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I arrived back to California a few nights ago and I already feel like a weight has been lifted, as if my shoulders can finally relax from carrying around the backpack that I’ve been living out of for the past 5 and a half years.
Without a doubt, it feels good to be home because I know this is exactly where I want to be right now.
It’s the first time in a long time where I’ve been content to not have any future trips planned at the moment. Mostly, I’m excited that I moved into my new place in San Francisco yesterday and that I’m already starting to set up a more fixed life in the Bay Area.
When I was walking around the city on my first full day back, waves of excitement kept washing over me with the dawning realization that this is my city now. It’s a place that I can start calling home and get to know in a more detailed and nuanced way.
But, I’m getting ahead of myself since this all happened a few days ago in September, and this post is about August and my last month in Portugal and Morocco!
In August, I went into sightseeing overdrive to try and get the most out of my dwindling time in Portugal. I spent my weekends going on trips to the cities of Sintra, Cascais, Aveiro, and Coimbra.
I soaked up more Thursday night “Wine Not” dinners with my lovely housemates, eating delicious food and drinking copious amounts of wine from a number of foodie restaurants around the city. I went to rooftop showings of Mamma Mia, found new cafes to while away my work days, and spent a few too many nights out on Pink Street.
After a bittersweet ‘see you later’ goodbye with my housemates, who I have grown incredibly close with over the past couple of months, I made my way to Morocco to meet up with my friend Chenee in Fes.
Chenee and I met in Greece last year and this trip to Morocco happened to work out perfectly because we were both living in Europe again this summer.
Our time in Morocco passed by in a blur of heat, dusty streets, friendly faces, and the intoxicating smells of tagine. It was a country that I ended up enjoying even more than I thought I would, and I already had high hopes for it.
I was especially grateful that I didn’t get sick once while I was in the country, because, similar to India, I had heard from countless travelers that it was basically a given that you would either get food poisoning or traveler’s diarrhea at least once.
Luckily, my immune system pulled through and didn’t let that happen (perhaps I have India and Myanmar to thank for bolstering it up so much).
Chenee and I managed to see a good portion of the country in just under two weeks, starting in Fes and traveling through Chefchaouen, Casablanca, Essaouira, Marrakech, the Atlas Mountains, and the Sahara Desert. It was an adventure, to be sure. And one that I’m looking forward to writing about in more detail soon!
Without further ado, this was my August!
PLACES & MEMORIES
Lisbon | I finished up my last few weeks in Lisbon through full days with friends and work, checking out more rooftop bars, celebrating birthdays, and exploring new neighborhoods via the city’s slippery tiled sidewalks. I also finished up my Portuguese language classes at the start of the month.
In Lisbon, I found a new bright and airy cafe called LAB, right down the street from where I was living, that I often worked in (thanks to Elisa for the recommendation!). And, I discovered tasty new restaurants like Wine Not and Restaurante Ponto Final, and bars such as brothel turned hipster maze bar, Pensao Amor with the housemates & co.
From boat parties, to Pink Street, to Wine Not dinners, and finally watching the sunset across the river one night in Almada. I spent as much time as possible with my housemates – Gabi, Elisa, and Cami – because I knew that we would be saying our goodbyes from Lisbon soon.
Sintra | Probably my favorite day trip from Lisbon in August was finally making it to Sintra.
About an hour by train outside of Lisbon, this is the place where rich Portuguese families used to live to get away from the city and get some fresh air in the mountainous terrain.
There are a ton of different ‘palaces’ that you can explore around the area, but they’re very spread out and take a decent amount of time to roam so it’s impossible to do in a day. We only made it to three, but I’d like to think they were three of the best ones in Sintra – Quinta da Regaleira, Pena Palace, and Castle of the Moors.
Aveiro & Coimbra | Mid-month I ventured out on my own back to northern Portugal to visit a couple of key cities that I’d heard good things about – Aveiro and Coimbra.
Aveiro is sometimes called ‘The Venice of Portugal’, and although it held little resemblance to its Italian counterpart (besides the gondolas and canals), it was a relaxing city to walk around for an afternoon.
Besides being a tourist for a day and riding one of the gondolas around town, I also made sure to try ovos moles, a Portuguese treat with egg yolks and sugar that comes from Aveiro, and walked around a few museums and a dusty old monastery that was one of the most beautiful I’ve seen in Portugal.
In Coimbra I found the oldest and most prestigious university in Portugal, and a city that is still very much based around student life. Word on the street says that JK Rowling’s inspiration for the Hogwarts uniform came from Coimbra University, where students still have to wear long robes with an insignia of what they’re studying while they’re on campus.
Cascais | My housemates and I spent a Sunday in Cascais to soak up all that the beach city had to offer. The day involved a whole lot of sunshine and good memories.
We hired bikes and rode along the coast for over an hour, swam in the ocean, and sipped on fresh watermelon juice to cool off from the heat. It was a pretty ideal summer day.
It also coincided with my blogger friend Allison from Eternal Arrival being in town, so I happily invited her along and we had a fun day of catching up about life and where else we had been around the world since we first met in Ireland at a conference last year.
Fes | Once my time in Portugal wrapped up, I found myself on a plane to Fes to meet up with Chenee and have an adventurous 12 days around Morocco.
Fes actually ended up being my least favorite place we visited in Morocco, but it was a good city to immerse ourselves and dive head first into the culture.
We got lost more than once in the busy and confusing medina, viewed the foul smelling tanneries from above, ate our first tagine, found rooftops to drink tea from, and I tried camel for the first time at our favorite cafe in the city – Cafe Clock.
Chefchaouen | Because we didn’t realize how booked up the trains get in Morocco, even in the low season apparently, we had to take a more expensive shared taxi to get to Chefchaouen.
Though it was a difficult place to get to compared to anywhere else we went, it was all worth it once we had our first walk through the vibrant blue downtown.
I don’t know if it was simply the rich blue color that emanated off the walls and buildings, or the fact that we were higher in elevation and in a smaller city, but there was something uniquely relaxing about Chefchaouen compared to the rest of the country.
It was the perfect change of scenery after the hectic and sometimes overwhelming atmosphere of Fes.
Although we only had a couple of days in the city, we managed to also fit in a day trip to God’s Bridge, about an hour by taxi outside Chefchaouen.
It was one of the most adventurous and beautiful days we had in Morocco, hiking alongside the river, crossing rickety bridges that looked like something out of Indiana Jones, and almost falling on my ass multiple times in the process.
The scenery was drop dead gorgeous and not at all what I was expecting from Morocco. It was the first place that opened up my mind to how varied the landscape can be in the country.
Essaouira | After a very long travel day of around 12 hours on a bus, with a short stopover in Casablanca, we made it to the Moroccan coast and set our bags down for a few days in windy Essaouira.
I had one person tell me it was basically the Santa Cruz of Morocco, and I could see the resemblance as I walked through its boho shops and cafes. This was also probably the most lax part of Morocco in terms of how people dressed (besides maybe westernized Marrakech). It was the first time I felt comfortable wearing a tank top in public.
The beach was huge and included a crumbling rock formation that looked like a castle at its far end. Apparently, it’s the place where Jimi Hendrix got his inspiration for the song ‘Castles Made of Sand’.
There wasn’t a ton to see in Essaouira in terms of sights, but we spent our days walking around the colorful shops and blustery beach and indulging in plenty of crepes and fresh seafood.
It was exactly what we needed before taking on the buzzing city of Marrakech and a long and dusty trip out to the Sahara Desert.
Marrakech | Chenee and I only had one night in Marrakech before our 3-day desert tour, but on our return from the Sahara we enjoyed an additional two nights in the city to soak up the many mosques, palaces, and the huge medina.
Our one full day in the city was spent with Mouksit, a local who took us around the city on a walking tour that lasted over 5 hours.
The tour was informative, interesting, and geared for what we specifically wanted to see. It was a good way to see the city and learn more about the history in a short amount of time.
I also had the pleasure of experiencing my first hammam massage, and it was a wonderful way to spend my full last day in Morocco. It basically entailed getting completely exfoliated and massaged in a sauna for 45 minutes. Seriously, if you’re in Morocco, do it.
My guest house owner said it’s always the Californians who come through who ask about hammam, more than any other tourists. I guess we just know a good massage when we see it.
Sahara Desert | Our 3 days in the desert were long, dusty, and hot, but they were some of my favorite days in Morocco.
The fact that I was able to experience and travel to the Merzouga Dunes in the Sahara Desert was a dream come true. It was one of those life experiences that I always wanted to have.
On our way, we stopped in at Berber villages and, although everywhere we went had been touched massively by tourism, it was still an interesting look at the Berber way of life in the small traditional villages and towns.
We drove through the Atlas Mountains on our way to and from the desert, which were stunning as well.
We only had one night in the Sahara but it was magical. The stars came out bright, it never got too cold, the rain held off, and there was a sincere quietness to the desert that I haven’t experienced anywhere else in the world.
After a tagine dinner in the desert camp, we spent the night listening to Berber music and dancing, stumbling into bed early to wake up for a sunrise camel ride back to civilization the next day.
I took a break from the business orientated and heavy feminist/race focused non-fiction books to enjoy some fun reads this month. I only got through two books but I thoroughly enjoyed reading both.
The first was the nonfiction book, The Italians by John Hooper. Some non-fiction books that try to paint an expansive picture of a whole culture end up simply being a dry history lesson, but I found Hooper’s take on Italian life and history to be refreshing and, for the most part, detailed and compelling.
It was especially interesting coming from the perspective of a foreign correspondent with a dry sense of humor who lived in Rome for 15 years. And, I found the book even more relevant since one of my housemates in Lisbon is Italian.
The second book I read was the easy fiction read, After You, the second book in a trilogy written by Jojo Moyes. I read her first book, Me Before You, last year and loved its sappy love story so much that I was balling by the last chapter.
She has a knack for storytelling in a way that draws you in and makes you not want to put her books down. I’m now already halfway through her third book in the trilogy.
I go through phases of getting really into podcasts and then forgetting about them completely, but with the amount of travel days I had in August I started listening to some of my favorites again on planes and bus rides.
I’ve been listening to a lot of new music with the many long journeys I’ve had recently, but Maggie Rogers, especially, has been on repeat for me lately. I love her songs Falling Water and Alaska.
Although I don’t have any upcoming travels in the works for now, besides a travel blogging conference in Texas next week, I officially moved to San Francisco!
I’ve been to San Francisco so many times in my life – from growing up in Santa Cruz, but also in the last couple of years with many of my friends and my sister being based here – but I’m looking forward to really getting to know the city in coming months.
I can’t wait to fall in love with its hipster coffee shops, restaurants, and quirky things to do. I look forward to making it a home to come back to after future travels.
It’s hard to express how good it feels to actually have a place that feels like home already. I feel whole, happy, and healthy. I plan to see where life takes me being based in the Bay Area and go from there.
Until next month! x
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Latest posts by Mimi McFadden (see all)
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