Saturday, 5 February 2011

Andrew in Marrakech, Roma, Venezia, Barcelona, London

So here is the long awaited vacation edition blog with lots of pictures and travel advice. 2 Weeks of travel featuring 6 Cities, 5 Countries, 2 Continents and a lifetime of memories!  

January 18- 21 City #1, Country #1: Marrakech the "Red City", Morocco (Continent #1: Africa)
Known as the Red City, Marrakech is one of the main cities in Morocco. The city is built around the medina or old city and is home to the famous Marrakesh market, Djemaa el Fna, the largest souk in Morocco.  Near the Atlas mountains, the city offers many different ways to experience Moroccan culture. Before I begin telling you about our adventures in Morocco, let me let you in on a few items of importance. First is money, in Morocco they use the Dirham and tourists are only allowed to carry 1000 Dirhams into the country.  That may sound like a lot of Dirham, but it is only about 100.  Second is language. Morocco has two main languages: Arabic and French.  This is important because we did not speak either language. Third, in Morocco there is no such thing as "right of way".  Its more or less have at it.   

We arrived late in the day and decide to take a cab to our hotel Ryad Mogador.  We totally got ripped paying 200 Dirhams for a cab ride.  But I will give the driver credit for giving us our money's worth in terms of excitement and a 10 minute continual near-death experience. The first thing he told me when I sat down in the front seat and reached for my seat belt was, "no, no you don't need that".  
So we checked to our hotel and after a few minutes of R&R decided to set out to the souk for some of that famous Moroccan cuisine.  After a twenty minute walk through the local market, which featured raw goats, live chickens and live rabbits for sale, we made it to the world famous square. We enjoyed a delicious Moroccan meal, chicken tagine and vegetable couscous. We spent some time walking around the market then made our way back to our hotel.
The next morning we found out about some of the exciting excursions in and around Marrakech.  We really wanted to find a camel trek but decided to do a Quad desert tour instead. We made our way back into the market where we enjoyed some fresh orange juice and another fantastic meal. That afternoon we set off on our ATV trek through the Marrakeshian country side.  We passed sheep herders, local farmers and children playing on the side of the road. We took two stops on our four hour tour, the first was for us to take pictures of the desert and the mountains in the distance.  The second stop was rather rewarding and unexpected.  We parked our quads in a small walled in courtyard and made our way to a decorated garden.  There was an open air sitting room decorated in traditional Moroccan style.  After a few minutes, a local villagers came in and poured everyone a glass of mint tea. The tea may have been the best I have ever tasted.  It was sweet and refreshing. 
The next day we set out at 9AM for the Cascade d'Ouzoud in the Atlas Mountains.  Ouzoud is the Berber word for olive, the waterfall is named Ouzoud because there are thousands of olive trees all around the falls.  The falls are over 100 metres in height making them the highest in Morocco. From top to bottom, the area is filled with shops, restaurants, villagers and monkeys.  Our tour guide, Abraham, started us at the top of the falls and took us down to the base for a beautiful view looking back up at the cascade.  After lunch and a walk through the olive trees, where we hand fed monkeys, we finished our tour on the opposite side of the falls.  The van ride back was another near death experience, but the views and stops were fantastic.  Our bus driver even gave me a pair of traditional Berber shoes. We got back into Marrakech late in the afternoon and decided to stay and shop in the market.  I found a nice blue Berber scarf.  The shop keeper went so far as to tie it around my head. Liz and Keith made off like villains with a dozen or so scarves.  Keith was pretty good at haggling down the salesmen. 
Friday was our last day in Marrakech so we decided to take another stroll through the market and try to find a few back alleys that were off the beaten path.  We spent up the last bit of our money on souvenirs and mint tea.  
Marrakech and the Cascade d'Ouzoud was great and I would go back tomorrow.  The people and culture are amazing and I am grateful I was able to experience Morocco. Enjoy some of the photos from Marrakech.  Our next stop is Italy!         
From the top of Cascade d'Ouzoud

Hillside on the way to the falls. The star in the distance is the star of Morocco with the words "God", "King", and "People" surrounding it.
The crew in front of the minaret of the Koutoubia Mosque.
Photo break during the ATV desert trek in the desert outskirts of Marrakech.
Mint Tea break during the ATV desert trek.
Cascade d'Ouzoud (120 metres from top to bottom--400 ft.)
A gift from our driver, Berber shoes.
Fashioned in my Moroccan Berber Scarf
Mint tea is the best!
Side of the road.
In the souk at night, spice and fruit stands behind me and a minaret in the distance. 
Travel tips for Morocco
1. Learn to communicate in French, numbers, greetings, and so on. It will make talking to locals a lot easier plus, many of the other tourists speak French.

2. Before you go into the market, break down your bills into 20s and 50s. Do not carry C-notes into the market. Whether you want to or not, you will have to haggle over a scarf or photo or something, you have more power if you can pull out small bills. Also put your money in different pockets so that the shop keepers cannot tell how much you are carrying.

3. Haggle, haggle, haggle. Keith was the best at getting a deal, when he was pressured, he would simply turn around and walk away. The shop keeper always chased him down and gave him a bargain.

January 22-25 City #2, Country #2: Roma, Italia (Continent #2: Europe) 
Okay, I am going to give a few highlights from the trip for the rest of the post. So here goes or time in Rome.
We arrived late on the 21st so we went to sleep as soon as we go in to our hotel.  The next day we washed clothes, checked emails and stopped for gelato three times. Our first full meal in Rome was probably our best. Great pasta dishes and great wine.  Later that day we found the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore, follow the link to learn more about it.  We also stumbled down into the shopping district of Rome. We somehow managed to spend entirely to long in a clothing store and Keith and I walked out with fresh new Italian shirts.  Unaware of where we were, we ended up walking into Trajan's Market where we took some photos near the column, forum and the Coliseum.  It was getting dark so we went for dinner and set a plan for the next couple of days.
The next morning we woke up early and set out into the city to hit all the famous sites. We went back to the ruins and spent more time walking around and through the area.  We covered the Coliseum, Circo Massimo, Arco di Constantino and the Trevi fountain.  Another good meal that night and on to the Vatican the next day.  You can find the story of Vatican City in the next section.  After our trip to the Vatican, we headed over to Castel Sant Angelo, Piazza del Popolo, and the Spanish Steps.  We had a splendid time in Rome and there is so much more to tell.  Now on to the Vatican and Venice. Enjoy the photos from Rome.     
Statue of Phillip IV of Spain at the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore. This basilica was only 3 minutes from our hotel.
Inside the coliseum near the arena floor.
Trajan's Market.
Castel Saint Angelo
The real gladitors! Take that Russell Crowe.
Arco di Constantino
We had our first pizza in Rome at this place.
Trevi Fountain
Circo Massimo (Circus Maximus)
Somewhere in Rome.
Our last night in Rome, this was our second dinner of the evening. We stayed way after closing time and were easily the loudest dinner table in Rome.

Travel tips for Rome and Vatican
1. Use the Metro. Getting around Rome is really quite easy.  You can save alot of money by using the metro instead of taking cabs or even paying for one of those tour buses. Also, the cabs in Rome will rip you off so be careful. 

2. Good food is not far away, but great food is hard to find.  Be sure to ask for food recommendations.

3. Pay the extra for a tour through the Vatican Museum.  The museum is to big and you will not see the important stuff without the guide. 
4. We were told not to send letters through the Italian post.  The best thing to do is to send your post cards through the Vatican postal service. Still don't know about this one, but it is something to keep in mind.  
January 24 City #3, Country #3 Vatican City (2nd Smallest City-State in the World)
Although Vatican City is inside the city of Rome it is not part of Rome or Italy. It is a city-state and has its own military, government, railway, postal service and other national services.  We spent the better part of our third day exploring the Vatican Museums and St. Peter's Basilica.  It is difficult to really describe the Vatican. I did not know much about the museums, but that is really the best place to see and learn about the history and impact of the Catholic church.  We saw some of the best artwork in the world, sculptures, paintings, tapestries, mosaics, maps and the list goes on.  However the highlight of the museums and maybe my personal favorite from the trip was the Sistine Chapel.  Again, it is impossible to describe the scale and grandeur of the room.  From the floor to the ceiling the chapel is covered in artwork.  Some of the greatest artist of all time have contributed to the chapel, but most impressive is the ceiling.  The detail, style and messages portrayed are incredible and words do not do it justice. It is something you must see.
After the museums, we went into the basilica and the square.  We saw the traditional Swiss guards and plenty of nuns and priests.  Overall our tour of Vatican City was awesome.  We learned and saw more than our minds could comprehend. After the Vatican, it was back into Rome.  Enjoy the photos!  
St. Peter's Square looking towards the basilica.
Inside the Vatican Museum, Roman era busts.
Swiss Guard
St. Peter's Basilica near Cathedra Petri (Chair of St. Peter)
Sistine Chapel by Michelangelo and other Renaissance artists. 
Inside the basilica.
In the square, Bernini's fountain behind me.
At the entrance to the basilica, Egyptian obelisk in the distance. 
Belvedere Torso.
Red granite wash basin. It is said that Nero would have this basin filled with Donkey's milk and would have his mistresses bath in it.
Apollo Belvedere

Post Card!

January 25-28 City #4 Venezia, Italia 
We took the national rail from Rome to Venice on Tuesday and arrived just after the sun went down. Now there are no cars in Venice.  The main modes of transportation are boat and foot.  We took a boat from the mainland to San Marco where we set out on foot to find out hotel.  I took us an hour and a half, but we did find it and fortune was in our favour as we were upgraded to a bigger and better room. We picked up some pizza and called it a night.  The next day we went on an Island excursion to Murano, Torcello and Burano.  Murano is known for high quality glass making.  Next time you are in a chandelier store ask if they have any items made with Murano glass.  Torcello has the smallest population of any island, but has been the longest continually inhabited island in the area.  There was a beautiful old basilica and some great photo opportunities. Burano is known for lace and for being the island with all of the brightly coloured houses.  I don't know much about lace, wikipedia that if you want to know more.  But we found a great pastry shop on the island and tried plenty of Italian sweets.
Over the next few days we walked down as many alleyways and streets as we could, ate to much gelato, lost money at the casino, and got lost more times than I can count.
 Our time in Venice was nice and relaxing.  It is a beautiful place with so much history and a unique culture. Now we are off to Barcelona.   

San Marco's square.
Parked Gondolas on the banks of the Grand Canal.
On the island of Torcello--the oldest continually inhabited island in Venice.

From the docks of Torcello
Burano neighborhood, note the colorful houses. Used by fishermen to help identify their homes during the night.
Square in Burano.

San Marco clock tower built around 1499.
Rialto Bridge
Island of Murano.
San Marco's Square--Doge's Palace on the right.

Travel tips for Venice
All the buildings are numbered but not in relation to the road or street.  Going from around 1000 to 7000 it is confusing but can making finding a place a bit easier.

January 29-February 1 City #5, Country #4 Barcelona, Espana 
Barcelona was fantastic.  The food was outstanding, the city is beautiful and the culture is vibrant.  We took a tour bus around to the sites and learned about all the architecture, art and history of Barcelona.  Keith found a great local restaurant that served up the best salads and tapas.  The Olympic village offered some of the best views of the city, and La Rambla was full of great shops and food venues.  Enjoy the photos!    
La Sagrada Familia, designed by Gaudi, still under construction after 120 years.  

At the top of the Olympic Village.

View of the city looking out over Plaza de Espana.

Lion at the base of the Columbus monument.

Communication tower desgined and built for the 1992 Olympics.

View of city.

Near the Port.

Casa Mila, the Quarry, designed by Gaudi.

Travel tips for Barcelona
1. Use public transit to get from the airport to the city.  It is much cheaper than a cab.
2. Check the price of Sangria before you order one for each person at the table.
3. Keep in mind that most of the museums are closed on Monday so make sure you plan around that.

February 1 and 2 City #6, Country #5 London, England
Well our trip has finally come to an end in London.  We did not spend much time there, but were able to see all the important sites.  We found a great restaurant called Wok in a Box.  It was plenty of food and not expensive.  The best part of London was the mounted guard and the National Gallery.  Riding on the Underground was also highlight of our stop in London.
Buckingham Palace

Queen's Horse Guard

You weren't suppose to feed the guards or the horses. What a sham!

I think we know what that is.
Big Ben, Parliament, Westminster in the far corner.

The beard came off that evening as I realised how closely I resembled a grizzly bear.

Tower of London

Tower Bridge
Got rid of the beard before we left the city, this was happy hour before our overnight coach back to Glasgow.

Travel tips for London

If you find a cheap hotel make sure you check it out before you book it.  Otherwise, you may have bed bugs or mice in the room.

Well that about wraps up our excursion around northern Africa and Europe.  I would love to write more but frankly words and pictures only do so much to express the wonderful experience I had.  I hope our little excursion inspires you to go out an explore as much as you can about the world.

Here is our travel mix.  Some of the songs were inspired by the trip, others simply get you into the travelling mood.  Enjoy!
Our Travel Mix Tape

                                                          Allez, Ola, Ole - Jessy Matador - France - Eurovision 2010


1 comment:

  1. What an epic trip! Great travel tips and photos.