Swinging Good Time in Bali

Bali was not what we expected – we were picturing beautiful beach town, somewhat Hawaii vibes, with calm quiet beaches. It was more of a city with tons of traffic and buildings crammed together… definitely would not recommend renting a car there.

We got picked up from the airport by the Devdan Show at Bali Nusa Dua Theatre. Because there was a gap between our flight landing and the show beginning, they brought us to a cute mall shopping area nearby (a block away from the show). The show went through the history and culture of the country via dance and song… honestly we all passed out from the 24 hours of traveling.

They also drove us to our hotel after the show. The bathroom was low-key outside in the jungle – completely enclosed from unwanted visitors, of course. We rented the two room villa with private pool. In hindsight, we should have stayed in the location called Ubud, because that’s where almost all of the sightseeing activities were and where most free shuttles from hotels to activities exist (more of a central location than Kerobokan).

Day #2 – we did a full day design your own tour of Bali. It was $60 for the whole day, the entire group included, but we did have to pay entrance fees on top of the $60. The guide spoke English and they essentially drove us around the city. They also only accept cash for entrance fees, as a heads up. We highly recommend our drive Raka +628123612524, who taught us much about the culture in Bali, and was super nice. You should wear a nice outfit on this day because we didn’t get dirty, and there were so many photo opportunities. We started off at the Bali Swings, which is made for tourists and Instagrammers – beautiful scenery and spots to take pictures. (If you pay extra, they have professional photographers available who can airdrop you the pictures from their cameras. Also, get here early to beat the crowds. More about that later).

Next stop was Monkey Forest – the monkeys there are PSYCHO – you are not allowed to touch, feed, or stare these monkeys in the eye. This is not a drill. The monkeys will most likely also climb on your head – the baby monkeys are adorable, but we also didn’t stay too long because we were also scared of most of the monkeys present (see picture below).

Then we went to Tegenungan Waterfall which had a nice little hike down, but nothing too strenuous. The Rice Fields came next, which also had its own Bali Swings, so if you don’t like big crowds, this would be a better place to get a photo – the swings here are also prettier, if that helps (we waited half an hour for the first set of swings at the beginning of the day). They also have other activities there, such as zip-lining. We didn’t each much this day, but you must bring your own kosher food as a general rule of thumb for Bali.

Day #3 – 1 a.m. pickup, so go to bed early the night before 🙂 If we would have stayed in Ubud, the pickup would have been at 3 am and wouldn’t have cost extra. We did a sunrise hike of the Batur Volcano. It was a difficult hike up (about 2.5 hours) but we were given flashlights… it’s pretty chilly once you get to the top, post hike, so bring a jacket and a blanket if you don’t mind carrying it up in a backpack. They sell blankets at the top if you have cash on you. The view is absolutely stunning, the guide was helpful and encouraging (his name is Ketut), and we would do it all again (from Ubud) if we went back.

They have little burners at the top, so we had brought marshmallows and skewers from America to roast with (our guides had no idea what marshmallows were!) – they also gave us free fruit. You also get to meet other tour groups along the way, which was a really nice experience. The hike back down was during the daylight, and the scenery was beautiful. Really steep as a heads up! The volcano is also active, so there’s ash and molten rock around that disintegrate under you as you walk – our sneakers got really dirty after that and we couldn’t really wear them the rest of the trip. They also take you to a coffee plantation after, but we opted out because we were exhausted, and had already visited a coffee plantation in Costa Rica #firstworldproblems.

We went back to the villa to rest up, and at night, we hit up… the Night Safari. It’s a pretty big deal in Bali (John Legend and his family had gone, among other celebrities). They also offer cool day time tours with other perks available, but we chose the Night Safari. They picked us up from our hotel, and gave us a tour of their zoo as the sun began to set. Then, they put you in a special caged truck, and you drive through the area of animals, where the animals climb over the truck. You’re given food to feed the animals through the caged truck. When you get back from this reverse zoo, they have a free non-kosher dinner buffet (we swiped some fruit), and also a fire dance show.

Day #4 – Snorkel Tour at Blue Lagoon. Their driver brought us to port where we could change into your own bathing suits; they give you the snorkel gear. They take you on their boat to two snorkeling spots – the first spot was nicer than the second spot, and definitely bring some sort of water camera, because those fish are cayuttte. We brought our own food for after the tour (they typically have a free restaurant meal, not kosher, so we gave it to our driver who was very appreciative). This tour brought us to a coffee and tea plantation, where we got to make our own tea, and learned about the tea making process. They gave us tasting samples as well. This was our last activity of our stay in Bali!

We hired a company to bring us to the airport (about an hour away). Just as a heads up – they take a picture of your for security purposes, which startled us at first. Our hotel was also great, because they let us stay keep our luggage even though we had already checked out, and they also gave us a private room to shower and chill in before our flight (let’s also not forget the free ac and wifi).

 

 

Top Four (Week of 23 Sivan)

1. All That You Can See Sea Sea

You must take a subway to visit the South Street Seaport this summer! Not only are there beautiful streets and attractions, but Chase Sapphire has opened a temporary outdoor bar with free cell phone charging stations. The bartenders are also really well dressed and very talented. We highly recommend the Pepsi! Also as a heads up, the straws are paper. Don’t say we didn’t warn you.

2. Simply Gourmet

From the woman that brought you the Bais Yaakov cookbooks comes a new instant classic, Simply Gourmet (still 20% today on ArtScroll.com!) Simple, unique, and delicious recipes – what more could you ask for??

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3. Inward

Check out the hype on the person featured on the cover of this weeks Mishpacha magazine. Rabbi Joey Rosenfeld is also a therapist who works within the field of addiction. Because everything can be found in the Torah, Rabbi Rosenfeld gracefully ties in Torah content within his field of practice, leaving us also with a beautiful podcast by the name of Inward. Although the podcasts are on the longer side, not a minute it wasted or superfluous – jam packed with great content, and articulately worded. Rabbi Rosenfeld’s grasp on a vast variety of information both therapy and Torah related are evident by the natural flow of the content he provides.

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4. Pore Free

It’s the summer, so pore free is the way to be if we want clean skin. You must pick up a pack of this Neutrogena pore mask! I find the grapefruit version to be the best one. As a hack on how to extend the life of this product, I only cut off a tip of the packaging, and squeeze out just enough for a thing layer on my face (it’s not a pre-made sheet face mask, just as an FYI). If you close it right back up, the product won’t dry out, and I find that I can get at least three uses out of one package. CVS also often has these on sale at buy one, get one 40% off.

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Hats Off to Fes

Such regrets about not being able to spend more time in Fes – there’s so much to see there in terms of culture and history. We flew in from the Marrakesh airport, and was picked up by our driver, Hisham, who also bought us water bottles before touring the old town with our guide, Jamal. They are the dream team! Jamal is also married to a girl from Wisconsin, so he’s got the American mentality down to a science – big fans. First, we took a tour of the Medina of Fez, where no cars are allowed (or can even fit). There are many twists and turns, and really only a local would be able to get you around the area easily. There are a lot of goods to buy that are unique to Fez, such as stitch work, carpets, and leather (you can have a personalized leather jacket made for you within two hours, and delivered to your hotel). Our favorite part was meeting Ahmed at the leather market, who is featured in this Nas Daily video. They also hand you mint to smell while at the leather market, because it’s a little smelly (it really wasn’t bad in the winter though).

We were able to visit the University of Al Quaraouiyine (the worlds first university, founded by a Muslim female), which is a university where the Rambam was a professor; It is in Fes where the Rambam wrote the Mishne Torah. Currently a mosque as well, we were not able to enter the gates, and had to view from a distance.

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We didn’t realize our hotel was within the Medina, and had to walk there with our suitcases – our concierge met us and walked with us. It was definitely quite the cultural experience staying in the Medina, and was pretty beautiful, old-school, and slightly scary. We didn’t really have blankets, or WiFi, or doors to the bathroom… but we had La Briute meals! We also didn’t realize our hotel was cash only, and we had to walk to an ATM before we left. The pictures speak for themselves.

The next morning, Jamal met us and we continued to tour the Mellah (the first in Morocco). Heads up, we looked a little disheveled because we didn’t have warm enough pajamas or a warm enough hotel for the winter. We first visited the Rambam’s house (now recently a Chinese restaurant), which also has a water clock he invented which cannot be repaired because scientists are unable to figure out how it works in order to restore it.

The Jewish cemetery has a small entrance fee, and includes the kever of Solica, who was a Jewish girl who refused to convert to Islam when the governor of Tangier wanted to marry her, as well as Rabbi Vidal Hasarfati. The golden gates to the kings palace are nearby, as well as many gates to the city.

The ancient Jewish homes in the area really stand out due to their architecture looking more Spanish/Portuguese, with balconies facing the street. We visited the Ibn Danon shul (descendants of the Rambam), which also had a small entrance fee – take note of the mikveh, which has a viewing area from the middle of the floor of the shul.

It was time to say goodbye to Jamal, as Hisham was going to take us on day long drive to Chefchaoun and then to Tangier. Hisham first took us to a beautiful lookout of  the city called Borj Sud, an artisan house where we took a tour of how they create pottery and mosaics, as well as a stop on the highway that was just really pretty. We ate lots of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches along the way, as well as Stella D’Oro cookies and Dipsey Doodles (couldn’t leave Hisham hanging, we made sure to keep his American food culture top notch). It wouldn’t be a trip without being pulled over, naturally.

When we got to Chefchaoun, Hisham quickly got us a tour guide, which we were so grateful for because once again, no cars and very narrow random streets. *Note* Chefchaoun is kindav in the middle of nowhere, and was a little bit out of the way – driver most probably needed to get there. We first hiked up to the Spanish mosque, and walked around the town, which is painted completely blue (one reason they believe it to be blue is that it was a Jewish town and they used the color to create a distinction between them and the surrounding towns). It was really beautiful and unique! It happened to be raining, so it put a little damper on the photo shoot opportunities. Also, don’t forget to visit the ancient entrance to the blue city.

 

Hisham then continued to drive us to Tangier, where we would be sleeping for the night. It was really interesting to see how much we had in common with the people of Morocco, and how respectful we are of each other. As the sun was beginning to set, Hisham turned to us and asked if we needed to stop and pray – how cool is that?? Around shkiyah time, we heard a loud Arabic call coming from Hishams phone, and we noticed he began cleaning his face as he was driving… it was also his time to pray! We asked if he wanted to pull over, but he just prayed and drove. Muslim’s need a call to prayer before they pray, so Hisham has an app that automatically goes off at the times of prayer, and then he can begin to pray. Long story short, Tangier is quite interesting at night, and he got us safely to our hotel, also in the old city in Tangier.

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Top Four (Week of 11 Iyar)

1. Hillula!!!  

Lag Ba’Omer is coming at us real fast! Don’t miss out on the epic Lag Ba’Omer Hillula, with R’ Moshe Weinberger and Eitan Katz. Hundreds if not over 1,000 people singing, dancing and connecting (very separate seating, of course).

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2. Shana Rishona/Relationship Podcast

In her podcast First Year Married, Kayla Levin does an excellent job discussing different aspects of shana rishona, giving practical advice that can really apply to any relationship. The episodes are short (usually around 20 minutes), and are relatable while staying true to her style. She also offers an online seminar with the curriculum she has created as a life coach, that is starting next week. Very refreshing, empowering and calming all at once – highly recommended.

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3. Mindfulness 

Rabbi Dr. Benji Epstein, camp HASC director of staff, has written a book, Living in the Presence, on Jewish thoughts within the parameters of mindfulness – the act of being fully present in a moment, without distraction. One parable came up that I found to be a life changing perspective on how to view avodas Hashem, I will insert a piece of it here (page 214):

[Rabbi Elimelech of Lizhensk and his brother, Zushe of Anipoli, found themselves in prison. R’ Zushe began to cry as it was almost time to daven, but was not able to due to excrement within the prison cell].

Rabbi Elimelech placed his hands on his brother’s shoulder and told him gently, “True, you cannot pray now because the law forbids it. But why weep? You know the same Gd who commanded you to pray also commanded you not to pray when the room is unfit for prayer. By not praying in this room, you have achieved a connection with Gd. While it might not be the connection that you had initially sought, if you truly want the Divine connection that you had initially sought, if you truly want the Divine connection, here is the opportunity that God had present for you at this moment to obey His law, no matter how it presents itself.”

BOOM. Mic drop.

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4. Peace out Girl Scout 

Last week was international Peace Week. As a result, the Girl Scouts in my school created inspirational posters, which are all super conveniently hung up outside of my office. This one really resonated with me:

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Kash Money Business

Lots of walking to do in Marrakech – get your walking shoes ready! Marrakech’s theme is a dusty red, with shocks of blue sprinkled throughout. We had a tour guide meet us at our hotel, and he first taught us how to walk to the shul in the area, as it was erev Shabbos.

*Note – there is no eruv in the area, but there is a mikvah.* There are only a handful of frum Jewish couples in the area, maybe 3 or 4, but there was a nice turnout for davening on Shabbos. They are able to get kosher meat from Casablanca, and besides for Mrs. Ohayan, there is no way to get kosher meals otherwise. On Shabbos day, there is an option to walk an hour each way to the older shul in the Mellah. There is also a beautiful free garden (called CyberPark) in the area that is a good idea to save for Shabbos as well.

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Anyways, back to erev Shabbos…

  • We took a cab with our tour guide to the Mellah, which is around a 15 minutes drive from the Almas hotel. In the Mellah, we met Mr. Ohayon at his hardwood store to pay him for our Shabbos meals, and so that he would recognize us in shul to walk us to his house. We also met the other Jewish shop owners in the area, such as the barber, Gabriel, and the butcher (who is a descendant of the Baba Sali).

 

  • Al Azama Synongogue – would be really difficult to find on your own, just a heads up. The actual building is from the 20th century, but the congregation is from around 1492. Only open for Shabbos day services, it is one of the last shuls left in Marrakech and was saved by Mr. Ohayon from destruction. When the community had died out with many elderly Jews unable to take care of themselves or relocate, Mr. Ohayon converted most of the synagogue into a nursing home like structure, to care of the elderly (you can still see numbered rooms with beds in them). Donation needed to enter during the week.

 

  • Miaara Jewish cemetery (built in 1537) has an highly suggested entrance fee, in order to take care of the kevarim there. The cemetery was recently renovated (Mr. Ohayon spent hundreds of dollars per day from his own pocket for the repairs, as well as flying in experts from Israel in order that it be done properly), as the kevarim were overgrown with thorns and growth, and ruined as a result. Marrakech used to be a city with tens of thousands of Jews, which dramatically dropped to double digits when the state of Israel was instated.

 

This is an unusual cemetery, as there are separate sections for men, women, and children (there are unfortunately many children’s kevarim due to a plague of Typhus). The kivrei tzadikim are within mausoleums surrounding the perimeter of the cemetery, in order that their neshamos protect those that are buried there.

 

Main tzadikim to look for are R’ Chananya Hakohen (student of R’ Yosef Cairo), R’ Yitzchak Deloya, R’ Moshe Haliwa, r’ Avraham Abitbul, R’ Shlomo Amar, R’ David Hazan, and R’ Avraham Azoulay. Kivrei Kohanim are painted in blue when you first walk into the cemetery. T found a beautiful tefillah whose words are easy to understand and were super relate-able to us, so feel free to take a look and spread around.

 

  • Bahia Palace (entrance free, cash only) – 19th century palace, where you can see a mix of architecture and well as classic Muslim architecture (e.g. Muslim gardens with four corners, in house mosque, courtyards for concubines). We went on a Friday, which means it was super crowded – Friday is the Islam’s day of rest, and schools often take trips and such on Friday’s, or people get together in their shops and share a warm couscous lunch with sheshpesh.

 

  • We had our second official argan pitch, as well as two dollar neck massages. We learnt a lot about how Moroccan’s try to exclusively solve health issues naturally, and which products can be used for certain ailments.

 

  • Hamin is a word that will often come up – culturally, Muslims go to a hamin once a week, which is a steam room where your entire body is exfoliated and cleaned. Even the poorest of the poor go to the hamin once a week, with many of them fueled by live fires.
  • Marrakech was a great place to buy goods for a fair price, such as their famous tea shot cups, or cultural clothing. We loved buying from Aziz, he had a huge store with lots of different products to offer.

 

  • Djemma El Fna – main square in the Mellah filled with lots of activity (think snake charmers, monkeys, henna, coffee, shops). Refer back to this post to see why henna here is dangerous, and what you are expected to pay to get pictures with the snakes/monkeys. It’s supposed to be more lively and chill at night, with acrobats and instruments, but not everyone felt comfortable going at night.

 

  • Derb Manchoura synagogue, the modern shul in the main modern city, where we explained Jewish rituals to our tour guide. We all learned to much from each other, Mortada was such a great guide! He was also Chris Hemsworth’s bodyguard when filming the new MIB movie and an ex-boxer, so couldn’t have felt more extra safe.

 

  • Got ready for Shabbos and went to shul – very special kabbalas Shabbos, and unique nusach. As there’s no eruv anyways, they have siddurim you can borrow there.
  • From shul, Mr. Ohayon walked us to his house, where he was also hosting a group Alexander chasidish men who travel together, as well as the wonderful tour of people on JRoots. Top 5 Shabbos meals of all time! Everyone and everything about the experience was animate and real, and we were so excited to go again for lunch. (Also, Mrs. Ohayon is a SICKKKKK cook that words would not do her cooking justice).

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  • N + T went to the modern, closer by shul for Shabbos day, while R trekked the one hour walk each way. Both were special experiences! Shabbos lunch was filled with more Jews from all walks of life singing and giving divrei Torah together, and welcoming in Adar. We ended up going back to our hotel and catching up on sleep for most of the day, but there are plenty of free activities to do on Shabbos (ask Raphi Elmaleh what he recommends 🙂 Motzei Shabbos, we took a taxi to the La Mamounia hotel to go get drinks, but we ended up skipping the soda and exploring the grounds.

 

Sunday

  • Hired a driver to take us around the Atlas Mountains, which was about an hour drive from the main city. The Berbers live in there, and they are considered the first settlers of Morocco. As the some of the first settlers of Morocco, there are a group of Berber Jews, who no longer at this point in time live in the Atlas Mountains.
  • We took camel rides around the beautiful mountainous scenery.

 

  • Visited an authentic Berber house, where they served us tea. There is technically no price for this visit, but a donation is recommended. The people living in this area do live in poverty, so be prepared to have many people who are unfortunately begging for money.

 

  • Argan oil pitch number a billion.

 

  • Kever Sholom Ben-Hensch – 500 year old kever of the Chief Rabbi of Marrakesh. There are many legends surrounding this tomb, such as R’ Ben Hensch turning into a snake. The main idea was that the Rabbi was coming to Morocco to raise funds, and was unable to leave Morocco and ended up living out the rest of his days in this foreign land. One of the last Berber Jews, Hananiyah Alfassi, guarded this tomb for decades, and you will notice Alfassi’s wife’s kever as well within the building.

 

  • Flight to Fes – it’s either an 8 hour drive or a 20 minute plane ride. Flights don’t leave every day to Fes though, so please check schedules in advance and plan accordingly.  Also for a tiny airport, security took much longer than expected.

*** We didn’t get to see Jardin Majorelle (stunning botanical garden with entrance fee), or the El Badi palace, which are ruins of an old palace (we chose to see Bahia over this palace as there are many decorations and architecture to see an learn from).

Top Four (Week of Nisan 23)

1. Birchas Ilanos   

Don’t forget to bless those fruit trees before Rosh Chodesh! Please refer to this website to find a fruit tree in your city. We had to use our phones to say the bracha – extra points to anyone who can find it in a siddur.

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2. U’Sefartem Lachem

Gotta make those days count. Sick of that line yet?? Don’t be! Here’s a wonderful Whatsapp group to join called Making the Days Count to help you tap into practical ways to make the most of counting Sefira.

 

3. Beat It

And for anyone who listens to Acapella music during sefirah, here’s a link to an awesome Spotify playlist. Sure there are way more out there, please feel free to add them to the comment section. In the meantime, you’re welcome 🙂

4. Maybe You Should Talk to Someone

I really don’t know how this happened, but I think I’m going through a book a weekend at this point. Lori Gottlieb has such a way with words, and honestly I’m not quiet sure what the message of this book was, but it was so entertaining to read and I couldn’t put it down.

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Here’s Looking at You, Kid

We’ve been getting a bunch of requests for an itinerary of our Morocco trip, so here it goes. This trip is highly recommended, but it’s also important to keep in mind all of our basic Morocco tips we already posted here.

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We were also super dumb going into this trip, for two reasons 1) this country is huge and every city has so much to see! not enough time spent in Morocco at all and we already want to go back 2) we didn’t realize how much hired help we needed to get around, with language barrier alone being enough of a reason. Please learn from our almost mistakes 🙂

We landed in Casablanca at 12 in the afternoon, and had plenty of time to see everything Casablanca has to offer (we flew in to the south of the country and flew out from a different airport up north, in Tangier). The police uniforms are on fleek, just as a side point (the policemen and T had matching belts, so you know they’re killin it).

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It’s more city-like and modern, so we were able to do this even with all of the standstill traffic we experienced throughout the day. We had a driver pick us up (shout out to Wahib!) from the airport, and take us around the city. He also dropped us off at the train station at the end of the day so that we could get to Marrakech (we have no regrets about not staying longer in Casablanca – except that it was the only place that had kosher food 🙂

  • Moroccan Jewish Museum – the only Jewish museum in the Arab world. It used to be a Jewish orphanage. Felt really special to get to support such a museum. They don’t have tours, but you can walk around and see the cultural artifacts and pictures of how Jews lived in Morocco throughout the generations. We could not have done any of this without being in touch with Raphi Elmaleh +212 661-312673, who set up all of our tour guides, and built this museum as well!
  • Cerce de L’Union – kosher restaurant. Really hard to find as it’s in a tennis club, and also difficult to order food as the restaurant is in French. The food was INCREDIBLE, and a meal for all three of us was $35 all together. They charge for the water and dips that come with the meal, but still clearly cheap overall.
  • Synagogue Beth-El – also hard to find unless you know where to go – hidden behind green gates. Free of charge, beautiful designs inside.
  • Patisserie Fahal – oldest kosher bakery in Casablanca. People from all over the world who miss Morocco get their goods shipped from this bakery. It’s a few steps away from the Beth-El shul… also hard to find 🙂 You walk within a courtyard until you see baked goods and blue doors. We decided to buy Chebakia as a Shabbos treat. Always fun to try new cultural foods!
  • Hassan II Mosque – largest mosque in Africa. Stunning architecture from what we saw on the outside. There are only three mosque’s in Morocco that legally allow non-Muslims inside, and this was not one of them, so it was a win-win.
  • Our first Argan oil pitch of the trip! This stuff is magic – just make sure to only buy it from a certified seller with a certificate to make sure it’s pure Argan oil, and not filled with chemicals and other dangerous substances.
  • Le Sqala in the old Medina of Casablanca – a shouk where you can buy goods. This was not the most friendly place to buy goods, and we peaced out rather quickly. Super persistent – one man followed us out of his store and around the shouk for a good five minutes.
  • Rick’s cafe, where they filmed the movie Casablanca! It wasn’t open when we went, but apparently they play the movie inside and you can also get drinks.
  • We were driven to a beach nearby – it seemed really nice but it was still the winter and it was cold out, so we didn’t stay long.
  • Royal Palace of Casablanca in the Habbous section of Casablanca. All you can really see are modern walls and gates, but there are nice shops and doors in the area.
  • Mohammed V/Pigeon Fountain – really beautiful at night, it lights up and plays music.
  • Casa Voyageurs train station, to take a two and half hour ride through the night to Marrakech. We bought the first class tickets (we tried buying in advance online, but it never worked, and didn’t really make a difference), which we heard was safer. It’s a pretty old school train – you kindav feel like you’re on the Orient Express. You are assigned a cart, and may share a cart with strangers. We were fortunate to be in a cart with Salim, who not only interpreted us to get a cab to our hotel (and for a fair price on top of that), but paid for it as well. As he said, “For every person who will try to rip you off, there’s another who will help.” We will never forget you and your kindness Salim!!!!
  • Our hotel in Marrakech for the weekend was Almas, and they were so great about everything, especially when it came to Shabbos.

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This was definitely our smartest, dumbest trip of all time, and without Hashem’s help with our last second planning, and Raphy Elmaleh, we probably would have cried throughout our time in Morocco. But b’chasdei Hashem it was so fun, and you should go there to have fun too! We’re going to start with some basic tips and heads-ups, and then work our way to our actual itinerary and pictures.

  • The currency, Durham… there are two Durham’s in world. United Arab Emirates Durham, and then Moroccan Durham (MAD). UAE Durham is more than double the MAD, so use google currency wisely. We were super relieved to see our credit card bills much cheaper than expected! MAD is about a 10:1 ratio with the USD (so 20 MAD is about $2). They will gladly accept USD and Euro in most places.
  • You need straight cash throughout this trip. There were even some hotels that would only take cash, and main tourist attractions would only take cash as well. Start with $700 minimum… but also be careful with the ATM’s around. Have your hotel concierge guide you to the best ones.
  • Friday is the Muslim day of rest, and they take many trips as a result. Prepare for the more touristy areas to be more crowded on a Friday.
  • You’re going to need a guide for everything, and even a driver. Good news is, Morocco is a really cheap country, so you’re not going to break the bank with having all of these luxuries! Especially if you’re traveling with 3-4 people and splitting the fair. Many of the older cities were purposely built as mazes to have a military advantage over other countries (hard to navigate, and can ambush any strangers) – as a result, Google Maps doesn’t really cut it here, and there aren’t really too many street names.
  • Public transportation doesn’t really exist, it’s a third world country, and people are pushy and will try to hustle you. If you can’t ignore people or push back, you’re going to get ripped off. But to quote our new friend Salah, a random stranger who spoke to and paid for our cab, “For every person who will try to rip you off, there’s another who will help.”
  • Nobody speaks English. Still why you need guides and drivers. French or Arabic will do. Many times we would ask the hotel concierge to speak to the cabs for us, because even when you know what a fair price would be, it’s difficult to communicate that.
  • There is zero ill will towards Jews in this country. In fact, it’s the opposite – they are very proud of the Jews in the country, and there is a great respect between the two communities, and many commonalities even. We felt very comfortable openly saying we were Jewish, honestly more than in America even. The sultans of the past would move the Jewish areas within the palace area in order have the Jews closer to them, as well as to protect the Jews.
  • Don’t get henna from a stranger – they will rip you off, do a simple design, and often have lead in their products. Most of the street people giving henna have religious scarves over their faces not because they are super religious, but because they are super shady and are trying to mask their identity.
  • If you want a picture with a snake charmer, you must pay them to take a picture (20-30 MAD should be enough).
  • A 10 minute taxi ride is 50 MAD at most. If they don’t agree, just say you’ll get a different cab somewhere else, and walk away. They usually will take you right back. If you’re more than three people, you’ll have to take a bigger cab.
  • With the exception to three mosques in Morocco, it is illegal for a non-Muslim to enter a mosque. We by accident didn’t realize we were even walking into mosques (they’re literally everywhere), and we would randomly get yelled at, and then we would notice a washing fountain and it all clicked.
  • There aren’t too many opportunities for kosher meals depending on where in the country you are, so bring lots of food and snacks! The food though is delicious and cheap when you do get to go ($30 for a meat meal for three people, with lots of sides). Tea is offered throughout the country 🙂
  • Tissues are called Kleenex. Bring your own, hotels don’t have them.
  • Don’t rely on WiFi for your trip, it’s not always stellar. There also weren’t too many opportunities to use outlets to recharge your phone, so bring a backup battery!

(Not So) Hungary for Adventure

You know you love hanging with yourself when you land in a country with one gate at the airport, no streetlights, and you’re the only guest at the hotel. It’s even better when you ask the concierge what there is to do for fun in the area, and she looks you in the eye and says, “nothing”. That’s Debrecen (second biggest city in Hungary)! I actually had a grand time, made some new buds, and it was  a really great place to get to sit and think and have some ‘me’ time. I just wouldn’t necessarily be a place I would jump to recommend for a classic getaway.

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There’s no uber, but tons of cabs that take credit cards straight from the airport. It’s 3,000 HUF to get to the city center, which is about $10. I stayed at Grand Hotel Aranybika, which is in prime location for Kossuth Square, and the Jewish History nearby. It was a huge room which also included a living room and refrigerator, and is super Shabbos friendly if you ever needed to run a Shabbaton in Debrecen. The hotel itself has a lot of history, having been built in 1915 by an Olympic medalist.

There are two older shuls a four minute walk from the hotel, which are not currently in use (Pasti synagogue and Kapolnasi synagogue). They do have contact information and seemingly will open for if you call – their number to call is +36302393621. Almost confident there is no kosher meals available in Debrecen in general.

Kossuth Square is directly outside the hotel, and during the winter it’s quiet cute. There are little winter stands set up, where different cultural food is made. None of it is kosher obviously, but really cool to watch them make it. The locals even invited me to help me cook the food. Kossuth Square also had a giant ferris wheel called the Eye of Debrecen, as well as ice skating. Ice skating didn’t include any actual ice, it ended up being wet plastic and I couldn’t really move far. But it was really fun to get to hang with the locals and make new friends, and see how other people live outside of America! I was also the first Jew they had ever met, which was pretty neat 🙂

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Basel is No Joke

I can’t think of a single cool pun or rhyme for Basel, Switzerland so we’re going to have to blatantly say this town is so worth the stopover and coming back to. It was easy to get around, multiple kosher restaurants, charming, and everyone was so welcoming and warm! The airport in Basel has exits to Switzerland, Germany, and France, so choose wisely… it also meant that anyone could be speaking to you in any language at any time. One second I was mademoiselle and then next thing I know I’m talking schnitzel.

The transit system works on a complete honor system, so there is no swiping or talking to the transit drivers – just hop on. It was also punctual, and the transit systems also have monitors everywhere letting you know what the next few stops are. There’s a shuttle that takes less than 15 minutes that takes you to the center of town. My hotel, Hotel City Inn, paid for the shuttle (and also for me to have an unlimited transit card as well) and my reservation to the hotel was my ‘ticket’ – I obviously double checked with the bus driver who confirmed, but there was no need.

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My hotel was in prime location at the central railway station (otherwise known as SBB), 10 minutes to all attractions in the area (including restaurants and shuls). Also note – the sidewalk and transit streets are all one, so make sure to look all ways before crossing because everyone and everything is everywhere. The town at night in the winter was enchanting, but also frigid and I ran back to the hotel to plan for the next day.

I started off the day going to shacharis at Israelitische Gemeinde Basel – the community was so lovely! Three men from shul recognized me on the street on their bikes, and pulled over to wish me a boker tov before continuing their ride. I then walked to the kosher butcher shop/grocery store, Jüdische Genossenschafts Metzgerei, to explore the kosher options in the area. After buying some salami for Hungary, I asked to speak to the butcher and ask if I could watch the shechita process (I know, it was weird), and the man behind the counter seemed confused. He said, “mashgiach?” and I was like yeah sure, the mashgiach I guess. I asked the mashgiach if I could watch him through the shechita process, when it hit me hard that he was in fact solely a mashgiach – shechita is illegal in Switzerland. He explained to me that in order for the community to get kosher meat, a shochet must drive to France to slaughter the animals, and when the meat is brought back over the Swiss border, they are heavily taxed. It was one thing to hear this information, and another to process it. My eyes began to tear up, and the only thing I could think to say was, “I’m so so sorry. Stay strong.” The mashgiach replied, “you must stay strong to where you are.” He also told me hunting is legal in Switzerland, and the whole law is completely hypocritical.

The following will be a quick list of sites to see, starting at the butcher shop – if you follow this order carefully, it will take you in a complete circle around Basel. It’s also important to note that Basel has excellent museums, but I chose to skip over them in order to be outside more. (Basel also has it’s own excellent tourist app which will explain sites as you pass them on the map – need good cell service for it to work properly as you walk along the routes.)

  • Spalentor/Gate of Spalen – ancient city wall from the 15th century. The old town in the area in general is quiet pleasant. Also, Basel has unique fountains all over the city, including outside of the shul.
  • Judische Museum Schweiz (Jewish Museum)
  • Rathaus Basel-Stadt – Town Hall of Basel, found in Marktplatz. 500 year old building, can’t miss it with a color like this!

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  • Pfalz – boardwalk behind Basel Munster that has views of the River Rhine and the old city. Some of the bridges there are pretty old and worth walking over to explore further.

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  • Basel Munster – a really old church from around 1019 that I didn’t walk into, and I never know if I’m allowed to take pictures, but here is an ancient gate next to the plaza where it can be found.

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  • Tinguely Brunnen – this fountain is probably an even more magical site to see in the summer, with children running in and out of it. Metal sculptural machines moving around in the water, it’s exciting to watch it in motion!

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  • Restaurant Holbeinhof – kosher dairy restaurant located in the old age home. Is it awkward this was my favorite part of the trip?? Delicious food with an awesome chef! He even packed me a meal for the plane ride home, filled with authentic Swiss food (Spatzli noodles with a side of mushrooms). In the background of me with the Vermicelles dessert (chestnut flavored with cream and cherry – definitely  one time deal), you can see my new friend Peter drinking a beer at 10 am. You go Peter. He’s also in front of a picture of a Basel tradition called Fasnacht, which is a Mardi Gras type festival that happens February time in Basel!
  • Haus zum Kirschgarten was a place I wanted to check out, but thought I was cutting it close to my flight. Heads up – flights to other nearby countries are like domestic flights and you only need two hours before instead of three.