Reflecting on Returning Back to Where I Came From

Today, I’m reflecting on returning to the United States for a visit. As you’re reading this, I am waking up back in Nashville, Tennessee, where I grew up. I am visiting my folks and will get the pleasure of seeing my sons, daughter-in-law, brothers, sisters-in-law, nieces, nephews and other extended family members.

This is my first trip back to the States since I moved to Morocco. I always found it surreal to return when I lived in Italy and I can only imagine as I’m writing this, it will be the case this time as well. Maybe even more so. It’s important to reflect on things you’ve learned from past experiences and to reflect on possible outcomes for this time.

I’m imagining today what my trip will be like. I will travel from Morocco to Madrid, to New York, to Nashville and it will take about fifteen hours. That means I will potentially need three different currencies if I want something to eat or drink in one of the airports where I am waiting. It also means there will be a cacophony of languages around me. At least until I get to Nashville and then I’ll have to tune my ear to the Southern twang that will surround me. I’ll pick up more of that while I’m there and when I return, my husband won’t understand a word I say.

The Madrid airport is huge, and even though I have almost a two-hour layover, I have some concerns about making my connection. I flew a few times a week when I worked, but things have certainly changed, especially for international travel.
I remember after being in Italy a while and returning to the States some of the things I noticed. They were things like all the signs being in English, large cars, large roads, large water glasses, lots of ice, temporary looking architecture, and lots of fast food. I’m curious about how it will feel this time, the same, or different.

While I’m away, Ramadan will start in Morocco. I’m curious and wary of this holiday where I’ve heard everything closes and during the day, the city is like a ghost town. After sundown, everyone comes out to eat, greet their friends and neighbors and spend most of the evening as they usually would during the daytime. The clocks have already been rolled back to pre-daylight savings time, and everyone is preparing.

When I return I will try to accomplish the fasting ritual for the last two weeks of the holiday. Wish me luck. I already know I am not a very self-disciplined person. I think it’s important to experience the culture of a new country to understand what they are feeling and experiencing. Even though they start this ritual as babies and it is linked to their religion. They have support and pressure from family, friends, and neighbors to accomplish this. I’m going to have to rely on my own strength. Yikes!

I’m excited to see my family and discover what things I notice in the States and what I miss about Morocco. Will I be excited to return? What does Ramadan have in store for me? Where there benefits to reflecting? This is the first time my sons and I have been all together at the same time in three years. Much too long.

During my two-week stay, I’m hoping to revisit some of the historical monuments around Nashville. It’s been a long, long time and I remember enjoying them as a child and want to visit them as a worldlier adult to find out what new perspectives I’ve gathered. Stay tuned to hear more about my travels.

Rif Kebdani Restaurant, Tangier Medina

Rif Kebdani Restaurant is the first restaurant I ate in the first time I visited Tangier. It has a special place in my heart and in my stomach. It’s the kind of place that you can go back to over and over, bring friends and enjoy lunch or dinner with great food, great service, and low prices.

They serve a strictly traditional Moroccan menu and no alcohol. It is very small with a dining room downstairs as well. There are only about ten tables in the main dining room. You get that family owned experience along with the good food and service.

The servings are generous and it’s easy to over order because this menu, as well as most Moroccan menu’s, don’t explain what all comes with the main entrée. If you are with a group of people, I suggest ordering a couple of appetizers or salads to share and then a main dish each.

On their menu, you will find Pastilla, Grilled Fish, Couscous, Beef with Prunes Tagine, Chicken with Preserved Lemons and Olives, and more. We’ve eaten almost everything on the menu and have never been disappointed. The fish is always fresh and varies depending on what came off the boats that day.

Seafood Soup
Seafood Soup
Moroccan salad
Moroccan salad

Grilled fish
Grilled fish

Rif Kebdani is in the medina at Rue Dar Baroud. It is near the Hotel Continental. It’s open every day of the week for both lunch and dinner from 11 a.m. until 11 p.m.

This restaurant is very popular and highly rated. It is usually not too busy at lunchtime, but around 9 p.m., it can get full. Ramadan begins May 16, but the restaurant will be open during the normal posted hours.

Museum of the Resistance-Tanger

Just inside the Grand Socco lies a little-known museum called Espace de la Memoire Historique de la Resistance et de la Liberation a Tanger. When you arrive in the Grand Socco, face the medina and you will see the keyhole entry door in white and green to your left.
Through the door, you will see a large Banyan Tree whose branches take root several times on the surrounding earth. There are a large square and a house facing you. The exhibit is in the house.

Grand Socco
Grand Socco

Banyan Tree
Banyan Tree

On the day we were there, there was a celebration of the liberation, which took place on April 9, 1947. The Grand Socco’s real name is Place du Avril 9 to commemorate this day and the activities that happened in this square on that day. King Mohammed V, the current King’s father made a famous speech on that day.

Portraits of rulers of the past were brought outside for those in the area to enjoy. Inside the museum, there are more portraits, uniforms, and memorabilia from the time. Entrance to the museum is free.

The back of the museum runs against the beautiful hillside garden of Mendoubia. It’s a great place to take a picnic or to just sit and relax above rue de Italie, which is one of the most beautiful streets with the lovely architectural details. The strucutre of this palace is almost as interesting and beautiful as the exhibits contained within it. Pay particular attention to all of the beautiful mosiac details in each room, as well as the lighting.

Seven Things I Love About Tangier

There’s a lot to love about Tangier.  The longer I’m here, the more I discover.  After only seven months, here is my list.

The weather-The Mediterranean climate here is wonderful, so far.  We arrived in October and it’s only May now, so we still have the summer months to go.  There are four seasons, but the changes are subtle.  When we arrived in early October, it was still warm with the most wonderful sea breezes.  The temperatures never went above 80 degrees.  It was very dry which I loved, but then the mosques started doing rain prayers because there was a drought so I guess that’s not normal.  The temperatures got cooler in November and December and at night dropped into the fifties but during the day hovered around sixty-five. We had a rainy January and February and the temperatures in February got into the low forties for a couple of weeks.  With the humidity here, it was cold.  Now spring is here and it is chilly at night and lovely during the day.

The food-I’ve never lived in a place where farm to table was so close. Morocco is an agricultural country.  Fresh produce, meat, and fish come into the markets every day and we shop almost every day.  When the weather was rainy in January, we didn’t have fish because the boats couldn’t go out.  The fruits and vegetables are like nothing I have ever tasted.  Yummy!

Restaurants offer Moroccan food, pasta and pizzas, and some French-inspired dishes.  The spices are abundant and oh so fragrant.  Fresh mint and cilantro sent the market air.  It’s heavenly.

The “international” vibe-Tangier has a complicated history full of Spanish, Portuguese, French, Arabs, Berbers, Romans and more. That mix is still here today.  In Tangier, you will hear French, Spanish, Darija and sometimes English spoken on the streets.  Sometimes you will hear it in the same sentence!

There is often music in a variety of venues ranging from Andalusian, Moroccan traditional, Moroccan contemporary, classical, and jazz.  Movies offered from all over the world are usually in the original language with French or English subtitles.

Green Spaces and Nature-There is a lot of green in Tangier and parks are everywhere, well used, and lovely. There are many trees, even in the city, where palms line the streets.  From many points throughout the city, you can catch glimpses of the sea.  Seagulls and other seafaring birds fill the sky with their calls.

Perdicaris Park
Perdicaris Park

The sounds-Tangier has almost two million people and we live in the heart of the city.  Moroccans love to use their horns and believe me if you’ve seen them drive, they need to!  The traffic, horns, sirens, call to prayer, drumbeats and chanting when there is a wedding, and seagulls cawing all combine to make a cacophony of sound that I absolutely love.

The people-Tangier is full of warm, generous, accepting people. They have been welcoming, friendly to me, and very helpful.  Every day I enter some store trying to buy something that I don’t know how to pronounce.  I’ve usually prepared a few words in Darija or French to get started.  It’s clear early on that I’m not fluent in the language.  I’ve had shop owners run down to another shop to get someone who speaks English to come back and translate. I’ve had shop owners tell me they don’t have what I’m looking for, but take me down to another shop and explain to the owner who has the item what it is I’m looking for.  Then there are those who just bear with me and through trial and error, gestures, pantomimes and charades, we are able to understand each other.  It’s all scary, exhausting and so rewarding thanks to the patience, tolerance, and desire to help, of the people who live here.

Women on the Beach, Tangier, Morocco
Women on the Beach-Tangier, Morocco

Mystery, exoticism, and allure-Tangier has been the home to Phoenicians, Romans, Spaniards, Portuguese, Arabs, Berbers, Christians, Jews, Muslims, and more. Jews found protection here, spies sat in the cafes sipping tea and eavesdropping, artists, musicians, and writers walked the streets and were inspired.  For fifty years, Tangier was an international zone by the governments of France, Spain and Great Britain.  It returned to Morocco in 1956.  These combinations feed my bohemian side.

Yali Restaurant, Asilah, Morocco

Fresh fish is abundant in Asilah.  It has become a place that we visit relatively frequently.  We always take visitors there and often we go just to spend a few hours away from the hustle and bustle of the city.  Asilah is quiet and calm, pretty and relaxing.




When we visit there, we enjoy eating at Yali, which is full of fresh fish.   Yali is located on the East side of the medina, just outside the wall.  The entire street is lined with outdoor cafes that all look the same, so it might be hard to choose one.  Our taxi driver steered us to Yali.  He told us they had the best food and the lowest prices.

They have all types of Moroccan dishes there, but we usually choose the fish.  We sit outdoors just about any time of year, although they do have a small dining room above the actual kitchen.

Moroccan Salad
Moroccan Salad
Harira Soup
Harira Soup
Grilled Calamari
Grilled Calamari
Grilled Mixed Fish
Grilled Mixed Fish

Yali is a simple place, but perfect for lunch.  These photos are representative of just one meal we had there and it cost about $12.  It’s a veritable feast for just a little money.  Try Yali when you visit Asilah.  When you visit us, we will definitely take you there.

Medina of Tangier

The Medina of Tangier with its labyrinth of alleyways is definitely a sight to see when visiting. I love exploring the winding streets and discovering new things. I like to get off the beaten path where the locals live and walk the cool, quiet passageways.

The Portuguese built the Tangier medina in the 15th century, although some of it is much older. The original walls are being restored and many repairs are being made as a part of the renewal and restoration of Tangier.

The medina is on a hill and as you wind your way up to the Kasbah it can get quite steep. It is worth every step to see the sweeping views at the top.

Visit one of the rooftop terraces or cafes.  While away the hours in the sun with the sea breeze keeping you cool.

The medina is small and you can still lose yourself in the maze. Don’t worry, make your way downhill or use the sea as your guide to return to your starting point.

Cultural Center Ibn Khaldoun

The Cultural Center of Ibn Khaldoun is located just down the street from Gran Café de Paris on Rue de Liberte.

It is a small exhibition space that specializes in contemporary art from artists in Tangier and throughout the world. It is a non-profit organization and the exhibits are usually free.

The current exhibit, which started on April 6th, is called The Colors of Nature, and features two artists, Dherzu Uzala and Blanca Solis.

Dherzu Uzala is a muralist and street artist from Cancun, Mexico. His work deals with the Mayan and Aztec culture and folklore. He is well known for his murals in Cancun and Tulum.

Blanca Solis, also Mexican, deals with nature themes as well as color.

The exhibit is small and very colorful, inspiring and fun to see. You can easily take your time and visit the space in less than 45 minutes.

The exhibition center is opened daily from 10-1 and 4-8.

Exhibits seem to change relatively frequently so I like to drop by often to see what’s new. Always contemporary artists and always interesting, it’s a nice cultural break between tea at Gran Café de Paris and the Medina!

The Cultural Center is named after Ibn Khaldoun, the great Arab historian and historiographer. He is claimed as a forerunner of the modern disciplines of historiography, sociology, economics, and demography.

He is best known for his book, the Muqaddimah or Prolegomena (“Introduction”). The book influenced 17th-century Ottoman historians. He is considered to be one of the great philosophers of the Middle Ages.

Gran Teatro Cervantes-Tangier

The very sad and dilapidated Gran Teatro Cervantes stands in all its faded glory just below the park that lays beneath the Terrasse des Paresseux, or the “Lazy Wall”. It is well known for its art deco façade that still stands hopefully while the walls fall down around it.

Don Manuel Pena and his wife Esperanza Orellana decided to build a theater in Tangier in 1911. They were both prominent members of Tangier society. They wanted to build the theater near the Grand Socco.

The architect Diego Jimenez Armstrong, who was responsible for a number of important structures in the city, was chosen. The theater opened in 1913 and seated 1400 people. It was the most famous theater in Africa and many famous and renowned performers entertained on the stage.

The interior décor was elaborate and the materials brought from Spain.

In 1929, the theater became the property of the Spanish government and in 1974, it became the property of the city of Tangier. It was sold by Spain for a symbolic price of 1 dirham. In the 1990’s ownership was returned to the Spanish.

Ownership again was planned for transfer to Morocco in 2015 along with an agreement for restoration of the theater at a cost of 5 million euro.

In June 2016, plans were announced to convert the building into a cultural center.
Disagreements and controversy between Spain and the city leaders have halted all restoration work to the theater and the transfer of ownership remains unresolved.

We passed by the site, which is fenced, and desolate. No one was working. The theater was abandoned as well as the work that had been going on. A man from the Spanish embassy who has the keys to the property stopped to talk to us and told us we could make an appointment to see the interior.

I’m keeping an eye on this project in hopes that during my lifetime in Tangier that I will see it fully restored and be able to attend cultural events there.

Turkish Food

Trying new foods is always one of my favorite parts of traveling! I have never been a picky eater, although my decision not to eat four legged animals 20 years ago does present some restrictions. In Turkey, they eat all types of grilled meats and fish and lots of fresh fruits and vegetables. Lamb seems to be one of their favorite meats.

They serve small plates and dishes called “mezzes” which allow you to sample many different types of foods. Most of the mezzes are spreads made of eggplant, beans, or cheese and yogurt. The grilled meats are prepared on shish kebabs or served in pieces. Turkey is actually where the “Kebab” was invented.

On the street and in the markets, you can find lots of fresh fruit stands. This time of year, the pomegranate was everywhere!

We enjoyed the buffet style of eating a few times where you could actually see the food and just point to what you wanted.

We drank lots of black tea, Turkish coffee, and an after dinner drink, much like ouzo called raki.
The fish was so fresh, they rolled it out on carts for you to pick your choice and then they cooked it up the way you wanted.

There were lots of hot casseroles, and one night we had a dinner cooked in a terracotta vase. It was quite the show at the table when he opened it up to serve it.

Sweets and desserts are every where. They have lots of dried fruit, ice cream, baklava, and pudding like concoctions that are delicious.

Hagia Sophia-Istanbul, Turkey

Hagia Sofia means The Church of Holy Wisdom in Turkish. The first church on this site burned down in 404 and the one that exists today is the third one, built in 537. It is really amazing to see something still standing despite the countless natural disasters such as earthquakes and the many wars in the area.

The exterior of the building is not exactly as it was constructed because buttresses were added to secure the structure. This distracts a little from the original shape. It looks more mosque-like in its current form with the tall minarets at the corners.

Inside the structure, the galleries are where the women prayed and there are some wonderful mosaics inside left from the church days. Many of the columns inside were scavenged from the pagan temples and reused in this structure

In 1453, the church was turned into a mosque. The mosaics were plastered over and the mihrab and minbar were added along with the calligraphic roundels. The mosaics were not discovered until 1930 and since 1934, the structure has been a museum. The history of the structure and being inside it was amazing.

The Hagia Sophia is located on one end of Sultanahmet Square directly across from the Blue Mosque. It is opened every day from 9 a.m. until 7 p.m. during April-October. In the winter months, the hours are 9-5.

There are two floors inside Hagia Sofia and there is a cemetery with tombs and some artifacts outside. There are a nice bar and place to sit outside and restrooms are outside. Security is tight in this museum and all of the monuments and museums, so plan a little extra time to get through the lines. The weekend lines were very long, but during the week, they were not too bad.

While you are in line guides will approach you and offer their services. This can be a good way to cut through some of the lines and save time as they enter through another door. They will have tickets to sell and add on the cost of the guide services.

Another option in an audio guide which lets you get the information, but go at your own pace. It is available in many languages. The cost of the ticket to enter is 40 Turkish lire, or about $10 and the audio guides is 20 lire or about $5.

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