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Wednesday, 24 October 2012


I was never meant to fall in love with Egypt, before I first visited Cairo nearly ten years ago now I had plans for other places I wanted to visit, since then the list of places has been added to but I’ve never got round to actually booking something different – Egypt and Luxor in particular just kept pulling me back again and again.

A few of the places which are on my list for future travel plans are:-

  • Morocco;

  • Orlando; (I loved the everglades and watching the sunset on Naples beach while sipping a nice cocktail, taking a day cruise and seeing all the big posh houses there and of course the whole ‘disney’ thing which I’ve always been a big fan off, I would also love to visit the new magical world of Harry Potter.

  • Croatia; (I am actually doing a Croatian Island Gulet Cruise next year between Dubrovnik and Split)

  • China;

  • Florence, Rome and Venice;

  • Loose some weight (I’ve re-joined the gym so back on track with that), get some horse riding lessons and do a ranch holiday in the USA;

  • Go on a shopping spree in New York before heading into some shiny bar for cocktails. 

  • Go on a Safari;

  • I would also like to re-visit Paris, I went back in 1996 but the friends and now ex-husband I was with didn’t enjoy all the architecture so much and found it a bit of a let down after our trip to Disneyland Paris.  If I remember rightly I threw a proper diva type strop when a visit to Notre Dame was ruled out…. We ended up in M&S and Body Shop in Paris!! So it would be nice to go back and spend more time there. 

  • And the last one (it’s actually the one I want to do most and the one which is so odd for me because I *hate* the cold is to go see the penguins in Antarctica)

Of course there is lots more of the world I want to see – these are just a small selection of places I have looked at and wanted to visit - funds permitting.  I also hope to get back to Egypt sometime very soon too  - I just don't want another ten years to pass and not have seen any more of those places which sound all so wonderful to me.

Anyway, back on track again.  After spending 2 weeks in Luxor earlier this year and a few days holiday taken here and there I only had just over a week’s holiday left to take and decided the time was right to try somewhere new,  I didn’t want the flight to be too long and thought it might be a good idea to head away for my birthday.

Croatia  - things begin to close down in late October, so perhaps not ideal but Morocco looked the ideal destination, short flight (3.5 hours), plenty to do and see in a week so I began looking more into where to visit.

Not being a beach bum and finding myself getting bored lying by a pool for a week Agadir was crossed off the list but Marrakech looked right up my street so I got myself onto Trip Advisor to look at accommodation choices and my god I was well and truly spoilt for choice.

From budget hotels to resort type hotels outwith the centre of town, to fancy shiny five star luxurious hotels and what I finally decided on was a ‘Riad’ in the Medina

From Wikipedia
"A riad (Arabic: رياض‎) is a traditional Moroccan house or palace with an interior garden or courtyard. The word riad comes from the Arabian term for garden, "ryad".[1] The ancient Roman city of Volubilis provides a reference for the beginnings of riad architecture during the rule of the Idrisid Dynasty. An important design concern was Islamic notions of privacy for women inside residential gardens. When the Almoravids conquered Spain in the 11th century they sent Muslim, Christian and Jewish artisans from Spain to Morocco to work on monuments.  The riads were inward focused, which allowed for family privacy and protection from the weather in Morocco. This inward focus was expressed in the central location of most of the interior gardens and courtyards and the lack of large windows on the exterior clay or mud brick walls. This design principle found support in Islamic notions of privacy, and hijab for women. Entrance to these houses is a major transitional experience and encourages reflection because all of the rooms open into the central atrium space. In the central garden of traditional riads there are often four orange or lemon trees and possibly a fountain. The walls of the riads are adorned with tadelakt plaster and zellige tiles, usually with Arabic calligraphy, with quotes from the Quran. The style of these riads has changed over the years, but the basic form is still used in designs today. Recently there has been a surge in interest in this form of house after a new vogue of renovation in towns such as Marrakech and Essaouira where many of these often-crumbling buildings have been restored to their former glory. Many riads are now used as hotels or restaurants"

There is such a wide choice of riads to choose from and it takes forever to trawl through them all, I wanted something close to the famous well known “Djemma El Fna” square.  With them being old buildings I didn’t want the furnishings to look too ‘modern’ ,  it had to come within a certain budget etc etc.  Finally I narrowed down a few choices and read through reviews and chose the ‘Riad Catalina’ it ticked most of the boxes on the list, dated back to the 18th century, good location,  plus had pet tortoises and doves in the central courtyard!!!

 (some pics of the Riad Catalina - my 'home' for the next week)

When it came to booking due to flight / accommodation / transfer prices (WOW! Things in Marrakech seem so much more expensive than in Egypt) it worked out just as cheap to take a package deal so I popped down to the travel agent and handed over the deposit.

4 guide books and a lot of internet research later and I’m all set to head off tomorrow  - well,  that’s after I finish off my packing, charge both of my camera’s batteries and give the house another general tidy

So tomorrow morning I head off on the ‘Marrakech Express’ – well not exactly the train from Casablanca heading south Crosby,  Stills and Nash sung about – my ‘Marrakech Express’ consists of an early morning taxi from the Scottish Borders to Edinburgh Waverley train station where I will take a train from there direct to Manchester Airport, relax for a few hours in a day room at the Radisson Blu hotel (which is in built to the airport building) and then a Thomsonfly flight out to Marrakech landing somewhere around 9.30pm.

Now – when I thought it might be a good idea to get away for my birthday and the location I chose I should have done a tad more research before booking!!!

I arrive in Marrakech on Thursday night and Eid El Adha  (Eid al-Adha ("feast of sacrifice"), or Feast of the Sacrifice or Greater Eid, is an important religious holiday celebrated by Muslims worldwide to honor the willingness of ʾIbrāhīm (Abraham) to sacrifice his son Ismā'īl (Ishmael) as an act of obedience to God, before God intervened to provide him with a sheep to sacrifice instead) is on Friday 26th – from the Trip Advisor Marrakech forum I began to realise pretty much would be closed down (restaurants, tour companies, touristic sites) for anything up to three days though things do begin to open up again after the first day of the Eid holiday depending on the family commitments of the owner of the business etc. 

Because of the situation with the Eid holiday I did what I don’t normally do and have pre-booked a few trips (I normally wait till I get there) and am excited about trips into the Atlas Mountains and also a one day cookery course to learn how to make various salads, breads and of course the famous Moroccan Tagine. 

A comment from BoringFS (a regular visitor to Luxor) has stuck in my mind – she said that Morocco is ‘Technicolour’ to Egypt’s ‘Sepia’ – I really can’t wait to find out for myself.

Friday, 13 April 2012

Thursday 22nd March

WHY WHY WHY on earth did I decide to book the 8.30 flight back up to Scotland.......... it's TOO early, well when you consider a 5.15am alarm and 6.30am check in.

We are too early for the hot breakfast at the Sofitel but the continental one is absolutely excellent, I have bread, smoked mackerel, cheese and some fresh fruit with a gallon of fruit juice.

It's only a few minutes walk to the terminal from the Sofitel and we get there around 6.30am only to find the queues horrendous, no joke....... I haven't done the 'online check in' but an Easyjet staff member directs us to the online check in queue (trying to keep the other one down) - 15 minutes later the queue from the normal check in and the queue from the online check in at the other side merge............................

It takes us approx:-

1.5 hours to check in
15 minutes to get through security
10 minutes to get to gate

They had no alternative but to delay the plane for 20 minutes, there were too many people who were held up in the queue.

Then, around 50 minutes later a sight for sore eyes.

The Firth of Forth

Back home in bonnie Scotland

You can make out the Forth Road and Rail Bridges  here

To save hassle with a bus into Edinburgh train station (the airport busses stop there) then because there is no rail link down to the Borders at the moment, walking to the bus station, another bus and a taxi we have arranged a taxi to take us back down home, the driver stopping off at Tesco on they way to let us get some groceries in.

I'm home by lunch time and the first load of washing in the machine, back to normality....

Home (my house is somewhere in among all the trees)

Wednesday 21st March 2012

It's our last day today :-( so it's up early and packing the suitcases, mum's is over the 20kg luggage allowance (it's the box of 100 tahina biscuits) but she ditches a few bits and bobs (not the biscuits tho lol!!!) and her case is just under 20kg.

We spend most of the morning lazing about the hotel and taking a few photos.

Mohammed - one of the brothers who own the hotel

El Mesala Hotel (Mesala is Arabic for Obelisk)

I'm packing my camera and lenses away when mum shouts on me, there are around 5 little bee eaters flying about in front of the hotel, with my camera packed away I let her take the photos.

(c) 'the auld yin' 2012 

I thought I would crop and enlarge this one for you so you could see it better..............

The Bug Eating Bee-Eater

We have really enjoyed our time here on the West Bank, it's definitely far more laid back and hassle free than staying on the East Bank, so easy to get out and about and walk for miles without being stopped and hassled to take a caleche or felucca.  The El Mesala Hotel was also a great choice, close enough (5 mins) to the ferry, a motorboat jetty opposite, a warm and friendly welcome and home from home atmosphere from owners and all the staff  plus a rooftop restaurant which serves absolutely delicious food.  We will most certainly be back.

The mini bus comes to collect us around 2.30pm and we make our way back to the airport, like I have mentioned before I couldn't live in Egypt but am always so sad to leave (I manage no tears this time)

On checking in at Luxor airport there was a screaming match going on, a lady who had 2 carry on bags and a large suitcase was shouting the odds with the check in staff,  her case was most definitely overweight, she wasn't disputing that - what she was disputing was the fact that she had to PAY for the extra luggage, apparently she was a 'travel agent' and never in her life had she heard anything so ridiculous than people being charged if their luggage was overweight, if she hadn't been so infuriated I would have asked her for a business card (just to ensure I never booked with her company - LOL!!). 

The call to gate was IMO way too early, as on previous visits staff called 'speedy boarders' and 'special assistance' to queue first - this means that 'everyone' jumps up and around 6 different queues which begin to merge into one form.  After standing for 20 minutes - they finally allow the S.A. group on first followed by us speedyboarders.  Mum and I take a seat near the back of the plane, stow our luggage and take our seats.   The plane takes off and I get my last view of Luxor for a few months..........

I chat to the lady at the end of our row, it's been her first time in Egypt and she was on my favourite boat which I have cruised on several times the 'M/S Presidential Nile Commodore' - I ask her how she enjoyed her holiday.  

On day one the hassle from hawkers in the Valley of the Kings had been so bad she had wanted to return home there and then but as the week had went on she had grown a little more used to the hassle and both her and her mum had had a superb time and would return again.  Infact listening in to the chit chat on the plane people seemed to be quite positive and had really enjoyed their time, most seem to have been on cruises where I think you do get sheltered from a lot of the hassle anyway, but the main point is most seemed to have had a really good time.

After a bacon baguette and a beer I fall asleep, missing a kerfuffle of some sort at the front of the plane, I'm not sure exactly what happened but mum saw the flight attendants rushing about then one walking to the back of the plane with an empty vodka bottle and there were no less than six police officers waiting to arrest someone at Gatwick airport when we disembarked (I think they were letting everyone off before going in to arrest him) Some passengers we had met at the Winter Palace last October were being questioned about the incident (not that they were involved in any way,  police were just questioning them for further evidence)

No major queues at immigration and it was only a short walk to the comfort of the Sofitel Gatwick, quick shower and sleeeeeeep!!!!