S: January 2013 - London/Morocco/Paris/St Remy le Petit/Hong Kong
BC: "Another wonderful trip - England, Morocco, France and Hong Kong" - January 2013
FC: January 2013
1: London - together with the girls again!!! A visit to Grandison House - mooching around in Clapham; partying with the flatmates; cooking warming meals for the kids when they arrive home from work, Covent Garden, Borough Markets, Brixton Markets - and snow!!!!!! What an unforgettable way to spend another Australian summer January . . .
2: A trip to Borough Markets - wonderful Welsh traditional cheeses, English farmhouse cheeses, pretzels, preserves, pulled pork rolls and, of course raclette - for old times' sake!!!
4: Grandison House, Clapham shops and, of course Jamie's!!
5: The smells, sights and sounds of Covent Garden.
6: A chilly, snowy afternoon wandering around Leicester Square, M&M World, St James' Square, Red Lion Pub, Trafalgar Square, Piccadilly Circus and happening across The Albert, in Victoria Street. We adored the exterior with its dark wood trim and beautiful etched glass windows - very "Dickensian".
8: The Fitzy girls do Morocco!!! | 2013 | MOROCCO
9: Marrakesh - The journey An inauspicious start on Wednesday morning – leaving Grandison House just after 4.30am – and yes, it’s drizzling – as we are heading out the door, Miss Rachel realises that the extending handle on her large trolley bag isn’t working and so we drag the bag awkwardly along the wet, cold streets of Clapham Junction contorted into a shape which will enable us to actually hold the handle whilst still keeping up the cracking pace set by Liesl who is in charge of logistics and timetabling for this first part of our journey. The 15 minutes cracking pace walk to Clapham Junction station in the rain goes smoothly – all the more smoothly when I do some lateral thinking and use my beautiful (new, unused!!) scarf, as a handle pulley to drag the suitcase along – this is far preferable to Rachel actually holding this 20kg bag in her arms for part of the journey as we are all suffering back problems. Anyway in spite of all this, Liesl’s timetabling works perfectly and we arrive at Gatwick in time for our checkin (Easyjet!!) – but all goes smoothly and we even have spare space in our bags for the goodies which we will buy in Morocco – yayy . . . . And so . . . we arrive . . . .. Marrakech does not disappoint – I have wanted to come to Morocco ever since I can remember and in fact back when I was travelling in South Africa 40 years ago it held an irresistible pull and charm. The excitement of flying in over Morocco and over the dusty city of Marrakech, ringed in the distance by the high snow capped Atlas Mountain range was for me just spectacular. We were met at the airport by our guide from the riad who drove us the 20 minute trip to the taxi stop in the Medina. The Medina (or old city) is encircled by approx 35 kms of walls – outside the Medina is the newer part of Marrakech – not unlike Jakarta – plenty of nice hotels and shops but still the variety and differences of old meeting new and traditional meeting modern. The Medina on the other hand is an amazing and fascinating area – the taxi drops you as far in as you can go and then you must wander through the myriad of laneways to find your accommodation – not for the fainthearted and in fact absolutely impossible without a guide. Our bags are placed in an old fashioned styled wheelbarrow and 2 local youths enthusiastically trot off along the cobble stoned laneways to lead us to our destination with us trailing confidently behind in the rear – the narrow laneways are buzzing with activity and the wheelbarrow entourage with us in tow, finds itself flattened against the walls to avoid swerving motorcycles and donkeys, men in long robes and capes (rather like the grim reaper), women in scarves and robes as well as local youths tearing around, kicking balls, looking for eye contact and we feel that without our guides it would be open season! How are we ever going to find our way out???? We’ll worry about that later!!!
11: - The destination Our destination is one of the very many doors set flat into the high walls of the lane – but with a beautiful copper door plate – Rhiad Kheirredine. We are welcomed by Vajaira and invited into the absolute tranquillity of a piece of heaven – far away from the dust and bustle of everyday Medina life – are we really here??? Awaiting us on a beautiful white lounge overlooking the enclosed courtyard wading pool with a huge wall fountain with tinkling water, we are offered mint tea, dates and apricots and given a rundown of the riad activities – including dietary requirements and breakfast request – whatever we want, will be provided. We are then taken to the Eucalyptus room and are so taken aback by its peace ad beauty – even more beautiful than we had imagined from the images on the web – decadently decorated in olive green, gold and terracotta – an absolutely huge brass four poster bed enclosed with sheer glimmering green silks and brocade drapes at the corners spilling out onto the cream stone floor. A separate dressing room, huge almost Incan style fireplace from floor to 18 foot ceilings, set with timber for our evening fire. A separate magnificent bathroom and windows throughout looking down on the wading pool, tinkling tiled wall fountain, courtyard and date palms; Persian carpets, Persian filigree bedside lamps, separate sitting room; fresh fruit bowl with brilliant tangerine coloured oranges and bananas and exotic ensuite bathroom.
16: This is how we get there!!! (and home again) Screen shots all the way
17: - The first foray After savouring the magical surroundings, we then decide to head out to the Place Jemaa El Fna – the main square of the Medina – to get there we again have the services of our trusty guide, Ahmad – and so we are on our way – weaving our way back out through the narrow laneways as before, turn left, turn right – “when you get this corner with sign to Riad Jalfrezi, you must turn left; keep walking then don’t take this turn but this one . . . .” – all the way Liesl is taking Iphone shots to aid us in our return journey – I suggest the Hansel and Gretel method of breadcrumbs or even chalk along the walls of the laneways . . . . fifteen minutes later we are at the main market square and Ahmad is on his way disappearing into the crowds . . . and we are on our own – 3 females with, it seems, like the eyes of the world upon us. Our senses are assailed by the sounds of wailing instruments calling snakes to their dizzying heights, swaying to the music, henna artists plying their wares, performing monkeys and grandly dressed black Africans plying who knows what . . . . . market stalls managed by avaricious Arabs who, with just a hint of eye contact have you in their grasp as they try to induce you to buy . . . “come inside, come inside . . . more inside . . . six cent??.. quatre cent?? - how much you pay???? . . .free for look . . . “. Dirty and dusty, trailers of fresh orange juice hand squeezed and all presided over by the imposing Koutoubia Mosque. A visit to an old, fading and crusty Hotel from the early French period, Hotel Tazi and a wine at their hot and dusty rooftop terrace overlooking the square finishes our day and then it is back to the Riad – or so we think – we can do this (the alternative is to call our guide to meet us and escort us through the alleyways), but with Liesl’s screenshots and an adventurous spirit – we decide to attempt the “impossible”. So, girls – eyes straight ahead, determinedly and confidently we weave our way into the bowels of the Medina maze – attracting interest on our way; the sun is going down and in the darkening alleys there are more and more people, donkeys and bikes – we start attracting followers; first two checkpoints – YES ; 4th checkpoint – YES; but where is the 5th – that would be the blue door – where is the blue door?? By this point we have a crowd of several youngsters milling around and telling us Closed, closed, road is closed. We had been warned that this may be a ploy and feign ignorance with Rachel striding ahead and calling out in French, “Ah oui, c’est la!!!! La porte bleue” (this was definitely NOT the blue door). After a few more swift turns we find ourselves in a dark and dingy dead end alleyway with youths quickly surrounding us – there was no way out . . . . . Jan started grappling in her bag looking for the emergency mobile provided by the riad; Rachel is muttering swear words under her breath and Liesl is trying to remain calm. An emergency call to our guide we find that the youths are friends of his and we are given instruction to follow them back to our Riad . . . . what a sense of relief as we arrive back “home”, giggling and chortling at our embarrassment and still surrounded by the gaggle of youths for whom this must have been a memorable afternoon. Back at the Riad, we decide we have had more than enough for one day – and will not venture out again – a wine, fresh cheese and bread and a rooftop relaxation complete the first day of this adventure. Into the “Princess and the Pea” bed and off to sleep . . . .
19: With all of these photographic landmarks and 3 Fitzy brains, can we make it home???? Actually, no, we do get lost :(
20: Rooftop relaxation . . . hard to believe that on this rooftop we are but a wall away from the hustle and bustle, the dust and grime of the Medina alleyways . . . an absolute sanctuary.
23: - Rachel as tour guide - a day in a caleche We are awoken to the sounds of the muezzin - morning call to prayer – starting off as a faint and melodious warble and then building in pitch, depth and intensity to an almost musical wailing – there are no sounds to indicate the bustle of the outside laneways and Medina – just the sweet call of birds in the palms and the tinkling water fountain downstairs in the courtyard outside our windows. A quick call to Valentina to alert her of our arrival, and breakfast beckons – freshly squeezed orange juice and pineapple juice, freshly prepared fruit salad with every fruit imagineable, yoghurt, an array of freshly baked Moroccan bread and beautiful preserves and local honey together with their peanut speciality, ground peanuts with argan oil; Moroccan sweet cakes and mini almond macarons followed by poached eggs and cappuccino. We plan the day!!! Rachel is in charge today and will plan the day’s activities – thank goodness for the internet!!! Shortly thereafter we are heading out with Rachel striding along the narrow alleyways, hair trailing behind her (as well as us); guide notes (printed out by Valentina in hand) and gradually gathering behind her a gaggle of young male devotees like a mother duckling . . . . First stop is Place Jemaa El Fna again – although our walk is punctuated by the attractions of numerous vendors on the way – there is so much beautiful and typical merchandise here – my personal favourites are the exotic metal filigree lamp and light shades which throw mystically beautiful light and lace patterns over the room and ceiling, as well as beautiful and exotic metal framed mirrors in all shapes and sizes; and the glorious colours of the local pottery . . . . The Koutoubia Mosque – the largest in Morocco – presides a short distance from the square and we head there with our guide – she reads from her notes, answering our queries as best she can and we take a walk around the perimeter of the mosque and into the beautiful gardens next door – here we come across the traditional water carriers in their vibrant and exotic outfits who are attracting hordes of tourists who will pay for the opportunity of a photo with these extraordinarily garbed berbers. Our next stop on this “unplanned” excursion is at the caleches!!!! Oh what a wonderful idea Rachel – instead of walking and getting lost, let’s take a caleche and have a guided tour of all the places on our wish list and conserve our energy for later in the day . . . she chooses a caleche and driver, negotiates a price – and we are on our way. A 2 hour trip to the Palace el Badi, the Jewish Quarter, the Palace el Bahia, Sardiaan tombs containing scores of mosaic decorated tombs - getting on an off as we wish; our final stop is a Berber pharmacy near the Tombs – the walls are lined with jars containing natural colours, herbs, natural medicines, ointments and scents for any purpose you can think of – perfumes made from flower waters, blocks of musk to put on your clothes, saffron, a herbal concoction which we are told – “the man take 15 minutes; the women take 15 minutes and then . . .” (big smile – nothing more said); spices for cooking; argan oil – made from the argan berries which are eaten, digested and expelled by goats (ever seen the picture of the goats in the tree – that’s it!!) – then have the pits removed to be ground up in order to have their oils extracted. The first pressing of oil is the one used for the hair product and the subsequent pressing is for consumption and cooking . . . Our tour guide was now exhausted and Liesl took over – a peaceful and relaxing wine and tagine on a rooftop terrasse of Cafe Arabe and return to the comfort of our Riad before our next adventure.
27: The cats, the colours, the spices, the shadings and the fragrant aromas of beautiful Marrakech
28: - The Hamman experience The Hamman Spa must be the cultural and personal highlight of a trip to Morocco – traditionally used for centuries as a public bathhouse they are all over the Medina. Our visit to Hamman Alhambra was booked for 6pm – we were told we didn’t need anything special – just ourselves so trotted up to the door and knocked – we were welcomed into a darkened, peaceful and beautifully scented room where we discussed our needs with the staff. Not quite sure what to expect, we did feel a little like lambs to the slaughter . . . We were led to a warm and steamy change room where we were asked to strip down to our undies and dress in the robe and slippers provided; then led to another room with draped and vaulted ceilings which had about 8 reposing lounges covered in towels – the room was scented and steamy and we had beautiful music playing in the background; here we rested for 20 minutes or so with the girls being taken off in succession for some waxing treatments. By this stage I’m nearly asleep and have to be roused from my meditation by a softly spoken Moroccan woman who leads me to a chamber bathroom – I can only describe this as a full marble room with marble benches on 3 sides and a marble fountain bath at one end - it is darkened and quiet and the room is lit with fragrant and flickering candles all around – we remove our robes and slippers and Liesl and I are seated on a heated marble bench next to one another, giggling like schoolgirls – with no warning Liesl is doused by the girl with a bucket of warm water from the head down – this is followed by further dowsing and buckets of water thrown at her body from the front. Next, still seated, the girl covers her in black soap scented with eucalyptus oil and massages it into her body – yes her whole body!! Fortunately it is darkish so our coyness is disappearing . . . . Liesl is then left seated like a slippery, slithery eel to let the oils penetrate the skin – and then it is my turn . . . I am more fortunate because I have seen what is coming . . . We are abandoned for approx 10 minutes and then the girls return for the next step in the treatment – we are asked to lie down on the heated marble and are both attacked (yes attacked) with the roughest loofah I have ever felt – we are scrubbed all over – it is invigorating and stimulating and our skin is coming off in shreds . . . . after 10-15 minutes of this we are back sitting up again and more dousing to remove the loosened skin from our bodies. It is at this point that Rachel is shown in – she giggles hysterically seeing us there – but she doesn’t realise that it will be her turn soon – oh if only I had a picture of 3 of the Fitzy women – one quite a bit older – sitting there next to one another comparing boob size and shape etc etc – we are offered cool water to rehydrate and after observing Rachel being “treated” we are then given a rose petal foot bath and massage. We steam for another 10 minutes or so and then are taken back to our reposing lounges in our robes – a peppermint tea followed by a foot and leg massage and this is, we think, a wonderful way to spend the time . . . . we prepare to be led into the changing rooms to get into our clothes, however our attendants instead take us up the stairs into another private room where they request that we remove our robes once again and lay face down on massage tables.
29: What’s this, we think? Isn’t our treatment finished? We do as we are told and Rach and I quickly start conversing in Piglatin whilst the ladies commence our 1 hour ‘Massages morocains’. We do not think that we should be here – we have only paid $15 dollars for the 45 minute Hammam, however what crazy person would turn down a free (apparently) 60 minute massage in such a lovely setting? After 60 guilt-wracked minutes we are reunited with our clothing and given our leave. We scurry away cheekily to dinner before the ladies realise that they have made 3 massive errors! Liesl has found a very well reviewed restaurant just around the corner which is run by a lovely French ex-aviator. Despite its grim exterior, in the restaurant we are treated with the most wonderful inexpensive Moroccan-Italian food that we have seen so far. The waiters tell us with a sly grin that they DO sell wine here. Upon requesting a carafe of red wine, it is served to us in a traditional Moroccan silver tea pot, and we are told to please ‘be confidential’ as they are not permitted to serve wine here. Upon receiving the bill, it is interesting to see that the wine has been entered as ‘Couscous Royale’ in order to maintain secrecy! Our waiter accompanies us some 15 minute walk to an ATM in order for us to pay our bill (a grand total of 340 dirhams - $34!). The streets are alive at this time – hundreds of young men lounge over their motorbikes as they exchange banter and smoke cheap cigarettes, and the fumes of outdoor barbeques from the street food sellers are overpowering. Our guide leads us swiftly through them dodging calls of ‘Spice Girl’ and ‘Lady Gaga’ (in reference to Rachel’s blonde and hot pink hair). We jump in a taxi having had enough for one day. Marrakech is such a fascinating city, but so draining. We find that we need as much sleep as we can get in order to make the most of our days here.
32: - By local bus to Essaouira
35: Was Jimi Hendrix here??
37: 2013 | PARIS
40: 2013 | St Remy Le Petit
42: 2013 | HONG KONG
44: A day trip to mainland China, Schenzen - Lo Wu Shopping Mall and Dafen Oil Painting and cultural village
45: Three wonderful nights in Hong Kong with Brad - staying at the Harbourview Hotel, visiting Ping Shan Heritage Trail (Yuen Long District), Din Tai Fung dim sum restaurant, street food, Island Tang restaurant, Mid Level and bars . . . . and then just a short trip home to Oz . . .