Thursday, 24 April 2014

Highlights of Morocco and Gran Canaria: Two Contrasting Places - One Sunny Holiday!





A labyrinthine expedition into the souk markets of Marrakech's old town had us re-emerging into the daylight clutching armfuls of Eastern treasures, blinking and squinting into the sun. I couldn't have been happier, and I even couldn't wait to get home to accommodate my new found delights, but we had a whole travel adventure ahead of us to enjoy first..

Hotel Pullman Palmeraie
We stayed at 5 star hotel Pullman Palmeraie, in the peaceful Palmerie area outside the city, which smells of rosebuds on arrival, and is set in the most beautiful exotic gardens.

Scarves on sale in one of the many souks
As we got deeper and deeper into the souk markets, bargaining and haggling became more and more addictive and fun. Prices that are 'impossible' suddenly become possible with a casual sweep of the hand and a warm exchange, and the regular offerings of items like rusty taps when we originally ventured inside to look at jewellery!

The fruits of a day's hard work of haggling and bartering

Camel ride in the Palmerie
A camel ride through the palmerie of Marrakesh had us making friends with a local young man from the ancient and traditional Berber community. His sweet face lit up at our talk of life in England, and in very good English he told us all about his Berber lifestyle, including his approaching wedding, and his choice to marry just one girl for fear of having too many women's desires to fulfil!

The camel riding was a fantastic experience, they are so high up, and surprisingly comfortable!

Atlas Mountains - Ourika Valley

 A rickety bridge crossing
We took a Grand Taxi into the Atlas Mountains to the Ourika Valley to trek to a waterfall and admire the dramatic scenery. A highlight apart from this was actually our taxi driver Abdaslam, who was exceptionally accommodating and helpful, and ended up becoming our personal driver and tour guide for the rest of the holiday!

On arrival in the valley the traffic became so blocked that we weren't moving for around half an hour. A local guide came by and offered to take us up to the waterfalls and through the Berber settlements, which we were glad of, as we had no idea where we were going. We simply left our things in the taxi with Adbaslam and met him at the end village when we had filled up on a delicious tagine and plate of chips.

Ouzoud Falls
Our second trip to the Atlas Mountains was to experience the spectacular Ouzoud Falls. Again we let a guide take us around and tell us about the local area. Along our hour's trek through olive groves, down rocky slopes and over streams and rivers, were stunning views including a number of sheer drops over the waterfall edge to see the permanent rainbow shining in the water spray. The whole area of settlement including the restaurants at the top, the shops and markets, and the guides is a Berber 'business operation' where they all work together and share their earnings. Even the little boat trips at the base of the falls arerun by the local Berbers and the boats themselves are made of what looks like barrells and dining room chairs - but somehow it wouldn't look right any other way!

Monkeys at Ouzoud Falls
At the end of the trek we came across the famed local wild monkeys, and were lucky enough to see some mothers with their babies! With the knowledge that they were a safe distance from us, they strutted around under the trees showing off their young - it was incredible.

Spices at local Berber Market

On the 2 hour drive back to the hotel, Abdaslam took us to a local Berber market. It was fascinating to see the difference between the polished goods of the city souks, and the raw materials being sold at this Nomadic Berber market in the middle of the countryside.

Bahia Palace

On another visit into the city we stopped to admire the Bahia Palace. The incredible wood-carved and mosaic detail all around the various halls and rooms was stunning, and hard to take in.

Mosque in Marrakech near Djemma El Fna

Fresh Orange Juice in Djemma El Fna - main square. 50p!

Favourite Restaurant

Eating out is a delight in Morocco, with sumptious tagines spiced with exotic flavours available at every opportunity. This was my favourite restaurant, hidden around a corner and seemingly only known to locals. It was recommended to us by the staff at our hotel.

A Moroccan man in a fez sat and played local style music, just adding to an already atmospheric experience.

Richard and I before our delicious Tagines

Richard dressed traditionally by a lovely Berber man we met!

Aguimes Town

Our first experience of Gran Canaria's local life was our visit to picturesque and colourful village Aguimes.  

Easter Church procession in Aguimes

A church procession for Easter went by the main street just as we were approaching so we stayed to watch.

Flying down the Maspalomas sand dunes

The enormous expanse of sand dunes at Maspalomas had us entertained for a good while!

Teror Town - typical wooden balconies

Another of my favourite pretty towns was Teror, with its typical Canaria wooden balconies. There were some interesting little gift shops where Jess and I found we hadn't exhausted all of our trinket-buying opportunities in the souks of Marrakech afterall!

Driving in the mountains

Driving through the mountains there are some stunning views, including the famous Roque Nublo rock landmark, and we really enjoyed the novelty of 'being in a cloud' even though it meant no sun, and much colder temperatures!

View of mountains from Artenara

A quick fitness stop!
On the way to Artenara to see the cave dwellings we stopped and saw that there were some random gym facilities by the side of the road - so we indulged!

Casas Cuevas - Cave Dwellings

The cave dwellings at Artenara were fascinating - inhabited since before Columbus times, and with sweeping views over volcanic mountains of the island. Information and displays about the craft and trade that took place here is interesting and the local guides are happy to show you around. Entrance is free but a donation is appreciated.

We met an adorable local lady who didn't speak a word of English, working at the cave site. She was cracking Almonds out of their shells by hand with rocks, and let us all have a go too. In Spanish, she told us all about the island and local life - between us I think we managed to gather at least 45% of what she was saying. She was lovely anyway!

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Norway’s Fascinating Capital: Cultural and Enriching Attractions Only in Oslo

Oseberg Viking ship Oslo 

Clean and pristine, Oslo is a city with wealth and beauty as well as a thriving art
and scene, and fascinating history. Polished neo-classical buildings grace
the spotless streets, contrasting beautifully with pockets of tall glassy and ultra-chic

With one of the strongest economies in the world most things don’t come cheap, however things are not always as expensive as you might think, and this wealth and fortune makes Oslo (and Norway in general) a very special travel destination with extremely high standards to enjoy in all aspects of a visit.
Oslo city

Being surrounded by unspoilt hills, lakes and forest, the great outdoors is always within reach, and is greatly appreciated. People living in Oslo respect the countryside enormously and simply love to enjoy the wonderfully fresh air; skiing in winter, hiking in summer, and eating and drinking al fresco in the city in up-and-coming Aker Brygge all year round no matter what the weather.

Viking Ship Museum (Vikingshipshuset)

An enormous simplistic building houses the intact genuine Oseberg Viking ship
along with other expertly restored Viking ships and fantastic artefacts with wonderful
English descriptions. The cost is surprisingly reasonable – around £7 per adult, and
a discount is applied for students. Photography is allowed, and great little coves in
the walls afford higher up vantage points for taking photos of the full lengths of the

The Oseberg ship is the only one of its kind in such perfect condition, and it is a fine
example of such an ornate Royal Viking ship. The interesting plaques describe the
details of this stunning structure’s use for short and important ceremonious journeys,
and the other impressive, more stout and robust ships’ longer journeys and practical

The fascinating carvings, jewellery and fabrics, and the mystery of the
wooden 'monster' heads make this experience much more than a simple trip to a
dusty museum - this is a journey through history to ancient times which teach us
much about our culture today.

Nobel Peace Prize Centre

Oslo Nobel Peace Prize CentreSituated at the recently renovated and trendy part of town by the water - Aker-Brygge - this interactive and educational learning centre, museum and exhibition space is housed inside a beautiful Neo-Classical building just opposite the imposing and modern-looking town hall where the Nobel Peace Prizes themselves are actually awarded.

Exhibited at the time of writing, the chemical warfare exhibition shows stunningly captured photography of the UN arms control experts in the field, in dangerous war zones such as Libya; and various artefacts and information demonstrating the devastating impact of chemical weapons used in various conflicts throughout modern
Oslo Nobel Peace Prize Centre

Wandering around the fantastically interactive displays in the rest of the Nobel Peace Prize Centre is a delightful and stimulating experience. The dark prize-winners' room is addictive, with its atmospherically illuminated interactive touch-screens depicting individual prize winners and fascinating information about their work. Downstairs,
great sensory boxes for children, centred around food, are found along with the huge
colourful, visual displays on world-wastage, human consumption and the changing
Oslo Nobel Peace Prize Centreplanet. The enormous state-of-the art screens for choosing and reading about the various ways individuals can help save or change the planet make inspiring reading, and it is almost impossible to come away from this experience without feeling just a little guilty for even being there at all, unless you cycled all the way to Oslo...

Holmenkollen Ski Jump

Oslo HolmenkollenOslo's enormous iconic ski jump can be seen from the city in various locations, perched on a hill in the Nordmarka area - Oslo's Northern municipality. The little museum at the ski jump is great for a little skiing history, and a fantastic simulator lets you experience the jump for real from the dizzying heights at the top (as real as you'll get unless you're a professional anyway).

Vigeland Sculpture Park

Oslo Vigeland Sculpture ParkOslo Vigeland Sculpture ParkNorwegian-born Gustav Vigeland's incredible array of figurative sculptures never cease to amaze visitors and locals alike. In this large and wide-open park space, the prominent and wonderfully carved obelisk rises above the surrounding stone carvings. This exquisitely depicted tower of humanity climbing and thriving, signifies the humans' ascent to the top over one-another and makes a unique and provoking centre-piece.

On the way into the centre of the park crossing the bridge over the river, the locals' favourite sculpture 'Angry Child' can be seen amongst his adult counterparts, and his metallic hand glints in the soft light, worn shiny by the many visitors holding his hand posing for a photo.

A museum about Gustav Vigeland and his works can be found near the entrance to the park. As most places in Oslo, the park can be reached by metro, bus, or tram (the Frogner Plass stop on the tram).

Oslo Opera House

Oslo OperahusOslo OperahouseRising up, seemingly from the water of the Oslofjord, is the sleek glassy blue and white Opera House. This modern structure is a wonderful place to wander around outdoors, enjoying the wide-open spaces, slanting edges, and of course the opportunity to walk on the roof and marvel at the view.

Hotels & Restaurants

Four-star Radisson Blu hotels are great luxury or high-end options, with their
wonderfully extensive breakfasts. Good deals can be found at the Nydalen hotel
which is further out than the city centre one but literally opposite a T-bane station.
A unique and stunning 4-star hotel up in the hills near the Oslo Vinterpark and
Holmenkollen is the Rica Holmenkollen Park Hotel. It has spotless stylish rooms and
a grand foyer with beautiful modern art and very welcoming staff. There are also
fantastic views of the city and the Oslofjord, and a bus stop right outside.

Eating out in Oslo is a delightful and classy experience. In place of greasy-looking
cheap eateries, the streets of this city are lined with a fantastic variety of beautiful,
genuine restaurants, often without the price tag that you would expect.

Norwegian chain Egon is an atmospheric grill-type restaurant, with tasty dishes
and a lot of choice on the menu. and a pizza buffet is available in the early
evening for around £10 each. Head to Olivia in Aker Brygge for a high standard of
Mediterranean food and a beautifully decorated interior. Main dishes are between
£14-£16 each at both of these highly recommended restaurants.

Lise Griffiths
Copyright 2014