Madrid: Street Entertainers, Lottery Booths and Ham Museums

I was surprised with myself that I’d never visited Madrid. After 10 years of learning Spanish, I guess I’d just never got around to it. I had in this time taken three trips to Barcelona but Madrid had never happened. So I felt a sympathy for Madrid before I even boarded the plane from Lisbon. Madrid turned out to be a pleasant surprise and an arty and bohemian yet smart and classy city.

Having said goodbye to Hannah in Lisbon, I was travelling on my own for the first time since I was in hospital in Bangkok and it felt really strange! On one hand, it was easy to just trundle around but on the other hand, I was yearning for someone to point out the street entertainers to. Street entertainers. That’s something they’re not short of in Madrid. There’s the good kind – my favourite was two men coated in gold, one of whom appeared to be floating on top of the other. Then there’s the Winnie the Poohs and Bart Simpsons and Spongebobs. I’ve never seen so many! They hover around La Puerta del Sol and the parks waiting for photos to be taken with then and cash to be handed over. I don’t have a problem with this, everyone has to make a living, but some of the costumes are just awful!

They don’t directly approach you, or maybe I just didn’t look like the type who wanted a photo with Woody Woodpecker. I was, however, approached by a couple of Eastern European deaf and dumb girls with a clipboard of “donations” who I’m sure I encountered once before in Paris. Pleasure to see them again.

There’s also a lot of ‘Once’ lottery booths, which although they make for pretty urban photos, did look a little shut most of the time. I have a feeling I remember studying about the Spanish lottery at A level and I’m sure I remember it’s a big thing, but perhaps only at certain times of the year. Do you know?

Other than the obvious choices of the Reina Sofia and Prado museums (both of which have free evenings on the weekend – a great time to visit Madrid!) I had been recommended by Hannah to visit a Museo de Jamón. This translates as Ham Museum. I’m not a big meat eater but I followed her advice and entered one of the infamous ham museums one lunch time. I didn’t regret it! With rows of meat, strip lights and mirrors, the place looked like it never ended. And with a ham baguette for just 1 Euro, I was onto a winner! I sat casually at the bar as if I knew what I was doing and ordered myself the 1 Euro sandwich advertised.

“Señor? Señor, can you cut it into two, please? Gracias.” A thick American accent questioned over my shoulder, “Dos, por favor? Gracias!”

With a mouthful of ham and bread, I turned to smile at him for using Spanish. I think he interpreted that as me being Spanish because he and his friends seemed a little taken aback when I asked where they were from in a rather British accent.

Another favourite from Madrid was visitng El Rastro flea market early on Sunday morning (see, I told you the weekend was the time to visit!). Just like Marrakesh, El Rastro is a place to visit when you’re buying your first house. Full of quirky antiques, toys and comic shops it’s a real delight to meander your way through as it gets busier, before diving into a cafe for some churros for breakfast.

However, I think my absolute highlight was the terrapin pool in Atocha train station. I didn’t have to take a train, but being drawn in by the awe inspiring exterior, I felt it rude not to take a look inside. The terrapin tank proved it a worthy venture!

Overall, Madrid won me over and I think it’s a shame so many people come to Spain and don’t see it. Madrid shows a very different side of Spain to that of the other cities I’ve visited in Spain and that’s what keeps me engaged about this country – the sheer diversity. Every region, every city has it’s own story to tell, and they tell them well.

Have you visited Madrid? What were your highlights? I’d love to read about it in the comments below! 🙂

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Lisbon: Trams, Hills and Sexy Toilet Paper

Being so close to Portugal following our Andalucian adventure, we couldn’t not go to Lisbon. That would have been rude! So we scheduled a few days in the Portuguese capital into our plans. Definitely a worthy detour from Spain. After a sleepless late night bus from Seville, squashed next to a rather nosy Romanian lady who insisted on shouting “DORMIRE?!” in my ear once I’d began to drift into dreamland, I think you’ll understand when I say we were relieved to arrive early morning at our hostel.

Once suitably freshened up, we headed out on the hunt for food. I was keen to try out my newly learnt Portuguese on the locals and enjoyed ordering a custard tart and orange juice for breakfast in a local restaurant. (Yes! Custard tart for breakfast! Amazing, right?)

Shortly after our morning stroll introducing us both to Lisbon and Portugal for the first time, we joined a free walking tour we’d seen advertised in the hostel. Our  tour in Granada had convinced me that Hannah was onto something with her love of free walking tours! Unfortunately, this one wasn’t as good in my opinion. The guide was clearly passionate about Lisbon and he had some interesting facts to share with us – he even recommended a great local restaurant to us that we would never have found on our own. However, the one memory that really stands out was him taking us all through the underground system passage to get from one place to another by skipping a rather large hill climb, and instead escorting us up escalators through throngs of commuters. Not really my idea of making tourists, or locals, feel comfortable.

Still, there were some nice photos to be had on the tour – and as I said, the restaurant he recommended was excellent. With a handwirtten menu on a paper tablecloth stuck up in the window, we knew this was the place we wanted to eat. As it turned out, we got lucky with our food in Lisbon, and managed to find a “paper tablecloth menu” place most days. The prices were amazing (and a great shock after Spain) and the food was delicious.

The city of Lisbon is beautiful. However, after over a week of nothing but urban landscapes (well, minus a few language filled days in Essaouira) we planned for a day at the beach! Cascais to be exact. Cascais is an easy day trip from Lisbon, as the crowds of tourists and locals alike on the train proved. The journey takes 40 minutes by train and the beach is just a stone’s throw from the train station in Cascais. We’d read about surfing possibilities there but the water looked rather calm and the wind looked rather strong. Feeling a little doubtful, we asked at the surf place but unfortunately it wasn’t meant to be. Minus surfing, Cascais still made a great excursion from Lisbon and I’d definitely recommend it if you fancy a little peek out towards the US of A! (Disclaimer: You can’t actually see America!)

One of my favourite things about Lisbon, other than the food, the cute yellow trams and the company that make multicoloured toilet paper, was the Oceanarium. Partly because it’s the biggest aquarium in Europe. Mainly because they had a sea turtle exhibition at the time. Yes, please. I don’t think the exhibition is still there,  but if you go to Lisbon, I would say the Oceanarium is a worthy morning or afternoon chilling with some penguins and jellyfish.

Lisbon did not fail to disappoint. In fact, I preferred Lisbon more than I thought I would and was slightly disappointed when I had to leave for Madrid.

Have you ever been to Lisbon? Did you like it? I’d love to read your thoughts below! 🙂

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Slightly Secondary Seville

Granada is amazing. So wherever we went after Granada was going to have a lot to live up to. Wanting to make our way over to Lisbon, me and Hannah headed to Seville once our Lorca dreaming days in Granada were over. I was excited about Seville! Oranges, bullfighting and more flamenco! How very stereotypical of me. However, personally, Seville was just another city, really. It didn’t grab me the way that Granada did. Sure, there are a few cool sights and I enjoyed our tour of the bullring, the Mirador, Plaza de España, the Alcázar and all of the other must-sees. I just didn’t “feel” Seville as a city.

Don’t get me wrong, if you’re visiting Andalucia, or even just Spain, Seville is still worth your time, and I have spoken to people since who said they preferred Seville over Granada! Shock horror!

Our first day was spent wandering by the river and gradually heading inwards to the city. We soon stumbled upon the Plaza de España, which is a very impressive building built for the Expo in 1929. Currently being used as Spanish Government offices, the huge structure encompasses little nooks for each region of Spain with a mosaicked image of the area. My favourite thing about this was seeing a woman lounging beside the Canary Islands nook!

We made our way across town and ended up visiting the bullring in the heat of the day. Now, I don’t agree with killing animals for ‘sport’. However, having spent an afternoon in Indonesia at a cock fight, I feel it’s sometimes part of a culture and something that I’m prepared to see once, form an opinion on, and move on. There was no bull fight on the days we were in Seville though – I think, in all honesty, we were both slightly relieved about this. We did opt for the tour of the bull ring though in an attempt to understand more about bull fighting. The tour was really informative and worth the 4 or so Euros.

Something that costs a little more than 4€ in Seville is Isla Mágica! A reasonably sized theme park that Hannah decided to treat me to for my birthday! Is it good? Well, without looking at my photos, Isla Mágica is where the majority of my memories of Seville lie. So, yes. Especially   Indígenas contra alienígenas (Indigenous vs. Aliens). I know, right?!

Writing about it now, and revisiting Seville in my mind, maybe I was a bit harsh at the start of this post. Maybe I would have felt the same about anywhere post Granada. I take it back – Seville is cool.

Have you visited Seville? What did you think? I’d love to know your thoughts in the comments below!

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Grand Granada

Back in July, my friend Hannah and I took a bus all the way from Morocco to Granada in Spain. Due to the fact it was Ramadan and all ticket holders for the early morning buses had been transferred to the lunchtime ones, we didn’t arrive until 4 hours later than expected. Considering we were originally due in at 2 in the morning this was actually a welcome delay. Arriving about 5.30am, dawn became daylight as we walked into the city from the bus station desperate for food. There’s not a lot of choice for breakfast at 6am on the streets of Granada. Churros and chocolate it was then. Shame, eh?

Our hostel, White Nest Hostel, was a great place and very easy to find down a side street from the riverside cobbled road. We were able to leave our bags there until check-in and even allowed to take a shower after our long, long bus journey. We headed out for the day thankfully clean and fresh! We’d been told about a free walking tour (well, tour for tips) of the city that started at 11am. Hannah is a lover of free city walking tours so we opted in. I’d never done one before but the guide was very interesting and knowledgeable, and clearly a huge fan of Granada so we even decided to rejoin him that evening for the Sacromonte Caves tour, which was a great move! After a rather filling 3 course €8.50 Menú Del Día and a stroll around in 40° heat, we met our guide again that evening and he took us up and away above the city to places we wouldn’t have dared to go as tourists. We were even allowed to visit inside one cave and speak to the residents. Unfortunately, the Spanish government is trying to evict them.

On heading back into the city, we decided to go the whole hog on the gypsy front and managed to bag ourselves the two last tickets at Le Chien Andalou, an authentically styled Flamenco bar. Arriving for tickets moments before the show, we were able to grab 2 reserved but uncollected tickets, which meant we found ourselves right on the front row. Although I wouldn’t recommend risking it on tickets until the last minute, as we got really lucky getting those tickets, I would recommend the show at Le Chien Andalou. The Flamenco dancer and band performed in a small cave shaped room, with the audience crammed onto rows of benches and the alcohol flowing. The atmosphere and the performance were absolutely fantastic – the dancer’s skirt swished upon my lap many times! It was exactly what we wanted from a Flamenco show. It was intense, intriguing and intimate. The perfect introduction to live Flamenco!

That first day was jam-packed, but it was nothing compared to our next day visiting the attraction in Granada: The Alhambra. The Alhambra is so sought after, that tickets need to be bought online via Ticketmaster. We opted to collect our tickets at a ServiCaixa machine in Spain, often found outside CaixaBanks. The online process felt slightly ‘unofficial’ so we were glad when we had our tickets in our hands!

We’d spent the previous day oooing and ahhing at the Alhambra which dominates the view from the city, however, that didn’t compare to seeing it up clopse and personal. The Alhambra is a real highlight of Spain, and dare I say it, Europe. Compared to the big sights that everyone knows about such as the Eiffel Tower or Big Ben, the Alhambra remains to feel slightly secretive and personal. Shh, don’t tell!

In fact, I’d go as far as to say that Granada itself is one of Europe’s best kept semi-secrets. It really is a gem of a place, memories of which linger long after leaving.

Have you visited Granada? What did you think? Leave a comment below, I’d love to know your thoughts! 🙂

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Travel Essentials: Morocco

Feeling Safe

Sankes in the street were the scariest thing.

Before I even booked my ticket to Morocco, people were suggesting I don’t go as a solo female traveller. People who had been to Morocco and people who hadn’t. As it turned out, I went with a white female friend and I think I speak for both of us when I say I felt safe the whole time. Of course, in Marrakesh there are some hard sellers who will follow you down the street but a ‘laa shukran’ and a smile seems to shake them off without any trouble. There was the odd one or two who replied with “’laa shukran’, this is all I hear all day!” but ignoring the pleas after until they gave up and walked away didn’t cause us any problems. Personally, I found the worst sellers to be veiled women selling henna tattoos, who hold no fear in grabbing your hand to give you a “free” flower tattoo and telling you that you have beautiful eyes – one time we both had our sunglasses on!!

The only time I felt slightly at risk was when I stole a lone Chinese man from a tout. I was not having him rip off an elderly traveller who was clearly different and could speak no English, French or Arabic. This ended up in an argument between me and the French speaking tout, with me giving constant reassurance in Chinese to the tourist. Was it worth it? YES. Amazing language story!

Indulging

Ramadan breakfast at the Riad.

The food and drink is Morocco is undoubtedly one of the highlights. As soon as we entered our riad, we were offered mint tea – which is completely different to any mint tea you could buy in Tesco! It’s made from pure mint leaves, which are a delight for your nostrils if you see them being sold by the bunch in the market. I didn’t dare to ask how much sugar was added!

Our visit coincided with Ramadan. Despite all of the travel warnings of things being closed, not being able to find food easily etc, we didn’t encounter any problems. In fact, I would say that it made our trip even better! Every day we were offered at least a date (the food, not a romantic evening!) from peoples’ Ramadan breakfast. On our second day in Marrakesh, just as we were about to head out to find dinner, the riad owners and their friends invited us to sit down and join them for their full Ramadan breakfast! It was a brilliant experience. Even just a simple “Bon appetit” as we passed people having their breakfasts in their doorways on the streets of Casablanca got us a conversation and offerings of food. The generosity of Moroccans during Ramadan is a beautiful thing.

Sleeping

And the prize for the most impressive dorm door goes to...

We got lucky with our accommodation in Morocco. We stayed at three excellent places in Marrakesh, Essaouira and Casablanca. Cost wasn’t a problem – and we always travel cheap! Our first riad in Marrakesh was probably my favourite place we stayed.

“What’s a riad?!” I head you cry. A riad is an old style house or palace in Morocco with all floors focused around a central square on ground level. Some are like a courtyard but the majority now have roofs, often made of beautifully coloured glass. Many riads have now become hotels or hostels. The walls and floor of our riad in Marrakesh were covered in tiny tiles and the furniture was really cozy yet almost glamourous with big sofas along one end of half of the room and a dining table at the other end.

Apart from our riad hotel in Essaouira paid for by our new found friend Shounian, we stayed in dorms. This was never a problem, and both dorms had their own bathroom and air conditioning. Obviously, this would vary from place to place.

Shopping

A surprisingly quiet souk.

As soon as I got back to the UK, I said to my boyfriend (who didn’t come to Marrakesh), “We’re going back there when we get a house!” Marrakesh is a shopper’s paradise. Especially for artistic people with a keen eye for a unique bargain that you won’t find at home. Specialities include leather shoes, bags, wallets and belts; kebab skewers; metal lanterns; and pretty floaty clothes.

Travelling

A common view on our bus journies!

Getting around Morocco was a worry beforehand, purely for the fact that we had very limited time here in order to get into Spain in time for what we wanted to see there. This meant that we wanted to book all onward travel in advance to make sure we wouldn’t get held up anywhere. Thankfully, it was pretty easy to book long distance buses in Morocco using Moroccan based CTM. The website isn’t the best but we managed after a few attempts – I think we had to pay by Paypal if I remember because it wouldn’t accept our foreign debit cards. We used Spanish company ALSA to book a bus from Casablanca straight to Granada – ferry fee included!

The only issue we had with transport in the country was that it was Ramadan. And each bus we took (all of which were early morning buses – 8am ish) was delayed by 1-4 hours. In other words, there were no early buses because of Ramadan! This wasn’t really a problem, but it was annoying that we’d been able to book tickets on the website for the early times when there was no bus until later. It also meant that we missed a day in Casablanca and our experience of the place consists of walking up and down the main street once as it got dark. Hence why there’ll be no post on Casablanca.

Overall Impression

Morocco is fun, relatively safe and would make a great destination for a first peek outside of Europe. I also felt that it would be a great place for young gap year students who fancied a bit of hiking, beaching and cous-cousing without mum and dad but with adventure. That said, don’t be put off by that if you’re a well-trodden traveller as Morocco is very much a unique place with its own quirks and wonders and well worth a visit by everyone.

Categories: Africa, Morocco | Tags: | 5 Comments

Essaouira a.k.a The Best Language Day Ever!

I’m pretty sure if you know me and we’ve seen each other within the last six months you will have heard this story. It’s one of my all time favourite travel stories. And one of my all time favourite days. It goes a little like this…

We were settling down nicely on the bus from Marrakesh to Essaouira when I noticed an Asian man on the seat opposite and in front of us. He was alone, and swiping his finger across the screen of his phone at lightening speed. After a few seconds of watching him I realised he was writing Chinese characters with his finger, which were then being registered into the phone and put into a text message. Incredible.  If you’re reading this and do this on a daily basis you’re probably slightly stumped by my awe. I apologise. Small things, small things. 🙂

I pointed out my amazement to Hannah (who was pretty amazed too, I’d like to add!) and we thought nothing more of it. The journey was simple and hassle free. Until we reached Essaouira and were met by a gaggle of touts. Armed with our well practised “laa, shukran” (no, thank you in Arabic) that came in very handy with Marrakesh ladies taking our hands to give us Henna tattoos, we Laa-Shukran-ed our way through the crowds and headed with a small group of English tourists towards what their map said should be the city.

The Chinese man followed loosely with his troop of touts snapping at his heels and clearly exploiting the fact that he spoke no Arabic, French or English.

“I’ll be back in a minute,” I said to Hannah.

I headed towards the Chinese man, mentally dusting off my Chinese knowledge.

“Thank you but he’s with us.” I explained in French to the tout, indicating to the Chinese man to follow us. “He has a reservation with us.”

“I speak a little Chinese.” I said to the Chinese man. His eyes lit up. That gave me the strength to stay strong against the tout.

“No, he doesn’t! He doesn’t even speak English! Now you come over here speaking Chinese! This is my life! I have a family to feed!” I clearly wasn’t going to make it onto the tout’s Christmas card list any time soon.

“Thank you, but no thank you.” I replied in French. I walked the Chinese man away with me and back into the group of English tourists, “Let’s go, quick!”

“What’s your name? I’m Lindsay. She is Hannah.” I asked him on our way into the city.

“I’m Shounian. Thank you.” he replied.

Fortunately the tout didn’t follow us. Unfortunately, the hostel we had reserved wasn’t easy to find. After about an hour and a half of dragging Shounian around, we stood almost defeated in the hustle and bustle of market day. He pointed to a couple stood with a map.

“Ahh! Very good!” I smiled at him and we headed over to the tourists.

“English?” They shook their head. “¿Español?” Another shake of the head. “Français?” Shake number three. “Italiano?”

“Sì!” They replied gleefully.

I opened the Italian box in my brain, “Perfect! I speak a little Italian! We are lost. Can we borrow your map for a moment?”

The Italian couple were wonderful and even offered to help to take us there. When we got there, there was nothing. A local boy even came and showed the Italian man exactly where it was. But there was nothing. Just a door. We knocked. We waited.

“What do we do?” Hannah asked.

“Well, how much is it?” I asked.

“8 pounds. We’re paid about 80p deposit so they have our card details.”

“I’m happy to pay £8 not to stay here. And we’ve dragged poor Yang around for hours now.”

We headed to the main street from our dark side alley and straight into the first hotel we saw. I switched my language brain back to French and asked if they had a room for 3 before realising that after all of this, Shounian might want nothing more than to get away from us! I flicked back to Chinese and asked him if he wanted his own room. He was happy to share so I asked the receptionist in French for the price and if we could see the room. When I told Shounian the price, he instantly pulled his wallet out. Me and Hannah burst into a chorus of ‘no’ insisting we see the room first. He took some convincing but eventually agreed to wait downstairs while we took a peek. He also took some convincing to let us pay and as it turned out, the best we could offer was to pay for dinner that night.

Walking around with him for the rest of the day, we learnt Shounian is a travel writer and photographer and has been to a grand total of 42 countries in his 68 years of life – all with no other language skills whatsoever!

Essaouira itself is a really nice place and definitely worth visiting if you’re in Morocco for any length of time. It is a complete contrast to Marrakesh!

That day in Essaouira was a real highlight to me of the importance of language learning (if you don’t know, I teach languages when I’m not speaking them to Chinese men and touts in Morocco!). Having some knowledge of foreign languages had helped me save a man from paying over the odds for a room, got us to our “hostel” and given us a free night in a nice hotel. On the other hand, there was Shounian. Making his way around with his camera paying far too much for accommodation and transport by throwing his money at someone if they give him a figure. I hope as he travels on, he doesn’t get exploited like he nearly did that day, but it saddens me to think that he probably will.

Moral of Essaouira? Keep learning languages.

Have you ever ended up speaking any unexpected languages on holiday? I’d love to read about it in the comments below! 🙂

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Marrakesh: Foot lathes, friendship levels and feasts.

From the start of my degree, I knew I’d be heading to Spain for a week in the summer of 2013 for a summer school. I also knew I wanted to make the most of it and see some more of Europe in the process. A trip I’d wanted to do for some time gradually began to click into place.

For a number of years, I’d wanted to take the ferry between Spain and Morocco – this was the perfect chance! As things began to work out, we realized we could also hit Portugal on our travels. So this July, my friend Hannah and I set off on our Iberian (and African-ish!) adventure!

When we landed in Marrakesh, the first thing I noticed was how much French is spoken here. I had spent many a car journey listening to Arabic stuff to give me a grounding just in case French wasn’t as widely spoken as I’d hoped but it turned out you don’t always need the language of the country you’re in to survive, as we discovered in Essaouira.

We stayed at a Riad where Hannah had been before but they had moved buildings (sounds strange, I know!) so we’d agreed to meet someone in the main square to take us there. However, it was Ramadan and so by the time we arrived in the city and eventually got through to them on the phone, they were having their Ramadan breakfast. Not having eaten ourselves, we headed over to the food stalls in the square that was now buzzing with life. We found ourselves being called to various stalls, and eventually chose one with lots of locals and what we (wrongly) assumed to be free bread on the tables. I love Moroccan food and the food here was good. However, we were lucky enough to be invited to eat Ramadan breakfast almost everywhere we went every day in Morocco! So that tagine was the only real meal we had to buy in Marrakesh.

We headed out early the next morning with very little direction other than the loose idea of visiting souks, buying a little something and maybe chilling in a hammam As it turned out, a hammam was the first thing we found and not really having a great idea of exchange rates or normal prices of a hammam, we went for it. My God. I didn’t know I was that grubby. Or that it was possible to get that much grub off of someone’s skin. I’d bought a very modest swimming costume back home for moments like this, and felt very proud and respectful when I stripped down to it for the lady to scrub me.

She motioned her hands from her shoulders downwards. It looked like she was telling me to pull down my swimming costume! I repeated the movement and tentatively lifted the strap from my shoulder. She nodded. I pulled down my swimming costume to my waist. There’s no way I was taking it all off! I paid good money for that costume for this exact moment. I was going to get my money’s worth. A few minutes later, after a good scrub down and being covered in mud soap, I was ushered into the sauna where Hannah was already sat sweating it out.

“New friendship level.” I shrugged. Hannah had worn a bikini and so was still ‘fully’ clothed.

After various scrubs and washes, we were shown into a shower cubicle. Although we were washing ourselves at this point, the ladies stood and watched ready to indicate to me to pull the whole costume down when I turned to face them. I didn’t.

We were then given a gown along with our scrub mitt to keep as we were told to relax on the beds in the first room. Finally we were sent upstairs where we were told to relax yet again on individual beds. This bit was weird. I think there’d been some miscommunication as to which package we paid for. We didn’t pay for a massage but we kept quiet just in case they were feeling generous. After about 5 minutes, we entered the final room and were given a pot of mint tea.

We soon headed out into the heat of the day, both secretly knowing but neither wanting to admit that we’d be filling up our sparklingly clean sweat glands very soon. This is where the souks came in. Undercover window shopping with compliments of our French proved to be a very relaxing way to spend the rest of the day. Especially when one man carving skewers with a one foot lathe offered a free demonstration and made me a personal necklace before our eyes after I asked him a few questions in French.

Once filling our scrubbed pores with fresh sweat and sun cream, we decided to head back to the Riad before dinner. Best. Timing. Ever. Just as we were preparing to leave again in hunt of food, the Riad owners were preparing to start their Ramadan breakfast as dusk was approaching, and they were very adamant we join them. Wow. What a feast! It was really lovely to be involved with a personal example of the breaking of the fast up close.

Overall, Marrakesh proved to be just as beautiful, orange and sensory as I imagined, but also a lot safer and friendlier than I’d imagined before arriving. Definitely a place I’d like to go back to and would recommend.

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Disparu!

Why hello there! So, me and Ashley have had some exciting news recently….

Last year I did a French translation for a short animated film, made by Ashley, called Disparu.

The film went on to win 2 awards at Film Northants Film Festival, and has recently been nominated for the Youtube Digital Innovation Award at First Light Film Festival!

The film is only one of three in it’s category and will be screened at the Odeon in Leicester Square.

The winner will be decided by public vote so please click here to vote for DISPARU! Thank you! **

Categories: Hometown | 2 Comments

Awesome Warsaw.

Hello!

This is nearly a 2 month belated post! It’s been a rather busy year. I’ve started my own business which has taken off well and consequently taken up a lot of time! I’ve also spent the year learning more French and Italian as part of my degree. I finished this in October and am now working on a comparatively easy German course before starting Spanish again in February next year.

So with all this language learning going on in my life, what would seem a good place to go for a weekend break back in November? Paris? Barcelona? Rome? Berlin? Nah, we went to Warsaw.

It was a very last minute decision so our choice was mainly based on price seeing as we booked very late on a Tuesday night to fly out Friday morning!

Last minute Eastern Europe = budget airline = paying for every possible thing considered an extra. So off we trotted with our French exchange student style rucksack. Woop!

Now, I’d visited Poland once before, I say Poland, I mean Auschwitz, it hardly seems fair to consider that part of the country. Although everything else about Poland had been a bit gritty in my memories…crossing the smooth Autobahn at the German border to be greeted by a rickety rockety pot-hole laden track, to shortly being stopped by a man waving frantically by the side of the road meaning my granddad stopping to help, only to have him claim to be out of petrol and offering his Argos chains in exchange for petrol money. Where he was gong to find petrol in the forest I still don’t know, needless to say we drove off.

Landing with these memories was a little nerve-racking, especially considering the airport was half build. However, within seconds of getting off the airport bus in the city centre, me and Ashley looked at each other with the same thought.

“I, err, it sounds mean, but I feel safer than I did in Budapest all ready!” I said.

Ashley nodded, “Yeah, I was about to say that.”

And as it goes, first impressions do count for a lot. Not once did either of us feel remotely unsafe during our time in Warsaw.

Not once did either of us go hungry either. With the most incredible Singaporean style glass shopping mall minutes from our hotel, finding food was never an issue. I’d been advised by my good friend Hannah, who speaks pretty niffy Polish and has spent a lot of time in Poland, that we must try “pierogi”. Everyday we passed many a chain restaurant selling this mysterious word, but that wasn’t good enough, we wanted the real deal. Imagine a Pole coming to England and having a Roast in a Little Chef not a pub and going home and telling all his mates it was “just alright”. This was not what we wanted, we knew there must be better, and so we waited.

On the Saturday, we headed into a “milk bar” which is a traditional canteen style place serving home cooked meals by a group of old women heating their story filled faces from the giant bubbling vats of sauces and broths. But alas, pierogi was all sold out. Thankfully, on the last day, a moving yet inspiring visit to the Warsaw Rising Museum provided us with the goods just in time before we left Poland! They were delicious! Thank you for the advice Hannah!

The last day also happened to be Independence Day as in-keeping with my unexpected and unplanned visits to countries on their Independence Days. Although Indonesian Independence Day was also the saddest birthday of my life due to being treated as a Couchsurfing pet, this foreign Independence Day was the scariest. Yes, I know I said we never once felt unsafe…maybe once. After a morning of contemplation and appreciation for a nation so brave and strong, we headed back to Homage To A Singapore Shopping Mall (name as decided by myself, right now.) which was conveniently next to the bus stop. But we weren’t the only ones, there was a small crowd near the Palace of Culture and Science, which was a gift from the Soviet Union. I think socks would have done the trick, but they was feeling generous I guess.

“That’s nice! Nobody does anything on St George’s Day!” (That’s the closest thing us English have to an Independence Day for any international readers!)

“I know right! Loads of flags, loads of support. I’m glad we went to that museum this morning.”

And in we went to the glass dome for some food before the flight. Or should that be food before the fight?

As we wandered the mega dome we began to hear some rather loud bangs. We decided to check it out so made our way to the glass, which wasn’t difficult in a snow globe. Wow. Just wow. Each time we headed back to sneak a peek, the crowd had multiplied like bacteria in a Petri dish. That’s right, I know science. What’s more, each time we headed away from the glass again, the bangs became more frequent and interluded with sirens.

As we walked to the bus stop, I felt like I was in the midst of a war torn city but still felt relatively safe standing in the middle of a car park about 500 metres from the protests.

Still, with all of that taken into account, Poland remains a fond memory. It’s quite interesting writing about it so far after it happened, because I was quite literally reliving the Independence Day tales I’ve just told for the first time as I wrote them. That’s not actually what stuck with me at all.

I’m currently teaching various groups of immigrant workers, the majority of whom are from Poland, and not only do I now feel less naive about their history and country, but I also feel better prepared to engage with them on a personal level and have even ventured into a couple of Polish shops since our return for a sneaky packet or two of pierogi.

Categories: Europe, Poland | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Life Through A Lens.

My boyfriend, Ashley, makes films. So, there was no option but for a film to be made of our travels together in Asia. Here’s the result…Enjoy! Oh, and the beautiful song that makes me want to close my eyes when I’m driving is by Edward Sharpe and The Magnetic Zeros. No surprises, it’s called Home.

Categories: East Asia, Hometown, South East Asia | Tags: | Leave a comment

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