Holiday

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Woah nelly!

(Have you read part i? If not click here, or this won’t make much sense. All stories need a beginning after all.)

On Valentines Day we drove into Agadir. We were excited to see the local city, and take in a different kind of culture than the village life we’d adapted to. Agadir itself was a mixed experience. Our first port of call was the Kasbah that overlooks the city, perched atop of a huge hill and visible from everywhere in Agadir. The view from there was breath-taking. I also saw my first EVER camel. The panoramic perspective clearly shows the shift caused by the disastrous earthquake that hit Agadir in 1960, killing half the population and completely destroying the old town. The Agadir we visited is apparently unrecognisable to it’s previous state, having been entirely rebuilt and so it’s fair to judge it bearing in mind that it’s a city still recovering from a devastating natural disaster.

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We spent alot of the day on the beach; which was clean and pleasant. The town however didn’t really have much to offer. Sadly (well not if you like that kind of thing) Agadir is dominated by resorts. Tourists flock for the cheap flights and guaranteed heat, but then stay in these Club-Med style resorts with huge walls and gated access. Actually I think I only need to say one thing to describe Agadir; there’s an English Pub. And for me, that’s exactly what I was trying to escape! We tried to make the most of the day by visiting the Valley of the Birds; a free nature attraction. However, as I excitedly scampered in and ran up to the first cage of blue parrots… I recoiled in horror. All the birds were balding. Some had almost no feathers. Some had actual bits of them missing, obviously having been gnawed off by their cage-mates. The ‘valley’ was an unfortunate one-way system so we were forced to carry on through what Nick coined the gauntlet of horror and we were very relieved to escape, if a little traumatised. One good thing about Agadir was that we could visit the huge Uniprix (supermarket). Morocco is a totally dry country = no booze for sale! So if you want a few drinks on an evening, you have to bring them yourself. Our Kasbah were very accommodating – and would happily put drinks in the fridge for us, open them to serve with dinner etc. They just don’t have the license (or inclination…) to serve it. The Uniprix is the only place in Agadir to legally sell alcohol, so we picked up a bottle of bubbles and also 4 bottles of the local Casablanca beer. I’m absolutely gutted we just had hand-luggage allowance as otherwise we would have bought a crate of this back! It was a beautiful beer, and a steal at just over £1 a bottle. The highlight of Agadir, and reason I would still recommend a visit, was twilight. As the sun sets, you can sit on one of the beach front bars drinking mint tea (obvs) watching the birds swarm around the port and then the motif on the Kasbah hill that says God, Country, King lights up and sparkles in the distance. It was a really tranquil moment and a favourite memory of the trip.

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Our big adventure day saw us drive the 2 hours down to Souss-Massa National Park. There were endless options of big day trips we could have done – Marrakesh, the oasis of Ait Baha, sampling fresh honey and waterfalls of Imouzzer or the imperial city of Taroudant. We chose the national park because it was close to the city of Tiznit so we felt we could have a perfect day of wilderness and then taking in a traditional souk. At Souss-Massa we were met by a local villager Ahmed (another Ahmed!) and his trusty binoculars. He took us on a 3 hour trek which trailed the river Massa to the beach, the sahara sands and a small fishing village where homes were carved caves into the sand cliffs. We knew before we visited that Souss Massa was home to the near-extinct Bald Ibis bird. Half of the worlds population (of which there are only 800) reside there and there’s a huge local push to preserve and protect this critically endangered species. Our guide suddenly whooped for joy, and a V of bald ibis swooped over our heads! As we stood stunned on the sand, we saw about 3 different flocks of these incredible creatures and I even managed to get photograph that shows their amazing baldheads. This has to be the highlight of our trip, seeing one of the rarest birds in the world. Ahmed kept saying bon chance, bon chance as it’s so unexpected to see them. We also tracked wild foxes, found a wild boar skeleton, flocks of yellow billed herons in the trees and of course… sea gulls aplenty.

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As we crossed the sandy planes to the fisherman’s village, I made Ahmed laugh with a crocodile impression (the international language of signing coming in handy again) and in return he gave me his Berber headscarf which I wore for the rest of the day. On another baking hot day, it was sorely appreciated. As Ahmed took his headscarf off, a big curly mop of sun-bleached hair appeared, and we realised that he was a cool surf dude undernearth the traditional dress. He also had an amazing ironic teeshirt, considering he is a guide at a national park, he was wearing a Yellowstone national park T! We took mint tea with his brother in his beautiful painted cave house. The language barrier was easily overcome by Ahmed showing us photographs of a giant dead whale that washed up on the coastline last May, with men stood around it looking the size of ants. Again I was struck by how little you need to be content, and how simple his life was looking out on the ocean. On the way home Ahmed encouraged us to climb up some stairs built into the sand cliff, which then turned into… just sand. The ground gave away (imagine how slippery vertical sand is!) as we scrambled our way up the cliff. Ahmed of course remained cool as a cucumber, whilst I imagined just how much damage landing on those spiny, sharp rockpools would do to my face… Another near-death scrape but as he tugged me over the final cliff-lip, the views were almost worth it.

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Sandy and sun-kissed, we drove an hour to Tiznit. On the way we didn’t see another car, only ragged rudded plains as far as the eye could see, peppered with the occasional nomad’s tent. Tiznit was a delight, and I’d definitely recommend you visit. We were the only tourists and that always reassures me that you are seeing a city in its natural state rather than putting on a show for visitors. Tiznit is the capital of silver, and we got to see a local man creating silver that looked like delicate spun sugar. I bought an ebony bracelet with silver etchings, which has shot to the top of my most favourite and precious jewellery items and would definitely get saved in a fire! Tiznit is split in two, with an old terracotta town with huge towering walls and staircases that lead to nowhere. This was where the souk was, and it was a wonder to walk around – heaps of tagine pots, Moroccan slippers, jewels, oils and our new guide Saeed kept encouraging me to eat random bits of what looked like twig that he plucked from the market stalls that were apparently good for women (he didnt say how, and they tasted like tree. I even got a tongue splinter.)

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From Tiznet we drove out into the proper heights of the Atlas Mountains to the Ben Tachfine dam. As we wound narrow roads I had no idea what to expect, and as we stepped out of the car I couldn’t catch my breath. No photo or words or describing will do justice to how beautiful the view was, and how silent and peaceful and just mind-blowing this moment was. I couldn’t have felt further from home. An 86 year old nomad lived at the top of the mountain and invited us for mint tea… and offered Nick to swap me for his donkey. It was quite a nice donkey.

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So, days merged into days, and a lot of dips in the pools, hours reading in the dusky sun, exploring the high Atlas and sleeping (we averaged around ten hours a night) and for our final trip we drove out to a surf town near Essaouira which is fondly referred to locally as banana beach. Weirdly enough Nick & I had never tried surfing before, despite me having holidayed at Fistral Beach in Newquay and Nick having er.. lived in Australia! I can’t remember at what point we agreed to try in Morocco, but we thought it would be nice to try something entirely new for the first time together. We went with Surf Town who we were reassured were experts with beginners, and they lived up to the claims. We paid £54 for half a day surfing and that included a very hands-on tutor, equipment and wet-suits. We joined a group of 5 friendly Russians and together embarked our efforts to take on the sea.

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I couldn’t believe how MASSIVE the surf board was. I am a weakling, and could barely lift the thing let alone contemplate riding it! But actually once in the water (and attached to my foot) it was a little easier to control. We learnt the basics of surfing on the sand, and then hit the (huge) waves. I have to say, I absolutely loved it. Surfing requires intense concentration, a good sense of timing (to know when to paddle, when to attempt to stand etc) but once you get up on the board it’s the most satisfying, free feeling. Although every moment of exhilaration is matched with an hour of face-planting into crashing waves, sand and (for me) rocks. Woops. I definitely caught the surf bug though, and it helped to be doing it in a glorious exotic location with camels roaming the beach and herons swooping overhead. I managed to stand up once, whereas Nick was basically Beach-Boys level surf star within hours. What I didn’t expect was the world of pain that followed the next day. Every muscle in my body was screaming, so being squished into a full-capacity Easyjet flight for nearly 4 hours wasn’t the best treatment. We both agreed that it’s something we can’t wait to try again. I can’t see us getting his n hers boards and spending the days at the beach, but I reckon we’ll definitely go again this year. It’s quite nice to have started on one of the coastlines that worldclass surfers long to surf on!

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So that’s the end of my first ever trip to Morocco. You have probably gathered that it stole a piece of my heart, and I am desperately blue at being back in -5 degree London, which currently is snowing constantly at that level that makes me feel like I’m walking around in Silent Hill. Morocco has been my best ever holiday, and I would recommend everyone and anyone to visit. You can pick and choose absolutely anything you could wish for from a holiday, and be as adventurous or as lazy as you like. I also can’t recommend Atlas Kasbah enough. Every member of staff seemed so personally invested in us having a good time, and were patient, welcoming and endlessly friendly. Nothing was too much trouble, and they made our holiday so much more special because they were from the local area so were endless sources of knowledge and tips and information.

If you’ve enjoyed this glimpse into a travel blogging version of me, then don’t worry, my feet are barely on the ground because in two weeks time I’ll be in Los Angeles and New York for work so expect a bit more of the same.

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I can’t believe how quickly this year has sped by. My new year’s resolution was to take a photo every day and I stuck to it, which has made it so much easier when trying to cast my mulled-wine pickled brain back over the year to recap what I got up to; as I certainly wasn’t blogging about it. Sorry! It’s been a pretty grim year, one that makes you grit your teeth and fear answering the phone as you know it will be another piece of bad news. Sadly this has continued right into the festive season and so I’ll be very relieved tonight to toast the end of a rotten apple year and the start of 2013 which can surely only be better. That said though, I think it’s all too easy to write off a bad year and in fact there have been some sparkly moments of wonderful wanderings, experiences and memories that I wouldn’t swap for anything.

This turned into such an epic beast that I am blogging it in two parts, the first being January – June.

January

January

This was a walk that Nick & I took up Malham Cove with my parents. If you ever find yourself in Yorkshire then Malham is my absolute favourite place to visit and my top recommendation. Looking up at the cove itself  will leave you breathless and feeling very tiny indeed. We were so fortunate with the weather, as despite deep snow for miles around, the treacherous 400 stone steps that take you up to the top of the 260 foot cliff face were clear and could still be climbed in my £6 Primark brogues with no grips.

 February

February

One of the “how is this happening to me” moments that have peppered the most successful professional year in my career. Considering I still speak with such a broad Yorkshire accent I basically need subtitles, get ID’d every single time I purchase alcohol and still constantly get comments on my “quirky” fashion sense, I still struggle to remember I am actually a head of my own department and seem to be doing pretty well at this whole work thing. It feels like the 12 hour days are finally paying off (although maybe not for my health; see October) In February I was still working for a children’s media company and was invited to the Houses of Parliament to take part in a seminar on children’s welfare and charity work. It was such a privilege and something I know not many people will experience. I just wish I’d had more time to poke my nose around the incredible wooden chambers and rooms with vast ceilings and chandeliers. Instead I was ushered in for breakfast, where they had the most tempting looking Danish pastries but my stupid etiquette meant I was too embarrassed to eat one as they were too far for me to easily reach, so instead I just had to make do with a few bits of (extra posh) fruit salad and a super strong coffee.

 March

March

I didn’t go to many gigs this year because my main entertainment-indulgence money went on my monthly Cineworld card and spending hour after hour in the various West End cinemas (in total I saw 34 films this year!) Luckily it was quality over quantity and this gig, Future Islands at Scala, was my favourite. If you aren’t familiar with the band you should definitely download some, I’d recommend Before The Bridge, Inch of Dust and Balance. What I love about them is that the singer has this incredible theatrical voice but looks NOTHING like what you expect him to. He is probably the best showman I have ever encountered, as despite being at the end of a lengthy European tour he seemed to adore every moment, resulting in the audience storming the stage for the encore.

 April

April

The image sort of sums it up, but after 5 years working for the same company, I took a new job in April. It was scary as I had always worked in the same office, with the same people, for my whole London life but it was definitely what I needed and I haven’t regretted the decision once. The fact that regular trips to New York and Los Angeles are now part of my job kinda helps too!

 May

May

After a tequila-fuelled London celebration, Nick & I went to Dorset for an extended Birthday spoiling. There were so many highlights, but I think Swanage remains one of my favourite places in the UK. For many reasons (the beautiful twinkling lights as the sun sets, the boats in the harbour, the road into the sea, the ice cream and the beautiful Jurassic coastline) but mainly because we discovered Jurassic Park crazy golf there! Wildly flaunting a million copyright infringements this combination of two of my all-time favourite things (crazy golf + dinosaurs) was the perfect birthday present. We also went on a huge walk and spotted my first ever slow worm, which it turns out isn’t a snake but it still has a cool fork-y tongue.

 June


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I had been promising to go on holiday with my oldest school friend for about a decade but we’ve never had time or holiday budget that matched up. This year we finally got it together and after a few vetoed suggestions of destinations (Benidorm being one…) we settled on Ibiza. Given that I’m not exactly a clubber at the best of times, and that the music isn’t my cup of tea, I was a bit eye-rolly about the whole thing. The flight from Bradford to Ibiza isn’t one I’d want to repeat (just an aeroplane FULL of hammered northern men, 5 of whom were arrested before even leaving the airport!) but I enjoyed every second after that. We were away for the Jubilee weekend so decked our hotel balcony with chintzy union jack bunting and celebrated with carton after carton of 70cent Sangria.

June

We stayed in Bossa Park which is the ‘up and coming’ area according to our hotel manager and I definitely felt like it had a cooler vibe than the hen/stag saturated San Antonio side of the island. It was fun to chat to the people selling tickets on the street and haggling deals. On our first night we ended up buying from a Scottish guy who kept flipping between heavy Glaswegian accented English into perfectly fluent Spanish and who led us through a quiet civilised fancy restaurant down some stairs into the most heaving secret basement bar I’ve ever seen where everything glowed UV, we drank free cocktails and danced to Rihanna with the locals. I can’t remember the last time I felt so young, and so free. It was such a glorious four days with tons of sun lounger reading, playing beach ball in the pool and stocking up on our grimy B&B breakfast to make it last the whole day.

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The daytime highlight was definitely an afternoon at Café Mambo watching the sunset which is as phenomenal as everyone says and is definitely something everyone should see once in their life. The night-time highlight was seeing Tiesto at Pacha (still can’t believe those words are coming out of my mouth, in the same way I can’t believe I since downloaded that Tonight We Are Youuuung song as it was played every third song anywhere we went). The clubbing was so easy to throw yourself in to, and I barely drank (mainly because even a bottle of water is 8 euros) but you don’t need to as the atmosphere itself is contagious and totally electric. It was like being at a really good music festival as everyone is so happy and just enjoying the experience. It wasn’t at all what I expected and we ended up making tons of friends with waifs and strays from all over Europe. My favourite clubs were definitely Pacha, Ibiza Rocks (for the pool alone, which everyone was drunkenly chucking each other into – it reminded me of the bad donkey island in Pinocchio!) and Es Paradis which has a stunning interior and played my kind of music rather than the mwam mwam mwam of everywhere else. I definitely have the fabled Ibiza-bug and would go back in a heartbeat.

June 2

I couldn’t re-cap this year without featuring this image that will forever be burnt into my retina! This view from the heady heights of the London Eye, where myself and my dear Craig got stuck for nearly an hour! The jaunt started happily enough, with my ticket being a generous birthday gift and thoughtfully planned to take in the sunset on the longest day of the year. We scuttled down to South Bank, devoured a pizza and a bottle of rose wine and were actually a bit tipsy as we boarded the Eye. As our little pod climbed towards the sky, we shoved our noses up against the glass and oohed and ahhed and it was brilliant. Then, at the just-before-the-top slot, we stopped. After 20 minutes a few people started asking why we were stopped and I reassured them that it was totally normal and just to give us a ‘good view’ (! which actually on reflection makes no sense as then the wheel would never move) after 30 minutes I started to feel a bit antsy with that sinking feeling that something’s gone array and I am stuck 135 metres in the sky in a glass capsule.

I only have one fear, and its claustrophobia, so the next half an hour were a massive test of my ability to keep a gigantic panic attack at bay. It helped that I had Craig at my side so we just spotted landmarks and took in the incredible view and laughed about the fact that a) this type of this ALWAYS happens to us and b) at least we got our moneys worth. An unhelpful recorded message reassured us that “due to unforeseen circumstances your rotation had been terminated, do not panic & do not be alarmed” (!) and they cranked up the air con so much I had to huddle with the rest of the tourists in a borrowed woolly hat for warmth. Eventually we got moving again and we never did find out why we got stuck but I was certainly relieved to get my feet back on solid London ground again as I had been envisioning helicopter rescues.  I have definitely had my fill of the London Eye for life now. Never again! Not even in one of the swish champagne VIP pods.

 

 

 

 

 

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So the trip got off to a slightly bumpy start. London Transport decided to hold a tube strike on the day of our flight! I never go on holiday, so typical that they select that day of all other 364.  I had to charm my mamanger to sneak out before the walk-out began at 3pm, which meant we were at Heathrow eager and checked in four hours early.

And then our flight was delayed. And THEN, I bumped into my first ever boyfriend in the departure lounge (my life IS the Truman Show, I mean what are the chances? Plus I was wearing a scruffy flight outfit of hoodie and scraped back ponytail. Alas!) And finally, we board the plane and then are sat on the runway in the pouring rain for nearly 2 hours, because some families from a transfer flight from Mumbai who had boarded had started getting sick. One by one puking children were excorted from the aircraft and it was definitely starting to feel like Dawn Of The Dead and that our plane was facing some sort of zombie infestation!

After all that drama, I watched a tiny bit of Diary Of A Wimpy Kid and then slept for the rest of the flight. I woke up just in time to gape open mouthed and nose pressed to the glass at the grid system as we landed. Because of the delay we arrived into NYC at about 3am and were hot, smelly and oh so excited as we got our first of many Yellow Cabs (so cheap! with TV in the back!) to our friends house. 

After a first day brunch, where I learnt how to order US-style – “2 eggs over-easy with a side of grits” … what?! We headed to Coney Island; as it was a beautiful day and it turned out we were staying just 6 stops on the subway away.

Coney Island is definitely New Yorks answer to Blackpool. We saw some real sights there including an elderly woman dancing to a boombox playing Like A Virgin! We played Shoot The Freak where you had to fire at a freak with a paintball gun (the freak actually turned out to be a surly Mexican teenage boy wearing a hockey mask so not too freaky really) and I tried my first (and last) Corn Dog. Ew! It’s like a frankfurter in a doughnut. It’s weird.

  

  

That night I learnt to play beer pong with some serious American movie sports jock boys, sang karaoke (including Empire State Of Mind which did bring a little holiday tear to my eye!) and ended up drinking Whiskey and eating cheesecake on a porch in Brooklyn at 3am.

The next day we brushed off the cobwebs with a ride on the ferry to see Liberty. She was looking lovely.

More soon… & don’t forget to enter and hype up my NYC competition here!

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I have never been to Sonar before. I have actually never been to a music festival outside of Britain before, but after 10 years of soggy camping, over-priced van food and harrowing when-weather-goes-bad experiences I had enough of hearing myself inevitabley bleat with the amount I’ve spent at 3 days of festival going in the UK, I could have paid for a holiday abroad! and decided to put it to the test.

There were alot of things that appealed to me about Sonar 2010. The fact it was in Barcelona – a city I had only visited briefly when I was 14 and well below Sangria slurping age or the age to really appreciate anything other than the fact I was away from home for the first time with boys from the YEAR ABOVE shocker! Also the fact Sonar is a non-camping festival which means you hook yourself up with a nifty little appartment and have somewhere nice to wake up, BATHE and prance around in pretty dresses (speaking as someone whos favourite teadress got washed away in the Bestival 2008 monsoon, this is of upmost importance!) It also means you can buy the amazingly cheap local Cava (two euros fifty a bottle) and freeload it in your appartment before leaving to start partyng at night; thus avoiding buying the not-amazingly cheap beer at Sonar – 3 euros for HALF a pint. Oucho.

I went to Sonar with a gaggle of 3 girls and we rented an adorable appartment in the El Born region. The appartment had teacup tiles on the wall and a roof terrace that we could spy over Barcelona from and laze around in the sun, munching food from the local food market like jamon, queso and la sandía. We arrived a day before Sonar kicked off, so we could have a beach bum day and get cracking into some Estrella daytime drinking whilst getting our bearings.

 

 

Sonar is great because it runs Day and Night. Sonar by Day is held at MACBA which is an amazing venue, packed with exhibitons – the key one being all about robotsa! and two stages. My favourite was Sonar Village, which is covered in faux grass (think butchers windows) and had a constant flurry of DJs playing amazing tunes. One of the absolute highpoints was when Lemonade did a DJ set on the Friday afternoon at about 5pm. We danced, beers in hand, sun beating down as they played amazing reggae and summery tracks. We danced until our calves hurt and when they dropped in All That She Wants by Ace of Base we witnessed a stampede as everyone around us hurtled towards the stage to dance too. I’ve never seen so many happy smiley faces, I guess Ace of Base really are internationally adored and so uncool they are cool or something?

 

 

After a midnight rooftop party, we knew we had to get in some serious siesta in order to last a night of raging. We also had learnt that teeny tiny tapas is no stomach-lining material and this lead me to discovering Maoz for the first time. Or should I say MMmmaoz! Super cheap falafal pittas stuffed with salad and hummous with all-you-can-eat access to a buffet bar of extra toppings including giant sundried tomatoes, fried cauliflower and jalapenos. My pitta was actually bigger than my entire head and probably one of the nicest things I’ve ever eaten. Luckily I found out they have a chain in London, phew, who wants to go?

 

 

I can’t possibly list all the incredible things and reasons why this festival was the best five days of my year, possibly life! Sonar at Night is held at an old aircraft hanger type set up, sprawling and with plenty of space for dancing crowds. The stages are inside and outside and it’s so warm you don’t realise when you are walking between one and the other. Dancing to Hot Chip under twinkling stars, dancing to LCD Soundsysem as slices of sun start to crack through the night sky at 5am. Bare leg weather through the night. Branded plastic beer beakers. Ghost balloons. Even loving crazed Dizzee Rascal (I challenge anyone not to shake a leg to Bonkers!) Dodgems. Twirling around our kitchen eating crisp feasts and making lemon fanta shandies. Singing so loudly (ahem, badly) to A Little Respect in the that taxi the driver almost turned around and took us home. 7am trip to A&E after my festival buddy fell during a poorly executed flying-high-five and tore her ankle ligaments (true story!) Bocadillo vending machines.

Sunday was a sad day, and even the beautiful care bear clouds on the flight home and being treated like P Diddy on arrival at Gatwick because of Susies broken foot (private lift and mini bus arriving to the plane to whisk us off and through security in .5 seconds!) can’t shake my back to work blues.  I would recommend. Heck I would BEG anyone with a foreign festival itch to scratch it next year and head to Sonar next year. I’m already counting down the days.

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