London: Sister Edition

August 18, 2014, no comments

Using all my restraint to not reference Winning London.

When my sister and I were planning her visit, we really wanted to squeeze in a side trip to another country. My goal was to find a place that would be: 1. new for the both of us 2. easy to connect to Lisbon (my next destination) 3. easy to connect to Amsterdam (her next destination). It turned out that the city that most closely fit the requirements was London. (I’ve been before but I was 16 so I was happy to visit again).

We stayed for three nights at St. Athan’s Hotel in the Bloomsbury neighborhood of Central London, which was the perfect location for us. We were able to easily get everywhere we wanted to go. We also went ahead and rode one of those silly double decker bus tours. It was the best way to relax, see the main sights, and get around town. Plus, now we have a new memory of Jana narrowly escaping pigeon droppings!

Luckily, the spring weather was gorgeous for most of our stay. When the chilly wet rain finally did creep in, we headed into the British Museum for a bit of respite.

Thanks to our mom, dad, aunt, and uncle for sending some special “sister spending money” our way. We indulged in some delicious meals on this trip and thought of you with every bite!

Again, here’s a collage of photos from Jana’s phone:

xo, jill


Essaouira: Sister Edition

August 13, 2014, 3 comments

She’s a magnet.

I couldn’t let my sister leave without experiencing Essaouira. I really think it’s a Moroccan classic, especially if you can’t make it to Fez or Tangier. It offers a look at old Morocco that is different from Marrakech. Plus, traveling around Morocco can be a little crazy. Essaouira feels like a well-deserved break.

I must say, walking the souks and alleys with my sister was much different than strolling around with Mike. I guess I didn’t realize how good Mike’s presence was for keeping the men away. My sister was bringing them in left and right. I felt a new found respect for women visiting Essaouira alone or in pairs. It’s a lot of work to just walk down the street. Although, attention single ladies interested in a Moroccan husband. Essaouira is the place! You will not believe how many women Mike and I met over the past year who met their partners in Essaouira. (I think it’s the water!)

Of course, no trip to Essaouira would be complete without sharing a few cat photos. I mean, really. It’s a combination of delight and torture.

Jana took most of the fun photos. Here’s a collage of photos from her phone.

After the fun at the beach it was time to hurry home. We had a flight to London to catch the next day!

xo, jill

PS Other posts on Essaouira here and here. Oh, and here!

Ouzoud Falls

August 8, 2014, one comment

The cascades.

When I realized so many friends and family members were interested in visiting Marrakech, I decided to save one tourist attraction to experience new with each person. I figured that otherwise I’d be sick of seeing the same old sights over and over. No one wants to explore with a fatigued sightseeing buddy.

When my sister visited in March, I took a personal day so we could check out Ouzoud Falls. The falls are about two hours away from Marrakech and make a nice day trip from the city. To make arrangements easier, we joined up with a tour group and headed to the falls in a mini-bus. Once we arrived, we hired a guide who led us on a hike from the top of the falls, down across the water, and back up the other side. On the way back up, we stopped for a tagine lunch and tea with a gorgeous view.

I know it’s blurry but I love this photo. 

“Berber Titanic” – Berber jokes never get old…except when they do.

Trips to the falls are easy to find. Every tour operator in Marrakech offers some sort of tour there. The best months to view the falls are March to June.

xo, jill

Majorelle Garden

August 7, 2014, no comments

A peaceful respite.

Well, there are a variety of reasons why I haven’t posted anything new for the past several weeks. First, life was just busy. Closing up a school year and packing up your life take time! Then, my priorities went to reconnecting with my family as is natural after a long absence. Finally, well, the amount of photos I have from the past few months is just overwhelming. A few of our weekend trips produced several hundreds of photographs! Yikes. I haven’t known where to begin. Luckily, I noticed an album of photos that had already been pared down.

These photos are from a trip to the Majorelle Garden all the way back in January. The garden is just a few blocks from where we were living. Mike and I often watched hot and sweaty tourists walking there while squinting at their maps from our breakfast table. When my friend Liz paid me a visit, I decided to join her and finally check it out for myself. I must say, it is a delight.

Entering the Majorelle Garden means walking into a peaceful shaded sanctuary. You are immediately transported away from the loud, hectic, and smelly streets of Marrakech. (Seriously, smelly. You have to walk past several horses to get to the entrance and heat + horse urine is intense.) It’s easy to forget that beyond the bamboo, bougainvillea, and high wall is a busy street (and our local grocery store!).

Although fairly small, the garden offers plenty to look at and enjoy. For plant lovers, it’s impossible to visit the garden and not experience extreme succulent envy. If flowers are more your thing and you’d like to see the bougainvillea in full bloom, October and April are the best months to visit. And if for some reason you find yourself at the garden but aren’t much into plants or flowers, the Berber Museum (25dhs) and Yves Saint Laurent exhibit (free) are worthwhile as well. I highly recommend paying a little extra to get the joint garden + museum ticket. I loved looking at the different Berber textiles, dresses, and jewelry (and I’m not a jewelry person whatsoever).

If you’re wondering why there would be an Yves Saint Laurent exhibit at the Majorelle Garden, it’s because without YSL and his partner, Pierre Bergé, the garden would now be an ugly hotel complex. YSL and Bergé “discovered” the gardens during a visit to Marrakech in the 1960s. It was the enchanting work of Jacques Majorelle, who had invested 40 years into developing the garden. Later, in 1980, YSL and Bergé learned the garden was to be demolished to make way for a new hotel. The couple bought the land instead. I think I speak on behalf of all the hot and sweaty tourists (and locals) when I say, “Thank you, kind sirs!”.

xo, jill

P.S. Just a note: Majorelle Garden is very popular. Arriving earlier in the day might help you avoid the large coach tours.

“What in heaven’s name brought you to Casablanca?”

June 12, 2014, 4 comments

Is it bad if I answer that with: “H&M”?

Way back in November, Mike and I thought it about time we hopped a train to check out the famous Casablanca. We also needed to go to the mall, and at that time Casablanca was the nearest option. Unfortunately, Casablanca is not as romantic as the film might lead you to think. In fact, if someone were to visit Morocco on a tight budget, I’d suggest skipping it altogether. There’s just not really much to do if you’re a tourist. It might be different if you’re living there, but we were happy with our quick day and a half visit. In fact, the second day we were searching pretty hard for things to do… and ended up at a Pizza Hut. So there you go. Of course, there are interesting bits to it too. We started off with the Art Deco tour in the Lonely Planet. I think you really need to be an architecture nerd for this. Yes, there were a few cool looking buildings (like this one), but there’s also a lot of dilapidation. The tour only took about 20 minutes on foot so soon we were searching for our next activity. We ended up doing another walking tour from the guidebook, then heading towards the beach, and finally making it to the mall. The mall itself was pretty nice and instantly took me back to the UAE. Oud was in the air. It was like a mini Dubai Mall complete with indoor aquarium. Visiting the H&M and indulging in some mediocre poutine was the highlight of the evening.

The next day we visited the Hassan II Mosque but regretfully missed the tour. As a fan of mosques, I can say this one was truly lovely.  The mosque is the 7th largest in the world and boasts the tallest minaret. Perched up next to the Atlantic, the ocean floor is visible through the glass floor. I’m really wishing we were able to get a peek at that. We rounded out our trip with a stop at Rick’s Cafe. Should I give you the full report or leave your film inspired imagination in tact? You decide.*

xo, jill

*It’s nothing like the movie!!

23 Days

June 2, 2014, 2 comments

Break out the paper chain.

My days in Morocco are winding down. It’s kind of crazy to think that there are only 23 days left before I fly home. Here’s to a few more sunny days, steamy tagines, and mornings trips to the hanout.

Photos from my Instagram. Clockwise: Paradise Valley / Medersa Ben Youssef / Atlas Studio in Ouarzazate / Spring Rain

How long  can I put off packing?

xo, jill

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