What not to wear

Knowing what to wear (and therefore what to pack) when you travel the world is really important.  It’s not just about how to dress in more conservative countries, although of course this is important.  I was interested to note on my recent trip to Morocco that tourists visiting there dressed pretty much the same as tourists visiting, say, Mexico or the Caribbean.  It was quite hot and sunny and I saw lots of women in shorts and sundresses.  Morocco is a very tolerant country with a robust tourism industry so I guess they have accepted that sunshine + sand + blue skies = shorts and t-shirts.

However, it is not just about being cultural – it is also important to know what to wear (or not) for the activities you are going to enjoy (or not).  Take camel riding for example. If you include this in your list of activities don’t wear shorts.  Depending on the length of your camel ride (and I have heard of two hour camel rides) you legs will be worn through.

bikini camel ride

Seriously????

Or how about walks through the markets of Asia?  Yup – you might want to ditch those flimsy teensy little sandals.  Go for some solid Sketchers with closed toes or even the hiking boots will do.  Nothing worse than getting “bits” in between your toes.

Fish market

On an African safari leave the red dress at home, girl.  There is a reason khaki was invented.  It is to help you blend into the scenery and so you don’t startle the lions.  And in Barbados, forget about the camouflage gear.  It will be confiscated upon arrival!

Even going through security you should be clever with what you wear.  Jeans with decorative zips – yeah you are going to be pulled over for body search.  Scarves, hats, sunglasses …. why?  Keep it minimal so you can breeze through as quickly as possible and not hold up the lines.  Well…. not too minimal
airport security no clothes

 

 

A bazaar type argument

Shopping in Morocco …. how can I describe it properly.  It’s like a dance.  It’s not an argument although voices are often raised and even tears can come into play.  It’s like a duel and when both players are experienced at their craft it can be a delight to observe.

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However, when you are one of the players (and especially not a very experienced one) it can be intimidating.  But I had done the research and realised that it was a must.  Not only to get a reasonable deal (because really people, the shopkeeper will always win in this haggling process when dealing with me) – but also to preserve the proper decorum and relationship between the seller and the buyer.

So here’s the thing.  You find the shop and you know what you want.  There are very seldom any prices on the products.  You are encouraged to pick up and try and feel the product.  Sniff it.  Try it on.  Whatever.  But don’t ask the price.  No, no, no.  That is not part of this stage of the dance.

shoes in souk

First you have to see the quality of the workmanship.  You have to admire the fabric, the leather, the stitching.  You have to agree with the seller that this is of the highest quality.  In fact so good you have never seen anything like it before.  Don’t worry.  This process will not necessarily mean that you will be paying more than anyone else.  It is a compliment paid to the shopkeeper to show him – before you haggle – that you truly appreciate the fine goods in his shop.

Finally, after having tried it on, exclaimed with joy, taken it off, tried it on again – you ask the question.  How much?

Stage 2 – this is when the price becomes the total focus of your discussion.  We have now left behind the quality of the product.  He tells you how he is making nothing on this.  He is just selling this as a favour to help out the dressmaker/shoemaker/potterymaker.  You say that is too much.  You don’t have that much money on you.  Well then how much do you have?  Then you take 50% off what he asked and say that you will pay him that much.  He looks at you in shock.  His eyes are round and staring.  “Look, look at this beautiful shoe/dress/plate.  I cannot sell it to you for this.  I am giving this away.  No I cannot do that”.

We then start the back and forth – he asks for this – you offer that – he lowers what he is asking – you lower your offering.  Oh my goodness.  I hate this part.  But I have to respect the rules.

rug seller

Eventually you make an offer – he holds out his hand to shake on it.  You take it and you know that you have paid too much.  You just KNOW it.  By the delight in his eyes, by the hand clasped to his heart.  BUT … what the hell.  It is beautiful, it is from Morocco.  It is exotic and it is yours.  Pack it up – take it home – never think again about how much you paid for it.

JUST ENJOY IT.

Deserts and camels

An overnight stop in the Sahara Desert in an exclusive tented camp has been on my bucket list for a long time.  I have sent others to do this trip and they all loved it.  Now it was my time.  Getting there is not that easy – a long drive and then into a four wheel drive and into the desert.  Although it was hot the ever-present desert wind kept things cool and while our guide and cook had a snooze we were too excited to sleep and decided to go exploring.

”Don’t get lost” our guide told us “Algeria is just over the mountains”.

Now walking on sand dunes is not easy – the sand is deceptive and seems to be as hard as concrete and then suddenly gives in when you are least expecting it and you find yourself disappearing ankle deep in sand as soft and fine as talcum powder.  We got the hang of it eventually and went for a long walk on top of the dunes – just miles of nothingness – very peaceful.

As we got back to our tent we noticed the camels.  Oh my goodness.  Here we go.  I was a bit nervous I must admit.  But really – what could go wrong?  They are such patient creatures and we got to know a little more about them from our guide.  They all have names and they travel in “families” not really related but sort of a group.  They don’t like to travel without each other so this was the reason we had 3 camels although just 2 of us were riding.  Our trusty Berber guide was going to lead the camels on foot.  I felt better about that.  I didn’t feel like I wanted to try any trotting or whatever camels might do.

Mmmm I was a bit wrong there – my feisty little camel just wanted to be number 1 and not number 2.  She kept pushing ahead of Peter’s camel in front and every so often did a little trot which freaked me out no end.  Deep into the dunes our guide stopped and got the camels to kneel so we could get off.  He then unpacked a thick woven blanket and we all climbed up to the top of the sand dune so we could watch the sun go down.

This is where we learnt about the camels and their behaviour with a strange conversation with our guide.  He spoke no English, a little Spanish (the Berbers still have strong links in their history to the Spanish) and a little French.  Well – seems like a million years ago since I did French at school in England and my Spanish consisted of Dos cervezos por favor.  Not exactly the best thing to ask over Ramadan.  But he laughed anyway.

We used sign language and the desert sand as a way of communicating.  The Sahara sand is really strange.  It is so fine that you can draw in the sand and the lines remain sharp and easy to read.  He seemed quite young and really liked having his photo taken.  I think he was maybe part of that strange in between land that you often see when you travel to exotic places …. part anchored in ages old tradition and part anchored onto a cell phone.

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Eventually we remounted our camels and rode back to our camp where a dinner had been prepared for us.  Early night because we needed to be up at 5 am to see the sun come up over the sand dunes.

Let me say that I am not a morning person… however …. after being nagged a few times I was out of bed by 5.10 am and out to explore the dunes and see the sun come up.  I was not disappointed.  It was amazing.  The sand dunes took on all different hues and shadows and even though it was a bit cloudy it was delightful.  But wait …. what is that?   A couple of girls in local gear just sitting on top of the adjoining dune.  How strange.

As we finished our viewing they made their way towards us and while we were taking photos they patiently sat down on the top of the dune and emptied out their bags to display their wares making, in effect, a temporary shop.  Scarves, miniature leather camels, carved stones…. all manner of Knick knacks none of which I really needed.  But you know…. you do the touristy thing and support the local industry. Why not?  So while Peter went back to the tent to get money we chatted.  Again we had limited language skills but again the Sahara sands served as our chalk board.  I asked them how old they were and found out one was 14 and the other was 21.  The 14 year old was still at school. Wow she must have got up at 3 am to make this trip to sell a few goods.  So then I told them that I was a grandmother (that involved a complicated family tree in the sand) and said that I knew all about teenagers and we had a good laugh about that.

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By the time Peter came back with some cash we had had a good chat in the sand dunes and I happily bought a lopsided hand made leather camel and an embroidered scarf.  The interaction with these two was worth way more than the trophies I carried away.

 

All aboard the Choo Choo train

Train travel is so special – sometimes.  I can hear people groaning – the ones who travel the C Train every day downtown.  Well I am not really talking about that kind of train travel. I am talking about this kind of train travel.

The Jacobite  rail-rovos_1384939i

Now that’s what you call a train.

There is something very romantic about the clackety clack of the wheels and the sway of the train while the countryside goes rushing past.  It’s civilised.  Not like flying.  Hurtling through the air in a pressured metal tube squashed up against complete strangers who hog the armrest.  We all know that is not fun – it is a means to an end.

Train travel however is different.  It is mostly about enjoying the journey and seeing the scenery – except if you are on one of those super high speed trains.  I must confess it makes me rather nervous to think about it.  I have done the Eurostar under the English Channel – 300 km per hour!  A lot of this is under the sea of course going through a tunnel.  The countryside does flash by rather quickly but it is still an elegant way to travel.  Takes you from the heart of London to the heart of Paris in 2 hours and 15 minutes.  Plus you get a proper seat and if you upgrade – enjoy a lovely lunch with wine.  Yes – that is the way to travel.

You might think that is fast – but it is not the fastest in the world.  Far from it!  The fastest train in the world is the Shanghai Maglev Train from Shanghai airport to a metro station on the outskirts of the city.  It takes just 7 minutes to do 30 kms and travels at a scary speed of 431 km per hour.

Now most of the train trips I have done in Europe have been fairly short – maybe a couple of hours.  Just enough time to enjoy a glass of wine and a snack.  However I do remember very long train journeys when I was a child in England.  My father was in the Royal Navy and so we had to travel around a lot – often from one end of England to the top of Scotland.  Those were long long journeys and when our train tickets arrived at the house in the envelope marked OHMS (On Her Majesty’s Service) they were not first class.  😦  And so we learned how to take our own lunch on the trains and how to sleep on uncomfortable seats.

However if you do decide to sleep on a train you can do it without breaking the bank.  It’s like being a kid again – you get a bunk bed!

sleeper

Now – imagine – you can have that age old fight.  Which is better – top or bottom?  And why?

But if you are a serious train buff then there are some incredible journeys you can do by train.

Loch Fyne

Beautiful Scotland with some fabulous stops to Oban and Bute … castles and mountains.  This is definitely on my bucket list – beautiful countryside – a mix of ship and coach and then this incredible train

scotrail-west-highland-line-loch-awe-c-mcnab

Or what about this – Switzerland – where the trains always run on time.

jungfrau express

I am not kidding.  I was in Switzerland and had a rather tight connection between two trains – about 7 minutes.  I found the Station Master and asked him what would happen if my train was late.  He looked at me as if I was a blithering idiot.  “Trains are not late in Switzerland” he said sternly.

sorry

And if you want something really different – how about a train journey in India – this is definitely my most favourite and having visited India once by coach tour it is top of my list.

India Palace on Wheels

And no – you won’t have to sit on the roof or hang off the side of the train (although I guess you could if you wanted to). Instead you will ride the rails in the lap of luxury on this beautiful heritage train.

palace on wheels bedroom

Palace on wheels lounge

Wow … I could totally do that.

 

 

 

 

 

Sleeping in airports

Sometimes you have a long connection ….. a really really long connection.  So what are you choices?  You can walk around the airport for hours looking at the different shops and duty free items – all rather overpriced if you ask me.  You could go into one of those lounges where you pay for admission and can only be there for a maximum time of, I believe, four hours.  Really when you are in the lounge you just get a seat to sit in, maybe some comp food and drink – but nothing that amazing.  Sometimes the lounges are so full that it can be hard to find a seat and especially difficult to find something private.  I don’t know about you but I am a bit paranoid about just having a sleep in an airport in a public place.  Also it is pretty hard to grab a quick kip when there are announcements, lights and lots of talking around you.

The best option is a day room.  Used to be quite hard to find a day room.  In the old days many of the hotels would be located outside of the terminals of major airports but in the last few years there are more in terminal airports – still quite hard to find a day room.  You usually have to check directly with the hotel although there are some sites that specialize just in day room bookings.  And then there are hotels and …. hotels.  A friend who just booked a day room at the Miami airport told me that it was pretty mediocre and, well, just felt “grubby”.  Not cheap either.

There are more choices these days and on this trip I had a long layover at Amsterdam airport so decided to try out the Yotel.  Quite a good little operation.  They call the rooms cabins – no windows to the outside world – very small and snug – but private bathroom with a shower and tv, free high speed internet and free coffee and tea available from Mission Control – that’s right – not reception 🙂

So we checked into the Yotel in a premium cabin.  Now it is interesting because my assessment and my husband’s assessment were completely different. I thought it was great.  I loved that everything was modern and clean, crisp sheets on the bed, rain shower in the bathroom.  He found the room a bit too claustrophobic and didn’t like the shower.  I guess he had a good point – there was no distinguishable difference between the floor of the shower and the floor of the bathroom so perhaps a slight lip might have been helpful.

Now the room is designed that the bed actually looks like a sofa and the controls are on the side of the bed to operate a sliding system to open the bed out.  I guess these people didn’t read the instructions – take a look at the video.  It could have been us.

Hi tech bed antics at Yotel

We checked in at 9 am and checked out at 4 pm.  I took my Jammie’s in my carry on so was able to get really comfy and slept for hours.  The room was really quiet and dark.  Worked perfectly for me.  Up at 3 pm for a shower, into fresh clothes and I was ready to go.

UMMMM –  until I got to the gate and saw my flight was THREE HOURS DELAYED ….. aaaargh – but that is another story.  The journey to Morocco continues.

A helping hand for kids in Zimbabwe

Amanda is checking out Botswana and Victoria Falls.  When she returns I would love to have an African evening where we discuss some of the differences between Southern and East Africa as this is one of the most common questions we get asked when people are planning a vacation to Africa.  With our focus being Africa we have ensured that our specialists have personal experience of lodges and hotels in South Africa, Zimbabwe, Botswana and Tanzania.   Kenya still on the to do list!

I just wanted to share Amanda’s latest post from her blog – this is something to think about for your next trip to Africa.

When planning this trip Jen and I had decided that we wanted to give back to the local community. I asked my colleague Lindsay who was from Zimbabwe for some help with this project. She put me in touch with her sisters friend Sue who is on the board of trustees for the Victoria Falls […]

via A little can go a long way — Amanda’s Travel Addiction

zim falls

Don’t feed the seagulls

There is nothing quite like the squawking of seagulls to get that next-to-the-sea feeling (unless of course you are talking about the area around the Calgary dump).

Sometimes however it would be nice to have seaside without gulls – that’s certainly the view of visitors and locals in Perth, Australia.  The gulls are so bad there that the owner of the restaurant has armed visitors with water pistols to drive away the pesky birds.

Looks quite fun actually – and it certainly doesn’t hurt the seagulls.

The problem is seagulls are actually quite fussy creatures and seem to thrive in more populated up market areas.  I guess the pickings are better than hovering out over the cliffs where you might just pick up the odd fish, rat or bird’s egg.  Hanging around a more prosperous suburban locale the seagulls become stronger, more numerous and actually rather spoilt.

Teagull_F09AFG_3580664b

Having these creatures around rather spoils some of those special moments that we all crave on holiday.  Many people worry about insects and other creepy crawlies when they travel but I suspect that not many people worry about the seagulls.  I can remember sitting on the balcony of my room overlooking Plettenberg Bay.  We had ordered breakfast in the room – on our balcony – BIG MISTAKE!  I didn’t even see him coming.  He swooped in from high up with nary a flap of a wing and before I knew it …. there went my bacon!

This guy knows what it feels like.

gull thief

They don’t seem to have any fear – these gulls.

woman-attacked-by-hungry-seagull

In fact experts say the rise in seagull attacks is because the birds have overcome their natural fear of humans through years of living in close proximity to us.  They also like to hog the limelight and will do anything to ruin a photo op.

titanic

Yep – these seagulls get everywhere and in Britain there are even articles with advice on how to stop seagulls ruining your holiday.  They are regarded as even more annoying than wasps.  But sometimes their greedy nature gets them into trouble – like this one that fell into a vat of curry ….

curry seagull

“I had a pelican curry the other night. Tasted ok but the bill was enormous.”

(Sorry – couldn’t resist that!)