Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Married in Marrakesh

Some women wait all their lives to slip a diamond on to their left ring finger and declare to the world that they are married. It took me several troubled conversations with Berber men in the souks of Marrakesh to realise, that I didn't have to wait for a knight in shining armour to save me, I was going to save myself – a quick exchange of a ring from one hand to the other -and life became much more easier to negotiate!

                                                                 “You like you buy .."
“Democratic price sexy ...”
           “You English, Irish, Scottish, Finish …?”
              “Yes try it on … very pretty on you ...”
     “You touch you buy”

All these chants, threats, and pushy statements become a way of life when waking through the gigantic maze that is the souks in Marrakesh, and they can be easily fobbed off with “My husband will buy it for me;” “My husband must see this;” “My husband has the money.”
 Once you flash the ring and those lines, you can finally relax and enjoy the madness that surrounds you.

I had left all my Moroccan souvenir shopping until Marrakesh, but 20 minutes into my shopping spree I had to sit down, have a drink and hatch a plan. I was overwhelmed, even shopaholics will become dazed here. The souk market is bigger than any shopping centre I have ever been in, the sellers can be aggressively pushy and there are so many pretty things to look at (but don't touch – touch it and you've bought it!).
My tip: Half the asking price of the item and bargain from there, if they let you walk away – your offer was too low, usually they will bargain no matter what the price.
Once you finalise your first deal you are ready to take them all on. Confidence is important and after a few tries you will gain a general idea of prices.
Some people return home with bargains galore, but if you land home with a beautiful piece that you paid over the odds for, but enjoyed the exchange or fell in love with then it is worth the extra few dirham. (My silver jewelled tea pot is well worth the smile.)
Teapots, perfume, handbags, scarves, jewellery (but not gold, it is considered evil), pottery, glassware, spices and slippers are items you cannot leave Marrakesh without. This is a fabulous city, modern yet ancient, dazzling yet characteristic.

We stayed at Riad Reves D'orient which was impossible to find but a complete treasure, I slept like an Arabian princess and the owners were just too nice and so pretty! We ate in Djemaa el Fna, the main square which must be experienced during the night so much more than during the day. In the sunshine it is a market square with souks, but at night it is an emporium of food, song, dance, snakes and tricks! The stall we settled to dine at had the only female cook on the square and the food was delightful, perfectly cooked – with an electric atmosphere around us. This is one of those places where photographs and even cam-recorders just can't capture.
There are plenty of sights to see in the city, but for a few days trip you will be busy enough shopping, eating and staring at the madness, that your days will be plenty filled!
I would recommend staying at riad, we also spent a night in a four star hotel and it was bitterly disappointing compared to the homely riad.
You cannot holiday in Morocco without soaking up the madness of Marrakesh and for the ladies it is quite refreshing to experience married life with all the bonuses, minus the problems!

Thursday, 25 November 2010

The incurable travel bug

I hear it is raging and it isn't just contained in one country or even one continent - all over the world people are coming down with very serious symptoms of the travel bug.
I think you pick it up in foreign countries, because before I left this Emerald Isle I was fine, but then bang 2008 - a Round the World Ticket - and I've never recovered since. I can't even pinpoint what country I caught this damn disease in.
And don't be fooled this is a disease - an addiction that cannot be cured by medicine, it is all you ever think about - all you ever want to do.
You crave adventure, journeys and excitement - you spend all year researching a trip only to start all over again on the flight home trying to come up with a new plan for a different location.
The only cure for this awful bug is an expensive one, a cure that isolates you from friends and family (even partners) and leaves you thousands of miles away from home. The only cure is to travel, the alternative is to stay at home depressed, bored and unimpressed with the tedious chores life throws.
The only preventative to this bug is not to travel in the first place - do not encourage young people to "broaden their horizons" or to "go find themselves" because they always return home leaving themselves scattered across the globe and spend the rest of their lives searching for the missing pieces.
Sadly, I must admit to having this awful condition, it is something I will have to live with for the rest of my life - the chore of wanting to be somewhere else, see something new and experience different cultures.
I have made a list of some of the most common symptoms of the travel bug if you answer yes to 10 or more of these then  you too must accept that you have been struck down by the dreaded travelling bug.

Symptoms of the travel bug:

- You have a list of places you want to go, things you want to see
- You research your trips for more than 4weeks
- You own more than three travel guides
- You subscribe to airline/hotel/tour newsletters
-You visit travel websites once a week
- Books, movies, songs, blogs inspire your next destination
- You have visited more than 7 countries on holidays
- You dream of travelling day and night
- You watch/ read the world news with more interest than home news
- You take interest in world disasters and mentally note them as places to visit
- You love photos and travel photography
- You always want to go somewhere different - out of the ordinary
- You see young people with no jobs saying they have to emigrate and you think "lucky b#$tards!
- You know you would spend your lotto winnings on travel
- You look through old holiday photos regularly
- You feel twitchy, bored, uneasy
- You feel jealous when friends and family talk about their holidays
- You write a travel blog ...!

Monday, 22 November 2010

Walking pretty

I'm delighted with my 8 out of 10 score in The World's Most Walkable Cities Slideshow at Frommer's
And I Agree with their list 100%:

Florence - beautiful
Paris - a romantic delight
New York - visionary overload
Munich - Especially around Christmas
Edinburgh- chilly in Winter but historically perfect
Boston- Tidy city with plenty to cheers about! - get it?!
Melbourne - Unforgettable my favourite place in the world
Sydney- Well it is a must sand and opera

Dubrovnik, Croatia and Vancouver, British Columbia are on their list but as I have not been there I can't quite concur

So I want to add Dublin and London to my top walkable cities.
Both have history, modernity and fun things to look at - and you are bound to meet some very interesting people on your walks too.

These walks are good for your heart in every way - quickly, get your boots on!

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

No way out of Casablanca

I never ever want to hear anyone complaining about driving to Dublin, London, New York  ever again. Do you know why? Well they have rules of the road, non suicidal motorcyclists and em ... SIGN POSTS.
Yep a few sign posts dotted around that help you figure out:
1. where exactly you are and 2. where you are going.

It is always the little things we take for granted and while driving around Casablanca in a tiny blue Suzuki Alto trying to figure out how to get out, as cars and motorcycles and pedestrians came flying at us, it was sign posts we missed the most.
We had discussed at length putting Casablanca on our itinerary, as we had an inkling it could be outside of our driving realm but in the end we deemed it important enough for a one day trip.
And now looking back on the trip, I don't regret that decision – but after 2.5 hours driving around this crazy city looking for ONE sign out, I really wished we had bypassed this strange corner of Morocco.
But if you do decide that you want to put your life and the lives of your passengers at risk of death or  the very least a whole lot of arguing by venturing to this famous city – what can you expect to see and do?
Once you pass the shanty towns of Casablanca and creep further in to the city which boasts a population of 5.5 million you begin to see modernity at every turn. High rise buildings, shiny glass fronted offices, expensive cars and high street shops and as is inevitable you see poverty.
After making our way to a small train station we parked up for the night and got a taxi to Hotel Central, Casablanca. Located just on the edge of the old Medina it was sufficient for a brief one night stay. By the time we arrived we were hungry so we set off with some directions for the only restaurant we wanted to dine in: Rick's Cafe.
What we didn't expect was fancy bouncers on the door and a grilling about reservations, but we did get a lovely seat by the famous piano and enjoyed a much needed alcoholic drink before we sampled the menu. The meal was good, but not great and  it wasn't expensive by European standards but by Moroccan standards (which you quickly get used to) it was too much.
Aside from the Rick's Cafe and crazy driving (which if you are not bang in the middle of it is kind of a tourist attraction) the ONLY other reason to visit Casablanca, in my opinion is the extraordinary Hassan II Mosque.
The third biggest mosque in the world, holding 25,000 worshippers, with the world's  largest minaret and most importantly one of a very few mosques open to non-Muslims.
It sits over looking the powerful Atlantic which you can see through a glass floor inside. The mosque built for the Moroccan King Hassan II's 60th birthday and cost around $800m. From outside the Mosque and it's spacious grounds are more than impressive, but to truly appreciate it you need to do one of the many tours inside. You learn about Muslim worship and you can marvel at the mosque's elegant design. Though be warned it is very difficult to photograph the interior.
A fascinating place that makes the hassle of Casablanca well worth the effort.
Now all you have to do is try and find you way of the city.
Hassan II Mosque, Casablanca 
Photo by Ewa www.dalekoniedaleko.pl. 

Casablanca (1942)
Captain Lois Renault: “What in heaven's name brought you to Casablanca?”
Rick Blaine: “My health, I came to Casablanca for the waters.”
Captain Lois Renault: The waters? What waters? We're in the desert!
Rick Blaine: “I was misinformed.”

Thursday, 4 November 2010

Assessing Essaouira (pronounced Ess- ew-er-a)

The ancient walls of Essaouria

Our first night in Agadir was pretty uneventful, the downtown hotel we stayed in Hotel Kamal was
sufficient enough for one night. The real adventure started when we picked up our tiny Suzuki Alto
from Agadir Al Massira Airport he following morning.
The car was so small my luggage bag couldn't fit in the boot and had to be placed on the back seat!
I put my brave paw up to drive the tiny blue machine first, reminding my co-pilot to shout “right” at
every junction so I didn't start driving on the left and get both of us killed.
Once I had mastered a few round abouts and we had spotted a sign post for Essaouira we were
happy out. The drive out of Agadir along the coast was stunning – the Atlantic ocean to our left and
dry arid land to our right.
There are plenty of beaches only a few kilometers outside Agadir, many are renowned for their
great surf and kiteboarding, here you also have the chance to get a camel ride ont he beach and
also mix with Moroccan families as they enjoy the water edge activities. Little villages are usually
attached to the most popular beaches with one or two restaurants offering local and tourist food.
The road was quite big and of good quality but the speed limit was never higher than 80 which
made the journey quite long. The road winds up and down mountains, giving some great views over
the textured landscape. We were lucky enought to hit market day and so encountered loads of turcks
and lorries fileld with animals and farmers, met locals herding goats and some villagers driving
horse and carts to their nearest vilalge.
Dont' be surprised to find men pitching up along the road armed with bottles of Argan oil, the area
is well known for the production of this yellow fluid which is valued for its nutritive, cosmetic and
numerous medicinal properties. There will be many women's Co-operatives int his area too, as it is
very popular for women to work on the production of this oil.
We bought some Argan oil off a man along the road side who was very enthusiastic about
massaging a sample into our arms!
There were policemen in every town and village holding checkpoints on this route, one kept us
chatting for ages becasue his brother studies in Dublin and he wanted to practise his English, while
another pulled us over but let us drive on once we said we were Irish.
We arrived in Essaouira before the sun set and paid some guy to take car eof our car for 24 hours
before we got lost in the walled town looking for our Riad Al Medina.
This riad is so cute, our room had a double and single bed and decorated very pretty. This was our
first experience of a riad and we were more than impressed. (The breakfast here was superb!)
The open courtyard in the middle of the riad is genius and makes the place quite cool.
We wandered around the medina before having a mediocre meal in a hotel outside the medina.
Essaouira really comes alive at night, this is when locals come out to shop with their families and
friends, you can hear people bargainng, young girls giggling with their friends and the smell of
cooked and uncooked food wafts through the air.
We encountered some great characters along the way, one of them being Mohammad Cous Cous
– he was selling jewellery. We looked in his shop window and were quickly rushed inside. He
showed us several pieces and wooed us with his knowledge of Ireland and the Gaelic language.
When we failed to make any purchases he asked my friend “how many camels for her?” while
holding on to me. My friend bargained 5, but luckily I escaped his clutches. The camel line became
our new barganing tool in the souks!
After taking a walk down by the harbour and circling the medina a few times, we settled down at a
lovely cafe just up from our riad, ordered some mint tea and watched the world walk by.
Essaouira is recommended as a day trip in every guidebook on Morocco, and here I would like to
join my name to those voices – perfect for a nice day trip, but probably time to move on after that.

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Let's begin in Morocco

Colourful souks hidden in the Medinas, glorious sun, sea and sand along the coast and miles and miles of
stark, dry Sahara - Morocco is a country of colour and contrasts, and most certainly adventure.
The glamour of Sex and The City movie and other Hollywood productions has made Morocco very popular,
not with the younger generation but the middle aged people, people who crave adventure in a safe and
scenic environment.
It is not the most exotic, beautiful or even strange location on the globe but Morocco is attractive, mysterious
and full of surprises. In a country where women are expected to cover up on the street but lounge naked in a
hamman, where the call to prayer can be heard from every corner of the land five times a day but prostitution
seems the most popular choice of career at night you can find yourself in rich luxury or in a battle for survival!
Two white (almost see through) Irish ladies headed to this Royal country on the northern tip of Africa for a
ten day trip that took in the pretty coast of Agadir, the relaxing Essauria harbor, confusing Casablanca, the
overwhelming markets of Marrakech and the a night in the Sahara.
In just four hours my friend and I were transported from the Emerald Isle where everything is tinged with
green to a country which at first glance seems dry, barren and infertile. But it wasn't just our physical
surroundings that had changed, two lone females had arrived in a Muslim country, one where the majority of
women are expected to cover up, where men are the dominant species and where royalty rules the land.
For the majority of our holiday we felt we were looking in on this country, we never felt we were experiencing
it, driving through market towns busy with animals and people, horses and carts transporting people, in late
night souks with locals doing their shopping, where you had to search so hard to find a female's set of eyes
and camping out in the Sahara in a camp full of Arab men - we never felt part of the experience, we were
always just looking in.
But we did have an unbelieveable holiday, eleven days full of colourful pictures and memories and some
very colourful experiences. Over my next few posts I will details some of the places we visited, things we did
and stuff we observed during our eleven day meanderings in Morocco.
The two best modes of transport in the desert!

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Prepare to be scared

My Top Ten Halloween Movies:
The Shining
Stanley Kubrick's adaptation of Stephen King's novel could quite possibly be one of the scariest films of all time. The bone-chilling movie is based in an isolated hotel where Jack Nicholson and his family have moved in as caretakers for the Winter. What follows is a ghostly encounter with a former hotel custodian who murdered his wife and two daughters. The eerie silence of the movie will haunt you long after you've hit the stop button ...
"Saw" follows the travails of two men held captive by Jigsaw, a serial killer who presents his victims with a terrible choice. The film delves into darker psychological territory while still maintaining an unhealthy level of gore the Saw series have been termed 'torture porn' - follow Saw II, III and IV for more of the same.
The Silence of the Lambs
Anthony Hopkins as Dr. Hannibal Lecter the Cannibal will scare you into numbness. Not for the weak-hearted - the psychological thriller is a two-hour-long hair raiser about FBI agent Clarice Starling, who tries to gain insight into a murderer's mind by interviewing psychopath Hannibal.
A Halloween night turns deadly when a former child murderer escapes from the mental hospital and returns to his small hometown to terrorize a babysitter. Soon her friends start disappearing one by one.
The Grudge
An American nurse living and working in Tokyo is exposed to a mysterious supernatural curse, one that locks a person in a powerful rage before claiming their life and spreading to another victim. Long black hair will never look the same again - there is no hiding from this creature - not even hiding behind the cushion will save you!
Texas Chainsaw Massacre
What sets this movie apart from other slasher films? Perhaps it was Leatherface's human skin mask, or maybe it was the roar of the chainsaw, or it could have been the "based on a true story" line at the beginning.
Night of the Living Dead
This black-and-white film can still disturb you to death. You'll cross your fingers for the group of people who hide in a farmhouse, trying to avoid being killed by the dead who have come back to life.
The Exorcist
You'll know why The Exorcist is the most bloodcurdling movie ever made when you watch the brutal depiction of a 12-year-old girl possessed by an evil spirit as the exorcist tries to save her, sick and scary.
Shock, nausea, and utter fright, you'll feel it all at the pit of your stomach while watching Seven. The intense psychological drama follows two detectives, played by Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman, as they try to catch a maniac who plans to kill seven people, one for each of the seven deadly sins - quite clever.
The Ring
A young journalist must investigate a mysterious videotape which seems to cause the death of anyone in a week of viewing it.This is believed to be the scariest Japanese movie ever made - enough said. 

Saturday, 23 October 2010

Here and Now

I love this time of year, Autumn is a picture perfect season.
I am one of those strange people, who like the dark evenings, the frost mornings and cold afternoons. As the leaves turn beautiful colours and fall elegantly to the ground, the air gets a lovely sharp cold and there is nothing better than a walk up a country lane, mountainside or marshy bog with a number of layers on, a woolly hat, scarf and coat with a sheep dog by your side.
Hot stew, soup and tea cuddled up on a couch with someone else - you really cant beat that! It maybe because I am pale with freckles and red hair and this time of year suits me (also my birthday is in October!) or because I'm a lazy cat who loves sleeping and cuddles and ... movie marathons!
I have just finished carving my first pumpkin and although I am not a huge Halloween fan, because it was an event I didn't really celebrate in my childhood, I think it has huge potential. Take away the Americanisation of the festivities I think Ireland should embrace Halloween and celebrate it in it's own unique way - focusing on our very real traditions with the All Hallows Eve. I love the idea of the Virginia Pumpkin Festival in Co Cavan. Fair play to them for doing something fun and different. Imelda May plays there this year - put it on your list of places to be spooked this year!

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Come on in

Do you search for adventure, for thrills, for those once in a lifetime moments, those pictures that will last forever when words no longer suffice?
So do I! I think we shall get on very well. 
Here I will write about places and experiences I have visited, things I want to do, plans in the making and all other travel and scramble that come into my mind. Feel free to contact me, leave a comment or just follow.
Buckle up and enjoy the journey!