Tangier, Morocco

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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!

September 6, 2013

Stonehenge, Bath and Windsor Castle

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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.

August 26, 2013