Category Archives: Travel

Winter in India – Bangalore/Chennai

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Four Recently Ex-Students in Marrakech

It’s a very odd feeling finishing university, especially if you’re among the first. Everybody is dying to know what it feels like to have officially entered the real world. Amazing, is usually the answer but if I’m being honest it’s a bit of an anti-climax. I’m still waiting for the excitement to hit me. NO MORE EDUCATION EVER. Nope, still nothing. Anyway, to try and beat the post-finishing blues, four of us decided to make a quick escape to the sunshine. Most of our pals are still living in the library so the atmosphere is less than jubilant on campus. Marrakech may not seem the obvious option for a celebration what with the strict drinking rules and religious etiquette but flights were cheap and faced with unemployment that was hugely appealing.

Arriving in the early evening, we were met by a transfer organised by our hostel (only one of EQUITY POINT’s many perks) and deposited on the roadside near the centre of Marrakech. Feeling slightly disorientated by the dark, heat and noise of the city, we really had no option but to follow the man who had silently flung our suitcases into his hand-wheeled trailer and sped off down a narrow street. Thankfully, he safely led us to the door of our hostel, disappearing just as silently as he had arrived. The city is infamously hard to navigate, with hundreds of identical passages and a lack of road names so without his help we would probably still be wandering aimlessly in Africa. Even equipped with a map, finding the central square was not without it’s difficulties. But getting lost is by far the best way to really explore the city. On one particular journey to the cash point (the markets are hard to resist) we found ourselves in a tiny square packed tight with bundles of clothes for sale. This was also the only time we saw Moroccan women as the streets are mainly dominated by men which we were all warned against on departure but contrary to the vicious tourist rumours and tales of woe, we found almost all the locals to be very welcoming and helpful. It was very flattering to be constantly greeted as ‘beautiful girls’ and likened to the spice girls (the dream of every girl born in the nineties).

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Haggling in the ‘souks’ though was a little harrowing and takes some serious perservance. It helps if you can speak french or even more so if you have the odd arabic phrase up your sleeve – a local herbalist taught us the phrase for ‘how much?’ which i’m sure would have worked a treat if our skin wasn’t so pale and our expressions weren’t so baffled when they replied in their native tongue. The main error we made was not bringing an empty suitcase to stuff full with spices, lanterns, shoes, purses and beautiful handmade leather goods. With only one piece of hand luggage each we spent a good deal of the time wistfully staring at the rows and rows of weekend bags which would be flogged in London for at least £50.

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The food was exceptional. Richly spiced cous cous, piping hot tagines, fragrant chicken pastilla, olives, homemade breads and strangely, the best Pina Colada I’ve ever tasted. However, we were well guided and I can imagine it can be a bit hit and miss without recommendations. Our favourite spot was on the roof top terrace of Cafe Arabe. This is where we started and ended our trip, perched on the low stools and lounging on the plush cushions. It was slightly more expensive than some but given that it served alcohol (great cocktails) we were willing to pay the bit extra. The food was of no better standard than the other places we visited but the atmosphere was very peaceful and relaxed which made a welcome contrast to the buzz and chaos of the central square. That said, no trip to Marrakech would be complete without eating at the night-market. As the sun sets the city’s central square comes alive with lights, performers, food stands (more like makeshift restaurants) and music. It’s hard to know which is the best place to eat and I’m sure they’re all pretty much the same, but we just picked the busiest one and were amusingly clapped to our seats by the waiters as they sang ‘that’s the way uh huh uh huh, we like it’ (sadly not exclusive treatment as the next group were also serenaded in). There was no menu to choose from so we just opted for a selection of everything which resulted in a delicious feast of kebabs, fish, chips and various vegetables.

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Lunch was also always very indulgent – lighter options seemed hard to come by, not that any of us were particularly watching our waist lines. We ate at Cafe Bougainvillea a few times (on the second last day we discovered their chicken pastilla which was just so good) and on our last day grabbed some takeaway sandwiches from Cafe des epices (predictably located in the small ‘spice square’) which were nothing super special but nice bread and fresh ingredients.

We weren’t particularly ‘cultural’ in the sense that we didn’t visit any museums or tourist attractions, but this was mainly because our time was so limited and walking round the souks was surprisingly exhausting. Instead we spent most afternoons lazying by the pool, which was seriously luxurious for a hostel. The rooms themselves were very basic (we had bunk beds) but clean and we had a private bathroom which is always a plus. There was also a roof terrace with a bar where breakfast was served in the morning (included in the price) and where we played cards in the evenings and smoked shisha.

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One of the girls we were travelling with had stayed the year before in a very swanky hotel called Les Jardins de l’Agdal which has the most amazing pool so we decided to try and ‘pass’ as guests for the afternoon. Dressed in our sunday best we flounced through reception and ordered lunch by the poolside before retreating to the soft white mattresses of the sun-beds. Unfortunately we were quickly caught out and had to pay 200dirham for the afternoon but it was definitely worth it and I would definitely recommend trying to sneak in or at least popping in for a quick drink.

We had also booked a half day camel trek before we left with specialist morocco which promised a ride through the picturesque palmeraie and a break for mint tea and traditional pancakes at a local house. I’m still not exactly sure what a palmeraie actually is but I had assumed it was a lush forest of palm trees, instead it was at most twenty trees sparsely dotted across the landscape. That said, it was still a highlight mainly because the movement of the camels combined with our odd appearances (the company provided headscarves more for novelty than necessity) which made us all a bit hysterical.

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All in all it was the perfect kickstart to unemployment. I’m seriously considering starting up a company selling leather goods bought from the markets in Morocco. Or a spice shop. Or if all else fails I’ll go live with our camel leader who offered to trade me for a 1000 camels. At least i’ve got options.

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Two English Girls in Amsterdam

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Amsterdam is a bizarre place; where scantily clad women sit on stools in shop windows, the smell of pot infiltrates the whole city and a church sits slap bang in the middle of the redlight district (talk about ironic). But here’s the thing: it’s not just about the cafes and sex. And you know what I mean by cafes.

Two weeks back in Uni and it was already time for a quick escape. Luckily, my friend’s family had gone away for the weekend and gave us the keys to their rather swanky apartment in Amsterdam. Jackpot! Speaking of pot…you can buy cannabis lollipops and cookies in a newsagent! No biggy. But for us it wasn’t going to be a hazy weekend spent sitting stoned in the apartment. We were in one of the most culturally rich cities in the world and at least had to sample some of what it had to offer.

So we started with Bubble Tea. I’m less and less sure that this is an exclusive Dutch phenomenon, but the guy behind the moustache desk made a good case. It’s less like a tea and more like an ice-blended fruity milkshake with tiny edible balls that burst tropical fruit juice into your mouth. Pretty darn delicious.

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Next we hit the sex museum (cultural in its own way), which was…pretty enlightening. There was a giant chair shaped like a willy and some pretty intense pornographic photographs from as early as the 17th century. Who said the Victorians were prudish?

The next day it was pouring with rain so we decided we would see what museums the city had to offer. Turns out pretty much every other tourist in Amsterdam had the same idea. Queuing in the pouring rain wasn’t exactly enticing, so we skipped some of the big names (the Van Gogh Museum and the Rijksmuseum) and headed to the suspiciously empty, contemporary art and design museum, Stedelijk.  Despite the wariness of tourists, the museum is definitely worth a visit and not only because it’s free with the I Am Amsterdam card (well worth purchasing if you’re doing the cultural rounds, see more details at end of post). I’m not usually a fan of modern art (a line of paint on a white canvas is pretty unimaginative if you ask me), but there were some really great installations including a room full of behaviour sensitive lights and ‘The Beanery’ by Edward Kienholz ( a life-size replication of the artist’s local bar, the Original Beanery on Santa Monica Boulevard, L.A.). It was also amazing to see works by the likes of Picasso and Monet.

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Again, the queue outside Anne Frank’s house was far too long (in retrospect, it would have been better to book in advance especially on weekends when the queue stretches right along the canal) so we headed over to Het Grachtenhuis, a museum of the history of Amsterdam’s canals. Yes, I know it sounded unappealing to us as well, but we’d heard good things…. In fact, I can safely say it was one of the best museum’s I’ve ever been too. I often find museum’s incredibly draining and the information too dense, but Het Grachtenhuis’s multimedia tour of the history of canals was inspiring and hugely entertaining. Equipped with individual handsets we were led round the upstairs of the house; each room containing something different (videos, dolls house like models of canal houses, music etc.).

It is also well worth taking a canal tour if only for the sensation and sights (the audio guide blasting through the speakers was hard to hear over the chatter of the tourists), though it’s advisable not to go after a heavy night. The swaying motion of the barge and a pounding hangover do not mix well.

The photography museum, FOAM is unmissable for all photography enthusiasts. The current exhibition ‘Framed in Print’, 40 years of Dutch Magazine photography, was really amazing and the gallery space itself, though small, is maximised to show a number of different works without being overpowering or cluttered. Right at the top of the building (if you climb the right stairs) you find a small print sales room, where you can buy various photographs and also browse a number of photography books. We spent a good half an hour sifting through back issues of FOAM’s magazine and my friend ended up buying three to take home.

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Aside from the art and the history, there’s the shopping. Dutch fashion isn’t the most cutting edge and the better of the clothes shops tend to be for those who were more flash with their cash, but the antique shops are a real treat. (Though it’s a little painful knowing that you’re going to have to leave it all behind). There are also a few really great privately owned galleries hidden amongst the shops that are worth popping in to. We went into a tiny gallery to find works by Dali, Picasso, Miro. The city is also home to some really unique cafes (let’s say tea rooms to avoid confusion), our favourite of which was Cafe Brecht, which is reminiscent of a granny’s sitting room and serves a constantly changing menu of fresh teas.

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Cafe de Prins was our favourite restaurant (just across from Anne Frank’s House). It’s a very small space and a firm favourite with the locals. The food is exceptional with a small menu, but options to suit most and the prices low including the wine (low enough even for two students on a tight budget).  We went fairly early in the evening, but I’d imagine it gets pretty packed after 8 o’clock though you can reserve tables if you’re the organised type.

See, Amsterdam isn’t just the land of Mary Jane…

Getting about: It’s super easy to navigate because of the canal system and the best way to get around if you want to really see the city is to walk or cycle ( the bikes have high handle bars so that you actually look quite elegant gliding along). The tram system is great though if it’s raining or you’re going further afield. Plus public transport is free with the I Am Amsterdam card.

I Am Amsterdam card: If you’re looking to save some pennies and pack in loads in a short amount of time, I would definitely recommend getting your mits on one of these. You can buy a 24, 48 or 72-hour card for 42/52/62 euros and though it seems pretty pricey at the time it saves you a load in the long run as the museum entry fees are high, it also includes a free canal tour, a free coffee/tea at a number of cafes and other nifty discounts. Find out more here: http://www.iamsterdam.com/en-GB/experience/deals/i-amsterdam-city-card

All photographs were taken by me/ my friend.

 

 

 

 

 

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Hauntingly Beautiful

My Science Academy’s gallery of ’30 abandoned places that look truly beautiful’ is too good to be kept a secret. From the 15th Century Monastery in Germany to the Sunken Yacht in Antarctica, each photograph captures the ghostly quality and age worn beauty of these amazing places. My list of places to go is increasing by the minute.

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alien-esque dome houses, South West Florida

For the full list hit the link: http://myscienceacademy.org/2013/04/14/the-33-most-beautiful-abandoned-places-in-the-world/

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5 of the world’s most beautiful beaches

It’s Wednesday, two days after I landed back in London and the coming home excitement has subsided into a state of mild melancholy or what I like to call ‘post holiday blues’. So in a yearning for the sunshine I’ve spent my morning beach hunting on the internet. It’s sad really, but it’s somewhat therapeutic and gives me something to aim for… The result of my search is really my wish list, but more generally 5 of the world’s most beautiful beaches:

#5 White Haven, Whitsunday Islands, Australia. I’m a sucker for rainforest onto white sands and this is the perfect example, only draw back is it’s often voted Australia’s best beach and you know what that means: tourists. Call me selfish, but I don’t like to share my paradise!

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#4 Navagio, Zakynthos, Greece. This tiny beach, enclosed by steep cliffs, boasts water so exquisitely turquoise it looks like it’s been photo shopped. It’s also home to an old shipwreck left behind by smugglers and perhaps some hidden treasure!

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#3 Bangaram Beach, Lakshadweep Islands, India. Surrounded by lush green coconut palms, this beach is uninhabited, excepting one small resort and is the perfect hideaway for snorkelling enthusiasts who are on the search for manta rays and exotic fish.

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#2 Bora Bora, French Polynesia. It’s not hard to understand why Bora Bora is such an exclusive, pined after destination, with white sands, and clear water this is pure paradise. Where is Polynesia? Who knows, but it sounds exotic…

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#1 Ofu Beach, American Samoa. The looming mountain peaks and thin layer of mist resting over the water make Ofu Beach a truly magical, unspoilt location. The snorkelling is also incredible with an offshore reef home to over 300 species of fish. But the best thing about it is, there isn’t a tourist in sight. Yet.

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Easter in Santa Teresa, Costa Rica

Fortunately this Easter I was able to escape England’s sub-zero degrees to the sunny tropical paradise which is Costa Rica to visit my brother and his family. Thank god for family! My days are largely spent by the pool basking (and slightly burning) in the sun after participating in a two hour yoga session on a wooden platform overlooking the sea. Pure bliss. But Easter Day was somewhat different…

As my sister-in-law is American, Easter is a big deal. The house is decorated and food is prepared days in advance. Then comes Easter eve: My oldest niece spends a good 5 minutes arranging 4 large Easter baskets on the table with a plate of carrots ( made to look more authentic by using a tooth pick to stick celery leaves to the tops) for the Easter bunny. Then Easter morning: Baskets are emptied, sweets hoovered up (chocolate has a very low life expectancy in the heat) and off we go to the party for the next stage of the Easter extravaganza – the hunt! Again, much to my disappointment, no chocolate. Just plastic eggs filled with balloons ( a luxury out here) and painted hard boiled eggs, which my nephew soon finds are rather tasty as well as pretty to look at and plates of food freshly prepared by the community’s best chefs. Everyone knows everyone here. Then just as the sun reaches its peak, it’s time for a siesta before the beach party. Hosted at a beach bar, there’s live music, acrobatics, face painting, a BBQ and organic mojitos (I mean we don’t want to pollute out bodies do we?) made by a very spaced out barman. Suddenly it’s 8.30. Bedtime! Life is wild in the tropics. And Easter is over for another year.

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BE THERE: the traveller’s photography competition

‘The Guardian’s’ amateur photography competition ‘Be there’ is quite possibly the paper’s best kept secret. I say secret because I only stumbled across it this morning, but for those of you, who like me, apparently live in a box here’s the low down. ‘Be there’ is a travel photograph competition that encourages wandering nomads or artistically inclined tourists or just your average tourist to send in their most dramatic or beautiful holiday snap. By saying ‘holiday snap’ I’m hardly doing the previous entrants justice – their photographs are much much more than that, but my point is anyone can enter. Even you. Each month the competition focuses on a particular theme (January was ‘action’, February was ‘animals’ and March will be ‘water’) and the monthly winner will have their photograph professionally mounted and exhibited at the winner’s exhibition at King’s Palace next January. But, here’s the big pull, if you’re chosen as the overall winner, the prize is a trip to Churchill, Canada for an Arctic adventure including whale watching and polar bear tours. The deadline for March entries is 24 March. Even I’m tempted to take a shot at it….

Hit the link for more details about how to enter:

http://www.ivebeenthere.co.uk/articles/send-a-photo.jsp

A few of my favourite photos from this year’s competition so far:

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Welcome to the real-life Narnia

First erected in 1990 in Sweden, Icehotel is rebuilt every year using frozen water from the Torne River. Apart from being a hotel offering ‘cold rooms’ (the beds are built from blocks of ice and covered in reindeer hides) and ‘warm rooms’ (pretty much your standard hotel room) this beautiful, ice palace also functions as a transformative art exhibition showcasing the work of artists from across the globe. The Art Suites are definitely the highlight of the Icehotel, with giant ice statues at the foot of the bed and bizarre giant teardrop shaped sculptures plopped around the room. Like the hotel itself though, the suites melt with the sun, giving you only a limited time to enjoy the artwork before the next lot of artists start designing. The only slight draw back is there are no bathrooms in the ice rooms (only in the warm building), so its probably best to leave your Granny at home. You also get woken up by the staff at 7.30am. Why? To serve you hot ligonberry juice. I have no idea what that is either, but it sounds delicious and presumably gives you the kick you need to get out of your snuggly sleeping bag and into the snow. Let’s just hope its alcoholic.

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Could the Americans get any crazier?

In an effort to make running 5k a more enjoyable experience (if that’s even possible) the Yankees have come up with the ingenious plan of spraying runners with paint so that you end up sweaty and colourful! How fun does that sound?! Every runner must wear a white t-shirt and they get sprayed a different colour as they enter various ‘colour zones’. If you’re feeling peckish you can even eat the paint (the organisers’ suggestion not mine…). Applications open up in April for this Summer so if you’re popping over to America and fancy a colourful jog head on over to their website: http://thecolorrun.com. It’s probably wise to pack some goggles.

Apparently it’s ‘the happiest 5k on the planet’- to be fair these guys do look pretty happy…just think you could share in all that joy:

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Underground Art

Who would have thought that underground stations could ever be considered artistic? From my experience, they’re usually dingy, claustrophobic spaces that breathe body odour. Not somewhere you’d expect to stubble across the work of top architects and artists…

But it seems that not all underground stations are so suffocating. Trawling through the travel section of ‘The Telegraph’ I came across a photo gallery of Europe’s most impressive underground railway stations and they certainly make the notion of commuting a lot more exciting; Toledo Metro Station in Naples is like a glittering ice cave whilst Stadion station in Stockholm has a rainbow painted on the ceiling, who knows you may even be able to find a pot of gold at the end of it – anything seems possible in these stations.

Hit the link to see the beautiful world of station art…you’ll be surprised to find a couple of London stations included in the list, though they are by far the least impressive (well-tried tfl):

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/picturegalleries/9712101/The-most-impressive-underground-railway-stations-in-Europe.html

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