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I Was a Dream Tour Dropout

And so, I’ve planned my own trip to Morocco this spring.
[additional-authors]
April 20, 2023
Food stalls and shopping at Djemaa el-Fna Square, Marrakes. Scott E Barbour/Getty Images

I dropped out of my dream tour of Morocco before it began. This guided adventure for active seniors had everything. Moonlight camel rides! A visit to an ancient tannery where craftspeople turned animal hides into fringed tote bags! An uphill trek with mules to view the mind-blowing Todra gorge, plus a tagine cooking lesson in someone’s home! It even included stops in four major cities—all in two action-packed weeks.

But before the departure date, I started to think: Did I really want to spend eight hours in a vehicle making small talk with strangers as we crisscrossed a barren desert? After all, didn’t I retire so I wouldn’t have to eat business lunches and schmooze with strangers? I remembered  that after my last road trip with my husband, I made a rule: Never sit in a car for longer than 2.5 hours with anyone. It’s just exhausting. And so, I lost my deposit.

Many of my friends adore these organized trips. On them, they can go anywhere—Antarctica, China, Turkey, Ghana and the Galapagos. They look forward to making new friends while they happily check exotic places off their bucket lists. Often, since their husbands don’t share their wanderlust, it is a safe way to venture to places they might not otherwise see. One friend now takes tours with friends she met on tours. She has a whole off-shore life.

I’m just not ready to make that jump. And so, I’ve planned my own trip to Morocco this spring. The itinerary is simple. I’m going to one city—Marrakech, a city that has been haunting me since the sixties—and I’m staying a week, by myself. What interests me the most about a different culture is the buzz of big cities in real time, where I can soak up a vibe—while shopping and sitting at cafes. Natural wonders have their charm but if I had to choose between a glorious mountaintop and a day at Galeries Lafayette, guess what I would pick.

In my experience it takes about a week to get oriented in a complex city like New York, Tokyo or London. Short of that, you’re just running around to monuments and museums feeling lost in crowds. Often, it’s only on the second or third visit to a city that I can calm down enough to observe what’s going on around me. I may be the only American who stayed a week wandering the gray city of Hanoi rather than venture to the countryside to crawl through the tunnels left after the Vietnam war. Another benefit of staying put, of course, is that you only have to unpack once.

Regarding safety in Marrakech, I have been warned by my adventurous female friends to be careful. Don’t wander alone, don’t get into an unknown taxi, don’t drink the water, and don’t wear big, shiny jewelry, they say. To be safe, I plan to hire day guides for outings and dine at my hotel in the evenings. At 70 plus, I’ll skip the discos.

Post Marrakech, I plan on heading to Paris, where I’ve been renting an apartment and staying for a month each year for my annual dose of French culture. I realized years ago that since it was the packing and shlepping that wasn’t fun, I would book longer stays in rentals and put down roots for awhile rather than run around visiting tourist spots around the globe. If I never make it to Mykonos, fine with me.

When a friend was stumped about why I keep returning to Paris I tried to explain. I found the spot on Earth where I feel happiest.

When a friend was stumped about why I keep returning to Paris I tried to explain. I found the spot on Earth where I feel happiest. Each time I go, I discover another aspect of the most beautiful city in the world—a tiny park, a new bookstore, a belle époque tea room, the place where the best art at Versailles is stashed. It’s the French at their frenchiest and I love it! Plus I get to improve my language skills—a 50 year project. This year, of course, could be colored by street demonstrations and the smell of trash in the street as the French continue to protest the rising retirement age. But when you travel, c’est la vie.

Meanwhile, my husband is happy to stay home. He really does not want to go. He’d much rather stay home, follow his routines and not be bothered by all the cultural differences I find so fascinating.

“If you survive,” my gloom and doom man is likely to say before I leave, “I’ll buy tickets to the Dodgers this summer.” There’s a place we can go together.


Los Angeles food writer Helene Siegel is the author of 40 cookbooks, including the “Totally Cookbook” series and “Pure Chocolate.” She runs the Pastry Session blog.

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