I am a New Yorker. The big apple is my home. My family and friends are here. My life has always been grounded in New York City. As much as I love New York I always look forward to leaving it for other destinations because a world of experiences awaits for me. My life seeks adventure. It wants to break away from the daily routine and embrace spontaneity and dive into the unknown. When worldly experiences beckons me; I heed its call. Events in my life have influenced my travels like the opportunity to study and live abroad, or having read a great novel, or being laid off from work.
I studied architecture at Pratt Institute where I enrolled in the Rome study abroad program. Studying and living in Rome was an amazing experience, and one I will always remember because it was the first time I was on my own in a foreign country where I had to acclimate myself to the Italian way of life. As the saying goes, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do”.
I learned to speak Italian and was able to get by with my rudimentary language skills. I also carried a bilingual dictionary, which was very useful in the various scenarios I found myself speaking with an Italian who did not speak English. Ever since this experience, I have always made some effort to learn a foreign language of the country I was visiting.
Although Italian foods were accessible in New York, and I enjoyed Italian food back home, food in Italy was much more sublime and authentic. I learned that pizza was not round in shape and served by the triangle-shaped slice. Instead, the “pie” was rectangular in shape, not as doughy, and offered by quantity or weight. And while I was living in Italy, I developed an appreciation for eating cheeses, cured meats, and olives. I also learned that certain foods were specialties of specific regions. For instance, the cannoli, one of my favorite Italian sweets, is a speciality in southern Italy, specifically Sicily, which explained why I didn’t see them in abundance in pastry shops in Rome.
Food has always been a big part of my life culturally and geographically. New York offers a variety of ethnic cuisines from all over where one can travel the world just by eating in New York. It was in New York where I first had Moroccan food. I love the earthy spices and heavenly aromas of Moroccan cuisine. It was one of the elements that inspired me to travel to Morocco. However, it was Paulo Coelho who put a spell on me for Morocco. I had read The Alchemist and the descriptions of the lands and the people sparked my imagination about Morocco that I had to go experience it for myself.
I prepared myself for the trip to Morocco by reading as much as I could about the culture and how to conduct oneself while there. I also learned French, which is one of the languages they speak in Morocco. Learning French was more practical because I would be able to use it when I traveled to other French speaking nations. During my preparations, I learned how to conduct myself at the souks (markets), how to haggle, and what to look out for when dealing with suspicious characters. The preparation also helped me to plan out the itinerary and how to get from point A to point B.
Morocco turned out to an amazing and memorable trip! There were some unpleasant moments but it did not take away from the overall remarkable experience of being in an exotic country where time just seemed to have not reached the 21st Century.The souks were filled with wares that made my eyes drool! There were pottery and rugs or all shapes, sizes and colors. One of the moments I enjoyed was when merchants realized I was the one they had to haggle with because I held the purse strings. We ate incredibly well and had some amazing authentic Moroccan foods that I would have never experienced back in New York like the pastilla, which is a traditional meat pie made with squab and baked in layers of phyllo-like dough. It is a combination of sweet and savory flavors that also include toasted and ground almonds, cinnamon, and sugar. It was incredibly delectable!
We visited various cities of Morocco, which included Marrakech, Ouarzazate, the Sahara, Fez, Rabat, and Casablanca. We traveled mostly by taxi and on one occasion by charter bus which was an interesting ride in itself. We were fortunate to have seats because the bus filled up quickly and in Morocco, most vehicles will pick up people along the way because that is the custom. At some point during the journey, I had fallen asleep and realized a woman was basically sitting on me from the aisle. It wasn’t terribly uncomfortable but it was odd for me to be in such a position.
Being in the Sahara was amazing. We spent some time walking the desert with our guide who showed us some of the oases that sprang up in the middle of desert. It was such a wonder to see and be within the shades of the palm trees and see the stream that made these plants possible. We even trekked out to the desert on camel back and slept under the stars. I didn’t have great expectations about camping out in the desert but I was expecting a makeshift toilet. There wasn’t one. Our bedouin guides gestured that the desert was my toilet! Luckily I only had to do number 1. We woke up the next day and I saw the sunrise. It was beautiful!
My next destination is America. I am currently unemployed as I share my story, and while I try to find employment, the call to travel beckons. I don’t have the financial luxury to travel overseas but I do have the luxury of time on my side, and one of the things I have always wanted to do is to travel across America as one continuous journey. I think a month traveling around America would be sufficient. The plan is to travel by rail because it is economical and an interesting way to get acquainted with America. The other part of traveling across America is to also see some amazing American architecture designed by greats like Frank Lloyd Wright and Mies Van Der Rohe, as well as contemporary architects like Zaha Hadid and Renzo Piano. They may not be American but they certainly have made an impact on the American landscapes. This trip is still in the early planning stages but should it happen, I look forward to sharing my adventures by the time this book is exhibited at the Museum of Chinese in America.
These are just a few moments from my travelogue that I wanted to share, and illustrate why I love to travel. New York is a great city and I am proud to be a New Yorker but New York can not possibly offer me the multitude of experiences I have accumulated over the years of traveling. And no matter how enthusiastic I may get about my next travel itinerary, there’s nothing like coming home after a long journey and be surrounded by things of comfort and familiarity; family and friends; and sleeping in your own bed. “Home sweet home,” as they say.