Marrakech Streets

Final Stop

“…the train had been like a sauna that it was difficult to sleep. Nevertheless it was my last day in Morocco and I was determined to make the most of it!”

Marrakech, Morocco


I felt a little jaded as the train pulled into Marrakech station – the train had been like a sauna that it was difficult to sleep. Nevertheless it was my last day in Morocco and I was determined to make the most of it!

After a quick shower and breakfast, it was off to explore. Unfortunately due to the circumstances the day before with the bomb in the square we were warned to stay away from the square which meant our sightseeing was a bit limited, which was disappointing as I was looking forward to seeing all the spice markets .

We made the most of the day by exploring the small shops near Mohammad V avenue, along with a number of art galleries which are always great to visit. When we got tired of walking we opted to have a sweet mint tea and sat at a very nice looking cafe. They went out of there way to buy us some fresh mint for our tea and only when we left and peered inside that we realised we had unknowingly sat down at a betting house solely for men it seemed…we were also wisely warned not to use the facilities ( thanks Jane!)

Taking a horse and carriage we were dropped at the Koutoubia Mosque just in time for the call to prayer. It was very interesting watching all the people descend like ants to the entrance of the mosque.

My trip ended with a lovely evening with all my fellow intrepid travellers over dinner and drinks at the bar with some new friends.

I caught my plane feeling like there was so much more to see and I hope to be back soon to visit all those places I missed – Inshallah!

Accommodation: Hotel le Caspien – 12 Rue Lobnane, Marrakech, Morocco
Good location  easy to walk to main attractions.

 

 

Atlantic views

Ocean views, beers and tapas

“What I was looking for was a nice quite place to sit looking at the ocean and enjoying some fresh seafood.”

Tangier, Morocco


Within four hours we had left the beautiful town of Chefchaouen and the Rif mountains. As the local bus pulled into the bus station..Tangier did not give me a feeling of wanting to be explored. It was busy in a typical modern way with people rushing everywhere – a typical port town that has seen huge developments in the last few years. What I was looking for was a nice quite place to sit looking at the ocean and enjoying some fresh seafood.

Well I got the seafood…After a delicious lunch of calamari and chips we eventually managed to find some taxis and headed off for a panoramic view over the straight of Gibraltar. While sipping on a sweet mint tea we all admired the views.

It was here that we heard about the horrible bombing in the square at Marrakesh. It was quite a shock as we were heading there the next day and because we were also advised that we were to stay away from busy tourist places. How busier could Tangier be? Our group leader, Moha, handled the situation really well and gave everyone a sense of calm as we really did not have the full picture. The best solution was for us to hire a mini bus and head out of Tangier.

What a great decision! We headed out towards Cap Spartel, which takes you through a wealthy suburb of villas and royal palaces. After exploring Hercules Grotto and attempting to take a picture of the famous view that looks like the map of Africa, it was off to the terraces to watch the views, the people fishing and the young boys playing in the sea…very brave as this was the Atlantic.

After a relaxing day, we headed back into Tangier to a Tapas Bar so we could have a few relaxing drinks before catching our overnight train to Marrakesh. The atmosphere was really lively and I am sure they picked all the English classics to play just for us tourists. The hospitality was fantastic and instead of just a few tapas for the table they kept bringing out more and more…which made everyone buy more drinks to compensate for all the food and the vicious cycle began.

The festivities of the evening continued on our overnight train as we all piled into one of the carriages, drank warm wine, laughed at jokes and enjoyed some excellent singing entertainment.

Thanks to new found friends for a great time that will be fondly remembered!

Charming in Blue

“The City of Chaouen was in complete contrast to the previous cities we had visited.”

Chefchaouen, Morocco


The four hour bus journey went rather quickly, passing through plantations of Olive trees and the occasional Poppy. We had one stop mid way where you can have a BBQ lunch – once again you had to go and buy your raw meat and then queue to have it cooked on the grill – I must say it did smell delicious and left me wishing I had opted for lunch instead of a quick granola snack bar.

Eventually the flat plantations turned into hillsides meaning we had finally reached the Rif mountains and our destination, Chefchaouen (or the City of Chaouen), which was a quaint village nestled between two mountain peaks.

After a slight mis direction our taxi finally dropped us off at our raid which was a picture of prettiness. As soon as you entered the doors you wanted to explore or just collapse by the pool. It captured the Moroccan/Spanish influence so beautifully that the 12 of us descended on the hotel so excitedly that I am sure we caused quite a stir. Unbeknown to us the party that was having lunch included none other than the Prince of the United Arab Emirates….guess a Hola greeting might not have been the most appropriate 🙂

The City of Chaouen was in complete contrast to the previous cities we had visited. Being further north the influence was more Spanish with most people speaking a dialect of Arabic and Spanish. Being more serene it allowed for quite exploration. The prices seemed to have been about a quarter of the price of goods in Fes and all the shop owners were happy to have you walk around without jumping to your side as soon as you picked something up to examine.

My time in Chefchouen was filled with taking many many photos of the picturesque streets of different blue hues, watching children play in the streets, mistakenly stumbling into an unsuspecting homeowners house thinking it was a pottery shop, sampling snails on the street and strangely for such a small Medina getting lost!

The evenings stayed just as relaxing with the occasional Shisha thrown in to add to the atmosphere.

I hope you all like the pictures, I think they tell more about the town than I can put into words 🙂

Accommodation: Dar Echchaouen

 

Yellow Leather drying in the sun

A medieval maze

“Impressive thick bronze doors surrounded by the traditional Moroccan Mosaic – in many colours of blue…”

Fes, Morocco


The day started off with heading to a local cafe for some breakfast. Not speaking French or Arabic was a disadvantage but having mastered the word for Pancakes with honey ‘Crepes aux Miel’ I was guaranteed a delicious breakfast! We waited a fair while for our food to arrive and only realised why as soon as some other diners had finished their breakfast as they were waiting to wash the utensils – classic!

Back at the hotel we met up with a local guide who was to spend the day with us showing us the sights of Fes. Our guide’s name was Hakima which means wise or insightful and was most fitting as she told us many interesting facts.

Our first stop was at the Royal Palace where you are met with impressive thick bronze doors surrounded by the traditional Moroccan Mosaic – zillij in many colours of blue which is the colour of Fes. The palace is guarded but you are allowed to walk right up to these doors and have a good look at the brilliant workmanship. Once I had my picture in true tourist style with the guards we headed off in time to the medieval parts of Fes.

The Medina of Fes was an intense experience – you were overloaded with sounds, smells and sights from the moment you enter through the impressive blue gate. Once inside the Medina walls it is hard to capture the initial impression as already you are starting to dodge the local trade. Wooden slats act as the roof in some parts adorned with lanterns that must make an impressive picture at night. I was thankful that I had someone to follow as the constant turns and small doorways we entered could not have been placed on any map. So if you do ever go to Fes I would recommend that you take a local guide to give you some direction – or at least find your way out once you have finished getting lost.

Throughout the Medina you walk marvelling at the beautiful handicraft of the Moroccan slippers and colourful Jilaba. Though the food markets everything is beautifully put on display from towering olives to hanging bananas. You did have to be aware of the cries of Balak! (Look out!) in the tiny alleyways as this normally meant a heavily laden donkey was approaching and that you had to get out of the way very quickly – in some cases it saw us sprawled against the wall wondering if there was enough space or you would have a load crash right into you.

This medieval Medina highlights the traditional crafts still in place and allowed us to see fabric being weaved, carpets being made and of course leather being dyed at the famous Fes Tannery. Walking into a leather shop which takes you to a view of the Tannery, you are greeted along with a piece of mint. When reaching the top to the balcony you see colourful sight of reds, blues and yellows…along with whiff of raw hide. Amidst taking photos I was quite happy to bury my nose in the mint leaves provided.

Housed inside the old city are a number of Mosques and the Medersa (College) Bou Inania, which recently restored shows the elaborate Zellij, carved plaster, cedar screens and massive bronze doors.

For lunch we were taken to our guide, Hakima’s friends restaurant (Familla Berada) for lunch. I was a bit skeptical at first as you always think there is some pay off but it turned out to a be a very festive occasion for as little as MAD70 you received cooked salads, choice of main and a drink, plus welcoming gestures and entertainment from the owner. Who said you had to understand each other when this man’s personality overtook with his happy smiles, showing his strength by picking you up and twirling you around. It was a lovely lunch but I must say my choice of lamb tagine and vegetables was a bit disappointing. Not because it was not cooked well but for some reason all I could taste was the smell from the Tannery that we just visited.

The afternoon we did more exploration though the alleyways and after a sweet mint tea and for some a Nss Nss (Half coffee, half milk), making a wish in the wall (which to be honest I was laughing so much I forgot to wish!), I was quite happy to take my few purchases and head back to the hotel and put my feet up.

Accommodation: Hotel Olympic

Camel Burgers in Meknes

“..we headed straight for Place el-Hadim the large square in the middle of the Medina for some refreshing but very sweet Mint Tea.”

Meknes, Morocco


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…

 

 

Pilgrimage Village & Roman Ruins

“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.

Accommodation: Guesthouse Le Combe Blanche

Capital of sights

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.

Rabat, Morocco


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.

And this was all before lunch…

Arriving in Morocco

Casablanca, Morocco


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.

Black Volcanic Beaches and Fishing Villages

“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

Christmas cheer in the ‘Paris of the East’

Budapest, Hungary

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.