Shannon Fennell's Blog

My life, cooking, make-up, travel, art and the occasional rant!


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Had a lovely vacation

Last month I went on a two-week Transatlantic cruise with my sister and her family on the Disney Magic from Miami to Barcelona. It was a great trip – VERY relaxing and smooth.

I have cruised before – six times – on other cruise lines. My favourite cruise line being Royal Caribbean which I’ve been on four times. While I did enjoy the Disney cruise, I will still rate Royal Caribbean as my preferred cruise line (note that it has been quite a few years since I cruised with Royal Caribbean.) As I am, ahem, “mature” I don’t require all the family and children oriented extras. Even though I don’t need them, they are amazing on the Disney line! If you have kids (and can afford it) I would definitely say take a Disney cruise, but for me, as a single adult, other options suit me better.

The trip was a gift so I actually did not pay for the cruise – I just covered my airfare and all my own expenses. If I had been paying for the cruise – I would probably NOT have gone on Disney. It is expensive. And… we were Concierge level which is VERY expensive. When I look at the cost of that vs. the cost of other cruise lines it just doesn’t seem to be justified.  Not to say being Concierge wasn’t awesome and amazing, BUT for me the cost of that extra service level wasn’t necessary to my enjoyment of a cruise.

My cabin was very comfortable and the room host/steward, Jojo, was always around and making sure things were good. Cabin was a huge upgrade from my first cruise cabin in 1988! The bathroom was actually split into two – on room was the shower with a sink, the other a toilet with a full vanity – nice as the shower didn’t steam up the mirror!

Compare the above to this shot from our 1995 Mediterranean cruise!

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Having the veranda was great.  I was never really impressed with the idea of paying extra for a veranda, however on this trip, I loved it.  Probably would not be such a great extra on a stormy crossing or trip where you were off the ship everyday, but for the long calm days at sea I sat out there often.

And it was great to watch docking and view the ports from too!

It was wonderful having the Concierge staff available (Alina, Blanca and Emanuela were fantastic, as were the rest of the staff) to take care of things like getting tickets, picking up passes, confirming flights, and making sure I had heavy cream available for my coffee in the lounge, etc. I could manage do that myself and save $$$$ on a trip; that would be another whole vacation paid for! And having the private Concierge Lounge was super nice – always had drinks and snacks available, indoor and outdoor deck seating where you could sit and read or in my case, draw and paint.

It was a great trip. Minor hiccups aside.

As this was a Disney cruise they had the characters out and about every day for photos ops and roaming the decks. Not ALL the characters, but the main animated and top princesses. I was EXTREMELY disappointed that there were no superheros… VERY VERY disappointed. However, they were running ALL the latest Marvel and Star Wars movies, along with other Disney owned titles. We even had the premier of Solo, complete with red carpet on board on opening night. Saw Infinity War too.

My nephew and I challenged each other before we boarded in Miami – Who could get the most character photos.  He inferred I would never beat him. Little did he realize just HOW competitive I can be. As we had seven – yes, SEVEN – full days at sea the photo ops were constant. As I had nothing pressing I went from location to location getting photos with all the characters on board… EVERY SINGLE ONE… Multiple times! Mickey and the gang had different outfits for each day or theme, so of course I had to get photos of all. Sometimes I had to ask people in line WHO I was getting the photo with as I wasn’t familiar with the character! I made lots of friends in line – and the lines were never long. There were more adults getting photos than children. I ended up with 207 professional photos taken, along with the ones on my own camera. My nephew… Zilch.

I really have to say that the performers were AMAZING. Truly wonderful at being the characters in all situations. AND had astounding memories too as you could continue conversations started on one day with any princess a couple of days later and they honestly seemed to remember it. I loved Rapunzel and Stitch, in particular. And Chip and Dale were great – on my first photo with them Chip stole my camera and started taking photos/selfies…

Then Stitch did it too…

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I think that may be my favourite photo of the trip! LOL

The food was good. And our waiter Guiseppi was wonderful as he really understood my dietary issues – his wife was also diabetic and followed the same dietary restrictions as I do. So he was anticipating and actually bringing me things that he knew I could eat without being asked. I did, however, get heartily sick of shrimp/prawns and seafood by the last couple of days of the cruise. I found things to be under seasoned in general, AND numerous times I would get excited about an entree option only to find it was prepared in a way I could not eat: cooked in wine (loathe it) or breaded (don’t eat carbs) or rubbed/sauced (don’t eat sugar). The excitement I felt the night we had rack of lamb and it WASN’T breaded was unbelievable!

There were three restaurants for dinner – Lumiere, Rapunzel’s and Animator’s Palate. We rotated to a different one each night with the same serving team going with us. Was okay. They really hype this rotational dining – was always being mentioned by the cruise director.

I do have to say, in all honesty, that I have enjoyed food more on a Royal Caribbean cruise (they did have the Executive Chef of the line on board that trip though… might have made a difference!) How I judge this is that I can still name and remember multiple specific things we ate on that cruise back in 1991! I would be hard pressed to remember anything specific from this latest trip.

Crispy bacon was hard to get – only twice did it actually come in proper crispy form. Sure, I could have sent it back, but I had other things to do.  Also, two mornings my breakfast orders were messed up. Only at dinner, on Disney, do you get the same serving team; breakfast and lunch you get whomever is waiting the section they seat you in.

I always went to the main restaurant to be waited on. Most people ate at the cafeteria style and other places on deck, etc. as they had longer hours and were self-serve. I don’t like that, I want to be waited on and not have to guess what is in the food.

The crossing of the Atlantic was unbelievably calm. Like glass most days. This is rare. We were told by the captain that this has never happened in his career. And experienced “crossing cruisers” also said this has never happened to them either. I was actually looking forward to a little North Atlantic weather (I like it stormy) but, this was really pleasant! The grayest day of the entire trip was Miami when we boarded.  And there were many great sunsets and sunrises!

I took advantage of the professional photographers and had lots of photos taken. What the heck! I was buying the package of “all photos” as narrowing it down to just 10 or 20 was impossible. So I took every opportunity available. Solomon, one the photographers knew my name and cabin number by heart by day two, and even sent me a special thank you card and print of a princess! LOL

That last photo above… well… That was the day after Cadiz. When boarding after the shore excursion I did a face plant on the gangplank… hard hits on knees, both wrists and my head. Had multiple ship security personnel and a ranking officer on me immediately telling me not to move. Long story short… left wrist had a “possible fracture.” I had a dent in my head for a few days and my right knee finally doesn’t hurt to touch anymore.  I went for more x-rays after I got home to confirm whether there was a fracture or not (the ship’s x-ray capability wasn’t high-resolution and they weren’t sure) and it was a bad sprain only thankfully.

Ports of Call were the Azores, Lisbon, Cadiz, Malaga, Ibiza and final stop in Barcelona. Really nice tours – Azores was a bit damp and cloudy but pleasant, weather everywhere else was nice and sunny. I’ll do another post about what I saw and did, including fun  shipboard activities! This one is getting pretty long.

 

 

 

 

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Saying bye-bye to 2017

2017 was a huge year for changes.  It also seems, now, like it was a very VERY long year as well.  So much went on for me that I actually have to look through my Daytimer to remember what happened back in the first six months!

I actually forgot I went to Morocco this Spring until I looked at my calendar!  I know I’m getting on but thought the memory was a bit better than that.

Major activities and events are noted – there was a lot more running around and many bookings but I’m just hitting the bigs things.

January

Had production meetings/tests for Spamalot; took a kiln-fused glass workshop; started a photography course; and auditioned for a play (didn’t get a part.)

February

Spamalot ran – did hair, make-up, props and the Lady of the Lakes costumes; finished the photography course (subsequently I sold my fancy camera – I prefer my little point and shoot); large crew face painting job for Family Day and continuing eye treatments.

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March

Took a conflict resolution workshop and a managing change workshop through work; took an acting workshop at the theatre; did make-up for Wait Until Dark; got last vaccinations for trip to Morocco; left for Morocco on the 24th – rode a camel in the Sahara, amongst many other amazing things.

Camel Ride

April

Returned from Morocco on the 4th – was a fantastic trip that I blogged about so you can check out the details if you are interested; continuing eye treatments; multiple large crew face painting jobs; and asked at work to increase my hours from 25/week, was given time to think about it, then pressure later applied by my supervisor.  They asked me to work 35 hours a week without changing my classification to full-time, I countered that I would go to 30 as I wouldn’t do 35 without getting the full-time benefits (full-time work 35 hours!)

May

Had a photo shoot with MAJ Photography; attended NOOBCon as a vendor and demonstrator; attended an advanced Excel workshop through work; took another kiln-fused glass workshop; did the hair and make-up for Robin Hood and the Heroes of Sherwood Forest; started new hours/shift at work; and continuing eye treatments.

Maj Photography (25 of 37)

June

Took another kiln-fused glass workshop; auditioned for a show (didn’t get a part); large crew face painting job; and continuing eye treatments.

July

Large crew face painting jobs; continuing eye treatments; went on a cemetery tour in town; and took another kiln-fused glass workshop (I love it!). I was “terminated without cause” by my employer after being pressured into increasing my hours and after a good quarterly review – had to sign waiver to get the settlement offer of three months wages (lawyer said that was generous so take it.) When I told my sister about the termination she said I should move out to stay with them in Ajax… I thought about it for approximately 10 minutes.  Listed my house for sale.

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August

Annual job at Grizfest over the long weekend, and also the Debolt Fair and Hythe Fair; continuing eye treatments – had a bad reaction and scare; started an accounting course at the college on the 14th (full-time for seven weeks); and many showings of my house.

September

Booked solid with a client for five days over the long weekend; continued the accounting program at the college and did the practicum; continuing eye treatments; accepted an offer on my house; farewell party for me at the theatre; continued liquidating belongings for the move as I was only taking what fit in my RAV4; and started packing and doing all the things you have to do when moving.  I started changing all my online listings etc. to reflect Ajax, Ontario and had bookings for Halloween right away. Sold my face painting physical assets and referred customers to one of my crew members to take over locally.

October – MOVING!

End of September/beginning of October was crazy busy getting things sorted for the move to Ajax, Ontario and the selling of the house. Car service, car detailing, lawyer’s appointments, making arrangements with various institutions, got a “smart” phone (ha!  hate it), advanced voting for City Council (didn’t want to miss that as a few friends were running!); left Grande Prairie on the morning October 7th to drive to Edmonton to meet my nephew who helped with the driving – we arrived in Ajax around 2 p.m. on October 11th.  Then I had all the running around to do once I got here: apply for my Ontario driver’s license and provincial health card; change my car and home insurance; make-up appointments throughout the month; and was booked to teach make-up/sfx at the Oshawa Public Libraries. Started applying for part-time jobs close to home. I traded in my 2012 RAV4 for a Lexus NX300h (that’s the hybrid.) I was actually intending to trade-in for a new RAV4 Hybrid but when I stopped in at Pickering Toyota the salesman I was passed to treated me as a “brainless woman” and had no interest in selling me one – said they didn’t have any, that if I was wanting one to save money on gas it wasn’t worth it, etc. He didn’t even ask my name to call me when they arrived! So my sister took me right over to “her” salesperson at Lexus that afternoon.  And the rest, as they say, is history.

November

Continued applying for part-time work.  Went to see Bat Out of Hell.  Went to the Royal Winter Fair.  Found a graphics company to design a new wrap for my Lexus. Got new personalized Ontario plates for the new wheels – ART ON U. Decided to go back to school to get a Fine Arts degree (eventually) – checked out the local offerings and went on a tour of Durham College. Applied to Durham College for the Foundations in Art & Design program.

December

On the 1st received an offer of a spot at Durham College for the January intake which I accepted; attended the first year student orientation; ordered a parking pass; got my timetable and student card. Went to see Bat Out of Hell… again! Vehicle wrap done.  Booked to teach next month at the Oshawa Public Libraries.

I still have to get good shots of the new car wrap – it is really cold right now and I can’t wash the wrap yet so the car is a bit dirty.

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Also, I now seem to “have” a dog named Brian.

 2016

I am very excited about being a full-time student again… it has been a long time! I’ve got seven class blocks a week this semester. Am really looking forward to learning lots of new and interesting things in the new year.

And looking forward to the Transatlantic cruise I am going on in May!

 

 


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My Moroccan Adventure: Final Post

Morocco was a place I had always wanted to see.  I was looking through my high school yearbook and saw that I had said I would be in Morocco! So I decided I had better get on that so, if there is a 50 year reunion, I could say, “Yes, I went to Morocco.  Why? Didn’t you become Prime Minister?”

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This was my second tour with Insight Vacations and I would go with them again. This tour covered pretty much everything about Morocco and we got to see the highlights, geography and many historic locations.  Our guide was knowledgeable, multilingual and very conscientious.  He also arranged extra things that weren’t part of the planned itinerary – like the camel ride and tour in Essaouira, which I REALLY appreciated as they turned out to be my personal favourites!

This tour was Insight Vacations Best of Morocco and this was the itinerary:

Tour Map Insight

There were a few things that could have used more attention: like assisting us in and out of the bus as that last step was difficult and most of us weren’t, ahem, spring chickens. But most of those things were minor compared to the overall trip.

I am a planner. Ahead of time I thought about what I wanted to buy myself while there and made a list. I wanted to get myself a tunic or kaftan, I wanted a ceramic tile to frame, I wanted a fossil and I wanted an ornament suitable for my Christmas tree.  I got all of those and a few more.  And I kept it all within my spending limit too!

Here are the purchases I planned for:

The blouse I bought at the hotel gift shop in Marrakech – my most expensive purchase at 1200 Dirham (about $250) but it is gorgeous and so finely made!  The tile was purchased at the ceramic cooperative we visited in Fes and I am going to have it framed to hang in my entry.  The little “fossil” dish is probably a fake – but it is still a souvenir from Erfoud! And the red tassel is, I think, a bookmark. I bought it at the airport in Casablanca when I was leaving – I had 57 dirham left that I wasn’t able to exchange (they only had Canadian $20s) it cost 56!  That will be my Christmas ornament.

The other items I bought:

A little stone camel to remember my camel ride!  A wooden bead and needlework bracelet that matches my blouse.  A ceramic bowl that I bought with the tile (it is microwave, dishwasher and oven safe.) And an original watercolour painting of the Dades Valley I found in a gallery in Essaouira.

I also bought this wooden box when we stopped at the Argon oil cooperative – it is very cool!  Spin the top and four compartments swing open.

When mom and I travelled she always would buy a wooden item – we have some sort of wood from most places we visited.  A mahogany trunk, inlaid wood boxes, urns, small carvings, Tiki idols, etc.  So this continues that tradition.

My biggest goal was to get photos of the exotic places and things of Morocco and I managed that to my great satisfaction!  I used my 15-year-old Sony Cybershot.  I carried the camera in my pocket all the time and snapped my shots quickly.  It also took some great photos through the bus windows while we were moving.  I can’t be bothered with “fancy” cameras.  I did have a bit of a scare though – the sand on the Sahara was blowing and got into the shutter mechanism.  I used the blow dryer in the bathroom to blow out any loose sand and played with the shutter a bit as it was sticking.  But it got back to normal after a bit, thank goodness!

Of all the photos I took I think these are my favourites:

My flights were booked at the time I booked the tour.  I requested special meals from the selection offered and not one… NOT ONE… of the six flights had the meals.  They didn’t even have a vegetarian option available.  On the way there I packed myself food (I’m used to not being able to eat the offered meals) but on the way back that wasn’t an easy option.  I did buy cheese and nuts at the airports.

On the way home I had to stay overnight in Amsterdam and was having issues with my ankle and leg, so I checked into upgrading when I got to the gate.  As they were overbooked in Economy it was less than half the usual price!  So I flew home First Class!

Look – a padded seat belt!  Did you know you get an entire overhead luggage compartment to yourself and can bring more luggage?  Still wasn’t able to eat most of the food offered at the meals but managed some fish, and I was able to eat the snacks, and the purser found a veggie tray for me!  And I had my cheese and nuts to supplement.

First class selfie

Somewhere over Canada… and the Calgary descent.

My Moroccan Adventure was a once in a lifetime experience!  I am so glad I had the opportunity to go and to see it.  It is a lovely country and people were very welcoming.

My next trip is booked for 2018! A Transatlantic Cruise.  Then… I think, Ireland the year after.

 


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My Moroccan Adventure: The Overall Review, Part 2

If you have followed my blog or read back, you know I eat Low Carb High Fat to control my Type 2 Diabetes.  So I was spending a lot of time thinking about how I was going to manage eating on this tour.  I love North African and Middle Eastern food so I was planning to at least taste everything, regardless, and just monitor and adjust my medication accordingly.

I was really looking forward to tasting REAL Moroccan food, in Morocco.

Well…

I lost 10 pounds on this tour.  I am seriously considering putting out a diet plan based on it – “The Olive, Cheese and Powdered Egg” diet.

I was so disappointed.

I have a few theories:

  1. Everywhere we ate was cooking bland for the tourists who they think can’t handle spice/flavour
  2. My taste buds are ageing faster than I thought and I need MORE spice
  3. My expectations were too high and it is that bland

But… many of my travel companions also expressed the same disappointment in the food and flavours we were getting.  We all were expecting it to be spicier.

We had to ask for salt and pepper everywhere.  They did not put it on the tables.  And everything NEEDED salt, lots of salt.  I found that a little strange.

Two of the special dinners were in themed Moroccan restaurants and were promoted as “authentic” meals.  They were enjoyable evenings, but the food wasn’t what I was expecting.

Fes Signaure evening

At both of these dinners they started with what our guide called a “cook’s salad” which at one consisted of nine small bowls of different things – olives, pickles, dips of different types, cucumber pieces, etc. that you would eat with the local bread that was on the table. The other restaurant served a similar course but on a huge platter with a slightly different selection of items.  I ate what I could from those selections – mainly olives.

Marrakesh dinner (2)

The main course at both was a Tangine.  I was expecting so much more flavour.   I picked out the meat and olives to try when I could. The meat (I only tried chicken and lamb due to my beef allergy) tended to be tough. The flavours weren’t awful, but there was so little of them.

If you aren’t aware, a tangine is a ceramic cooking dish – a flat dish with a cone-shaped top as seen in the photo below – the dishes prepared in it are called the same.

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I loved the olives – which was a very good thing as I pretty much ate them at every meal.

The meal in the Marrakech optional night out was more extensive and also served a couscous dish as the third course which was fairly decent according to the others.

The dessert that night was enjoyed by my table companions – a huge flaky pastry with icing.  In Fes dessert was fresh fruit.

Marrakesh dinner (3)

The hotel breakfast buffets blend together as they essentially were all the same.  There were a couple of variations though.

They all had machines that produced coffee… espresso, a double espresso, a cafe au lait, and cafe american.  You had to get your own.  And if you asked for cream they gave you hot milk.  Apparently there is NO cream in Morocco – I asked everywhere.  None.  I even asked our guide if he could find me some decaf coffee and cream – nope.  I wonder what they do with the cream they produce?  I should research that.

Now, that isn’t to say that the cafe au lait wasn’t good – it was!  I had many of them.  But I really wanted cream!

Breakfast was the meal I considered my most important – it was included each day of the tour so I knew I could eat well to carry me through the day in case I wasn’t able to partake of other offerings.  Due to the selections offered – which were many, no issue at all with the amount of selection offered to everyone  – I was stuck with sliced cheeses (all very bland), assorted olives (served at every meal in Morocco) and eggs.  And a couple of times sliced cucumbers or stewed peppers, and sometimes a plain yoghurt.

Now, those eggs.  That was … interesting.  The one hotel only served them hard-boiled in the shell, hot; the others had scrambled powdered eggs – you can tell because of the texture and the fact that the curds and liquid have separated (shudder); and thankfully three of the hotels had omelette stations where they made omelettes to order out of real eggs and you could ask for them fried too if you wanted.

One hotel served pork. I was very surprised as it is a Muslim country. But they had shaved parma ham on the salad table at dinner and pork sausages and bacon at breakfast.  I did not partake of the bacon – it appeared to have been boiled.

Most of the meats were tough at the hotel meals – mostly chicken and lamb in tangines.  I may also have tried goat but I don’t know for sure.  The dinner buffets were awkward for me as they had a lot of beef (I’m allergic) and there were a lot of sauces that I had to avoid due to potential inclusion of beef stock, etc.  And the mixed salads usually were combinations of fruit and vegetables and I don’t eat fruit, and the dressings were unknown ingredients.

One hotel had fresh calamari and roast lamb at the dinner buffet – I had both.  The calamari was lovely.

The dessert selections were epic – I could only watch as others enjoyed those. Pastries, cakes, fruit, etc.

Our guide was very conscientious about making sure there were options for me.  At the lunches where we stopped while on the road, he would have the restaurants make me a small tangine of vegetables and chicken kababs if the main course was beef.  There was always so much more than I could manage.

We were served mint tea several times – it varied from okay to very nice.

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The best was the tea made from scratch for us by the Imam’s wife when we visited them.

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A group of us had lunch at poolside on our own at the hotel in Marrakech, we all had the Caesar Salad which was excellent.  It was nothing like what we call a Caesar Salad here in North America though.  It was butter lettuce, cherry tomatoes, shaved parmesan, fresh anchovies and a very subtle and light dressing that did not coat everything.

The best meal I had in Morocco?  On our free evening in Marrakech my seatmate and I went out and found a Lebanese restaurant – it was fantastic, well seasoned and super good!  The hummus was to die for!  Restaurant Mandaloun was the name of it.

Best meal of the trip?  Holiday Inn Express – Schiphol, on my way home I had an overnight stay in Amsterdam.  Yes, Holiday Inn Express serves dinner – who knew?  I got there after 7 p.m. and there were only two other people in the dining room (aka “great room”).  They had a limited menu written on a table top blackboard.  There was a Dorado (aka Mahi-Mahi) fillet – so I went with that and asked for all vegetables, no starch.  The chef delivered the plate to the table himself – he had grilled up a whole bunch of different fresh vegetables for me.  OMG – the fish was crispy grilled on both sides and well-seasoned, the vegetables were perfect and there was also a small bowl of house made spicy pickles.  And I didn’t have to ask for salt!  I was very happy and told the chef it was the best meal of my trip.

I’ve got one more post after this, just to wrap up the overall review and my trip home!

 

 

 

 

 

 


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My Moroccan Adventure: The Overall Review, Part 1

Tour Map Insight

My tour was Insight Vacation’s Best of Morocco.  I booked it last May 2016 – the date was the only guaranteed departure – March 24, 2017.  This was an “11-Day Tour” but these are always counted including the day you leave home and the day you arrive home, so really it is only a 9-day tour.

And I arrived in Casablanca late afternoon Saturday, March 25th and left Casablanca on the morning of April 3rd… so, taking off March 25th too… that leaves an 8-Day tour, really. As the rest of those 11 days were in transit.

The visits to Fes and Marrakech were two-nights each which gave us time for nice tours, time to relax and enjoy local activities.  The one-night stay in Essaouira was good as we arrived early in the day so had time for a tour, roaming on our own, dinner out, etc.

But the nights in Erfoud and Ouarzazate were in and out.  We did the optional excursion to the Sahara (and camel ride!) to watch the sunset in Erfoud but that was right after we got there after 5 p.m. and we didn’t get back to the hotel and dinner until late – around 10 p.m. and had to leave early the next morning.

And Ouarzazate was pure in and out without any additional activity or tour.  It looked like a nice place too.  Quite modern and clean – being the movie capital of Morocco.

It would have been great if we had been able to stay two-nights in every spot – to give us time to see the area.  Seeing as we spent all that time getting there.

Also the bus trip from Fes to Erfoud was all-day, 8-hours and that was a bit much to handle.  We had several stops, and lunch on the way, but it was still a very long time to be on a bus with your legs unable to stretch!  That day I was in the front seat and there was NO spot for your feet.

Also the bus had no toilet – it wasn’t an issue for me personally, but several of the other passengers who were prone to motion sickness really could have used somewhere to, um… well, we had to do one unscheduled stop for someone.  Not sure why there was no toilet – it is actually mentioned in the brochure that there are no toilets on the buses in Morocco.

The hotels we stayed at were, with one exception, modern, comfortable, even luxurious. But the only one to have in-room coffee/tea/kettle was the Moevenpick in Casablanca.  I found that annoying as I couldn’t make myself a good cup of tea in my room on the rest of the trip.  They only had “hot” water in the dining rooms, not boiling.  I asked at the one in Fes if I could get a kettle to make tea and they told me to call housekeeping and they would bring me hot water – um, that wouldn’t be boiling water by the time it got to my room.

As a single booking all but one of my rooms had king or queen sized beds!  That was fun! The one in Marrakech had two doubles, which was fine – one was my lounging on top of the blankets to watch TV bed, the other was the sleeping bed.

In Marrakech I had a balcony on the top floor and in Essaouira I had a patio open onto the courtyard.

The one in Erfoud I found way too contrived for the tourist market – my room smelled like a camel barn, the floors were uneven slabs of stone and I tripped repeatedly in my room on the floor and the rough thick rugs scattered about. It was built of “traditional building materials” which obviously included mud mixed with manure.  I grew up on a farm – I know manure when I smell it.

And trying to find my room was a nightmare, I swear it was about a kilometre walk to the room across the pool, courtyard, through alleys… I actually got lost after dinner and had to find my way back to reception to get one of the staff to lead me to it.

I was so annoyed with the whole place I didn’t take any photos of the room – I really should have… the bed was almost a hammock as the mattress was so dipped in the middle, the “rustic” decor was beyond believable.  But I was too bloody tired.  I did sleep really well in that bed though.

The only plus was the shower room – yes, ROOM.  With a wooden door.  When you are covered with all the sand of the Sahara and camel snot, you need a very long shower. I was a little iffy about standing on the tile so I put a towel down on the floor. But lord, what a mess – the door was just a wooden door made out of planks – not water tight. The vanity counter was a slab of fossil embedded stone – nothing would stand up as it was so uneven.

If I hadn’t been so tired I might, maybe, have enjoyed the rustic-ness of it, but…  It was a suite – living room, dining area (there was a bowl of wrapped fruit on the table which I didn’t touch,) separate bedroom, bathroom the size of my living room at home that was three rooms in itself – the shower, the toilet and bidet, and the sink area that you could enter from both the living room and bedroom.  Ground level windows that were open onto common areas where there were people late into the evening that I heard every word they said – couldn’t understand them, but I heard them.

It was also the only hotel with an old-fashioned key – all the others were mag locks.  This one was really old style and the door was scary – I could NOT get the damn thing open. Took me about 7 minutes to finally get it open (and frankly, a good kick would have opened it) and then another 10 to get the freakin’ key out of the lock!  Then, no deadbolt or security lock inside the door.  I did not feel secure there at all.

The hotels we stayed in on the tour were:

Casablanca – Moevenpick Hotel

Fes – Palais Medina & Spa

Erfoud – Xaluca Kasbah Hotel

Ouarzazate – Le Berber Palace

Marrakech – Atlas Medina & Spa

Essaouira – Atlas Essaouira & Spa Hotel

Except as noted above, they all had high points – the kettle, complimentary bottled water and luxurious fittings in the Moevenpick, the Berber Palace was gorgeous (and had pork at dinner and breakfast,) the Atlas Marrakech was stunning and I was awed at how fast and well my laundry was done, and the courtyard patio attached to my room at the Atlas Essaouira was wonderful.

On my way home I had to stay overnight in Amsterdam – at the Holiday Inn Express -Schiphol.  It wins best shower of the trip… was lovely, shiny, walk-in with safety rails.  I think my shower lasted about half an hour…

Best shower of the trip Holiday Inn Express Amsterdam.JPG

I’ll cover more tour related things, and the food, in the next part as this one is getting a little long.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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My Moroccan Adventure: On the Road from Marrakech to Essaouira

We left Marrakech on April 1st on the way to Essaouira.  It wasn’t a long drive which was nice.

Our first rest stop was a cafe that had a beautiful garden and a very large shop full of large displays of local arts and crafts, fossils, etc.  Just the photo opportunity that I had been waiting for!  I hit the mother lode photo wise.

Display of glazed tangines (cooking pot) with a background of plants.

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And some plain, unglazed, tangines.

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Nice display of ceramics.  They had rooms full of ceramics.

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The also had a massive collection of fossils, geodes and crystal clusters.  That first ammonite was huge and really striking.  If only I’d had the money to buy it!

They had lanterns and baskets too.  As well there were shoes and clothing, other typical “cheap” souvenir things, postcards, t-shirts, etc.

The garden display was also nice – I love bougainvillea and take photos of it when I see it. I wish I could grow it here but we are about eight climate zones away from ideal for it.

They had roses but obviously the end of the season.

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The also had the largest geraniums I’d ever seen!  And prickly pear was pretty common – saw a lot of it being deliberately planted as a natural fence in the southern part of the country.

I think this one is my favourite photo from that stop.  I got so many, but this was how the place felt to me.

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We then continued on … and the next stop was for…

Goats in Trees!

Goat Tree

Completely staged… the goats DO NOT climb the trees to eat.  They are trained to stand on little platforms, for four hours at a time. There were three trees along the highway. They were so still some people thought they were fake.  So I “baaaa-d” and a couple turned their heads.  You can see the platform below – woven out of tree branches so it blended into the tree pretty well.  But they do not do this voluntarily.

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These were argon trees – where the nuts that argon oil comes from.  They were growing all over this area.

Argon trees

Our next stop was at an argon oil co-operative, all female (this was stressed repeatedly by our guide,) who produced argon oil.  They had a working display, samples, a store – we were given a tour and demonstration, then samples of both the cosmetic and edible versions of the oil.  Cosmetic is from the raw nuts, edible is from the roasted nuts.

The first lady is shelling the nuts – by hand with a rock.  And the second is grinding the roasted nuts by hand on a stone with a wooden handle.

They had some hibiscus blooming out front.

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After that we continued on to Essaouira, with a stop overlooking the city.  It was very hazy so I didn’t bother with a photo of the city, but there was a pinto camel there! I’ve never seen a pinto camel before.

Pinto Camel

Next post will be my impressions of the tour overall, the hotels, food and other thoughts.

 

 


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My Moroccan Adventure: On the Road from Ouarzazate to Marrakech

We left Ouarzazate at 7:30 a.m. March 30 to hit the road to Marrakech.  We passed through some towns and then through the mountains eventually down to the plains where Marrakech is.

Our first stop was off our main route, we turned off (we didn’t realize at the time) and headed to Aït Benhaddou for a photo stop… Now THIS is the scene I wanted to see!  I actually did a watercolour of it last year from a photo I found on the internet.

This is my watercolour…

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And this was reality!  Different angle.  Absolutely stunning!

Aït Benhaddou

Aït Benhaddou is a Ksar – a fortified village along the old caravan route – and is an UNESCO World Heritage Site.  This was the closest we got.  Then back on the bus.

We then went back the way we came, to the main highway.

We drove through the High Atlas Mountains, through the Tizi n’Tichka Pass.  Parts of this were pretty harrowing!  High winding mountain roads going up above the tree line, then back down.  There was a lot of road construction going on – widening and making better snow barriers, etc.  In some spots it was tricky with the bus on the hairpin turns!

We went high enough my ears were popping!

We had a rest stop on the other side and there were nice views from there.  The valley was fertile and small villages and farms were popping up with more regularity.

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I always like to see the geology – sedimentary layers fascinate me for some reason.

Tizi n'Tichka Pass

Caught this shot through the bus window of the comparison of transportation methods!   Cars, bikes, scooters and camels!  Didn’t get a donkey in this one.  I was desperately trying to get a good donkey shot but they were usually trotting along the curb and too close to the bus for me to get a good clear angle on them.

Transport old and new

Once out of the mountains we were on a flat plain of very modern agriculture – fruit production, newer houses, large estates… then it morphed into golf courses… and eventually Marrakech.

Next I am going to cover the drive from Marrakech to Essaouira!  Stay tuned for Goat Trees!