In keeping with last week’s topic of tours, I decided to tell you about my day in Tangier. One of the first bookings I made (next to my flight to Europe) was this guided day trip to Morocco. It almost didn’t begin when I had serious difficulties locating my pick up spot as no one else was waiting and there was no clear sign and my bus was late, so I thought I’d missed it. Note: Be sure to arrive 10-15 minutes early in case the bus arrives a few minutes early too. I took a seat on the bus and after a few more stops we were on our way. I chose to stay in Marbella, Spain because of this tour and its proximity to Tangier; if I had to do it again though, I’d opt for Marrakech or Fez. Remember, you are entering a different country (and continent) so passports are a must! After a ferry ride, security clearance and customs, we finally arrived in Tangier. I don’t know what I was expecting but what I saw was not it. I guess it slipped my mind that Tangier is a port city and like most it’s industrial, dirty and an actual city! This is why it is important to see the world, because from the comfort of home watching television, movies or reading magazines, you forget that actual people live in these places and therefore things like commerce exist. We boarded another bus and our multi-lingual guide began telling us all about Tangier and its people. We drove through the new part, but primarily we were in the old town. First we were shown the doorway of an ancient mausoleum which has been made famous by Henri Matisse and then we turned a corner to see a real live snake charmer. As I’ve said before, most of my trip was about conquering my fears; which is why I not only jumped at the chance, I paid 2 Euros to have a snake placed around my neck! This is the photo above, taken by one of two Irish guys I became friends with because of this moment. Afterwards, we made our way to lunch at a very authentic restaurant, complete with live music. Next, we were taken to a multi floor shop to get a lesson on rugs and to purchase souvenirs (I got a bracelet with a red stone, that has since broke). Our shopping tour continued at a spice market where I bought real Moroccan Argan oil. We got to wander the souk a little bit too before continuing on and magically (just as we were about to depart) I spotted a souvenir spoon for my collection, which I had all but given up on finding. I still can’t believe my luck with finding that spoon! As I’ve also said in past posts, I have a thing for water; so getting to see where the Atlantic Ocean meets the Mediterranean Sea at our next stop, was a real treat for me! Next we got to ride camels for the bargain price of 1 Euro! I’ll admit I was like a little kid when it came time for this. Our last stop was a brief look at Hercules’ cave (it was okay) and then we were back on the bus heading to catch our ferry. On the bus ride home, my new friends pointed out the Rock of Gibraltar too, which I found kind of fasinating and made a mental note to return for a visit. This tour was the longest at around 13 hours, but my new Irish friends and getting to see a whole different country made it a wonderful adventure. I would go back to Morocco in a heartbeat and as a female I think, personally, I’d chose a tour again if I were to go back; although I do know two women who went unaccompanied and had no issues whatsoever. The best part though; for one day I got to say, I was in Africa!
Tours are a great option for travellers looking to see something in particular, that might be either difficult to reach without a vehicle or if you want the detailed information a tour guide gives. I can honestly say none of the seven tours I took were a waste of time; they were all a great experience. My guides were all very knowledgeable, friendly and used the time well. As a single traveller, it was also a great way to meet people; I even keep in touch with a few of my new friends. The tour operator I used most was viator.com; they use local tour operators but it’s all booked and handled through Viator. In fact, for my next trip to Chile I plan on using them again for a side excursion. In Italy, walksofitaly.com (Walks of Italy) was my go to for tours of the Vatican and Sistine Chapel as well as Pompeii. Both operators gave me more information than I ever could have anticipated and made the experience even more enjoyable for a nerd like myself. I highly recommend tours for certain site seeing excursions, obviously if you are in a time crunch they might not be the best option, or contrary if you want to spend loads of time in one place or at one site. Do your research and see what works best for what you want out of your trip.
In England, I opted for a tour to visit Stonehenge for convenience; it included a trip to Bath and Windsor Castle also and a lunch in Lacock. We started at Windsor Castle which was very enjoyable for me as a bit of royal family lover. It was just so beautiful and steeped in history; really lovely experience. I purchased a tea cup for my mother here, which (somehow) magically made it through until I got home to Canada. Next, we travelled to Bath to visit the Roman baths. Our guide did point out other things to see if we didn’t want to do the baths, but I wanted to see them. It was a little rushed at this point because of the line up to enter the baths, but I got to see everything and sampled the famous spring water! It is very mineralized and strong tasting; some people didn’t like it at all, but I didn’t mind it in the least. Legend says the water (which comes out warm) actually makes you look younger are healthier the more you drink it so bottoms up! Truthfully, you could spend a lot more time in Bath, so maybe an additional side trip would be a better option, though for me it was sufficient. After Bath we stopped for a quick lunch at the George Inn in Lacock, where I had the best beef wellington in the whole world and a delicious pint of local Wadworth beer. We finished the long day of site seeing with the piece de résistance, Stonehenge. After a history lesson, we were allowed to just wander around by ourselves to take it all in, from every angle. It really does change as you move around and the change in the way the light hits the stones. It was almost surreal for me at this point and I was just so quiet, trying to take it all in. In the distance you can hear cars going by, and there are people talking around you; but somehow it feels like you are in a magic place, apart from the rest of the world. I definitely recommend a visit to Stonehenge if you go to England, well worth it.
It was a solid eleven hour day and while I was very tired at the end, it was beyond enjoyable! Note if you do take a tour from London, most leave from the Victoria coach station, so double check your gate prior to departure and know your tour number as it gets confusing when five different buses are all leaving from your gate.
It’s a wonder I haven’t written about London sooner. Probably because I did so much in my 6 days and it was such an unbelievable dream come true; I wasn’t sure where to even start! This picture was taken in the spur of the moment and was so perfect (at least I think so) that I had to show it first. It fully encompasses London transportation and I personally love it. It was taken on my first day in London, as I was making my way to the Tower Bridge. I never mentioned this before but, I am the luckiest girl on earth! The whole 110 days I was travelling, it only rained on me 8 days! This was especially miraculous in London as it pretty much goes with the territory. It’s true though; they had gotten a terrible stretch of rain just before I arrived but my 6 days weren’t only dry, they were sunny and beautiful. I could not have had a better experience and fear if I ever return it would not come close to my first visit. Tower Bridge was a must for me so as soon as I got there, I headed over. Taking about a hundred photos, I walked over the bridge, pausing to snap a “selfie” here and a picture there. I desperately wanted to remember that moment; it was one of two things that symbolized London to me. Afterwards, I went to a nearby pub and ordered fish and chips. This is a huge feat, as I do not eat fish. I ordered it in memory of my father and ate 3 whole bites before my stomach started to churn; but at least I tried. The next morning I finally got to accomplish my childhood dream of riding a double decker bus; I have to say, that was my favourite. I grinned ear to ear; even after I missed my stop and had to run back a whole kilometre to make my tour group on time! There is way too much more for one post, so once again you will have to wait for more entries. I will say though , after finally visiting, I still wish I were British (for the accent) but I’m have second thoughts on the whole princess thing, it just seems like a lot of work.
Since I live in Canada and it’s -10C on March 26th, I’ve been feeling really nostalgic about the warm places I’ve visited on my trip. One such place was Marbella, Spain. I had chosen it because of a tour to Tangier, Morocco you can take from there. As I’ve said before, I had originally planned to do a lot more of Spain and for longer but time constraints made that impossible. Sadly, I ended up with only two half days to actually enjoy Marbella and that was ridiculously short. I was lucky the first day I arrived was beautiful and I got to lie out on the beach until sunset. The boardwalk is lovely to stroll and the view of the water is picturesque. People build elaborate sand art (like a fire breathing dragon!) in the sand below the boardwalk and you can see them as you walk along. The old town is so adorable and very much what I expected, maybe even cuter; it’s aglow in the night with the lights on the white buildings and stone streets. I’d love the chance to return and see more of Marbella and southern Spain. Next time, I’d like to take a tour to Marrakech also. Let’s just say, I’m working on it.
In honour of St. Patrick’s Day this past Monday, I’ve decided to do yet another post on Ireland. While I travelled all around the countryside on group tours, my base was at a hostel in Dublin. It was located behind the old Jameson Distillery and I chose it for that specific reason. I love whiskey! I drank my way through most of Scotland and Ireland, trying different scotches and whiskies; which was fun but also caused some painful mornings. The most epic of these nights involved me stopping for one drink at a pub on my way back to the hostel on my last night in Dublin. A few pints of Guinness later and lots of Jameson, I almost left my phone and credit card on my barstool as I was leaving (luck was on my side). Unfortunately, I did lose my room key though but luckily did not have to pay for a new one (thank you reception guy). The night finished with my lovely roommates packing my suitcase for me for my 6am flight to Malaga and setting their alarms to wake me up on time… That was the worst flight of my life. However, Aer Lingus is a great airline and I’m sure if I was awake or not dying it would have been a very enjoyable flight. The next day an Irish friend referred to my state as the Irish Flu, I can definitely understand that saying. It was a lot of fun though, live music, lively people from all over the world, and lots and lots of laughs. I still have contact with those roommates and I still giggle to myself when I remember the adventures of that night. I met so many people in Ireland and had such great fun; it makes me miss it all when I tell these stories. Even the worst hangover could not make me want to change a single moment!
It was my second time in Cinque-Terre but the first time I got to stay overnight. It’s really no wonder it’s such a popular tourist destination, from the hiking, to the scenery, to the idealistic little villages; it’s colourful in both its energy and ambiance. I stayed in Monterosso, which is the last of the five villages that makes up Cinque-Terre. Monterosso is the epitome of a beach town and I felt like I was almost camping in my little single room at the hostel (which I loved). I had such an amazing time here that one post would never be able to fully express that. The other day I found a little blip I had written in my phone while there. I was sitting at a sea front bar, drinking an Aperol Spritz and looking out at the lights of the neighbouring villages. I thought for this post, I’d share that note and some photos from that moment.
June 29, 2013
I’m sitting here at a seaside bar in Cinque-Terre, Monterosso to be exact. Glittering in the distance is Varnezza! Sparse twinkling lights, shimmering up the cliff side, but at dusk they almost look as though someone has put Christmas lights on the hills. Monterosso is buzzing with locals and tourists alike. It is high season and the feeling of summer in is the air. The feeling of long nights and even longer days; of sand and salt mixed into every inch of your body and no desire for it to be any other way. A boat sails into the harbour, a momentary distraction but gone as quickly as spotted. Boating is second nature to those here. The sea is a part of life; of everyone and everything, as it is with most coastal towns. It is with blurry eyes I try to stay awake, I’m exhausted from the day but I do not want it to end. At the sea is where I feel most at peace. And although another vision of the sea awaits me, I have enjoyed my time here so… Maybe that is all Cinque-Terre is ever meant to be for me; a fleeting moment of utter happiness, destined to be repeated but not revelled in for long. How else could you truly understand the immenseness of being complete? Even if only for a day.
I know I set this blog up to show my travels, but sometimes we get so caught up in faraway places that we forget the beauty in our own backyards. This past weekend I went to the Maple Syrup Festival at Bruce’s Mill in Stouffville, Ontario. It was a lot of fun, we took my two young cousins and it was nice to get outside (especially after this brutal winter we’ve had) and do something different. I came home with sun on my face and campfire smells in my hair; it was just what I needed. Personally I still can’t wait for summer, but once in a while winter’s whiteness makes a gorgeous backdrop for photos like this and days like that.
I chose this picture for two reasons: one is that I quite like it, and two is that I quite enjoyed meeting those guys in it. I had just come from Amsterdam and was feeling pretty sick (a theme on this trip, unfortunately). I had just heard so much about Bruges from friends that I squished in a two day stop. I tried to do a bit of sightseeing the first day and wandered around the city centre. I was so drained though and didn’t last too long, before stopping to eat. Afterwards I decided to go back to my hostel and rest a little, but it was so sunny and warm, I opted for a beer on the patio. That’s when a slightly creepy situation occurred with a drunken customer talking a bit too intently with me, made me move inside where I felt safer. It was that move inside that led me to meet a new friend, a young local guy. I ended up chatting to him and his friend most of the night and we made plans to meet the next day. Early the next morning, we met at the hostel and spent the whole day together with two of his buddies. It was rainy and grey but we still had a lot of fun; they showed me around town and gave me lessons on local food and beers. I also got them go up the Belfry clock tower which, despite them living there, they had never gone up. We also went to the Saturday market where one of them bought a live chicken! “Chicken”, as I named it, got us a lot of weird looks from passersby and a lot of laughs. This picture above was taken at the windmills, which was really cliché but probably my favourite part. We finished the day with a group dinner, and some more beers (when in Belgium…). I called it a fairly early night though, as I was headed to London in the morning and wanted to be rested. Bruges is an adorable and quaint little city and definitely worth seeing. For me though, those boys in that picture are what made it a great stop on my trip.
Seriously, pictures do not even come close to the real sight that is, Giant’s Causeway. It is breathtaking, incredible and completely unbelievable. Until you actually see it for yourself, it’s hard to really comprehend how a place like this can exist without being man made. Each column has 6 sides (some more or less) and those columns differ in height; creating a sort of step like appearance. The stones stretch out quite a distance along the bottom of the cliffs and disappear into the sea. When we were there they were filming a movie, so part of the area was closed off. The film crew was also in the middle of a lot of my scenery photos, unfortunately. It was still a great experience though and definitely a must see! I opted for a tour that also took us through the Bushmills Distillery, Carrick-a-Rede Bridge, which was a convenient way to travel around Ireland. Beware, as a day trip from Dublin (which is what I did), it was a long day of approx. 12 hours. I wouldn’t have changed a thing though; I had a wonderful time and made a new friend. I met a lovely woman, also travelling alone, and we chatted the whole time. I even helped her to conquer a fear of heights by crossing the bridge and as a thank you she sent me a spoon from Belfast, for my collection (yes, I collect spoons). It was unnecessary but very thoughtful and touching. I made a few friends while in Ireland, maybe it’s due to that luck they keep talking about over there?
I’m still at a loss why more people aren’t aware or intrigued by this beautiful little island. Every time I mentioned it as a destination on my trip, people wondered why and some even asked where it was. So for those who don’t know; Malta is a tiny island off the coast of Sicily and is made up of 3 islands including Gozo and Comino. It has an amazing history (I’ll touch on that at another post) filled with pre historic temples, knights, war and is definitely worth learning more about. I can’t even remember when I first learn about Malta, that’s how long I’ve wanted to visit. Unfortunately, I became really sick the night before my flight. I was in Madrid and had been feeling a little off since Barcelona, but then I woke in the middle of the night with full body aches and chills. I made it to Malta the next day and basically showered and went to bed. Not wanting to waste my stay, I ventured (sick and all) to the beach the next day. I stayed at a great little hostel near St. Julian’s but the beach of Ghajn Tuffieha was apparently a must see. I ended up on the bay beside it because it’s a little confusing unless you ask, but Golden Bay is lovely too. I bought some snacks and lots of water and I laid on that beach all day long, cooling off in the water when needed. I slept a bit, I read a bit and I relaxed. After a lot of go-go-go, I definitely needed it. I can’t even properly describe the peace I felt there, surrounded by the cliffs of the bay, the sun overhead and the beautiful water. The scenery is rustic and worn, making it feel more like a far away land. However, there is charm that’s indescribable. The beach front restaurant made a great environment for a satisfying dinner and the next day, I did the exact same thing. From the hostel it was a short walk to a bus that took me directly to the beach, so over all it wasn’t a lot of effort. Half way through my week in Malta, a friend from back home came to visit. I knew I had to be in better shape for her arrival, which is why I chose to do nothing for the first few days. The owner of the hostel was amazing too, she answered all my questions (which were a lot) and even let me hang out during the day while I waited for my friend (kind of rare in the hostel world). The next few days were much more eventful, which just goes to show you; Malta has something for everyone. I can’t begin to mention everything there was to see and do, during this one post; so I’ll leave that for another time.