A Travellerspoint blog

The wonders of Morocco

sunny 18 °C

Words cannot describe the mindspin that occurs when one minute you are in the great white silent arctic and the next you are thrown into the chaos of Marrakech. A cacophony of sounds – beeping taxis, donkeys, people and motorbikes. The colours are so vibrant with spices and dyed goods lined up in stalls against the unrelenting terracotta colours. It was a big adjustment! At first I thought I was going to hate it but after a while I discovered how friendly and tolerant the people are. The roads are just full of people walking along the streets, crossing in the middle of traffic everywhere. There are donkeys and cart, horses and carriages and a million taxis and motor bikes and yet everyone is friendly and the cars seem to stop to let people wander across the road.
We stayed in a riad called Daria which is in the old Kasbah. We travelled down tiny narrow cobbled streets like a labyrinth that barely fit the width of our car and finally were dropped off in a tiny lane outside what looked like a slum building with a door in the middle of the wall.
We have since learned that morrocans do not do up th out side of their houses as that would be boastful to neighbours but once inside it’s a different matter! It was like walking into an oasis. Cool, quiet, decorated in traditional yey restful morrocan colours with a courtyard which had giant orange trees in it. We were exceedingly relieved to find how nice it all was.
That night we went out for Manda’s birthday dinner at Café Barraca. This was complicated by the fact that in Marrakech Taxis are only licenced for three people unless it’s a Grande one ( and then they can take about ten!!) We got the petite so we were split up. Manda and I got a very terse bloke who drove for a while and then flung us out into an island in the middle of teeming traffic and said – here, dinner and then drove off.
Jokingly I said – what if the others don’t turn up? ( We worked out we had no idea of the name of the restaurant, no idea of the address of where we were staying and absolutely no idea where we were.
Half an hour later we had just decided to work out how to get back to our hotel when this boy came up and said 2 women, 2 women, dinner? We nearly told him to go away as it’s a common way to grab tourists by saying they know you from the hotel when we realised that his friend was the other taxi driver who had sent him looking for us. We followed him down a long street and around a corner along a long park and then finally through the main square which was teeming with snake charmers, drummers and various other attractions. Eventually he took us to a restaurant where we discovered Jo and mel having a drink and not at all interested in where we were!
We then had a delicious morrocan traditional meal complete with Alcohol (not so traditional) belly dancer and live music. The highlight of the night was the happy birthday song sung by all of the waiters while Manda blew out her candle set into some morrocan pastries.
We made it back to the riad and had a good night sleep (except for me having a little sleep walking moment)
After a more French breakfast (after the Scandinavian) we set off with our guide Abdullah for a walking tour. We went through the tombs of Saadian, the Bahia Palace, the Place de la Kisseria and a walk though the souks among other historical sites. We saw many mosques but only those of the faith are allowed to enter them in morocco. Lunch was in the Kasbah café where we discussed the likelihood of us getting lost on the way home (high) and the likelihood of us.
finding our way back to the artisans in the souks (low). We ate in that night as the riad does a typical morrocan tagine . Very nice! And a relief that we no longer have to re mortgage our houses to afford a bottle of wine!
The next morning we set off on our own and went to the majorellie gardens which contain Yves St Laurent’s ashes as he owned and restored these gardens which were really beautiful and also contained the berber museum – very interesting. We then trekked back to the souks which we found a little disappointing after our day with the guide ( we only found the crap touristy ones!)
Oh yes forgot to tell you that we all bought a flying carpet yesterday in the womens cooperative – that will be fun getting them stuffed into our bags!!
We had a great dinner a place called Café Clock which is run by an Englishman but is very mush young hip morocco.
We left the next morning and taxied up to the Ourgaine valley in the foothills of the Atlas mountains – it was freezing – snow on the hills above us and rained so we sat inside the upstairs of the hotel restaurant – looked a bit like a morrocan ski lodge and then sat in front of the fire all afternoon. It was divine.
Dinner was a nice bottle of red with a delicious 3 course dinner. Heavy French influence of course so I am very happy.
Today we went on the first of our treks – if that was grade 1 then I would hate to see what equipment you need for a grade 4!! I would tell you more about it now but I hear the call to prayer echoing down the valley and in Mel and my book that means its wine time – so perhaps tomorrow!! Adieu!
So we have had no wifi fot three days!! Which was just as well as I doubt I could have summoned the strength to write anything after our three treks up into the mountains. We have walked on average 10 -13 kms a day – mostly uphill as far as I can ascertain and some of the uphill felt like you needed a rope and tackle! Some really amazing scenery – and so vastly changeable – giant arid mountains, lush green terraces hand planted with wheat, rocks, rocks and more rocks, huge colour splashes of everything from dark black through to the orange red dirt. We have had lunch in the houses of some of the Berber villagers, trek through some quite remote villages and seen a lot of Donkeys. The Hotel here has been beautiful, peaceful, friendly and we have had a great time.
Off to Casablanca now and then home tomorrow – this may be the last time you will hear from me
Cheers

Posted by Louise Pryor 01:19 Archived in Morocco Comments (0)

A Final Fjord

Mush Mush!

semi-overcast 0 °C

Well guys we are going to have to backtrack just a bit. I know I promised you Morrocco however it would be remiss of me not to share the splendour of our last day in the frozen arctic with you. We set off in the morning from our hotel in kirkenes to go out to the snow hotel. Once there we were quickly ushered through the fat suit and warm boots room (we are much quicker at this now) and then outside with our guides Daniel and Robin who took us over to the dogs. Hundreds of excited Alaskan Huskies just busting to go for a run, barking and jumping around - all sooo exciting. We got to our teams and we set off (as the passengers at this stage). We headed off through a windy track through some trees and then came out onto a huge long flat white frozen fjord. (Just have to say it feels a bit strange writing this as the call to prayer for the Morroccan Muslims echoes down the valley we are in)
Any way - back to the fjord! The dogs galloped along pulling us - Haa for left and Chee for right and Stoo for stop! It was so quiet, white and peaceful with just the sound of the sled shushing through the snow.
We saw a herd of reindeer and then after a while we let the dogs stop for a rest which is amazing as they stretch out belly down in the snow to cool off and they lick and eat the snow. Then they got themselves in such a tangle we had to release and re set a couple (guides looked a bit embarrassed but we found it very amusing. We also learned that dogs can crap on the run and there are actually several techniques for it - might skip the details but it was quite funny to watch (and you couldn't avoid watching as its right in front of you)
We set off down the fjord and passed the crab fishers and the snow mobilers (well they passed us) and eventually found ourselves at a farm where we had a cup of hot chocolate. After a dog fight and a bit of mucking around (which included most of the dogs getting under the verandah of the crab cooking house looking for scraps) we set off and this is when we all learned how to be dog handlers. We were so good we were even given a dog handlers licence (must update my resume) and are now able to ad a new qualification to our snowmobiling and crab fishing ones.
The return journey seemed much quicker as we were driving and it is astonishing how hard it is to stop the team - even putting my full weight on the anchor brake!
Once back we farewelled our furry friends who totally ignored us as they got their dinner and we were led into a yurt like house with a fire in the middle and pots of soup hanging over it. We were given a reindeer and cheese hot sandwich on a homemade norwegian kind of damper which was delicious and this was followed with a bowl of salted cod and salmon soup. Even I the avowed fish hater enjoyed it! Thus fortified we went off to the airport to catch our flight to Oslo where we had the smallest room for three people ever (and it cost the same for one night in Norway that a week in Casablanca would cost!!)
Early up we had a happy birthday breakky for Manda who turned 49 complete with presents and a humming of happy birthday. And then off to the airport to leave the north and begin our African Odyssey.

Posted by Louise Pryor 09:01 Archived in Norway Comments (0)

Hallelujah - we see the lights

And Mel captures them!!

overcast -2 °C

So readers you may have heard that we saw the lights big time on the good ship Trollfjord. They are so amazing - they shimmer and roll around in the sky and at times you feel like you are being showered with an alien rain. Photos just cannot do them justice because it is such a three D experience. Fortunately Mel got some great shots - without a tripod and on a moving ship - no easy feat. We loved the Hurtigruten cruise ship. It was spacious comfy - great food and great fun.
We got off at tromso and saw the town and the polar museum (I think I may have mentioned that earlier!) and then the next morning we got off and headed for the North Cape! The northernmost point of mainland Europe. It was about then that we started compiling a list of inhospitable place to live - and this would be very high on the list. Blowing a gale, sheet ice, rocks and snow but a great lookout! You can only go up wih a snow plough leading the way
We then re boarded and continued on to Kirkenes. Our stay at the Thon hotel has been terrific. Comfy with yet another great breakky. We were picked up yesterday and then went off in sleds to the frozen fjord where we learned how to drill holes in the ice and how to set a crab pot - the giant king crabs are known thus because if you don't bleed them quickly when you kill them their blood turns the flesh blue! We had a big haul and then we set off for a farm where the uides steamed them and we sat inside (the old henhouse) a quaint little eating house - we had the freshest crab served with bread, mayo and lemon and they were absolutely the best we have ever eaten! They acually belong to the lobster family so the flesh is sweet and tasty. The inside of the long part of the claw was like the size of a breakfast sausage - doubt I could eat a whole crab!!
We came back in the dark and didn't need dinner so we all collapsed.
Today we have had a leisurely morning before we go out driving on the fjord with our own husky teams and sleds - could be interesting! we fly to Oslo tonight and off to morrocco in the morning but we are all ready for some warmer weather. Won't be sorry to see the end of the michelin woman therm suits!
It has been an amazing trip thus far. Every morning we get up and are astounded by whatever new sights or experiences we have had. Lucky enough to see the lights more than once and on one night for hours and they were really great! Seen some barren and frozen towns and some really pretty ones, stayed in ice rooms, eaten lots of new foods, tried lots of new experiences and gained some new skills.
We have thoroughly enjoyed this trip - and now onto morocco!

Posted by Louise Pryor 02:19 Archived in Norway Comments (1)

Ice Hotel and Beyond into the Arctic Circle.

Where are we now?

all seasons in one day -7 °C

It seems like 2 weeks has passed since we last wrote in this blog. We had hit the Ice hotel in Kiruna Sweden where we had spent the first night in a warm room - then we were up and at them with our wildlife safari snow mobiling day ahead. What a blast! We took to it like teenage boys racing along the frozen lakes and climbing up the mountain. Lucky Mandy got a french chick to share with and when it was her she plopped them into a bit of a ditch. It looked quite boring when it happened but after 4 or 5 snowmobikes rode up and gathered around it looked like a freeway pile up. Manda was laughing so much she had trouble getting back on. We were led by Mati an interesting bloke - native Sami - who found us lots of wildlife - we got up close and personal with Moose (plural) and reindeer! Mati runs a farm of reindeer, icelandic horses and snowmobiling trips for tourists - we spent a good four hours out whizzing around getting pretty frozen before we were taken back for a nice lunch of reindeer stew. (Note to all children - Santa will be short a couple of reindeer at Christmas as i believe we have now eaten Prancer and Blitzen) Reindeer is delicious - sort of like a nice lean steak. After our big day out we headed back to the Ice Hotel and we had a Sauna - as you do - it was great (and i hate Saunas) but when you have a body temp of about 30 and you have spent 6 hours out freezing your snow suits off - a sauna is fantastic, no wonder they invented them!
Much restored we went into the ice bar for a pre dinner cocktail. A real bar, all ice, ice glasses and at a very reasonable (not) Mel and manda had a gin and rhubarb and tonic whilst I ventured into the frozen origami of peach schnapps, cranberries and a few other little bits. We then had dinner in the Hotel restaurant - mel and I had more Reindeer (there goes Rudolph) and we had cloudberries with arctic bramble ice cream for dessert - bottle of Peter lehman wine a steal at $60 (the cheapest!!) But it was delicious!!
AND THEN it was off for our night in the minus 5 ice room. We put on our thermals, gathered our sleeping bags and ran through to our ice bed with its (slightly smelly) reindeer skin coverings. Getting into both the liner and bag was a monumental effort and after we all had done that and lain for about 5 mins we were back up stripping off bits and unzipping like three ladies at the menopause clinic!!! We were very warm all night and we all successfully received our survival diplomas - great fun and a very different night sleep - had a glass of the compulsory warm lingonberry juice for our wake up call!
We had another great breakfast (they have been outstanding all the way along - will be hard to go back to a bowl of old porridge!
So having had a couple of very full days we packed ourselves off to the train station and headed for the tourist station at Abisko. We loved the view of all the snow field and mountains as we moved north and managed to arrive just in time for our next activity despite sitting in a snowy plain in the middle of nowhere for an hour and a half waiting for a switch to be fixed.
So at 6.00pm We walked down the road towards an old ricketty 2 seater chairlift - looks like something Perisher might have had in the 50's. We were given serious cold weather overalls which weighed about 20 kilos and we managed to get XL ones and fit them over our normal out side coast. We then caught the chairlift up the mountain in the dark - minus 12 degrees and upon reaching the top we went inside to a hut where we had a really delicious meal with delicious wine - Caviar entree, elk (moose) main course and arctic berry pannacotta for dessert. It then started snowing heavily and we thought "thats it we won.t see the lights tonight" So we sat and chatted to a very nice couple from Rockhampton - I was sent out to check the skies at regular freezing intervals but eventually we decided at 12.30 to leave. Struggling back into our suits we were a bit gobsmacked by the English family (4 kids - 2 of them very young) who are aurora addicts and are travelling for 9 months chasing them!! The trip down was beautiful - weather had cleared and so many stars - and shooting stars. We walked back to the lodge and went to bed.
BUT at 1.00am we wer lucky enough to have our first sighting of the lights! We were outside in our pyjamas with coats - nearly froze to death - but we saw them and they are unreal!
There is so much more to add to this but as I am about to get off the ship I am on and pop off to the North Cape (most northern point of mainland Europe) I don't have time now. With tricky wifi I will put this up and add to it later - hopefully I can get some photos up as well.
Next blog you will find out if we saw the lights again......

Posted by Louise Pryor 01:03 Archived in Sweden Comments (0)

On our way to the Ice Hotel

(the longest train ride ever)

sunny -2 °C

Our last day in stockholm saw us venturing down to Gamla Stad (the old town) and the oldest surviving medieval town in europe. We wandered the old cobbled streets and went ........ shopping! No culture, no museums just lots of interesting little shops! Mind you there are plenty of big palaces and cathedrals but they look very square, unadorned and quite plain after all we have seen. We made it back to the hotel just before the rain and bundled ourselves off to the train station - and our big overnight train trip north.
We had a sleeper with three bunks above one another up one wall, a bottle of red and a selection of rolls etc and a lot of laughter! The trip took 17 hours!! We had dinner, drank the wine had a few laughs and all slept surprisingly well. We awoke to a winter wonderland with snow everywhere - it was a little disconcerting as this train changed directions several times - seemed to zig zag its way up the length of sweden. Despite manda trying to access strange men's cabins with our key we all arrived in good shape at 11.00am. As there is only one train line you have to keep stopping on sidings while freight trains pass. Here in Kiruna is the biggest iron ore mine outside of the Kimberley's. It looks very odd here in the snow.
We were driven through to the Ice Hotel in Jukkasjarvi on a beautiful sunny day - no wind and only minus 2. Checked into the warm hotel for the first night - stunning new scandinavian looking and very comfortable (unlike what's coming up!) We then went on a tour of the actual ice hotel where we are staying tomorrow night - and inside we all decide that was the coldest we have been on the trip so far - including the steppes of Russia! However it is amazing, great carved blocks of the clearest ice, every room different - over 50 rooms ! It is minus 5 inside so it will be an interesting night - if we survive we get a certificate! We are carb loading in advance and so if you hear no more from us you will know what happened......
We are off on a 6 hour wildlife snowmobile safari tomorrow - have been promised moose and other local wildlife - have been fitted (and I use that term loosely) with huge overalls, boots etc for the big ride and also to wear over our jammies on the way to our icy beds tomorrow night! We should be fairly frozen by then anyway after the wind chill factor of the snowmobiles.
Manda led us on a long march along the ice road but i got bored and popped into the local IGA and bought a nice plopp bar (chocolate!) We bought a beer in the supermarket for $3 as it is $25 a glass in the hotel - after 20 mins outside in the snow it was ready to drink.
We are surrounded by the cunning lingon berries that are hard to find in the wild but appear in every meal - even in the coffee. I have bad news for you all - this Christmas Santa will be one reindeer short because today we ate him for lunch! ( I think it was Prancer)
The best thing is they have these fun sleds that you stand behind and skate along like a scooter ( look very much like a walking frame on skis) Mel and Manda muttered someting about small minds being easily amused but I have done lots of scooting about and use it at every opportunity! ( Mel also had a go and liked it!
It is a very beautiful place - we have taken so many photos it slowing down my computer - we have no frostbite yet and we are looking forward to tomorrow! As you can't take anything into the ice hotel with you (everything freezes) there will be no blog tomorrow night - and the following night we are catching a chairlift up the mountain at Abisko to the sky station - so might be the next day before you will know if we have survived with all extremities intact!
Farewell

Posted by Louise Pryor 10:16 Archived in Sweden Comments (2)

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