Date of Trip: August 2010
My Best Trip in My life!!!
I’m happy to tell you about my recent trip to Morocco. We travel as a group of 8 (4 families with teenage children), always the six of us, and every year we go to a different place. Money permitting, we love to travel, but we tend to stay away from organized tours in the usual sense of the word since so often they tend to protect from really getting into the places, skipping from one tourist attraction to the next. This year we decided to go to Morocco, mainly because it seemed inexpensive, but after the vacation we were definitely in love with the place.
We flew into Marrakech and were impressed immediately upon arrival by the airport building: its incredible roof outside is like lace and the sun shines through it, casting beautiful shadows on the pavement: there already was an incredible atmosphere greeting us. We took a taxi for 6 (a minivan) and for 15 euros were taken to Marrakech, with hundreds of scooters speeding around us! Our hotel was right off the Jeema el-Fna – an orderly chaos of smells, colors and sounds, by day and into the night! We hadn’t yet learned to not fall for taking pictures of guys with cobras (after you do they demand money), but that is how it started! We spent 2 days in Marrakech visiting the traditional tourist destinations (the souk, the Saadian toumbs, the Majorelle Gardens, the Tower of Hassan II and so forth) before we were met by our travel guides (sahara-magic .com) that we had selected for the real tour: Hassan ghana of sahara-magic(he speaks 5 languages, and is half Tuareg, half Berber) and said (he absolutely doesn’t speak any foreign language but drives fine!). From the outset, we found Hassan an incredible person, full of joy, outgoing, but never intrusive.
We left for Ouarzazate where we visited the Kasbah Ait Benhaddou (a lot of movies were made there) and then off to the Todra Gorges. Here we stayed in a hotel built in the caves! How wonderful! If you want I can give you its name. The next legs of our trip were the classic ones: Erfoud, Merzouga, Rissani, Zagora and Ouarzazate: you can do them with any tour operator, but what we experienced is unforgettable. At Erfoud we had lunch at home with Hassan’s family: What a welcome! We ate couscous the way they make it and drank REAL mint tea, his sister’s friends were doing henna tattoos, and did it to us, too. The next evening we headed for a desert oasis on camels, to spend the night in a berber tent distinctly counting every star in the Milky Way (well, almost all). How can we forget, while at his family’s home, how Roger ‘vomited’ from having drunk milk in his morning coffee?!?!? But that mishap actually led to an interesting experience! Hassan ‘s mother massaged special points of Roger’s wrists and feet with ‘magic’ oil, and incredibly, somehow, after a quarter of an hour, Roger was good as new.
And how can we forget our stop on the way to Zagora, stopping to take a picture, when suddenly 2 children leaped out from nowhere offering a pony made of mud, they had made with their hands, in exchange for some candy! And when they accompanied us through the tiny dark inner passageways of a small town in the south, revealing the meaning of poverty, enabling us to quietly and respectfully peek into the everyday life of people in southern Morocco. And how can we forget our lunch, eating Berber pizza, in a small rug factory, sitting in the midst of all those dancing colors and so many types of fabric! I could go on for hours recounting the feelings, more than the places we visited. Thanks to Hassan(organizing everything down to details like cool drinking water, snacks, SD cards for my camera and making us always feel safe in places that are so strange to us in culture and language) and to said, who, though silent and not speaking our language and understanding little, was an incredible and fun travelling companion.
Feelings, understanding the land and the people of the country we are visiting are what we seek when we travel and that is definitely what we got this time. And our children thank us for it, too.
I had always wanted to visit South Korea and I recently had the chance to spend a week in this amazing country. Unlike its northern neighbor which is pretty much closed to visitors, South Korea is a welcoming and hospitable country. It is an interesting place with a unique culture and a highly developing economy.
I flew into the capital Seoul. On arrival in the city, it was the marked contrast between modern skyscrapers and high design shopping malls and shanty towns that was immediately striking. Wide streets lined by fancy boutiques lead to a labyrinth of narrow alleyways with tiny traditional shops and eateries and there is a clutch of great tourist attractions.
My tour itinerary began on Seoul’s main boulevard, Sejongro, because I wanted to see the Royal Palace (Gyeongbok), the President’s residence, known as Cheongwadae or the Blue House, and the American Embassy. From here it’s a fairly short walk to Bukchon where there is the city’s largest collection of privately owned traditional wooden houses. It’s a charm with beautiful architecture and small courtyards, with the houses interspersed with quaint cafes and art galleries.
Taking the same route the next day, I took a trip into the mountains that peak behind the President’s House, and climbed the one known as Bugaksan. This affords the opportunity to pass through the Sukjeongmun Gate and through the city’s ancient fortress wall. From here the Seoul Fortress is easily accessible and there are also amazing views of Seoul.
Shopping in the Orient is an amazing experience so I made sure to pay a visit to the Shinsegae downtown department store. This huge emporium sells probably everything you can imagine and is a complete charm in the way the bottom floors sell all the basic staples of daily life – including the ubiquitous kimchee (fermented cabbage) and are frequented by Korean housewives while the upper floors cater to the well-heeled and brand conscious. As fascinating as it is, the new rooftop garden is a welcome respite. But, if you are going to shop in Seoul, it’s a must to visit the street stalls and hawkers of the Namdaemum Market where the wares seem to be spread out in a blanket of never-ending stalls. Be prepared to be seriously jostled by the crowds, but it’s also the chance to feast on the best street food.
One of the most surprising sights and a rue delight is the Cheonggyecheon Stream. Running for just under 4 miles through the city, the stream is remarkably quiet given its location, because it is 15 foot below street level. The serene setting, accentuated by waterfalls and bridge is a favorite strolling spot for romantic couples.
With a flying visit to Itaewon, the popular ex-pat neighborhood near to the main US army base, my time in Seoul came to an end. I was enthralled and captivated and hope I get to return one day.