The High Atlas – Trek day 4

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Dear Susan,

You may have heard it said, ‘get back on your horse’. Well today, it was my day to do just that. One slight amendment to the saying however.. It was time for me to get back on my ‘Mule’. Fondly coined ‘Harriett’ now got another minor name change to become ‘Harriet the Chariot’. More about this later.

Again the sun decided to turn up and cover the surrounding mountains with its golden embrace, which simultaneously signals the hundreds of roosters to have a good old Cock-off! I tell you what, not even the most sophisticated of ear plugs would drown out the mighty to and fro of the Moroccan cocks. They are desperately trying to be noticed and one up each other with an even louder rendition of ‘get the hell up!’ So, thanks to the mighty cock crescendo we rose and had our breakfast on the upper terrace. We were surrounded by a Swiss couple, Spanish couple, Belgian couple and a unique Scottish lad of 20yrs young who grew up on the most remote of islands. All of them, including the wee Scottish lad, spoke in excess of three languages. There were foreign words flying all around that terrace like a pinball machine. Sadly, it was both Lauren and I that felt like the battered pinball as we sat there and conversed in our ‘safe’ English language. Continue reading “The High Atlas – Trek day 4”

The High Atlas – Trek day 3

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Dear Mum,

Well today started with the crowing of not one but many cocks. Joel remarked they were having a cock-off. Sadly the night had brought no respite for Joel and it was a downcast face that met me. I ate breakfast alone and we fast established that Joel was in no state to tackle a 6hr hike. Soberly we made plans to return to Imlil and the pharmacy. Lasson was sweet and empathetic and he and Ahmed did not hesitate to change the plans. Nothing is straightforward in Morocco, yet everything is simple. The simple fact that there is a bus that runs along the nearby (thankfully) road. Yet the not-so-straight forward part is that every bus/taxi is RAMMED…..like people hanging out the door type of rammed!

Joel bravely decided to attempt the walk to Imlil, however didn’t make if far until being placed by Ahmed high and lofty upon Harriet. Joel and his bowels bounced up and down, whilst I turned my eyes to the local life by the winding river. We have learnt from Lasson so much about how the Berbers live, and it really is beautiful. I watched women in colourful shawls bending over the reeds by the river, collecting feed for the animals. They gather it together into a parcel three times their size, and trudge back to their closest village. Not a man to be seen, except for when the ground needs to be ploughed – they come out of the woodwork for the manual labour. There is usually a smile, a wave and a ‘bonjour’ as you pass – unless of course you are trying to take a photo, then the guard comes up. We have become experts of discreet photography. Continue reading “The High Atlas – Trek day 3”

The High Atlas – Trek day 2

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Dear Susan,

Etched into my mind is the 4:50 call to prayer. The ‘etching’ is due to moments that shall not be contained in this book. Unfortunately, the vividness is trapped inside of my mind. Let’s just say that  I spent more time with the bathroom than with Lauren on this particular night. With that past, we awoke to our ever friendly guides who had prepared a lovely breakfast. With stomachs full (mine not so much) we ventured off on our day of trekking.
The landscape constantly changed throughout today; firstly, we were treated to a cliff-view of the lush valley below. The river is the main artery that connects all of the Berber villages; it is their life-source. Crops for humans and animals alike are all grown along the river. To the children it is their equivalent of a theme park – the best ride is a water fight followed by a weekly hair washing ritual in the icy snow melt. Continue reading “The High Atlas – Trek day 2”

The High Atlas – Trek day 1

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Dear Mum,

The day has passed like a storybook of what you think hiking with the berber should look like. Wide-mouthed, tooth filled Moroccans greeted us in Imlil and immediately we knew we were in for a good time. They spread out the map and basically said where do you want to go?! No booking ahead here! They might not have even blinked if we didn’t show up! Mint Tea aplenty, we were already laughing and joking about whilst watching an array of colour parade itself ( in the form of brightly coloured rugs adorned on the mules) waltzing down the street. They also like a good bit of rubble here in Morocco, a chip off the Albanian Block.

We were introduced to our muleer Ahmed! What a character! The lines of sun were etched into his face and he exuded warmth (and cheekiness). With a route decided, our bags were hoisted onto our deer mule ( which we have named Harry much to Ahmed’s amusement) and Ahmed rode Harry right out of Imlil. The cherry blossoms bent to meet us as we hiked out of the valley to behold Toubkal and Imlil like a miniature village plonked into the side of a mountain. Of course, on the way we had to visit the family home (more mint tea). Continue reading “The High Atlas – Trek day 1”

Marrakech

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Our journey to Morocco is particularly special to us. Unlike other trips, were we tend to reflect after the event – this time we kept a daily journal and were able to reflect as events were unfolding. The reason for this was because my mum (Susan) was due to join us for the trip and at the last minute wasn’t able to travel due to dad’s declining health. It was our way of including her in our journey, with special focus on the moments she would have loved. Joel and I took in in turns writing at the end of each day on a scrappy old children’s workbook we found in one of the villages. Later on we added pictures and presented it to mum who laughed and cried her way through the pages.

(Writer: Joel) Dear Susan,

Here is the plight of our day in Marrakech. I will start the journey from arriving at our Riad. We were treated to a delectable breakfast, served on the roof terrace, which allowed for a 360 degree view of the stalks nesting upon neighbouring T.V antennas. The sun was waking up, and with it, came its heated venom. The sun also awoke the megaphone ‘yala’ singers and the first call to prayer blared out over the sleepy city. Our breakfast was fastidiously cleared using a 10point methodical plan by Julian and we set about tackling the minefield of Marrakech. Continue reading “Marrakech”

Algarve

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One downside to living in London is the persistently white skin (otherwise known as a lack of sun). The Algarve was added to the itinerary to rectify this pervasive problem quick-smart. The problem was, that we didn’t want to be two more pale ‘Brits’ swarming along the Portugese coastline with cameras in hand… we wanted something a bit more authentic.

Enter Bergau, the perfect solution to this endemic. Bergau is a small authentic Portuguese fishing village which has somehow escaped the mass tourism of nearby resort towns such as Lagos and Praia Da Luz. With its collection of white washed houses, vibrant fishing nets, welcoming local restaurants, slinking cats, all topped off with an expanse of sparkling blue sea and sandy beach – what is not to love? We took up residence in a spacious apartment, let to us by a local who cooked fresh fish each evening on an open grill in his doorway. Continue reading “Algarve”

Stockholm

Stockholm Sweden

No matter where you are exploring in the world, it cannot be better tackled than with a local. This made Stockholm, land of the Ikea flatpack and Nudie jeans, an appealing destination for our long-weekend jaunt in May 2012. Bless the golden heart of Chris Neilson – who patiently met us in the frosty hours of a Spring evening and whisked us back to their uber trendy student pad. Exhausted though we were, it did not deter us from a lovely catchup with Chris and his gorgeous wife Eme (swedish goddess extrodinaire)! We laughed our way into the next day at Chris’s fabulous attempts at the Swedish language, and I probably fell asleep at the point where the boys embarked upon their favourite topic….coffee.

Those of you who know Chris will be well familiar with his expertise in all things bean-related. You can bet where we ended up first thing the next morning…. yup, the coffee shop where he was working. We were welcomed to Stockholm with some stunning latte art (see below) and tour guide Neilson gave us an introduction to the 5 islands that intersect – becoming the capital of Sweden. We gawked at the high scandanavian prices, but as cool as the fashion was, and as hip and trendy as the people were – we kept our wallets firmly reserved for all things Nudie (I shall return to this)! Continue reading “Stockholm”

Ljubljana II

Ljubljana view

As our train chugged into Ljubljana’s central station I was determined to show mum the best this fairytale city had to offer. Joel and I had spent a lovely two days last June lingering by the banks of the Ljubljanica, and it had well and truly cast its spell on us. We had but a day to soak in the lively cafe culture, jade-green river, imposing castle, vibrant townhouses, cobblestone streets and local markets.

Joel was due to join us that afternoon and we were both soaring high with anticipation. We checked in to our airbnb apartment and spent a fascinating hour speaking to the lovely owner – a young chap with a passion for his city. Mum duly interrogated him about the history of Slovenia and the socio-economic situation of the country as we sipped tea together. Of course in return we educated him about the little known island country of ‘Australia’. Continue reading “Ljubljana II”

Vienna

Side alley walking towards St Stephen's Cathedral and it's beautiful roof

We had one of those travel disasters trying to reach Vienna (well maybe not technically classified as a disaster, but I digress). Oh, by the way, this was April 2012, we are very behind on the blog!

Apparently the central station in Budapest hasn’t quite caught up with the times. There was one ticket office for the throngs of impatient crowds clamouring for their much needed train, and the most inefficient system to deal with the punters. Despite masterminding our car rental return outside the station with an hour and a half to spare, we were waiting with gritted teeth and white knuckles in the queue of all queues until there was just one person left in front of us. The problem was by then our train left in five ‘evil’ minutes. Of course the person in front of us seemed to occupy all the time between now and eternity, and we missed our train by a whisker.

I sulked in the corner and swore under my breath for a substantial amount of time before we lugged our suitcases on a two-hour grand tour back in to Budapest whilst we waited for the next train. In hindsight, perhaps that two-hour lugg-a-thon was not a complete waste of time, as during my pit of misery, my self esteem was low enough to make my first birkenstock purchase – a life-changing move. So maybe I should thank that dodgy ticket counter. Continue reading “Vienna”

Budapest

Chain Bridge

In April 2012 I was lucky enough to welcome mum to the freezing shores of our British Isle. We had a wonderful time showing mum how we have carved out a life here, visiting some much loved spots around London before we hit the road. It was a happy but sad occasion, as Dad and Joel should have been joining us. We had been anticipating it for such a long time but heartbreakingly Dad had an accident the week before Mum & Dad were due to leave, which revealed to us that his brain tumour was growing back. Therefore he could not make the trip for risk of further seizures. It was one of the most devastating moments of my life receiving that phone call – as it sank in that Dad would never be able to make the journey to our new found home. After emotions had calmed a little I was glad that mum decided to keep the travel plans, and we instead exchanged Dad’s ticket for a flight for me to visit Australia in May.

So…a girls trip it became, and I was grateful to spend some mother-daughter time together even though we both carried Dad with us in our hearts. He was close to us in all our adventures even though he was not there in person. My mum is an absolute riot when travelling… she has a child like wonder and appreciation for everything, and you are guaranteed to meet some interesting characters, as mum will literally talk to a.n.y.o.n.e!

Budapest was on the agenda as people tend to rave about how fabulous it is, and being fans of Eastern Europe we decided to give it a burl. It was 25 degrees the week before, but when we arrived it was hovering around zero. Welcome to Europe! Thankfully I was prepared with two coats which mum and I shared between us as we skilfully navigated the public bus and train to the city centre to find our gracious airbnb host – who profusely apologised for the fact that we had to travel without our men. We encountered this type of lovely hospitality our whole time in Hungary, particularly in the countryside, but that’s another story. Continue reading “Budapest”