A Year in Leysin – Winter

Since returning to Leysin from my holiday travel to the United States, the village’s bustling winter season has welcomed me with open arms.  The activity and energy of tourists is in full effect on the ski slopes, and with that is also a peace and calm with the falling snow.  The contradiction and companionship of the two has made those once looong months of January and February (particularly for educators!) a new and exciting adventure.  I’ve got my YakTrax and winter boots in tow as I hike up the mountain to work every day, and I’m learning to ski the blue (easy) slopes of the Leysin ski resort.  It’s been fun and continues to remind me how thankful I am that I get to witness the wonder of these mountains…

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and the charm of this village each and every day…

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Below are pictures of Leysin’s Lower Sporting Center, where children ski and ice skate, the Tobogganing Park (which looks like tons of fun), the Parc à Biches (Deer Park – where I swear it looks like Santa’s reindeer come to hang out!), and another picturesque view of the village through the bare branches of winter trees.

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Since returning to Leysin the physical surroundings of our home have certainly transformed, but with it so has another large part of Marc and I’s life.  Unfortunately, we are, again, not able to be together here in our home in Leysin.

So after spending the holidays apart, and now separating again, a season of personal challenge is officially here, one in which we are forced to change, and let’s face it, making meaningful change in your life is not for the faint of heart!  The decision to walk this season apart has not come without deep sadness and broken hearts for us both, but we are focused on the future and are determined to find meaning out of this experience and to ultimately root it in the foundation of our love.

Over the years of Marc and I’s story, the songs of Switchfoot, one of my favorite bands, seem to have consistently made an appearance.  In high school, at 16 and 17 years old, when Marc rode alongside me in my Ford Escort, gifted by my older brother with a CAVSMAN license plate back when the Cleveland Cavaliers were NOT so good – thanks, Ross 😉 – I wondered what Marc would think of my midwest American, Christian music when Switchfoot’s “Only Hope” played on my car radio.

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Oh yes, that is CAVSMAN and that would also be the deer sign Marc used to ask me to prom way back when.

Which I suppose prompts me to share our prom picture as well…haha!

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Then, after graduating from university, we moved from city to city, and when the city got the best of me, which it regularly did, I would listen to “Saltwater Heart” and be reminded of how I, too, could “break clean” and “feel free again” when I got back to nature, to the countryside of how I grew up.  And as Marc’s EDS slowly began to take its presence in our life as working adults, our love was challenged because of how his illness forced our lives as individuals and as a couple to change, so Switchfoot’s “Love Alone is Worth the Fight” became our anthem.  I love the video below of us at their concert in March 2014 when lead singer Jon Foreman found his way right to us in the crowd – Marc even took his hand and helped him up on the ledge where you see him singing above us!  It was freakin’ awesome and one of my favorite memories with my husband, which I think you can see from the joy on our faces in the (fuzzy) pictures below.

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So with this winter’s Valentine’s Day coming up, let’s all remember that love alone, in all forms and for all people, is worth the fight.  This is a love letter for my husband, that he remember that in all of his suffering, and in all of our suffering, there is meaning and love and hope and goodness, and that all of this is worth the fight.  OUR love is worth the fight, and I’m still fighting.

I love you.

Your agapimou, forever.

 

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November…Birthdays, Edinburgh, & Thanksgiving!

This November 2017 we celebrated Marc’s 31st birthday.  We are officially the same age for the next 21 days. 🙂

Dinner and chocolate cake to celebrate!

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And blowing the candles while singing our tri-lingual “Happy Birthday to you!” with Skype guests, Marie-France and Carlos.

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Then I headed to Edinburgh, Scotland for a work conference.  Here are my pictures touring the medieval city!

The Royal Mile…

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Edinburgh Castle in the day…

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…and at night.

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Exploring the streets of Edinburgh!

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Shopping on Princes Street…

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Then stumbled upon The Elephant House, said to be the café where J.K. Rowling wrote the first book of the Harry Potter series.

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And finally, back in Switzerland (here I am flying over the Swiss Alps!)…

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We celebrated Thanksgiving, party of 2!  (Our Thanksgiving was on Saturday, and that is a chicken, not a turkey – when you live abroad, you learn to be flexible and adapt.  Haha!)

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This year’s thanks go to…

Marc’s parents and his doctors in Paris!  Our team of gladiators, as Marc calls it, who helped to find his diagnosis of Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (EDS) and who continue to support his treatment.  We are very, VERY thankful for our team EDS, Socias edition. 🙂

And as we continue to learn and live with the disorder itself, we came across this video that we believe explains what EDS is in a simple, straightforward manner.  We wanted to share it for those of you who are close to us and would like to know and understand more about what EDS is and how it affects our life.

So there you have it, people, EDS in a nutshell!  Thank you for watching and thank you for caring.  We are infinitely grateful this Thanksgiving and everyday for our team EDS gladiators, for you…

…and for a fresh snowfall in Leysin!  It was a magical Swiss Thanksgiving indeed!

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Ciao, Venezia!

I recently took students at my school on a trip to Venice, Italy.

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I had never been to Italy before and really only knew Venice as a popular tourist destination, but because it was an educational trip with students, I learned the history of the city.  For me it was fascinating…

  • Venice was originally built sometime in 400 A.D. at the fall of the Roman Empire, when barbarians invaded and people fled to escape the attacks.  Venetians decided to build upon the muddy islands of what would become Venice, just off the coast of the mainland in the Adriatic Sea, with the thought that building on the lagoon would prevent, or at least discourage, the barbarians from following them.  Being an unenviable and inaccessible place to live, and given the invaders’ lack of knowledge of the sea – it worked.  Venice was built and eventually rose to become the world’s longest existing Republic.

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  • Venice, then, is built on a lagoon and its roads are waterways.  Instead of parking your car in a parking lot or garage, residents pull their boats up to dock!  Or jump in a vaporetto (waterbus) for public transportation.  Here’s a Venetian vaporetto stop – imagine the subway, metro, or Tube station on water!

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The city is entirely pedestrian, so no cars are allowed in Venice proper.  The main road below, the Grand Canal, curves through the city and even has a speed limit to avoid boats from creating waves and battered waters.  All canals have a speed limit, in fact, usually between 5 to 7 km per hour (roughly 3 to 4 mph).  Yes, Venetian police ride the streets and fine boats for “driving” past the speed limit.

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  • Below is St. Mark’s Basilica, a landmark of Venice.  The Basilica was built in 828 A.D. when merchants from Venice stole the body of St. Mark the Evangelist, one of the four apostles, from Alexandria, Egypt.  St. Mark’s tomb is kept in the Basilica.  Legend says that the merchants snuck past Egyptian guards with the body of St. Mark by burying it in layers of pork, which the assumed Muslims would not touch.  The story of this is depicted in gold mosaic as you enter the church.  To the right of the Basilica is the Bell Tower, which collapsed in 1903 and had to be rebuilt and finally finished in 1912.  The Bell Tower was rebuilt exactly as it had been prior to collapse.

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  •  Just next to St. Mark’s Basilica is the Doge’s, or Duke’s, Palace which was the center of politics and public administration during the time of the Republic of Venice.  The Republic existed for a millennium between the 8th and 18th century, when it was then taken over by Napoleon and French rule.  It later joined Italy in the 19th century, and remained a part as it is present day.  Inside Doge’s Palace you can visit several rooms, which once were administrative offices, and the courtroom where individuals were tried and judged for crimes against the Venetian Republic. Doge’s Palace also housed prisons, with new prisons being eventually built in the second half of the 16th century.  The bridge below was then built to connect Doge’s Palace (and the old prisons) to the new prisons.  The bridge has been named the “Bridge of Sighs” on the premise that prisoners tried and sentenced for crimes in Doge’s Palace crossed over this bridge to be kept in the new prisons.  Upon crossing the bridge, prisoners could see Venice through the windows and would sigh knowing that it was their last glimpse of the city before imprisonment, and maybe their last view of Venice ever.

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  • The future of Venice is in question as the city’s foundation was created by plunging wood logs into the mud and building on top of them.  While the wood logs decompose into the mud and establish a somewhat sturdy foundation, when you walk through buildings like St. Mark’s Basilica or Doge’s Palace, or any building I suppose, the floor waves up and down and even moves under your feet given the muddy foundation upon which Venice is built.  It’s a pretty strange sensation.  Venice, then, is sinking, having been built on mud and sand, while with recent increasing global temperatures sea level is rising.  With a rising sea level and a sinking Venice (bad combination), who knows how much longer this city will even exist.  Venice, in fact, often floods and temporary walkways have to be put up and taken down, as needed, to accommodate pedestrians walking the streets in spite of the flooded paths.

In any case, Venice is still very much alive and thriving, described by the tour guide as a “Disneyland” attracting tourists from around the world.  It’s most widely known for its picturesque canals, Italian charm, and gondola rides – and for this it certainly delivered…

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I left absorbed with the history of this city, none of which I knew before visiting, but also sad in a way that such a rich historical place is not only sinking physically, but culturally as well having become mainly an island of tourists.  The population of Venetians 100 years ago, for example, was around 160,000 and has now dropped to 55,000 – and of those 55,000 Venetians only about 10,000 are young people under the age of 18.  High unemployment (12%) in Italy combined with the high cost of living on the island, at least compared to mainland Italy, forces young people to leave Venice in favor of making a more affordable and practical life on the mainland.  Given Venice’s unique culture, lifestyle, and history, it’s an unfortunate reality to think that its people and its land are slowly disappearing.

So for anyone reading this post who has visited Venice in the past or wants to visit in the future, I urge you to spend some time reflecting on your travels.  Be a traveler, not a tourist – get away from the gondolas, out of the tourist shops, and into the authentic streets and local artisan stores and restaurants of this charming and distinctive city.  It truly is one-of-a-kind.

A Year in Leysin – Fall

This post series, A Year in Leysin, was meant to start in the summer…that obviously did not happen and so here we are in mid-October!  Time for an update, and for pictures of the village in the colors of autumn…

The leaves on the trees are changing here and while the fall colors I’m told don’t tend to be as spectacular as those in North America at this time of year, the view we have here of the evergreen trees sprinkled with colors of yellow, orange, and brown is pretty magnificent, to me anyway.  This Ohio girl is oh so happy to live with the changing seasons once again!

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Some facts about Leysin:

  • It is a small village in the Swiss Alps at an altitude of 1,300 m (4,100 ft) and with a population of about 4,000.
  • The village first came to life as a place where tuberculosis patients were sent to be treated and recover in the late 1800s.  It was thought that the sunny alpine climate would help in their treatment and recovery. We hope for the same for Marc and are very slowly witnessing it to be true…
  • Now, many of the hospitals built to treat those tuberculosis patients have been turned into educational facilities, and so the village has become a sort of international education hub of students and professionals, mixed with local village residents and tourists of the Leysin mountain ski resort.
  • Leysin is in the French-speaking region of Switzerland – but you will often hear German, Italian, and lots of English spoken here given the cosmopolitan nature of the village!
  • And while Leysin is definitely situated and somewhat isolated in the mountains of the Swiss Alps, in just 30 minutes down the mountain you have access to city life in Montreux (once home to Freddie Mercury of Queen) and within just a few hours by car or train you can even reach destinations in France, Italy, and Germany.

Come with my handsome husband and I on a walk around the village!

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Here we are in the center of the village, “downtown.”  About a 10-minute walk down the street towards and then past our apartment, we are greeted with this mountain view of “Les Dents du Midi.”

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And along the way we see lots of typical Swiss chalets…

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And animals, mainly cows, goats, chickens, sheep or…oh, hello donkeys!

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The village church…

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And it wouldn’t be Swiss without a local fromagerie (cheese shop/restaurant)!

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Here’s the cable car train heading down the mountain and into the valley of Lake Geneva…next stop, Aigle!  From there, continue to Montreux, Vevey, Lausanne, or Geneva for an escape from mountain village life.

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Or stay in the mountains and enjoy some free local produce!  Here, Marc has picked a strawberry.  “Incroyables comestibles” roughly translated means “unbelievable eats” – agreed!

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Every time I walk by the store “Le Hibou” (“The Owl”), just behind Marc, I think of my sister and her love for owls. Hey Laura!

And upon our return home the sun sets over Les Dents du Midi and Marc and I are reminded yet again how fortunate we are to get to live here.  Wherever you are, friends and family – under the bright blue skies of Barcelona and Mallorca, the changing colors of the seasons in Ohio and the midwest USA, or the silver mist of Paris and London – we hope that you, too, can find beauty in the simple surroundings of your each and every day.  Sending love to you all!

– M & A

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La Retrouvaille

I’ve had a serious case of writer’s block lately.  It seems that amidst moving, starting a new job, and learning how to live with Marc and I’s new family member, Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (EDS), I have been left feeling more drained, and less inspired, to tell our story lately.  But there is definitely a lot to share from the last few months, so I have planted myself in front of my computer today to do just that.  Here goes!

Let’s backtrack to two months ago when life in Switzerland just began.  I’ve officially started my job as College Counselor & ESL Teacher at the Kumon Leysin Academy of Switzerland (KLAS).  KLAS is a Japanese boarding school in Switzerland – yes, wrap your head around that – a boarding school where students are taught a main curriculum in Japanese, with supplemental courses in English, in the French-speaking region of Switzerland!  It’s a pretty fascinating mix of culture that I get to be a part of every day, just one of the reasons why I love working in international education!

Outside of academics, a large part of the curriculum for KLAS students is building cultural awareness and understanding, as well as independence and maturity, and the way that the school attempts to teach this is by giving students a wide variety of experiences.  During my first teaching term, for example, I supervised running activity with students and participated with them in a 21km/11km race up the Swiss Alps mountains.  I took a group of visiting Canadian exchange students to canyon through mountain waters.  Just a few weeks ago, students prepared a Japanese Festival music and cultural presentation for our school community to enjoy.  And I accompanied a group of students to Chamonix, France where we visited the ski resort town and walked inside a glacier, or Mer de Glace (Sea of Ice).  Here are pictures from the excursion…

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We first took a train up the mountain of Montenvers to an elevation of 1913 meters (6276 feet).

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Then, half of our group took a tele-cabin down to the glacier, and the other half joined me on a hike to the ice…

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Years ago, the image you see here would have been completely white as it used to be all glacier ice.  As you hike down into the glacier, you can see signs as you make your way down that show you where the glacier once existed how it has melted over time.  In the not so far off future, this glacier will likely not exist.  If you look at the bottom left of the picture below, you can see the hole in the glacier where visitors can walk into the ice…

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And here I am walking inside a glacier!

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But better than the glacier, Chamonix, canyoning, mountain running races, and international education, the very, very, very best news I have to share is that Marc has now joined me in Switzerland!  We are reunited at last and for that are very thankful.  But with the joy of being together begins the hard work that we know is ahead of us to rebuild our life with Marc’s EDS as a part of it.  One of our first excursions, then, to get Marc out and about was walking together the route of my daily commute to work, through the cow fields!  Here we are on our way to KLAS with the cow bells ringing in our ears, and the cow droppings (yes, cow poop!) at our feet.  Being extra vigilant to watch where you step is a definite must!

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Goodbye to city commutes in traffic and public transport, hello to Swiss mountain commutes with the cows!  And once we arrived to my school, we jumped on mountain bikes and rode out to see a special view of Lac Léman (Lake Geneva).  Given his state of health at the moment, Marc barely survived our little adventure, but we made it and were rewarded by this wonderful landscape…

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My best friend is back, “mi media naranja” (my half orange) is complete…

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…and for this my heart is happy.

Well, there you have it, two months of writer’s block culminated into one, slightly long, blog post.  Thanks for powering through it, friends!


M & A’s Kitchen

While given my generation I can navigate the world of social media with relative ease, I am a bit old fashioned when it comes to incorporating it into my life.  Simply put, social media overwhelms me.  And unfortunately this information overload has now spread to my kitchen!  In the past I have listed recipes from my favorite blogs and blogger cookbooks, but the amount of possible recipes to try has me running for the hills!

So, I will no longer be posting blog recipes, and instead will stick with cooking through and listing my favorite (mostly) whole foods, plant-based dishes from my go-to cookbooks in the “M & A’s Kitchen” section of my blog.  If you want to make a dish, buy the cookbook!  Or join me in the kitchen and we can make it together. 🙂

From Mosques to Mountains

Before leaving Casablanca, I got up close and personal with the Hassan II Mosque that you could see from our (previous) terrace.  Here are the pics!

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Since then I have safely arrived in Leysin, Switzerland and am getting myself settled into life here and ready for a new school year, which starts for me now in July.  Remember that view of the Swiss Alps from my office?  Here it is in better weather…

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Pretty spectacular, no?  And so a new life in Switzerland begins, and along with it a new life for Marc’s health as well.  He has now been officially diagnosed with a genetic condition called Ehler’s Danlos Syndrome.  We are learning more about EDS every day and what it means for us knowing that this is a syndrome that Marc will live with for the rest of his life.  There is no cure, but there are ways to treat the symptoms and so that is where Marc is at the moment, still in Paris finding a successful treatment plan that will help him manage the symptoms and live as full a life as possible.  It’s been a difficult road to walk through and we have a long journey ahead, but we’re hanging in there, or at least trying to.  It’s a lot to take in, new lifestyle, new country, new job, and an illness on top of it, but the magic of the mountains is making it all worth it and we are doing our best to keep our eye on the prize – life TOGETHER in Leysin.


Recipes – all from My New Roots this time!

Big Comfy Sweet Potato – The sauce on these baked sweet potatoes is fantastically flavorful and could be used to top so much more than just sweet potatoes!

The Best Lentil Salad, Ever – And the dressing on this salad is awesome and versatile as well.

Spring Spirit Polenta – Never too late for spring greens!

Raw Bounty Bars – These were a bit crumbly and kind of a mess, though the flavors are all there and they really do taste like a Bounty bar (European version of a Mounds bar, for the American bunch out there).  I’ll be testing out some other coconut macaroon recipes for something easier and less messy for coconut lovers like me!

Watermelon Mojito Pops – From My New Roots Naturally Nourished cookbook.  Great as popsicles or as a refreshing summer drink!

The Life-Changing Loaf of Bread with Olives & Caraway – Take the base bread recipe and add chopped black olives and caraway seeds.  Also from the My New Roots cookbook!

“Inshallah is Good for Everyone”

Last weekend I packed up all of Marc and I’s belongings and put them in a shipping truck – they are currently en route to our new home in Leysin, Switzerland.  The end of our Moroccan experience is officially upon us as I am finishing up my school year this week and preparing to say goodbye to Casablanca in just four days from today.

And when I write that “I” packed up our belongings, I do mean “I” as Marc was not alongside me.  It’s been about 4 months now that he left Casablanca to go to Paris for medical care.  He is sick and has been getting progressively more so each day for a while now.  And while our life together is in Casablanca, we knew that Marc needed to be in a place where he could access reliable health care.  Fortunately his parents’ home in Paris is a place where he could do that.  The decision for Marc to leave was difficult then and feels increasingly difficult now, especially as this move to Switzerland is approaching, but Marc has been able to access a strong medical team in Paris who have been taking his case seriously and his parents are there for the unconditional support that he needs.  Because of his and their determination, we are closer and closer to an official diagnosis and so we are doing our best to have patience and courage to wait until that diagnosis and treatment plan are made.

In the meantime, as a newly single girl navigating life in Casablanca, Morocco (that’s an image I never dreamed would come to life!), I am “getting comfortable with the uncomfortable” and doing my best to embrace this concept as a central theme of my life here!  Some days are more successful than others.  But I did get out and about to take some pictures of the city to remember this place Marc and I called home for nearly 2 years.

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These pictures were taken in the Habous, a souk market in one of the quartiers of Casablanca – and even though Casa does not have a reputation for being one of the more beautiful spots in Morocco, I think these pictures demonstrate that even in a big, dirty city like Casablanca, the light and colors of Morocco shine through in sight and in sound.

When Marc and I travel, we like to pick up on linguistics and everyday vernacular of the place we are in and then incorporate it into our own vocabulary.  We hang a driftwood sign from Hawaii that says “e komo mai,” or welcome in Hawaiian, in our home.  On our honeymoon in Greece we learned the word “agapimou,” which is “my love” in Greek, and we use this word to refer to each other.  In Morocco, the resounding term that will stick with us long after we leave this country is “inshallah,” meaning “God willing” in Arabic.   Take a look at this New York Times article to learn why “Inshallah is Good for Everyone” and why this Moroccan mentality is something that will stay with us for the rest of our lives.

So “inshallah” I am successfully packed and ready to say goodbye to this country full of passion and vibrancy, color and light, modernity and tradition.  And while I am very much looking forward to moving to the mountains where the lifestyle is more suitable for me and I can feel more like myself (turns out this Ohio girl is NOT a city dweller), I know that Marc and I will likely not be snapping selfies like the one below with our apartment concierge in Switzerland.  We’ll probably be lucky just to get a simple “bonjour” from the neighbor!  And so I’m reminded to savor those bits and pieces of Morocco that I know I cannot pack up and take with me in my suitcase…

Like our concierge, Abdou, aka “Tom Hanks.”  He enjoys calling Marc Tom Hanks and broke down in tears when I told him we were moving!  It was a bit awkward, to be honest…and Marc especially is not quite sure if those tears were real or simply another Moroccan theatrical production which are frequently on display around here.  Either way, he’s a genuine, good-hearted man who always greeted us with a smile and a strange story in his broken French.  We will always remember him.

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And having the opportunity to wine and dine with Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman at Rick’s Café!  This restaurant is a total tourist destination in Casa created long after the movie was made to recreate the bar from the film.  Though its authenticity is questionable, the Moroccan decoration and ambiance of the restaurant is lovely – it’s a bit as if you’re in the movie yourself!

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Even though morning Barre3 sessions will soon be accompanied with a pretty fantastic view of the Swiss Alps, I won’t have a view of the Hassan II mosque like this nor hear the sounds of the call to prayer resonating in the background as I prepare myself for the day…

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Or witness these magical Moroccan sunsets in the evening…

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The joy and challenge of international living, then, is inevitably upon us – goodbye to people and a place that now hold a very special place in our heart, and making room for the new people, new experiences, and new memories that will be had in a new place to call home.

So we say goodbye to Morocco, our temporary home – you forced us to get comfortable in some of the most uncomfortable moments and circumstances of our life, and we leave you with a beautiful story of love, life, and identity challenged, but not lost, and open hearts for what the future will hold.  Switzerland, what do you have in store?  Who knows, but we’re on our way to find out!  Get ready, because this time we plan to stick around for a while. 🙂


Recipes:

Sweet Potato Brownies – These are awesome, rich and chocolatey, and made primarily of sweet potatoes – let’s just say they definitely make a frequent appearance in our kitchen!