22 hours in Marrakech, Morocco

After four amazing days at a retreat for creative entrepreneurs by HDYTI in Essaouira, a port city on Morocco’s Atlantic coast, it was almost time to return home. But I didn’t want to go home without having ever visited the city I’d be flying out from, so I booked a night in the gorgeous Sapphire Riad & Spa in the Marrakech medina and had less than 24 hours to explore everything I wanted to see and eat everything I wanted to eat in the dynamic city of Marrakech, a popular destination for solo travelers, couples, families as well as groups of friends. If you were ever in doubt whether 22 to 24 hours is really enough time, doubt no more. Perhaps you’d like to know more about my trip to Essaouira or read a little more about the luxurious Riad I stayed at? Don’t worry, blog posts will be up soon!

But first, here’s how I spent 22 hours in Marrakech

3 pm: Arrived in Marrakech, checked in at the Riad and got a tour around the gorgeous property – and enjoyed some complimentary mint tea and pastries. How divine!

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4 pm: The owner and staff members at the Riad were all lovely. In fact, they were so kind that I didn’t even have to worry about getting lost in the market as I was accompanied by a staff member to all the places I wanted to visit until it was time to return to the Riad for dinner. I guess he worried I’d get lost and never find my way back and end up sleeping on the streets somewhere. Which I am 100% certain would be the case if I had been wandering around completely by myself. I am a woman of few talents, but getting lost is definitely my biggest talent. I am always a damsel in distress whenever I travel solo. Always. Although that’s nothing to brag about, really.

Thanks to a male staff member from the Riad guiding me around the city, I felt safer than ever – except from when I almost got run over by scooters, bicycles and tuktuks going full speed through the small streets of the Medina.

First stop was the Maison de la Photographie de Marrakech – a museum of Moroccan photography. I would have never been able to find this museum on my own as it’s quite hidden past the souks of central old town Marrakech, down the narrow alleys of the Medina, somewhere around there, you’ll find this lovely little museum. Most of the photos displayed were in black and white and they all told a story. My favorite photo was one of a woman sitting next to two men, exposing her bare legs and laughing. She looked like a Moroccan Marilyn Monroe. Another photo I liked, was a photo of a group of veiled women. I loved the contrast between them and the leggy vixen.

I wanted to sit down and order a beverage at the roof terrace cafe, but impatience got the best of me as the waiter never came my way to take my order. So I skipped the pause cafe and focused on my photography instead.

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5:30 pm: “Do you want to visit the Ben Youssef Madrasa Koran school?” the lovely man from the Riad asked me. Of course I did. I wanted to see everything. Not trying to be holier than thou or anything but thankfully I was dressed like a conservative gal and not like a careless westerner in short shorts and a tank top like some of the tourists I’d seen in the Medina and even entering the Ben Youssef Madrasa. I love my shorts and tank tops just as much as the next girl, don’t get me wrong, but there’s a time and place for everything.

Founded in the 14th century, this former Islamic college is the most stunning piece of architecture found in the Medina (in my opinion). With a courtyard richly carved in cedar, marble and stucco, consisting entirely of inscriptions and geometric patterns, this historical site is simply too beautiful to miss out on.

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6:00 pm: We spent about one hour visiting the busy market in Djemaa El-Fna. I wasn’t planning on buying anything and I barely even dared to look and no way did I touch anything at all. The vendors at the market seemed to be quite aggravated whenever I said no to whatever they had to offer. One lady tried to push me into getting henna tattoos done – something I should avoid like the plague as I suffer from eczema. I declined politely and she got seriously offended and asked me one more time, purposely ignoring my previous answer. I told her yet again that I wasn’t interested and she rolled her eyes at me and mumbled “oh la la, les touristes”. Lesson one; if you want to sell me stuff, make me laugh. Works like a charm. Just ask the gentleman in Essaouira who almost had me rolling on the floor laughing my butt off – and sold me jewelry when I wasn’t even planning to buy anything.

We finished the tour with a cup of tea at the market square, watching the sunset while acrobats entertained us with their choreographed moves.

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7:15 pm Morocco is amazing in many different ways, one of them being the way disabled people are treated. With respect, dignity and given the opportunity to work a full time job just like everybody else. Just because you depend on your wheelchair to get from A to B doesn’t mean you have to be physically bound to it at all times. Just ask the Moroccan tuktuk-drivers. In Morocco the disabled are given the opportunity to work as tuktuk-chauffeurs – and I think we got the most fast and furious one of them all.  At times I worried we’d run someone over with our full-speed tuktuk. That guy was not stopping for anyone. Buses, cars, women, children, red lights, queues, you name it – ain’t nobody got time for that!

Back at the Riad, I had about thirty minutes to relax in my room before getting ready for my three course meal. I’ll tell you all about my meal in a separate post (on the Riad). I’ll tell you one thing, though. It was delicious. Just like everything else I ate in Morocco.

8:50 am: The Riad had arranged for a guide to come meet me in the morning to take me to the sites I wanted to visit before heading to the airport at 1 pm. A bubbly Moroccan woman with the most beautiful smile and charming accent waited for me by the entrance to the Riad. She introduced herself and promised me we’d have enough time to do both the Jardin Majorelle and the Bahia Palace before returning to the Riad for my manicure appointment at noon. We hailed a cab and left the Medina to visit these spectacular sites.

Luck was on our side as there was absolutely no line to enter the Jardin Majorelle. We took advantage of the situation and the guide had me posing for photos pretty much everywhere in the garden – also for some videos that I’m not even sure I’m gonna share with anyone as I am probably the most awkward person you’d ever see on video. It’s cringe worthy, I tell you. The garden was amazingly beautiful. With the exception of one thing: vandalism done by tourists who think it’s a great idea to carve their initials into the bamboo, cactuses and other plants in the garden. It upset my guide to see it. And me too.

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Jardin Majorelle (or Majorelle Garden) is a botanical garden and the Islamic Art Museum of Marrakech. The building was designed by French artist Jacques Majorelle in the 1920’s and 30’s and the garden has been open to the public since 1947. Since 1980 the garden was owned by fashion designer Yves Saint-Laurent and his partner Pierre Bergé. Yves Saint-Laurent’s ashes were scattered in the Majorelle Garden.

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09:30 am Next stop, Bahia Palace. We hailed a cab and went to the opposite part of Marrakech. Ahead of schedule and again no line to buy tickets. Being an earlybird sure pays off!

The palace was built in the late 19th century and the name “Bahia” is actually Arabic for “brilliance” and “beautiful”. The palace was originally built for the Grand Vizier of the Sultan and was later occupied by his son and the four wives and several concubines.

Today, the spectacular Bahia Palace is one of the biggest tourist attractions in Marrakech.

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10:45 “Would you like to visit a Berber pharmacy and learn about the local products?” my guide asked me and explained to me that she loved the makeup from there as well as the spices, oils and scents. Curious as I am, I obviously said yes. I ended up buying a whole lot of products as well. A really good lipstick (finally one that actually hydrates my lips and doesn’t stain), a stinky cream for my eczema, some sort of remedy for when you have a blocked nose – and five or six other products. Saffron included – so I guess I’ll have to start searching for recipes and actually use it!

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11:30 am We still had about thirty minutes before I had to return to the Riad and I wanted to spend those thirty minutes wisely. My guide suggested that we’d walk to the Saadian Tombs and visit them quickly.

The Saadian Tombs date back from the time of the sultan Ahmad al-Mansur in the 15th-16th century). They were only first discovered in 1917 and were restored by Beaux-arts service. About sixty members of the Saadi dynasty were buried in the mausoleum. Their servants and soldiers were buried outside, in the garden.

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12:00 am Back in the Riad, just in time for my manicure appointment. My fragile, broken nails looked horrible and needed as much care and attention as possible. The lady who gave me the manicure told me to eat more bananas. In Poland they usually tell me to rub lemon juice on my nails. In Norway they tell me to drink more milk. Guess I should do all of the above to maintain good healthy nails.

1:00 pm The King was in town and traffic was worse than usual as everyone had to take an alternative route since the main one was blocked for security reasons. My taxi driver got me to the airport in time and even gave me a few mandarins to enjoy while waiting for my flight. I ate one and packed two in my handbag. A little souvenir from a country that has the freshest fruit juice I’ve ever had and the juiciest fruit salad I’ve ever tasted.

As I waited for my flight I browsed through the photos I’d taken during my 22 hours in Marrakech and smiled to myself. I might not have seen it all, but I sure am happy with everything I did see!

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How everything went wrong – and how to be okay with it (Trondheim, Norway)

When buying Christmas presents for my loved ones, I am always one step ahead of everyone I know. Ridiculous as I am, I start planning and preparing everything months in advance. This year was no exception. A trip to Trondheim, after spending the holidays with my family in Stavanger – now THAT sounded like a wonderful idea!

My partner loves snow and we don’t really get to see it that often as it rarely snows in Paris. So what better gift than a trip to somewhere where we’d be guaranteed snow? From what I’d heard, there’s always a lot of snow in Trondheim during the winter months. Excited about snow in this Norwegian winter wonderland, I googled my way to a website advertising for dog sledding tours in Bymarka forest in Trondheim. And while browsing through Instagram, I saw some beautiful photos of the northern lights seen from Trondheim. I booked a dog sledding tour and I started daydreaming about the Northern lights. I’m Norwegian (from the southwest) and I have never seen them. Ever. This was not just the perfect gift for my partner. This was the perfect gift from me to myself as well!

But as things turned out, Mother nature had other plans and decided to show me the middle finger and rain on my parade. Literally.

As we got off the airport shuttle, Trondheim greeted us with dark clouds and heavy rain. 4 pm and already pitch black outside, my partner stepped right into a puddle and cursed loudly in French. Earlier that week, I had received an e-mail from the dog sledding tour company, informing me that the tour was cancelled due to the weather forecast. Rain every day. Dark clouds, wind, rain. In other words, we would most likely not see the Northern lights either. So much for a perfect gift.

I was devastated. I had lost motivation to visit the city and I felt like I had let my partner down. But we managed to overcome the disappointment – after all, we were visiting a city that neither of us had been to before and both had wanted to visit for a long time. This charming city managed to cheer us up, despite the bad weather and canceled plans. And these were our highlights:

Nidarosdomen (Nidaros Cathedral). This famous cathedral is even more impressive than I had expected it to be. And it’s only a few blocks away from the hotel we stayed at(Comfort Hotel Park)! The cathedral is built over the burial site of Saint Olav, the king of Norway (11th century), who became the patron saint of the country. This medieval cathedral is the worldwide northernmost of its kind. If you’re planning to visit, bare in mind that it’s not permitted to take photos inside of the cathedral.

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Gamle Bybro (Old Town Bridge). While visiting my parents during the holidays, my stepfather mentioned this charming little bridge as a must-see while visiting Trondheim. The view of the river and the wharfs is gorgeous! The bridge crosses the Nidelva river, connecting the main street Kjøpmannsgata to the neighborhood called Bakklandet. The bridge was constructed in 1681 by Luxembourg-born soldier and military engineer Johan Caspar von Cicignon. Back then, the location was of military-strategic significance.

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Bakklandet neighborhood is famous for its charming wooden houses and narrow streets. It is impossible not to fall in love with this neighborhood, which is probably why it’s also one of the major tourist attractions in the city. My partner and I visited Dromedar Kaffebar in Bakklandet and enjoyed some local pastries and delicious coffee drinks while staying warm, away from the pouring rain.

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Speaking of coffee… for some real, high quality coffee, check out Jacobsen & Svart Kaffebrenneri. Owner’s quote from the website; “I chose to put my family name on each coffee bag, because it’s a commitment. A commitment to perform, perfect and be proud of what I do” and “It’s simple, no bullshit and a honest approach to Nordic coffee culture”. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it over and over again: Scandinavians love coffee and coffee shops. It’s a part of our identity.

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Tyholttårnet (Tyholt tower) has more to offer than just being a 124 meter radio tower. It’s also an observation deck, giving you the greatest view of Trondheim. Inside of the tower there’s a revolving restaurant, which makes one complete revolution per hour. If you think it’s a high end gourmet restaurant, you’re wrong. The restaurant, Egon, is a Norwegian restaurant chain offering anything from pizza to quesadillas to steak to well, quite a lot of options for a reasonable price. As unromantic as that may sound, the atmosphere in the restaurant is amazing and you shouldn’t miss out on it once you’re in Trondheim. My partner and I celebrated New Year’s Eve at this restaurant. For the occasion, they had a fixed three-course menu and the atmosphere was festive and indeed very romantic. Which is exactly what I wanted for New Year’s Eve. We watched the fireworks from the tower and kissed 2016 goodbye.

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Nedre Elvehavn. Once a mechanical workshop, now a vibrant hot spot full of restaurants and bars. To honor this former industrial site, some of the original buildings and artifacts have been kept, including a dry dock and a crane.

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Fosenkaia Gjestehavn (Fosenkaia Guest Harbor). Strolling along this harbor was lovely, especially since it didn’t rain most of the time while we were there. The harbor seems to be either a current or a former industrial site and is located right behind the central train station. My partner who’s an engineer and fascinated with anything industrial, asked me to take lots of pictures, so I did.

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Vår Frue (Our Lady Church). Located in Midtbyen (town center), this church is also worth a visit – and a place to volunteer if you’re interested! The oldest part of this church dates from the 12th century and was rebuilt after fires during the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries and finally restored in 1739.

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Stiftsgården. This is the royal residence in Trondheim and is possibly the largest wooden building in Northern Europe. It has been used by royalty and their guests since 1800.

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Needless to say, even though things didn’t go according to plan, and even though the weather was rather depressing, we had an amazing time in Trondheim. Mother nature can rain on my parade as much as she likes. I’ll still get back on my feet and find an umbrella somewhere. The Northern lights and dog sledding tour remains on our bucket lists for now.

more photos below

Nidaros Cathedral

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Bakklandet

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Old Town Bridge and Wharfs

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Nedre Elvehavn

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Fosenkaia Guest Harbor

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Our Lady Church

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Why Christmas Markets in Cologne, Germany are simply magical

This year I’ve visited quite a few different Christmas markets. Lovely Christmas markets – by all means – but maybe a bit too much in a short matter of time..so much that I was starting to feel like I’d overdosed on Christmas and worried about coming down with the worst hangover ever. I didn’t want to be the Grinch, but sometimes too much feels like too much. On top of everything, I had caught a cold which made the idea of traveling to visit yet another Christmas market seem rather exhausting.

That was until I went to Cologne in Germany this week.

Spellbound by the charm and the authenticity of the markets located in this wonderful city, I had regained my Christmas spirit and tossed away my inner Grinch.

Each of these six markets has its unique style. Although the one in front of Cathedral Kölner Dom is the most well known of the city’s Christmas markets, there is absolutely no reason for you not to check out the others as well. You’ll be missing out on a simply magical experience!

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The marine themed market by the harbor looks amazing as darkness falls and lights illuminate the bridge connecting the two parts of the market separated by the river Rhine.

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The market by the Cathedral has a layer of little Christmas lights installed above all the stalls – enchanting little lights that make you feel like you’re gazing at a beautiful starry night sky.

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The Old Town market (Heimat der Heinzel) has a spectacular ice rink and lovely decorations, just enough to get you into the Holiday spirit and head to the bar for a glühwein or an eierpunsch – last one being my favorite hot beverage in Germany (hot eggnog).

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Then there’s the market that – in my opinion – is the most romantic one. With illuminated hearts decorating the trees, a cute little Ferris wheel turning in a strangely high speed for an attraction like this and plenty of cute little shops, how can you not fall in love with the market – or AT the market (the atmosphere is there, so why not?).

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The other two markets were lovely as well. I ate well (perhaps a bit too much at times), I drank well, I was in good company with my partner and his family, we laughed, we bought cute little gifts, we sang, we smiled.

Thank you Cologne – Thank you Germany. Thank you for getting me into the Holiday Spirit. I’ll see you again, next year!

Until then, let these photos inspire you.

Photos from the market by the harbor

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Photos from Neumarkt (the market of the angels)

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Photos from the Old Town market (Heimat der Heinzel)

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…and the romantic one right next to that market

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Photos from the Nikolausdorf market

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And let’s not forget the market by the Kölner Dom

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Champagne tasting in Aÿ, France

The Goutorbe family presents its exquisite bottles which contain your most secret dreams. All the love of the earth, all the mystery of creation.

These are the words written in the brochure for the champagne house of H. Goutorbe, located in Aÿ – famous as a centre of the production of Champagne.

It is no secret that the French are proud of their wine. And the reputation of champagne has given the region with the same name even more of a reason to be proud. Marketed as a luxurious beverage, this sparkling wine is so much more than just sparkling wine. Champagne is a protected trademark and a symbol of France as a country of high quality produce.

We visited the house of H. Goutorbe because we needed to buy a few bottles of Champagne for our upcoming Christmas and New Year’s Eve celebration. We could have just gone to the nearest supermarket to buy a few bottles, but as my partner’s parents live just a one hour drive away from the Champagne region, we figured we’d might as well join them and buy our golden bubbles straight from the producer. My partner’s parents are loyal satisfied costumers who visit this particular producer annually to stock up on the good stuff. It was easy to see why.

Along with a group of British tourists, we were given a tour around the production site before heading to my favorite part of the visit: the champagne tasting. The guide described the traditional way to produce champagne compared to the modern way, the process of fermentation, bottling, and explained the difference between vintage (blend of grapes harvested in a particular year) and non-vintage (blend of different wines from different years) champagne. She took us to the cellar and explained the process of the second stage of fermentation. I’m not gonna tell you everything as there’s already a great video on their website documenting the entire process!

During our tour we noticed a fun detail that made me like this family even more. A gallery full of gorgeous travel photos. Just like me, they love to travel. Once a year they travel to a new destination and bring a bottle of their trademark champagne with them. Wherever they go, they capture a photo featuring a bottle of their champagne in front of beautiful landscapes, a volcano in Hawaii (!), monuments and even in front of penguins and glaciers in the Antarctic. How cool is that?!

Moving on to the champagne tasting we were welcomed to a cozy room with a large fireplace, and ended the visit with a taste of the golden bubbles before placing our order and taking home some fine bottles waiting to be shared in good company while celebrating those special occasions with our loved ones.

Would you like a tour?

Website: H. Goutorbe 

Visit: 9 bis, rue Jeanson / F. 51160 Aÿ-Champagne

Phone: +33(0)326552170

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The old press device

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The modern ones

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The cellar

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