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 

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.