It’s one of the most iconic monuments in Berlin’s skyline. This strange orb suspended in midair by a giant needle is representative of all the quirkiness of my favourite city in Europe. After two years of spying the Fernsehturm from afar, I had to go eat in the revolving restaurant atop this former communist monument to the their cutting edge technology.
The verdict? Mediocre food, poor service, but man oh man was the view incredible.
I’ve been a sometimes professional, sometimes hobby video editor and producer since I was in college, and one of the best and worst things about doing this is how much footage I have to throw away to get a good video.
It’s supremely frustrating to throw away the footage I like best just because doesn’t fit into the flow of the final piece. Such was the case with this Morocco video. I has to sacrifice some of the funniest moments of our trip for the fact that a web video needs to be snappy and have a rhythm to it.
So kick back and watch 10 minutes of what things were really like in when I tried to film a vlog for three weeks in Morocco — this time without a backing music track driving the pace forward.
As I was preparing for my trip to Morocco, I spoke to a friend about my first trip to a Muslim country.
“Have you ever been to a Muslim country or city?” I asked my friend, who lives in London.
“Of course. I live in London.” He replied with no hint of irony in his tone.
It was a funny-but-true observation about London’s multi-culturalism, but I thought it sold Morocco short. I was looking forward to seeing a country full of mosques and minarets and turbans.
My three weeks in Morocco were overwhelming. Sometimes good, sometimes frustrating but always fascinating, the country of Morocco is a study in contrasts.
One day I was riding through the impossibly dry, surprisingly cold Sahara desert. Just one day later I was walking through the snowfields high in the High Atlas Mountains. A day after that I was taking surfing lessons in the pristine beaches of Taghazout
The contrasts weren’t limited to my physical surroundings. The culture changed as often as the weather. In places like the formerly Spanish settlement of Chefchaouan, the locals didn’t take any mind to us. Contrast that to busy-bee Marrakech, which featured some of the most unpleasantly aggressive shopkeepers I’ve ever encountered. (That’s where a guy threw a snake around my neck without so much as a hello.)
I didn’t come out of Morocco with a greater understanding for it, I probably know only slightly more about Moroccan culture, food and history than I did before. The biggest thing I learned was how limited my knowledge was about the country.
My monolithic perception of Morocco as a country filled with mosques, minarets and turbans was only partially true. Returning home, I now know that that putting Morocco into a box of mosques/minarets/turbans is about as fair of saying England is all about tea/The Queen/Cricket or the USA is all about cowboys/guns/freedom.
Sometimes, the purpose of travelling to a place is to remind you how little you know about the world.
Such is the paradox of travel. That’s why I keep travelling, so I can better know what I don’t know.
I visited Morocco as a guest of Busabout’s Morocco Encompassed trip. Thanks Busabout!
Even us nomads have to get back to grown-up jobs every now and again.
Faced with the prospect of another bar/retail/waiter/hourly job during my tour guide off-season, I experienced a moment of clairvoyance when my second season as a tour guide ended last month. “I’m going to live in a normal house and cook normal dinners and work normal hours,” I thought. It was less of a thought actually, more of an fantasy image of my future life. The thought of stability made me as happy and excited as the trip to Morocco I was on when I had it. Actually, as I was riding camels through the Sahara, surfing in Taghazout and fending off merchants in the souks of Marrakech, 10% of my brain was thinking about the daunting job hunt I had ahead of me.
Thing is, I’ve been out of a my chosen industry for three years now. I worked at an ad agency and newspaper in Minneapolis, but that was back in what feels like forever ago (2009, actually). Could I just tie up my travel and tour guide experience, put it in a container and throw it in the corner of my brain filled with the rest of my no-longer useful knowledge? Left to decay over the course of my life, I would look back decades from now and realize I scarcely remembered how to book a cheap flight, rebook cancelled ferry tickets for 50 people or understand the political complexities of 1930s Europe. The knowledge I will have once possessed will have long-since fallen by the wayside, just as so much training into the rules of Lincoln-Douglass debate did; or the methods to writing a term paper on no sleep; or the difference between 3/4″ tape and a BetaMax.
No, I can’t allow my future self to forget the knowledge my present self has from working as a tour guide. My three-year sojourn away from the bad economy in the media industry led me to an industry I loved even more: Travel. I want to spend my working days making dream holidays for people. I want to live the life where taking a jaunt to Morocco, Italy, Greece or Croatia isn’t a once-in-a-lifetime getaway, but just another day at the office.
That’s why I’m pleased to announce some pretty major changes in my life. Today, I started my first day at a new job. My new employer is launching a new product in 2013, and I’ve been asked to help with the launch. The product I’m working on specialises in charter yacht trips down Croatia’s Dalmatian Coast. It’s a big step forward from my two years as a tour guide, and I’m very excited to be working with a small, family-owned business.
Of course, a permanent job means a permanent location, which is why I’m writing this from the comfort of my new flat in Windsor, England. Rubbing shoulders with Elizabeth, I now share a city with the castle in which the Queen of England spends most of her time. I’ll keep you posted on any sightings.
For now though, I must go. I have to do something I can’t believe I’m excited about. I have to wash my dishes after cooking myself dinner — something I haven’t had the opportunity to do since I last lived in my own flat in Galway, way back in April 2010. Stretching my legs around the world was nice, but now domesticity is appealing to me as much as traveling once did.
Street vendors are everywhere and they’re persistant as hell. Today in Marrakech, Morocco, I learned the hard way why you don’t let one of them get near you.
“I quit,” I said with my chuckle. “I’m not sure I can give you a full two weeks’ notice.” My boss looked at me and smiled. “Good for you.” He had counciled me on making this big life decision. I went back to my desk and typed up an announcement of sorts. I was going to quit my job, break my lease and move overseas. Indefinitely. That was three years ago today.
Because of the anniversary, I’ve been combing the archives of this little blog and feeling some schadenfreude for the poor sap who won’t just settle down and live in the moment. At the beginning of December 2009 I wrote this:
“I need to learn to better deal with uncertainty, to let go of my stresses and have faith that the universe will guide me to the proper course. I’ll be very interested in reading this post in a month with the knowledge of where I ended up.”
If only I could send a message to that guy and tell him where I am now: I’m in London’s Gatwick Airport preparing to tick my forth contient off the box. In an hour I fly to Morocco, where I’ll be touring traditional berbers, riding a camel in the Sahara and even taking a surfing lesson.
In the meantime though, I’d like to show you the highlights of some of the archived posts I’ve been reading. First and most noteably, I was almost deported upon entering Ireland. As I struggled to find a way to pay the bills, I went through some odd job interview experiences, most notably when I found myself way out on the side of a highway in Galway after an interview went horribly wrong and I was found myself suddenly hired to sell make-up door-to-door.
As I settled in I found myself alone during Christmas. The writing is alright, but the pictures that accompany my expatriate Christmas blog are among my best.
Due to the strange facet of blogging that is SEO (search engine optimisation), what continues to be my most popular entry was a one-off in which I listed my top ten expat discoveries of everyday life in Ireland. I wrote more narrative posts, too, like when I endured my most embarrassing travel experience after being tricked by an Irishman. After getting a job as a lowly stock-room employee in Ireland, I was almost fired when I told my boss to “settle down.”
Before long, that job was getting tiresome for me and I found a new opportunity managing a hostel in Wales. After moving to the U.K. I had my first experience with Britain’s Big Brother-like network of cameras.
Before long though I was off to my next experience after I was hired as a tour guide through Europe. On my way over, I learned the hard way what happens when you deny the TSA the opportunity to frisk you. As a tour guide I faced some challenges, like when one of my passengers witnessed a suicide or when I witnessed a grisly car accident.
More recently, I’ve written about suffering the death of a family member while abroad (even if the family member in question was canine).
In the midst of it all, I produced a failed attempt to turn Two Passports into a multi-authored blog. While I’ve since abandoned that experiment, the masthead serves as a reminder of its existence with the pluralized tagline “Stories of lives lived abroad” (I’m still working on finding a new masthead). While the multi-authored idea didn’t take off, there were some great posts I’m proud to have hosted about living in Tanzania, Buddism in China, and British versus American English.
Finally, I started a series of travel videos using a GoPro camera, a series I just recently restarted.
…and that brings you up to date on my last three years. Thank you all for taking the time to read Two Passports and especially for those of you that have left comments. Everytime I go home I’m reminded of how many more people read this blog than I think. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve started a story and had someone stop me. “Oh yeah, I read this in your blog.” It has meant so much to me to hear your words of support during the hard times and congratulations during the good ones. Here’s to three more years.
Amsterdam is a city off efficiency — too much efficiency. Bicycles outnumber people in The Venice of the North, so bikes zip around in their own lanes of traffic. Great for bikes, but a bit dangerous for pedestrians as they need to navigate their way across street crossing and bike crossings, both with their own traffic signals.
I captured this time lapse video whilst driving into Amsterdam on a cloudy day, which makes for a nifty effect as the clouds whipping across the sky. I end walking along the Vondelpark toward my hostel for the evening. Apologies for any motion sickness that will occur while watching that part.
This is part of a series of letters to a group of school kids in Sweden. If you missed the first one, make sure to check out here.
Hello kids in 5c,
Totte and I have been having a lot of fun on the road together. Earlier this week, we went to Berlin, the capital of Germany. I’ve been going to Berlin for two years now, but Totte said it was his first time so I took him on a little walk around. We went to the Berlin Zoo, and although we tried we couldn’t show Totte any real, live bears — they were all hiding — we did get a look at some monkeys, lions and giraffes.
One thing I wanted to be sure to show Totte was the Berlin Wall. There’s not much that’s left of it anymore, but it wasn’t always that way. Until twenty years ago, Berlin was actually two cities. One was called East Berlin and the other West Berlin. Between each city stood a big, concrete wall that nobody was allowed to cross. A lot of people weren’t very happy about this big, concrete wall cutting their city in half, so they invented some pretty amazing ways of getting around it. Some people went over it — one family even built a homemade hot air balloon. Some people went under it, digging a big hole in the ground. Some people even swam underwater in the river to get to the other side. Meanwhile, some people started painting artwork on the wall as an act of protest. The government in East Berlin told them to stop, but they kept doing it in secret, painting all sorts of things. Some painted beautiful pictures, while others just wrote their names. I think that’s why Berlin is one of my favourite cities. It is filled with people who “march to the beat of their own drum”. I’m not sure if that will translate very well into Swedish, but it means that they make decisions for themselves, without being worried if others will tease them.
Here is another example: While we were in Berlin’s Kreuzberg neighbourhood Totte and I heard some very loud music and singing coming from a tunnel that went under some train tracks. We went to investigate and found two people playing violin very passionately. One was a man and one was a woman, but both were wearing dresses. I thought I might ask the man why he was wearing a dress, but he was too busy dancing and singing. The song he sang was filled with made-up words and sounds. As he sung and played violin, he also danced. He ankles were covered with bells that made a sound whenever he stomped his feet, so he used the bells as drums in his song. Meanwhile, the woman was dressed up sort of like a fairy. She sang in a beautiful soprano while he sang and danced. (Soprano means she sang very, very high notes.) It was one of the strangest things I’d ever seen, but when I stopped paying attention to the fact that the man was wearing a dress and the woman was dressed like a fairy, I realised that they were making beautiful music. I wasn’t the only one. When they finished I started clapping, and when I looked behind me I saw that a bunch of other people had come to listen to them. They were clapping as enthusiastically as I was. That’s why I love Berlin. It is the kind of place where anything could happen.
After Totte and I walked the length of the wall, which they call “The East Side Gallery,” we ate some sushi for dinner and went home. Next stop: Munich!
Note: I did some research and discovered the band I saw was called Tribal Baroque. I’m can’t stress enough how amazing they sound. They have a music video of the song I saw being perfomed. Check it out:
Some weeks of memorable anniversaries for me start today. Three years ago on November 1 I posted my first entry to Two Passports. That entry was in anticipation of an event that I celebrate the third anniversary of on the 14th of November, the day I became an expatriate.
Finally, today is my birthday. I turn 27. Twenty-Seven is the twilight of my twenties, when the term “late twenties” can be said with ever-increasing accuracy and, notably, when a whole boatload of famous people have joined “The 27 Club” (aka died).
Amy Winehouse, Curt Cobain, Jimi Hendrix and many other musicians never made it past 27, and I can see why. There’s a sense of invincibility that comes with being 27. My confidence in myself has increased so much — I look at some of the posts I made on Two Passports and can hardly recognise the guy writing them. He’s so unsure of himself, of his direction in life and what other people are thinking of him. Fast forward three years. While I don’t have much more of an idea of where I’ll be in three years as I did when I wrote those first blog entries, I’ve come to terms with living in the moment and enjoying this amazing opportunity to live abroad while it’s available to me.
In my early twenties everything was tentative. I wasn’t an expat, I was “living abroad,” a term that implies a finite end date. I wasn’t working as a video editor at one of the world’s leading ad agencies, I was “just” working an internship and hoping for something more. I wasn’t working a dream job in an industry where jobs were almost impossible to come by, I was “only” working in a contracted position at one America’s top newspapers. A side-effect of my early twenties was to temper expectations, to cut myself down before people had a chance to judge me for themselves.
Well, no more at 27 years of age. I’ve got the confidence in myself without the stigma or responsibility of old(er) age. For those members of The 27 Club, that confidence enabled their depression of drug addiction. God-willing I won’t follow the same path, but today, twenty-seven is sounding alright to me.
Paris, the most vibrant city in Europe. Too often people think of Paris and they think of the Eiffel Tower, Versailles and the Louvre. But to me, the tourist sights take second fiddle to the omnipresent energy of the city. Paris is the New York of Europe: Dirty, smelly, loud, full of colourful characters and never dull. I think this video I took of a Parisian traffic jam really captures that feeling.
Special thanks to Tyler Tholl for writing some original music to accompany the video.