stop shop. Camel leather is more sturdy and used in the soles of shoes, lamb is softer and used on the inside of shoes and on clothing while cow is used externally and for most products like purses. After this dizzying morning, we were off to a traditional lunch in a village made by women in a school that teaches rural women to read and write. Then it was back to the market to go to the Clock Cafe and be taught calligraphy by a well known artist. Have to admit, I sucked pretty hard at it. Thankfully he made a beautiful design for each of us with our names in Arabic.

Now we were off for a long drive to Marrakech to stay for a couple of days. We visited the market there and while it was crowded with lots of things to see, smell and look at the vendors were very aggressive. The main square had all the tourist items of horse drawn carriages, musicians, people dressed up for pictures and a variety of animals in cages or on chains. The market was not as winding and narrow as Fez and generally I felt I would be able to find my way out and see the light of day again if I got lost. Just past the main square and before the market is a large empty space. We asked Said about it and he said ‘you will not recognize it in a couple of hours’. He was right……in the morning, it is empty, calm and quiet. In the later afternoon, it is set up with about 100 food booths and small restaurants! In the wee hours of the morning, everything is dismantled and taken home only to repeat the process the next day. You would never know it was bustling with food, booths, people and aggressive vendors following you to get you to come to their place. It gets challenging when there are a few booths selling similar items beside each other (ie: fresh squeezed juice), the vendors will yell at you and do anything to get you to their booth. The vendors in the Marrakech market are more aggressive, can be rude, the best bet is to try and not make eye contact but there is so much to see!!

The market itself is surrounded by 6 different mosques each with there own call to prayer at the same times. Having been in very religious countries for the past 5 weeks, I am unsure what to do without a call to prayer 5x a day. Maybe I will have to start my own ; )

Quite a few places in Morocco can get up to 50 degrees in the summer. With this heat, everything gets thrown on its head. People will wake up at 1pm for lunch, go back to sleep, up at 6pm to do their work. We were told ‘It’s not hot, it’s hell’. Thankfully the weather was more moderate during our stay, it will fluctuate greatly starting at 5 degrees in the morning with a high of 28. I would wear my fleece and gloves in the morning and then break out the sun screen, floppy hat and t shirt/skirt in the afternoon. At least it wasn’t snowing.

Our group then had a local guide to take us though some sites and we were very happy to see she was a Muslim woman! Widad was AWESOME!! She was bubbly, funny, smart and gave us a great insight into the recent political climate in Morocco and what it’s like to be a Muslim women. Our group of 12 had 9 women so we were SO curious about her and she was always very warm, accommodating and answered all our questions. The first question was about multiple wives, it was recently made legal to have a second wife, only if your first wife approves and the husband can afford it. Widad mentioned it also has to be done in a special place…’only in my husband’s dreams!’. She explained it is up to a women and God is she wants to cover her hair, it is not up to her father or husband. If a wife wants a divorce, generally she gets the house and kids if a judge agrees to her reasons for requesting the divorce. Most of the women we saw seem to prefer wearing a head scarf and full abaya (similar to a bath robe over clothing) even in the cities. We saw some women wearing a head scarf and more western clothing but most preferred the abaya.  In the villages, most would cover their lower face with their head scarf and hold it tightly with their hand. We were told not to take pictures of the locals as it’s rude with our their consent and they are not used to tourists in the villages. We visited some outpost villages outside the Sahara and with the wind picking up the sand, I can understand the clothing choice can just simply be about the climate and weather.

Widad also spoke about burkas and how some women do not want to show their face even to police for security or identification reasons. In her opinion, there is no reason not to show your face if there is a legitimate request. Otherwise it shows bad faith on the women. She does agree with a women choice to refuse to show her face if there is no reason for it. After our chat, she took us back into the market to see a Berber pharmacy! Everything is natural from eucalyptus for chest colds to argon oil and spices. Everything was very well organized and run by a female member of the pharmacy reviewing everything and explaining the benefits. Having 9 women in the group, we all jumped on the argon oil and prickly pear for wrinkles. It was such a fun afternoon!

We then went to the rooftop of a restaurant for a price cooking lesson with their chef! So far all the food on this trip has been amazing! Tagines, couscous, harira soup (Ramadan soup), kefta, kalia, mint tea….never a bad experience. Something so simple that is common here for dessert is a sliced up tangerine sprinkled with cinnamon. There are orang trees everywhere bursting with fruit! The chef also introduced us to preserved lemons! I was very sceptical to try it as she handed me a piece of the lemon skin to eat. It is put in oil and salt, left in a glass jar for 6+ months and then used in meals. I quickly got addicted to it and started eating preserved lemon skin. Very salty and lemony, she gutted out the inside and used it in our chicken dish and then used the skin in the presentation….well, the skin that was left over after she prying it from my hands as I was eating so much.

We drove quite a bit on this trip and covered a lot of kilometers to get to remote villages and have more of an authentic experience in the villages and ancient casbahs. The drive through the Atlas Mountains could be quite scary and nerve racking as the roads are smaller than a single lane, minimal guard rails and you have busses/trucks passing each other and going around corners. Quite a few small trucks have people sitting on the roof tops as well as there is no local bus service to go from the village to the nearest markets. Add to that heat, crazy winds and winding roads…..glad to say I did not ask the driver to pull over! I was also assisted by anti nausea meds from a fellow traveller……the drugs saved me a few times. A quick stop to a pottery maker and we were off to the Sahara! We were all excited to see the dune, camels and night sky!

There’re still caravans tracking across the desert on trade routes established hundreds of years ago. They traveled in groups of 100+ people for safety and protection from thieves. They would stay close to vegetation and water in these routes to ensure them and their animals were fed. It would take 52 days to get to Timbuktu.

After a quick stop for water and a bathroom break in the last outpost town, we left the comfort of our small bus to get into SUV’s for the 2 hour drive to our camp. WHOA. There was a small sand storm going on and the experience was similar to a ride at the amusement park while getting sand thrown in your face for 2 hours. Even with all the windows closed, we were consistently wiping sand off of us and it was sticking to our lip balm. I can not even imagine how much sand I consumed during our time in the Sahara.  I am sure it was enough for a small litter box.

The tents were modest and the dinner was great! The weather was overcast, freezing and the sand was still blowing in the wind but we were determined to go for camel rides. How often can you say you ride a camel in the Sahara?! I passed up the opportunity to ride one in Wadi Rum as I wanted to wait for the Sahara. While the weather was not in our favour, it did not dampen our spirits. Watching the sand dance around in the wind making beautiful pattern’s is actually fascinating if it wasn’t freezing and getting into everything.

The camel boys showed us how to mount/disembark the large animals and off we went!! A bit disappointed I was unable to get the pictures I wanted of a beautiful blue sky against the colours of the sand dunes but….we were on camels in the Sahara! The are very wide animals and I still have saddle sores after that ride but it was so much fun! Camels are generally a bit grumpy and the one behind me did not want to go down to let the rider off. The camel boy was gently speaking to the animal, trying to talk some sense into him and I saw him lean in, give the camel a gentle peck on the nose and ….down the camel went! Thinking I could almost be talked into anything with a gentle kiss on nose too.

After it got dark we accepted the fact that no, we would not be able to see all the stars in the sky as we had hoped as it was too overcast. Oh well, sill a great adventure. With not much else to do in the desert, we took off our shoes and went to bed in what we were wearing (jackets and all) as it was very cold with no heat in the tents. Still find it amusing the dramatic changes in the weather in Morocco. From wearing my warm winter hat/gloves to skirts/sun screen and a floppy hat.

We woke up to no running water as our hosts had slept in and did not turn it back on. We could not flush the toilets. A shower was out of the question anyways and our guide had to wake them up so we could grab breakfast and stay on schedule. Initially being a bit grumpy, I quickly learned to love the adventure and uncertainty.  From staying at a stunning resort in Jordan to freezing in the Sahara…..it’s all part of the journey!

We quickly piled into the SUV’s to begin the long drive back to the outpost and the (relative) comfort of our small bus. Still amazed how much sand we digested and got into our clothes. The ride back was similar to our ride to the camp, every bump and turn felt like a crazy ride at an amusement park. Our vehicle was leading the caravan and we would occasionally stop to let the others catch up before continuing on. After one bump, we stopped and out driver ran outside. This was odd. After a minute or two we noticed the other drivers coming over…..we got outside to take a look and …. a rear tire had flown off! We didn’t even notice it! It felt just like any other bump we had and the abrupt stop in the sand was not jarring in any way. I am still unsure how they found some of the lug nuts in the sand to put the tire back on again (they did not touch the spare tire) or how the sand supported the jack to lift up the truck….but I am guessing this occasionally happens as it did not take long to get back up and running. Our guide was concerned about the safety of us riding in that vehicle so we were divided into the other remaining vehicles. Within about 15 minutes I quickly found the new vehicle driving at a 45 degree angle in the sand and I was wondering if we were going to tip over and never be heard from again. Thankfully though our diver did not stop and righted us quickly. After reviewing pictures we took of the event, one member of our group realized he caught a great picture of the tire flying past his vehicle! AWESOME! It’s all about the stories and adventure at the end of the day and this was a great one!

After this we were off to spend two nights in Taroudant at a wonderful resort. YAY!!! Enough time to do laundry, have an AWESOME shower and regroup after the last adventure. Saw a small local tannery, watched the proceeds how they make carpets, tried to look for an ice cream place to sample and enjoyed the pool and warm weather. One thing that will always stick out to me about Morocco is all the beautiful fruit tress bursting with dates, prunes, oranges, lemons, pomegranates, olives and argon. The stunning colours, tile work and beautiful doors. The doors are local works of art with their own personality. Some doors are quite small (maybe 5 feet), made low so the visitor has to bow to enter the home, while others are huge and grand with a smaller door build into the larger one. The larger door is the summer door, made to open and cool down the home, with the smaller door built into the larger one is the winter door, when it opens it does not let out a lot of heat from the home. A local guide also mentioned that if there are door knockers on the door, one is smaller and the other larger. The larger one is for men to knock with and the smaller for women and they will make different sounds alerting the person in the home to who is outside.

As we were covering a lot of kilometres on this trip we kept an eye out on the local scenery for goats in trees. There are a lot of argon trees all over and the goats will get into the tree and eat the leaves. We would see lots of herders with their goats…but no trees. Then we would see lots of argon trees but…no goats. Or we would see the goats AND the trees but the dang goats would all be on the ground. Just as I was getting frustrated and thought ‘I am going to grab the next goat I see and shove him into that dang tree so we can take pictures’….we came across a huge herd all in trees!!! YAY!!! Our driver quickly pulled over to the side of the road so we could take a pile of pictures and fulfill our goats in trees desire.  Noticed quite a few things in the scenery while adding up the kilometres from our bus. Passed by a grove of odd looking trees with most of the bark being harvested…our guide said this is where cork comes from. I had no idea cork was made from a cork tree! For some reason I just assumed it was a man made product. Also noticed lots of fields with small tiny rock formations all over. Sometimes they would seem more strategically placed but they were always about 3-4 rocks, maybe 14 – 20 inches in height. Kinda like a small inukshuk. Said informed me the formations that are lined up along the side of the roads are the Berber way of showing land boundaries where the owners can bring their herds to feed. The formations that seemed more random in a large patch of land are Muslim cemeteries. Usually they are not marked with a  headstone but with these rocks as they are buried on their side with their head pointing towards Mecca. The rocks are on top to indicate the length of the body as they are only 3 feet below.

Another drive to a local village, went for a tour of of the surrounding area and we had lunch prepared for us by a local in his home! Our host family was wonderful and it was amazing to see local life in the remote areas. A beautiful walk in a valley exploring the local vegetation and the next stop was the sea side town of Essaouira! HIGHLY recommend staying here for a few nights if you get the opportunity. The beach is stunning, sunsets are breath taking, the souk is a good size with large walk ways in the open air and it is super easy to navigate. You will not get lost and never see the light of day again here. The prices are really cheap, most of the group did not even negotiate with the vendors. The vendors were (as always) assertive but in no way intimidating or aggressive. There are a wide variety of great restaurants, stores, ice cream places. You can watch the boats coming back loaded with fish, take a surfing lesson on the beach or get up early and go for a looooong walk on the beach while it is still empty and reconnect with the quiet and stillness around you. Our group loved Essaouira and we wished we could spend more time there instead of Casablanca.

Throughout the entire trip, one thing I wanted to try was a hammam. Our guide calls it ‘Moroccan facebook. It’s where all the ladies gather and catch up’. The men gather at the coffee houses and the women at the hammam’s. Funny but true, you would NEVER see a local women at a village coffee shop, if you did it was a tourist. Our guide recommended to hold off until we got to Essaouira as it had good rates. It is similar to a Turkish bath except the Turks never make it as far as Morocco. It has a same sex steam room and the Moroccan hammam’s also do a huge scrub down of your dead skin. I was still unsure what to expect but hey….I love a good spa!

After arriving we were given a paper thong to wear (again with the underwear) and put into a marble, steam room for women. I was a bit taken back by my North American modesty about being pretty dang naked in front of others but…..I am not abut to see these women again anytime soon. After sitting down on the heated marble benches, the attendant quickly grabbed a large bucket, scooped up warm water and dumped it over our heads! I was not expecting this! Another bucket was thrown on us, and she applied something to our skin and told us to lie down in the steam for 15 minutes.  She then grabbed me and I went off to a private room to be put on a slab, hosed down (literally), and scrubbed within an inch of my life. I was then flipped over and the process was repeated. She exfoliated my breasts and every inch of my skin. Again…why am I wearing this paper thong?? My modesty was thrown out the window a while ago. The process felt like I was in a fight with a very angry cat but quickly started to feel much better after she slathered on the almond oil. Had to check and make sure my tattoos were still intact (all good!) but my skin was super smooth and soft for days afterwards!