Tuesday, December 30, 2014

A week in Fes, Morocco

Early yesterday morning I arrived back in London from a week long stay in Fes, Morocco. So whilst I'm mourning the loss of warm weather for the next three months, I now get to write about my trip! Before leaving London, I really didn't know what to expect from Fes, or Morocco for that matter. I try to do some research before visiting a place so that I kind of know what I should do and what to be aware of. However, when trying to research Fes I couldn't find too much about it aside from the main attractions to see! I didn't know whether the location of my accommodation was any good, how safe it was or if any of the health horror stories were true. In a way though it is better sometimes if you don't know what to expect, as you end up pleasantly surprised, which I was!

There is a couple of days worth of sights to see in Fes itself, and also a couple of worthy places to visit on day trips. You could easily see Fes in a weekend, but as I was there for a week I got to see some spots outside of the city and also go nice and slow seeing Fes.

For the week I stayed in a Riad, which is a traditional Moroccan house (or in some cases palaces). They all have an inner courtyard or garden, and often have pools and fountains. I would say they are the most popular accommodation option in Morocco as they are beautiful buildings and are usually at a fairly reasonable price. The Riad I stayed in was almost 700 years old and the courtyard walls were covered in intricate wood carvings. The decor was beautiful with all sorts of old interesting decorations, as well as big lounges to relax on and a chess board to use. There were massive wooden doors on either side of the room, one leading to the breakfast dining room. During my stay there, I spent a lot of time in the courtyard playing chess & reading books, not to mention drinking amazing mint tea!

When I managed to pull myself away from the peace of the riad, I found myself walking through the streets of the old medina. The medina (Fes el Bali) consists of over 9000 narrow streets, which twist and turn in all different directions. Because I visited in winter (despite it still being warm), most of the people passing through the bustling streets were locals, along with many donkeys, mules and hand pushed carts. A few times I found myself facing a large mule which had pushed through the people almost silently. The owner on the other hand had been shouting "Balak!" which is "watch out" in Arabic. That's one word I learnt pretty quick!

There are so many things to buy in the various stores and souks in the medina. I didn't know where any particular souks were so I just wandered around seeing what there was. Haggling and bartering got a bit tiring, but I felt a sense of satisfaction after beating the price down by a third or half. I was probably still paying heaps more than I should have, but oh well! I ended up coming home with plenty of souvenirs, including a porcelain bowl, Moroccan teapot and an amazing scarf (which was a bargain £2.50!). 

My least favourite part of the medina would have to of been the meat section. It is only a very small part, but because it is near the entrance to the medina (the start is The Blue Gate or Bab Boujloud) it is one of the first parts I walked through. Walking through here for the first time I saw a camel head, bloody goat heads lined up along a stall, some unidentifiable things which I still have no idea what body part they are, and a stream of blood running down a gutter. I was very happy to get through this section and into streets with rug and teapot sellers!

However, even though seeing camel heads isn't really my cup of tea first thing in the morning, it is these kinds of things that make a place special and authentic. If everything was to 'western' taste, the world would end up looking very much the same. The medina is so untouched by western modern-ness which is why I loved it.

Only a couple of days in the medina are required until you have seen everything you need to see, so I headed out for a couple of day trips. I highly recommend getting out to see some of the places such as Meknes, Azrou and going into the Middle Atlas Mountains. It is easy to organise a driver and also fairly cheap considering the fact that you will have a person driving you anywhere you want to go for the whole day. 

Fes really is a special place and one I would love to visit again and again. The people are so genuine and friendly, the food delicious and the atmosphere is a world away from anywhere I've been before. I was very upset to be leaving and as I was watching my last sunset there I started dreaming about when I could return!

Have you been to Fes or Morocco? What did you think?

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Cornwall - one of the most beautiful places in England

"England doesn't have any good beaches!", was my occasional whine soon after I moved to London. After growing up on the beach, the hardest part about leaving Australia was saying goodbye to white sandy beaches only to be replaced by what I thought were just miles of pebbles or if I'm lucky, course gray sand. I heard people telling me about white beaches around England, but since no one ever told me an exact location I dismissed their bold claims. 
Well, I was wrong. England does have white sandy beaches, and some of them - yes I'm being really daring here - are more beautiful than some of Australia's beaches. The Cornish coast is stunning and after being there twice, I would still happily go back again. Besides beaches, there is also so much more to do in Cornwall.

St Ives

Probably one of the most popular spots in Cornwall, this town definitely has a English sea side feel. The white sandy beach is nice and long and the water on a sunny day (although likely to be freezing) is stunning shades of blue. The town is quaint and good for a little walk around. I was very amused by several people very seriously warning me about seagulls. Although I didn't have a problem with them, apparently they are some serious kleptomaniacs. I thought Australian seagulls were pesky, the ones in England are twice the size and they know it!


After a short drive from Penzance or a pleasant 1 hour stroll along the beach, you will find yourself in Marazion. Another one of Cornwall's most popular spots, Marazion is the home of an island in the sea. With a castle. But wait for it...that you can walk to! I thought (well I still think) this was the most amazing thing I had ever seen. When the tide rolls out, a cobblestone path is revealed, leading to St Michael's Mount. I was far too eager the first time and went over before the water had fully receded. It was a freezing March, and so as you can imagine pretty cold with soaked shoes and socks! 
Lesson: Always wait for the tide to fully recede!
The castle itself is like any other castle inside, but offers some fantastic views from various points around it. When you're done, although there is not too much in the town, there is a couple of pubs (the Godolphin Arms is nice) or a good old fish & chips shop.

Porthcurno Beach & Minack Theatre

Porthcurno Beach was my favourite beach in Cornwall. Although quite small, it is sandwiched in between cliffs and is made of soft white sand. I managed to go on a sunny day and the colour of the water was stunning! Once you're done at the beach, you can climb up the cliff to get to Minack Theatre. Built in 1932, it is a granite open-air theater overlooking the Atlantic. Even if you are not seeing a show here, it is worth a visit for the incredible panoramic views. There is a small cafe there as well if you want to enjoy the view for a little bit longer away from the wind.

Land's End

Land's End to me is one of those things that you should do at least once but isn't all that amazing in itself. Land's End is the furthest point east you can go in England. The little town-like place is a little tacky, and they've taken the "first and last whatever it is" a little too far. The first and last pub, the first and last post box, the first and last garbage bin. Okay I'm kidding about the last one, but it was getting a little ridiculous. 

You can get a picture with the famous Land's End sign for a price and get your name put on it. Or you can just try to pose in front a few meters away when no one is there. There was also some Dr Who phone booth when I went. I've never seen Dr Who so have no idea what that was about. The town has some cool little 4D movies if you like that kind of thing, but the food is pretty theme parky. Unless of course you go to the first and last inn...sigh... Wouldn't the first west coast town in England also consider themselves first and last? What about the last town until the Scottish border or the most southern town in England? I could really go on and on about the inaccuracy of this "first and last claim"...
All in all, if you've got time to go here, then it's probably worth a little look, but if you're on a tight schedule I wouldn't bother.

The above are just a few things you can do in Cornwall. There is also the Eden Project, Lizard Peninsula, Mousehole and the stunning train ride between St Erth and St Ives. There is at least a weeks worth to see, and it is beautiful all year round, even if it is too cold to swim!