Thursday, November 27, 2008

The Winter Holiday - Casablanca, Morocco

This is my first time in Morocco. I wasn't really sure what to expect of the culture. There are a few things you can count on being different from home, local cuisine and traffic.

Lets just say I made it back alive.

Casablanca is a busy city, it has a big port and once dropped off by the shuttle, map in hand we just start walking. Traffic is busy and once we come to the first major intersection I make the observation that there doesn't seem to be any pedestrian signals or anything that closely resembles a cross walk. That's not too bad if you're just dealing with a quiet 2 or even 4 lane road. But how about 6 lanes of traffic in each direction, a round-about and 5 or 6 streets converging together. Safety in numbers is my strategy, or follow a Mother pushing a stroller.

First stop is the Sacre Coeur Cathedral, yes there is one in Casablanca.

What an amazing space! White painted interior, beautiful coloured stained glass that seemed to glow. Extremely high roof line, your eye is drawn up immediately. Interesting art exhibit inside that seemed to revolve around woodwork (no English translation so I'm not sure, will have to look it up when I get home). The man at the entrance spoke no English but we managed to communicate with my extremely limited French. He was very friendly, big smiles and made sure we noticed all the important details. Like how behind the main alter all the stained glass were the flags of different countries. Couldn't find Canada but not sure when the windows were constructed as it could have been prior to Canada being it's own country.

Once I thought we were done, the nice man then came out from behind his table and motioned for us to follow him. He lead us to one of the towers and told us we could climb all the way to the top to view all of Casablanca.

It seemed like a good idea at the time.

What started out as nice wide concrete steps quickly got narrower and narrower as I went higher. The pigeons were nested inside the window recesses and as the steps narrowed the pigeon droppings increased (insert bad smell here). I got up as high as the first roof line and I stepped out to take a few shots of the city.

I started up the next level but then decided against it as the steps got even more narrow, more pigeons (swooping this time), more pigeon droppings and my knees began to wobble as the vertigo kicked in. Time to head back down the stairs I think.

Back on solid ground we said thank you to the nice man and I asked if I could take his photo and he jumped up immediately and stood at the entrance to the cathedral sanctuary and made sure it was in the shot he was so proud of it. He then put his arm around C and had a huge smile. He introduced himself as Mustapha. He just cracked me up with his enthusiasm :)

Once back outside I took a few shots of the exterior (ok, more than a few) as it's such an interesting design.

Almost kind of an art deco take on the Parisian Sacre Couer. Again I'll have to look up more info on the internet once I get home.

Next we make our way to the Church of Notre-Dame de Lourdes. Completed in the 1950's it doesn't look like much from the outside but inside the stained glass is overwhelming. Usually the windows are way up high and you can't appreciate all the detail. This is the reverse. All the glass starts at the ground level and is the length of both sides of the sanctuary.

Absolutely fabulous, and with the sun shining in and the place to ourselves it was a wonder to behold.

Last stop before heading back to the ship is the Old Medina or market. We went in one of the side entrances and as bad timing would have it the service at the Mosque just finished and we seem to be walking in the wrong direction as everyone else. But we manage to wiggle through like salmon swimming up stream. The market itself reminds me a bit of the barras in Glasgow in that much of what is for sale is just a bunch of dodgy cheap merchandise. Sneakers, clothing, electronic gadgets of questionable origin and strangely enough more than a few hair salons and barber shops.

The layout is fascinating. Its a labyrinth of lanes, none of which seem to follow in a straight line for very long before veering left or right. We seem to hit their version of siesta and many of the shop fronts are closed. Eventually we come across the food stalls and this is what I imagined the area to look like. Tables stacked high with fresh oranges, spices, breads and thankfully not a cobra to be seen.

We don't venture too far into the market for fear of not being able to find our way back out again but it was enough just to get a taste of it.

Next port - Agadir, Morocco

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The Winter Holiday - Malaga, Spain

In a word, beautiful.

I'm doing this cruise a little different from the others. Cash is a bit tight due to my upcoming relocation to Edinburgh, Christmas and another trip in January. All that means is rather than paying for a ship excursion to do the sight seeing it's DIY. So armed with a tiny map compliments of the NCL Freestyle Daily its step off the ship and time to wander.

You can see the top of Malaga Cathedral looking up from outside of the pier so that's the first stop. My breath is always taken away a bit when I walk inside these massive structures. The height of the ceilings, the art work, the attention to detail and the craftsmanship involved. Each church/cathedral has their own distinct look. They can be similar in the layout but for some it's the stained glass, others could be wood carving. First impressions for me on this one is the ceilings. You'll have to take my word for this one, or wander over to my Flickr page as I've got the Malaga photos posted already. Perhaps once I'm home I'll edit this and add in the photos that should be accompanying these words and it would all be much more interesting.

After the Cathedral its meandering through the streets and lanes. Pablo Picasso was born here in 1881 so there are a number of Picasso museums and galleries. However, I was just in a large Picasso museum in Barcelona in 2007 and I'd rather take the one day I have here to explore the city rather than spend it indoors in a gallery.

Eventually the wondering leads to up, up, waaaaay up to the remains of Castillo de Gibralifaro, Phoenician built, but modified in the 8th century by the Moors. As all good castles are, it's perched on the top of a hill and there is a 360 degree view of Malaga below. It was quite the stair work-out getting all the way to the top (and all the way back down again) but it was worth it. Back down on the bottom was a lovely Botanic Gardens.

Completing the archaeological stair master worked up a bit of a sweat and a much needed break. So we wandered back to a central square we had noticed before and found a nice little cafe bar, Cafe Con Libros. A bottle of the local ale,a small bowl of crisps and enjoying the French (?) music playing in the background.

A Mom came in shortly after us pushing a large stroller with a happy little baby. The cafe had vinyl records randomly hanging from the ceiling that caught the baby's eye and caused him to giggle and eyes sparkle. The guy working behind the counter didn't think twice when asked and he just took the Mom's 2 jars of baby food and heated them up for her in the kitchen. How nice :)

Beer and crisps finished and legs happily rested it was time to head back through the town making our way back to the pier to board the ship again. Once on board, if I've got a few hours before dinner I'll try to find a quiet spot in one of the public areas. My favourite being the Spinnaker Lounge on deck 13 as there are plugs in-between some of the sofas. My habit has been to fire up my laptop and go through my photos taken that day, cull the bad ones and tweak (if needed) the keepers to be loaded onto my Flickr page when I have a good strong signal. Then after do a little writing.

Other than that the evenings involve getting ready for dinner, eating too much rich food and then catching some kind of on board entertainment. This cruise they have a Second City improv troop on board and they are doing a number of shows over the course of the cruise. The one show we've caught has been highly entertaining so I am looking forward to the others.

Next port, Casablanca !

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Winter Holiday - A Day At Sea

Have I mentioned I'm on a cruise? 12 days covering Spain, Morocco, Portugal and the Canary Islands.

Boarded the ship in Barcelona Tuesday afternoon with no trouble. Being a Latitudes member has it's advantages I guess. Either that or the fact that we were in Barcelona already so were at the port when check-in opened, so no real queues had started yet.

Our cabin is on deck 5. Being low down, inside and mid-ship are all good things should the seas get rough. You feel the motion more as you get higher. So sure you could have a fancy schmanzy garden villa with your own private viewing patio on deck 13, but should those swells get large, I wouldn't want to be attempting to walk from one side of the cabin to the other. I'm quite happy in steerage ;)

OK it's not that bad in the cheap cabins, but they are tiny. I keep forgetting how narrow a twin bed is. But who needs a big cabin when you've got a whole ship at your disposal. This is cruise number 4 for me and the Norwegian Jade, is a big one, 13 decks holding 2700+ passengers plus crew.

The other advantage (if you can call it that) with staying down on deck 5 is that everything is up. The cafe, the restaurants, the pool deck, the bars, the gift shop it all involves going up the stairs. Yes you heard me, stairs. There is only one rule for us girls when ever we go on a cruise is 'no elevators' we can only take the stairs. It helps to offset the over abundance of sinful food choices :)

The first day is a sea day which gives us time to explore the ship and get our bearings. A tip we've been told is the dolphins in the carpet (yes, there is a dolphin pattern in the carpet) always swim toward the front of the ship. Speaking of carpets and décor, oh my, this is a bright ship. Orange, pinks, electric blue, lime green, mermaids, jelly fish, neon lights tacky tacky tacky... The ship was initially built for the Hawaii itinerary so they went bright. I feel sea-sick looking at some of the rug patterns.

And I haven't even started with the passenger bad fashion statements yet. Lots of time.

I'm not able to upload photos in these posts, the low connection speed doesn't allow this through Blogger. But funny enough I can upload photos to my Flickr account so just click on the link off to the left and you can see them there. I haven't got round to titles, tags or descriptions but it's a start.

The Winter Holiday - A few days in Barcelona

I was here once before, spring 2007 with my parents for a few days. So there is no need to rush around madly to see all that there is to see as I've done that already. I can relax and wander around at my own pace. However, this is B & L's first time, so they reference the Eyewitness Top 10 Barcelona to see what all they can cram into the 2 days we have here.

We flew down on Sunday and arrived just before 1:00PM. Feeling confident this time we decided to hop the bus into the city centre rather than a cab as the bus ride only costs 4.05 Euro each and I figure a cab would be minimum 25 Euro.

Instead of an expensive hotel, we've rented a self catering apartment so we don't have to eat out for all our meals. We're in the Gothic Quarter so with access to St James Market, the Carrefour Express grocery store and all the little ethnic food shops I'm pretty confident I can keep the group fed well. And wine from the grocery store is about 10 times cheaper than a bottle in a restaurant. We are in Spain after all, it would just be wrong not to give a few of their wines a try.

The weather is nice, waking up to brilliant blue sky and crisp temperatures with no wind is such a treat. It's not warm (but warmer than Glasgow), a long sleeved T-Shirt, light sweater layered with my jean jacket keeps me warm enough.

I really do love the Gothic Quarter of Barcelona. The little twists and turns of the side lanes, all the shops, the architecture, the smell of the Patisseries, the yummy cured meat & cheese sandwiches from the patisserie. I do manage to find a few nooks and crannies that I hadn't found before which was nice.

The only downside to these few days is I developed a migraine the day we arrived and it lasted the regular 3 days. I was able to keep it down to a persistent dull throb with my various medications, but it did zap me of energy. But a migraine won't stop me from enjoying this wonderful city.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Winter Holiday 2008 - The Prep

Normally as I gear up to leave on a holiday, I'm working until the wee hours trying to finish various little bits at the office and then packing at some crazy hour like 2AM.

However, this trip the circumstances are different. As I'm leaving my job at the end of the year my workload has massively decreased due to various pieces of my job being outsourced to others. So Friday I was out the door before 5:30 PM.

My friend L arrived from Vancouver earlier in the week and as there is no spare room or sofa bed in the flat I gave her my room and I've been staying with my friend C a few blocks away. So what this meant is I had to pack my suitcase in the normal way, i.e. the daylight hours.

When I was done, it felt weird. I was a bit out sorts. Ready to hit the sack at about 9:30PM with nothing left to do other than a little tweaking of the contents of my suitcase which I'd leave until morning after I'd gotten up and ready. Is this how the rest of the world prepares for a trip? In advance? It doesn't feel right.

As I was mentioning to a friend, without the mass chaos of trying to get everything done I seem to have lost the excitement for the trip. Oh, don't get me wrong, I am looking forward to getting away, relaxing etc but it's almost as if so much has been going up before hand, my brain just hasn't had time to process the details of the holiday so it just sort of got pushed into the far recesses of my gray matter.

FYI - I'm already on mid way through the holiday somewhere in North Africa, but internet access is not always reliable so I'll be posting retroactively when I can. Photos may have to wait until I get back if they take too long to upload.

Sunday, November 09, 2008


Hot shower, do the hair, get dressed. Look out my bedroom window and see some blue sky. Walk into the lounge, chat with the flat mate as putting on my coat and grab my keys. Head outside, open the front door and it's a torrential downpour.

Head back inside, find my hat, twist/tuck the hair up underneath. Say goodbye again to the flat mate, open the front door and the rain has stopped. Oh well.

Walk one block and it starts raining again. Good thing I've got the hat on.

Cross the street, get halfway down the next block and it starts to hail :( No worries as I'm almost to the church.

After the service a few of us decide to head to Stravaigin for brunch. And once again it's a torrential downpour but with some wind added in for good measure.

The pub is packed, seems everyone had the same idea. Lucky for us a nice table at the back has just freed up (nice and far away from the cold front door). It's so nasty outside I'm thinking I may just stay here all afternoon.

Just as we sit down a man walks in with a HUGE rottweiler, EEK!!! But he seems very good natured and after a few moments I have this incredible urge to give him a hug (the dog not the man).

I notice this is the third dog I see in the pub. I'm beginning to think the "Honey, I'm heading out to walk the dog" line is code for going to the pub. But the dogs don't seem to mind, preferring the toasty warm inside to the ugly weather outside.

One full Scottish Breakfast and a black coffee later it's time to go. I bundle up all my layers, once again tuck/twist up my hair underneath my hat and step outside to...

Blue sky? OK it's not completely blue but there is an opening in the cloud cover with a bit of blue poking through. And it's not raining, but there are many puddles to navigate and by the time I get home my denims are soaked up about 5 inches from the bottom.

Get home, take off coat, find a wool blanket to curl up under look out window and it's hailing again. And it's not even winter yet.

I love Scotland.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Where to start...

In 6 weeks Edinburgh will be home. Well sort of.

Dec 20th I'll be moving to my new flat. But as I don't finish work until the 31st I'll be traveling back and forth between Weegieland and the Burgh.

Oh sorry didn't I mention that? I've got a new job. I've known for over a month now but couldn't really say anything until my staff were told, which finally happened this past week.

I'm not sure it is why every time I move it ends up being around Christmas. This will be the third year in a row this has happened. Weird.

So anyone out there willing to lend a hand, a vehicle, a van, truck? Any and all offers would be appreciated :)