Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Marrakesh Revisited (2)

Marrakesh Revisited (2)
Medina & Souks

11.09.2008 - 23.09.2008 35 °C

Riads in Morocco are private houses converted in hostels, there is an inner patio with a fountain, Muslims must wash their hands and feet before entering their house and this ritual is observed before praying five times a day. These houses have a ground floor and then two or three floors more with small rooms. Houses are narrow and so are the streets, which lead from one lybrinth to another. Streets are also very narrow with high walls on both sides and in many streets it is not advisable to venture after seven O'clock in the evening.

Riad Dar Badra is situated in the old town, ten minutes walk from the famous Koutoubia Masque and Place Djamaa El Fna and the Souks, markets which are full ofsmall shops sitting cheek by jowl, full of hundreds of different articles, perfumes, spices, jewelry, clay pots, carpets, lamp shades, clay pots and ceramics and many more things. Haggling goes on all the time, the shopkeepers block your way, shake your hand and literally force you to enter into their small shops to have a look around. It can be a hassle if you do not have the patience. And even if you buy something, you will never know if you paid the right price or not. I bought a straw hat, the vender wanted 150DH, I offered 20DH and he accepted with such alacrity that I knew I could have paid even less. And indeed, a few hundred meters further in the market I found the same hats selling for 10DH.

We wanted to go on a day excursion to the waterfalls, the tourist office Rep wanted 300DH pp, and before I could start bargaining, he himself was willing to accept 200DH. Another thing to remember is to keep small change handy, coins of 5 &10DH, notes of 20DH. Otherwise you will get nasty surprise of not getting any change. If you have to pay 3DH for a glass of fresh orange juice in Jemma El Fna, don’t pay with a 50 or 20DH note. In Morocco there are four prices for everything, one for the locals, another for people from the north (Tangier and Casablanca since they have more money) yet another for the foreigners living in the country and non-resident Moroccans who come to visit, and the fourth for tourists. So a watermelon which may be only 0.60DH a kilo, could cost upto 2.50DH to a tourist. I bought a kilo of fresh oranges for 0.66DH a kilo for which the vender demanded 20DH a kilo. So bargain over everything, whether you want to buy or not, but not over a glass of fresh orange juice. It cost only 3DH for god sake.

For Muslims September is the holy Ramadan during which they must keep fast during the day, they have to eat before sunrise and again after sunset. Because of this the opening and closing hours of many places of interest were changed.

There is a hop on and hop off tourist bus service (130DH pp) but if you are a good walker, many places are within walking distance and you can enjoy the atmosphere of narrow streets, the Kasbah and Souks too. Or you can hire a horse carriage and do the sightseeing at a trot, observing the motorcycle and taxi drivers committing kamikaze through the chaotic city traffic or see men urinating against the city walls. Sounds and smells of El Maghreb.

In the last five-six years Marrakech has seen a remarkable urban development, modern houses outside the city walls, new shopping center on Avenue Mohammed V with the inevitable McDonalds and KFC, wide and shady Avenue Mohammed VI with four & five star hotel complexes. The city has extended a lot with the affluence of tourist revenues.

Tomorrow I am leaving for Mexico with my son Alex, so I will continue writing from there about Marrakech and Essaouira which we also visited.

Marrakesh (Morroco) Revisited

Marrakesh Revisited
Morocco and Medinas

11.09.2008 - 23.09.2008 38 °C

My wife and myself went to Marrakesh. The weather in Germany in the present month of September was getting cold, our old bones were yearning for sun and sea, some good food and rest. We searched the internet for some interesting place to go to, we wanted to go to Palma de Majorca but the hotels were full, Ibiza was the same and the flights were expensive. We contemplated on Cyprus and Fuerteventura. All inclusive trips were either for three days or seven days, and we had twelve days. So surfing the web, I stumbled upon Ryan Air's offer to Marrakesh.

The flight cost nothing but the taxes, luggage charges, credit card fee (20 euro for each person using the same credit card at the same time. Daylight robbery) came to 104.00 euro return. Although we lived in Malaga (Spain) for more than 20 years and Morrocco was just a hop over the water, my wife never wanted to visit it. She has something against the Muslim countries. But this time she was willing to go. The reason was warm weather and some rest, she read and re-read other bloggers' views and was satisfied that it will be alright to go. So we went and enjoyed it thoroughly.

The flight from Dusseldorf took three and half hours, with two hour difference in time, we were there in late afternoon (17 hrs local time) in bright sunshine, hot and dry, which lifted our sagging spirits. The airport is new, small but clean and we went through immigration without any hassle. The old city centre is barely ten minutes drive by car and we were dropped at the door of the Riad (hostel) Dar Badra by 17.30hrs. We had booked accomodation in this Riad on the internet, it had very favourable reviews by visitors who had stayed there. The rate for a double room en-suite was 35 euro per night (breakfast included) and it consisted of a sitting area, another room with a double bed and seperate bathroom. A very well decorated clean room. We stayed there three days.

On our arrival, we were greeted by the owner Dominique, an engaging & charming french woman who has been living there for more than five years. She speaks English and her maid Fatima speaks Spanish. Dominique welcomed us and we sat down in the inner patio and Fatima brought us hot mint tea, typical Morracan drink. Aromatic and refreshing. My wife has an affinity with strangers and in no time, all three women were engaged in friendly talk as if they already knew each other.

Posted by IsleHopper 26.09.2008 12:21 PM Archived in Air Travel | Morocco

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Camino de Santiago. An interrupted Journey

Camino de Santiago
An interrupted Journey

08.06.2008 - 22.06.2008 31 °C

My sincere apologies to the readers of my travel blog for abruptly discontinuing writing about my journey through the villages and cities of Spain which I and my wife traversed last June 2008. Something happened to me, depression, apathy (and I love writing) or some kind of anxiety; honestly I do not know what, which became a block and I had no feeling to touch the computer (which I did not touched for more than two months).

We went to Spain and reached Santiago, which is a fabulous city, we enjoyed the food and wine on the way, but the journey was not fulfilling. Hundreds of books have been written about Apostel Santiago, many persons have written about their experiences en route to reach this holy place but we did not feel the same thrill. What we saw was the greed, selfishness, even arrogance of fellow travellers. They lacked the spirit of pilgrimage and humbleness, they were ordinary people, French (most) Italians (many), Germans (many) and some Americans, all for one reason or other, were on the road to Santiago. In one Alberge some one had written in Spanish an apt description of the fellow travellers:"hay mas gilipollas que peregrinos en El Camio".

I will write about our journey but at some other time. I will write about the wonderful places, the sights and sounds of rural Spain, a country I love.

Pamplona (Spain) II.

Pamplona -(Spain) Camino de santiago
Camino in the province of Navarre

05.06.2008 - 05.06.2008 -8 °C
View Pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela (Spain) on IsleHopper's travel map.

Before we started our journey, I had kept a daily diary of our walk, the altitude of each village and town, its historical monuments etc, unfortunately this diary was lost in Santiago de Compostela. I suspect I left it either in the alberge where we stayed the first night, or it was left in the hostal where we stayed the next three nights. And since I get the address of this hostal in the diary itself, I could not contact the owner and to my regret, some details about the places will be from our memory.

The city of Pamplona was founded by the Roman General Pompey in 74 BC and although the Pilgrims' Way to Santiago in Navarre begins on the slopes of Pyrenean mountains at Luzaide/Valcarlos and reaches Orreaga/Roncesvalles, (which is, because of its mountainous rough and rocky way, one of the most difficult parts of the pilgrimage and many pilgrims who start there develop foot problems) it has become the starting point for thousands of pilgrims and is the most popular route. This is known as the French Route, the most important because of the number of pilgrims passing through it, crossing the region diagonally, passing Pamplona and exiting at Viana towards Logroño in the region of Rioja.

                 The street thru' which the bulls run to the bullring during the festival of San Fermin

                            Hemingway made Pamplona famous. His statue facing the bullring
                              The old bar where Hemingway used to hangout during the festival.

                                             In the background is the new bullring.
          Large figurines in the meuseam dedicated to memorabolia of the festival of San Fermin
                             when these firgures are burned at the end of the festival.

Our hostel in Pamplona was in the center of the city, we just went down the street and reached the Town Hall and Government office building and be in the Plaza del Cassstillo. The plaza is full of terraces and bars and cafes, from which the city's daily life can be observed. The neighbouring streets of San Nicolas, Estafeta and Calle Comida are full of typical Tapa Bars where you can have a variety of tapas and a selection of best Navarre wines and cold Cider, which is a popular drink.

We rested in our hostel room until 11.00am. Simply could not sleep, so we got ready to visit the city. The morning was cool and although it had stopped raining steadily, it was still drizilling and the city looked washed and quiet. There was not much traffic and we strolled down to have breakfast and to visit the city's historical monuments. The city of Pamplona is small but is full of plazas and parks, churches and the world famous annual San Fermin festival which starts from 6th July and lasts nine days, full of frollicking and singing and dancing in the streets, drinking wine and eating regional food and generally enjoying oneself. We had bocadillos de jamon cerrano, chorizo and tortilla de patatas, cool red wine and delicious coffee. In another bar a little later, we had cod crockets and fish stuffed with mushrooms, green pimiento and bechamel. Delicious.

As I said before, Pamplona has may parks, the oldest is Taconera Park, designed in 7th century, full of wide pedestrian paths and sculptures. The Town Hall is an outstanding building, its facade of Baroque architecture of XVIII century as are the Palacio Episcopal and the Seminary of St. John the Baptist. There are many churches in and around the city and the outstanding is the Gothic Cathedral with its beautiful Cloister and its neoclassical facade. Two more Gothic churches are of St. Sernin and st. Nicolas, both built during the XIII century. and worth a visi

We went to the Plaza de Torros (Bull Ring) and I saluted the statue of Hemingway. The Hemingway bar in front of the Ring has, since many years, a new front, and a shinning metal door. The bar was closed, so I do not know if it still kept the empty wine barrels as tables on which were piled ceramic jugs of wine and tasty tapas by the waiters and the customers just went on eating and drinking. As many of you must know, Hemingway had a long love affair with Spain and Pamplona was one of his favorite cities. Papa Ernesto is well remebered for his drinking orgies, long and winding talks about bulls and bull fighters and he even wrote two novels about them. "Death in the Afternoon" and "Fiesta: The Sun also rises", powerful and intense novels about the society attached to the Corridas de Torros.

We also had a very intense and pleasant day in Pamplona and in the evening, tired but content, returned to our hostel and rest and sleep and be ready to start early our walk towards Santiago de Compstela.

Pamplona (Spain)

Pamplona (Spain) Camino de santiago
Camino in the province of Navarre

05.06.2008 - 05.06.2008 17 °C
View Pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela (Spain) on IsleHopper's travel map.

So after spending the whole day in Barcelona, we returned to Sants railway station. It had been raining the whole evening and when we arrived at the station it was pouring down. During the day we had visited the Church of Apostal St.Jacobi (Apostal Santiago) and received our Credentials as pilgrims. To be a pilgrim and have access to albergues where you can spend the night, you have to be patronized by a church, at each Etapa (Stop) where you will stay the night, you will have your Credencial booklet stamped, which will allow access to the next albergue. These resting places "Albergues" are either run by local churches, muncipalities or privately and you can stay there only if you have the Credentials of a pilgrim. You can stay there only one night, charges vary between four to seven euros per person. Privately run places charge between seven to ten euros. Most places have facilities to wash your clothes and at some places you can even cook your food. These places, we found without exception, were clean with running hot water in the showers and clean toilets.

our train to Pamplona left Barcelona at eleven O'clock in the night and we reached our destination at five O'clock in the morning. We had booked our train tickets on the internet and could find only sitting accomodation. However, to our amazement, the whole train was empty, as was our compartment. So we took off our boots and stretched out on the seats. We could see through the window, the rain falling in sheets and it rained the whole night and the next morning when we reached Pamplona.

In the next carriage, there were only three african men travelling, one of them was wearing trousers and a shirt, and a metal crown on his head. I found this so funny that I asked him if I could their photo, but he declined. I have met many africans, known some of them personally. In Spain, in England and France, in Morocco and even in Germany and Holland I have seen them in their traditional dress. However, I had never seen one wearing trousers and shirt and a crown on his head, in a train in Spain, in the dead of the night.

Since we arrived so early in the morning, there was no chance of going to an albergue as they do not open before 11-12 O'clock, so we took a taxi (4 euro) and the taxi driver dropped us in the centre of the city at a hostal (45 euro for double bed). We switched on the TV and were dismayed to hear the news that during the night, it had rained heavely in Barcelona and in parts of France from where we had planned to start our walk. So we decided to start the next day from Pamplona and went to bed.

Barcelona (Spain) Camino de santiago

Camino de Santiago                               City center

04.06.2008 - 04.06.2008 16 °C
View Pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela (Spain) on IsleHopper's travel map.

We arrived in Barcelona in the afternoon after three hours' flight from Dartmund (Germany). The weather was heavy and it was raining. The Barcelona airport was very busy, we picked up our backpacks and left the terminal building and walked over the bridge which connects it with the train station. There are automatic machines which dispense train tickets and there were railway staff who assist you, in your own language, to buy tickets from these machines. Very smooth and friendly service which we also found on every Underground (Metro) station. The train fare for two was 7.20 euros which allowed us 10 journeys on the trains and buses for that day.

From the airport we disembarked at Sants station. Our train to Pamplona was leaving at 23.00 hrs so we had the whole day on our hands. We checked our packs in the locker and took the Metro to Plaza Cataluña, the centre of the city and its famours Rambla de Flores. The Rambla has always been known for its stalls of Flowers and sellers of Birds in Cages, its Cafes, Tapa Bars and Rrestaurants and thousands of people promenading from one end to the other. However, I was dismayed to see very few stalls, the old and popular Cafes were replaced by Fast Food chains and Brand Name shops and Boutiques. Wherever you go, MacDonalds, KFC, Subway and Starbucks stare you in the face.

                                                  Artists & Models
Another change was to see South Americans running bars. People from Uruguay, Argentina and other countries have settled in large numbers in Spain and it was not the same eating Spanish Tapas in these places. In fact we found only one typical Tapa Bar selling Galician tapas (Pinchos on a toothpick), in one of the side streets. But the city was full with tourists, young and old and streets were bustling with people in the heady atmosphere Barcelona has. In fact whole Spain is bustling with tourists and visitors. We had a coffee, a beer and three tapas and paid 20 euros. Expensive, and were further surprised at the high prices of food, when we started walking from Pamplona toward Santiago de Compostela.

                                           Rooftop Cafe facing the harbour.

I will write about Barcelona and its many attractions, at the end of my chronicle of our journey, when we stayed there for three days, on our return from Santiago, and before our flight back to Germany.

Posted by IsleHopper 07.07.2008 12:34 PM Archived in Backpacking | Spain

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Camino de Santiago (Spain)

Camino de Santiago (Spain)
A Journey of a Life Time

04.06.2008 - 27.06.2008
View Pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela (Spain) on IsleHopper's travel map.

My wife and myself are leaving today for Barcelona on our pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela in the province of Coruña (North Spain). From Barcelona we will travel by train to Pamplona and after a day's rest will walk to Roncesvalles (France) and take the pilgrims' route known as Camino Frances.

It is our aim to walk a distance of at least 200 kms, weather permitting. We are very excited about our journey and have read about and talked to people who have done the same journey. Every body tells us that this will be an unforgettable experience of our life.

We have traveled in Spain but never on foot, although we lived in Malaga for twenty years and for two years were living in Seville (Sevilla) and always talked about doing this pilgrimage, some how we never did it.

Every year there is a festival in honor of Virgin del Rocio in the province of Huelva but we never went there either. This festival is one of the biggest and most popular where more than one million people converge. Devotees from all over Spain and specially from Andalusia take part in the festivities.

The festival lasts for three days and is full of emotional devotion, religious ardor in a festive atmosphere. The visitors have a chance of enjoying the wine and typical Andalusian Tapas, listen to Flaminco and others songs in praise of the Virgin del Rocio. People come on horse back, in bullock carts and on foot, bearing the summer heat. The distance from Huelva to the Church of the virgin del Rocio is about eleven kms, and after the three days' ceremony, a typical country banquet of food (Comida Compestre) is offered to the visitors. It is an unforgeable experience.

Posted by IsleHopper 03.06.2008

Human Rights-Does AnybodyCare?

Human Rights


Some time ago Australia's new government of Prime Minister Kevin Rudd issued a formal apology to Aborigines for the abuses they suffered in the past centuries. Nothing has been heard about their grievances since then.

Mr. John Howard, the defeated PM refused to offer a full apology to the Aborigines, saying the current generation should not feel guilty about mistakes from the past. What arrogance and hypocrisy.
The Indigenous Australians have been the victims of the white population for nearly a hundred years. Will the mutilation of their culture, uprooting of their children and handing over to white families under the Australian government’s so called “assimilation” policies for nearly sixty years, can be remedied by an apology from the current PM?

The US government has never apologized to the Pueblo Indians for taking away their lands, destroying their heritage and their culture, denying them the right to own their own lands.Without looking much back,the present US government has not apologized to Iraqis for invading their country and killing over a million Iraqis.

The British government has also refused to apologize to Iraqis.British govt has not apologized to the inhabitants of Chago Islands who were duped, deceived and uprooted from their motherland and dumped on Mauritius Islands. Chago islands and Diego Garcia were under British yoke and were secretly handed over to US government with a promise to get rid of its inhabitants.No past or present British government has ever apologized or expressed regret or remorse over its role in African slave trade .

No French governments ever apologized for slavery by their country men on their plantations in the Carribean and south pacific islands. No Belgian governments ever apologized for their atrocities and human rights abuses in Congo.

The Spanish conquistadors destroyed ancient civilizations in South America, plundered and annihilated, debased and destroyed entire populations. The European nations wiped out entire populations in the South Seas islands. By introducing alcohol, guns, Christian religion, diseases, they wiped out generations of islanders. The list is interminable.

What is in an apology from an incumbent politician of a country? If I were to step on the toe of a person, drop hot coffee on his jacket, then I would apologize. But countries and their respective governments who systematically plundered, destroyed, annihilated other countries and their populations, should be held responsible. They should be forced, through international courts of justice, to pay compensation to the descendants of all those people whose ancestors were made slaves, their civilizations destroyed, killed outright and whose human rights were systematically abused.

The war in Iraq and Afghanistan still goes on, Palestinians are being systematically punished, for more than 40 years they have been languishing in refugee camps pushed and punished there by Zionist Government of Israel, who even now, never stop making the German Government and its people responsible for putting Jews in Ghettos and Concentration Camps by the Nazis. People of Tibet, Myanmar, Zimbabwe, North Korea and many African
Countries have become refugees, trampled, beaten, abused and killed by their respective rulers. Why do dictators believe that they must kill their own populations in order to rule over them?

In Europe the Governments never stop self praising themselves as being civilized, protectors of Human Rights. However, there is increasing White Slavery in Europe, children and women from eastern European countries kidnapped, promised jobs and better living standards, then forced into prostitution and sub-human work and living conditions. There is no end to abuse of African immigrants. Monopolies, Subsidies, High Inflation, High Gasoline Prices, all are well and alive, big corporations filling their own pockets and the pockets of their shareholders, forcing ordinary people to suffer the brunt of ever increaing costs and prices. What is the difference between governments of today and the kings and sultans of yesteryear who used to burn the villages, hang people who could not pay their taxes?

Is it not time we all stand up together UNITED and SHOUT OUT LOUD

'STOP HUMAN ABUSE' !. Thank you.

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