Meet Houssaine: The Story of a Disabled Tourist Guide

I met Houssaine in a online travel blogger group, and was drawn to his story when Houssaine shared that he is a disabled tourist guide in Morocco, the country next to where my dad is from in Algeria. I’m always inspired by fellow travelers, especially those who overcome odds to travel, so I reached out to Houssaine on if I could interview him about his story and his company, and he agreed.

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Meet Houssaine!

Question: Tell me about yourself.

My name is El Houssaine Ichen but friends call me Houssaine. I’m 34 and live in Tounfite, which is a high but remote town in the beautiful Middle Atlas Mountains of Morocco. I have four brothers and four sisters and live a simple life with my parents in our basic family home. My hobbies include playing football, trekking and swimming. I am also a keen chess player and like music. I am a natural and self-taught linguist and speak Tamazight (the Chleuh Berber language), Arabic, English, French and basic Dutch.

Question: What is your disability? How have you managed/overcome it?

My parents were too poor to have me vaccinated and I caught polio at the age of three and since then I have been paralyzed in my legs. I use leg braces and crutches for walking but as I have grown up with this handicap I do not let it slow me down.

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Question: Do you work, and what do you do?

I am a professional sightseeing guide for my company, Disabled Tourist Guide, that specializes in tours for clients with a disability. I can also accommodate able bodied guests but my true goal as a guide is to develop and spread awareness about disabled-led tourism in Morocco. I enjoy showing tourists around and teach them about our culture, while keeping their vacation fun and safe.

I was born and raised in the Tounfite area and am very knowledgeable about the mountains and landscapes of Morocco. I do not let my disability slow me down and still participate in hiking and trekking tours. I am a multilingual guide who can provide tours for people from all over the world, and I am very flexible with with itinerary.

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Question: How did you get into travel?

Traveling is something that I have always loved. I enjoy exploring new places, meeting new people, and learning about other cultures. Morocco is a very beautiful place with lots to see and discover. I have been to many parts of Morocco and I am very familiar with the various areas that are popular among tourists.

Question: What is a particularly memorable experience you’ve had that greatly impacted your life? 

The experience that was life changing for me was that I was fortunate enough to have a chance to learn and be educated. I attended a school that was at that time run by the British welfare fund “Save the Children” and I was sponsored by foster parents in the UK. After I was finished, I was able to go on to college. I am very grateful for the opportunity I had, which made me who I am today.

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Houssaine with his UK foster parents

Question: How does Morocco, in general, deal with citizens with special needs? Are you discriminated against?

The situation dealing with Moroccans who have special needs is unfortunately not taken seriously yet. Our government needs to realize that this is a huge problem that many of us are dealing with. We are very capable of being able to be successful employees, or even employers, and being able to provide for our families. My expectations would be to stop the discrimination against people with special needs and for businesses to hire based on qualifications. If you are qualified and can do the work, that should be all that is required.

Thank you for your time, Houssaine!

Interested in learning more about Houssaine or planning a trip to Morocco? Follow Houssaine as Disabled Tourist Guide on Facebook, and check out his website disabled-tourist-guide.com

24 Hours in Philadelphia, the City of Brotherly Love

One of my favorite traditions that my mom and I started for Christmas presents a few years ago is that I treat her to an experience rather than getting her a physical gift. This year I was keen to have her present be a mini-getaway, so we decided on a short city break to Philadelphia.

Day One

Arriving ready for lunch, our first stop was the Italian Market, a historical outdoor market with cafes, cheese shops, butcheries, grocery shops, and restaurants. The Italian Market is in the South 9th Street area, a predominantly Italian area of the city. After a bit of a wander around, we grabbed a slice of pizza in the market and ogled at the imported Italian products in the stores.

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Italian Market

The market was bigger than I imagined, so if you need guidance on where to go, head to the Italian Market Visitors Center, where they have maps of all the stalls. The Italian Market is also dotted with murals – one of my favorite of which was the Di Bruno Bros House of Cheese mural – who doesn’t love a mural of cheese and wine!

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Di Bruno Bros mural at the Italian Market

Our next stop was at the One Liberty Observation Deck, an indoor observatory deck in the Center City area of Philadelphia. The observation deck is on the 57th floor of a skyscraper building and has 360-degree views of the city.

I would actually recommend buying tickets at the Observation Deck itself rather than online, because the online prices actually are more expensive than what we paid. When we arrived, we were told children under 12 go free, which saved us $14 from the online price.

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View from the One Liberty Observation Deck
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View from the One Liberty Observation Deck

After checking into our hotel which was directly across from the One Liberty Observation Deck, we headed to dinner at Gran Caffe L’Aquila. Here we feasted on great Italian classics like gnocchi, tiramisu, and gelato – a lot of the servers are actually Italian as well!

Day Two

Day two was all about Philly food! One of my preferred activities when I travel now is to try to find a food tour – and through the City Food Tour company, which is ranked the #1 tour company in Philly on TripAdvisor, I signed us up for their Flavors of Philly tour.

The tour was organized in a way that we walked through the Center City area of the city, stopping for five different food samples, and along the way learning about the history of Philadelphia and why these foods have their roots in the city.

Our first stop was at the Philly Pretzel Factory where we had pretzel samples with a choice of mustard. The pretzel was great – but the spicy mustard choice is heavy on the horseradish and our entire tour group got a good laugh when Markie put a bit too much of it on his pretzel and made faces after eating it! We also found out when you remove the salt from the top of a pretzel, it is called a “bald” pretzel.

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Pretzels galore at the Philly Pretzel Factory

Our second stop, Joe’s Pizza, had my favorite food of all the stops, a tomato pie. A tomato pie is pretty much just a pizza without cheese, but the sauce was amazing. It was rich in flavor and very fresh, as we were told that the owner of the restaurant, who is from Italy, comes in early every morning to specially make the sauce for the pie.

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Tomato Pie at Joe’s Pizza

Our next step didn’t include any food, but was instead to poke in and see Del Frisco’s steakhouse. Del Frisco’s has an amazing interior, as the restaurant is in a former restored bank. The upstairs has long columns and an intricate ceiling that were preserved during the restoration. Downstairs is a huge former bank vault that you can eat inside! Next time I’m in Philly I would definitely head back here for a meal.

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Del Frisco’s steakhouse
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Bank vault at Del Frisco’s Steakhouse

Next was another food stop at Zio’s Pizza, where we had delicious cheese steak but not-so-delicious cheese fries. The cheese fries were okay, but they used cheese whiz which personally doesn’t do well with my stomach.

At our final location, Reading Terminal Market, were our last two food stops. Reading Terminal Market has been on my Philly bucket list for some time, and it didn’t disappoint. The market is huge and has numerous food stalls, many of which we found out are run by the Pennsylvania Dutch. We also found out it’s the most visited attraction in Philly, even more than the Liberty Bell!

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Reading Terminal Market

Our first stop within the market was the Famous 4th Street Cookie Company, known for their variety of homemade, fresh baked cookies. We sampled the chocolate chip cookie, which was warm and gooey, just like I like it!

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Philly classics at Reading Terminal Market

Our second stop in Reading Terminal Market was Beiler’s Bakery, which is so popular that that the line was (long) and around the corner! Thankfully being with our tour group, we were able to cut the line and get our hands on one of Beiler’s popular doughnuts.

After our food tour we were more than sufficiently full, and it was time to head back to my parents house. There’s still a few things on my Philly bucket list remaining, so it just means I’ll have to return again!

Have you been to Philadelphia? What would you want to do in the city?

Noelle’s Monthly Recap: December 2016

December was a month full of friends, family, and festive holiday celebrations. I started off the Christmas season at Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park, London, followed by a weekend in Stuttgart, Germany to experience the infamous Christmas markets. Mid-month, it was time to head home to be with family and friends for Christmas, my birthday, and New Years.

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Philadelphia skyline

Destinations visited:

Stuttgart, Esslingen, and Schwäbisch Gmünd, Germany

London, Cheltenham, Bibury, and Bourton-on-the-Water, England

Herndon and Reston, Virginia, USA

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA

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Stuttgart, Germany

Favorite destinations:

Bourton-on-the-Water, England – Nicknamed the “Venice of the Cotswolds”, I loved this quaint English village that has the River Windrush passing through and is dotted with several pubs, tea houses, and gift shops.

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania – Philly is a place I’ve been before but it continues to exceed my expectations. Although we only had two short days there, I really enjoyed how lively and historic the city is. Reading Terminal Market and the view from the One Liberty Observation Deck were two of my favorites this time around.

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Bourton-on-the-Water, England

Highlights: 

My first German Christmas market visit – I fell in love with German Christmas markets (and glühwein in particular!) after visiting three Christmas markets in the Stuttgart area earlier this month.

Visiting my family and friends for the holidays – There’s no place like home for the holidays! For the first time since moving, I had a full two week visit at home so I really was able to spent a lot of quality time with friends and family.

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Italian Market, Philadelphia

Challenges:

Flight and luggage chaos to get home – Travel mayhem was abound in my effort to get home to Washington, D.C. for the holidays. In total my flight was delayed seven hours, and I spent three of those in the plane on the tarmac. Then, upon arrival to the U.S., I found out the airline had lost my luggage. Three days later, I was sent luggage that wasn’t mine (similar last name, but different bag tag), and then finally on day four I (surprisingly, with no notice) received my luggage. I’ve now filed a claim with my airline to reimburse me for the clothes I had to buy in the meantime.

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Winter Wonderland, Hyde Park, London

Posts:

Tis the Season: Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park, London – Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park is definitely one of the highlights of the Christmas season in London. It’s beautiful and well done, and is as close to a German Christmas as you can get without actually going to Germany.

Cotswold Villages: A Picturesque Day in Bibury and Bourton-on-the-Water – Cotswolds villages are quintessentially English, and I loved spending a day exploring two of them.

Top 10 Reasons to Love Living in England – A question I get asked regularly is why I like living in England, so I decided to answer with this listicle.

A Weekend at the Christmas Markets in Stuttgart, Germany – The Christmas Markets in Stuttgart were amazing, and I loved enjoying all things German during my trip.

Noelle’s Ultimate Beginners Guide to Hostels – Banish fear of staying in a hostel with my ultimate beginners guide.

2016 Reflections of Gratitude – My travels in 2016 made me very grateful in many ways.

Noelle Across the Pond in 2017 – See what travels I have planned for the New Year!

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Ben Franklin, Philadelphia

Coming up in January 2017:

Early January will be a whirlwind of two friends coming to visit England in the span of a few weeks, so day trips to Bath and Gloucester are planned. Later in the month, Mark and I are celebrating my birthday belatedly with a long weekend in Porto, Portugal.

What was the highlight of your December? What are your plans in January?

Noelle Across The Pond in 2017

As I reflect in gratitude for my travels in 2016, the natural planner in me has already booked some 2017 travels and I also have my eyes on a few others. For the most part, I’ll be aiming for mostly new destinations, although I’m sure some return trips to destinations I’ve been before will pop up. Here’s whats on for the New Year:

Checking Portugal off the Bucket List

Portugal was on my bucket list for 2016, but I never got a chance to make it there. For my belated birthday present, Mark has booked us a trip to visit Porto, Portugal for a long weekend in January. A cruise along the Douro River to visit wineries is a must, as well as wandering around the city and just relaxing while taking it all in.

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Porto, Portugal (Source)

A Baltic Adventure

After visiting Bulgaria last September, I’ve really been keen on seeing more of Eastern Europe. In February, I’ll be doing a ten day route starting from Vilnius, Lithuania, passing through Riga, Latvia, and ending in Tallinn, Estonia. I’m excited to see what these countries have to offer – and hopefully I don’t freeze too much!

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Riga, Latvia (Source)

Caribbean Island Hopping

Not knocking England, but the sun was barely strong enough for this pool lover last summer. To make up, this April for Easter I’ll be taking in all the sun rays (while wearing sunblock, of course!) while cruising around the western Caribbean for a week. Here’s hoping to a good tan and lots of delicious cocktails.

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Rum Point, Grand Cayman

New England Road trip

Despite living on the east coast of the U.S. for most of my life, a huge oversight of mine is not having been anywhere in New England except for Boston. I’d like to remedy that at some point this year by doing a road trip around New England. The two states I’m particularly excited for are Maine (lobstah!) and Vermont.

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Maine lighthouse (Source)

Alpine Austria

After fellow blogger Kristin from Camels and Chocolate posted pictures of her alpine adventures in Austria, I knew I had to go. I’ve always loved neighboring Switzerland, so Austria will hopefully been a scenic extension of that. To boot, it’s supposedly a bit cheaper than Switzerland which is a perk as well.

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Lake Hallstatt, Austria (Source)

Where are you heading to in 2017? Are any of my destinations on your list as well?

2016 Reflections of Gratitude

As much as I wanted to write about how travel has made me less materialistic this holiday season, I’m going into day four of my visit home for the holidays without having received my luggage (and being pretty upset about it), so that topic felt a bit like preaching from a soapbox.

Instead what I can focus on is how travel, particularly some of the trips I’ve done this year, have opened my eyes in some profound ways. Here’s how:

Realizing I have the “right” citizenship – I’ve lived my whole life taking for granted that I have a passport that makes it easy to travel to most places in the world.  What I don’t think I’ve reflected on till this year, however, is that not everyone has that accessibility. Case in point, one of my friends has had to go through a visa process twice this year to be able to travel with me. I’m grateful, but sometimes slightly embarrassed, that wherever we’ve traveled to has been more difficult for her to visit than me.

I’m able bodied – I’m generally healthy and have good mobility, which makes travel much easier. This year I started following Curb Free with Cory Lee, a wheelchair bound travel blogger, who really opened my eyes to the challenges that handicapped people face to travel. On a more personal level, my mom has difficulty walking long distances due to previous foot surgeries, so I’ve realized to be grateful that I can handle long walks and running.

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Hiking at Mount Floyen, Bergen, Norway

I have resources – Having resources to travel (money, time, etc) is not a given. I’m grateful that I’m in a position where I have discretionary income and vacation days to use to take trips.

Basic needs are universal– No matter who or where you are in the world, the most basic essential needs are safety, shelter, food, water, and love.

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Traditional Czech meal in Prague, Czech Republic

While realizing what I am grateful for is important, I also want to use my reflections to translate into action. Here’s a few ways I’m starting to do this – and I hope to continue to do more in 2017:

  • Donating to Syria through UNICEF – Basic needs are universal, and right now, the citizens of Syria don’t have them, so I’m doing what I can to help.
  • Donating to Nomadic Matt’s campaign FLYTE – FLYTE helps pay for underprivileged students to travel abroad, students that otherwise may not ever have the opportunity to travel outside their immediate area. During their trips, students are given a cultural understanding of their destination and often participate in volunteer work as well.
  • Awareness coverage on the blog – I recently connected with Houssaine, a disable tourist guide in Morocco, who was gracious enough to grant me an interview with him. Look for that coverage, as well as more awareness coverage, in early 2017.

What are you grateful for? What positive changes do you want to make in 2017?