Marrakech 2017

Original Writing, travel

From the alleyways to the Atlas mountains, my trip to Marrakech was one of astounding beauty and culture. I was inexplicably lucky to have my parents take me to Morocco to celebrate my 21st birthday, and although it took off on a rocky start, it’s safe to say I had an amazing time absorbed in the culture and traditions of the city. My parents really outdid themselves with the choice of Riad and its location, as well as a perfect birthday dinner. I couldn’t have been happier.

On our first day in the city, we visited the captivating Secret Garden: it was beautifully tranquil, surrounding us with trees and plants of every kind. As you’re all probably well aware, I am no stranger to intense heat, and I absolutely loved the climate. It reached roughly 30 degrees by the time we arrived at the garden, so whilst my parents climbed up the tower, I sat in on the terrace overlooking the gardens and it was absolutely perfect. The gardens were kept in perfect, pristine condition with seats scattered across the grounds and quaint water features here and there. Did I mention the heat?

Unfortunately, as a result of relatively unmanaged asthma and weak lungs, I landed myself in hospital that same evening with an asthma attack, and spent the better part of that evening and the following day attached to oxygen tubes and a nebuliser. My dad was adamant we ought to leave back home for England so I could receive proper treatment, since my breathing was incredibly laboured but I refused to leave only 24 hours into our trip. With some IV steroids and 18 hours of oxygen tubes and nebuliser treatments, I recovered and discharged myself with albeit fragile lungs, over the moon to finally be able to breathe again. That night we ate in a picturesque Riad courtyard (a traditional, Moroccan house) relieved after the events of the previous night.

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On our third day in Morocco, we visited The Majorelle Botanical Garden. Walking around in 30 degree heat is no small feat, but the gardens were beautifully landscaped. It didn’t take us long to explore the whole place, plus there were no places to really sit down once we’d finished but other than that, it was a fantastic experience and made one forget where we were.

The fourth day brought us to the Atlas mountains, one of the adventures which really heightened our cultural exploration of the country. The air was fresh and cooler, with a perfect breeze and the views were like nothing I’ve ever seen before. It was a picture-perfect landscape of rolling snow-capped mountains amidst green hills, with small Berber villages dotted all over. Visiting the Berber villages really took my breath away; a 9000 year old heritage preserved within the mountains, where they live a life of complete simplicity. No one had phones, computers, or any electronic device and the children were blissfully happy playing with each other amongst the animals on the hillsides. The feeling of content was contagious despite their minimalistic style of living, and it saddens me that they rely solely on tourism to preserve this historic, authentic heritage. We visited a Berber household, and I cannot describe just how accommodating and hospitable they were. We were greeted with warm smiles, fresh bread and mint tea without any hesitation. What struck me the most was seeing young, perhaps six-year olds, begging for money for to buy essentials since they only relied on tourism to get by, and the look of sheer pleasure and happiness on the ladies’ faces when we gave them money made my heart hurt. I urge as many of you as possible to visit the Berber villages if you travel to Morocco – it puts things into perspective and makes one realise the luxuries and privileges we, in the West, take for granted.

(A quick note – buying gifts from the Berber community itself is much more beneficial for their livelihood than in stalls and markets in the alleyways in Marrakech. Of course there is plenty of choice in the alleyways and it’s an enriching experience but the Berber communities make all their gifts by hand, from carpets to plates to jewellery. Buying from the communities will help preserve their heritage and support the families.)

We explored the city on our fifth day, wandering through the markets and alleyways and venturing into the square. There’s quite an exciting buzz in the square, whether it be during the day or at night, with countless events taking place across the area. I personally, however, do not approve of the treatment of animals in the square, where monkeys were kept on chains for entertainment for the tourists. Other than that, it was rich in culture and a fantastic visit. We travelled by horse-drawn carriage across the city, passing the old and new town. I highly recommend it as it’s a brilliant way to see the sights of Marrakech without trekking in the humid climate. The only downside is to be weary of the pollution, especially if you have asthma or a lung condition: the majority of Moroccans travel on motorbikes and travelling on a carriage will result in the inhalation of these fumes.

The final day took us through the alleyways one last time and we immersed ourselves in the art of Marrakech, from hand-painted plates to canvas paintings. I was beyond excited that my dad bought me a canvas – the artists capture the essence of Moroccan culture and landscape perfectly in their choice of colours.

It was with a heavy heart that we left Marrakech and it’s intertwining of Eastern values with Western influence. The people were so accommodating and polite, always looking to help us in any way they could and offering us the best bargains as well as little gifts and presents along the alleyways. The only hiccup was the pollution, as it does hang heavy in the air, but I’d love to explore more of the new and old towns if (or when!) I return. A special thank you to Patrick and Caroline at Les Trois Palmiers El Bacha Riad for taking such great care of us, and to their staff for their overwhelming hospitality and kindness, always ensuring we were happy and well looked after. I’ve never come across such lovely people.

A x

DUBAI 2016!

travel

My favourite city, with the best food to offer worldwide (in my opinion!) Dubai is what my parents and I call our “home away from home.” It’s somewhere we can escape to when life in England gets too stressful, and these past few months have been exactly that. This year, we stayed at JBR (Jumeirah Beach Residence) – having visited it briefly last year, we fell in love with the beach front and all it had to offer in terms of restaurants as well as atmosphere. All in all, we spent very little time actually at the beach, because let’s be honest, 42 degrees is not sunbathing on the beach kind of weather.

JBR was an interesting experience; unbeknownst to us, it’s where most of the nightclubs and bars were, hence the extraordinary number of  people walking around half-naked, and the odd few tourists seen stumbling across the beachfront, visibly and embarrassingly intoxicated. Ultimately, people are allowed to dress however they like, but what I find ever so slightly disrespectful is the utter disregard some tourists had for the culture and country they were in. Dubai is part of an Islamic country, and thus tourists should show some consideration of the cultural and religious values that the country holds. I think some have a misconception that Dubai is a very liberal city and thus, it’s not necessary to adhere to the strict values that its neighbour cities, such as Abu Dhabi, hold. Despite 84% of Dubai’s residents consisting of foreigners and expatriates, I still believe it is fundamentally important to respect the cultures and values of the country you’re in.

It’s also interesting to note that different parts of Dubai, despite it only being a city, vary in the extent of strict culture; for example, JBR is known to be the least conservative area in the city, whereas if you travel further east, you’ll find there are less tourists, less expatriates and more Emirati nationals, and thus, they’re more conservative in their traditional/cultural values.

Anyway, enough about that. Here are a few snaps of my favourite moments during my time in Dubai.

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JBR Walk 

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Dubai Mall 

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Umbrella St 

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Cheesecake Factory: one of the best aspects of Dubai!

This year, we decided to explore a little further out of Dubai instead of staying in the city, and it was the best decision we made this year! The East Coast is one of the (not so) hidden gems of the UAE and the tour took us to Al-Fujairah, the Indian Ocean, a beautifully hidden fishing village called Dibba and the Middle East’s smallest and oldest mosque.

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A rug market situated amidst mountains

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Markets amongst mountains

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More rugs!

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Greenhouse market

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Al-Fujairah

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Beach, ocean and mountains – what could be better?!

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Sandy Beach Hotel – Al- Aqaa

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Al Aqaa

I think my favourite part of the trip, however, has to have been visiting Abu Dhabi. Last year we visited only briefly but I immediately fell in love with the culture, despite it being somewhat more conservative than Dubai, as well as the calm and relaxed atmosphere. This year we swallowed our fears and went to Ferrari World, home to the world’s fastest roller coaster (and boy they weren’t kidding about being the fastest!) I’m already looking forward to revisiting Yas Island and Ferrari World the next time we visit Abu Dhabi, and we’re definitely staying there longer to explore the area a little better.

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So many cars!

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Italian themed stores and restaurants inside the theme park

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Yas Mall

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Yas Mall

Something that (obviously) stood out to me was how much art I stumbled across whilst in Dubai – from wall murals to paintings, every other street had some form of artwork that everyone and anyone can appreciate, and it added to the ever-modernising appeal of the city.

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Found at JBR Walk

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Also found along JBR Walk

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The interior design of this cafe was breathtaking!

All in all, Dubai certainly did not disappoint this year; in all honesty, however, I would not stay in JBR again – if you’re visiting Dubai for the nightclubs, alcohol and bars then yes, I would recommend it but otherwise, I think I’d like to stay in downtown Dubai, by the Marina perhaps. Nevertheless, the holiday was truly wonderful, just what I needed before I began university and I’m already counting down until I go back! I’d like to thank my parents for giving me such a special holiday, and for forever spoiling me as they always do.

A x