Friday, February 27, 2009

Magic in Marrakesh: Part 1

It was cold, grey and raining slightly as we left Paris, so I practically skipped down the tarmac with happiness when we finally landed in Marrakesh to be greeted by blue skies, sunshine and palm trees. After being royally ripped off by an airport taxi driver (as expected!) we arrived at the edge of the medina to be immediately confronted by all the clichés I'd read about - the touts, the snake charmers, the masses of freshly squeezed orange juice! We'd already booked our accommodation, at the lovely Hotel Ali, and I had scribbled down a rough map from the website, so we headed straight there - much to the dismay of all the people attempting to convince us that their families'/brother's/best friend's hotel was much closer/cleaner/warmer. (Really, warmer. One guy asked us where we were staying and when we told him he shook his head and told us that it was a very cold hotel, but, of course, he knew somewhere with much better heating!)

We ran straight up to the roof terrace, which had an amazing view of the main square, Djemaa el-Fna. Though the sun was still shining, there were storm clouds building ominously in the distance, so we headed straight out to see as much as we could before the clouds caught up with us. 

Marrakesh 3
(The view of Djemaa el-Fna from the terrace) 

Unfortunately we barely even set foot in the souks before the rain started bucketing down and we were forced to seek shelter in one of the many cafés lining the square, where we ate the first of many amazing plates of couscous washed down with orange juice. It rained for almost 24 hours straight (we later learned that Marrakesh is experiencing one of its wettest winters on record - they apparently had more rain in October alone than they did for the past 4 years combined) and although we hastily bought umbrellas (having not come prepared for torrential rain!) it did put somewhat of a dampener on the first day of sightseeing. Luckily we had no fixed itinerary, so we were able to spend as much time there as we liked, sitting in cafés sipping mint tea and waiting for the deluge to come to an end. 

Which it did, in the early evening of our second day. The clouds rolled away, as quickly as they had come, leaving only a clear blue sky and some rosy traces on the horizon as the sun went down.

Marrakesh sunset

We ran around in the lovely rain-less twilight, finally experiencing the magic of Djemaa el-Fna as acrobats, story-tellers, snake charmers and henna-ladies (who told us that their henna would help us get a husband - do we look like we need one?) emerged from under their verandas and umbrellas to mill about. The main square stopped being a massive puddle we had to negotiate around and instead became an obstacle course, the game being whether we could get from one side to the other without being cajoled into buying dates, or orange juice, or having our fortunes told. 

As the light disappeared, turning from gold to blue to black, we crossed our fingers and wished for a clear skies and sunshine the next day. 

Marrakesh 4

Part two tomorrow! 

Alice x 

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Apologies + ready, steady, go!

Sorry I've been a bit slow on the uploads this week, it's taken longer to get back into the swing of things that I had anticipated! I've been carefully planning my Moroccan posts though - I'm going to try to cover each of the  17 wonderful days individually in the next few weeks. So without futher ado, I give you the first shot on my camera - the Boulevard Saint-Germain in Paris at 6:30am, as I made my way to Charles de Gaulle airport. 

Paris sunrise

Here we go! 

Alice x 

Sunday, February 22, 2009

The traveller returns

I'm back! Fresh off the plane from Tangiers, tired, dirty, and absolutely desperate to return to Morocco as soon as possible. I've got some exciting stories I can't wait to share with you all but right now I'm in desperate need of a shower and a long sleep. Here's a little taster till regular posting resumes tomorrow though: sunrise over the Saharan sand dunes at Merzouga. 

Sahara 1

Bisous x Alice 

Thursday, February 5, 2009

We interrupt your regular programming...

In just over 12 hours time (inshallah) I'll be on an airplane winging my way to Marrakesh! I'm certainly not taking my laptop, and I'm doubtful about the existence of internet cafés in the sahara, so posting for the next two weeks will be sporadic at best. But I promise lots of photos and stories on my return (hopefully good ones). Until then, au revoir. 

Bisous X Alice 

{photo via flickr}

Australia - isn't that near China?

Over lunch with a (French) friend today we were discussing what age we'd first learnt to drive, and I mentioned that people where I grew up (in rural Victoria, incase you were wondering) generally learned to drive quite early, as the distances were so great between towns and there was no public transport. She thought about that for a minute, and then asked me a question that made my jaw drop to the floor: "Is that because you lived in near the desert?" 

Turns out, she'd recently gone to see the film Australia (not recommended, by the way, unless you're going for the comic value of hearing Nicole Kidman say "crikey") and had somehow deduced that everyone in Australia pretty much lived within skipping distance of the desert. I tried to explain (after I'd finished laughing) that actually, most people in Australia lived nowhere near any sort of desert, but she couldn't understand how that could be possible, since there was obviously so much of it there. 

So I showed her this: 

Yes, that's right. You can fit the whole EU into Australia and still have space left over. 

Australians who have lived overseas (or 'abroad') before will know that people are generally endlessly fascinated and also misinformed about this crazy place we call "Australia". I have been asked, quite seriously, whether I've even ridden a kangaroo (yes, every day to school). A girl in one of my language classes once declared that it never snowed in Australia, and argued with me when I tried to contradict her. And, most hilariously, a Canadian friend of mine once asked me to explain some British slang to her and when I said that I couldn't, because, errr: I'm Australian, she said "oh, but you're almost British!" (About as much as you are, actually). 

So in the interests of dispelling some myths and hopefully preventing anyone else asking me whether I've ever held a koala, here are a few facts about Australia: 
  • No, it's not always sunny. Especially in Melbourne. You will probably have to bring a jumper (sorry, 'sweater'). 
  • No, Australia and New Zealand are not "the same thing". The distance between Melbourne and Wellington is the same as that between London and Moscow - ie. they're completely separate countries. 
  • Although yes, we do have poisonous snakes and spiders, this does not mean that you are going to get bitten and die. I lived in the bush for 20 years and noone I know has ever died of a snake bite.  
  • Ditto for sharks. It is safe to swim at Bondi Beach. (You think I'm kidding, but I met a German girl who told me she lived in Sydney for 6 months and never once went swimming at the beach because she was too scared of being attacked by a shark!) 
  • "The bush" does not mean "a bush", it is the Australian version of "the woods". We once had an exchange student come and stay with us who got very confused because we said we going to go to the bush, and she was looking out for one giant shrub! 
  • Yes, we say "G'day mate" and most of those other phrases you hear on television (though never "throw another shrimp on the barbie", unless we're being ironic.) No, it's not cute, funny, or quaint. Stop calling me quaint! 
  • No, I do not know this Australian guy named Pete from Sydney that you met once in a bar in Amsterdam. Do you know every single person in your country? 
  • No, we do not drink Fosters. And neither should you.
See ya later mate(s)!

Bisous X Alice 

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Another day in Paris

Sunset over the Seine. Everyday I'm surprised at how beautiful this city can be.

Sunset over the Seine 1

I'm thinking these Paris photos could become a regular feature, what do you think?

Bisous X Alice

A wintery picnic

The last sunny weekend a friend and I jumped on the RER and took a short trip out through the Parisian suburbs to the town of Fontainebleau. The chateau there was refurbished by Napoleon, who preferred it to its more famous sibling, Versailles, which was tainted by association with the Bourbon monarchy. Nowadays Versailles is again the more popular of the two, overrun by hoards of visitors desperate for a glimpse into the lives of Louis XVI and his infamous Queen, Marie Antoinette. 

Luckily for us, this meant that we were almost the only people at Fontainebleau, leaving us free to wander the beautiful grounds without being interrupted by camera-carrying tourists (except me, of course!)

Chateau Fontainebleau

We bought the usual cheese, baguettes and pains-aux-chocolat, and had a picnic in the garden, sitting on some marble steps in the sunshine.  

Picnic at Fontainebleau

Though it soon got much too cold to be sitting outside, and we had to escape into a nearby café for a coffee while our fingers defrosted. The gardens and lake would be lovely in the summer though, I'll have to remember to go back. 

Bisous X Alice 

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Even Parisians have to study sometimes

I've got two exams today (help!) so there wont be much in the way of posting, as I've got to save all my mental energy for Foucault and Derrida. To tide you over till tomorrow though, here's a photo I took a few weeks ago of the frozen fountains at the Louvre. 

Some friends came to visit me so we were doing a bit of a walking tour, and it was so cold we had to keep ducking into cafes every second block just to stop ourselves turning into ice-cubes. I'm not cut out for this winter-thing. Pretty though.  

Alright, now back to the books. Bonne journée! 

Bisous X Alice 

Monday, February 2, 2009

I love to go a-wandering

{originally uploaded by girlhula}

I'm constantly planning my next trip, even before the last one has finished. As a result, I've just finished marking all my holidays this year in my calendar and have been sitting here planning where I'm going to try and get to for 2009.

The list so far:

February: Morocco - of course. Only 4 more sleeps!

March: Amsterdam - hopefully for the long weekend.

April: London & Edinburgh - for Easter, this is already booked :)

May: Cinque Terre - flights are booked, and I've been pouring over websites searching for the perfect guesthouse.

June: Switzerland - I'd like to get there before the summer crowds, and it's only a few hours on the train from Paris. I'm also hoping to get a long weekend in Grenoble, I feel like I should see a bit more of France, while I'm here.

July: I've got four whole weeks off in July, and at the moment I'm torn between Greece & Turkey or Portugal & Spain. Anyone have any recommendations?

August: Back to Melbourne - this one is pretty non-negotiable, as I'll have 14 weeks left to finish on my degree (finally).

September & October: Will be pretty quiet I think, except maybe some weekends around Victoria.

November - Up to the Gold Coast to visit friends.

December - I'm thinking New Years in Vietnam or Laos, depending on how cheap jetstar will help me get there :)

Looks pretty good, right? I think it's going to be an amazing year. What are you plans for 2009?

Bisous X Alice

A little bit more snowflake sweetness

Snow at Rue de Grenelle

I woke up this morning to this lovely scene - snowflakes falling softly outside my window. I know there's many of you more-northern inhabitants who will laugh at my excitement at this tiny covering of snow, but this is the first time that I've seen any of the white stuff in my courtyard (it's quite sheltered) so it seemed kinda special to me. 

And if you click on the photo to enlarge it, what can you see?
Actual snowflakes! Awe.

Bisous X Alice

P.S. Incidentally, I discovered quite by accident that the way to make snowflakes show up (if you want to take photos while it's snowing) is to turn the flash on. I'm sure it has something to do with light refraction and what not, though since I failed physics I couldn't say for sure!

New and exciting ways to procrastinate

This came in the mail for me a few days ago, just in time for me to pack it to take to Morocco this weekend! It's a Holga 135BC from lomography, apparently built just like the old Holgas that take 120 film but modified to take regular 35mm (which is much easier to develop - and kinder on the hip pocket). 

Holga 135BC

We had an unusually sunny day in Paris yesterday, so I took it out for a bit of a test drive. It's lots of fun to use and makes a very satisfying 'click' when you press the shutter release. Unfortunately the viewfinder isn't linked to the lens at all, so I know there will be a few all-black photos when I get the photos back, from the shots where I forgot to take the lens cap off! I can't wait to get them developed, though. I'll be sure to share them with you :)

Thanks also to moominstuff for handy hints about aiming and loading the camera. 

Bisous X Alice 

P.S. If you're not familiar with lomography, check out a few of the flickr groups on it here and here. It's amazingly beautiful stuff. 

Sunday, February 1, 2009

So Little Time... So Much Desert

I've got about a million and one things to do in the next 4 days (including 2000 as-yet-unresearched words to write at some point), so of course I'm procrastinating like crazy. But whatever I don't get done by friday will have to wait a few weeks, because by noon I'll be on an airplane winging my to... MOROCCO! I am unbelievably excited, I've been dying to go there for years and I've finally managed to organize two whole free weeks for my first sojourn to the African continent. (I just love that it's in Africa. It's so much more exciting to say than plain old "Europe".)

In my (non-existent) spare minutes I've been trying to nail down a rough itinerary, but everytime I think I've settled on something I turn the page of my trusty lonelyplanet and find another 5 must-sees. Here's one place I will definitely be visiting though:

The sand dunes at Ergg Chebbi. It's like, the Sahara. Don't think I won't be singing the theme from Lawrence of Arabia the whole way.

Bisous X Alice

{image via brockleyboyo at flickr}