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The Magic Healing of Balian

I’ve fallen into the trap recently of becoming complacement.  Lazy.  I came away wanting to get my writing done, study, enjoy the things I was doing at home and online; but to do it in a much warmer setting, whilst experiencing a different culture. 

That was happening, and I was moving around at the same time, exploring, fulfilling my life in different ways with new places, new experiences and excitement.

In the last few weeks I have rented a small room for myself and my boyfriend, who is arriving this week.  However in the run up to his arrival, because neither of us were entirely sure when it would be, I have spent my time preparing for him; nesting if you will.  However, due to work commitments, his arrival date had to be pushed back, and I didn’t realise it until these past few days, but I’ve managed to put my entire life on hold for this.  I’ve not been doing any of the things I love, instead have just been going to the gym, and working on my tan, thinking of nothing more than how big my bum looks, and filling my brain with self indudlgent and trivial thoughts, rather than doing the things I set out to do.

To add to this, I ended up doing something last week to a friend I have made here, that really, really hurt her.  It was a completely drunken and foolish thing to have done, and I can make every excuse in the world, but essentially I hurt someones feelings, someone who I care about, and as a result of this, have spent the past week being rather critical of myself, and evaluating the kind of character that I am, if I could have done something so clearly hurtful to another human being.

  

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So as you can see, even though I am in paradise, I’ve slipped from my healthy place of self love and self worth,which I was discovering, back to not really knowing who I am.

A few photos from my favourite place in Canggu; Echo Beach

     
   

Thankfully, I feel that I realised this pretty quickly.  
So having woken up yesterday morning, after an evening of drinking with friends from home, and a dark cloud of hangover and guilt looming over me, I packed some clothes in a bag, rolled up my yoga mat and caught a ride, North up the coast, to a small village called Balian.

I’ve been here now for less than 24 hours, but having got my head down last night, woken up early this morning, and completed a yoga session for the first time in ages, I already feel better.

I felt a sense of guilt; for feeling disappointed in myself; when I’m in the most beautiful place on earth, and I’m not sat behind a computer in an office in Highbury & Islington, working in a crap job for the council like I was before.  I should be just embracing it, and being happy.  But instead, I’d become lazy, waking up every day to lounge by the pool before going to my gym session down the road.

My brain works 1million miles an hour, and I know this.  I need to have more mental stimulation to challenge myself each day.  Yes, I’d be meeting people all the time, making friends, going for dinner, having drinks, but I still wasn’t filling my mind with substance.

 

Deni, lovliest guy and best waiter in Bali

   

Monggos; my local bar /restaurant / sofa spot

 

Wednesday night drinks at Old Mans

Complaining about working out, post training at Bali Fit

Teaching the most loveable, oversized pup in Bali, how to swim

 

Looked after a puppy for the day as a trial. It was great til she peed in my bed. Now revaluating want of children or puppies in life

 
I woke up this morning in Balian, and as I say, went to practice yoga.  I then came back to my hotel for a breakfast of watermelon and pineapple with yogurt, and some gritty Bali Coffee.  I then slipped into my bikini, grabbed my novel, and walked down to the beach.  Here, in between reading chapters, I’d look up at the surfers taking it in turns to catch a wave, or the men out on the fishing boats, not too far from the shore.

 

Last night’s sunset at Balian

 
I looked to my right, and saw the ocean crashing against the rocks that were jutting out into the water, and the little bungalows situated on top.  To my left there was an expanse of more beach, with palm trees lining the way.

  
   

After overheating on the black sand, I gathered my things to return to my hotel, a short 3 minute walk up the cliff.  I came to the (infinity) pool, even though where I’m staying is certainly budget accommodation, and took a swim, before stopping to look over the edge, at the waves rolling in from the Indian Ocean.

  

“Budget” Accommodation


 I’ve since been sitting in the sun, taking positive actions to get myself back on track with where I need to be.  I’ve done some writing, and looked into more online work, as well as chasing up some other things that have been sat at the back of my mind, niggling at me.

I’m glad I took the escape to Balian.  Yes, I was living my own paradise in Canggu, but even the most perfect of places have their way of grating on you.

For me, I needed the change of scenery, just so I could hit the refresh button, and remember why I was here.

If you’re reading this and you feel like you need somewhere with no distractions, and somewhere that literally will give you a reminder of the true Bali, and not the tourist version, I can whole heartedly recommend Balian.  I’ve achieved more of my “to do list” here in one morning, than I have done in one week in Canggu. 
 After spending a couple more days here, I’m going to head back to the relative hustle and bustle of the hipster town, and keep my newly rediscovered work ethic intact, finish my online studies, whilst getting some writing jobs under my belt.  And then finally get to see my beautiful boyfriend.  Perfect.

  

 

An Open Letter to my Dad on his 90th Birthday

Dear Dad,


I can’t believe you’re actually 90 today; I haven’t known you for most of it, but I have known you for the last 26 years.  That’s a really long time in itself.  As I sit here in Thailand, writing this, I can’t help but feel emotional thinking of you and how much I love you.


You didn’t have to have me; you’d already fathered four other fabulous children, but you did Mum one last favour and agreed to one more.  And then I came along and made you endure years of dramas, tantrums, burnt bathrooms and horrid boyfriends, when you could have happily been living your retirement out in Spain.  I’m so glad you chose to have me though and I got to have one of the greatest men as my Daddy.


I know you’ve always felt somewhat bad for being such an older Dad than that of my friends, but I don’t think I’ve told you enough that I never wished for a younger Dad.  Yes; you couldn’t kick a football around with me, but every day when I got home from school you were there.  Every morning when I huffed and puffed around the house before school as a hideous teenager; you were offering me porridge and cleaning up after me as I rushed through the door.


You’d take me to watch Mum at the Squash club, dangling me over the edge and scaring the life out of me. You’d take me to Brownies, to ballet lessons.  You were my lazy partner in crime on holidays to the Lake District.  Mum and Joseph loved hiking up hills and through fields and lakes, whereas you just understood me, so you’d let me stay in the car with you, possibly going off for some cake or something during the long wait.  


You’d make me scream with anger when you’d force me to recite my times tables, and ask me how to spell things, repeatedly; however without that, I certainly wouldn’t have got the qualifications I got from school.


You stood by me as I dropped out my first degree to do Nursing, ran away to India, and came back saying I wanted to be an Events Manager.


You helped me revise for my degree, testing me from a huge pile of flash cards full of boring information about business models and economics.


You cuddled me and kissed me on the head every time I came home crying because some boy had hurt me.  No man I know can ever live up to my Daddy.


I’m sorry for everything I’ve put you through with my sporadic love life and career decisions, and any tattoos or piercings that have made you consider disowning me.  


Please know how much I love you, and even though I love being away, I hate not being at home with you and Mum as we sit by the fire and watch University Challenge on Monday nights, and I just feel safe there.


I feel like I have FINALLY found a vocation which I love now; there must be something in the blood about you producing daughters who teach!


I love you Dad, and as I write this, with my Kindergarten class asleep during their nap time on the classroom floor, I can’t help but be excited about coming home and seeing you and Mum, and being the kid again.


Thanks again for everything over the past 26 years.  I am so so so proud to not just call you my father, but my Daddy.  


Happy birthday, love your little girl, 

Kate x

  

   

  
 

  

Only a month late…Loy Krathong

After all the excitement in the classroom of celebrating Loy Krathong, my friends and I decided we also ought to celebrate the festival.

So we made our way down to the banks of the River Kok, where the festivities were taking place. I saw festivities like it was the lovely Buddhist festival we had been lead to believe would happen, however it was more of a neon market, selling beers and cuddly toys, or even a litter of puppies if you so wished.

However, realizing that this was a modern twist on a traditional activity, we continued, and not to miss out, we bought some beers to aid our celebrations, even though the weather was a little rainy.

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We made our way through the swarms of people, closer to the river. On the way we kept seeing bags of fish, crabs, eels and other river dwelling creatures. These were being kept in tiny plastic bags, knotted up, with the minimal amount of water possible for the fish and such like to be contained within. The idea of this was for passersby to buy these, and then release them into the river once more. I’m unsure whether this is to “please the river spirits” or to bring good luck to the one that completes the deed. However, I just couldn’t stand to see these huge trout in tiny little bags. So I bought all the big fish that I could afford, said my apologies to the little sand crabs who I felt didn’t need my help quite so much, and together we released them back into freedom and the River Kok. Where no doubt, they will have just been caught further downstream to meet the same cruel fate all over again. But I don’t need to think about that.

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So armed with my Krathong I had made earlier in class, we removed our shoes, and all waded barefoot into the river, screaming every couple of moments as we felt an eel or scaly fish squirm past our ankles.

We collectively posed for photos with each other, and all our Krathongs, before lighting our candles and incense, and setting these free to sail down the river. It was really lovely to see so many people coming to release their Krathongs, an offering to please the river spirits. In the distance, fireworks were set off (although scaring us a little, being set off in any random direction by teenage boys) however it was still a really lovely atmosphere.

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Annoyingly though, the children that kept hanging around us, would chase the Krathongs after we’d released them, steeling the incense and candles, I presume to resell at a later date. However, where there’s potential money to be made, Thai kids will certainly give it a try.

After this, we lit a couple of paper lanterns, and released them up into the sky, which was really lovely.

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Aside from the dangerous and scary fireworks, it was a great night, and really nice to see lots of people coming out to celebrate the old tradition, even if the new tradition involved lots of beers, and tacky fairground rides.

It was another great experience in a city with so many surprises.

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Paris…No Swimming in the River Though; That’d Be In Seine

Every so often Julien gets hired to DJ abroad; recently playing a big corporate event in Munich, the same markets operator, ICAP, asked him to play an event in Paris.  Fortunately they were kind enough to let me come along as a freebee with him for a weekend away together this time round.

So early one Saturday morning in June, I packed my wheelie suitcase, and headed on the tube to King’s Cross St Pancras.  It has to be said, being up and out at 7.30am on a Saturday with no hangover, they’re really missing a trick with making some kind of real life documentary about the characters you see trying so hard to get back to bed at this time.  It was almost like a game, figuring out which late night / early morning reveller was going to cave and be sick on you first.

After successfully dodging being spewed on in any capacity, I got off the tube, excitedly springing along to go and meet Julien, with images in my head of riding bikes by the River Seine, and laughing heartily whilst munching on baguettes.

We met, went through the very basic security checks ran by the Eurostar and before we knew it were speeding our way over to La Ville-Lumiére.  Two hours and 15 minutes later we were in Paris Gare Du Nord, and pulling our bags along on to the Metro.

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We thankfully just had to take one line straight down to where we were staying, a hotel in the Montparnasse area of the city.  Admittedly, it is not the most beautiful, or typically French district, however the hotel was pleasant and in a well-connected area.

We got in, ditched our bags, and headed downstairs for some food and drink, shortly after which Julien went to setup for later, and to complete his sound check, whilst I went shopping due to realising I’d forgotten trousers and underpants and everything else I might need.                                                              

After a quick power nap, we set off to have some dinner before Julien had to start playing.  We walked up the road to find a quaint little restaurant, where we enjoyed some lovely French food and a couple of big glasses of wine. 

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As we walked back to the hotel, it was about 20.58, and Julien stopped me where I was walking in the street.  He told me to look to my left, where there was a clearing in the buildings that led all the way down to the Eiffel Tower.  As the clock struck 21.00 the entire tower lit up with sparkling lights, twinkling all over in the distance.  You can see why they say it’s such a romantic city.

We got back to the hotel, where Julien began his work at the party, whilst I took advantage of the champagne.  After a fun night we crawled into bed at around 2am, to rest before we began the tourist part of our trip.

We had a cheeky bit of a lie in, mainly due to my bubbles induced headache, and hauled ourselves out of bed.

Instead of heading to the restaurant downstairs for our breakfast, we agreed it’d be nicer for us to have it out and about in the city somewhere, so we hopped on the metro, and headed up to Saint-Michel station, next to Notre Dame.

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After wandering around the old town and the beautiful Gothic buildings, we finally decided on a quintessential little French restaurant. It was like how you’d imagine; tables and chairs outside, with couples enjoying cigarettes with their coffees, whilst enjoying the morning sun.

By the time we’d got there it was more lunchtime than breakfast, so we had a look at the full menu. Wanting to be typically French, I chose the French onion soup with a side of garlic snails, or escargot if you like.

I’d had the escargot before, however a very long time ago, as a child on one of our many family holidays to Barneville Carteret, Normandy. In all honesty, I should have left it there really, and not ordered it again all these years later. It’s the texture. You know that you are eating a snail, and the texture is EXACTLY how you would imagine it to be; however much garlic butter they want to serve it with to disguise it, you are still more than aware that you are eating a mollusque.

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So after encouraging Julien to be “more French” by trying desperately to get him to help me eat the snails, we finished up, and set off to explore the city some more.

We walked back to Notre Dame, where we admired the beautiful architecture of the Cathedral. We had hoped to go in, however on a Sunday with this many people, the queues were just too big.

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We decided to rent a couple of the bikes that they have around the city. After trying to decipher how to rent one, thus causing a massive queue of angry cyclists behind us, waiting to use the machine, we finally managed to disembark our bikes from the docks and off we cycled along the Seine.

These bikes are a great idea, and are in fact the original version of what we call “Boris Bikes” in London. However, I wasn’t expecting them to be so heavy. It certainly took a good few attempts of not falling off sideways until I could steady myself enough to actually get away and cycle in a (semi) straight line.

Off we went, with the wind flapping in my hair, and great big grins on our faces, laughing and joking about baguettes and strings of garlic. However, after this lovely image took place for all of ten minutes, we then decided to embark on the roads of Paris.

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Now bearing in mind that I have balance issues even when standing up, combined with a very heavy metal bike, and then throw in the CRAZY French driving and also doing it all on the wrong side of the road, it wasn’t long before I swerved into a van, and scared myself a little. Needless to say, I got beeped at and honked at repeatedly, and quickly decided to drag the bike up onto the pavement, before I end up in a bad way on the roads.

I looked up to see the back of Julien’s head in his little panda hat disappear like a small dot in the distance. I tried shouting after him, although he couldn’t hear me, and kept on cycling.

After walking my bike along the pavement in a right old huff and grump for a few minutes, I saw his hat in the crowd, where he’d pulled up and waited for me. Obviously, because I am a woman I gave him a needlessly hard time, and exaggerated the story ten fold, about how in fact a LORRY, not a van nearly ran me over and I was very close to death etc etc. After telling me (rightly so) to stop being such a drama queen, and reminding me that I am in fact alive still and no collision actually happened, we embarked again upon our cycle ride, however this time opting for quiet back roads.

Just as we got to the bottom of the hilly streets that lead up to Montmartre the heavens opened, and we found a dock for the bikes, and ran to take cover under some shop awnings. When this had eased up a little we continued our climb up the hill and finally got to the bottom of the steps that lead to the Cathedral. Just then and there it REALLY started to tip it down, and we had to take shelter in a shop, where we bought some rather fancy rain macs. Unfortunately the packaging didn’t quit make it clear that on the backs of these rain macs there was a massive print of the Eiffel Tower. There was a reason why they were only €2 though.

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We started the climb up to the top of the stairs, which is incredibly steep, and exhausting. However because you’re overlooking such a beautiful view, you can time your need for breathers perfectly, with just wanting to take a selfie, so no one can really see just how horribly unfit you really are.

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We reached the top, and turned around the see the simply breathtaking panoramic view of the city. It really is a lovely place, and just oozes with the sense of romance and love. And then that all quickly disappears as you get asked if you’d like to buy ten key rings with the Eiffel Tower on by the masses of street traders in the area.

We walked inside of the cathedral, and as it was a Sunday, there was a service on. We were welcome to sit and watch, so we did this for a bit, as the choir was singing. The architecture inside the building was phenomenal. It is a truly majestic work of art, and words cannot do it justice. We sat in silence for a while, taking in our surrounding, and then walked the perimeter of the building, admiring the windows and the arches all the way around.

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After this we stopped for a hot chocolate and some gateaux, before heading back down the hill. We walked through all the dainty, curving and winding streets, imagining how lovely it’d be to live in some of these places. It just seems like such a quaint little idyllic lifestyle to have, if you were lucky enough to live in the Montmartre district.

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We hopped back on the Metro, where we got off at Porte Maillot, and walked down to the Arc de Triomphe. Rather stupidly, we didn’t see the entrance to the underground passageway to get to the actual structure, which is essentially in the middle of a roundabout on one of Europe’s busiest roads. So we decided to take our lives into our own hands, and ran in between speeding motorcycles and cars, whilst getting beeped and sworn at ferociously. Luckily we made it to the middle, admired the stunning building, and then sensibly took the under passage back to the Champs Elysees.

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We walked down the Champs Elysees, taking in all the shops, including the flashy car showrooms, until we reached the Southern end, where we jumped on another Metro to the Eiffel Tower.

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We walked down from Trocadero station, past the Musee national de la Marine, through the Jardins du Trocadero, across the Pont D’lena Bridge and to the foot of the tower. We looked up, taking in the beauty of one of the most iconic structures of our time, and decided after not having the patience to go inside any other landmarks today, bar Montmartre; we would certainly go to the top of the Eiffel Tower. However, as we approached, we soon realised that there were maintenance works being carried out that day, and you could in fact, not visit the top of the tower.

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This was a real shame, as it was genuinely one of the things that we really wanted to do, however, such is life, and now I know in future to find these things out beforehand.

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At this point, the sun was beginning to set, so we decided to take a stroll back towards the Champs Elysees, arm in arm along the River Seine. We sat for a while on the bank, reflecting on what a lovely, yet tiring day we had had, exploring the city.

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It really is beautiful, and has a sense of calm about it, however at the same time, much like London, it can be extremely tiring, and we were both completely exhausted.

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We finished the day by having a ginormous steak and plate of frites, and then dragged ourselves back to Montparnasse and into bed, knowing that the next day we needed all our energy to tackle Disneyland…

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Forget Serving Time, It’s All About Serving Up a Feast at Brixton Prison.

So being back in the UK and feeling the need to seek adventure and interesting things to do once more, I found myself on Time Out London, scrolling through all the “Things To Do This Weekend” links, however finding that a lot of the suggestions were becoming quite repetitive.

I was at work one day, and overheard one of the women in the office telling someone how she was leaving early, as she was having lunch in Brixton Prison.  Of course, everyone’s reactions, including my own, were “hold up, what?!” seeing as the department of Public Health and Islington Council, don’t really have anything to do with Brixton Prison.  Also, it’s not a usual thing to hear to be honest.  “Oh hey, I’m just going to grab some food at a high security establishment”.

So I had a quick Google and soon realised that this lunchtime at the prison deal was actually set up by a charity called The Clink.

The aim of The Clink is to reduce the number of reoffenders, by offering the prisoners a chance to work in a restaurant, and gain skills and qualifications within the hospitality industry, that can translate and be used upon release.

I thought to myself “great stuff, that’s unusual and something to do”.  So I applied online, giving it the large about why this is important to me, and got granted a place for two to have lunch.  Step in Julien.

On the day, we followed the signs to The Clink restaurant, put up around the side of the building.  We got to a white portacabin in the car park and waited there for about 15 minutes for someone to show up.  We also waited for the other diners who had signed up for lunch, as you go in at an allocated time together.  When everyone was finally there we went through security checks, which literally involved swapping our ID’s for a neck pass and then placing EVERYTHING in a locker, to ensure that we weren’t going to slip anything to the inmates.

This process took quite a while, as the man that worked there loved a good natter.  If I remember rightly his chat included comparing his ambivalence towards rain to his fondness of water skiing (??).

We walked to the big blue prison gate way and the door opened with a loud rumble.  I almost felt as though we were entering the Death Star.  Either that or Port Arthur.  But not nearly as badass.

We got taken across the courtyard and into a hexagon building in the middle, where as soon as the last guest was through the door, the bars were bolted up and in we were locked.  We went through to be greeted by a smiling lady in a trouser suit, who I can only presume was a prison officer. She asked us how many guests in each party, and then referred us to a prisoner in a blue jacket with “The Clink” emblazoned on the breast.

He sat us down at one of the many glass tables within the restaurant.  It was an odd experience as we sat looking around.  Everyone was being so overly polite, both the prisoners towards the guests and vice versa.  It unfortunately lacked the authenticity of what restaurant life would be like in the outside world, as I think I’m right in saying none of the diners wanted to piss off anyone working there.

We opened our menus, and were pleasantly surprised with the food that was on offer. We had a choice of 4 starters, ranging from soup of the day, to ham hock, and then a larger selection of mains including tea smoked duck breast and wild mushroom risotto.

There was every kind of beverage imaginable on offer, except, of course alcoholic ones. Not that I’m complaining…for once in my life.

I ordered the smoked mackerel pate, and Julien ordered the ham hock to start. For mains I had the lamb rump whilst Julien opted for the stuffed chicken breast.

We waited quite a while; it has to be said, whilst everyone else’s came out pretty promptly. However when they did arrive they were extremely tasty.

The Clink is described in the literature as the equivalent of a 5 star restaurant, however as much as I do appreciate the hard work and effort that goes into running it, it has to be said that unfortunately the closest comparison that can be drawn is the miniscule sizes of the portions. I’ve certainly seen that in swanky restaurants before. However the décor is rather laid back, with glass top tables, in a dark room, with brown seating, and understandably so; plastic cutlery.

I want to state here how much the inmates impressed me, as I realised my tone sounds negative. It was really pleasing to see a project being put on that gives these guys something to do and a goal. All too many times, people are quick to disregard and not appreciate people that have had to serve time, and they seem to all get tarred with the same apparent “ASBO” brush. However these guys were so lovely, attentive and really sweet. And although the portions were small, they were delicious and way better than anything I could achieve by a long shot. It’s important to remember these guys are working towards GNVQ’s and other qualifications, in order to better themselves when they get released; which is a fantastic thing for them to be aiming for.

We paid up (it came to around £55 for both, including drinks) using a chequebook as for obvious reasons cash is not allowed inside the prison, and walked back through a few gates and to the portacabin once more.

It was a great experience and a really wonderful project. Since The Clink has been running, there are statistics showing that the rates of re-offenses from people on the project have actually decreased, and that the ex inmates are going on to work within the hospitality industry, which is wonderful news.

Although the experience of waiting around and security checks is rather tedious, it’s a really good experience to have, that is totally different, and at the end of the day, you’re supporting a Charity that is making a worthwhile and noticeable difference.

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Unfortunately, the only photo we could take, and even got told off for this one.

Mission To Morocco (The Fifth and Final Instalment)

As we entered the medina of Essaouira that first night, I felt that sense of travel and adventure spring back into my soul. Although it was still densely populated with tourists, it was a far cry from the package holiday feels that oozed out of every pore of Agadir.

The sun wasn’t far off setting over the Atlantic, and we could see the golden skies starting to darken above us, with the flocks and squawks of sea gulls overhead.

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Both being HUGE Game of Thrones fans, we knew that some of the series was filmed on the old fort here. In season three, the town was used as the setting for the corrupt city of Astapor, where Daenerys Targaryen, otherwise known as Khaleesi, encounters the army of The Unsullied.
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With the knowledge of this being filmed on the fortress walls, we headed there straight away. The sun was at a perfect height to reflect off the stone walls and canons. The seagulls swept through the air above us, as the loud crash of the waves against the fort sounded below. Looking behind us we saw diners on the rooftops of the white washed, Mediterranean styled buildings, enjoying their wine and their sunset, and in front of us we saw the sea glimmering with a golden hue. It was such a welcomed magic.

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After taking all the appropriate and inappropriate pictures, we left the fort walls to head into the medina.

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We wandered around for a while, looking at the stalls selling artwork and jewellery from both Moroccans and from the hordes of European Expats who now call Essaouira their home.
Like in every town or city we’d been to in Morocco so far, Essaouira was not without the slightly badgering behaviour of the guys in the street that want you to eat at their restaurant. After strolling for a while, we agreed to go with one guy, who assured us of beautiful homemade Moroccan food, and live music in a nice restaurant. We agreed, and followed him down the back paths of the medina, and away from the main artery of the town, and away from the crowds. He took us to a restaurant (which for the life of me I cannot remember its name) before returning to the main street to hustle up some more business.

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We could hear the drums from standing on the street before we went in, along with the cheers and whooping. We walked into the dark room and saw lots of smiling faces from happy diners in a small area. A stressed blonde lady rammed past us in what we thought was a rude way, but we later realised she was what appeared to be the owner / chef / manager/ waitress and hostess; so she can be forgiven.

IMG_5803 The tables and chairs were arranged in the central room, with them all being focussed upon the band who were at the forefront of the room. They were all native Moroccans playing African instruments, from a boxy looking, homemade guitar, to the clippie sounding percussion instruments we’d seen so much of on our trip so far. Their instruments may have seemed a bit botched looking; however they knew what they were doing. With smiles on their faces they sang repeatedly to diners, and I’m pretty sure everyone’s feet in that restaurant were tapping along to the strange, yet enjoyable sounds that were being made.

We were seated in an alcove-come-extension to the side of the band, where we were presented with a beautifully Moroccan menu. We chose our meals, and sat back with some drinks and watched the entertainment unravel before us. After around 15 minutes of eating amazing baguettes and such nice butter, a table became free in the main section of the room, by the band, so we grabbed our chance and moved over there, where we could watch on from the front. Although I love Julien deeply, there was no need to speak to each other, especially as our amazing food arrived (I had a sizzling hot lamb tagine with almonds and prunes) and we both became immersed in the evening’s entertainment and the incredible food.

A couple of hours later with bellies full of red wine and gorgeous food, we strolled along the now quiet streets of the medina, in the dimly lit cobbled pathways, arms around one another, and feeling an overwhelming feeling of contentment and satisfaction.IMG_5864

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We arose the next day to what we’d hoped would be beautifully clear skies like we’d seen that previous day, however peeking out from behind the thick curtains the sky was a horribly grey overcast scene.

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Staying positive we thought we’d go and see the sights, and then the sun would just have to come out later in the day and burn off all the cloud.

We decided to start by walking along the beach in the opposite direction to the fort and medina, and pay a visit to some ruined rocks just on the very coastline. I remember reading that some said these rocks were the inspiration for Jimi Hendrix’s classic “Castles Made of Sand”, however seeing as the song was released a year before his visit to Essaouira, this is probably not true.

IMG_5822 We walked along the beach, barefoot and watching the waves crash into the ruins ahead of us. We got asked if we’d like a camel right by many enthusiastic camel owners, however politely declined. Been there, done that, don’t want a sore under carriage for the rest of the holiday thanks.

We climbed around on these old ruins for about half an hour, scrambling and slipping on the moss and we tried to get high enough up to get good vantage points of the lighthouse in the distance. When we felt like we’d tempted fate too much with regards to the tide, we decided to head back.

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We strolled back, and like we’d hoped, the sun burned the clouds away, and soon enough the factor 50 was getting slapped on the necks. We walked along and back to the fort walls where the cannons were, so we could see it in the daytime. Here we clambered on the walls, and sat precariously with legs dangled over the side of the fort, straddled cannons and generally tried to be explorers.

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After a quick trip back to the hotel to change and another look around the shops and markets we went to the harbour area of Essaouira, and stood on walls while we watched the local fishermen cut fish and feed the scraps to the circling seagulls above their heads. We ran in and out of the fishing boats, and chased birds for photo opportunities where they all dispersed and then came back to land again in the same place.

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We then climbed the slight incline up to another part of the walled fort, next to the harbour, where there is still an intact turret that you can ascend. Before we got to that though, we saw a small stall sat in the middle of the path. We looked to our right and saw a hole in the wall, perfectly designed to capture a shot of the town. We sat in this circle and took photos which turned out to look really lovely with this peep hole to the city behind us.

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After this we ran up the turret and got beautiful yet daunting views of both the town and of the harbour. The wind was extremely gusty up there at the top, and as I’m sure you can imagine, the health and safety was none existent. Not that I’m complaining; such a beautifully decadent and old piece of architecture shouldn’t have a big ugly gate stuck on top of it.

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We ran back down the stairs, and along the cannons, chasing more seagulls and taking in the sights.

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We then walked through the harbour, where we saw the less touristy side of the town, as fisherman gutted their fish, cleaned their tools, and shouted loudly trying to make sales with each other. We looked into the centre of the harbour and saw a large fishing trawler which had clearly gotten flooded, as it was on such an angle, still with crew on-board, whilst others gallantly tried to help drain the boat of all its excess water.

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After watching a short while and admiring their efforts, we continued our walk around the harbour. As unsurprising as it may be, you won’t be shocked to learn that the smell of fish in the strong African sun was so overpowering, it was incredibly nauseating. So after a few more minutes we agreed to leave and to head back for some more time sun worshipping by the pool.

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Out we lay with books, and beers, until the last bit of sunlight left the poolside, and we begrudgingly returned indoors to shower and head back out for supper.

We again enjoyed the most beautiful of sunsets and another wonderful meal, before heading back to the hotel for some much needed rest.

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The next day would be our last full day in Essaouira. We woke up and walked to the old town again, where we enjoyed walking amidst the donkeys and the shouting and general busyness of the town. We explored some more streets, and decided to have a breakfast on this beautifully sunny day on a rooftop close to the old fort wall.

book As we sat there I felt that feeling of complacency again, and could just imagine saving up enough money to make the move one day, and buy a beautiful whitewashed old apartment in the medina, and open it up as a guesthouse. However, it’s the unfortunate reality that in actual fact a lot of people have ended up doing the exact same thing over the years, and prices reflect this. But – it’s nice to have a dream.

We spent the rest of the day again, lazily strolling around the medina, eating and drinking everything there was to offer, and buying little trinkets and pieces of jewellery.

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We were then drawn once more, back to the pool, where we had drinks and caught our final hours of rays, before then taking our final walk to the medina, to watch the sun set and to have our meal.

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In the morning, we woke up, and for the first time had the hotel’s breakfast, packed our bags, and set off again in the Hyundai, headed for the hustling city of Marrakesh once more.

We were conscious we had to get the car back to the rental office before a certain time, or run the risk of paying for an additional day, so unfortunately most of this day was spent rushing back (all within the speed limit, of course)!

IMG_6064We got back to the riad, where we had stayed the first time round in Marrakesh and unfortunately no one was in just yet. So we did what any logical young couple would do to kill time, and we fed a donkey some pizza. Was very cute.

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After getting access back in, and changing, we went for our final meal in Morocco. We walked back to Jmaa El Fna, and ate at a beautiful restaurant that looked out over the square. Again, we had wine and some lamb tagines in the dimmed light of the restaurant. It was a perfect way to end a perfect holiday.

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The next day we packed our bags back up, went into the city to buy or final souvenirs and reflected on our time away.

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I sincerely recommend Morocco as a holiday destination for those who love adventure. There are certainly the sides of it, which cater to the more, feet up an relaxed holiday, however I feel the true gritty and loveable side of Morocco is on offer in abundance if you want to take it up.

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It can be stressful, and the holiday didn’t go without the frustrated bickering every now and again, but it is so worth it. It’s a truly mesmerising and wonderful place, and I’ll always hold that holiday in high regard.

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Mission To Morocco (Part Four)

We sprang out of bed, stuffed our faces and our backpacks and got into the car to explore some more.

We drove East bound (I think?) and up and over the hill, near the ruined fort of the city.

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some more fuel before getting further away from the city, something I am very glad that we did, as I wrongly anticipated how rural the drive was going to be from here to Essaouira. As we pulled into the forecourt, I don’t think the multiple men noticed Julien in the dark passenger seat beside me. Without the risk of sounding vile and big headed, I feel that due to cultural issues we’d already encountered at this being a very male dominated society, they did somewhat attempt to take me for a bit of a ride so to speak. Out came the smiles and the “madams” and the soap and water being shot all over the car, the sponges, the assumptions that I wanted a full tank, and possibly to even have the car waxed. The other customers there at the time, seemed to be just offered a top up of fuel, and very casually.

Obviously I tried to be a strong and independent women first, and shout about getting their sponges off my car, however I suffer from the eternal girl issue of the louder I shout, I higher pitch my voice reaches and no one really notices I’m saying anything. So with that Julien got out the car and rectified the situation better than my shrieking hag voice, and we happily hit the coastline with a half washed car and exactly the right amount of “sans plume” in our tank.

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We slowly wound along, following the Atlantic Coastline to our left. The scenery was stunning, and the hot African sun belting down on our arms through the open windows. I insisted, as usual that I torture Julien with my Renaissance Classics blaring out the speakers, and me singing full power “That’s The Way Love Is” by Ten City.

As we drove we passed through many different kinds of settlements, whether they be more catered towards the surfer tourist, or some untouched goatherd communities staking a camp beside the road, each was equally mesmerising in their own way.

As we drove further along the N1, the towns became a lot more few and far between, and the ones that we did encounter were certainly not for catering to tourists, and instead were simple Moroccan communities, getting by and living their day to day lives without in needs of bars and hotels, which in actual fact was a really refreshing side to see.

IMG_5722 At one point, nature called, and it called suddenly and loudly, and I found myself in desperate need of the loo. We were approaching a small town (I’ve since tried to look this up, however Google Maps seems to think it didn’t exist) so I pulled up the car, grabbed some culturally appropriate trousers to wear over my shorts, and asked Julien to stay in the car to watch the belongings.

With a few Dirhams in my pocket, I asked around the bustling streets about the possibility of a toilet. Again, my embarrassing level of French made this experience even harder, as I struggled to explain I would pay someone to let me use their loo.

After a few odd exchanges, a man pointed in the direction behind me whilst nodding his head enthusiastically. I took this as very helpful directions, and started walking that way. I walked behind a butchers, where the meat was hanging out in the hot sun, and goats heads displayed on a table, with flies feeding off them. I could go on but I don’t want to disgust anyone.  So here’s a picture instead.

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I scrambled over a wall, and waded through some old rubble and broken bicycle parts, until I reached a sort of community hall where a group of local men were smoking cigarettes and seemingly having some sort of intense debate. I walked past this and found an old man leaning on an axilla crutch, standing outside two padlocked doors. I assumed this must be it, and simply asked “toilette?”. The old man shouted something aggressively in Arabic, and two seconds later a small boy came running along with a set of keys.

He unlocked one of the doors and gestured for me to enter. In I trotted, suitabley scaring myself that if anyone wanted to lock me in there they totally could, and no one would ever know, and I’d meet a grisly end in a small dark and wet room. Obviously that’s just my side of the brain that has watched too many silly horror movies, and of course I was allowed back out after finishing my business, and paying the boy a few Dirhams.

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I made my way back to the car, to find a slightly worried Julien. Turns out he’d had the same nasty “what if?!” thoughts that I’d had, and had realised without a phone, and no idea where I’d gone since passing the decapitated goats, that probably wasn’t our wisest decision.

However, all was well, and off we drove again. As we passed more beautiful ocean to our left, we saw stunning mountains and rock falls to our right. Soon the road took us away from the ocean, and veered inland and into the hills. This was a test for my driving, as it certainly got very scary at points, with hair pin bends as we ascended and a lot of lorries that over taking had to be timed well with.

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After much wiggling around the roads, we finally were back on the straight and narrow, which was much to my relief.

Before coming to Morocco we’d heard about the goats that climb the Argan trees to reach the fruits, which they love so much. If you Google this you will see THE most incredible photos of goats literally standing in trees, on tiny little branches. It’s almost like an illusion. We’d read up and asked around about where to find these, however hard we’d been looking, we just could not find these goats in trees.

The closest we came to finding these, was on the drive to Essaouira. We were driving along the road and saw one little goat standing in a tree. We screeched the car to a halt, grabbed our flips flops and cameras and ran to the trees. The goat promptly jumped from the tree, back onto the floor, just like any other regular goat. Out from the trees, two goatherds came running out with big grins on their faces, offering to place the goats in the trees for us. After picking up a few goats and trying to place them precariously on branches for us, whilst the goats, obviously just weren’t having any of it, I settled with simply having a cuddle of a baby goat and again having to part with a few Dirham.

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After a couple more hours on the road, we finally came into Essaouira. Thankfully we’d thought ahead and had booked a reduced fancy hotel that was really easy to find on the sea front, called Atlas Essaouira & Spa.

We checked into the room, and immediately hit the pool. It was so nice to be in somewhere so luxurious and not having DJ Agadir blaring in my ears.

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After we got showered and changed, and walked along the beachfront to the original medina and the fort.  This is the city that we completely fell head over hills in love with. We knew it right away.

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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