Thursday, July 24, 2014

Discovering the Ardennes: Gedinne


Belgium is one of those countries with a lot to discover. Take their mountains for example.

Coming from a country with real mountains, I find the Belgian passion for Ardennes rather cute and I don't really have the heart to tell them that well... that they're just hills.

But the Ardennes are definitely worth visiting. They are in Wallonia, the French part of the country. You can get there quite easily with public transport but make sure you check beforehand the timetables of the local busses, especially if you're headed to a small village.

Like Gedinne - apart from two busses every weekday there is no other way to get there than by foot/car/hitchhiking.
The good thing about the Ardennes s is that you're surrounded by green hills and forests. If you head more towards the countryside, you're very likely to see more cows and sheep than people. What I like about them is that they are peaceful and relaxing, even in bad weather.

Gedinne, Ardennes
Gedinne before storm 
 On a nice day, you can enjoy doing sports, from cycling or walking to canoeing. On the last note, there's only one river in Belgium where you can do canoeing and from what I've seen it's like a highway on weekends -busy and gets jammed often.

The little town village of Gedinne is surrounded by many little ponds and lakes, so on a sunny day, this is how your morning looks like.

Gedinne, Ardennes
Breakfast for Champions
Croix Scaille, the 9th highest mountain in Belgium (505 m) is less than 9 km away and quite a nice walk. There aren't many signs on the way, but if you stick to the main road, you should have no trouble getting there. On the top you can climb 50 m tower to enjoy the nice view of the valley (France and Belgium) and some tasty local beers.

As any small village, Gedinne too has its cute little quirks that make it worth visiting, from restaurants that serve food only during meal times to local bars and festivals that involve competition of plowing tractors. And of course adoring houses and gardens.


It's quite likely you will see everything Gedinne has to offer in one day. But to be honest, delicious food and nice people, makes it totally worth to stay an extra day.
Fields, Gedinne, Belgium

Ardennes, till next time.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Morocco

Friendly but heartbreaking. That's how I experienced Morocco. It wasn't my first trip out of Europe, still I wasn't ready for everything that poverty brought to Morocco's kind and warm people. Their hospitality is heartwarming and inspiring. And then there's mint tea, their way of saying welcome.

Ten days weren't nearly enough to discover Morocco, but they were enough to have a taste of it.

Casablanca

Immortalized by film that wasn't even shot there, Casablanca is one of those cities that tourists usually skip. Admittedly there's not so much to see yet it's wroth stopping by for one day. Even if just for seeing the Hassan II mosque, definitely the most beautiful and breath taking mosque I've ever seen.

It's well worth to take the guided tour too, seeing the insights with interesting explanations on its history and architecture. The French architect that built it was very smart in designing traditional features with modern technology. The mosque has built it speakers, that seem like decoration, electric roof that can be opened and hammam that has never been used yet (at least not till summer 2014).

Hassan II Mosque, Casablanca


And while you're at it, visit the local markets and try some of their refreshing fresh juices. They're too good to be true.

Market in Casablanca
Street Market in Casablanca

Rabat

The capital of Morocco is much more modern and rich city than Casablanca. Naturally, also much more touristic. I was mostly impressed by the seaside and the market, where little alleys and shops welcome you on every step.  So do their shop owners, never missing an opportunity to chat.

And before you know it, one of the local boys, will become your designated tour guide, offering vague explanations about the city and its inhabitants, while taking you to the view point of Rabat walls. And yes, you'll have to pay them.

Cooperative of carpet makers
Cooperative of carpet makers

Rabat
House in the old town
Mausoleum in Rabat
Mausoleum in Rabat

Marrakech

Marrakech is well worth visiting, but I for me once was enough. It is the kind of place that can make you hate people. From the moment we stepped out of the train and up till we left, I felt like a walking wallet, cruising among the endless small town crooks, that try to swindle you one way or another. My advise is don't take taxi's that don't use the meter and never trust anyone who says they'll take you where you want to go. They won't and they'll want money for it too.

There are many interesting things to see in Marrakech, from museums, parks to ruins and places of Berber cultural heritage. Two days should be enough though.

Jemaa El Fna is wonderful to see. For about 10 minutes. They you have to keep your eyes on snake charmers and monkey keepers (not to throw the animals around your neck and demand money to remove them), henna artists (that won't always wait for your consent) and dozens of merchants that have "special price for you, my friend".

Jemaa El Fna
Yves Saint Laurent spent last years of his life in Marrakech and invested into reviving a beautiful little oasis, a garden with Berber museum is now opened to visitors and offers a nice break from loud life of Marrakech.

Yves Saint Laurent Garden
Yves Saint Laurent Garden

The cute little streets of the old town of Marrakech are serving also as a highways for motors, bikes, donkeys and all other forms of transport. It's a loud and smelly nightmare, so look for shortcuts, whenever you can, especially in the evenings.

After getting traveler's diarrhea (awful!), I had to be careful about what and where to eat (which is a pity because Moroccan food and juices are really delicious). We ended up going to Earth Cafe, where you can have tasty veggie food (with local touch) and delicious fresh juices in company of other tourists. 

Mimi, the shop owner

My favourite places in Marrakech were El Badi Palace - now a beautiful ruin and home to many storks and Royal Garden, open to general public every Friday.

El Badi Palace
El Badi Palace
Royal Garden in Marrakech
Royal Garden in Marrakech

And if you stay longer, Marrakech is an excellent place to take trips with Grand Taxi that costs next to nothing. That's basically 20 year old Mercedes, that is very comfortable for 5 and very uncomfortable for 6 people (plus driver). Don't look for the seat belts or a working speed meters, you won't find them.

If you're lucky though you can buy off 1 or 2 extra places and make your ride more comfortable. If you have a bit more time, buses are very affordable option to get around.

Sti Fadma


I fell in love with this tiny Berber village in the mountains, only two hours away from Marrakech. Known for being one big cooperative, mostly living out of Argan oil products and tourism. Try food in one of many restaurants by the river. I had the best veggie tajine ever. And don't forget to visit one of the many cooperatives and show your support. It's as close to fair trade as you will get and they are very nice change from pushy merchants of Marrakech.

The village is located close to waterfalls, where locals will willingly take you for a fair price. Don't be fooled though, it's not an easy straightforward way and if you're wearing flip flops or aren't good with doing a bit of climbing, then forget it.

Sti Fadma
Sti Fadma
Sti Fadma


Waterfalls
Female Argan Cooperative 
Sti Fadma

Essaouira

Lovely town by the sea, known for its art market and delicious pancakes. One day trip is enough to experience the city but barely enough to explore it. It's a must - this charming little town with its relaxed atmosphere left a strong impression and a taste for more.

Art market in Essaouira


Morocco, this sunny land of Argan trees and oranges left strong impression. Yes, I will be back.

Monday, July 21, 2014

A fresh start

When it's been months since your last blog and you have secretly thinking about abandoning it all together but at the same time hoping you'd have more time to write, there's only one thing to do.

Make a fresh start.

So here it is, my blog after a small intervention, wearing fresh clothes and waiting for new adventures.

Are you coming along for the ride?