Focusing on our forthcoming journey to Morocco

Djemaa el Fna

…Stepping foot on Marrakesh will be a first one for us, since it will mark our initial footsteps on the African continent. Celebrations of this fact will have to be put on hold though, as we’ll have to find a way to our hotel near Jemaa el Fnaa square. Bus 19 is the cheapest option at a cost of 30 MAD per person (here’s a helpful map of the route, that someone uploaded), while a petit taxi that would probably cost 70 MAD (+50%) is the convenient alternative. Since we are arriving rather late, we won’t have much time at our disposal and our tendency to explore will have to be confined within the limits of the central plaza. Furthermore, we are leaving for a short excursion outside Marrakesh early in the morning, therefore we should definitely get some rest (Since these excursions are following a rather strict schedule, there is nothing to plan, so we’ll omit the details regarding that part of the trip. We’ll gladly share our thoughts and experience once we return though).

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Once we are back to Marrakesh, we are having a full day in our hands, in order to do some exploration taking advantage of the fact that we are staying at such a central location. For this trip Morocco is Catherine’s eagerly anticipated destination (mine is Portugal if anyone cares) and we’ll try to make the best of it during the few days spent there. Our exploration of Marrakesh will be centered around Jemaa el Fna and the nearby souks, the city spot where everything takes place and we are bound to make a circular route centered on this plaza.
El Badi Palace from Wall 2011

Our first visit will be on the El Badi palace ruins, which will cost a mere 20MAD entrance fee and will offer us the chance to maybe spend a couple of hours admiring the ruins of this 16th century Saadian palace. It seems that the place may be a bit deserted, while some storks are taking advantage of it, nesting and that might provide us with some decent photos.

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Our next stop will be the nearby Saadian tombs (1 euro entrance fee) where we’ll try and enjoy a small visit (word has it that the place can get discouragingly crowdy), before carrying on our tour to Bab Agnaou, one of the nearly twenty gates to the city, which was built in the 12th century and getting a closer view at Koutoubia mosque (as close as non Muslims can approach that is).
Carpets in Marrakech

Later, we are moving north of Jemaa el fna, towards Bahia palace (1euro fee), where we’ll have a look at the complex of gardens, courtyards and houses that a 19th century Grand Vizier had built. The compound seems that will provide us with a taste of a blend between Moroccan and Islamic architecture and possibly with some unforgettable memories, yet not so great as the ones we are expecting from the next site we intend to visit, which is …
Majorelle Garden

…Majorelle garden, a villa and garden built by French painter Jacques Majorelle in the 20’s, who seems to have constructed quite a home for himself. He has produced such a great performance on this labor, that the predominant shade of cobalt blue that is dominant throughout the place is called after him. Anyways, Yves Saint-Laurent and Pierre Berge bought the place in the 80’s and Saint-Laurent’s ashes were scattered in the garden (I guess we’ll have to take care of our looks, no one wants the ghost of a fashion designer haunting him or her), while there are plans to establish a museum dedicated to the designer’s life and work on this spot in September. So, we’ll have a walk around the place (map) and keep up with our visit in the city returning to the central square, eager to experience everything we can get our minds onto during our stay in the city, before eventually getting back to Spain for the last leg of our trip.

(It is evident that we do not own any of the photos on this post, they are all originating from wikipedia. We’ll post our own once we return from our trip)

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Dealing with our forthcoming first taste of Lisbon

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This post is mostly focused on an attempt to make up for being so idle as bloggers over the past month or so. It is some sort of note regarding our trip next month and a way to put the things we plan to do in some sort of order. We are both working long hours, but since I do all of the writing, I’ve been trying desperately and – obviously – with inadequate success, to find some precious time to keep you informed.This photo of Lisbon Oceanarium is courtesy of TripAdvisor

 

Anyways, so far we have booked almost everything that was a necessity and our itinerary will start once we land on Lisbon. We do not own any of the pictures in this post, hopefully we’ll get plenty of our own pics, once we are back home, but for now these will have to suffice, don’t get me wrong, they are great, but I prefer the ones Catherine shoots. We’ll be arriving near midnight, so all we can do during our first day is get acquainted with the city’s metro and get all the way to Alameda station and then to Cais do Sodre, where we’ll catch a taxi to our hostel.

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Image via lisboando.com

After a good (hopefully) night’s rest, we’ll hold onto our freshly started relations with the metro and begin our second day at the Lisbon Oceanarium (Cabo Ruivo or Oriente stations are pretty close) and probably have a closer look at Vasco da Gama bridge while there, before getting acquainted with the man himself, as we are going to pay a visit to Jeronimo’s monastery where he is buried along other prominent Portuguese people, like the poet Luís Vaz de Camões.

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While in the area, we are going to visit Padrão dos descobrimentos and the Belem tower, the place that signified the dawn for many of the voyages undertaken by brave sailors of older times and also the place where many would set down their eyes on their homeland for a last time. We may also visit the nearby modern art exhibition of Berardo museum, since these places are all conveniently located cose to each other. That would bring our first leg of our exploration of the city to a break, before venturing forth to the next part, probably after some more rest while we’ll wait for the sun to abate its aggression.

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For our second part of our first attempts to get familiar with Lisbon, we may climb to Sao Jorge castle and visit the Cathedral and the ruins of the Convento da ordem do Carmo. This church is a remainder of the 1755 earthquake that destroyed the city and the spark that ignited the creation of some philosophical and literary works, among them Voltaire’s Candide and DeSade’s Justine, a mockery of Leibnitz’s view that this is the best of all possible worlds.

Next we will be visiting Bertrand, the oldest bookstore in Europe, where I intent to buy a couple of books in Portuguese (maybe Os Lusiadas or the anarchist banker or both, well… I certainly hope Catherine will be able to pull me out of my book infused state of trance once there). Afterwards, we’ll head to Sao Roque church and head to Miraduro Santa Catarina to enjoy the views of the city, before visiting a place to enjoy a beer or two.

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We’ll also ride one of the elevadores, probably the one most convenient for our routes.  Elevador de Santa Justa seems to be the most prominent among them, connecting rua do ouro (gold street?) to largo do carmo (Carmelite square? Large Carmelite?) and would seemingly be a good choice to reach cafe A Brasileira, where we could enjoy some coffee in the company of Fernando Pessoa’s statue. On the other hand elevador da Bica runs between largo Calhariz and Convento de Sao Pedro de Alcantara, while Ascensor da Gloria, connectsR. São Pedro de Alcântara, near S.Roque church to Praça dos Restauradores.

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Some things worth seeing are probably the two large bridges connecting both shores of Rio Tejo and the Christ the King statue, as well as the Calluste Gulbenkian museum, but we’ll have to see if time and stamina will be on our side during this effort, since we’ll leave this places on our bucket-list for our last day in Lisbon, alongside any other places we fail to visit during day 2,  since we are planning to spend day 3 near Sintra…

Traveling tools

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Image taken from wallpapercave.com

We tend to plan ahead months before venturing into our adventures. That can potentially have some problems such as unexpected obstacles that can present themselves just before the journey starts. However, careful planning can definitely save you lots of money, like acquiring cheaper air tickets and allocating a lower budget for accommodation if you book early. Below we ‘ll present a list of ideas that have proved to be useful for travel planning, over the years. Most of them don’t seem too elegant to the experienced traveler, yet, silly though they may seem, are essential to rookie globetrotters.

First things first. We ‘ll state the obvious mentioning that the net in general is the greatest tool ever. I was told by a friend that his father planned a trip in the USSR all the way from Greece in his old car, back in the seventy’s and he made an epic effort to organize his trip collecting info on various sites and routes he had to take. As the amount of accessible data at his disposal were extremely limited, he had to find expensive travel guides and books to organize his legendary-like journey. Fortunately the modern traveler can simply get comfortable, read this post (or others like this one) and be informed about everything his trip will require.

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Budget. So, the first thing to do is determine how much money you will have at your disposal. If you don’t have much of a budget you will have to find cheaper destinations and limit transportation between places. Luckily there are many low cost airlines that have terrific offers, suitable to everyone. We tend to fly with Ryan Air, but we constantly search for the cheapest option available. In order to choose your destination it is essential to have back up plans meaning that you may wish to visit a place, but if you cannot afford the cost, you might consider other options. For instance, our trip in the Baltic last year was not our first option since we wanted to visit Ireland and catch a cheap flight to Iceland, where we would spent five days. Sadly, we estimated that we would need a total of about 1800 euros for a ten day trip, which would also be on an extremely tight schedule (always on the run to view sights). We would have to forfeit one of these islands, but we wanted to visit more countries and we decided that plan B (or plan Baltic), at an estimated cost of 1200 – 1300 euros for twelve days was a more appealing choice. This year, we are planning to visit Portugal, Spain and Morocco and so far we’ve pinned down Portugal and Spain. If we don’t make it to Morocco, we ‘ll settle for some places in Iberia apart from Lisbon and Barcelona, thus cutting down our estimated costs of moving between countries.

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Flights. As mentioned earlier, there are many low cost airlines that will get you to your desired destination. If you are traveling by airplane, you should check the airports that are near the place you wish to visit. A specific city’s airport might not always be the only choice, for example, apart from Vienna’s airport, one can visit the city landing on Bratislava (a mere hour away), or even Budapest (a couple of hours from Vienna). Then, an easy way to check for flights to this airports, apart from fare finding sites that is, is to visit a page like wikipedia and check the specific airport’s entry. There you ‘ll most likely find an airlines and destinations part, which can give you a brief summary of who flies from where on that location. You can also visit the airport’s web page but some airports do not inform about airlines landing there.

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Transport. After you have determined where you will land and from where you will depart, you ‘ll have to decide whether you are staying there or you are about to visit other sights near there. You ‘ll probably, rent a car or take a train/bus/ship or all of them. Googling for options to get from one place to another is a basic step. One can find information on train/bus schedules, costs of renting cars etc, thus figuring out how much of his/hers budget will be needed to reach the destinations. As mentioned earlier you might have to settle for less. But in this case less is more. While planning, I usually get berserk imagining like we are going to manage seeing half the world in a couple of days.

Ok, if we go to Finland, we can hop onto Russia and China borders Russia and Japan is a stone throws away. We can definitely do it in four says

Well, I never said that, but you get the idea. Luckily Catherine gets me to my senses and we plan accordingly. What we are trying to say is DO NOT waste time planning to see everything in a limited amount of time. It will simply not work. Always decide what seems best to you and visit. Furthermore, if you cannot afford (either due to insufficient funds or time) to visit many places within a country, opt for a shorter itinerary. That way you save money and – what matters most, time in order to have a better experience of the place you are visiting. And we kindly beg all of you. If you don’t get to see a must attraction it’s no big deal. It’s your travel, therefor your rules. Anyone wishing you to visit some place they like, can do it themselves.

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Accommodation. That can play a big part on you enjoying your trip. There are many dirt cheap options like dorm beds at hostels, which are great if you only need a place to stay. There are also luxurious hotels that treat their guests like Kings and Queens and are addressed to more wealthy travelers. We  tend to be somewhere in between leaning slightly towards the dirt cheap category. Be warned though. The quality of the establishment you are based on can make a difference on you enjoying the sights. A dirty and uncomfortable place can ruin your disposition, a hotel that is remote, excluded from public transport and way off the main sights will cost lots of time to get to them and it’s no fun walking for hours, or paying lots of money on taxis. On the other hand, needless to say, a hotel in close proximity to the main attractions and one that can offer a decent night’s sleep without having to suffer from street noise or find yourself joining the neighbors’ drunken party while asleep. Sites like booking.com or hostelbookers and airbnb.com are some good options to find something suitable to your liking.

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Main sights. That’s really a first step, since usually it is wise to know what to expect from a place. Some basic knowledge of the place you want to visit is necessary. I mean there’s no point going to the desert expecting to view pyramids unless you are in Egypt. However, most people – us included – have no idea about what they will encounter at a country, so if you have an idea about what to see you can enrich it by googling points of interest of the place, or visiting websites like wikitravel and tripadvisor. Tons of valuable information on the place you wish to visit can come from blogs created by locals, or other travelers.  For example, for our forthcoming trip to Portugal, we stumbled upon Salt of Portugal, who seem to be delivering their declaration to present all that is glorious about Portugal, Jules and Verne, who seem to provide valuable info on what to see in the country and while doing some research on our trip to Morocco, we found Magazu travelling, who happened to visit some of the places that feature in our plans while in the country. The list keeps going. Nowadays, there are many people willing to offer potential visitors information about their countries, or fellow travelers, who share their experience. The biggest problem is sorting out all of this massive amount of data but no sweat. If you find some webpage’s suggestion enjoyable, they probably suit you. No need to dig for information too much.

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Fun places to go. Everything stated previously regarding the main sights, applies here as well. Most worthwhile cafes, restaurants, clubs, bars etc, tend to maintain a website, which one can check to see the place. Apart from that, sites like Tripadvisor feature comments on many such establishments and places popular by the locals’ standards might have a review on a local’s webpage. However, often one can find one or two reviews on the web that are fake ones, originating from shop owners and acting like ads. That is not much of a problem though. To sum up, we believe that the best thing to do is check the places on site. If you fancy a place it’s probably a great place no matter what travel guides recommend. Maybe you will discover a hidden gem of a place after all.

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The language. So, you have sorted out everything and you are ready to go. If anything  happens I ‘ll deal with it on the spot. Besides, everyone speaks some elementary English or French or… What do you mean that is not always the case? Well it is true that English is the Lingua Franca of the modern world and most likely, in most major European cities you will find English speakers. However, when traveling in the countryside or of the beaten path, it is likely that few people or even no one will speak anything rather than the local idiom (and not even that where I come from). Therefor some basic knowledge of the local language can be a necessity. Wikitravel features a short phrasebook and I found out last year that Duolingo is an option as well. If you select a course and spend five minutes a day to learn the first skills of a language, you will find yourself conscious of some basic phrases.

Well, that’s pretty much all there is to it. We haven’t included apps like tripit, since we do not make much use them, but you get the idea. We hope that this is a pretty thorough guide of essentials for any beginner and one that will help you enjoy your travels.