Monthly Archives: March 2012

Orlando…Part I

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After a long, five hour, bus ride, we finally arrived to the destination we were all looking forward to for more than two months now: Orlando. We have never been more excited than at the moment we arrived in the city, or at least not since we came back from our trip to New York. However, we were all exhausted and the gloomy and rainy weather was not helping our situation. So, we hopped into the taxi, hoping we would soon get to our 7 dollars a night hotel.

You have to know that when you decide to book a room (for 5 people), in a hotel, that costs $7 a night, you don’t really know what to expect quality speaking. We knew we would have enough space for all of us to sleep and a bathroom, but that was it. So, when the taxi driver took us to a hotel where huge statues were at the top and where there was supposed to be an immense swimming pool, we kind of realized that this was too good to be true, way too good to be true. Now, the problem was that not only did we end up at the wrong hotel, but the taxi driver didn’t even know where our hotel was, even if we kept yelling at her the address. Therefore, when we finally made it to the right place (and yes, that hotel did not have any kind of statues), the meter was showing $110. There was no way on earth we would pay $110, even if we could afford it. We ended up paying $25 which we realized afterwards was a pretty good deal considering the tremendous amount of time we wasted sitting in that car.

After settling down at the hotel, we realized that a nice diner was less than 5 minutes away from the hotel. We had never experienced so far how it felt like to eat in a typical American diner and I have to admit that it is one of the best experiences I’ve had so far in the US. Not only was it cheap, but the food was exquisite and it was also very cozy with a homely atmosphere all around. All that remained to be done was going back to the hotel and relax. So we did. We came back to the hotel where we spent a peaceful and restful night without realizing what an exciting journey was waiting for us the next day.

Saying it was “just” a roller-coaster about the “Hulk” is a terrible underestimation. “Islands of Adventure” was the first theme park we decided to go to. We could see the famous Universal Studios’ globe from far away, but taking picture beside it was not part of Monday’s plans. We spent the whole day visiting Harry Potter’s castle, facing our fears by getting into different roller coasters and getting completely wet after being in an aquatic roller coaster. It was an exciting experience. During that day, it was not about magic like it was about to be in Disney, it was more about just letting go and having as much fun as we were having every day when we were little kids.

The following day, we woke up at 6:30 AM in order to be able to get on the shuttle that would directly take us to Epcot, one of Disney World’s theme parks. That day was what could call “relaxing”. No roller coasters and no crazy scary rides, all we did during the whole day was take pictures with Disney characters and attend to movies and shows. We got a chance to visit a few countries and imagine my surprise when I discovered that Morocco was represented in Disney World. I could not believe that people from all around the world are able to get a glimpse of my country just by coming to Disney. Unfortunately, when we went there, I realized that they were selling to people lies. The restaurants were selling people Syrian and Lebanese food while the shops were selling Egyptian clothes. Nothing about that place was Moroccan, except for the people working there which were actually imported from Morocco. It was a huge disappointment for me as I realized that it was all about marketing. However, I wasn’t about to let that destroy the rest of my day, let      alone the rest of my trip. At that moment, I didn’t quite grasp the fact that was living one of the best experiences of my entire life and I hate myself now for letting such things ruin my day.  Fortunately, I realized how lucky I was for being where I was and doing what I did at the end of the day, while watching what I thought were the most splendid fireworks I’ve ever seen. But at that moment, I still didn’t know what I was going to live during the rest of my trip…

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I’m in South Beach!

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83 °F… Eighty three degrees Fahrenheit! At 1PM, right before the plane took off from Washington DC, I was freezing. Less than two hours later, it was 83°F! The sun was out and there was air conditioner everywhere which meant being inside of a store was actually cooler than outside. We could wear T-shirts and South beach was 2 minutes away from our hostel. Two minutes! I know that every American right now is making fun of how ridiculous I sound. I mean: Did this girl ever saw the beach before? Well yes, I did! However, it was not in the middle of a freezing exchange semester in Washington DC, 4000 miles away from home, right after leaving a midterm. Spring break was an intense experience. But let’s talk about Miami first and this time, don’t tell me it is not intense for Americans as well.

The sea is green. Saying that the sea is blue would be an insult to South Beach. I have been to a lot of different beaches in the world but not once have I seen such a clear water. The view was simply magical. However, I have to admit that I did not enjoy the experience quiet as much as the rest of my friends did. While all of them just enjoyed sun tanning at the beach, I let my eyes wonder around. People were getting drunk everywhere and at hours as early as 10AM. Every single group of friends had a radio that played a different kind of music and it was like all the girls were competing for the title of “miss most naked girl in South Beach”. I try as much as I can to not judge the culture of the United States based on my very conservative Moroccan culture. But I have to admit that in that case, the people partying in Miami took carelessness and degradation to a whole new level.

I like to think that Miami is a place where people go to just let go of their daily routine and stress and just party without thinking of the consequences, and that is fine. However, this is not the kind of lifestyle that someone can have on a daily basis. The restaurants there compete over customers by hiring the “hottest” waitresses and every single one of the nightclubs there has perfectly well-shaped girls who dance on the bar during the whole night. I can see why customers would enjoy such a “nice view” but I do have a hard time understanding why would people decide to live such a lifestyle where there is no stability and just carelessness every day, every time, everywhere…

Anyway, enough rambling about the cultural differences. The most important thing about this trip to Miami is that it made me discover a whole other side of the United States of America. A side where people are not always in a rush to get somewhere, a side where the metro doesn’t exist, a side where the only thing that matters is to enjoy the present without worrying for a single second about its consequences on the future. All of these people that I saw there seemed happy, truly happy to share unique moments with their friends. And after all, isn’t that what matters the most?

Last but not least: the food in Miami was exquisite. For sure, it was expensive but there is no way we could have gone all the way to Miami and not have seafood for at least one meal. And breakfast…Belgian waffles with whipped cream, maple syrup and strawberries. Simply delicious! In case you didn’t already notice, you need to know that food is my indulgence, a guilty pleasure that I enjoy so much I tend to forget about the guilt part. But now the question is: am I willing to go back to Miami just because of the great food? After a long and thoughtful consideration, I honestly believe that South Beach is not a place for me. On the other hand, I would go back to Orlando in a heartbeat. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. I will tell you know everything about my adventures in Orlando in my next post. Meanwhile, all I can tell you is that it is really a place where age doesn’t matter anymore. Everyone just becomes a child again…

Hate

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I, like most people, sometimes feel threatened by the World. We’ve all at some point concluded that everyone were out to get us, that we don’t deserve our misfortune. We are all, regrettably, embedded with a predisposition towards self-serving bias.

The truth is that if you’re reading this there is overwhelming chance that you’re fortunate enough to live comfortably in a bubble void of fear and hate. My troubles seem to me insurmountable at times, but the truth is that they’re often self-inflicted and easily avoided and most certainly always trivial when put in context.

Contrast would perhaps better describe the intent. I’ve never experienced hate. Never once have I evoked such extreme reaction or felt so utterly enraged that the only solution was hate. For this very reason it is often far too easy to dismiss the news from around the World of terror, simply because we cannot sympathize. We’ve never walked in their shoes.

Times are very different now than really ever before in that we now, those of us fortunate enough to live in reasonable prosperity, live in a world of social media. This lends an opportunity to find strength in numbers, and more importantly it provides a platform to constantly remind us all of the terror and hate. To inspire us to do more to change what we can and ultimately to provide contrast.

To this end I’d like to ask anyone reading this to take 30 minutes of their no-doubt busy schedule and watch the movie below and hopefully succeed in making the monstrously hateful Joseph Kony famous.

The East Coast and 4 Megabuses

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I had to wait for my brother to come visit me to finally take some time to travel outside DC. In seven days I spent 19 hours in a bus and I now have an overall opinion about the major cities of the East Coast: New York, Philadelphia and Boston.

1) Skiing in New York

Everybody loves New York. It’s “the greatest city of the world” a wise man once said (when I think about it, it may just have been Ted Mosby in How I Met Your Mother). Since I am not a very adventurous tourist, I went to see the Statue of Liberty, the Public Library, Central Park, Brooklyn Bridge and all those things you can see on postcards.

Everything was great I admit. Yet, it’s in New York that I found the one place I never want to go back to ever again: Time Square. You never find the appropriate pace to walk at there. Either you try to go fast and someone brutally stops in front of you or you walk slowly and everybody runs around you. The last time I felt this way was when I went skying in France. You have people coming in every direction, going faster or slower than you and when you stop you have strange expensive shops all around you.

I also got the chance to see a musical: Memphis. A good experience to realize that musicals can actually be an impressive show when they have enough money. I should bring that lesson back to France.

Delicious chocolate: “Chocolate Café” (near the Flatiron)

Shopping: Brooklyn industries in Williamsburg

2) Living in the shoes of a leprechaun in Boston 

My brother reserved rooms for us via “airbnb”. That’s how I discovered it was better to be 2-inch tall to live in Boston. I had seen on the pictures that in our apartment everything was close to each other. What I did not know was that all the furniture were also small and that the apartment was under the level of the ground… Strange city.

Yet, Boston was great, not gigantic like New York. People were extremely nice, which is strange for a Parisian. We had only arrived in Boston for ten minutes when a middle-aged man asked us what we were looking for and walked us there.

Like everybody we went to Harvard. I touched the left foot of John Harvard and sunbathed on the grass. I personally found the place a little bit oppressive but it may because it was Spring Break and not a lot of people were there. Still, it’s worth going there, at least to take a picture of yourself in front of the library (or, truly, any building) and send it to your parents.

Shopping: Gooring Bros (to buy hats) in Cambridge

Must-see: The Shoah memorial

3) Looking for one-dollar bills in Philly

Philadelphia, its history … and its metro. I personally think that not only the constitution was signed in Philadelphia but the first metro was also created there. This was the beta version of the metro systems. They saw that it did not work and they decided never to do that ever again. Let me explain. It works with coins called “tokens”. You have to buy tokens – $3.10 dollars for two tokens – but only machines sell tokens and there aren’t machines at every station. When there is no machine you have to give 2 dollars to the person who works at this station. Yet, and this is where it becomes tricky, the person doesn’t give change back (even though she/he must have thousands of 1-dollar bills). So you must have one-dollar bills with you all the time. Sometimes, there is a machine but it doesn’t take coins. It will ask you 4 dollars and give you 90 cents back… so the machine gives you coins but doesn’t take them. And if you managed to survive all this and stay calm you can enjoy a very complicated metro map and express lines that don’t indicate where they don’t stop.

In spite of the metro, Philly was nice. You can download Rocky’s soundtrack and run in front of the Museum of Arts and, the next hour, learn about the founding fathers and American history: two activities you rarely compile in one day.

Everybody told me you could see Philadelphia in one day. I think a couple of days might be better if you want to do everything and not just go to the main tourist places. In one day we saw the Independence Hall, Liberty Bell, Korean War Memorial and we walked around the city. Yet, it’s true that we spent half of the day eating French Toast stuffed with maple at Sam’s Glory Dinner.

Delicious cheesecake: Darling’s Coffeehouse (South Street and 20th)

Must-do: take a picture with Rocky at the Museum of Arts

I’m in Miami..euu.. South Beach!

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83 °F… Eighty three degrees Fahrenheit! At 1PM, right before the plane took off from Washington DC, I was freezing. Less than two hours later, it was 83°F! The sun was out and there was air conditioner everywhere which meant being inside of a store was actually cooler than outside. We could wear T-shirts and South beach was 2 minutes away from our hostel. Two minutes! I know that every American right now is making fun of how ridiculous I sound. I mean: Did this girl ever see the beach before? Well yes, I did! However, it was not in the middle of a freezing exchange semester in Washington DC, 4000 miles away from home, right after leaving a midterm. Spring break was an intense experience. But let’s talk about Miami first and this time, don’t tell me it is not intense for Americans as well.

The sea is green. Saying that the sea is blue would be an insult to South Beach. I have been to a lot of different beaches in the world but not once have I seen such a clear water. The view was simply magical. However, I have to admit that I did not enjoy the experience quite as much as the rest of my friends did. While all of them just enjoyed sun tanning at the beach, I let my eyes wonder around. People were getting drunk everywhere and at hours as early as 10AM. Every single group of friends had a radio that played a different kind of music and it was like all the girls were competing for the title of “miss most naked girl in South Beach”. I try as much as I can to not judge the culture of the United States based on my very conservative Moroccan culture. But I have to admit that in that case, the people partying in Miami took carelessness and degradation to a whole new level.

I like to think that Miami is a place where people go to just let go of their daily routine and stress and just party without thinking of the consequences, and that is fine. However, this is not the kind of lifestyle that someone can have on a daily basis. The restaurants there compete over customers by hiring the “hottest” waitresses and every single one of the nightclubs there has perfectly well-shaped girls who dance on the bar during the whole night. I can see why customers would enjoy such a “nice view” but I do have a hard time understanding why would people decide to live such a lifestyle where there is no stability and just carelessness every day, every time, everywhere…
Anyway, enough rambling about the cultural differences. The most important thing about this trip to Miami is that it made me discover a whole other side of the United States of America. A side where people are not always in a rush to get somewhere, a side where the metro doesn’t exist, a side where the only thing that matters is to enjoy the present without worrying for a single second about its consequences on the future. All of these people that I saw there seemed happy, truly happy to share unique moments with their friends. And after all, isn’t that what matters the most?

Last but not least: the food in Miami was exquisite. For sure, it was expensive but there is no way we could have gone all the way to Miami and not have seafood for at least one meal. And breakfast…Belgian waffles with whipped cream, maple syrup and strawberries. Simply delicious! In case you didn’t already notice, you need to know that food is my indulgence, a guilty pleasure that I enjoy so much I tend to forget about the guilt part. But now the question is: am I willing to go back to Miami just because of the great food? After a long and thoughtful consideration, I honestly believe that South Beach is not a place for me. On the other hand, I would go back to Orlando in a heartbeat. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. I will tell you know everything about my adventures in Orlando in my next post. Meanwhile, all I can tell you is that it is really a place where age doesn’t matter anymore. Everyone just becomes a child again…

Kitchen essentials for the lazy exchange student

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I’m a notoriously bad shopper. This extends to pretty much all aspects of my life, which explains why about 92% of my wardrobe is H&M clothing. Essentially I just go for what’s easy and painless (praise the glory of Amazon.com). One of the few places I can’t just fall back on online shopping and sort by best reviewed or most popular is grocery shopping. This means that the rare occasions I can be spotted at a grocery store I’m usually just pacing blindly back and forth with an empty expression of despair in my eyes.

For this reason I have resolved to put down a list of “Kitchen essentials for the lazy exchange student” to make my life easier. With these at hand (in fridge) you’ll be sure to cook yourself through any troubles and have a mediocre meal to show for it.

Spice
This one is rather obvious; we need salt, pepper and paprika. But wait! There’s more! Next time you go to a burger place put on some nice clothes (read: no sweat stains) and hit on the waitress. Just casual, mind you. A nice tip is to pretend to be just a wee bit drunk to fight the awkwardness, but not enough to be the annoying, loud drunk. Whatever you do, you must refrain to give her a friendly pat on the back because that’s sexual harassment (even if it’s acceptable behavior for old men in some countries; Italy). The point of all of this trouble is to be able to pseudo-jokingly ask the waitress, as you’re about to leave, if you can keep the steak&fries seasoning they keep at the table. If you’ve played your cards well, she will smile and say “yes”. Wink her to show appreciation. This spice is a wonderful addition to your spice cabinet as it goes with damn near everything.

Meat
If you’re a vegetarian you should take a moment here to reflect on your priorities and then spend whatever time is left on missing bacon. I like to keep chicken, beef and pork at hand and rotate between them. This keeps my food pyramid from becoming too stagnant, because obviously they’re all seasoned with the same burgerplace-spice. What I do, to keep my budget down, is getting them in bulk, then putting it all in individual meal size zip-lock bags and store it all in the freezer. Because I’m somewhat ecologically conscious I also reuse the zip-lock bags (protip). Now all you have to do is remember to take your meat of the day out of the freezer in the morning so it’s thawed up and nice when you’re planning to cook it. WARNING! I don’t trust microwaves, so do not use the de-freeze function on them!

Vegetables
Onion, sweet potatoes, white mushrooms, peppers and zucchini are staples in my fridge. Like all the items on this list they go with damn near anything. Omelet, fried vegetable side, vegetable soup, sauces. That’s everything! This also reminds me of the next object…

Eggs
Eggs keep for a long time and serve as a quick meal when time is limited. Other than the obvious uses in omelets and sandwiches, I also sometimes hard boil a few of them and keep them in the fridge for later use.

Skyr + bananas
I’ve coupled this combo because I always eat them together. See Skyr is an Icelandic traditional yogurt. In america it’s actually classified as a cheese, but never mind that. Skyr is naturally fat free, low calorie and extremely high in protein, so it’s really good for you. But natural, unsweetened Skyr is also pretty sour, so to counter than I enjoy it with sliced bananas, as a source of natural sweetness. It’s perfect for “that 2:30 feeling” (that’s a trademark owned by 5 hour energy). Skyr is available in Whole Foods, you should try it out.

Sweet Baby Ray’s BBQ Sauce
This goes along with the spice section above, it goes fantastically with all the meats and spices above. Nothing more to say on this one. It’s the best BBQ sauce by far.

Oat meal + raisins
I start every morning with a bowl of oatmeal. It’s super quick and easy, just throw it in the microwave for 30 secs and let it sit for a minute and it’s ready. In America there’s a vast array of flavored, prepackaged oatmeal available, but you don’t need it. Just buy one of those huge cylinders of pure oatmeal and sweeten it with raisins. It’s so much cheaper, lasts forever and is a lot healthier. It’s also really tasty.

Chips
This one is an old camping secret of mine. Whatever you’re cooking, literally whatever, you can always use chips to make it better. Need some breadcrumbs to bread your pork? No, silly, use crushed chips! Are you lacking some crunch to your burger? Well, throw some chips on it! Did you run out of burger flirty-spice? Just crush up some chips and sprinkle them on there! It’s as easy as that.

This concludes my list for now. With these new found culinary weapons in your artillery, you should all be on the fast track to becoming adequate, albeit sub-par, cooks in no time!

New York Part II

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The statue of Liberty… I couldn’t believe my eyes when I could barely see it standing on that island, far away from where I was.  I couldn’t believe it either when I was standing at the bottom of it, a few meters away from it. There it was, proudly and majestically standing in front of me, representing such a long and deep-rooted history. However, all I could think about was: this is it. This is the place that I’ve been dreaming of seeing since I came to the US. This is the statue that I’ve seen in hundreds of movies and read about in most of my history classes. I was in front of the “symbol” of the United States of America.

Soon enough, I discovered that there was more to see in New York… way more! The museums were absolutely amazing and impossible to see in just one day. It took us three days to see all of them and we still feel as if we rushed through them. The only museum that we didn’t get a chance to see was the natural history one. But why bother? There is an even better one right here in DC! However, I have to admit that the best that I got a chance to see in New York is the Empire State Building.

One of my friends and I were running late. We were supposed to meet at the entrance at 8PM as we wanted to see New York “by night” and fully enjoy the lights illuminating the whole city. However, at exactly 8:05PM, we got out of the metro station and wondered who to ask in order to get there. As I looked up at the sky, I realized that no asking was necessary. The Empire State Building, with its hundred and something floors, looked like it was staring at the city. We could see the white, red and blue colors at the top of it. We could see those colors knowing that that was the exact spot where we would all be standing in a few minutes. We literally run towards the building, as the excitation and apprehension both were filling every part of our body.

Nothing could possibly describe how I felt as I got out of the elevator and faced the immensity of the world ahead of me. I didn’t care anymore about who was with me or whether it was cold outside or not (and believe me, it was freezing). I opened that last door that was separating me from the terrace and stood there for about fifteen minutes, staring at the exact same thing, without moving, almost without breathing. The expression “take my breath away” fully applied in that situation. That view was breath taking! And as I started slowly moving around the terrace, I realized that each side of the building enabled me to look at a different world. There, I could see the river. Here I can see the huge buildings. And there I could see the Brooklyn Bridge. We spent more than two hours there. One might ask what we could possibly do for two entire hours at the top of a building. Well, go to the top of the empire state building and you’ll realize that you can never get tired of that view. It is simply magical.

As I got back inside of the building, I could notice people kissing everywhere. And for one moment, one tiny little moment, it made me sad. As much as I enjoyed going there with my friends from all over the world, I realized that nothing can replace going there with “the one”. But I couldn’t think about that right now. I still had a whole day to spend in New York. I had to keep smiling. However, as soon as I got in the bus that was taking us back to DC, I let my thoughts and emotions run free. So, I sat there, for four hours, thinking about this visit to New York was incomplete. I looked at my friends, happily sleeping, and I envied them for not feeling what I felt. Therefore, I promised myself one thing: one day, I will come back. One day, I will go back to the top of the Empire State Building and as I will look at the beauty of the world ahead of me, I will turn to my right and kiss the man that I love. It’s only at that precise moment that I will finally feel like my visit in New York is complete.