Monthly Archives: January 2011

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The One With Europe ’11 Day 12 – The Church, Stadium & Park Of Barcelona

At Park Guell Of Barcelona

If there is one temptress of a city in Europe, whom seduce you with gorgeous places and great places, Barcelona will be it.

I couldn’t be more blessed with the weather, allowing me to visit some major sights in the city on my second day here. In between spots I get to see some of the more rural part of Barcelona, where in the midst of nondescript but equally beautiful public housing (did you know they also have flats here?), you have a culture/sport/nature spot.

Isn’t that amazing?

– Visited the awesome La Sangrada Familia, the last work and arguably the most impressive of all Gaudi’s work. Just seeing the facade from the outside was already an amazing sight. There is no other word for it. The whole damn church defies every law known to humankind.
– The inside was equally jaw-dropping but in very different ways. Towering columns, amazing use of natural light, intricate stained glass panels… everything was deliberately created the way they were, and for good reasons
– In the workshop I discovered the many wondrous inspirations Gaudi used for the church. Now if there is one type of architecture which I could truly admire and indulge in, it would be his
– Next up was the Barcelona football stadium. Where I get to see the FIFA World Cup, the stadium, the golden shoe, the vuvuzela…
– … and I learned who Leo Massi was
– … and then I became a Barca myself
– Right after the stadium, made my way to Park Guell. I had no idea how the park will be spread out, and it was totally useless to follow the crowd for they are going every different direction. So I just followed my feet… upwards. Towards the vantage point of the park
– At where I was rewarded with this amazing skyline of Barcelona. I was lucky that the sky cleared up and I can see everything clearly; from the port, to La Rambla, to La Sangrada Familia. Barcelona, without a doubt, was a beautiful city
– From there I carry my weary feet back to the hostel for a spot of… laundry. Doing what a local might do.
– Then out for tapas at Catalana. Walked like some 5 km to get there. Amazing food, easily the best Spanish meal I had. Trained home.

In bed by twelve. Dead tired but dead satisfied. Ooooh wait till you see the photos.

The One With Europe ’11 Day 11 – First Day In Barcelona

The Skyline Of Barcelona

After the horrifying experience at Madrid, I can’t deny that I approached Barcelona with much caution. Ever the alarmist, I stored everything valuables – from wallet to camera to keys – in the inner pockets of my new Celio jacket (which incidentally has layers than I thought). I slung my backpack protectively across my body, and placed it in front of my body where I can hug it.

In short, I looked like a freaked out tourist suspecting everyone around him like a would-be robber.

But even at that state of mind, I couldn’t help being awed by the spectacular that Barcelona has to offer. It’s easy to see why this was one of my friends’ favourite city in Europe:
– Cobbled alleyway and charming old buildings made the Old Town of Ciutat Vella a joy to get lost into. I couldn’t do it in Morocco, but I let myself be swept by the crowd across Barcelona
– Plaza Catalunya is like any large square in the world, with the minor distraction in the form of flocks of pigeon. But what with the sprawling La Rambla right next to it and affectionate Spaniards kissing each other goodbye, I felt like in a arty romance film. Cue the rising sun and flying pigeons, minus the poo
– The morning crowd of La Rambla. Even as I hugged my belonging closer to me, I peered cautiously at the setting up pantomines (?) and stall owners. Everything was fresh, new and rejuvenating with its hues of colours. Like they are hoping for a good today. Even the tortoises on sale poked out their heads and peered curiously at this excited stranger
– Detoured from La Rambla and ended up right smack inside Mercat de la Boqueria, a bustling market. Everything is huge here – from cured meat to seafood (oh god they like it so big) to whole suckling pigs to mountains of fruits. And only in a Spanish market you’ll find bar to serve you pints of foamy beer, if you need it that early in the morning
– Tourists were milling about Plaza Reial, but for the life of me I couldn’t see what’s so interesting with that fountain in the middle. Maybe I was at the wrong place
– So I sauntered up to the center of the old town, where Barcelona’s political heart was at. Got distracted along the way with many shops. Spent more time than I should here. But oh Starbucks how I miss ya.
– There was a peaceful protest outside Palau de la Generealitat. The sight of the colourful protesters, policemen and dancing bunnies (it was some tourist thing) was kinda ironic in a comforting way
– Buskers. They were everywhere. And not one of those who strummed a few chords on their guitar and calling it a show. These buskers have real talent. Many offered albums of their own creation. Their audience are an appreciative lot. I guess with the sunshine and cold weather, the catchy music – from jazz to “Spanish guitar duo” – put everyone in good mood
– Museums. Barcelona is full of it. I am not a museum person. So that explains the lack.
– The Roman Wall. I was there captivated by some gigantic bubbles show (yes I was that impressionable) and didn’t realise I was at a World Heritage Site. Hah.
– Second calamari meal, this time at the delightful Mercat de Santa Caterina. If I ever run a restaurant business, it will be like this. Open kitchen, bustling chefs, delightful wait staff, plenty of nature. It was difficult not to enjoy a meal here. The food, needless to say, was one morsel from being perfect.
– Anxious to soak in some culture and history, I went into The Cathedral and Esglesia de Santa Maria del Mar. The Spaniards appear to like their churches soaring skywards. The higher, the better. As a result a natural hush permeated over the visiting crowd like a silencing cloak. It was almost magical.
– The port of Barcelona was a wide collection of mooring yatches. Harumph. There are many wealthy people here, I suppose.
– After a quick nap in the hostel, I ditched my map and went for a unguided stroll around La Rambla, following the Saturday crowd. Ended up at El Raval, the answer to everything hip and young and cutting-edge of Barcelona. Throngs of students made way for dinner at small, local cafes, while shops offering second hand goods, designer bags, Inca costumes (?!) and many others dotted the whole place
– After dithering for hours and a delightful chocolate waffle later, I settle for yet another paella dinner. Hmmm. Was okay.

The weather on my first day here has been great. Let’s see what the second day holds!

The One With Europe ’11 Day 9 – Disasters From Marrakech To Madrid

Plaza del Sol

Woke up from an unsettling slumber (the wind was howling through the medina and I kept thinking someone was knocking on my window in the middle of the night) to a rainy morning in Marrakech. Despite the gray sky and wet everything, I was grateful for the weather to have hold itself up for the past couple of days as I made my way through Fez, Meknes, Essaouira and Marrakech.

Breakfast was an unhurried affair in the courtyard of Darr Attajmil, with the waiter-slash-hammam man, Brahim, served me endless cups of coffee. After checking out he led us to a taxi which will take us to the Aeroport some 12 km away for 80 dirhams. Which was fine, until the driver tried to extort another twenty dirhams from me “for the luggage”. But unlike the naive me who got conned for some cobra photos, I gave him a disgusted look, said no and firmly turned away.

Yay me… until an hour later when I discovered that my Easyjet ticket to Madrid was booked for the day before! I panicked, and immediately tried to purchase another ticket for the same flight today. It cost me another 1500 dirhams, but I was grateful I didn’t make the shocking discovery only upon checking in. I was also happy that I had the girls with me, whom seemed to have gotten used to the careless me and helped me to sort things out. Thank god for small mercy, that’s all I had to say.

At the custom the officer flipped through my passport and casually asked for my Spanish visa. Second panic of the day! What visa? I said I didn’t need a visa, and he raised an eyebrow before sauntering off to see someone else. I was panicking right there at the counter, couldn’t believe how screwed up I was. But all was well, I was waved through… though there was a disquiet in me that I may need a visa to enter Spain.

Of course, like many things I worried about in my life, my fear was unfounded. The flight to Madrid by Easyjet was miles better than Ryanair. After a fuss free check in, the journey from the airport to the hostel, located at Plaze de Opera, was somewhat long but not difficult. The hostel itself was bright and cheery. I was sharing room with three ladies, two whom are Koreans (I assumed from the books they are reading), but as I was staying only for one night, I didn’t make the effort to be friendly apart from the hellos and byes.

Later that evening I ventured into Arenal, a wide pedestrian street stretching between Opera and Sol metro stations. Immediately I realise that my flimsy Giordano turtleneck, why in a colour I love (purple), would not be thick enough to keep me warm. After trawling through some shops along Arenal, I settled for a cool looking but a size too small black wool jacket from Celio.

Hey, you would suffer for fashion too.

Dinner was seafood paella (I learned that the yellow colouring came from saffron, one of the most expensive spices in the region) and beer. Beer! Oh how much I miss you. After a drought of alcohol in Morocco, the pint over dinner was almost welcome.

After some probing into the state of lethargy that I was in, I decided to throw caution into the wind and went for a night out at Chucea.

Then disaster striked.

It was only eleven when, after venturing into some decidedly unfriendly pubs and clubs, I decided to head home. I was consulting my snap of the local map (I didn’t want to carry around my Lonely Planet at the clubs) on my iPhone, a man stopped me and started to jabber at me in rapid Spanish. I thought he has been drunk as he was holding a cup of what looked like red wine. I told him I don’t speak Spanish, and in the state of overfriendliness I was in (the demenour I put on when I go to clubs, alone), I asked him where was the metro station. He took his time to point the way, which I suspected about. Then when I tried to leave, he kept talking to me. A car passed by with a group of yelling teens, and I briefly looked up, somewhat distracted.

It must have been then when my iPhone got lifted from my pocket.

As I walked away firmly from the man, some twenty steps down the road I realised my pockets were empty. I didn’t bring out my passport (thank God), and I kept my wallet inside my new jacket. Only my phone was in the front pocket, and to my shock I realised I must have been a victim of a pickpocket. I quickly retraced my steps to the spot, but of course the man was gone. I looked on the ground in case I dropped my phone, but it was late at night and I couldn’t see any signs of it.

I was beyond devastated. The iPhone, apart from containing many personal information, was my one lifeline to my life on the go. After making my way to the hostel, I immediately logged online and changed all my important passwords – Google, Facebook, Dropbox – and then alerted my friends in Hong Kong to help me to cancel the line. Many speculated on what happened to my phone, some even called but to no avail despite the ringing phone.

It was close to three o’clock in the morning when I finally accepted defeat and the fact that my iPhone is gone. Less than a year into service. Tomorrow I will go to make a police report to claim for insurance. With a troubled mind over what the thief can do with my personal data (SMS-es, WhatsApps, and other apps can have discriminating information), I went to sleep.

The One With Europe ’11 Day 8 – Last Day In Marrakech

Last Night In Marrakech

Is it time already? Time just flew pass us when you are having a good time. It was our final day in Morocco, and since we did not have much on our itinerary, it was decided that we will be having an entirely laidback time. Not that we have been really taxing ourselves in the past couple of days. The girls will be heading back to the grind of work the day after tomorrow, and I will be starting my Europe leg of my journey, so it was a totally welcomed idea to take things a little slower:

– Had a late breakfast on the terrace. Late was relative; we were up basking under the winter sun at about 9 a.m., and already the busy worker bees were buzzing all around our food, so much so that we have divert our savoury items – jams, tarts and the likes – to the next table. Bees seemed to be a prenenial problems in Morocco, no thanks to the sweet tooth, but at least it wasn’t flies or other disease-carrying bugs
– Hit the street to make our way to the Koutoubia Mosque, which was located near to our riyad. The mosque was grand to Moroccan standard; all stones and archway and the tallest minaret in all of Marrakech (though truth to be told, after Aya Sofya in Istanbul with its six towering minarets, it was hard to be impressed)
– A long stroll through the edge of the medina, where Moroccans lived their daily lives amongst countless shops of carpets, pastries and electrical appliances. I came to realise that, without its touristy elements, Morocco was just another country stripped off its cultural and diversity identity. It was for the benefits of tourism that the country comes to life
– Up next was the Bahia Palace (10 dirham for admission). Its entryway was uninspriring. In fact, the top-to-bottom display of multi-coloured carpets across the street was far more interesting than the nondescript sign of the palace.
– That was until we walked in, pass its garden of orange trees (oranges were so abundant in this country, it was a wonder the people don’t look a bit like oranges themselves)
– The palace was indeed a showcase of Arabic and Moroccan best arts. The mosaics and carvings and waterworks were impressive, befitting for a king of old with his four wives and 39 concunbines. One do wonder of that specific number. I am sure 43 times’ the lucky for the Sultan
– Much of the large palace compounds were cordoned off from tourists, but that did not deter me from spending some two hours snapping away
– Had a totally Moroccan lunch at a nearby complex of metal work. It was possible to spend below 30 dirhams for a meal of tajines.
– We walked then into the medina and chanced upon the Pastrier de Princes, one of the recommended pastry shops recommended in Lonely Planet. In a dizzy from the array of sweet stuffs available in the shop (I had a box of fifteen savoury Moroccan snacks all by myself only earlier in the morning), it was the tasty choice of “Da Prince” – a combination of tasty-looking ice creams – which took my dirhams. The portion was too big; despite my best intention and capabilities I only managed to finish half the somewhat ordinary ice-cream
– And so we were back to the riyad, getting ready for the hammam and massage. To my surprise, the same man who served us breakfast in the morning was also tasked to do my hammam. It was unnerving to undress in front of your waiter and to see him almost naked. The hammam experience itself was tepid at best. It wasn’t hot enough and was a far cry from my Turkish experience. Half the time I was left lying/standing/sitting wet from soapy water and God knows what else
– The massage was satisfying, though not in a style that I could appreciate. The massage ingredients were touch notch – I particularly liked the almond clay used for my face – and coupled with some classifical Moroccan music, I relaxed deep under the piles of towels. The massuess, however, could do well with shorter nails and lesser bracelets
– Some two hours later, we gathered and headed into the medina for our last Moroccan meal. Seated at a terrace overlooking the entire Dj emna el-Fna, with the snake charmers bleating way on their oboes and the crowd bargaining their way through the best deals, I looked at my plate of couscous and wondered if I will ever visit Morocco again

The answer? Probably, but neither Fez nor Marrakesh will be on my list. I dream of an endless vacation at Essaouria.

The One With Europe ’11 Day 7 – Sex And The City Of Marrakech

Cocktail At Hotel Amajena

Marrakech lived up to it’s name as the biggest imperial city. At every corner, you are reminded what you loved and hated about Morocco. Unlike Fez, here in Morocco, I’ll suggest you ditch your guidebook and go exploring. For the most unplanned for excursion yielded in the most surprising results:

– Now I understand why Lonely Planet suggested having a “lazy breakfast and suntanning at riyad terrace” before going for a “leisurely stroll in the medina”
– Breakfast at the crack of dawn at a sunny terrace on a winter morning was great. The selection here proven to be healthier (and lesser) than those in Fez, and I am glad
– As we went exploring the medina, the first thing I noticed was the endless stream of motorcycles roaring through the narrow alleyways. Unlike Fez, Marrakech was not a motor-free site. The fumes was intoxicating
– At almost ten in the morning, the medina was slowly clambering to life. Stall owners huddled by the pathway having a cup of mint tea, enterprising young men cajouled us for that early dirham, and yet more workers cleaned and dusted their goods for a day of business ahead
– And to the shopping. Goodness did we shop. The art of bargaining is a refined one, bestowed to the shopaholic few, and one that I wasn’t blessed with. Eventhough I paid a little more than I should, I have learned to accept that I pay what I think the good is worth for, and I think that brass bookmark is worth fifty dirham
– The market at medina was best viewed from a vantage point. As I sipped my late morning coffee, I looked across the flat roofs of medina short buildings and the multi-coloured stalls going about their trade, I felt… contented. To be here at this point of time making my own history. Not many people had that privilege
– Got conned by a snake charmer. For someone who has great fear for all things slithery it was absolutely dumb of me to be tricked. All of twenty dirhams, but still! I could get a nice shot glass for that.
– Had my first non-Moroccan lunch. Over pasta we wondered if we had enough going on to fill yet another day in Marrakech.
– Decided to visit Hotel Amanjena, the beautiful palace-like hotel where Sex and the City 2 was shot at. Discovered that it was located some 10 km away from the medina, and no metered taxi will venture that far out
– Upon reaching the hotel, we were told we better book the taxi for a return trip, for no taxi will come this way
– The concierge spoke perfect English, and upon knowing that we were from Singapore, he wondered if we were “mystery shopper” and proceeded to offer us a complimentary tour around the sprawling complex
– Wow, just wow. With only 39 rooms, every inch of Amanjena spells luxury and riches. We saw the seven archways where Carried stole that kiss from Aidan, and the couch where they shared a platter of snack. The legendary pool was the centrepiece of the hotel
– We were honoured to have seen so much of the hotel, including some rooms. To round of that entire SATC2 experience, we sat beside the pool and had some cocktails. I had two, including a Cosmopolitan, in honour of Samanta
– Made our way back to the medina, totally happy. Rested before venturing out to have a simple meal of roasted chicken and cheese omelette at a decidedly local cafe. For only thirty dirham. That’s only like 1/5 of what I paid for my Cosmo.

So what is left to Marrakech to explore? Some historical places, and then on for two spots of pamperment, back to back. I think mud face mask for mentioned at least once. Hmmm.

The One With Europe ’11 Day 6 – The Gorgeous Coastal Town Of Essaouira

Camel Ride At Essaouira

Traveling to different places open up your eyes to the possible impossible, to the never ending delights the world has to offer. Once in a while, however, you come across some place so unexpected it took your breathe away and you wondered where you stood in God’s creation.

Essaouira was one of those places.

I am waxing lyrical about Essaouira. It has without a doubt took over the top position as my favourite beach town. Phuket has little to match up to this gorgeous town painted in white and blue.

The lyrical part would have to come at another time; but here’s are some experiences from Essaouira:
– Sometime less is more. The less carb they serve at breakfast, the happier we became
– I have never seen a girl who become so excited over a couple of hardboiled eggs
– The alleyways of Essaouira gave way to bright blue sky and wide roads. It was drizzling the night before, and this morning, but heaven seemed to have cleared up in time for us to soak in the atmosphere of the town
– We knew, because of the rainbow which spanned across the sky. We were so blessed
– Seagulls, seagulls, many seagulls. I would be lying if I don’t admit I was scared of them shitting on my head. But all they did was to soar majestically across the sky and called out to each other.
– Strays, strays, many strays. Cats and dogs everywhere, and they seemed to know how to pose for pictures.
– Even though the town seem to be bustling with tourists, there wasn’t that tense touristy feel to it. The locals went on with their life; fishermen continue to tend to their boats, children kicked balls in tiny alleyways, old women sat at corners waiting for a dirham or two. Even the touts seem to be subdued. It was a great place for tourists
– The beach. OMG the beach. It was gorgeous. The Atlantic Sea was relentlessly crashing to the shore, but as it was low tide there was plenty of sand to trod on. Imprints everywhere – of humans, of horses, of camels.
– Oh yes, camels. How can you describe the fright when it first rises onto its four feet, as you took in the smell and sound of these gentle animals, and how they prowled the beach, carrying you, as they and their ancestors have carried other human over thousands of years? It was so poignant I almost cried.
– Oh the city boy in me!
– Then the shopping. It was cheap (though I discovered I paid too much for my pair of Moroccan shoes). I wasn’t hassled – that much – and I bought stuff. Yay.
– The seafood lunch. Everything was grilled fresh, though I suppose the chef did overdid ours with salt. But what with the white building and blue table clothes and crashing waves and serenading street drummers, it was an experience, certainly.

We left Essaouira half wishing to cancel a night in Marrakesh and spend more time here.

Essaouira deserved more pages in travel guides. I will be back.

The One With Europe ’11 Day 5 – The Long Journey To Essaouira

At Elizir Restaurant, Essaouira

The day dawned bright and early, as we have an early train to catch to Marrakesh, which will take some seven hours, before changing to a taxi for yet another 2.5 hours to the coastal town of Essaouira:

– Breakfast was the same old, same old. Honestly, one more of those couscous pancake and I will definitely throw a seizure
– Headed to the train station early and got ourselves some first class cabin. Had a wonderful time anticipating what lies ahead
– Realised that the train will stop at every station between Fez and Marrakesh, including Rabat and Casablanca. Can I say that, technically, I was at all these towns too?
– An argument broke up between the train staff and passengers. Rapid, harsh-sounding Arabic words were exchanged. I wish I could understand them. Some gossip will break up the monotonousity of the journey nicely
– The journey through the countryside was illuminating. Not living up to its a name as an African country, Morroco boasted more lush greenery, orange trees and rolling hills you would wag your fingers at
– Cacti farms; have you seen anything more ridiculous? Yet Morocco was full of them. I can only imagine they were farmed to collect water from deep underground
– Instead of a tree of goats which I very much wanted to see, I saw instead a tree full of… children. The irony was outstanding
– The outskirt of Marrakesh was full of dusty roads after dusty buildings. It was hard to get excited at so much dust
– It was one straight road from Marrakesh to Essaouira, even if it took almost 2.5 hours before we saw the sea
– Essaouira by night; what was it like? For one it was definitely a touristy town, yet the lack of threatening touts and milling tourists made a nice change from the scene that was Fez
– It was raining, so everything was bitterly cold. But when one seagull soared above our head with a lonesome cry, my heart soared. This was such an authentic coastal town experience
– Had dinner at the famous Elizir with a decidedly international crowd. Finally had some fish after nights of carbs and meats
– Headed back to the Ryad (we had the biggest penthouse all to ourselves), where the girls proceeded to finish up all the hot water leaving me cold. Gah!

All in all, a tiring day spent more on the road than on my feet. But we already know, for sure, what we will be doing tomorrow! Stay tuned!

The One With Europe ’11 Day 4 – The Missable Meknes & Volubilis

The Ancient Roman Ruin Of Volubilis

After the hustle and bustle that was Fez medina yesterday, we decided to take a break from all things Moroccan and made our way to Meknes, a town located some 60 km from the city. From Meknes, it is another 30 km to travel to Volubilis, the ancient outpost city of Rome.

If you think we are going to experience two cultures within one day, you are probably right. We did, but not in an entirely satisfactory way.

– Headed bright and early to the Fes train station. Definitely more efficient than the airport, though not by much, but I am grateful nonetheless
– Journey was ultra short. We arrived in Meknes in 30 minutes flat. I almost thought we didn’t understand what our fellow cabin dweller was telling us
– Immediately got approached by touts right outside Meknes train station. Told us that Meknes medina isn’t open, and why not we go to Volubilis? Utter crap. We hailed a (blue) petit taxi and 8 Dirhams later, we arrived…
-…. to see a gigantic courtyard with canopied stalls to the left and ancient gates along an equally ancient wall to our right. The entrance to the medina was right in front of us, next to the museum, just like how Lonely Planet described
– And so we hurried into the medina
– We turned left and right, walked into blinding alleyways, utterly grabbed… by the nondescript stalls. This was like a glorified Chatuchak. Were we too pampered by the cultural assault that was Fez medina?
– Walked past the two biggest attractions of the place (a madrasah and a grand mosque) without even realising it until some helpful locals pointed them out to us
– In less than thirty minutes, we were out from the medina, somewhat deflated. And so we walked across the street into another promising looking sets of walls…
– …. only to be confronted with yet another Moroccan “place” (which means palace). Okay, it was rather grand, but once you have seen a palace, you have seen it all. Unlike its European counterparts, palaces are rather common here, even if you are only moderately wealthy
– And so we walked to the local market besides the medina, which was definitely more colourful and vibrant than the medina itself. Had a local sandwich by the roadside; no idea what I ate
– Arranged for a grand taxi to take us to the Volubilis and the neighbouring Moulay Idris. Time was about 11 a.m.
– The journey out had us gaping in wonder. I thought we were in Africa. So what do all these trees, sheeps, lush greeneries, quaint stone houses doing here? It is more… European than I thought
– Arrived at Volubilis. Time was about 11.45 a.m.
– Used the toilet. Was told to “tip” “as I wish”. So I gave twenty cents Euro. Had another fifty cents forcefully taken out of my hands. You think your toilet was a spa? Bastard conman.
– Wondered around the ancient Roman ruin. There was a group of (primary?) school students on a school trip here. One of the teachers told us they were from Tangier, and asked if he can introduce an English student to us? Utterly charmed
– Back to the ruin. I love Roman architecture. All those linear lines and right angles made for great photography.
– And so I snapped, and snapped the stones against the giant, green backdrop.
– The girls were done in a flash. I guess after Rome and Italy, this wasn’t that impressive to them. But for me, I felt one with history. I blame that to the absence of milling tourists and aggresive touts
– Made our way back to the grand taxi. Time was about 1 p.m. Half signaled, half asked that we wanted to have lunch at Moulay Idris
– Was brought up to this vantage point overlooking the pious, Islamic city nestled between two hills. Was rather charmed by its Santorini-like appearance.
– Asked again about lunch. Was told not possible, we can only drive through the town centre.
– Drove through the town centre. I do think the day-to-day Moroccan life can be rather… normal
– Back to Meknes medina in a jiffy. Time was about 2 p.m. So we paid 300 dirham for a 3-hour service. Bastard conman.
– The girls got distracted by some roast chicken and so we walked into a decidedly local eatery, much to the amusement and giggles of pack of girls
– Had the biggest chicken. Cannot finish it
– Back to the train station, and the famous Moroccan efficiency hit again. Train was late for an hour. Took the non-express train. Smelly toilet.
– Reached riad at 6 p.m., our hammams and massage were ready, so we hurried to dump our things for a spot of pamperment…
-…. only to realise I didn’t shower before my massage. I didn’t even have time to wash my feet. Utterly grossed out by myself. Otherwise, the session was delightful (though I would like to point out my blissfulness was punctuated by the gaily laughter from the wet girls next door at the hammam
– Ventured into Bartha town for dinner. Immediately got hustled by endless touts. Studiously ignored them until we turned around the corner leading to the medina
– To be greeted by a sight so delightful, we immediately settled down at a roadside cafe callled Thami’s. Great food at 1/3 of the price we usually paid. Immediately vowed not to eat at “palace” restaurant again

And with that my third day in Morocco drew to a sluggish end. The next day will be spent almost entirely on a seven hour train ride into Marrakech, and then a two hour taxi ride to the coastal town of Essaouria.

Hmmmm white Sudanese racing camels

The One With Europe ’11 Day 3 – The Old & New Fez

The Vantage Point of Fez

Exploring Fez was an assault to the senses.

Despite the popular advice that getting lost in the medina of Fez is half the fun, I would strongly suggest that you go against the conventional wisdom and hire yourself a (reputable and official) tour guide. Not only he can help you to navigate the most puzzling of mazes that was Fez Medina, you’ll be able to look at all the right spots in two sweeping routes across the centuries-old market.

And when you thought you are done with the endless unexpected alleyways and stalls selling everything from camel head to rainbow-coloured leather, there’s another excursion by car round the Royal Palace and up the vantage points to the south and north of the city.

Fez, in all senses of the word, is a living museum. Steeped in history and culture, the old and “new” Fez were bustling with some 60,000 inhabitants. Everything mentioned in my Lonely Planet came to life; traders riding donkeys while talking on mobile phones, children turned their corner of the medina into a makeshift soccer pitch, acrid-smelling tanneries with their rough workers, spiraling minarets jostled for space with countless satellite dishes and of course the infamous Moroccan touts.

It’s a feast for the senses you should indulge in, unhurried.

The One With Europe ’11 Day 2 – An Evening In Fez

An Evening in Fez

The day was spent mostly on traveling from London to Fez.

It was remarkably nice morning out in Notting Hill. We did a big breakfast at Mike’s Cafe, and then popped across the street for The Travel Bookshop, made famous by Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts in the movie Notting Hill. Never had I been so tempted to shop so much during a holiday. It would be rather silly to drag my books all over the place so I planned to return on my way home.

The journey from London into Fez has been nothing short of being remarkable. Some quick notes to be expanded later on:
– Never had I seen a budget airlines so determined to make money out of its passengers. Incremental revenue is one thing, but to trawl the aisle selling one product after another really irked me
– Had an insightful time at Fez airport. Let’s just say the Moroccan didn’t put much store to efficiency. It was also a tale of woes for the overbearing lady who lost her somewhat demented husband at the airport. The officers didn’t have to laugh so much
– Everyone jabbered in French, Arabic and Berber (the local language). Not that I could tell any difference. It just felt strange and rather overwhelming at times
– The journey from the airport, a good 30 minutes, took us through the French district, the “new” Fez and finally the Fez Medina. It was literally like stepping back in time as modern buildings and sweeping boulevards gave way to cramped alleyways and dark corners
– The Moroccan men like to loiter. A lot. They were literally standing everywhere in the street.
– Our accommodation, Ryad Alya, was amazing. Everything you saw in Sex and the City was real. Never had I been so amazed by a hotel.
– The staff was amazing too, particularly one local chap named Mahmoud, who is a medical student in the local hospital, speaks good English, loves sport and always up for a good cup of tea. That he is good looking of courses helped with the ladies
– The locals loved their tea; generously sweetened with sugar and spiced with mint. At last count I had four glasses of those sweetness before bedtime
– Dinner was at a lavish restaurant nearby. At EUR28 per person it was expensive, but it was an euthentic Moroccan experience; great food, impeccable service (despite the language barrier), live classic music, all within a cozy courtyard of a dar.

It was late nigh before we finally hit the bed. Fez in the daylight will be a photographer heaven. I can’t wait.