A Travellerspoint blog

The Wrap Up

Well, I'm back in Melbourne and, blissfully, back at my laptop with all it's keys in the right place and no arabic letters anywhere! It's strange....in the past, it's always been a bit surreal to come back home but this time it's felt like a natural extension of the trip. Not sure why....maybe travellings just becoming a bit more second nature now.

Our time in Morocco wound up in typical hot and cold fashion. We spent two unexciting days in Fez. The most medieval city in Morocco, it's a strange mix of old and new and not an entirely successful one. We felt a bit alienated there; after the friendliness of Marrakech, many of the people we met were downright rude and seemed to resent the presence of foreigners. This was the first time we'd encountered this attiture in Morocco and it was a bit sad. That said, it was a fun city to explore and we met some fun fellow travellers who we introduced to the wonders of hammam! We moved on to Meknes, a smaller but much more enjoyable city. We explored a beautiful roman ruin from the year dot; the city of Volubilis was the Roman Empire's most far-flung outpost and it's incredibly well preserved. We wandered around the virtually-deserted site, inhabited only by storks (whoever decided storks should be the cute bearers-of-newborns was off their tree...storks are seriously freaky birds!) After a morning of this, we wandered the souks and had a great dinner in a palace before spending a couple of quite-cold hours waiting for a night train back to Marrakech. One more day/night was spent in Marrakech, doing last minute shopping, before we headed back to Essaouira for the world-famous Gnaoua Music Festival. The festival celebrates the folk music of Morocco and has many world-music artists on the bill as well. Despite the crazy wind that was blowing a gale and making it difficult to enjoy the bands, we had a good dance and made some new friends who we then took for a beer before we had to get on a night bus to Casablanca.
It was a whirlwind day but soon enough it wound to a close, and we were on a bus to Casa for our flight to Madrid.

Our day in transit was well worth forgetting but then we were in Madrid where we indulged in the pleasure of an english-language film and some yummy tapas in the city centre. It was so nice to be able to show Pip the sights I'd discovered when there 6 weeks before and we spent a beautiful day exploring the city, kicking back in the Retiro gardens and eating tapas in the Plaza. Sadly, Pip was ripped off by a gypsy who managed to make off with a not-insignificant sum in euros. Pip was pretty shaken and I was devestated to have to leave her in the city be herself as I made my way to London via Lisbon. But she kept her head and managed to enjoy the next few days in Madrid before heading to Barcelona to meet up with friends. Our month in Morocco was probably the most time Pip and I had ever spent together, just the two of us, and it was a pretty amazing time. In hindsight, I'm very grateful Mum decided to bankroll her expedition as I wouldn't have enjoyed the trip nearly as much without her.

I spent an uneventful night in Lisbon before making my way to London for three action filled days in London. Sadly, the combination of Wimbledon and Glastonbury had ensured that the weather was completely crap so I spent a lot of time on the tube getting from place to place as opposed to my usual method of wandering the streets until I find what I'm looking for. But it was a great feast of films, theatre and galleries (my usual travelling triumvirate), interspersed with numerous hours trolling the bookshops on Charing Cross Road for new finds. I actually battled a man with tourettes for a short story collection in one second hand bookstore, and gladly came away the victor. I had drinks with my ridiculously cool aunt Ali in a members-only bar in Soho; Ali is a sought-after costumier who works mostly in film and high fashion so she had lots of fantastic gossip to spill. I was equally glad to see Ali and the volumes of gin available (missed gin enormously whilst holed up in Morocco!)
After three rainy days, it was time to venture back to Heathrow for that interminable flight to Melbourne and my trip back to reality.

So here I am, in Melbourne weather that, bizarrely, resembles London's summer weather. Here's hoping this blog provided a bit of entertainment for those of you who've been following my stories...I've put a few photos up and will add some more soon. Lots of catching up to be done so will see most of you soon in person.....

Em xx

Posted by Emmalineau 17:57 Comments (0)

Monkeys and waterfalls in Morocco....who knew!

Well we're on the home stretch now; five days left in Morocco. We've had a pretty busy time since we left Taroudant, where we spent a day trying to kill time before our night bus to Marrakech. It was a sweet but pretty quiet little town - our best discovery were a series of little stalls selling Moroccan donuts; enourmous (the size of two hands side by side) and available for the high price of 1 dirham, about 14 cents!! They were fantastic!
We made it to Marrakech after a ride in the night bus and an early morning stay in a pretty divey hotel not too far from the bus station. In the light of day we hightailed it to the medina; the centre of all the action in any Moroccan city. Luckily we happened upon a ridiculously beautiful, insanely cheap hotel in a quiet back street quite close to the medina. Tiled, with detailed coloured paintwork everywhere and open-air terraces on every level, we were ecstatic to find such a prefect base for our Marrakech explorations.

We took a day to settle in and then began to explore in earnest. Marrakech features miles of souks, interspersed with hammams (communal sauna-like bathing houses to which Pip and I have become somewhat addicted!), mosques and traditional workshops making everything from curly-toed slippers to painted handcarved mirrors. Its very humbling to watch the ancient, wizened craftsmen at work and made buying things from the shops or workshops themselves very satisfying! Pip and I were mostly present shopping; its like a second Christmas finding things that you know everyone at home will love. One of the funniest requests was from our 4 year old niece, Olive, who repeatedly requested 'colourful big girl shoes' when asked what she would like us to bring her from Morocco. Her request never wavered over the course of several months so we took great pleasure in locating the perfect shoes for her, as we thought she might have envisioned them when making the request. One of the most pleasant suprises about Marrakech was how much it differed from other peoples descriptions. We can happilly report that we suffered very little harrasment, just the usual shopkeepers trying to get us into their shops. Luckily, we've perfected our uber-friendly brush off and noone seems to take offense. That plus the grudging acknowledgment by the shopkeepers of my supposed 'Berber likeness', which apparently means a tough bargainer, made our time in the souks pretty hassle free. We have drunk copious amounts of tea, pretended expertise on a ridiculously wide range of merchandise and haggled our little hearts out. We also visited the incredible ensemble artisinal, a series of artisan workshops where some of the best examples of traditional and contemporary crafts can be found. And there we met Nordi!

Nordi was our new Moroccan friend, who worked in the jewellery store in the ensemble. He was very sweet ad invited us for dinner a few times when we visited so in the spirit of adventure, we accepted. En route to his house, we stopped in to visit his mother in the hospital and ,et all the family, none of whom spoke english. Nordi's english was pretty good so he translated back and forth. We then headded to his house on the outskirts of town where his sisters and sisters-in-law had prepared an incredible feast for us. It felt a little odd being such honoured guests for no better reason than that we were westerners, but we brought some flowers ans treats with us to help (partly) redress the balance. Unfortunately we didnt get to spend as much time with the women of the house as we would have liked (as western guests, we ate with the men). But we had great chats to Nordi's cousin from the mountains and played with his little niece and nephew, who were almost unbearably cute! The food was amazing and I wished I had spent some time int he kitchen to observe the preparation, as I'm not sure I could replicate it. But I'm going to give it a try when I get home!!
Sadly, it seemed Nordi was trying a little to woo us (a fact we didn't cotton onto until quite late) and he had a little tantrum when he realised we were going to catch a taxi back to our hotel and not spend the night (and our remaining days) with him in Marrakech!! But it was still a wonderful experience, that we're laughing about now.

The rest of our time was spent in the numerous parks and gardens - such a nice change of pace from dusty squares and the summer heat. We ate a lot of great street food, watched the crazy entertainments in the main square, the Djemma el Fna, and lazed on the terrace. To recover from the heat and mayhem of Marrakech, we stopped off at the Cascades de Ouzoud, about three hours from Marrakech. Huge mountain waterfalls, in lush forest, with wild monkeys hopping about! We went swimming, listened to a little band on the terrace of our hotel and delighted in the almost complete absence of tourists. The town had a quite hippyish vibe and it was so good to be out of the tourist trap for a night.

Now we're in Meknes after a couple of fairly forgettable days in Fez. We head back to Essaouira later in the week for the Gnaoua music festival and then Pip goes to Spain and I to London, both of us via Madrid....the end is nigh!

Posted by Emmalineau 08:55 Archived in Morocco Comments (0)

Give five, be happy inside!

Just realised it's been ten days since I last wrote anything which is pretty lazy of me....it's been slightly madcap here though. I spent four days in total in Chefchaouen which was just the rest I needed after Spain. Then nine hours on a bus to Casa (surely one of the world's ugliest cities) where I was to meet my sister Pippa. Pip flew in directly from Melbourne for her first overseas adventure - what a culture shock!! It was wonderful to see her; much as I enjoy travelling by myself, sometimes its just good to have someone to chat with. We stayed one night in Casablanca and then jumped on a bus for Essaouria the next morning.

Now many people had great things to say about Essaouira though you always have to take such recommendations with a grain of salt; often one's view of a place can be coloured by a stay in a particularly great hotel or the discovery of an amazing beach or pakr to chill out in. But in this case, all the praise was justified. Essa is a beach town on the southern coast, laid-back, friendly and full of interesting little market souks and cute cafes. We stayed at a place called the Cave, somewhere between hostel and crashing on a friends couch. It's an apartment building owned by a Londoner, the bottom floor of which has all manner of bizarre hobbit rooms filled with beds. There was a random assortment of Brits, Americans, Aussies and New Zealanders (apparently its only the westerners who seem to travel here) staying there and it had a wonderful atmosphere. Particularly great was the roof terrace where we whiled away a number of hours, reading and generally lazing. Sadly, on our third day there Pip was struck down with a nasty bout of food poisoning from which she is onlmy just recovered. Luckily, the Cave was home to a DVD player and a huge number of DVDs so I convalesced in sympathy as Pip lay comotose for 12 hours! She survived to tell the tale though and hopefully, Iùll remain immune thanks to my relatively cast iron stomach.
Once Pip recovered we spent lots of time exploring the beautiful beach (replete with numerous camel herders vying for custom amongst the more gullible tourists), shopping up a storm in the medina and making a few Moroccan friends, one of whom has invited us back to stay for the Gnaoua music festival later in the month. We're thinking about it....!

We then moved on to Agadir, a bizarre place. The original town was destroyed in an earthquake in 1960 so there's virtually no old buildings. Suffice to say it was pretty boring so we spent the entire day laying on recliners at the admittedly very nice beach. Despite the presence of an umbrella, Pip and I are both looking a little pink today and feeling a little bit sore! The sun down here is pretty unforgiving. We decided to give Agadir the flick pretty quickly and have now foun ourselves in the very pretty Taroudant, Morocco's original capital. We plan to swim a bit in the pool, walk around the souks and prepare for the cultural onslaught of Marrakech, where we head tomorrow....30 degrees every day, tourists as far as the eye can see. It'll probably take a bit of acclimatisation after our laid-back past week!

Til next time....

Posted by Emmalineau 03:52 Archived in Morocco Comments (0)

Kif, anyone?

I am no good at arabic. The computer on which i am currently typing is configured for arabic so you'll have to forgive me for the potentially erratic grammar and punctuation of this entry.

I spent a couple of incredible days in Granada, which is a fantastic example of a classic andalucian city. Laid back, scattered with wonderful, very casual squares and little pockets of garden. I spent a decent amount of time wandering in the gardens of the Alambra (and some time in the Alambra itself). It's a beautiful, slightly ruined Moorish palace thqt was never designed to last, which is part of what makes it so incredible. Light filters through detailed fretwork on every window and each wall is a haze of intricate plaster moulding. I was blown away and had a spurt of gratitude that I wasn't here in the summer, when the place must be overrun with tourists. As it was, it seemed like everyone there was looking for good photo opportunities but not really seeing what they were taking photos of.

After this cultural feast and with a couple of hours to kill, i decided to go lowbrow and holed up in a cinema to watch Spiderman dubbed into Spanish. Sadly no english or french or in fact any other films playing here, so Spiderman it was. And it was hysterical - luckily the cinema was empty except for me, as I was laughing at all the bits i'm sure were meant to be serious. Truly, if Tobey Maguire had any idea he'd be voiced over by a spanish eunach with a lisp, he never would have allowed it. I cried with laughter! After this I wandered about, getting my fill of tortilla and churros and all the other spanish foods I might be waiting awhile to eat again, before setting off on the commute from hell.

Ah travel. Five hours on a train, two hours of waiting around, to hours on a ferry, two hours of waiting around, five hours on a bus. Luckily, all the horror stories people had been telling me about Morocco in general and Tangier in particular amounted to not much. Aside from a huge number of people trying to help me carry my bag (which resulted in them breaking a small part of it and then all backing off very quickly!) it's been fine. Everyone wants to try out their english/spanish/french on you and I just smile and nod and offer a myriad of multilingual greetings in return, since hello is the only word i can say in ten languages. The people here are unbelievably friendly, a nice change of pace after the rafts of generally nonchalant spaniards. I'm holed up in the Rif Mountains, in a little town called Chefchaouen. It's more of the andalucian whitewash, mixed with bright blue - it's very pretty. The village is little enough to explore with ease and now that I've been here a few days the local guys have stopped greeting me zealously and are generally much more respectful! It's odd - I've never been stared at this much in my entire life but I guess girls with moon tans are a rarity here. Today I kicked the ass out of my spanish expedition by hiking for 6 hours up to the top of the nearest mountain range, from which Chefchaouen gets its name. Lots of fun since it's only about 30 degrees in the middle of the day at the moment, since summer starts later this week. I saw a couple of cars but more goats then I have ever seen before in my life. It was like a petting zoo on crack! I offered grapes and bread to the goatherds and in return, got to be in Emily-seventh-heaven, patting groups of cute baby goats. Think I could be a goatherd. A few families live up there too. It's crazy; in the village the kids beg for caramels or coins, in the moutains they beg for antiseptic cream and bandaids. It really is another world up here. Particularly when you come down the mountain and the areas that aren't covered with rocks are covered with kif (dope) plantations. They look strangely pretty, such a bright green against the rocks. Kif is one of Morocco's biggest exports though I must look pretty straight, as I'm only asked about five times a day if I'd like to buy a few kilos. Apparently this is low, on average!! But since Moroccan jails don't look too flash, i might give that a miss.

The sun is setting now so it's time for sitting on the roof terrace, eating watermelon and listening to the evening prayers echoing around the village. Really, another world.

Posted by Emmalineau 11:29 Archived in Morocco Comments (1)


Well I made it to Valencia, which is a really gorgeous corner of the world. Big wide streets, lots of palm trees (still trying to work out whether these are native or not, there's so few tracts of undeveloped of unfarmed land left in the south). A gorgeous hotel, right in the middle of things and of course, amazing food. We're pretty spoiled for great food in Melbourne but the seafood here is something else. I can report that the paella was fantastic! Valencia otherwise involved lots of wandering, quite a bit of getting lost and a few really great galleries. One in particular, IVAM (Institut Valenciana de Art Moderne), was one of the best contemporary art galleries I've seen anywhere; it was incredibly funny. Not overtly cutting edge or trying to be cool (though it was both those things), it was completely whimsical. Lots of works by people like Andy Warhol, Cindy Sherman, Matthew Barney and a whole host of Spanish artists. I was walking around, laughing quite audibly and I think perhaps the guards thought I was crazy. Or a terrorist. Or both.

I then flew across to gorgeous Sevilla, desperate for some sunshine. It hasn't been cold the last week but it has been relatively overcast. Since I know I'll have to spend my month of sunny Morocco time covered from wrist to ankle, it would be nice to see some sun while I still can! I adored Sevilla, in part because I had time to spend with Ale, who is based there while his mother is unwell. Several of his brothers and sisters live in the area, so we had a pretty amazing feast with about half the family on the first night that I was there. His sister, Ofelia, cooked an incredible rabbit dish (I'm eating previously-unexpected quantities of rabbit....Grampsie would be proud)! In typical Spanish fashion, we didn't eat until about 10pm and there was kids and dogs running around until about 1 in the morning. It's been a fairly full-on few weeks for the family, so I think they were glad to take some time out.
Sevilla is a very picturesque city, filled with gardens and wide, tree-lined avenues. The morning after the enormous feast was a big fiesta in the city centre; the Rocio pilgrimage. Gypsies on horses paraded though the city, followed by a long line of coloured wagons on a pilgrimage to the holy site of Rocio. It was strange, as a very-lapsed Catholic, to see people kneeling in the street and praying. Roving bands of musicians played and all the crowds sang along. It was quite magical. After this excitement, I spent the day wandering and exploring the numerous ancient buildings, particularly the Alcazar, which is the Royal Family's home in Sevilla. It's just nice to come to places that have buildings that are more than 200 years old - maybe a lack of our own physical history is what prompts so many Australians to go exploring elsewhere....

Am now in the village of Cartejima, the highest village in the Andalusian mountains. The whole mountain range is scattered with tiny, white-washed villages that, from a distance, look like birds perched in a tree. The people here have lived here for centuries, and they're somewhat inbred and corrupt! They know not a word of english and their spanish isn't even like actual spanish; all their words slur off into nothingness and they all look at you sideways, with suspicion. I feel a little like I'm on the set of a Hollywood Western.
Am staying at an incredible little pension, owned by an expat Brit who bought it a few years back (with cash!) and now operates it as a hostel. He's a former chef, so we're eating like kings and last night sat around the table with a couple of lovely American backpackers and ate and drank into the wee hours. Today I explored the mountains for a couple of hours - this is possibly the most energetic thing I've done since I left Melbourne!! So a lie down is in order!

Off to Granada tomorrow and then next week to Morocco, to meet Pip at the end of the week. Thank god, another moment without sunshine and I think I'd just about cry.

Footnote: Adventure Owl was stolen yesterday, en route to Ronda. He was taken from my bag at the Sevilla Bus Station. I'd like to think he's flown on to greater adventures, possibly in Neverending Story territory. Vale, Adventure Owl.

Posted by Emmalineau 05:01 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

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