KODAK PAGES 91-100
After one rest day in Madrid I am on a flight to Casablanca, Morocco. As my flight was delayed my friend (Mostafa) and I had to make a mad dash to the train. Only just made it. He lives in Sale which is divided from Rabat by the river. After dinner we caught a taxi and went walking down along the river on the Rabat side. There is a ton of construction and redevelopment going on here. The second language of Morocco is French.
Our next day we went to an ancient city site called Chellah. It has a wall around it, gardens, plants, flowers. There are storks nesting in the high points of the ancient buildings, including a ruined tower. There are fragments from different times and cultures and some remnants of baths, beheaded statues, Roman scriptures, graves, minarets and an olive tree garden. It’s a very quiet and safe place to visit. Fascinating place for those interested in ancient history and culture.
We leave here and go to the Royal Palace. It has a huge wall right around the palace. If you are hoping to get into the inner grounds here you will be disappointed. No people allowed. Isn’t that always the case. The places you most want to have a good look at you cant. We then go to the Hassan Mosque is the most famous landmark in Rabat and one of the most ambitious of all Almohad buildings. Sultan Yacoub al Mansour begun construction of this minaret in 1195 but this project was abandoned when he died. There are over 200 pillars still standing. This would have looked amazing had it been finished.
Facing the Hassan Tower is the Mausoleum of Mohammed V, where both the grandfather and father of the present Moroccan king are buried. Built after Moroccan independence, this is one of the most prestigious modern monuments in Morocco. Built in traditional Moroccan style, the mausoleum is richly decorated with elaborate mosaics and spiral designs. People of any religion are allowed to enter it but it was closed when I was there for renovation. These two sites are well keep and its also lovely to visit at night. At the entrance gate are guards on horses but I think they are just for show. You will also find ladies that will paint the traditional hemp patterns on you hands and legs. The two ladies that did mine were students and this was a way to earn a little money. Most students will do something like this or work in cafes. With the little time I had in Morocco and I did find that the younger ones that spoke some English were very friendly and interested in tourists and where they live in the world.
From this mosque and ancient site there is a wicked view of the river and across to the other side of Sale. We next walk down and along the river front. There are restaurants and cafes including seating alone here. We watch people being ferried across in boats like the used to be hundreds of years ago. There are boys selling balloons and a young couple talking. Mostafa points at that this couple are probably on a date and in public there is no kissing or holding of hands. The next day I see a young couple which are obviously tourists and they are holding hands. I didn’t like it. I just thought that it was disrespectful to do this in a country where it is a no no. And that is just my opinion ok!
We are up early the next morning and catch a taxi to get the train into Rabat again. Catching a taxi is easy but if there is only two of you the bigger taxis will pass you. Just wait for a small one to come along.
Today we go to the Palace Museum and Andalusian Gardens. The Palace was built in the seventeenth-century and it showcases interesting exhibits of Moroccan art and culture. A vast central patio gives access to private quarters and reception rooms containing the exhibits and a hall containing rugs and musical instruments. The old palace grounds are occupied by the beautiful Andalusian Gardens with its flowering annuals and beds of shrubs. The gardens were actually constructed by the French in the twentieth-century. The gardens are a delightful shady retreat, with daturas, oleanders, orange, lemon and banana trees. We take time to sit in the garden and drink water as it is so hot.
After leaving here it is a short walk up a hill to the Rabat Medina or more commonly called Bab Oudaia. We have coffee at a café and I try some cake. Nice but with almond oil in it. Everything seems to have almond shavings, almond oil, almond something in it. by the time I leave Morocco I swear I will never eat almonds again. Just gets to sweet and almond nuts are even feed to animals.
While we are sitting there we get talking to a Moroccan lady who now lives in New York. She has the chameleon climbing about on her head. Sorry but keep those things away from me. We then go walking. This medina is very calm. Not like the hustle and bustle of Fez, as I was to find out. You can buy just about anything you can think up. The streets are narrow but not full and the colours of the buildings are brilliant blue and white. They look like they have just been painted the day before and the white is blinding when the sun hits it. You wont get hounded in here to buy things. From here we took a taxi up and over the hill for a drive along the seafront. This area is busy as with fishing boats, people and vehicles.
We have dinner in the centre of Rabat before catching the train back to Sale. We had packed heaps into my first full day in Rabat.
Our next adventure is to Casablanca and the Hassan II Mosque. It is one striking building. It is the 3rd largest mosque in the world and boasts the highest minaret anywhere. Half of the Moroccan people like it and agree with having it and the other half do not. This is because of the cost to build it. It took 3 years and cost US $1 billion. It was designed by a French architect and employed 6000 artisans. There are twice daily tours which are fitted around prayer time. Now trying to describe this mosque is just too hard. Wow, it is certainly something that all Moroccans can be proud of. I haven’t been to the Vatican yet, but after having visited there, I can say I still think this mosque tops all the buildings I have been in. Now that may seem a little hypocritical considering my earlier statement about modern buildings, but you have to hear all the stats behind the building of this mosque to know where I am coming from and you really have to see it to understand it. The columns of marble, the tiles and mosaics, the minaret that reaches 210 metres up. In a word ‘exquisite’.
For more reading on the stats and facts I suggest this link, or better still if you are going that way, don’t dare miss it. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hassan_II_Mosque
If you arrive here to do a tour then you must have your knees and shoulders covered. Don’t worry if you have no sweater or shirt with you, they have scarves and wrap around skirts for you to use. The tour is an hour long but this seems to go so fast. There is so much to look at and they will tell you the facts as you slowly walk along. The chandeliers are huge. There’s a glass floor, the columns are on shock proof pads in case of earthquake, the huge doors that you wonder at how they might open them, are hydraulic and actually roll up. Wow, wow and wow. I was left pretty speechless when I left.
You know what to expect when you go to a huge sports stadium, or a cathedral, or any other new modern building for that matter, but you don’t have any idea the magnificence of this modern mosque when you first step inside.
I will leave it here for this part and let my photos do the talking.
Today we are on the train to Fez. It quite a long trip but gives me a chance to take photos of the Moroccan countryside. There is a lot of cropping done in Morocco but it is not very high yielding. The majority of produce is imported from France as Morocco is very dry.
We are here to see the market place in the old part of the city called the Medina. I forgot about taking photos here as there was so much to see. You can buy anything or can think of I’m sure. There is so much to look at, so much you can eat. A place of a thousand treasures and something for everyone. I buy a few small things and purchase an embodied piece of cloth for my Mum, who is now making a quilt of out all the pieces I have got from all over the world.
After shopping, eating, looking, we then go into a small place of worship and climb the stairs to come out on the roof. We have a view over the rooftops in the immediate area. Now the Medina looks cramped, narrow, and small and has every matter of smells you haven’t smelt before and then you get up here and what do you see. Countless satellite dishes for TV’s. The people might look poor and some in very ragged clothing, but don’t let that fool you. I reckon every residence had a satellite/tv receiving dish. Had to grin to myself.
Fez was absolutely buzzing with tourists. Tour buses were trying to get down narrow streets, taxi are everywhere, there’s noise, horse and carts, smells, food, fumes, and the hot sun to top it off. It was a welcome relief to get back on the train and head back to my friend’s home, which was some 3 hours away. We didn’t talk much on the return trip because the day and the heat had just plain worn us out. On reflection we should have stayed the night in Fez.
The following day we take it a little slower and just wonder the streets of Rabat and spend time down on the river front. I have by this time tried quite a few different Moroccan dishes and must say I liked all of them. But as luck would have it the last one I tried on my last night there saw me up at 1.30am throwing up in my hotel toilet, and several times. I swear I dint eat that much but man there was a lot coming back up. When my alarm woke me the next morning my head was thumping, my stomach was churning and I had to be down in reception by 8am, as that’s when Mostafa was picking me up for the train trip to the airport in Casablanca. Oh I just wanted to crawl back into bed and sleep. I didn’t have anything until and I got to the airport and then it was only a coffee. I crossed my fingers that it wouldn’t want to come back up. Getting through immigration became a problem when I failed to put in where I was staying in Morocco. It is worded so you think that you only have to put this detail in when you enter the country. But no, you have to enter the same info when you leave. Your arrival and departure cards are the same. (Keep this in mind when you travel here) I just put down what I could of my friends address and they seemed to be happy with that.
My flight is then delayed for an hour. By this time, about 2 ½ hours later I am starting to feel better. Thank god, I was thinking by this time I might be rushing to the toilet every five minutes with the dreaded diarrhea. I sat down and was promptly joined by an American guy and a Canadian girl. That passed the time away till we finally departed Casablanca one hour and 23 minutes late. It was one long and hot day before I finally crawl back into a bed in a Madrid hostel.
I am up early and across the street to the pharmacy and down the hatch with Imodium. Yep it got me. I woke up at 5.10am and made a mad dash to the toilet. And just to top it off I am flying out for London at 12.30pm. I stick around at the hostel till the very last minute before heading to the underground and out to the airport. I have never felt so terrible in all the time I have been travelling. My backpack feels like it has 30 kgs and I just want to die. All goes well though and by the time I take off the pills seem to be working. I get to Heathrow, catch the tube, finally get to my last stop and then get caught in the turn-style thing. I am well and truly stuck, the guy that is supposed to be there and let you through the gates when you have bags, is nowhere to be seen and the alarm that lets them know someone is stuck, is screaming its head off. Finally he walks around the corner. He’d been having a smoke. After I did my thank you, I then gestured to the CTV camera. He went as bright as a red button. He had of course just realised his bosses had seen he had left his post, and left me there for a good half minute. Wonder if he still has a job??
I am staying with a friend for a few days before heading to Cornwall. In the meantime I head to the osteopath to get my back put in. It’s been pinching for a few days and will eventually give me a constant headache if I don’t get it seen to. I catch up with Cynthia again as she has been back in London for a week. We get our train tickets and book a B&B in St Austell and the next day meet up at Waterloo station and head south-west to Cornwall. Our B&B is in site of the train station which, as luck has it, doubles as the bus station. Great for us as we are here to visit the Eden Project and the Lost Gardens of Heligan.
So to the Eden Project. This place has been set up in an old quarry and boasts the biggest rainforest undercover anywhere in the world. It has gardens and sculptures and is open year round. Entering the huge domes it becomes apparent in one minute that you will need to take clothing off or you will be dripping in sweat before you get to the end. Its temperature controlled and is over a massive area. I think it took us over 2 hours to do just the domes. It has also been set up for wheelchair access and caters to school groups with activities such as late night visits, exhibitions, music and workshops. Plenty of places to eat, and souvenir shops.
It’s a very popular place to visit in the Cornwall region and one of my ‘must see’ places in the UK. When you look at photos of this place, you don’t get the true impression of how enormous the domes are. Both Cynthia and I loved our visit here and like a lot of things I have seen and places I have been, you have to experience it for yourself to truly appreciate just what has gone into making this a place of wonder and education. http://www.edenproject.com/
The Lost Gardens of Heligan are just as good. These gardens were left to be overgrown and then years later they were cleared and restored with care, to what they are today. They cover a huge area and have trees and plants from all over the world. These gardens with also take a fair amount of time to see. From St Austell there are buses going and returning all the time and from all other settlements and towns close by.
Cynthia and I spent hours here and walked all the trails and took over a hundred photos. I think it is best again to let my photos do the talking and you can also see and read more by following this link; http://www.heligan.com/
This next day we go to Mevagissey. It’s a small town with lots of interesting shops. Art galleries, kids shops, antiques, jewellers and more. Both Cynthia and I ended up by jewellery for ourselves and did shopping for family members. To get here we caught the bus from St Austell and travelled down the narrow country roads which are so much the picture of England that a lot of people have. You know the one where the vehicles nearly touch when they pass each other.
After some time spent here and lunch we find our way down to the little port and catch a ferry to Fowey. This is only about 40 minutes and a pleasant little trip which many of the tourists take.
Fowey is yet another small town with quaint little shops and narrow streets all built on a hillside overlooking the sea. From here you can see Guernsey if it’s a good clear day. After getting instructions from the ferry captain we head up the hill to catch the bus back to St Austell. Rather lucky we didn’t muck about because as we came around the corner the bus was already letting passengers on.
Back in St Austell our bags have been moved to another B&B as we couldn’t get all the nights at the same one. I must say that the people of St Austell and Cornwall are very polite and helpful. After getting to our new place for the night Cynthia and I had down to the small port on our host’s recommendation that a certain restaurant here has the best meals and at a good price. He was not wrong. I tried the local lamb, while Cynthia sampled the duck. Yum!! Was like having a good home-cooked meal. We have a few drinks, talk with some of the locals and watch boats come and go. We have seen what we wanted and so tomorrow its back to London.
I am trying a new hostel out this time in Camden. Don’t know whether this is a good idea because in Camden I can go a bit silly spending money in all the stalls and shops. I decide after 2 days to move to a one bedroom studio flat in Willesden Green and sit for a week and work out how to put stuff on my website. I have had it set up for me by an American company and I have a mentor who Skype’s with me once a week and talks me through how to do things on it. Must say there is nothing like being thrown in the deep end and find it’s a hard way to learn, but as it happens, the best way as I can’t be ringing Salt Lake City every second day because I don’t remember something. At the end of another week I catch up with Cynthia and Michelle and spend a day in Camden. And yes, spent another lot of money.
Another 3 days later and I am at Heathrow saying good-bye to Cynthia as she wings her way back to New Zealand. Michelle is staying on for another month. I have moved to hostel again as the studio flat is twice the price and I have the majority of the first writing I needed done, out of the way.
I have made friends with a young Australian girl and tonight we are going to the London Zoo for an ‘open night’. This was fun. The zoo was crowded to say the least and there was all manner of things happening. Takes a bit of working out to get there and then when it was time to leave because it was so late we followed the crowd after being told that it was only a short walk to Mornington Crescent to catch the underground. Had we looked better at a map before actually going to the zoo, we would have saved a lot of walking and trying to work out buses.
The following days in is getting hot and muggy. Just shows that I am now getting used to the London climate to be feeling warm. Shkira and I spend a whole day visiting Brick Lane and Nottinghill markets buying presents for family. Brick Lane has changed somewhat from what it used to be. Not nearly as big and the variety was disappointing.
Two days later Shkira has gone to Scotland and I am on my way to Athens, Greece. Shkira is going to meet me there. I our approach into Athens I find out for the first time what people moan about thinking their ears are going to burst when coming into land. Oh my god does it hurt like hell. Once we were on the ground I was fine, but I don’t wish to go through that again. I am starting to think that maybe I am not as well as I thought. Since getting sick in Morocco I haven’t had much of an appetite and have lost quite a bit of weight. The underground from the airport in the centre of Athens is closed so I catch a bus to a given point where the driver says we can then catch the underground onto where we need to go. I start talking to an Australian guy and his friend and we soon work out that his hotel is only one street over from my hostel so together we work out what train to take. It’s good to have someone else going in the same direction and even better when it’s dark. Its 10pm when I finally get to my hostel which luckily was easy to find, though a little freaky as right next door is a ‘ladies parlour’ shall we say. One look at some of them sitting outside made you want to run.
Next day I join a walking tour of the Acropolis. Somehow I have lost most of my photos of this. We start at ancient ruins that are everywhere in the immediate surrounding area below and work our way up. It’s a hot day and one can’t drink enough water, there are tourists by the hundreds and one magnificent view over Athens. Unfortunately the Acropolis is disappointing. What I mean by this is that you can’t really get photos without scaffolding being in the frame. There is scaffolding everywhere. It was taken down for the Olympics and then promptly put back up only weeks after they had finished. Out walking guide has lived and worked in Athens for over 10 years and can only recall that as the only time the scaffolding has not been there. The restoration work is sporadic and extremely slow. When it was down for the Olympics loads of promotional photos were taken and so you can take photos of these photos. (I have lost mine- damn it). This tour takes up most of my day which saw me go right around the base of this huge rock that stands out and has the Acropolis at the top. On the opposite side to which I started there is the new museum. It has a glass floor entrance and underneath is the excavation of an old city. Most interesting.
We also go to watch the changing of the guard at the Palace. Oh my god what a ritual. The guards look so ridiculous and funny but they take there job very seriously and the whole change over takes around 15 minutes and watched really closely by another guard from across the street. If he spots them not doing it right and to his satisfaction they can loose their jobs. If you go to Athens this is good to see for a laugh. After getting back to our starting point we have a late afternoon lunch before dispersing and making our way back to our hostels.
I move to a hotel the next day that Shkira has booked. She gets in late around 11.30. The next day we head off to the Acropolis but stop off first at a bag shop. She has spotted a backpack she wants to buy. The shop owner is not the politest person out, in fact pretty much like most Greeks, as I had found out, rather rude. She decided on the bag she wanted but when it came to telling this guy we would purchase it on our way back from the Acropolis he promptly threw me out of the shop. Shkira is standing in the shop looking at me, I’m looking at her and the shop owner is going off his face in Greek. We couldn’t work out what the hell was going on. In the end we concluded he must have thought I said something but didn’t understand me properly. Gave us something to talk about while walking down the street. After getting some lunch and drinks to have on the way, we slowly made out way to the Acropolis. Shkira made the decision not to go all the way up when I told her you can’t get a photo without scaffolding in it. Besides that it was so damned hot. By now I well and truly have the flu. Coughing and blowing the nose, sore throat….oh yay.
We spend another day in Athens wondering here and there and looking at markets, buy a few gifts before heading to the port for an overnight trip by ferry to Santorini. We get to the island around 5am. After getting to the bus station we have hours to wait for a connecting bus to our hotel. Of course when we got dropped we realised we should have taken a taxi. It wouldn’t have cost too much and would have saved standing around for hours twiddling our thumbs. Something else I learnt. The owner of the hotel is polite and talkative. Makes a change. I couldn’t help thinking that the people who travelled here for the Olympics must have got a fright at how rude the Greek people are. Sorry but to me they are rude and talk very abruptly and don’t go out of their way to help you. In Athens old men come along in their cars and try to pick you up like you are a hooker. It’s discussing to me. (If you were wondering, yes Shkira did go back and buy the backpack and all went well.)
We hired a quad bike the next morning as this is the way most tourists get around on the island. After putting some petrol in we are off to Old Thira. It’s up a hill and I swear the bike was only 80cc. I am down in 1st gear and this thing is struggling to get to the top. At one stage I thought Shkira was going to have to get off and push. And hey the both of us on it, we aren’t heavy girls, this bike was just gutless. We get to the top and whoa. Lean forward into the wind or get blown over. Wicked. Fantastic view out over the ocean for miles and a village on the right side and the airport on the left. All this time while we are on the bike Shkira is telling me where to go and I am concentrating on driving on the wrong side of the road for me. This is only my second time doing this.
That night we go to the Oia to see the sunset. This is the place that you will see lots of promotional photographs of. The roads and streets are very narrow and there must have been over a hundred vehicles here, including dozens of tour buses. Thankfully it was easier to find a spot to park the bike. When the sun had set we have dinner in a little restaurant instead of trying to make our way back in amongst the cars and buses. The bike only goes so fast and I don’t want to hold up traffic. So we hop on the bike to head back and find out the lights are about as useless as tits on a bull. God they were shocking. It took us close to an hour to get back to the hotel. Apart from the fact that I am driving on the right, the bike I swear won’t do more than 50kmph and we are straining to see where the hell we are going. Shkira and I just have a good laugh about it as it’s something we will never forget.
Next day we go for a cruise around some of the neighbouring islands. I am feeling quite sick and living on pain-killers because of a thumping head. We stop off at a spot for a swim where you can go and soak in warmer water bubbling up from the bottom. Not a good idea. The water is brown and stains your swimwear. Months later I finally got the stains out after soaking them heaps of times. Most people I think would have thrown theirs out. Aside from that it was a good day out and gave us an opportunity to get photos of the houses built on the cliff faces and see some huge cruise ships that were visiting Santorini.
After returning and locking the bike at the hotel and giving the key to the owner for when it was picked up, Shkira and I are on an overnight ferry to Crete. Although uncomfortable I slept most of the way. I needed to as I am feeling terrible.
We arrive at the Crete port of Heraklion early in the morning and catch a taxi to our hotel. We get taken to the wrong one and after walking inside realise this when it seems like we have stepped into the Hilton. The hotel driver gets this all the time as there are two hotels with the same name. We get to right one to find yet another rude hotel owner. ‘Passport’ he asks me for and when I hand it over he opens a drawer and throws it in. Well no mate, this is not happening so I ask for it back. He spits out a few words in Greek and hands it back. I just look at him and say I am going places to visit and will have to show my passport to get ‘tourist discount’. He never bothered to ask for Shkira’s. I don’t ever leave my passport with any hotel/hostel unless it is going to be locked in a safe and besides I think it’s a good idea to have it on you if you find yourself in trouble.
When we have settled in and come back out to reception we find a different guy on the front desk. He is much younger and friendly which is good because we need some help on which bus to catch so we can go to Knossos. This is a large Bronze Age archaeological site on the outskirts of the city of Heraklion. There are storerooms, living spaces and the remnants of a palace. It covers a large area and for people interested in ancient ruins well worth the look. We spent a few hours here and shopped for some souvenirs at one of the many shops before returning to the centre of the city.
We then went in hunt of an internet café and managed to find one when a local helped us out. I then noted that the locals in Heraklion were friendly. They gave me the impression they appreciate that the tourists are what makes their businesses viable. Pity that can’t be said of all of them. Anyway we work out our bus for getting back to our hotel. I found it easy to work them out so if you head to Crete and are a little apprehensive, don’t worry and ask. Someone should help you out.
Unfortunately Shkira works in Rome and has to make her way back there so she is on the ferry back to Athens tonight. I’m still under the weather so hit the hay for a good night’s sleep after having a Skype call from my mentor. Next morning I take a big walk for a few kilometres down the road I am on which more or less runs along the beach and then catch a bus into the centre of the city to have another explore. The following day I catch the bus direct to the airport which I could catch right outside the hotel. I fly back to London instead of going to Italy which I had intended. I simply feel too sick and still have the flu. No sense in travelling while unwell.