Monthly Archives: July 2014

Mission To Morocco (Part Three)

We awoke early the next day.  I’d double checked the car rental information and to my horror discovered we actually had to be there by 11.30am as any time after that, staff in the office could break for lunch, meaning we’d have to wait a good three hours for the office to open again.

To add to my naturally panicky personality, we also read that we couldn’t simply show our booking confirmation on our phones, instead we had to have the policy printed in physical paper form.  Reading this small print, and then glancing around our utter bombsite of a room, I quickly delegated in my bossy way, that Julien should pack the bags and ask the wonderful driver, Yassine, to give us a lift to Downtown Morocco to pick up the car, whilst I went out to find a printer.

Again, into the souks I headed, however this time alone, and a little unnerved at the thought of getting lost without Julien by my side.  However, these are the moments I thrive in; where I hold my head up and pretend I’m Beyoncé and I’m all independent…I say pretend; putting myself in situations I’m not comfortable with do actually result in me being a whole lot braver than I think I am when with another, be it friend or boyfriend.

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After having plenty of men trying to redirect me to the “square”, which roughly translates to “my shop”, I eventually made it to Jemaa El Fna.  Bearing in mind I’d asked a lot of places about printing on the way here, and got nothing but very strange looks, don’t find it odd that I found myself in a pharmacy asking about printing services.  It was quickly established that I’d be getting no printing along with my mosquito repellent, and with my broken French and the pharmacist’s broken English, we managed to jointly draw a fabulously child-like map of a place that could cater to my needs. I bided my “merci’s” and my “au revoir’s” and trotted into the hustle and bustle of snake charmers and nappy ridden monkeys with my post-it note map, and finally got to the printers.

A fair few too many dirham lighter, back to the riad I plodded, stopping for some breakfast, which of course consisted of the beautifully freshly squeezed orange juice and a naughty croissant.

Yassine drove us speedily to Downtown Marrakesh, during which I was watching the traffic and desperately trying to pick up some Moroccan driving rules, alas however this just put even more panic into my system. Anyway, we picked up the car rather effortlessly.

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As I sat there in the car, with the crazy Moroccan traffic whizzing past my left, I took deep breaths, and gave Julien a severe warning to tell me (as navigator) about each left or right turn within plenty of time, or else we’d basically both be snuffing it at the wheel.

To his merit he was very good at this, bar his sometimes forgetfulness that holding up an old school paper map, four metres wide, does actually impair my driving somewhat.  After a few comical spats, and a lot of road range and profanities, we found ourselves on the toll road, whizzing through the dessert, and away from the more than hectic traffic of the city.

If I remember rightly, we’d agreed to head to Casablanca, however the lady at the car rental office had advised us against it, so as we came to a fork that one way lead to Casablanca and one way lead to Agadir; we randomly chose the latter.

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Speeding down that massive open highway, with the windows down, wind in my hair and blaring out old Oasis and other 90s classics (most of which Julien was begging me to stop, and much to my denial, probably rightly so) however, I’ve never felt so free and happy.   I felt like every stress and strain I had back at home had just lifted, and had my adventure pal; my partner in crime by my side, and nothing else mattered.

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After much driving, we finally started seeing more buildings, and realised we were approaching the city of Agadir.

To put it simply, Julien had tried to persuade me to book a room before we’d left, so we could just rock up somewhere and know we’d have a room for the night.  But being the persistent, and wannabe free spirit that I am, I’d insisted that we just find somewhere when we out there.  However what I’d not kept in mind was how I had no idea what Agadir was like, and how it’s far bigger in its suburbs that what I’d imagined.

So to cut a long story short, we spent a good two ours or so, melting in the car and eating Oreos / trying to find Internet cafes to help find us a hotel for the night, and finally discovered affordable availability at a place called Hotel Almoggar Beach, down at the far Western end of the beach front.

The hotel was nice enough, but did stink of package holiday to be honest.  As we sat by the pool, we were asked whether or not we’d like to participate in the pool volleyball, or the water aerobics, whilst we listened to “DJ Almoggar”.  Far be it from me to decide on someone’s taste in holiday, and with the greatest respect, I just feel that if you are reading my blog, and enjoy the sound of the things so far (majorly revolving around culture and somewhat roughing it) then you also would not particularly feel very fond of either Hotel Almoggar Beach, nor the town of Agadir itself.

Saying that, we spent two nights and three days at Hotel Almoggar, soaking up the sun and baking in the heat.  With Julien’s company it was much more enjoyable though, and we spent the days eating Pringles, fish and knocking back the G&T’s (not all at the same time however) and just being happy.

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In this time I experienced my first and only Hammam Spa.  Experience being the operative word here.  So I’d decided one overcast morning, that instead of attempting to tan, I’d go for a traditional Moroccan spa treatment.  Unfortunately, there wasn’t any availability until around 7pm.  During the day, the overcast skies seemed to diminish into glorious sunshine again, and with this, out came the G&T’s.  So at 7pm, with a slightly fuzzy holiday head, I shoved my loose fitting shirt over my bikini, and hobbled on down to the spa section, after giving poor old Julien strict instructions to be ready for dinner in an hour and a half.

In I went, and was given a paper thong, a pair of slippers and a white cotton robe.  I was told to change into these and to head downstairs.  Not knowing which way was back and which way was front on these incredibly suffocating short term underwear, I awkwardly shuffled down the stairs, after stopping to rearrange more than a fair few times, to find myself in the basement of the spa.  Here, I was greeted by a lovely Moroccan lady, whose English was as good as my Arabic, or even Cantonese for that matter, as she guided me into a big wet room and ordered me to undress.  Luckily, I used my drunken initiative to realise I was required to keep my make shift underpants on, as she left me alone for 15 minutes.  SO what do you do in this time, you may ask?  Well, with my minimal knowledge and optimal embarrassment, my understanding of this experience was to “cleanse” and wash.   So I picked up a bucket and poured it repeatedly over my head until the lady returned.

At this point, it got REALLY confusing, as she then proceeded to take off her clothes, and wrap herself in a cotton towel.  She instructed me to lie down on the great marble slab, covered in water.  I slipped and slid all over this thing, as she rubbed mud into my skin.  If any of you are thinking at this point that I am trying to make this sound at all erotic, please let me reassure you that this would be the furthest from the truth.  I honestly can say I felt like a sea lion that was moored on a beach, with the added feeling of not having a clue what I was meant to be doing.

She let the mud soak into me and left the room.  As this occurred, the mud rubbed into my face, combined with the water in the wet room, started seeping down into my eyes.  She left me here for a good 15 minutes as I grew increasingly blind and agitated.

After covering me in a few different mud masks of sorts, she left me to relax with a mint tea in a separate room of the spa, with my towelling robe back on and covering my modesty.

Feeling like I may had been forgotten, I had to request to leave, and ran back up to the room, and to my horror discovered I’d been in there for around 2 and a half hours.

I quickly jumped in the shower and prepared myself for dinner with Julien.  We walked on down to the beach front, and along the harbour, where as the sun set, we saw the Western cliff light up to reveal, written in Arabic, “God, Country and King.”

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We had a lovely meal however decided that tomorrow, it was time to leave the package holiday style resort, and set off exploring further along the coastline in our little Hyundai.IMG_5584

Mission To Morocco (Part Two)

Waking up that first morning was made difficult by how dark the room was.  There were no external windows, as with much of the Moroccan architecture, in which I’m presuming is a bid to keep the rooms cooler.  However I was keen to watch the city come to life early on, so I finally managed to drag my partner out of bed and out into the souks once more.

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As we left we saw the hatches of each of the shops, opening up, and arranging their produce for the hordes of tourists and travellers that would be descending on them soon.  As we aimed to walk around following the perimeter of the medina walls, we were approached by a few locals, telling us that we were going the wrong way to the square, and assuring us if we were to walk further into the souks, and funnily enough; towards their shops, we would find Jemaa El Fna.  Having experienced this on my previous trip, although still unsure, we politely declined their “help” and continued on our walk to the main market place.

As we cut round corners and turned further into the medina, we kept having to watch out for mopeds and motorbikes racing around these tiny little streets, coming out of nowhere, splashing through the water from the freshly washed roads.  This combined with hobbling three legged dogs and donkey’s taking trailers with building materials through the medina; it certainly was a far cry from my London commute on the Victoria Line which the main highlight of is trying to tell the difference between slightly overweight and pregnant women, in order to give up my seat.

We finally made our way back into the space of Jmaa El Fna again, and were surprised by the transformation in the daytime.  It was a lot less crowded, with the food stalls all having been packed away, and there was a far more laid back feel, without all the shouting and the haggling.

We stopped off at one of the many stalls that sell freshly squeezed orange juice.  There must have been around 12 stalls, all squeezing their own juice, with the oranges daringly stacked up to reveal a smiling little Moroccan face, just about able to see over the top of all the fruit.  We bought a juice each – which was so nice.  We fast learnt the satisfaction of quenching our thirst this way in the African heat.

We decided on Café Argana, in the top section of the square.  Here we sat outside in the glorious morning sunshine, and ordered eggs for breakfast.  We’d somewhat hoped we’d be having a rather healthy holiday, and as much as it was active, the food in Morocco was just so lovely, however quite high in fats, it was clear already that clean eating was not on the cards.  Fatty, it may have been but lovely it was.  I’m sure you could ask for more waistline friendly alternatives, however with all the lovely breads, omelettes, rich butters and amazing jams, neither Julien nor I were going to swap that for a fruit salad.

It’s also worth pointing out that if you don’t like sugar in your tea, whether it be English breakfast or their gorgeous Maghrebi mint tea, you should state so when ordering.  Moroccans, typically, LOVE sugar in their tea.  I’m not sure if there’s a reason to this, or it’s just preference, however it is incredibly sweet.

The tea was brought to our table by our smiling and helpful waiter.  Moroccans have a knack for pouring their tea.  It is poured from the tea pot, with the mint leaves inside, into these elegant little glasses, from a height of around 12 inches.  Julien and I tried to re-enact this after the waiter had left and we just managed to pour it all over the table and food so decided it was beyond our skill set.

After sitting in the sun, and flicking through our Lonely Planet guide for an hour or so, we donned our backpacks and headed into a different part of the souks, as we endeavoured to find Ben Youssef Madrasa.  We didn’t mind, as we felt we had all the time in the world to get lost, however, I can’t imagine it being a great deal of fun if you’re particularly in a rush to see something, as what can feel like walking in one direction, completely changes to the opposite, without much effort.

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We finally came out from the souks into the open again, and had a bit of a disagreement about which way to go for a while, however, I had a strong sense that I recognised where we were from a previous trip, and thankfully, were just around the corner was Ben Youssef Madrasa.

Ben Youssef Madrasa was built and used as an Islamic College from the 14th Century, however was completely rebuilt under Saadian rulers in the 16th centaury.  It is at this stage that the building got graced with the art and architecture that you see to this day.

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The school is also attached to the Ben Youssef Mosque, which can also help to explain the strong emphasis on religion throughout this school, where the students heavily studied the Qur’an.

Stepping inside the Madrasa was, like in many buildings in this city, taking yourself away from all the crazy zipping motorbikes and bustling, and into a serene and calming world.  The dark hallways, and the high white walls and ceilings create a much appreciated cooled environment from the heat of the outdoors.

We walked along the entrance corridor until we reached the beautiful, large doors, with typically Arabic styles and architecture.  We passed through these and into the courtyard, of which in the centre laid a large pool.  Looking up we saw windows with wooden shutters, running along the two parallel walks of the courtyard.  And under the covered, pillared walkway that ran the perimeter of the outside space, there were beautifully old, worn yet elegant tiled, mosaic-esque patterns following the walls around.

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After some tourist dodging photo opportunities, we passed through another large archway at the opposite end, and into the covered area.  Here, we saw the most beautifully intricate stone work, from the pillars, up to the caved ceilings.  It was certainly far more impressive than my school ever was, with its no doubt asbestos ridden ceiling panels, and obscenities scrawled on walls about how much of a bitch a certain head of Sixth Form was.

We climbed the stairs to the old dormitory rooms and ran around playing hide and seek in this vast and old derelict building, trying to find interesting nooks and crannies that have since been long forgotten.

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We left the school, and worked our way back into the souks, getting lost multiple times, and having to pay a man to get us back on track to where we needed to be.

When we finally had our bearings once more, we headed own to the breath-taking Koutoubia Mosque, perhaps the most noticeable mosque in the centre of the old town.

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From here, we meandered down busy streets, and the Medina walls, until we got to the Saadian Tombs.

The tombs belonged to Saadian Sultan Ahmed al-Mansour ed-Dahbi, who had them built for his death in 1603.  The tombs contain imported Italian Carrara marble.  These were sealed up a few decades later, and were only rediscovered centuries later in 1917, when they were exposed by aerial photography.

After taking these in, and acknowledging full well our own graves would never be anything in comparison, we headed back to the riad to change our clothes for dinner.

We strolled back in once more, and had yet another lovely dinner looking out onto the main square.  Here, we asked the waiter for recommendations for tours to the coastline.  He replied with “why not hire a car and be free to do your own thing?”  After a moment’s exchanged stare, Julien wondering how much he trusts my driving, and me thinking how much do I trust my driving in Morocco, we agreed that, well… why not?!

With that we returned to our riad shortly after, where we booked a rental car to pick up the next day, through economybookings.com.  We were all set to collect our Hyundai for 5 days of exploring at our own pace and free will.  How exciting…

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Mission to Morocco (Part One)

A couple of months ago I realised it has been basically a year since I’ve been abroad, so started picking my brains for somewhere I could go.

I always try and go somewhere that’s a totally different world; I love to see different sights, experience different cultures, and smell different smells (however unpleasant they may be).

Being pretty broke, I quickly waved good bye to dreams of backpacking around India again, so started to rack my brains of places to go that weren’t TOO far away yet weren’t a package holiday in the South of Spain.

A few years ago, I took a trip with my Mum to Morocco.  I had a wonderful time with my her, as she’s great and a good old egg and we did have A LOT of laughs and see some amazing things, such as sleeping under the stars in the Sahara Desert and driving through the Atlas Mountains.  However, I did come away from that trip thinking I didn’t LOVE Morocco.

Now one of those things that my Mum has always taught me, is that if you love somewhere, never go back.  This may sound stupid, however if you think about it, you can sort of see the sense.  I think what Barbara was trying to get as was, if you’ve had such an amazing experience somewhere, don’t return, as it cannot be topped.  So with that twisted logic, I thought to myself, I didn’t love the country before, I certainly haven’t seen all of it, I’m older and perhaps have different views to what’s fun on a holiday, it’s cheap and not too far away AND it’s a totally different culture.  I was sold.  The flights were booked, the bags were packed and off on my travels I went.  With Julien; of course.

Unfortunately due to me not receiving annual leave pay, I was only able to take a week and a half off work, certainly not ideal but we could make it work!  So on the train to Gatwick we hopped, bought the obligatory last minute hats and flip flops, and boarded our flight to Marrakesh.

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After calming my nerves due to the flight, with a few (too many) complimentary glasses of wine, we made it through passport control, and out to the African wall of heat, so intense it was as though it was trying to sober me up on purpose.

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We waved down a taxi, some sort of rusty old Ford model from the 50’s, with parts of it having been bound with duct tape to ensure they don’t fall off.  We flung our backpacks into the trunk and tried to liaise with the driver in a frenzied mix of French, English and Arabic that we’d like to get to the medina, and handed him a piece of paper with the address scribbled down.  After looking at the address and coming across as even more baffled than we were, he asked the other drivers to also come over and see if they knew where our riad was.  After much shouting amongst the drivers in very fast and hurried Arabic, the location finally seemed to become clear, and into the car we jumped, to the next part of our adventure.

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We pulled out into the highway, both excitedly looking out a window each, like a pair of dogs in the back seat, wide eyed and wind in face.  The excitement of a different culture took hold already, with the joy of seeing an entire family riding a motorcycle, whilst carrying a goat, and a ladder, and a gallon of paint all, at the same time.  We continued to drive along, and saw the juxtaposition of the newly built outer city, with its building designed to be appreciative of the desert looks, yet also air-conditioned with lots of shiny glass, slowly melting into the walls of the ancient medina, with the crumbling, old wind battered walls, and the docile camels swaying in the Moroccan breeze.

As we entered the outer walls of the old city, we waved goodbye to the highway, and hello to a lot more horn blasting and very crowded streets.  After a few near prangs, it was time to ditch the car, and enter the Souks.  These are an absolute rabbit warren of intricate little streets, criss-crossing their way across the town.  On our way into the Souks we seemed to acquire a few extra “helpers” that offered to carry our bags and give us directions.  We politely refused, and continued walking, however they did persistently stay with us right until we got to the front door of our riad.  Luckily, our host, the wonderful Alexandrie was on hand to speak to them, in fluent French, and make us feel less guilty about not having to give them any money.

As soon as the door to our riad closed behind us, it was like stepping foot into another world.  The peace and serenity was just over whelming.  The centre courtyard was whitewashed, with a water feature trickling down, and ending in a small pond with floating flowers at our feet.  The riad was humble, compared to the one I’d stayed in before; however what it lacked it size was more than made up for in taste and homeliness.  Alex was from Paris, and had recently taken over care of the property.  He employed a small team of three local Moroccans, as drivers, cooks, cleaners, and someone to stay in overnight in case guests wanted anything.  Alex also stayed in one of the rooms himself.

We were shown to our room, which was small yet idyllic and called the Aladdin room.  It had shutters and windows surrounded by vines and looking out onto the courtyard.  The room also hard a large en suite, which wasn’t separated by a door (therefore forcing us to introduce certain bathroom rules) however it somewhat added to the sense of authenticity and serenity, due to its part marbled features and part white washed walls.

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The riad had four bedrooms altogether, however in the time that we stayed there you wouldn’t have known anyone else was in, unless you wanted to.  We ran up onto the roof quickly, where we saw the sun beginning to set in the distance, and heard the birds tweeting as we look over the dusk kissed roofs, past the numerous roof tops with washing drying in the warm breeze, and the tall towers of the mosques calling people to prayer.

After freshening up and changing into our evening clothes, we departed the riad to start our walk through the souks, with a view to end up in the world famous Jemaa El Fna.

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We took with us a small map to help guide us through the tiny streets; however I don’t feel like it made much of a difference.  The streets twist and turn at every opportunity, with many of the tiny shops selling similar products, making it more difficult to decide on a landmark to help find our way back.

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I would imagine you could live there for months, and still not be entirely sure which path to take to get back to where you started.  Nonetheless, it was an adventure, and good fun at that.

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We wiggled our way through the streets, promising ourselves not to get too distracted by all the gorgeous fare just yet and finally came out by the main square.  There was a heavy sigh of relief to realise that we’d made it as we saw the souks slowly give way to the wide open space.  Looking up to the sky, we were suddenly brought back down to earth with a thump, when out of nowhere a young and enthusiastic Moroccan boy grabbed us by the arm telling us of the very well-priced, authentic food on offer at his stall, and (in his best Cockney English accent) assured us the food was “as sound as a pound”.  Within seconds we had 4 other men all wanting us to come to their stalls, with long tables and benches laid out like in a school canteen.

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We felt as though we needed somewhere a little calmer however, for our first night in town, so tried to politely make our excuses, and walk away from the top part of the square, and away from the food stalls to the South side.  Here, we were greeted by groups of Moroccan ladies, all wanting to draw their henna design on my hands, one even going as far as taking my hand and forcefully beginning to draw.  Other characters around were children playing games with empty soda bottles, trying to get the tourists to come and have a try, men with odd, hand help symbols with which they danced to the clanging noise whilst wearing funny hats, and men dressed as women dancing to the sound of drums.

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In a bid to try and escape this madness, we moved to the East section.  Here were people selling their produce and trinkets on rugs laid out on the ground, selling everything from tagines to chameleons named Lady GaGa.

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We strolled round these for a while, fighting the urge to want to explore more, however we just had to eat something.  We chose a small, discreet doorway, which led up to the rooftop of one of the many restaurants surrounding Jemaa El Fna.

We chose a table by the edge, which was not difficult as this restaurant wasn’t particularly busy, un like all the others.  This wasn’t because the restaurant was particularly bad, it was just rather humble and understated.

IMG_5503We enjoyed a lovely meal, sans the alcohol, listened to the prayers being called from the many many mosques, and with that felt it was time for a good nights sleep, as we knew there would be plenty of adventures to have in the upcoming days.IMG_5499

Shakespeare…Known Around The Globe….

 

A few weeks ago, Julien and I woke up to another beautiful Spring day in the capital, and again, thought “it’s time to get out and about”, instead of spending another Sunday indoors.

We caught a bus to London Bridge, and strolled alongside the River Thames, heading Westwards along the Southbank.  We soon noticed a long queue of people, starting from Shakespeare’s The Globe Theatre, and stretching back all the way past The Tate Modern.  Being inquisitive and suffering from serious FOMO, we decided to join the end of the queue – surely there must be something happening here, regardless of the fact that the majority of the line was made up of young children.

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Thankfully, the line moved along quickly, and it slowly dawned on us that of course – it was The Bard’s 450th Birthday and we were in a queue to celebrate the big man himself, inside of The Globe.  I won’t focus too much on the antics that went on inside the open day.  Although I will say it was great fun, however certainly directed towards the children.

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Saying this though, it sure isn’t a negative, as the whole day really got the kids involved and familiar with Shakespeare, and it can’t be a bad thing to get the modern child to step away from the iPad and into the world of Hamlet once in a while.

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So after experiencing my first walk around the theatre, and feeling a somewhat unsettling nostalgia for memories of my English A – Level (where I watched plenty of videos of Kenneth Branagh leaping around in tights and subsequently fell in love), I felt it was time I embraced my culture a little, and purchased tickets to a play.

Now, without the risk of sounding a bit thick, I did have visions of watching something I’d heard of; such as Romeo & Juliet, Macbeth or even Henry V.  However when you’re on a budget, and only willing to fork out 450p (to celebrate Will’s 450th birthday, obviously), you take what you can get.  So when Julien came off the phone, telling me he had two tickets to Titus Andronicus at The Globe, I could barely stifle the noise I made, that would loosely translate to “What the hell is that?!”. IMG_5045

Now I never professed to being a Shakespeare lover.  Again; not to my knowledge did neither Kenneth nor Leo don the part of Titus to entertain my eyes, whilst I pretended I was being entertained by the storyline.  No no, that was Hamlet and Romeo whom I fell in love with.  So why would I ever have heard of this Titus Andronicus?

However, for once in my life, being on a tight budget and having my head in the literary sand paid me a service, as I can honestly say I had the most unexpected amount of fun I’d had in a long time.

In the days running up to the performance, I kept seeing the play appearing in all the press I laid my eyes on.  Rave reviews, for this particular production (by Brit Lucy Bailey) about how she had made it so real and believable, that members of the audience were fainting and vomiting at all the gore featured. Needless to say, my dark side was very excited to see what all the fuss was about.

So on the day of the production, like the true gent that he is (definitely not because of the close proximity of the pub to Globe, or the very reasonable pre-fixed theatre menu for that matter) Julien took me for a lovely dinner at The Swan.  From here we filtered out into the surrounding grounds of the theatre, where we bought some not so reasonably priced drinks, yet thankfully ordered some more for the interval.  We’d read the running time was three hours – now that is a long time to be standing, especially WHILST trying to decipher the Shakespearian tongue, so the Merlot certainly didn’t go amiss.

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We entered the standing area of The Globe, and decided on a place to stand.  There was a certain air of 1600’s around, with the music playing lowly and mysteriously in the background, with some sort of incense burning dully, and smoke dancing upwards in swirls towards the sky.  We were pre-warned by the theatre that they had well trained medically able attendants on duty, which is always going to add to the promise of the gore that we were yet to see. 

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With that, the thick wooden doors were closed with a thud, and the music softened to a stop as the show began.  Fortunately, my fears of standing still for three hours were quickly banished, as seemingly every two minutes the audience had to quickly move out of the way of the actors rampaging through the crowds, causing big ruckuses and shouting loudly, all of which added to the sense of reality and involvement.

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Now I don’t want to go through each part of the play in an attempt to critique its every flailing and success, far be it from me to be qualified to do so anyway; this is more a loose “was it worth it?” guide to other young everyday people like myself.  And I really have to say, aside from the aching feet, it really was worth it.

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As for the “did it disappoint?” factor, with regards to the gore and blood, it really was fantastic.  However I do feel sorry for one of the three audience members who couldn’t quite stomach it and did faint, as he managed to slump forwards onto the concrete floor, having no one to break his fall, resulting in him breaking his nose.  There was almost more blood over his face than in the production, but hey – at least he brought the genuine vital fluid to the performance, therefore aiding my inability to be disappointed!

Titus Andronicus is certainly a must see if you have the chance, however, even if it ends up being another Shakespeare play I would, from my limited experience say “go for it”, as it certainly made me feel proud of the history and culture of England.

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Kew the Adventures…

On a particularly beautiful day at the beginning of May, I woke up with another raging hangover and a sore head.  Depressingly, I looked out the window for the millionth time, thinking; “I should really get out there, onto my doorstep, and into the world”, instead of wasting my life working Mondays to Fridays, only to be spending all my money and all my weekend, either being drunk, or moaning about the fact that I can’t remember being drunk, and now simply wanting to die.

 

So today was the day, where I grabbed my long suffering partner (Julien) and insisted we step out, and be tourists in our own city.    And for reasons still unbeknownst to me, I decided on Kew Gardens.  I’m certainly the sort of person who would scoff at those couples.  Couples who decide to “waste” a good hungover Sunday in bed, by spending it in HELL, i.e. a place, with geraniums, screaming children, old grannies being pushed around in wheelchairs, and dogs crapping all over the bluebells.  However –bam!  Kew Gardens was thought up, and Kew Gardens it was.

 

On the train I was certainly thinking to myself “Why am I doing this?!”.  Train lines were not running and hordes of families and holiday makers were squabbling in equal measures to make it to the same platform, all heading to Kew.  However, from the second we left the station, it was like we had suddenly travelled lands and oceans from deepest, darkest Wandsworth Road, to the most idyllic little street, with market stalls lining each side, selling perfectly iced cakes, cheeses from Somerset, and handmade bunting and hanging baskets swaying from the lamp posts.  It gave me that undoubtful feeling of “this is where the middle class come after they leave their city jobs at 35 and pop out their perfect curly haired children”.  We didn’t belong – that’s for sure, yet could still appreciate its glory!

 

We soon left the little meandering market street, to cross over to the beautiful residential houses, where we passed grand semi new builds, with their unnecessary Range Rovers and petrol guzzling Jeeps.  We passed over the road to the entrance of Kew Gardens, and after a quick evaluation of the risks of breaking and entering, due to entrance fee avoidance (£16 – OH MY GOD) we decided we’d come so far out of London we were basically in Cornwall, that we’d bite the bullet and pay.

 

Immediately we were taken a-back by the beauty…and how there certainly wasn’t a dog poop in sight.  Looking to our right we saw the iconic glass Palm House, and like the child that I am, I grabbed my partner’s hand and yanked him excitedly in that direction.

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I’ve always remembered my Mother telling me how my late Grandma absolutely loved Kew Gardens, and especially the Glass House.  (In all honestly, this was the only part of the Kew Gardens stories I actually remembered, simply due to the fact that I always envisioned it being packed with the biggest tomatoes and nothing else.)  Unfortunately / fortunately, depending on how you want to look at it, you’ll be pleased to know that there wasn’t a tomato in sight.  However, there was every kind of tropical plant you can think of.  As we walked in, the heat hit us in the face, like a wall of close, damp sweat.  This rather unpleasant feeling was almost immediately dispersed (thank God) by the use of misted water.

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The Palm house encloses all sorts, from banana trees, to a slightly underwhelming aquarium.  But it has to be said, one of the most impressive dwellers of the Glass House is the world’s oldest pot plant.  Kew became the home of the one-tonne cycad in 1775.  The Encephalartos altensteninii cycad (yes that was Googled) was apparently brought over from South Africa in the 1770s, being one of the many species of plants gathered for the Botanical Gardens during Captain Cook’s second voyage around the Globe.

 

After freaking out suitably about how many different humans have lived and died caring for this cycad, we moved onwards and upwards to the walkway that looped round the top of the Glass House.  This again, granted beautiful views of Kew Gardens, the best being the centre back window, which offered the most incredible clearing all the way down to Kew Palace.  As if this wasn’t breath taking enough, you had the added bonus of the juxtaposition of the heritage of these wonderful grounds, with the airline traffic soaring overhead to and from Heathrow Airport .

 

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After posing adequately for all the pictures in this sunny little haven, we made our way next door to the Waterlily House, where we promptly left again after Julien attempted to take a fancy reflective picture, and nearly lost his phone to the cause.

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Strolling around the gardens, I noticed the weight of my usual stresses and worries just lifting from my shoulders.  It was so calming to see the sunlight dancing on the different leaves and petals, and making beautiful patterns with the shadows.  Looking around, and seeing the other people casually strolling and taking it in also, you could feel their complacency too.

 

After wondering whether we should get the “train” around the gardens, and deciding it was probably only for people who have had hip replacements (Julien isn’t quite there yet), we walked round to the relatively new Rhizotron and Xstrata Treetop Walkway.

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Having very mild vertigo, I did find myself feeling a bit wonky, as I looked up at the 18 metre high structure.   But I thought to myself, if I’ve done a canopy walk with zero health and safety in Malaysia, I could sure as hell do this English one!

 

So up we went, working out the butt muscles, ‘til we reached the shaky top.  But well worth it it was, as we were right up in the tops of the trees.  We felt we were in Endor, from Star Wars: Return of the Jedi – having our eyes half peeled for any miniature little Ewok bears running around.  Unfortunately, the only miniature things were irritating children, making it wobble even more.

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After a few mandatory panoramic shots, we began our decent to the safety of the ground, and carried on exploring the gardens.  We got to see the beautiful Japanese Pagoda.  After pondering the reasoning for a Pagoda, and wondering what they are even used for, we agreed that we had no clue, but it looked lovely all the same.

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We then followed the wandering path up to the top left corner of the grounds, through the enclosing woodlands, until we saw bluebells starting to emerge from in between the trees.  The deeper into the woods we got, the more densely populated with the beautiful little flowers, the ground became.  We then reached the clearing in which Queen Charlotte’s Cottage stood.  It was almost like something out of a horror film, or maybe where Little Red Riding Hood’s Grandma lived before the wolf gobbled her up; some creepy old house in the thick of a beautiful but heavily wooded area.  However, this was the best place to view the bluebells in their full glory.  The thick canopy of treetops, combined with the clearing for the cottage, provided the most spectacular lighting, just allowing little bursts of sunrays to flow down and dance upon the flowers on the ground.

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Moving on from here we cut down the centre of the grounds to the lake.  On the map, I’d spotted the promise of “Sackler Crossing”.  In all honesty, this did stir up my inner nerd, as the name made it sound like something from JRR Tolkien’s The Lord of The Rings; perhaps a quaint little ferry ride across some water where we’d be met with tankards of ale and rustic loafs.  Nope…it’s literally just a bridge across a rather small lake…perhaps a stream even.  Very pleasant though, nonetheless!

 

From here we walked through the Bamboo Garden and passed inside the Minka House (they’re great with the majestic names here) and then onwards and upwards to the Rhododendron Dell.

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The Rhododendron Dell was really something quite spectacular.  Walls of these beautiful flowers, in all shades imaginable.  Personally, I found them to be a real cut above the rest in terms of floral species.  Like the poser that I am, I tried to immerse myself within a wall of these flowers for what I’d hoped to be a lovely photo op.  The longer I stood there, half faking sniffing the flowers and half doing it for real, I heard some faint buzzing in my ear.  I could sense it getting closer and closer, until I realised that these lovely flowers were in actual fact home to the common bee.  Not so idyllic after all.

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We promptly left the bee infested rhododendrons and continued our walk down to the bottom right side of the grounds.  With sore feet from the most energetic weekend I’d had since trying and failing to complete my Duke of Edinburgh Award, we decided that it was time to leave.

 

Verdict on Kew Gardens has to be a definite thumbs up.  It more than surpassed my feelings towards Royal areas, which were; impertinent plants and pompous heritage, and instead offered an incredibly refreshing option as a day out for a young 25 year old girl, who would certainly usually choose a Sunday pub session over anything remotely cultural.

 

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