“..we headed straight for Place el-Hadim the large square in the middle of the Medina for some refreshing but very sweet Mint Tea.”
By the time we arrived in Meknes it was still looking very gloomy with more rain threatening – so we headed straight for Place el-Hadim the large square in the middle of the Medina for some refreshing but very sweet Mint Tea. If you had no energy before starting off — the sugar rush was definitely about to give you some extra oomph. It was a great place to sit people watching and I must say even better to be able to just see people mingling, parading horses and some great traditional lantern decorations on the nearby walls rather than watching a public execution as they would have done in the past.
The Medina was once again a fascinating place to walk though this time every now and then you could get a sniff of the beautifully scented rose petals that are used to make Rose Water. Displayed in large round baskets it was hard not to want to pick up the petals and let them float away.
Amoung all the small streets and market stalls you find the Medersa Bou Inania which is like walking into a different world as you marvel at all the typical Moroccan decor from colourful green and white tiles to the delicate stucco that appears on the walls. No longer used as a college you can still walk around and get great views of the green tiled roof and the Grande Mosque from the top.
After enough exploration it was indeed time for lunch. I am sure there are restaurant like places in the Medina but the best way to enjoy a Camel burger was to first visit the butcher. Our group leader selected our piece of camel meat which was then minced and combined with Coriander and Cumin. We then walked around a few more corners where we reached the ‘Chef’ area. It was a place where people can bring their meat to be cooked and can either take away or sit down in the very limited seating area. We crammed in behind the kitchen area and waited for our meal…all and all it was very tasty and the meal was typically finished off with yet another mint tea.
After lunch we strolled around the market stalls staying out of the rain before getting our transfer to the next destination, Fes. Even after such a wonderful and interesting day I still could not wait to see what tomorrow would bring…
“Moulay Idriss. A whitewashed town settled between two green hills it makes an impressive approach.”
Moulay Idriss, Morocco
Having left the capital city behind it was back on the train to my next destination Meknes. The 2 and a half hour ride provided the time needed to catch up on some sleep from a very busy morning – yes it is still Saturday :).
Leaving Meknes behind in the late afternoon we literally squeezed into a taxi and drove for about 30 mins to one of the country’s most pilgrimage sites, Moulay Idriss. A whitewashed town settled between two green hills it makes an impressive approach. After leaving our bags at the very friendly guesthouse (Le Combe Blanche) it was once again out and about and up and down stairs to take in the character of this town, from watching workers twining thread, marvelling at the process of bread baking and looking at the impressive decor leading to the Mausoleum of Moulay Idriss.
I really enjoyed my fun packed day that it seemed fitting to end off with a Moroccan Kefta Tagine and a glass of the local Meknes Wine (which was surprisingly decent not to mention hard to find) as the sun went down.
Sunday we woke up to a tempting breakfast at the friendly home stay, orange juice and pancakes which we all smothered in honey or goats cheese – very yummy and soon to be my favourite breakfast choice . It was then down the winding stairs with our bags to our transfer to the Roman Ruins of Volubilis,a UNESCO Heritage Site.
It was a very cold and wet walk around the ruins that I must say I did not take in too much of what our guide was telling us, but the Roman marble floor mosaics were quite impressive and the addition of the local stork nesting on the pillars was an awesome site.
The Medina is filled with splashes of colour whether it be the array of fresh vegetables or the inviting patterned tiles (mosaics) that surround doorways.
In just 1 hour on the train it was amazing you could leave the hustle and bustle of Casablanca and reach quite, palm-tree lined boulevards of Rabat, Morocco’s administrative and political capital. The quietness of the city was welcome as my senses were on overload as we entered my first Medina (the old city) of my trip. I expected it to be a lot busier but was happy to slowly wander around the small alleyways as we passed food and spice shops. The Medina is filled with splashes of colour whether it be the array of fresh vegetables or the inviting patterned tiles (mosaics) that surround doorways.
It was while wandering though the Medina that we received a small tip on how to ignore the men that lean against the wall one foot raised, waiting to attract the attention of the next tourist, always saying hello and telling you about their brother or cousins wonderful carpet shop just around the corner. Our leader aptly named the concept ‘Wallism’ and it was a constant form of amusement through out the trip. The best thing was that no one fell prey to the tactics – thanks Moha!
Having wondered around the Medina we made our way up to the Kabash (fort) at the top of the hill. Unassuming with its sandy coloured walls I did not expect that when I entered the impressive gate that the streets would be so picturesque with their white washed walls and an array of blue hues – I thought my camera was going to seize up when every turn seemed more eye catching than the next. You will be pleased to see that I only attached a sample of the photos – hoping to give you a glimpse of the roads, the sturdy doors with unique details and door knockers. The reason all the streets are painted this way is apparently to keep the flies away — well I did not see any, so maybe it is true?
Leaving the streets behind you enter the other side of the Kabash onto a viewing platform that looks over the Atlantic and the town of Sale – impressive! For a different view when exiting the Kabash I would suggest you walk along boardwalk that lines the Estuary. If I was not short of time I would have loved to have enjoyed a sweet mint tea while watching the reflections of the colourful fishing boats that were scattered around.
My last stop before catching the train to Fes was to visit the Mausoleum of Mohammed V complex (where King Hassan II is laid to rest), built in traditional Moroccan style, the marble finishing, high ceilings and patterned floor make this a peaceful place to visit.
Arrived in Casablanca after a short 3.5 hour flight in a very uncomfortable plane – I felt like I was hunched over the whole way and could not wait to uncurl when disembarking. I had plenty of time to stretch as we seemed to queue for hours at immigration — all I could think was ‘ Only in Africa’
The airport was about a 45 minute transfer to the town and not a very scenic route into town that it left me slightly disappointed. However I was still looking forward to my trip in Morocco and what it will bring. So once I sampled my first authentic Moroccan Tagine of Lamb, Prunes and Almonds along with my fellow intrepid travellers, I went to bed over excited about the next day and the next.
Accommodation: Hotel Guynemer – 2 Rue Mohamed Belloul (Ex.Pegoud), Casablanca, Morocco I just stayed the one night but accommodation clean and staff friendly. Close to a number of restaurants in the new city.
“With an optimistic weather forecast of 24 degrees I was feeling very excited about my trip…”
Playa De Los Cancajos, Spain
The need to leave the cold winds and wet weather in London saw me flying off to one of the smaller islands in the Canary Islands, Isla de La Palma. With an optimistic weather forecast of 24 degrees I was feeling very excited about my trip and I could not wait to touch down on this balmy island.
Our descent into La Palma Aeropuerto was a bit of a ‘heart in throat’ experience and for the first time I was a little concerned while flying. Having looked out the window I was wondering why we seemed to be getting closer and closer to the ocean, with no sign of land in sight. A quick glance to the left at fellow passengers was a good thing as I saw the signs of green vegetation on the island’s coastline.
Isla Le Palma is known to the Palmeros (local inhabitants of La Palma) as the Green Island or the beautiful island. Its mountain slopes are covered in Pine forest and in the North East you have the Los Tilos Rainforest which is abundant with laurel silver trees. Where you don’t have forests you have rows and rows of banana plantations. It has something for everyone from beautiful cozy beaches, natural saltwater pools as well as a large number of hiking trails for those that are looking for a more active holiday.
I was looking for a more relaxing time, mainly to spend most of my time on the beach. Although the weather was warm it was not always beach weather with overcast skies so mid week I decided to take the local line bus to Santa Cruz de la Palma. The main commercial area has been pedestrianized so it was very pleasant roaming around the numerous tourist shops selling volcanic inspired jewellery or gorgeous silk handbags. The architecture in the shopping avenue and along the marina was very pretty with all the traditional wooden balconies painted in warm Mediterranean colours and baskets of flowers. I must warn you though when walking along Avenida Martima to watch out for the waves that sneakily splash up over the wall. It made great entertainment to sit and watch the unsuspecting passers by get a thorough soaking:-)
My next stop after Santa Cruz was to hop back on the bus and head all the way across to the West of the island to Puerto Tazacorte – the sunniest place on the island. The bus trip was only 1hour to Los Llanos but my word, as the bus climbed up the mountain making its way along lots and lots of bends, I felt physically ill. By the time I reached the sunniest place on the island I could not wait to get onto solid ground and breathe in the fresh sea air and take in the colourful character of this fishing town.
The best way to see the island is to either hire a car or catch the local buses. They do offer tours around the island but as there are not many English speaking tourists that visit the island there are not many tour options to choose from. I decided towards the end of my stay to hop on one of the tours as it was going up Los Tilos the Rainforest which can not be reached my public transport. I am not surprised about this as the road up to the North is just one road and in some very tight spots it took about 10minutes just for the bus to make sure it was lined up to cross very narrow bridges.Very scary indeed! The scenery was very picturesque with views of the ocean, salt water pools, banana plantations and very steep ravines. The tour itself was disappointing and the tour guide struggled to get her point across in English, but we did get to sample some honey rum and were recommended to a lovely restaurant in the old town of San Andres, where I leisurely ate Spanish tortilla with a chilled glass of La Palma wine.
My last few days on the island I explored the rock pools , went in search of turtles and dolphins and just simply relaxed on the black volcanic beach enjoying the tranquil life that La Palma has to offer.
Accommodation: El Cerrito Apartamentos – Playa de Los Cancajos, Brena Baja, Spain
It was a smooth and quick flight from London to Budapest – probably due to the fact that my friend, Sue, and I had not seen each other in ages and had far too much to say. I am convinced the people on the plane where thankful when we landed and they didn’t have to hear us jabber away. Our excited chit chat did however get us more food on the plane!
We arrived at our apartment around 11pm and were pleasantly surprised it was so fantastic. At a bargain of £10 a night each we were not expecting it to be so modern and comfy. We settled in with a cup of coffee before heading to bed in anticipation for exploring this unknown city which is often referred to as the ‘Paris of the East’.
Our first morning the sky was dull and grey but having been informed that that weather was unseasonally warm for this time of year, we could not really complain that it was 8 degrees when it is normally minus 10. Having flicked through the guidebook we decided to head out of town to Statue Park. This historical site displays mementos from the communist era that were once actually displayed around the town. These gigantic symbolic statues are rather impressive and oppressive at the same time, put together with the misty atmosphere it certainly was a chilly reminder of the dictatorship that ruled this country for many many years. It is here that you can see the ‘hero’s’ of the communist world such as Bela Kun, Marx, Lenin, Engles as well as the famous replica of Stalin’s Boots.
After a freezing couple of hours we were more than happy to jump on the bus and head for the Castle District on the Buda side of Budapest. A very picturesque part of the town with beautiful views over the Danube River – even with the mist over the river you could still make out the impressive Parliament Buildings and the Chain Bridge that connects Buda and Pest. The Fisherman’s Bastion was my favourite building on this side of the river followed by the multi coloured glazed roof of Matyas Church.
By 4pm it was starting to get dark so we headed off to the Christmas Markets which was the main reason why we had come to Budapest. The shopping street of Vaci was beautifully lined with Christmas lights leading up to Varosmajor square. The square was decorated with a large Christmas tree and lines of wooden sheds that housed all sorts of Christmas goodies. We got in line at the mulled wine counter to warm up our hands and then leisurely took a stroll around the market looking at the all the local crafts.
There is so much to see in Budapest that we were up early again the next day – this time we got on a hop off hop on bus so we could hear a little bit of the history of the town. I will be honest and say I was disappointed as they had limited buses running and we heard more music on the headphones than we did interesting facts. The scenery made up for it as we took in the Vajdahunyad castle which is a bit of a mismatch of architecture but with it’s medieval looking towers you could see why they refer to it as ‘Sleeping Beauty’s’ castle and the impressive figure of the Archangel Gabriel at Hero’s square.
Included in our hop on hop off ticket was a river cruise along the Danube. Not the biggest boat on the river it meant that some of us had to go and sit on the top deck and gosh was it cold. We grabbed a glass of mulled wine to keep us warm but I don’t even think I was half way through before it got cold. The views were good and the commentary muffled. Keen to warm up it was back to the Christmas market for some more mulled wine and a Hungarian treat – Langos. Langos is like a flat bread covered in onions, bacon and cheese and baked in a pizza like oven. You then get given sauces such as sour cream, ketchup or spicy chilly to paint (yes with paint brushes) on — very yummy.
After looking at the Christmas markets again we got tired of the crowds and headed back to our apartment for dinner before heading out for the evening. There was a bar directly opposite our apartment called the ‘Old Man’s Bar’ which we decided did not look appealing and so we headed for Liszt Ferenc Square where there were numerous bars and cafe’s to choose from. The atmosphere was quite and we had to laugh out loud when we walked back to our apartment and straight into the doors of the ‘Old Man’s Bar’. It’s name was totally deceiving and we throughly enjoyed our evening with new found friends and great tunes!
It did take us a while to get moving on the Sunday morning but I must admit we might have made more effort if we had known that there was going to be hundreds of half naked Santa’s running through the town (I guess we had to make to do with reading it in the Metro when we got back to the UK). The town was very festive being Santa Claus day and we left Budapest wishing we could stay longer.
“…this year my birthday was no exception with the extra bonus of being taken away for a mystery weekend to celebrate…”
Birthday times are always exciting. It is generally an excuse to hang out with friends you have not seen in a while and have a few celebratory drinks. This year my birthday was no exception with the extra bonus of being taken away for a mystery weekend to celebrate by my two friends, Kerry and Martin. I had no idea where I was going and it was very exciting when I was told that I needed to bring my passport!
Having received my packing list I was all ready to go, wondering where they would be taking me. I was like a little child at Christmas when I was told we were off to France to the Champagne region. What a great way to carry on celebrating my birthday — with lots of sparkles in my glass 🙂
We effortlessly crossed the channel in our car through the Channel Tunnel Within 35 mins of having driven our car onto the train we were in France. To be fair the first entrance to France is not the most scenic but it gets better as you get on the motor way and start to see some of the countryside. It helped that it was a gorgeously sunny day with only a crisp wind. You could see that Autumn was on the way as every now and then trees and bushes had a sprinkling of light gold and orange, making the drive seem more beautiful.
By lunchtime we had reached Reims our destination for the weekend. Reims is considered the champagne capital of France and lies in Champagne-Ardenne region (the official name) in northeastern France some 129km northeast of Paris. The architecture of the city is very Gothic in some parts and modern in others. Unfortunately the city is full of road works as they are currently building the new light train in the city. It is only due to be finished in April 2010, so if you are planning a visit I would make sure it is complete so you can fully appreciate the beauty of the city.
We stopped for some lunch before exploring the city at Ernest Hemingway’s on the main shopping street. A lovely atmosphere bustling with people we spotted the huge hamburgers and made it our instant choice. To be fair with my non-existent french it was the safe choice but word of warning for those not familiar with french cuisine – the hamburger is made of mince meat and generally does not come cooked. So a little disappointing especially as the middle was a bit cold – yuk.
It was then off to explore the city and of course see how champagne is made. I did find it bizarre that a lot of the bigger Champagne house were in the main city as I had expected it to be like most of the wine farms surrounded by vineyards, but here we were in a city walking around unknowingly at first above some of the most expensive champagnes that are stored in the underground tunnels of the abbey. Our first champagne house was Taittinger where we heard all about the art of Champagne making. Made from the Chardonnay grape it can only be classed as Champagne if made in the specified region and according to a set process called ‘methode champenoise’. Their cellars are some 30m below the ground surface and are kept naturally cool due to the chalk rock sediment. Our tour ended with a delicious glass of Taittinger Brut Reserve.
In to the swing of things now, we freshened up at our hotel before making our way to the balcony of Le Lion to relaxingly sip some Canard-Duchene while watching the Golden Angel of the Sube fountain glisten in the sunlight. Dinner at Bistrot de Boucher was a great end to the evening as we sampled Foie gras, honey coated duck and peppered steak but not before starting our dinner the french way with a glass of Kir Royale.
It was our last day in France and our Champagne exploration was not over. We headed off to Epernay the next Champagne capital in France to visit the famous Moet & Chandon, explore the cellars situated on Champagne avenue and of course get a picture with the famous Dom Perignon. No not the prestige cuvee of Moet and Chandon but the Benedictine Monk who doubled the size of the Abbey’s vineyard while it was under his stewardship. Although he has been erroneously credited with being the founder of champagne he must have done something right to get his statue placed just outside the Champagne House.
After tasting a few glasses of champagne after our tour it was off back into the countryside to start to make our way back to Calais and then finally England. We meandered along the country roads and found a picnic spot which looked back on the town of Epernay and the surrounding vineyards to have our lunch.
It was soon after lunch that Ernest Hemingway came back to haunt us. One by one we fell victims to food poisoning and all pointed to those dodgy hamburgers. The drive back to the Channel Tunnel was a bit stop start and I felt sorry for Martin who had to drive us all the way home. We naturally got to see all the service stops on the way back and had further entertainment when rushing into one of the service stations to find police with guns. We were told in French by a policeman that the service station was closed. I of course had no idea what he was telling me and must have wrinkled my eyes in confusion as it was quickly translated into English. It was only then did I spot the four people sitting on the floor handcuffed – I guess that was the reason why it was closed then!
The channel tunnel trip back was not as smooth as the crossing over as we were delayed for a couple of hours – made worse by the fact that all we wanted to do was have a cuppa tea, slice of marmite toast and climb into a warm bed.
Was it a good trip? Naturally – selective memory is a great thing, especially when my most fond memory is watching those delicate bubbles escaping to the top of MY champagne glass 🙂
Accommodation: Hotel Porte Mars – 2 Place de la Republique, Reims, France