I took a flight from Amsterdam to Belfast, Northern Ireland. I remember the UK authorities checking my passport and smiling about my travels. In case you were wondering, Northern Ireland is part of the UK. The hostel I stayed at was under construction and smelled like it. I went to the Titanic Museum. The ship was a symbol of Belfast’s industrial achievements. I remember roaming about the Belfast shipyards, and the roundabout traffic circles of the town. It was not as fancy as London for sure. I remember going to an Indian restaurant in Northern Ireland and seeing the young Northern Irish boys and girls making curry.
I then headed to Dublin. I enjoyed visiting the Guinness beer factory. Ireland is famous for Guinness beer, as well as Bailey’s which is Irish coffee cream and whiskey. I focused on Guinness in this trip. It’s a dark beer, a dry stout. I first heard about the company though through its Book of World Records. I enjoyed seeing all the interesting artifacts at the museum. I learned how to pour my own pint. I stayed at the Generator hostel which is a chain of hostels popular among young people. It was a party hostel and huge. It was in a great location and I could go around town to St. Stephen’s cathedral easily.
I remember doing remote work at a cafe in Ireland and thinking how overpriced the hot chocolate I ordered was.
After Ireland I took a flight to Barcelona. There I visited the Sagrada Família, which I learned has been under construction for over 100 years and is still under construction. It is a massive church.
I discovered the Hipstel hostel, a hostel I would return to several years later. I drank a tea and made friends with a guy from Andorra named Sergio, who would keep in touch with me for a very long time after that.
Barcelona was a lively city, wealthy and diverse. I went by Gaudí’s Casa Milà, which is a headquarters of Catalonian culture.
I enjoyed learning that the huge Sagrada Família is still under construction. It felt like a sign of poor bureaucracy. One day, when taking a bus, I saw a wonderful old couple, and also a little boy. When I waved at the 3-5 year old boy, he flipped me off. It was so rude and so cute at the same time.
One day I took a train to Andorra. It’s a ski town. It was still November so there was a bit but not much snow. It was interesting to learn that they spoke both Spanish and French.
And then a train to Madrid. Madrid felt like the colonial capital, which it was. It had a neighborhood where there were streets named after each of the colonies – Mexico, Argentina, the Philippines, Colombia, Venezuela, Cuba, etc. The city had eclectic neighborhoods. The city might have been a little bit cheaper than Barcelona. I remember an outdoor escalator which was amusing.
I believe I visited the Museo Nacional del Prado and the Royal Palace of Madrid, though it was the less famous sites that were more captivating to me, like little restaurants, streets, and brands I had not seen before. I remember eating pizza so many nights in a row, from the same place. It was good and simple, especially for someone who had been traveling so long. The hostel lady shouted at me for checking out late and did not even let me shower.
I then took a 26 hour long bus to Marrakesh, Morocco from Madrid, Spain. This was one of my most memorable travel experiences.
I enjoyed arriving in Morocco. I witnessed a loud argument between the Moroccan police and a Moroccan man as soon as I arrived. It reminded me of how some people will behave nicely in Europe and America, but when they come to their home country they start shouting.
I met a girl in the bus. She was an economics students and could only speak in French and Arabic. I got to practice my French with her. I believe she was 19. I was 21 at the time. I learned from meeting her that Muslim girls in Muslim countries like Morocco are not as conservative as I thought. Nor is the society. She sat next to me, a stranger, and spoke with me a lot. She even bought me a chocolate from a convenience store there. The roads seemed superior to those I had seen India and so did the rest stops.
When I arrived in Marrakech, I went to my hostel which had a very authentic local architecture. I remember there were cats roaming about. On the street side shops, I had the popular Moroccan paratha-style bread with tea, and I remember enjoying them very much. I was fascinated by the alley ways and found the town fairly clean. There was one night though, when I was walking through dark alley ways, when some men, maybe taxi drivers started following me on foot, and somewhat aggressively telling me to come with them. I was a bit afraid, and though with a big bag on my back, started to run away.
The Bollywood actress Madhuri Dixit was in town, and all the taxi drivers, seeing that I look like an India, kept telling me that. She was attending a film festival, perhaps the Marrakech International Film Festival. In the Jemaa el-Fna, or the main Marrakech square, they displayed her films on a giant canvas screen using a projector. I also visited the the Koutoubia, the Saadian tombs, and the Medina of Marrakech. There was a guy from Canada that I randomly met as well.
I stayed at a hostel where there was an interesting incident. Normally in hostels in Europe, you wear a towel and leave the bathroom to go to your room to change. However, in Morocco the culture was more conservative. The hostel staff told me that since it is coed, you should not wear a towel and instead take all your clothes into the bathroom, which I did from then on.
Morocco was the first Muslim country I had ever visited. When I was growing up, especially after 9/11/2001, my background both as an American and from a culturally Hindu family, had given Islamic countries and culture a bit of bad rap. They were portrayed as scary. However, when I actually visited Morocco, and later Turkey, and later Oman and the UAE, and also heavily Islamic parts of India, I would find that that scare was not merited. People were friendly, and not religiously extreme. In fact I remember telling a devout Muslim Moroccan on the bus that “there is no god” and he simply said, like Zakir Naik, that you’re almost there – it’s “there is no god but allah”. Morocco felt very chill in this sense. There were lots of western and other tourists as well. Also kind of looking like the local people, vaguely at least, helps.
The desert architecture very much had an Arab feel. The whole place felt different from Spain, which felt. a lot more like California. Here the architecture is Islamic. There were lots of palette colors, and shades of brown, and dry dust. However, it was cleaner than India. It felt in some ways like India, but in some ways just a tad richer, per capita at least. Yes Morocco’s per capita GDP is around 60% more than India’s, but they still are in the same relative brackets of development.
Spices and other cultural artifacts were present everywhere. Sure, Marrakech is touristy, but still it felt authentic.
I could feel the influences of Spain and France but also I could feel the influences of the Arabs and the melange of “Maghreb” culture. Some people looked mixed with Sub-Saharan Africans while others looked more Ethiopian while others looked more Arabic while others looked more Southern European.
I met this guy from Canada who was a tourist.
I saw more cats.
I took pictures with the Koutoubia Mosque’s tower.
I remember the morning when I left Morocco—old style Sedans on the road, the bright Moroccan sun, and the eclectic airport. I remember the taxi driver taking me through broad four lane roads that were a contrast to the narrow Marrakech city streets. I got to the airport in time for my flight to Israel on Swiss Air.