Once you get over Haggis - which I still haven't tried by the way - Scotland is there to fall in love with. I took a short break with Mum May last year to Inverness and the Isle of Skye, staying in Plockton village on Loch Carron. The seafood and venison is out of this world and the wild, rugged scenery blows you away. It's a photographer's dream because the light is constantly changing. The 4-day trip was taking in some of the things I most wanted to see and do in Scotland like walking on Skye, visiting Loch Ness, visiting Eilean Donan Castle where parts of 1 of my favourite films was shot - Entrapment. Got to love a bit of Sean Connery! Also we travelled in spring time so lambing season was in full flow, daffs were everywhere and the weather was beautiful. It may have been a different trip altogether if the weather had been rubbish - as we'd packed for - you don't live in Britain and not expect rain at any moment. It's par for the course. Happy to say, on this occasion, we never used our waterproofs although it was mighty fresh up there!
And hats off (but not for too long else your ears will blow away) to our Guide who was full of tales and made us laugh at every available opportunity :)
_Staying in 2005, I took a trip to Morocco and the Sahara in April of that year beginning the journey in the funny named town of Ouarzazate (pronounced Wa-za-zat). Ouarzazate is also a notable film making location with Lawrence of Arabia, The Mummy and Gladiator all being shot here. It’s the gateway to the Sahara - and that’s where I was headed, across the Draa Valley and into the desert for 2 nights camping. Memorable moments include 1 of our convoy getting stuck under a bridge, my first ever camel ride, picking a goat up at the market to cook traditionally in a big hole in the ground later, driving blindly through a sand storm to our first night’s camp (we made it!) and eating more than enough aubergine for my liking. I also stupidly took a whole pack of Imodium prior to the camping and then felt like champagne must feel - couped up in that bottle before the cork pops – 2 days later… Constipated in the toilet tent with only scarab beetles for company is not much fun!
Now, on the other side of the coin, my Kasbah du Toubkal experience was amazing. I was invited for lunch and after 2 days of aubergine and couscous, the tagine and freshly baked bread was simply delicious. Sitting in the shade, eating this fantastic food and drinking hot sweet berber tea, conversing high up in the Atlas mountains with stunning scenery all around, I had to ask myself – was I really working? Hand on heart I was, and the day got tougher when we started trekking. On reflection, I think I should have trekked first and eaten after. You certainly realise how unfit you are when you start walking up mountains on a full stomach! Although, I like to think it was the altitude ;)
I also fell in love driving the winding mountainous roads through the High Atlas with sheer drops and sometimes not even being able to see oncoming traffic (if it's time to jump off this mortal coil, at least do it in style) and Marrakech itself especially the famous Djemaa el-Fna square at night. Be dazzled and wowed by the heart and soul (quite literally) of goats and sheep available to eat, rooftop bars, snake charmers and the old dude dancing with a chicken on his head.
I’m going to end this little post with my crazy hammam experience. Luckily it wasn't a public one! A hammam for those of you wondering is a steam filled chamber where you lay down and get bathed, scrubbed, kneaded, knocked about, gently battered and cleansed by a hefty Moroccan lady - oh yes, and in just your knickers. And don't you dare move without their consent... I think the best way to embrace the experience is to let all inhibitions out the window - not that there are any windows. And so it began - first the oiling, then the getting doused with bucket after bucket of soapy water - was I really that dirty?! Nothing however can prepare you for the intense scrubbing in every crack, orifice and so on and so forth of your body. And don't think because you have knickers on... So glad I didn't have any sunburn. They call the scrubbing mitt a kese and offer it to you as a souvenir on your way out. That's after dumping the final bucket of water - this time cold - unceremoniously over your head!
For the fainted hearted and prim? No.
Even the relaxing massage afterwards, with the scented oil that soaked into the skin beautifully, began slightly insanely as my masseuse was babbling away at me in French during the preparation. You would think I’d know the French for “take your bra off and leave your knickers on” off by heart by now with the amount of times she had to say it to me…
I've got Mrs Brown Series 1 on in the background so, between laughing and watching, we're heading back to Canada for Number 9!
A couple more highlights for me in this beautiful country - riding the Rocky Mountaineer from Vancouver to Kamloops to Calgary, and taking the Maid of the Mist to see Niagara Falls.
Both fabulous experiences I thought I would only dream of. Going to let the pics do the talking once again...
Sickness, Christmas prep and dodgy internet connections have kept me away, but normal service should resume from tonight!
I'm taking you to Southern Spain and the region of Andalucia for Number 10 of my "29 of the Best"...
I was travelling with a colleague (who was translating for me during the hotel negotiations) on a short trip from Malaga to Ronda to Gibraltar to Tarifa and then looping back to Malaga. 25 degrees and mid November, it made for a perfect, sunny winter break from the office to get some Contracts nailed "in resort".
For our evening in Ronda, we were being treated to dinner on the gorge by our faithful bus supplier, his brother (and business partner) and their wives - who were also sisters. The majority of the meal was in Spanish so I did a lot of smiling, nodding and timing my laugh when everybody else laughed. The fabulous food and wine certainly contributed to an interesting and enjoyable evening. As the night wore on into early morning (they eat much later than us on the Continent), we left the restaurant and had a tour of the bus depot. I was stifling yawns at this point, but the best was yet to come... After some more nodding, smiling and laughing on my part, Jose suddenly produced 2 Serrano hams as gifts - and I'm talking the real deal! I think our bottom lips hit the floor once I realised they weren't banjos. Each ham was worth 300 to 400 EUR!!!
So, off we merrily went with our hosts and our Serrano hams for more socialising in Ronda's finest nightclub...
...4 hours later and we were on the road again heading to quirky, funky Tarifa where the hardest negotiations were yet to take place...
I'm going to fast forward here - we finalised the contract in Tarifa and arrived back into Malaga in happier spirits than when we'd left. All in all, it had been a very successful trip. Buoyant with success and weighed down with these Serrano hams, we touched base with the Tourist Information Office to see whether we could transport our Serrano hams back to the UK. I was all up for selling mine and going shopping in Malaga if not ;) After much liaison and discussion and to-ing and fro-ing on technicalities with the Agricultural Minister in London and the Minister of Canapes and Caviar and such like, we think we got a "yes, it was ok". Not convinced, we found a cheap Chinese bag shop and bought the biggest holdall we could find. This was going to safely transport our hams back to the UK. Well, that was the plan. The zip breaking on the bag at check in didn't inspire me with much confidence (and I thought wistfully about the missed shopping opportunities), but the hams went through ok and made it on the plane with us. They were even there to greet us on arrival back in London.
Part 2 of this story is pretty sad and distressing - unfortunately, I didn't store my ham properly (leaving it in the muslin) so it went majorly moldy. Colin and I got it out for the grand unveiling just over a month later at Christmas and we looked like right plonkers!!!
Blogging is an amazing concept so here I am giving it a whirl. You'll get words. You'll get pics. Sometimes a vid or two. You'll get tongue in cheek, the odd humble opinion and an honest insight into my travels and writing life. Maybe even a few gems along the way. I'll be musing on home turf as I see more and more of the UK and sharing my experiences further afield on holidays and adventurous trips across the globe.