A Travellerspoint blog

Marrakech

Meandering in the Medina

sunny 36 °C
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Delays in airports are never fun and less so when you are actually on the plane ready to go. We were delayed leaving Amsterdam by a windscreen wiper not working on the plane and spent an hour sitting on the tarmac before we deplaned and awaited the arrival of another, before our African adventure could begin.

We arrived in Marrakech about 10:30 pm and after the usual wait in line to clear border control and exchange our Euro for MAD (yes that is the official acronym for Moroccan Dirham), we ventured out into the warm night to hopefully find that our driver had waited and thankfully he had.

We were whisked away into the bright lights and wide boulevards of Marrakech and within 15 minutes were dropped off at a small square in the medina to meet our host Will, an Englishman living and renting his riad in Marrakech. What an introduction to Africa?! Apparently the medina never sleeps and at midnight there were motor bikes, donkeys with carts, colourful stalls with sizzling food and people everywhere, as with suitcases and back packs in tow, we battled to avoid being run over. "Always stay to the right", Will advised on many occasions. Good advice, as the moped and motorbike riders roared through at a crazy pace, posing a serious danger to unwary travellers in the narrow winding streets.

Having managed to survive what appeared to us a long and convoluted walk, we were welcomed into a traditional riad style home, Riad Maizie, with a garden of orange trees, creepers and flowers in the middle, the perfect spot to relax with a G&T before heading to bed for our first night on the African continent.

A late morning stroll in the medina to get our bearings and explore a bit turned into an accidental guided tour of the ‘world famous tanneries’. Everyone who plans a trip to Marrakech, has read a million articles on how to avoid the touts and unofficial guides but we still fell for it, again. One might think that after our trips in Iran and Turkey, where the same methods of waylaying tourists and hopefully selling them a carpet exist, we would be wiser, but who can resist a young guy wanting to help you out?

And so it was that we received directions from a young boy, who handed us over to another young guy who subsequently led us to the ‘most famous tannery in all of Morocco’. The doorman guide of the tannery profusely welcomed us, provided us with sprigs of mint to hold under our noses and led us through the vats of lime, dye and urea to observe the hardworking tanners. He directed us to the best locations for photos, explained the process, in English and French and assured us that we were very lucky to have arrived today as it was the “very last day to see the Berber people before they go back to the mountains” (as it turned out we heard this phrase all week, it must have been a long migration back to the mountains!). It was quite an interesting half hour but the smell, oh the smell, even the mint was not enough to dull the acrid, uric odour.

Finally we were delivered to the salesman who was visibly disappointed and quite rude when we made it clear that we would not be buying leather products or a carpet. As we exited the building we were met by the doorman guide again. He demanded money, which we had been expecting for some time. We offered him 20 Dirham, at which point he became verbally abusive, aiming his aggression at Cath’s face and even grabbing at her phone and wallet. He would not even acknowledge Ian’s presence and finished his tirade with a demand for 200 Dirham and “you bitch tourist”. That right there was the straw that broke the camels back and Ian put the money in his pocket and we purposefully strode off, to be followed by the young man who had directed us there in the first place. He was obviously intent on guiding us further, but Ian pushed the 20 Dirham on him, which he finally accepted and disappeared. Not sure where we were and not wanting to get directions, we turned to the offline map our host had advised us to use, map.me and soon found our way through the souks to Jamaa el Fna, the main market square in Marrakech.

After strolling the square we were parched; seeking a cold drink and lunch we ventured to one of the many terrace restaurants that surround Jamaa el Fna, Che Chegrouni. The square is relatively quiet during the day but still a riot of colour, sounds and activities and the restaurant terraces are the perfect place for people watching. We settled on the second floor balcony, under the shade of a rather unsteady umbrella and enjoyed a lamb tagine and water. We had expected that we may be able to have a nice cold beer, but it turned out that getting a cold alcoholic drink was not quite as easy as expected. It was a modest bill, 80 Dirham, so we rounded it up to 100, which is about €10. After leaving the restaurant, we wandered more extensively around the main square, constantly being harassed to buy, try or take part in any number of money draining pursuits. The touts for the food stalls stood in line to try their luck at tempting us. A couple of fellows bedecked with bells and dressed in traditional garb of red, yellow, blue and green tassels even put one of their hats on Cath to lure her into a photo opportunity, she was quick to remove the reeking, sweaty thing before almost falling over a cobra. The snake charmers banged their drums, played their pipes and their cobras obediently reared up or simply slept amongst the other snakes curled up on the ground, oblivious to the hubbub. Added to all of this were the numerous stalls selling fruits, kitchenwares, vegetables, spices, turtles, chameleons and assorted other creatures that were presumably regarded as pets. And of course there were the men with monkeys, always ready to put a monkey on your back. Through all of this, throngs of people weave their way back and forth, sidestepping the ever present motor bikes and other various transports. A word of caution to the bedazzled traveller, don’t gaze up in wonder, you will be run over!

The souks of the medina sell everything you can imagine and after winding our way out of the streets leading to Riad Maizie, we were launched straight into it. Stalls of various meats, chickens being beheaded, fish, vegetables, fruit, mixed businesses which sell everything from shampoo to cigarettes and the artisans of leather are everywhere. It is a confusion of all your senses, a bombardment and in the first couple of days confronting (especially the chicken beheading). We were staying in a great location a few twists and turns from the place d’espices (the spice markets) which we explored regularly and used as a reference point when feeling lost in the endless maze that makes up the medina and souks.

We had been advised that the market square at Jamaa El Fna didn’t really come alive until evening, so we were once again wending our way there as night descended. Although it appears to be a crowded market during the day, by nightfall crowds have been ratcheted up even further, to the point that one is forced to go with the flow and at times move almost imperceptibly past the numerous stalls. Fortunately, we were beginning to understand the layout of the alleyways and lanes a little better, so at least we weren’t so hesitant.

On emerging into the main square we were struck by the frenetic pace of the hawkers and touts who wouldn’t leave anyone alone if they considered there was an opportunity for a sale. If the square had appeared busy on our previous visit, the momentum had more than doubled. Drums and flutes, tambourines and bells clashed and clanged out a rhythm that was at once confusing and irresistable. On top of all this, were the touts wailing and yelling and that unfortunate product of the modern world, doof doof music pulsing from a couple of loudspeakers pumped up to eleven.

In the very centre of the square, the food stalls and temporary restaurants had been set up and here the touts were the most insistent. Foolishly we thought we could survive the gauntlet, but sadly after refusing at least a dozen touts, with promises that we may return later, Cath was snagged by a couple of determined fellows who cajoled us onto their benches, with promises of cheap and delicious eats. Instantly they produced olives and salads, took our orders and scurried away. Meanwhile the touts were back on the job. Each time they successfully convinced more tourists to sit down, there would be loud cheers from all involved in the process. No wonder they were so excited, once our meals started coming, it became clear that regardless of what we had ordered, they would deliver what they chose. So it was that we ended up with doubles of everything: shasliks with a variety of beef, lamb and chicken, small tagines of vegetables, sections of bread rolls and a type of baklava, but not quite as sweet as the Turkish version. There was too much of everything and we finally had to admit defeat, calling for the bill before they piled more on. The chief organiser flourished a pad on which he proceeded to write the first figures that came into his head and then advised us the cost was 380 dirhams, at least three times the price we had been shown initially. What could we do? We paid up and left, determined to never give in again!

After the food ordeal, we waddled back home where our distended bellies could settle back down once again.

A friend who had previously travelled to Marrakech had advised us to visit Jardin Majorelle, the former home of Yves St Laurent and his partner in Africa. So it was that the next day, we set out on what we thought was a short walk, but as usual on our travels, we were delayed in finding the garden by other things that caught our eye. On this day it was the Museum Marrakech, a small museum of local modern art, historic artefacts and mosaic tiling. This riad was previously a wealthy family's home and the architecture and decoration were elaborate and beautiful, with a large chandelier in the main room, best described by our host as a UFO. The riads are perfectly designed for the desert heat and after spending an hour in the museum it was a shock to feel the difference in temperature as we continued on our way to the garden.

Finally we located the garden, with a bit of help from an offline mapping program Ian prefers, heremaps. The Jardin Majorelle, was rescued from developers by Yves St Laurent and contains a museum of Berber artefacts collected by him over time. We payed the fee to visit the garden but decided that we'd had enough museum time for one day. The garden is filled with exotic indigenous and non indigenous plants and is a welcome oasis of coolness and calm in the hustling, hot, desert city. We spent a very pleasant hour or so wandering the garden, marvelling at the vivid blue, orange and yellow paint applied to every surface, which somehow works against the desert colours, (the blue is now recorded on colour palettes as Yves St Laurent blue) before heading off to find a cool drink. We were hoping in this more cosmopolitan area of the city, Guelez, an icy cold beer might be on offer.

Once again having no luck finding a nice cold beer or wine we ambled off to locate a bottle shop. Luckily the mini-marche just around the corner was exactly what we had been looking for. We made a few purchases before meandering home to spend an afternoon out of the heat with a couple of cool drinks. The medina and souks are largely shaded in Marrakech but still very hot during the day and as a result almost deserted; the perfect time to avoid the hordes of tourists in the alleys, but as we are want to do, we tried it like locals and spent the afternoon in the cool interior of the riad garden before heading out in the evening.

We had a meal at a small family run restaurant nearby, Al Noumia, the space just big enough for 3 tables, at which 2 people could comfortably sit, and a kitchen. It was clear that Mamman was in charge of the kitchen and her adult children were to ensure that the customers were happy and fed. Small tagines with a tomato and olive dish were the first to arrive accompanied by the ever present mint tea, our sugar content having escalated with each successive cup. The starter was followed by a huge silver platter of chicken, vegetables and couscous topped with a date, sultana and something else sauce, very sweet and tasty but we were left wondering where is the famous Moroccan spice? Given that we were steps away from one of the world's famous spice markets it was a bit of a mystery why nobody seemed to be putting it in the food?

The Riad Maizie, lends itself to lazy mornings, with our host providing a large breakfast with plenty of tea and coffee and it was therefore quite late in the day when we set off to find the bus station to get tickets for our overnight trip to the desert city of Ouarzazarte. Eventually we wound our way out of the medina and found the bus station where were once again the target of every tout in town, even having done the research and knowing exactly what we wanted we were talked into bus tickets that were twice the price of the ones we wanted due to a side trip to Ait Ben Hadou, a UNESCO listed Kasbah on the way, but off the main road to Ouarzazarte. You have to give it to the Moroccan people they are very persuasive.

Tickets organised we headed off to find Le Jardin Secret, which Cath had read was a traditional garden oasis from the heat in the medina with the highest publicly accessible tower and a great view. The building code of Marrakech says that towers and buildings are not to be higher than the minarets of the mosques and we were keen to see both the garden and the view. It took a couple of goes to find the garden, we were finally coming to understand that if you do head for a particular site in the medina, you will not find it. Perhaps they can sense it and move a couple of streets over!!!!
It is well worth a visit to both the garden and the tower; the view is quite spectacular, but again we found that whilst this building and garden are quite old, they were in disrepair until 2016 and have only recently been renovated and styled as traditional by an Italian gardener. Nothing is as it seems in Marrakech. We again wandered, or in Ian's case staggered, due to a small hip injury causing him some grief, home through the souks which we did without any mapping, how clever of us! Sometimes the beauty of not having access to technology, or in the case of Marrakech, reliable technology, is that you learn to navigate like we used to, using your bloody eyes!

Ian had mentioned to our host that we had found the Moroccan food a bit bland, lacking the spice and taste we expected, so Will kindly organized with his friend Mustafa to have a single man's dinner- Tanger. Lamb and spices covered with smem, an animal derived fat and slow cooked over the coals at the Haman. The Haman's require constant hot water and this is achieved by constantly stoking a fire under the ancient streets. Cath had been hoping to do this after seeing it on a tv cooking program, gladly she hadn't attempted it, as women don't touch the tanger they eat it but not touch it. How nice, a little bit of liberation! We had an early night in preparation for our trip to the desert the next day. You can read about our trip out of Marrakech to Ouarzazarte, in a separate blog.

After the trip to the desert we enjoyed a sleep in and late breakfast before again heading off on a long walk to find the train station to purchase tickets to Fez. In theory you can buy tickets for buses and trains on line, in practice you can't. This walk took us past the King's Palace, where Cath got into trouble from not one but three types of security for attempting to take a photo of the ornate gates. Perhaps they should put up a sign, it would save a lot of finger pointing and shouting.

We ambled past the grand mosque, Koutoubia, along wide open boulevards lined with the palace walls on one side and gorgeous gardens on the other, a strange and at times upsetting contrast to the poverty and dirtiness of the medina. The obscene wealth of the ruling class is exactly that, no matter where you are in the world, the Vatican city, Versailles, Marrakech it's all the same, obscene and cruel. Eventually we found the train station, a very modern, in fact quite European building where although the ticket machines appear to have credit card facilities they don't, so after purchasing the tickets in cash we were off to find an ATM, the bottle shop (again) and a taxi. It turns out that the petit taxis are limited to the city areas and have a capped price of no more than 70 dirham and you should pay no more than 50 dirham for most trips, the equivalent of 5 Euro. You have no idea how much we wish we had known that previously. At least we were well exercised.

We spent yet another afternoon chatting with our host and now friend, Will and his mate Mustafa before heading out to dinner at an upmarket restaurant in the Place E'spices, Nomad. It is a modern restaurant located on a rooftop with outdoor seating, fine water mist to keep you cool in the hot night air and delicious, if again spice lacking food. Will and Mustafa had accompanied us to dinner and we shared starters, enjoyed mains and headed home for a night cap and to prepare for the next leg of our journey, the train to Fez.

Posted by Seantiel 05:44 Archived in Morocco Comments (0)

Not quite the end of The Netherlands

Boating on the Amstel

overcast 12 °C
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We arrived at Schipol Airport at about 9:30 PM and had quite a lengthy wait at immigration, or Cath did, Ian again sailed through the EU line. Once we were out of the airport the getaway bus was pretty effective, dropping us off just over a kilometre from our canal boat home. Cath had programmed the address into Google Maps, and so it was a simple matter of following the directions.... until we arrived in the middle of nowhere and had to backtrack for a total of 8km, making it nearly midnight when we arrived!!

Our host and owner of the boat, Joost had kindly waited up for us and in no time at all had us stowed away out of the cold. The boat is an "Amsterdammer", built as a tug boat, the roof and top level windows lower so that it can fit under the lower canal bridges. It's a cozy little boat with a wheelhouse kitchen, four steps down into a small dining lounge and then a walk through to the double bed in the bow. With built in heating, shower bathroom toilet. Yes that last bit is all in one very small room, we risked showering each time we went to the loo given the location of the tap.

As we have been to Amsterdam and stayed in the city before, we were happy to be located in a small village, Ouderkerk aan de Amstel, about 9km from the Central Station. A little oddly just across the narrow canal is the oldest still functioning Jewish cemetery in Europe, which is about to be added to the UNESCO world heritage list, it's not everyday you get to stay in a cemetery, well almost. It does mean a nice quiet neighbourhood though.
Our first night was spent getting to know the boat and enjoying the serenity with a couple of single malts before clambering, quite literally into bed. Oh the romance of boats!

There are some cities that are a pleasure to return to and Amsterdam is certainly one of those. It somehow feels more ordered and organised after having been in a city like Venice, where canals end or become impassable so abruptly. You are be able to appreciate it in a different way, the whole project that has kept the Netherlands dry for centuries is quite simply amazing. The trees, which are slowly unfurling their new growth, are of such reassuring uniformity, that the whole streetscape contrives to make one relax and enjoy the passing parade of bicycles, whilst also trying not to run into or be run into by one. It's such an easy city to just wander around on foot and every street or canal seems to get prettier, you have to let yourself be lost, to look at that building or that view from the bridge, have a beer at that bar, a coffee in that cafe or a Stroopwafel (look them up, fabulous!) from that cafe over there and then get on a tram to find your way back to the centre, go in a different direction and start again.

Having spent the best part of a day wandering, it was on the Metro back to the boat to enjoy the sunset and a nice bottle of cheap French wine, good dutch cheese and nibbles.

We were lulled into a laziness on the boat and mornings became long sessions of tea and coffee, brunch, sitting in the wheelhouse sun baking watching boats tootle toward the bridge and waiting for the day to warm up before leaving the cozy little boat. The village has everything we need and a day of walking around the canals exploring the shops, restaurants and generally finding out the lay of the land was a relaxing way to spend a day.

We had come to Holland to see the tulip fields in bloom and it was really easy, we grabbed a bus to Haarlem and hired two bicycles for a ride to Lisse, through the tulip fields. As it turned out it was a delightful cycle through green forests, fields and farms, with the occasional small hamlet thrown in. We saw some massive displays of flowers: reds, crimsons, vivid pinks, orange and yellow and cream. Finally, after a pleasant lunch in Lisse, we turned our heads for home. That's when we encountered what had up until then, been a tail wind. The trip back was the same 17k as it was down there, but felt a lot harder. Note to selves, don't tackle a 34k round trip without a little more practice! It is a pleasure though to see the Netherlands by bicycle and we thoroughly recommend it.

Holland celebrates Liberation Day in early May and we had arrived just in time. We had considered riding the bikes into Amsterdam, but we were both feeling a little tender (bloody sore bums!!!) after the Lisse experiment and so restricted ourselves to a bus and Metro into the city for another wander and to attend the Liberation day celebrations, a free music festival at Westerpark. We knew the neighbourhood around Westerpark as we stayed in that part of the city last time we visited and it was great to reminisce while having a beer at a couple of bars before and after the festival. The festival was a free event, with people of every age attending, beer flowing, music of all kinds across multiple stages and everyone having a pretty good time. A very civilised way to celebrate with the people of Amsterdam.

Unfortunately when we arrived home there was no power on the boat and our host was out, again the romance of boat life. Although on the upside, we had gas, steak, salad, wine and the ambience of the canal to enjoy. Finally all was sorted out at about 11pm, we were chilly little Aussies and away to bed while the heating warmed up what the wine couldn't.

Saturday dawned a beautiful sunny morning, which had Amsterdammers out on the canals in boats of all kinds which we had the good fortune to sit and observe from a front row seat. We set off in the afternoon for a picnic in the famous Vondelpark, along the way getting sidetracked by a visit to Begijnhof, one of the oldest inner courts in Amsterdam, first recorded in the 1340s as a home for women, similar to a convent but without being nuns, it is a gorgeous oasis in the bustling inner city which led us to a book market, the Rijksmuseum and past Van Gogh's museum through the parkland before finally finding the Vondelpark. Nothing happens as planned in Amsterdam or quickly as it turns out. We had a beer in one of the cafes in the park before finding a picnic spot and spending the afternoon observing the world and nibbling.

A lazy Sunday morning turned into a lazier Sunday afternoon, pretty much on the boat, catching up with plans for our next move, chatting with Australia and in Cath's case reviewing restaurants for dinner. Ouderkerk aan de Amstel it turns out has a number of Michelin guide rated restaurants and so of course we were to attend at least one, Ron Gastrobar Indonesia. So it was that we came to riding the bikes from the back of the boat, out for dinner. A great dinner, gorgeous modern Indonesia decor restaurant, next to the canal, although it was far to cold to sit outside that served a tasting menu of 15 dishes for two, magnificent, spicy, well cooked beautiful food.

Some weeks do tend to slip by and so this one did. We started our last full day in Holland with a bike ride to the windmill located near the bus stop that we had used all week, De Zwaan, built in 1638 before heading to Cafe Vrije Handel a short walk from the boat for lunch, having fallen in love again with the Bitterballen and Chips with Mayonnaise. Our last evening on the boat was spent hoping that the remaining ducklings would survive the ginger cat, at the start of the week there were 8 and as of last sighting there were just 2 survivors, sipping another nice red and packing our cases for the next part of our adventure, Morocco.

Posted by Seantiel 07:39 Archived in Netherlands Comments (0)

England Part IV

East Anglia to Cornwall

semi-overcast 16 °C
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The start of our 3rd week in East Anglia was for visiting local people and so we headed off to the La Hogue Farm Shop to collect some local black pudding, bacon, eggs and sundry items for a large breakfast we had planned for the following day. Ian was picking up his son Callan that evening and we had decided it was an appropriate form of welcome for the next morning. The pick up entailed Ian driving to Epping Railway station, an hour away from Herringswell, which he did late that evening. It was wonderful to see Callan again and a late dinner of nachos with chilli was the reward.

Next morning, as planned there was a general pig out, with due respect to our porcine neighbours, for breakfast. Cath had even located some baked beans to go with the huge amounts of aforementioned bacon, eggs, black pudding and toast, meaning a proper Full English was enjoyed by all. After allowing our waistlines to absorb the shock loading, we determined to take a trip into Cambridge. Callan hadn't been there before, so we were both delighted to introduce him to what is a very pretty town. We strolled through the ancient streets, admiring the many university colleges, which are often situated in picturesque gardens. It really is a delight to observe the students cycling about the cobbled streets, hurrying to exams or swatting up in cafes, with their computers and coffee.

After a long walk through the older parts of town, we ended up doing a circuit of the ring road before finally coming around to the Pint Shop, a bar and restaurant, which one of Callan's friends had recommended. It proved to be a good call, with excellent meals and the added bonus of craft beers all round. Following that we took another lengthy walk before finding a coffee shop which had also been recommended by Callan's friend, where we just managed to squeeze in a cup of coffee before finally heading for home. Sadly we were all too full to avail ourselves of the lamb roast which Cath had planned for dinner and retired after a long natter and a couple of drinks.

The following day we set off for the seaside via Ipswich. Callan, who has been in the UK for 12 months, has not had the opportunity to get to the English coast and all Aussies are partial to a day at the beach, or as it should be known in this part of the world, the shingle. We stopped in at Ipswich for a quick stroll around town and after wandering through the markets decided that we would head to Felixstowe for fish and chips. Felixstowe is a typical English seaside town; it must have been a delightful little village in it's hey day but is a little tired now. There appeared to be quite a lot of building work happening along the foreshore though, so hopefully it can be restored to it's former glory. The foreshore is lined with pretty little bathing huts which reminded us of the beaches near Melbourne. The FishDish restaurant served up an enormous lunch and we headed for home feeling like fat little penguins. Callan headed back to London on the evening train from Epping and we were home alone again.

We had hoped to get to the cricket at Tuddenham St Mary on Saturday afternoon but when we arrived there were 2 young boys with a soccer ball and not much else happening. Bugger, we had obviously mixed up our dates. Not to be defeated we spent an hour driving through pretty little villages and admiring the bucolic greenery of the Suffolk countryside before we chanced upon Lackford. Lackford is home to the Lackford Lakes Walk and Suffolk Wildlife Trust, there are a number of walks around the 3 lakes with signposted areas for birdwatching, wildlife and flora conservation and of all things a sailing club. The sailing club is more of a dinghy club and we were amused by the full wet weather and safety gear on some of the blokes, really it could not be that dangerous on a lake that is not deep enough for any boat to have a keel. A couple of hours wandering in the sun and it was time to head back to the Manor for a beer or two.

We had a couple of works days to develop the new blog site, it is really coming along and we are hopeful it will be launched before we go to Morocco.

Our month in the English country side was rapidly drawing to a close and we had the sudden realisation that we had not partaken of the Cornish Pastie, a delight Cath was not willing to forgo and so it was that we set off for Cornwall, Padstow to be exact. We had originally set out on our journey heading for Port Isaac but as we were driving there, we discovered that it was the site of filming for a BBC show, Doc Martin, which Ian dislikes, so we reset the GPS and headed for all things Rick Stein: Padstow. We were later told by a lovely couple in the pub who had been at Port Isaac during the day, that it is full of American tour buses and what was once a pretty little fishing village, was now quite a disappointment. Whew, glad we avoided that!

The drive to the Cornish coast was a picturesque scene of small villages, winding roads and at one point a WW2 airfield, we still think the GPS may have lost it's mind during that little diversion. As we neared Padstow and the coast proper, the roads became narrower, the villages more granite and the hedgerows higher so that it was quite a surprise to pop over a hill and see the coast right there in front of us.

We stayed in a gorgeous little Cornish Pub, the London Inn, right in the middle of town and thankfully it had a very welcoming bar, perhaps a little too welcoming. Avoiding the temptation to go to one of Rick's many establishments we spent the evening and a large part of the night drinking Cornish beer, the best of which, Mena Dhu rivals Guinness in Ian's opinion (Cath is reserving her judgement), chatting with locals and visitors before the publican started turning out the lights and packing up the chairs. We did meet a very nice couple from Wales who have invited us to stay with them, looks like we might be heading off to Wales in the near future.

Feeling a little worse for wear we were up early for another Full English at the pub before heading out into the sunny but cold weather to head across the Cornish Peninsula to Plymouth.

It's quite a pleasant drive from Cornwall to Devon although to hear the English talk you would think that you needed a whole day to do it. Plymouth has a pretty waterfront, rich in maritime history including the bowling green of Sir Francis Drake, but the rest of the town is fairly uninspiring. We got some exercise in before deciding we would head off in search of the elusive Cornish Pastie and head for home. The drive promised to be an epic, as in order to avoid London we had to head about 100 miles north, out of our way, to Birmingham before heading south to Suffolk and home.

So sated with our pasties, we were on the M5 heading for Herringswell. Who knew that the English are unable to drive in the rain? The traffic was horrendous and whilst some people still used the right lane like a race track it wasn't long before traffic was at a standstill. How have they not learnt to drive in wet weather, it rains more than it doesn't?

Finally we reached home and collapsed on the couch for an evening of slothing.

The reason our Cornwall trip was so brief was that we had GP appointments in Red Lodge, just near the Manor house on Thursday morning. Nothing serious, just topping up our medications whilst we are in English speaking territory. Cath had done some research and Australian's are able to access the NHS via a reciprocal agreement between governments. What we expected would be a fairly quick appointment turned into a half hour chat about travel plans and destinations, followed by a visit to the in house dispensary. As we were leaving, for some strange reason Cath had a need to check if we had to pay, which caused some confusion and next minute the practice manager was out to have a chat. Well that also became a chat about travel. Do none of these people have jobs to be doing? Within half an hour Cath had talked us into a bill, back out of a bill and into a bill for pharmacy only.....perhaps next time we will just leave quietly.

Friday was a bit of stuffing around with hire cars and a day out in the big smoke, London. For some reason unknown to thinking people, we were only able to hire a car for 27 days so it was off to Stansted to drop off one car and pick up another, of course it was different companies and it was never going to be easy!

We dropped the car at the airport and caught the train into London. For the price of the train tickets £56, we were a bit put out that it didn't have gold plated seats but it was comfortable and quick, within half an hour we were at Liverpool St station heading to the London Museum.

The museum is huge and houses an amazing collection of mainly pilfered items from the ancient world - Greece, Rome, Persia, Asia and Egypt, it is all on display and we were torn between awestruck and a bit guilty that so many items had been collected (read robbed) by the tomb raiders of the 18th and 19th centuries. Nevertheless we spent hours meandering before realising that it was well past our lunch time. A quick Zomato search and we had found a nice little curry house just near by. Yet another thing appropriated from another culture, curry, but man it was good. A quick coffee at Workshop Coffee, Clerkenwell and the last pint with Callan before we leave the UK and we had to get back to the airport to pick up the new car. We were a bit anxious as we were delayed waiting for a bus and had missed the pick up time but we needn't have worried at all, in no time we were back on the A11 in our little Peugeot 208, back to the Manor for one more night.

Our last night in England was spent in one of Englands prettiest villages, Thaxsted, Essex as we had to check out of the Manor and our flight to Amsterdam was not until Monday 1st May. Thaxsted has been a village since 1066 and the history is evident in it's wonky, coloured houses, gothic style church and windmill. We stayed at The Swan Hotel, in a lovely room with tartan carpet and a view of the church, had a roast lunch and wandered around town before spending a pleasantly lazy Sunday afternoon and evening.

Monday, May Day, dawned cold and wet but that did not deter the Thaxted Morris Men, together with the visiting Black Pool Morris Men, from putting on a show to celebrate May Day, in the church car park, right across the road from our room. We couldn't possibly miss the opportunity to see grown men, to be fair mostly elderly grown men and some very young boys, leap around waving hankies and sticks. In theory they were dancing, in practice the movement was not even slightly related to the music. Ian was disgusted that Cath would put him through such pain and Cath, well Cath was making a good show of not wetting herself laughing whilst declaring how fab it is that they can manage to keep a 600 year old tradition alive.

The typically English weather drove us back inside and our flight to Amsterdam being in the evening meant we had some time to kill so we set off on a drive around the gorgeous little towns of rural Essex being guided by the silliest names, Steeple Bumpsted won as both the silliest and prettiest village of the day.

And so we are once again airport waiting, it has felt like forever since we've done this bit but that is the price one pays for travel, airports! Tonight we leave for Amsterdam...

Posted by Seantiel 07:38 Archived in United Kingdom Comments (0)

England my England

This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England

semi-overcast 15 °C
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After the gruelling week and our trip to Dover, we decided a well earned rest was in order, so Tuesday found us content to lounge about the Manor in Herringswell. So satisfying was it that we almost did exactly the same thing on Wednesday until guilt at wasting away our time found us heading for the nearby village of Thetford. It is a picturesque place which has been inhabited since the Iron Age. We were quite surprised on emerging from the local carpark to find ourselves confronted by a huge mound of dirt sitting in the middle of a broad ditch. Naturally we went for a walk around it and located a sign which confirmed our suspicions that it was in fact the remains of an Iron Age fort. In fact, Thetford was the capital of the Iceni tribe of East Anglia, whose queen was none other than Boudicca!

The Icknield Way, reputedly the oldest pathway in Britain runs through Thetford and in fact we had the honour of walking along a part of it on our first ramble through the English countryside a couple of weeks earlier. There is a network of streams running through the area crossed by several small bridges, which we strolled over. We then proceeded to follow the course of the main stream as it flowed through the city, eventually emerging into the centre of town. Having spoken to a friend only the day before about the likelihood of us ending up in a modern day version of dad's army, if Mr Trump goes troppo, we were surprised indeed to find a statue of Captain Mainwaring sitting beside the river! It appears that much of the TV series was actually filmed in and around Thetford.

Crossing over a pretty wrought iron bridge built in 1890, we walked up into the old town centre which really was delightful, containing numerous stone buildings and edifices as well as the odd Tudor era establishment. As you would expect, there appeared to be no attempt at planning the wending and winding streets and lanes, which of course meant we managed to get lost for a while, before finally emerging on the opposite side of the carpark.

We determined that Thursday would be a good opportunity to visit Birmingham and subsequently Stratford-Upon-Avon. The traffic gods had other ideas though and after persevering with thicker and slower traffic jams on the way, we finally decided to give Birmingham a miss and peeled off to Stratford instead. What a delightful town it is. The ancient buildings abound everywhere you look and of course Shakespeare's ghost is ever present. The number of puns on his name were all over the place, with Shakesbeer proving to be our favourite. Naturally we headed into an old Tudor Inn to enjoy a pint of it.

We took the plunge and bought tickets for the full tour which started with a walk through the house he was born in, which is situated in a very pretty garden, where a couple of young thespians were entertaining a small crowd with an excerpt from one of his plays. It is remarkable to see the rough hewn timber and daub structure with its rough wooden floors, which we were told were in places actually earthen back in the day. The doorways were small and the ceilings low, so that we had to be careful not to bump our heads. It was all the more interesting insofar as Shakespeare's family were quite wealthy by the standards of the day and yet they lived in very cramped quarters.

Exiting the house and gardens via the ever present shop, of course, we strolled up the street and off to see the house Shakespeare bought after he became successful. It turned out to in fact be a garden, as the house had been demolished many years earlier! Nice marketing folks.... At any rate the gardens were quite delightful, although the hedges had clearly been trimmed by someone with a deranged mind, neither resembling a natural look, nor a geometric one, but rather bordering on the work of someone who is totally pissed having been set loose with an electric hedge trimmer and challenged to get just one straight line. Fortunately we saw no arms, legs, fingers or toes lying about, so at least he hadn't damaged himself.

On past the grammar school where the bard was schooled we strode, eventually wandering around the corner and up another street to admire the house his daughter had lived in with her doctor husband. Some bright spark had decided this would be a prime opportunity to treat the visitors to some examples of the tools and other devices the good doctor had used on his poor patients, to cut and bleed them, or to remove offending, malodorous parts of the body. We were delighted then to step out of the house into the gorgeous garden, where the spring blossoms and sprouting tulips greeted us. My word they do lawns very well here in England.

The final stop was the Holy Trinity church where Shakespeare and it appears most, if not all of his family have been laid to rest. It is a beautiful little church, secluded in a wooded field replete with ancient headstones. The interior is simple and elegant, with plain leadlight windows in the upper section and stained glass on the lower wall. Cath took the opportunity to look in on the family, who are all buried under the floor, with the exception of Shakespeare's head, which we later learned, had been stolen for some nefarious purpose not long after his death. It seems phrenology was rampant at that stage and it is assumed that some interested parties had wished to conduct their own measurements.

So we finally left for home and another three hour drive. It is interesting that you can't be any further than 80 miles from the coast anywhere in England, but you can drive forever.....

After our big day out in Stratford, we decided Good Friday should be observed at home and so trotted down to our local at Tuddenham, where Cath enjoyed a fish finger sandwich (bloody big fingers!), while Ian tucked into a scotch egg, which wasn't too bad. Of course it was all washed down with a couple of pints of the best.

We have stated before, our opposition to paying to go into churches, so when we found out that entry was free in Lincoln cathedral on Easter Sunday, well we were off like a shot. Lincolnshire appears to be relatively flat, however the cathedral sits atop a rather steep hill, which we foolishly parked at the bottom of. So it was that we had a long climb up the well named, Steep Street, through the old town to get there. It was however, well worth the effort. The old town clings tenaciously to the side of the hill, ancient shops either side of a cobbled road, not much bigger than a laneway. We were joined by quite a few other sightseers on the struggle up the hill and were rewarded for our efforts with a small market at the top where the local antique collectors had gathered to sell their wares. It was a motley collection of old walking sticks, decommissioned rifles and in one case a glass urine bottle, which Ian offered to buy for Cath as a vase. She happily declined. At one end of the market was the imposing castle, built at the behest of William the Conqueror, in the eleventh century and at the other, the church.

We wandered about the grounds of the castle first. It mostly consists of a large treed and grassed area with only a few buildings, although the crown court buildings at one end are quite impressive, clad as they are by a massive climbing ivy of obviously very ancient origin. The walls were built from sandstone, as is the cathedral and they both are very pleasing to the eye with that natural warmth that sandstone seems to impart.

The cathedral is another matter altogether and we both rated it as one of the best we have seen. The interior roofing consists of multitudes of steep pointed archways and when viewed from the entrance, they are quite stunning. The great age of the building is evident in the well worn flagstones and inlaid tombs and the masonry and woodwork are quite intricate. We spent a considerable time there marvelling at the skills of the builders and carpenters, the stonemasons and artisans who had obviously poured their lives into their work.Oh and for those who know about the famous Lincoln imp, we did find him!

Easter Sunday and Monday saw us both working on our upcoming website, which we hope to bring live in the next month or so. It will enable us to present much more in terms of our travels, pictures, advice and encouragement to others to get out and possess the world. For those interested, we already have set up social media sites at instagram@possess_the world, twitter@possesstheworld and a couple of others in the pipeline. Until next time Good day Chaps.

Posted by Seantiel 11:04 Archived in England Comments (0)

England 2

Canterbury and Other Tales

sunny 20 °C
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We awoke Wednesday, a bit excited, as we had read a little regarding Ely, our intended destination for the morning. Apparently, it rose on a clay bank above the surrounding marshlands from which it gained it's name: they were a rich source of eels. We fully expected to be accosted by eel mongers and as neither of us were particularly fond of eels, we envisaged a morning of "No thanks, I've had a rather large breakfast. We've come up from Herringswell way. You have heard about the sublime bacon?" As it happened, Ely was a gorgeous city. The cathedral can be seen quite clearly as one approaches the city, rising as it does, on the clay bank. Driving in, you are immediately presented with the need to avoid getting stuck in the small streets and lanes surrounding it. As it happens we were quite fortunate, parking quite near and then enjoying the opportunity of a long and relaxing stroll around the cathedral and the bishop's pasture surrounding it, before emerging into the quaint town centre. The cathedral is, of course, stunning. The sandstone, from which much of the surrounding architecture is constructed gives a very relaxing and bucolic effect and as we wandered around the lawns we felt transported back to a time when people walked or rode horses.

Emerging from the cathedral grounds, we strolled around the city centre, enjoying the ancient buildings, before heading off past Oliver Cromwell's house and back to the car. It seems there are several cities that claim Oliver. Apparently his family resided here for ten years or so, before decamping for another village in need of some notoriety.

We resolved after Ely to see Colchester. True it was a couple of hours away, but as the oldest recorded city in England it did deserve investigation. It was an uneventful drive, which proved to presage a rather uneventful town, very busy, nowhere to park and rather crowded. We didn't last long there, shame on us, before heading on to Clacton On Sea. Oh dear.... Clacton appears to be a town whose main attraction is the rather run down version of Brighton's seaside carnival, complete with an amazing collection of people squeezing into outfits two sizes too small, brought out sans tan by the promise of a little sunshine. To be fair, the weather has apparently been unseasonably warm....

We made a rather hasty retreat from Clacton, up the coast to Holland By The Sea, which actually had the distinction of making Clacton look not too bad. After that we decided it was time to head for home, which we did via our favourite local, the White Hart in Tuddenham, where we enjoyed a couple of pints, whilst getting involved in a raffle for the Grand National. The locals as always were a pleasure to spend some time with, particularly an amusing chap who turned out to be one of the country's leading farriers. It is one of the great things about the English, the camaraderie local people share - and of course the odd pint or two. Wednesday came to a close over a smooth bottle of French red, Chateauneuf du Papes.

Ian was highly excited by Thursday. We were off to London to visit his son Callan, who had been away for a year and a half. Ian missed him terribly and couldn't wait. As a result, we found ourselves out of bed at 6:00am and travelling down the highway by 7:00am. We had resolved to catch the train at the outermost limit of the underground, Epping. Cath had utilised an App on the phone to find a park at a nearby house, which was cheap and all day. Alas it turned out the five minutes walk to the station was in fact twenty minutes, nevertheless we were on the way just after 8:00am and made London by 9:00ish. We changed lines at Holborn and caught the Picadilly line to Knightsbridge, from where we strolled about very stately apartments via Mayfair to... Harrods.

Harrods is a regular lifestyle on its own. Every department strives to outdo the preceding one in glamour and prestige. But of course for Ian it was the technology department. And for Cath? Well the toy department of course! Particularly the huge stuffed animals. It took a rather large effort from Ian to ensure we left without Cath riding a giant stuffed giraffe all the way home. After that it was back on the underground and off to Clerkenwell, where at last we arrived at the establishment Ian's son worked at. He is a barrista and took great delight in making us a great couple of coffees, before taking us for a tour of East London, the lanes, byways and canals which positively glowed in the unseasonally warm weather. We finally ended up in the Fields of London park before enjoying a yummy pizza dinner and then strolling back to Bethnal Green Underground. An emotional parting and we were once again on our way back out to Epping, a walk and another hour and a half drive found us finally back at Herringswell.

Friday was a rest day, phone hookups to home and a certain amount of red wine.

Saturday however found us ready for a new challenge. We decided to see Canterbury and Dover. So it was another early start and a long drive which took us through outer London and a confusing number of interconnecting freeways before finally arriving at Canterbury. It is a very pretty medieval city with wonky buildings and meandering streets all leading to the Cathedral but not before one was reminded of its literary history, Shakespeare and Dickens on every corner, even Shakespeare's mates got a building with a plaque on it. The beautiful weather, yes we are still in England, had brought out the best and the worst of the English and some of the local lads thought it a perfect day for shirtless strolling, which one cannot unsee once the eyes have been assaulted. Yet again we were disappointed to find that the Cathedral and its grounds were subject to a large fee and determined not to break our 'no paying for churches' rule, we wandered off down the cobbled alleys to the ancient Roman West Gate and the canal where we were delighted to find punters, a riot of flowers along the banks and a huge park with ancient trees, that may in fact have met the Bard. We had a lovely stroll along the banks before heading off for fish 'n chips, or battered sausage and chips in Ian's case (ewww)!

The white cliffs of Dover were calling and we headed off on another grand trek along highways and byways toward France. Dover castle looms over a pretty town of terraced houses where the residents must paint there doors so as to tell which is their house. We headed past the ferries, up into the hills to see the cliffs and the view, Cath constantly reminding Ian, France is just there! Ian, ever the canny Scot, decided we would not be supporting the National Trust and paying to get into the White Cliffs of Dover, but would head on up the hill to a free spot. It wasn't long before we were passing sheep and then heading down the hill. Pleasingly we found ourselves at the bottom of the cliffs in St Margaret's Bay, a very pleasant beachside village where we found a park bench on the promenade from where we could watch the crazy Poms frolicking in the freezing water, walking their dogs and generally just enjoy the view across the Channel. Cath even joined in the fun, getting her lily white legs out for some sun, it really was quite warm. Warm enough to need a couple of beers thoughtfully packed in the picnic by Cath.

We had thought we would head home via the coast but quickly learnt that all roads lead to London, when you are down south, mostly it seems as though there are very few Thames crossings, so we decided we would pay the tolls on the M25. We would normally choose to avoid tolls and large motorways but on this occasion thought it reasonable. For many miles leading up to the Dartmoor crossing of the Thames we could see a huge bridge and were quite excited to think that we would be able to view the Thames and its estuary from up there; it wasn't until we were heading down into the tunnel we realised that in fact we were going under the Thames, only those travelling South got to view the river. Damn!

We had planned for Sunday to be a lazy day at home, or as we term it a work day, but yet again it was sunny and warm. We just cannot waste the beautiful weather whilst we have it, so we headed off to our nearest 'big' town, Cambridge. We have visited Cambridge before and therefore didn't need to see the sites in the historical centre, so we spent a couple of hours meandering along the River Cam, along with everyone else in Cambridge it seemed; there were thousands of people in the parks enjoying the sun, BBQing, sipping beers and of course sun baking. And of course there were the rowers and the bike riders, it was Cambridge after all. Our exercise complete and vitamin D stores replenished we headed for a Sunday roast and a good lie down. Such is life in the south of England.

Posted by Seantiel 14:02 Archived in United Kingdom Comments (0)

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