Christmas? Plan for a Cool Yule – now

Winter in the Blue Mountains 
After the exhilarating zing of a chilly day spent exploring the lookouts and bushwalking tracks of the magnificent Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area of New South Wales, shopping at charming villages and visiting attractions, sojourners are warmly invited indoors for steaming drinks, fireside dining, festive decorations, music and rousing entertainment.

A regional tradition since 1980, Yulefest is held mid-winter (officially throughout July but often beginning in June and extending into August), with many hotels, guesthouses, B&Bs and restaurants taking part.

Escarpment Group of luxury hotels guest services manager Meagan Iervasi encouraged visitors to immerse themselves in the festive atmosphere by staying at least one night: “Yulefest in the Blue Mountains offers the European-style atmosphere people associate with Christmas – a chilly landscape outside and cosiness inside, but without the stress and frosty relatives. Sometimes there’s even snow.’’

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Here’s an early bird Yulefest list to choose from:

Mountain Whispers, Leura and Katoomba
French champagne on ice, handmade chocolates, scattered fresh rose petals, a private chef to cook a three-course festive dinner and a personal waiter to serve it, followed by an in-house massage and/or facial in opulent surrounds. Yulefest equals romance, an escape with the girls or a group of great friends at Mountain Whispers MW Collection, where every minor detail matters.

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Owner Lorraine Allanson says: “While Christmas is about family, Yulefest is a great time to take a mid-year break to focus on romance or time with your friends to indulge and escape the daily grind.’’

Each of the multi-award winning self-contained immaculately restored heritage properties – Varenna, Leura Rose and Strawberry Patch in Leura and The Gatsby and Chatelaine in Katoomba – promises a luxurious getaway in total privacy and comfort for couples and small groups.

Details: mountainwhispers.com.au or 1300 721 321.

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Hydro Majestic Hotel, Medlow Bath
A Night in Vienna: In the lead-up to Yulefest, relish the romance and nostalgia of Austria’s operatic golden age led by Opera Australia, Oper Köln, Opéra Comique & Théâtre du Châtelet, Paris and English National Opera tenor Brad Cooper against the magnificent backdrop of the Megalong Valley on June 1. The Wintergarden Restaurant performance will be matched with a five-course degustation dinner. Tickets: $135pp. Bookings: (02) 4782 6885.

This is English tenor Brad Cooper (not the other Star is Born Bradley Cooper).

Diesel Live@theHydro: One of Australia’s favourite adopted sons, Mark Lizotte (aka Diesel) will entertain fans on July 20, three decades after he stepped off a bus with his band Johnny Diesel and the Injectors and set off on a chart-topping 15-album career. Cost: $150pp dinner and show, $40pp show only. Bookings: hydromajestic.com.au/events/diesel.

Traditional high tea: This elegant three-tier serving will feature nostalgic flavours such as ginger, cranberry and roast pork in the elegant Wintergarden Restaurant overlooking the Megalong Valley. Accompany your repast with delicate blossom tea, freshly brewed coffee or a glass of sparkling wine.

Lilianfels Resort & Spa, Katoomba
Sink into the refined 5-star surrounds to nibble on delicate finger sandwiches, fluffy scones with homemade jam and fresh clotted cream, and a selection of Yulefest sweet treats beside a cosy fireplace.

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Darley’s Restaurant, Katoomba
For the ultimate Yulefest decadence, the hatted restaurant in the historic home of former Chief Justice of NSW Sir Frederick Darley will serve five and seven-course degustation dinners each Friday and Saturday throughout July with special winter flavours.

Nepean Belle river luncheon cruise, Jamisontown
`Tis the season to cruise the tranquil waters of the Nepean River aboard the regional aquatic icon on your way to or from the Blue Mountains.

The heritage-style Nepean Belle paddlewheeler will be festooned with festive decorations and guests will board for luncheon to the strains of popular carols against the picturesque backdrop of the Blue Mountains escarpment.

Tuck into two-course Yulefest fare with all the trimmings, beginning with a shared platter of succulent roast turkey with fruit seasoning and tender roast pork with apple sauce and gravy garnished with honey-roasted vine tomatoes and accompanied by creamy sautéed potato; a selection of hot seasonal vegetables; steamed broccoli, carrots and peas; and a Greek salad with feta.

A dessert platter of festive favourites will follow, with White Christmas, chocolate rum balls, fruit cake, chocolate mud cake and rich butter shortbread biscuits washed down with your choice of freshly brewed tea or coffee.

Nepean Belle owner Carol Bennett says: “We love Christmas so much that we’re holding it again in July – but without the in-laws, expensive pressies and weather that matches the heat of the roast dinner.’’

Cost: Monday to Friday – $59 adults, $53 seniors, $39 teens (13-16 years), $20 children (3-12 years); Weekends – $65 adults, $58 seniors, $39 teens, $25 children. Bookings: nepeanbelle.com.au or 4733 1274.

The Goon Show LIVE! Dinner and show 
The cult comedy tour de overacting incorporates loads of sound effects, silly voices and a platoon of crazy characters which promise to have audiences belly laughing all evening.

It regales the stories of Neddie Seagoon, a good-natured and hairy sort, albeit short and rotund and the victim of a terrible weakness – greed. Coupled with his innate gullibility, Neddie’s covetous nature makes him easy prey to confidence schemes courtesy of the conniving cads Grytpype-Thynne and Moriarty.

Peppered with one-liners, the high energy show will feature a plethora of characters including the world’s most famous idiot Eccles (yes, even more infamous than Neddie), the squeaky-voiced boy-scout Bluebottle (who reads his stage-directions out loud), Major Dennis Bloodnok a devout coward, and Miss Minnie Bannister the sexy senior citizen who lives in sin with crumbling, fumbling old man Henry Crun.

The dinner and show will be held in le Salon Grand at the Palais Royale, Katoomba, each Saturday night from June 29 to July 20, with a special afternoon tea on July 14. Tickets: $135 Saturdays, $80 Sunday afternoon tea, seniors and group discounts available. Bookings and details: www.goons.com.au.

Visit:

Parklands in Spring 12

 

Travel: New Zealand and how to Hobbit – it’s a shire thing!

Travel: New Zealand and how to Hobbit – it’s a shire thing!

Well, after being quarantied for five weeks now I’m hearing rumours that we may be able to travel again, albeit in Austraia and hopefully New Zealand within the next few months. But who knows, this could change, like much in life now at any time.

Listening to callers on the radio today I heard many folk say they had never been to New Zealand . . . how can that be. So close and so beautiful. This was my first o/s journey in the 70s, and what an adventure. One of the callers today said she wanted to meet a Hobbit, of course she does. So, following is a journey to almost Middle Earth where the little folk reside. Make this one of of the precious stops along the way when you visit Kiwi.

Many decades after I first read J.R.R. Tolkien’s book The Hobbit I was walking among the Hobbit homes (holes). And proving to myself that they were more than fictional little hairy-toed creatures.

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After immersing myself in the grand trilogy of New Zealander Peter Jackson’s stupendous movies effort of the Lord Of The Rings – yes – all three mighty movies (seen several times over), I had been intrigued by the art direction and the glorious locations throughout New Zealand (with a healthy LOTR geeky obsession). I had visited a few (outside Christchurch and near Wellington) and while strolling around the area acting quite ladylike – I was happily squealing on the inside.

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When I heard that Hobbiton was ‘real’ real estate, I was ecstatic.

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When location scouts found the Alexanders’ spectacular 1250-acre sheep and beef farm in 1998, just outside of the town of Matamata (90 minutes drive south of Auckland), it was clear this would be the perfect setting for Sir (he is now) Peter Jackson’s adaptation of these classic works by Tolkien.

This bucolic setting for The Shire, home of the Hobbits, including Bag End, was right there, and just waiting for the magical director’s touch – and the work of hundreds in building, creating, painting, designing and bringing to life the wondrous place.

Earth moving equipment provided by the New Zealand army came in to do the heavy lifting in 1999. The army built a 1.km road into the site and undertook initial set development.

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There were 39 Hobbit Holes created with untreated timber, ply and polystyrene. The oak tree that overlooks Bag End was cut down and transported in from near Matamata.

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Artificial leaves were brought in from Taiwan and individually wired onto the tree. Thatch for the roofs of the Green Dragon Inn and The Mill were cut from rushes around Alexander farm.

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When they were rebuilt for The Hobbit Trilogy in 2009, these structures were built out of permanent materials including an artificial tree made out of steel and silicon. This entire reconstruction process took two years. Today the set is maintained to keep the magic of The Shire alive.

If you believe all that, you’ll believe anything. Hobbiton is a real place where real Hobbits live, bake bread, eat cakes and drink wine and mead and tell fantastical tales of a time gone by about elves, orcs, wizards and brave knights . . . and jewellery . . .  especially some ring.

Writer Bev Malzard met several Hobbits in New Zealand but has kept them out of this post to respect their privacy.

Visit: http://www.hobbitontours.com

NEWS . . . NEWS . . .NEWS

When Peter Jackson first started planning The Lord Of The Rings films back in 1995, he couldn’t have imagined how it would dominate his life. And now, six movies, 21 Oscars and 23 years later, we’re heading back to Middle Earth for a brand new Lord of the Rings TV series.

Amazon Studios are the lucky lot who’ve been tasked with recreating J.R.R. Tolkien’s literary magic for the small screen, with the company signing a reported $250m rights contract in November 2017 with the author’s estate, publisher HarperCollins and New Line Cinema to produce a multi-season show for television.

While there’s been no official word yet on an expected release date, Amazon is required to begin production on the show within two years – so that means that the show will be on the way soon – but currently due to the showbiz/arts shutdown due to the Corona Virus, dates are shakey..

Yes! It’s now been officially confirmed by showrunners  J.D. Payne and Patrick McKay, who said that New Zealand was the perfect place to reflect the “primordial beauty of the Second Age of Middle Earth”.

“We knew we needed to find somewhere majestic, with pristine coasts, forest and mountains, that is also a home to world-class sets, studios and highly skilled and experienced craftspeople and other staff,” they wrote. “And we’re happy to officially confirm New Zealand as our home for our series.”
“We are grateful to the people and the government of New Zealand and especially Auckland for supporting us during this pre-production phrase. The abundant measure of Kiwi hospitality with which they have welcomed us has already made us feel right at home, and we are looking forward to deepening our partnership in the years to come.”

However, it’s bad news for Scotland, where it was speculated that filming could take place. According to The Guardian, “uncertainty over Brexit saw [Scotland] fall out of favour with Amazon”.Amazon has committed to producing five seasons of a Lord of the Rings TV series as part of its $250 million rights deal.

 

 

 

Vietnam’s Hanoi and a shining ritual

Vietnam’s Hanoi and a shining ritual

I do love a bit of tradition, especially tradition that has a gentle message. While staying at the elegant Metropole Hanoi hotel (Sofitel Legend Metropole Hanoi), just strolling through the corridors of the original building (built in 1901 by the French colonists) you can see and feel the essence of Indochine and hope to understand this (first) luxury hotel built in the city.

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The hotel has a few famous ghosts that shuffle through the corridors when the lights go off and guests are tucked between their immaculate cotton bed linen. Rich dark brown timbers creak mildly underfoot in the rooms and the walls wear the patina of stories told and sold.

Author of many fine books, Graham Greene including The Quiet American spent time here (Suite 228)working on his books and watching the last days of the decline of French colonisation and CIA intrigue. This book and the film has endured and like the French (here from 1887-1954) has left its mark on Hanoi.

The hotel has also outlived its original owners, the colonisers, the CIA, the Japanese, the Chinese, Americans, Australians and all others who came to snatch a slice of Vietnam.

The Metropole Hanoi is a much-loved hotel and I met a man who had been staying here annually since the early 80s. He recalled then that there was a food shortage, and the staff of the hotel were too shy (call that scared) to talk to guests because of the culture of spies that flitted in and out of the shadows as Vietnam began to consolidate as a communist country after a bloody and bitter conflict that lasted from 1955-1975.

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There’s a short tour to be had at the hotel where much of the past is recorded in panels. There’s the famous image of Jane Fonda and her visit here with an anti-war message and also Joan Baez stayed here and was present during a hideously long bombing raid across Hanoi over Christmas in 1972. The United States Airforce unleashed Operation Linebacker II, its most intensive bombing campaign since WWII.

Baez and the hotel staff spent 11 nights of the bombardment in an underground bunker crammed with 40 people.

This small network of cells (below) is under the hotel’s back courtyard and was only unearthed during renovations in 2011. Now there’s a new and sad tradition that invited guest into the bunkers narrow rooms where they listen to a crackly, fuzzy tape recording of the bombing and the screams of a mother calling for her son.

Baez based her famous anti-war song Where Are You Now My Son on this incident and partly recorded it in the shelter. The music is punctuated by the thumps of bombs hitting the ground.

Vietnam has weathered many a squall and indeed centuries of storms – and lives and thrives to move on.

The Metropole Hanoi has withstood much and has kept its sense of style, its good manners, and is a shining example of what true hospitality is.

The Shining Ritual

And talking of shining, one of the charming traditions carried out every day at the hotel is the Shining Ritual.

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The Shining Ritual indicates Sofitel’s refinement and unveils the secret of excellence through recurrent cleaning and polishing of the Sofitel Legend nameplate located at the hotel entrance.

Every day, hotel staff perform the Shining ritual using a red velvet towel and green tea to clean the brass plate and the bronze gong. In the past, only Royal families had access to velvet, a material symbolising luxury, elegance, quality and beauty. Red is the colour of luck, happiness and success. Green tea, besides having healthy benefits is also a cleaning agent in Vietnamese households.

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The Gong, a musical instrument used by most highland ethnic groups in Vietnam, is believed to link people to the spiritual world and is also representative of Vietnam culture as a whole.

Writer Bev Malzard, stayed two nights in the divine Metropole, enjoyed a feast of a breakfast and an afternoon tea to write home about – which she will do as soon as she has shed the three kilos that curiously attached to her body after a three-hour High Tea. Mon dieu!

He insisted he was the most handsome of the two? You choose. I know I made my choice.

 

Travel update: roaming at home while in lockdownp

Travel update: roaming at home while in lockdownp

Disclaimer. Images have nothing to do with this post, they are there to add colour and hopefully cheer you up.

What crazy days we live in. By the time this blog gets posted, who knows what news will come down the line. Everything is changing so quickly.

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And many people are now restricted in their movements by voluntarily socially distancing themselves or consciously uncoupling with the rest of the world. A whole new vocabulary is being created . . .

So, if you aren’t debilitated and choose, wisely to distance yourself from the hordes, how are you going about being home alone? People with children will have plenty to do without making a plan, but us solo living beings or with partners either living separately (me) or having to make a space between you, if you have the virus and need to be constructive before cabin fever sets in.

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I live in a small flat, one tiny kitchen, one bathroom, one living room and one bedroom. I have a little verandah/sunroom/westwing/office/ gunnadoroom/sad mess space that could get some attention.

My plan for the next few weeks (and I won’t be locked in the entire time; there will be walks, shops, and weekend outings), will be to free my mind to travel without going anywhere and to reimagine my surroundings (that means tidy a few things).

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First off, begin the days with a quick look at my computer, then turn it off. Shut my phone down for a day to destress myself and only listen to the ABC radio 702 to hear if the world hasn’t totally lost its shit, while I have breakfast. Then the radio goes silent, and so does my head.

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Projected projects:

  • Empty the sock drawer and any errant socks with no mates are put in the bag that will disappear all useless items. Slowly partner up the socks rememberng the walks they have shared with you.
  • Drag out three suitcases of different sizes plus carry-ons from under the bed and sit with them and talk about the trips we’ve done together, the adventures had and the glories they have transported back from far away places. And, give them a serious cleaning of under-bed dust.

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  • Look in the wardrobe to begin the spring cleaning tidy-up in autumn. Shut the door and leave as is.
  • Make a cup of coffee and lie on the bed and read one of the books by the bed that hasn’t been opened for months.
  • Stuff. Head cautiously into the ‘office’ and look through the largest pile of stuff. Some of this stuff is material that can be utilised and wrtten up as travel listicles for a blog. Also dig out the pile of notebooks – as these will yield treasures from past trips. Stuff that hasn’t been written up or used ever can be crafted into stories or special interest itmes – you know – all that stuff that can’t be worked into a commissioned story. In fact the good, bad, ugly, outrageous, weird stuff that we travel writers encounter along the way.
  • Make a cup of tea and lie down again and read through the notebooks. Have a little nanna nap. Maybe re read Love in the Time of Cholera.
  • Another day, hit the computer and start to cull the photo library – this will take all day.

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  • Dig around the freezer and right at the back there will be a packet of some sort of mince covered in icy crystals. Drag it out and go Greek. Make mousakka for dinner. Imagine you are on a Greek Island.
  • Bathroom antics: check out how many toiletry bags you own and ditch most of them. Wash makeup brushes. Reconsider this blog post as it exposes my slatternly habits.

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  • Ponder the consequences of opening the big box from IKEA that contains parts of a wing back chair. Do I fill in time and get to assembling this or wait until my partner comes to the rescue with this job? Unponder and do the wise thing – wait.
  • Dig out all the postcards purchased and unsent and write anonymous mysterious messages to people I haven’t seen for years. That old address book will yield some beauties.
  • Rewatch the final season of Game of Thrones before watching everything on Netflix, ABC iView and SBS on Demand.
  • Actually do some work and finish two commissioned features that need work.

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  • Perfect baking the banana and walnut loaf.
  • Set myself up with cups of tea and nibblies and lie on the bed and ring up every person I have pissed off and make amends . . .ha ha, just joshin’.
  • Make a list of places in  Australia still to be visited  . . . and plan for the future.
  • Explore ‘that’ kitchen drawer and discard any implement you have purchased with good intentions but have never used. Mmmmm the egg separator?
  • Maybe stay in bed and read books and eat chocolate.

This is all a fantasy, maybe will tidy up maybe not, but will get cracking on some ideas for articles to suit the times we are living in, and may live in for a long time to come.

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What I won’t do is check on my superannuation – I do not need that heartache.

Here, reposted

 https://staythefuckhome.com/

Suggestions from fellow scribes

I’ll be launching a cookbook: “1000 ways with white rice” It’s part of a trilogy. “One potato dishes to last all week” and “And you thought bone broth was boring”. Christine Retschlag

I’m searching out bookie odds on a baby boom from around December/January onwards. Jeremy Bourke

Explore ‘that’ kitchen drawer and discard any implement you have purchased with good intentions but have never used. Mmmmm the egg separator? Leura Lady

I’m sure you have many other clever suggestions to fill time either constructively or not. Doesn’t matter. Tell me . . . 

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Travel USA: Old school and new cool

Travel USA: Old school and new cool

Retro rules OK? The laid back desert towns of Greater Palm Springs offer luxury, retro charm, vintage good manners and a host of local architectural surprises.

Greater Palm Springs, California is an odd concept – you enter Greater Palm Springs and it’s a collection of villages in a line: Desert Hot Springs, Cathedral City, Rancho Mirage, Palm Desert, Indian Wells, La Quinta, Indio and Coachella. And – Palm Springs didn’t have any palm trees when the desert settlement became a town.

There were a few native palms around the actual ‘springs’ but the towns were planted in from the 1920s -1930s when America was going wild for the exotic trees that were emblems of sunny days, clear blue skies and waving fronds. They lined the streets and set the standard for California boulevards.

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The drive from Long Beach takes about two hours and along the way the landscape is dotted with orchards of wind farms and the San Jacinto and Santa Rosa mountains ride shotgun along the route.

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Palm Springs, in the Sonoran Desert became a popular escape for Los Angeles and Hollywood celebs from the 1920s and it was a perfect place for young architects to show their chops in a solitary environment.

The Hollywood starlets and heart throbs, crooners and wheeler dealers could come to Palm Springs and not break their contracts. The line was that they could never be more than two hours away from the studios. Private homes were built and hotels were bursting with talent – and hormones – during the summer weekends.

Being close to ‘the office’, Palm Springs as a getaway for folk earning money quicker than they could spend it became ‘the’ place to be seen and for a few closeted stars, unseen.

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Omni Ranchos Las Palmas.

The fast lane saw the advent of the now classic mid-century architecture to be built for the big names. The 1947-built Frank Sinatra House has a swimming pool shaped like a grand piano – a perfect example of the architecture from this period.

At this time, right after WWII European architects headed to where the money and creative freedom was and they brought Modernism and the International Style which morphed into the elegant and informal style, often called Desert Modernism.

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As you explore Palm Springs look out for the early Spanish revival homes, Spanish eclectic and Tiki (Polynesian themed). Architects Donald Wexler and Richard Harrison combined modernist ideas with Polynesian themes when they designed the Royal Hawaiian estates in south Palm Springs. The Royal Hawaiian Estates is one of four Palm Springs condo communities which hold the historical designation, per the Palm Springs Historical Preservation Board.

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The Oasis Hotel, built in 1924-5 and designed by Lloyd Wright (son of Frank), led the way with its modernist design. More resorts, such as El Mirador, followed. Celebrities decided homes were more important than hotels, though, and along with now-revered architects – including Donald Wexler and Richard Neutra – concocted bold exteriors and sumptuous interiors.

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The established homes and gardens (yes, there’s a lot of luxurious green grass in the desert here) are rather grand but the midcentury-modern architecture with the advent of besser bricks and concrete are the showstoppers. (There’s an excellent half day tour of the homes with the Palm Springs Mod Squad, www.psmodsquad.com)

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This is the Palm Springs Visitors Center, which was originally built as the Tramway Gas Station. Architects: Albert Frey and Robson Chambers.

 

Rat Pack locations

Core shopping is along Palm Canyon Drive with vintage stores, interior design shops and a host of eclectic and inviting restaurants. And for the ultimate Palm Springs retro experience book a table at Melvyn’s. Since the 1970s Melvyn’s has been packing them in. Sinatra held court here and all Hollywood star that entered Palm Springs were guests at Melvyn’s. There’s still a Rat Pack aura to the rooms and the waiters are dressed in dinner suits and a couple of them still totter about as they did over 40 years ago. The menu reflects the era of the past and it’s pretty good too – crepe suzette or prawn cocktail anyone?

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One of the original wait staff at Melvyn’s. His lips are sealed – no gossip from him . . .

  • As early as 1919, Palm Springs was used as a ready-made set for many Hollywood silent movies.
  • Sonny Bono (of Sonny and Cher) was the 16th Mayor of Palm Springs from 1988- 1992.
  • Hire a car and do your driving here – this is America – it’s all about cars. It’s about 60km to drive the entire collection of towns.
  • Stay at Omni Rancho Las Palmas, a resort & spa with a golf course with a backdrop of the mountains.
  • Best time to visit: Between January and April, the temperatures are pleasant. Always blue skies here and sunny days but summer renders scorchers, not great for outdoor activities.
  • If you head out to the desert book for a fab meal at La Copine com and drop in to Pappy & Harriet’s at Pioneertown pappyandharriets.co 

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PALM SPRINGS AERIAL TRAMWAY

I was surprised when I arrived at the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway, I didn’t realise it was a rotating cabin pulled up a mountainside for an exhilarating 805 metres. It was a welcome 4deg.C cooler than the hot day below as we reach the mountain station of Mt Jacinto State Park.

You can view the dramatic desert setting of the Coachella Valley as you ascend through the rugged Chino Canyon. There is 80km of hiking trails here, so if you want to walk off some of the fine food you’ve tried, here’s the chance, or you can sit with a coffee, enjoy the view and the pristine mountain air.

http://www.pstramway.com

This story was originally published in long form in http://www.LetsTravelMag.com

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Travel: How to explore Tangier

Travel: How to explore Tangier

Tangier, top of the continent and a name that conjures myth, legends and exotic stories of decadence is a city of intrigue. Go see for yourself.

 

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There’s the labyrinthine medina, an expat dream town, cafes and souks, tempting tagines – there is so much to uncover in Morocco’s top town. It’s a city on the edge, always has been, in every way. It squats at the northernmost tip of Africa just 14km across the narrow Strait of Gibraltar connecting the Atlantic Ocean to the Mediterranean Sea, which separates Gibraltar and Peninsula Spain in Europe from Morocco and Ceuta in Africa.

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Looking to the Straits of Gibraltar.

This city is more than a destination, it is a heady escape that has attracted spies, outlaws, outcasts, and writers for centuries.

All imaginable pleasures were to be had here, back in the 1950s characters such as Errol Flynn, Woolworth heiress Barbara Hutton and Ava Gardner did their best to establish Tangier as the last word in louche and hedonism, while writers William Burroughs, Jane and Paul Bowles sought out the dark side of depravity and drug addled derangement. This was Tangier offering a haven to those who pushed the artistic boundaries of creativity.

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In the 20th century writers drawn to Tangier wrote some of the most influential and incendiary works of our time. The Naked Lunch, The Sheltering Sky were two of those novels that influenced the beat generation and future hipsters.

Tangier has been a strategic gateway between Europe and Africa since Phoenician times. There are some startlingly lovely buildings in the city with its whitewashed hillside medina: Moorish mansions, French villas and palaces converted to museums.

This is an enigmatic city that begs to be explored, so take your time and take a glimpse into modern Tangier.

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Matisse’s fenetre.

  1. The American Legation: restored (from shabby obscurity) the American Legation in the medina is a 1982 Moorish former consulate, which documents early diplomatic (very peaceful and businesslike) relations between the U.S. and Morocco (the kingdom of Morocco was the first country to recognise American Independence). The first American public property outside the United States, it commemorates the historic cultural and diplomatic relationsbetween the United States and the Kingdom of Morocco. It is now officially called the Tangier American Legation Institute for Moroccan Studies, and is a cultural centre, museum, and a research library, concentrating on Arabic language studies.
  2. Stay in the fabulous Hotel Villa de France, a hotel with its own secrets and list of celebrity guests. Biggest name has to be the French impressionist Henri Matisse, who stayed at the hotel in 1912 and 1913. He painted some of his great works here because of the inspiration of bright, clear African light, vivid colours and the soft sensuality of the landscape and gardens.

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His room is still in the Hotel Villa de France, room 35, and a few notes change hands to obtain a night’s stay here. It’s not glamorous or elaborate, just a sensible double bedroom with ensuite. But – it has the fenetre which is the window to Tangier!

The most famous painting from that hotel room period though is “Landscape Viewed From a Window”. There’s a copy of the painting in room 35.

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  1. Leave the hotel behind and across the road we see the square white steeple of St Andrew’s English church, now nearly hidden by date palms and evergreens. St Andrew’s Church is one of the more curious buildings of Tangier. Completed in 1890 on land granted by Sultan Hassan, the interior of this Anglican church is decorated in high Fassi style, with the Lord’s Prayer in Arabic curving over the altar.

St Andrew’s.

The graveyard yields history wherein the journalist, socialite and traveller Walter Harris is buried here, along with Squadron Leader Thomas Kirby Green, one of the prisoners of war shot during the ‘Great Escape’. There is also a sobering section of war graves of entire downed aircrews, their headstones attached shoulder to shoulder.

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  1. The medina maze Now, into the medina. (A medina is the old walled city.)

Across from the church enter the corner of the medina where the bazaar area of the grand souk (markets) stretch through colourful alleyways.

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From baskets, to ropes, to carved sticks (to hit what?), hand made cheeses, fruit juices (try the pomegranate), stalls groaning with mountains of olives of all persuasions and flavours, hats, sweets, dates, breads (the staple food of Moroccans), butchers with nose to tail pieces on display (and so clean and fly-free), camel meat with the obligatory head (real one) hanging to advertise the fact that this is real camel meat, shoes, buckets and nuts of all sorts, fat and fresh.

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Walking though the crowded curved alleys of food and noise and people jostling, Berber tribal woman wearing wide-brimmed conical hats with pompoms, and children darting through the melee carrying stacks of flat bread is a dizzying sensation – but every step is rewarded with a bold sensation. Just step aside for the donkey carts.

Food is a dream here. Fresh vegetables, subtle spices, fruit and centuries-old cuisine that has been refined by many invaders, protectorates, governing bodies, religions – there’s something for everyone.

  1. Food – Be warned – bring your appetite to Morocco. Food servings are big and hearty. Must eats are the traditional tagines, meat, fowl or vegetable, cous cous Tagines are basically an aromatic stew cooked with a thick sauce with fruits such as prunes and dates; harira is a delicious soup normally made from chick peas; pastille – a dish made from pigeon meat, rice and egg and covered with a sweet filo pastry – sounds weird but – it’s scrumptious.

If you fancy a glass of wine with your dinner you will have to hunt out a shop, but most good hotels and restaurants have a wine list, and wine is produced in Morocco so give it a try.

Due to legal restrictions of Morocco being a Muslim country, remember that drinking in public is prohibited.

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  1. Take in the sunset views of the harbour after walking through the medina that tumbles down to the sea. The old homes are hidden and only a fancy or perhaps a modest door and decorated doorway indicates that there’s life behind the door. It can be a vast riad (a type of traditional Moroccan house or palace with an interior garden or courtyard). Homes and shops are all spick and span and the houseproud Moroccans keep their entrances well-swept and houses and windows painted fresh and in pretty colours.

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7. And shopping. Leather slippers called babouche (French for slippers), argan oil, lanterns, wonderful leather goods, beautifully decorated pottery and carpets and mats are in abundance and on display art every corner. Shopping here is a sport and the prizes are great indeed.

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8. Take a Tangier side trip: Cap Spartel marks Africa’s The promontory projects into the water, marking the boundary of the Mediterranean Sea with the Atlantic Ocean. For atmosphere, the best time to come here is at sunset, when you can see dusk settle over the Atlantic.

This is Tangier, short on conventional attractions but it’s the artfully aged fabric of the city itself – the magnificent ruination of the Cervantes theatre, the lush graveyard gardens of St Andrew’s church, or the casbah walls’ tiled starbursts – which supplies the spectacle. The sights come thick and fast in a city where its compactness is a big slice of its charm.

The writer travelled with www.bypriorarrangment.com

This article has been published in www.letstravelmag.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Miss Saigon? Sure do.

Miss Saigon? Sure do.

A day or so in Saigon is like a week anywhere else, staying in District 1 at the delightful Caravelle Hotel (yes, still the best breakfast in Asia).

I’m a sucker for a good hotel breakfast, and as one who has the simplest morning meal at home I go crazy when I’m at a brekkie buffet. The Caravelle Hotel, for me. is my go-to in Indochina. Every nationality is catered for, which suits me as I can cover ten countries in one sitting.

 

The hotel is situated opposite the charming Opera House (built in 1900), near every high end shop in town and 15 minutes walk away from the real shopping in big and vibrant Ben Thanh Markets – oh joy, oh joy!

 


The streets are buzzing with millions of motorbikes and we were pedalled around in a rickshaw yesterday – always a bit embarrassing as the drivers are usually the size of my left leg!
Visited the Reunification Palace and for the first time I visited the War Remnants Museum (much more realistic than the word ‘War Memorial’); sombre and heartbreaking, the museum pulls no punches and the photographs on the walls tell the horrific story of Vietnam’s suffering.
A funny thing happened at the Palace, there was a group of war vets, men and women who were ecstatic about having their photographs taken with us . . .see, you don’t have to mention the war!

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Writer Bev Malzard has visited Vietnam many times and blames the introduction to pho for her obsessive search for the best bowl of pho in Sydney. (On the lowdown, Eat Fuh (their spelling) has the most fragrant and divine broth for pho in Marrickville.)

Travel: New Caledonia

Travel: New Caledonia

France in the Pacific? Feel like a change of pace, a change of heart and a change of culture? How about Parisian panache and savoir fare – and it’s in our neighbourhood. Noumea, the capital of New Caledonia is calling.

Noumea, who knew, so Frenchy so chic! So close to Australia with a French sensibility and a Pacific casualness, the capital city is vibrant and ticks all the boxes for a fine holiday.

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I confess to a visit 20 years ago and the planets were not aligning; nothing impressed me and the Pacific destination was ticked off and forgotten about. BUT how things have changed, there’s a young vibrancy here and an independent confidence that didn’t exist a couple of decades ago. So for a holiday with a difference, viva la difference . . .

Say ‘au revoir ‘to Sydney and you are in New Caledonia within three hours to say ‘bonjour’.

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  • A stay at Marriott’s Le Meridien Noumea Resort & Spa is top of the pops here. A beachfront suite overlooks the gardens and the ocean. Restaurants run the gourmet gamut and you can walk from French to Japanese cuisine within a few steps.
  • Head downtown to discover a wealth of hip bars and classy restaurants. Check out (newcaledonia.travel) for a list of rooftop bars, by-the-sea bars and cheese and wine tasting cellars (yes! French wine and French cheese, ooh la la).

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  • At Port Moselle there’s a small but colourful market with lots of local goods (authenticated signs) and it’s a brilliant place to buy fab fruit and stop for a coffee and a buttery croissant.
  • In a water taxi, you can be on an island in Le Lagoon in five minutes. Duck Island has a bar and restaurant and you can swim and snorkel here and if you’re lucky there’ll be a party on after sunset – wild times ahead.

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  • Visit the beautiful Tjibaou Cultural Centre, a splendid building by architect Renzo Piano. This is centre to discover the local Kanak culture.

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  • Take a sailing trip around Le Lagoon, so big you think it’s the ocean and stop off at Amedee Island, 40 mins from Noumea. Here a stunning lighthouse awaits you for a climb. The locals call the islet Amadee Lighthouse Island.

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  • Indulge in lobster thermidor (old school and delicious), baguettes, patisseries offerings of many delights, fresh coconuts – a Gallic blend of influences. Tres bon.

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AVERAGE FLIGHT TIME:  SYD-NEWCAL 3 hrs; MEL-NEWCAL 3hrs50mins

CURRENCY: The CFC (Change Franc Pacifique).

LANGUAGE: French and English.

 BEST TIME TO VISIT:

From September to December, when the days are warm and sunny with little or no rain. But overall – with sunny year-round subtropical weather – New Caledonia is good to visit at anytime of the year.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Travel: looking for the best doors to capture

Travel: looking for the best doors to capture

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A simple wooden door made from fence palings – whatever does the job. On the road to Freycinet, Tasmania.

What is it about doors? I can’t stop photographing them. Below are just a few of the recents I’ve slammed but I’ve been shooting them for years.

The beautiful coloured doors of Ireland, especially Dublin – all shiny and bold. There are many reasons stated as to why the doors were painted different colours, my favourite is that the doors were painted by women so that their drunken husbands would come home at night and recognise their houses!

A great essay on  the origins of the architecture and the door culture of Dublin can be found here: https://www.irishcultureandcustoms.com/ALandmks/DoorsofDublin.html

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Adding colour to the neighbourhood and a safe place for a cat to sit so it can skeedaddle inside at the sound of danger. In Essouira, Morocco.

We have doors for privacy, decoration, boastfulness, to keep the elements at bay and to protect ourselves. I have walked past doors and wondered what’s going on behind this one: drama, joyfulness, creativity, poverty, sadness and some doors hide wickedness, mayhem and cruelty. There are great and grand doors that have watched kings and queens pass through to their death or to exile; doorways that elephants have rumbled through carrying spices, jewels and goods that countries and indeed populations had never seen before; doors that have opened to the brightest brains in the halls of universities; doors that have been slammed in the faces of the idealists and the revolutionaries and doors that have had some of the finest music ever written sounding behind them. It’s best I mind my own business and take them at face value and remain curious.

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So old, so lovely. Faded glory in Tangier, Morocco.

IMG_0745Going grand with this beauty in Rajasthan. After a few drinks it’s fun to play the axe throwing game.

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You can’t go past Morocco for the best doors, especially the one’s painted to match my hair. Most of these are the doors and doorways to riads. Often rather modest doors and when they are opened you step into another world, a world of a royal palace or grand mansions with orange trees and fountains and amazing tiles . . . stepping into beauty and calm.

DSC01894And all hail the circular door, small, compact and fits snuggled into round doorways. This is a home of a Hobbit outside the town of Matamata in the north island of New Zealand. There’s a large population of the small folk here and a few humans have been sighted too.

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This bold and beautiful door hinge is on a door in one of the old buildings in St Gallen, a city south of Lake Constance in northeastern Switzerland. It couldn’t be pried off even with a Swiss Army Knife.

 

IMG_6014These two gals drove a pretty fierce bargain as to the price of getting this shot. Even when agreed on a price we had to renegotiate as there was two of them . . .at the Red Fort, Jaipur, India.

 

On the left, the doors do two jobs, they shut for privacy and they hang goods for sale. On the right, the 20th century brought roller doors to the world.

I always thought that red doors were the ants pants of a style statement but the blues got me in Morocco. The diversity and gradations of the colour is seductive and ever pleasing.

DSC03324Oh, this . . . 

DSC03382This mighty archway with its thick walls is an old stables house for a palace outside Fes, Morocco. 

IMG_5583Now we are in the Red City of Marrakech. This weird little stitched up door looks rather irritated or almost like a fake door . . .

IMG_6423This cutie is in a small village on Maui, Hawaii called Paia (Pay-ee-ah) which is a bit like Nimbin but less functional (no atm or chemist). But plenty of surf shops and ice cream parlours. Dates back to about 1927.

E7D91744-FF9C-442D-BE45-D3FF6CFA0C85A bit of fun for very short people in Long Beach, California.

DSC02642And an almost ‘moonish’ gate in Hanoi, Vietnam. Door to a busy buddhist temple. Closed until the keepers have their cigarettes and coffee. Enlightenment is patient.

IMG_6757Doors, door, doors and more doors at the Marriott in Anaheim, California. Same, same. same. Doing the same job as all the others.

IMG_6008Lurking at the Red Fort, Jaipur. Waiting for a surprise visit from a Maharajah . . .waiting, waiting, waiting.

IMG_6109Out in the countryside in Rajasthan, where doors are thick and strong to keep out the wild tigers . . .true.

FFC0ED87-6FF2-4B72-9616-54495A094DFDhttp://www.incredibleindia.com

http://www.bypriorarrangement.com

 

Road trip: Go West

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Forbes Town Hall.

I wrote this post as the smoke pall was settling over Sydney and we were preparing to head outta town to support people in the rural areas. And then the hammer of Covid-19 slammed us, and we went into quarantine. Locked in and not going anywhere. As restrictions are cautiously being lifted we are dipping our toes outside the front door and longing for some wide open spaces. So here’s the previous post – and I’m making plans.

Following are a few towns, not necessarily bushfire affected but the drought and the idea of bushfires has kept visitors away from many places outside the cities and urban areas. Let me request that you head out with a full heart and an empty Esky. Buy local, eat local and shop local while visiting the towns. Let’s share some love.

Head out of Sydney to explore the central west. There are thriving towns, sleepy hollows and a wealth of innovation with a big, warm welcome when you drive into the towns. Stop by and spend a few $$$ as the towns are stretched because of the fierce drought that is affecting everyone out there. (Covid-19 put the nail in the proverbial as the visitors just couldn’t come.)

Farmers markets, gift shops, cafes all can benefit by a few dollars spent here. (Keep your showers short and your support long.)

Five Highlights of the NSW Central West:

Cowra

Stroll around the stunning, elegant Japanese Garden.

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Cowra Japanese Gardens.

This ultimate, tranquil experience is one to enjoy with a slow stroll, a picnic or view from the Japanese Tea House. Ken Nakajima designed the Cowra Japanese Garden based on the first landscape garden built by the Shogun Tokugawa during the Edo period of Japan, the 16th century.

There is the wartime legacy of Cowra with the solemn reminders of the Cowra Breakout, the POW Camp and the War Cemeteries. An uplifting sight in Cowra is the World Peace Bell set in Cowra’s Civic Square where you can listen to an audio presentation and even ring the bell.

Visit: www.visitcowra.com.auu

Cowra

 

  1. Parkes

Whole hunka love . . .

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Parkes has a host of festivals throughout the year and the big one is a celebration of Elvis Presley’s birthday in the second week of January. Thousands of visitors flock to Parkes to hear impersonators sing the King’s hits, dress up vintage-style and to dance in their blue suede shoes. If you aren’t driving, there’s the Elvis Express train that transports passengers to Parkes from Sydney and return. (There are many great packages to the festival to be had.)

Stay at Hotel Gracelands (where it all began) for great accommodation and a fab restaurant (with much better food than Elvis ever ate).

Visit: www.visitparkes.com.au

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  1. The Dish

Look to the stars – and further

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On the outskirts of Parkes is THE Dish, yes, that one. On the flat drive out to the CSIRO complex you drive on a road shaded by tall eucalypts. Paddocks spread before you, a few sheep are feeding and the scene is quiet and rather sparse. Then the Dish appears – so incongruous and so wonderfully familiar (for me, all because of the movie). Enjoy a cup of java at the Dish Café and watch and wait while it does a little turn. This sophisticated piece of scientific equipment stands in the middle of a sheep paddock just 20km from Parkes off the Newell Highway. There are many hands-on exhibits and a 3D theatre screening programs on space and astronomy (great stuff for kids and adults too).’

Visit: www.csiro.au/parkes

 

  1. Orange

With the drought you could say ‘Orange is the new Brown’.

Orange is a wonderful, classy country town that is not famous for oranges – in fact there are no oranges grown in Orange. There is a fine legacy of agricultural business though and cherries are the orchards of choice and of course classic cool climate wines are produced in the surrounding vineyards. This country town has been gaining a strong foodie following for a few years now and the quality of produce, menu innovation and top shelf restaurants has given Orange a formidable reputation. The town is at an altitude of 862m so it’s a little cooler in summer that the sea level towns and there’s often a snow fall in winter. Mount Canobolas at 1395m is the local mountain, for a drive and a grand view of the city and surrounding countryside. (The information centre here is informative and there’s often an exhibition that’s worth stopping an extra day for.)

Visit: www.visitnsw.com/destinatons/country-nsw/orange-area/orange

 

  1. Bathurst

History, heritage and damn fine scones

It’s about 200km west-northwest of Sydney and is the oldest inland settlement in Australia. The city has the classic wide streets and a plethora of heritage buildings from colonial to Federation to mid century modern. There’s a lot going on here and there’s a youthful feel as it’s a university town.

The food scene is innovative and I can totally recommend the jam and scone scene . . .

The Bathurst Regional Art Gallery (BRAG) is a standout among the nation’s regional art galleries. It’s smallish and has some spectacular exhibitions on display regularly.

Visit: https://www.bathurstart.com.au/

 

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This is five highlights only, among many, so next time you want to take a driving holiday in New South Wales, head west: stop off at Blackheath on your way before you cross the Blue Mountains, have a coffee and lemonade scones at Altitude; try the Servicemen’s Club at Cowra for a good club dinner; visit the Dubbo Western Plains Zoo and spend the day there, and walk around the old Dubbo Gaol for some jailhouse blues; sink your teeth into the best egg and bacon roll in Cumnock; check out pretty Molong and its blank silos waiting to be painted; the tiny town of Milthorpe between Orange and Blayney where there’s a one hat restaurant called Tonic that is the talk of the town; seek out the Bakery in Forbes for more light-as-a-feather scones; drive out of Condobolin (Condo) to view the ‘Utes in the Paddock’ outdoor exhibition of painted utes in various states – quite something to see, as is much of the Carbonne villages, roadside stalls, spectacular natural wonders, annual country events and generous and warm hospitality oozing authenticity and rustic charm.

Visit:  www.visitcentralnsw.com.au

0A bit shabby but still standing – the wall too!

Travel: Make mine Marrakech

Travel: Make mine Marrakech

 

Marrakech Morocco, it’s bold and it’s beautiful. Colours collide here and eyes and ears are put to an endurance test. Every morning I woke up in the Red City, I fell in love with it, over and over again.

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The early foreign travellers to Morocco called Marrakech ‘Morocco City’. The city of old has expanded over the centuries since its origins but it is those beginnings that have kept it as mesmerising and traditional as it was in the past. It’s still a marketplace.

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It is the ‘Red City’, soaked with the natural red ochre pigment that is the walls and buildings dominating the city, souks and medinas, but there are other colours too that fight for space – colour is king in Morocco. A variety of blues and bright yellow and pink fight for your attention.

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To try and give a blanket narrative on this magical place is like trying to cover an oval of brilliant blooms with a handkerchief. Following are observations, ideas and suggestions of how to experience the beauty, colour and movement of Marrakech.

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Playing the market

Marrakech has Berber rather than Arabic origins as it was originally the meeting place of the Atlas tribes. It was the centre of the past for gold, slaves, ivory and leather brought to Morocco by caravans from far away empires via the desert port of Timbuktu. The visiting and trading population swelled the city’s souks and its way of life.

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In the heart of the medina (a medina is a distinct city section in north African cities, typically walled, it has narrow lanes and streets that are maze-like), is the wide open spaced Djemma El Fna or Jemaa el Fna (this has many spellings) – the city’s main market where all aspects of north African life is on view and the space becomes a theatre. The main souks are to the north of the market place but this is where the action is.

The epicentre of Marrakech is Jemaa el Fna, weaving its chaotic magic all day and all night.

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The famed “night market” at Jemaa el Fna is a bizarre microcosm of entertainment, food, and tradition. Since the mid-11th century, this plaza has been the beating and sometimes bloody heart of Marrakech’s old city. A thousand years ago, executioners plied their trade here (hence one translation of the plaza’s name to mean “assembly of the dead”). Today, the only gore you’re likely to see is from the skinned sheep’s heads ready for barbecue that await the market’s hungry patrons. The market is eminently intriguing in all ways – in a can’t-look-away kind of way.

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You have to keep moving at a steady pace throughout the market to avoid the snake charmers because if you stop for a brief moment to look at the reptiles, you’ll find one or two wrapped around your neck and shoulders. They’ll stay coiled there until you pay up for the experience – or else you might choke!

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There are fortune tellers, water sellers, jugglers, acrobats, garment makers, sellers of strange things in bottles and one stall that I cannot ever unsee – the man selling the teeth.

Day and night this middle-aged man sits on a folding chair at a card table presiding over a mounds of teeth. Some of the teeth have been worked into half dentures, delicately displayed for toothless shoppers (and generally the people of Morocco have terrible teeth due to to amount of sugar they consume daily).

Where did he get all these teeth?

A charming sight is the water sellers dressed in colourful garb as they have been for centuries with pompom hats fringed with coloured wool. In the local dialect they are called Gharrib and they carry goatskin tar lined bags holding water. They are mostly wandering entertainers these day but the Moroccans consider it lucky to drink the water they sell (see picture above).

After wandering around and if you aren’t stopping to eat a barbecued cow’s head, or skewered chicken feet, go to a café on the perimeter of the square, grab a cold beer and watch the amazing dance of pedestrians below as they shape shift thought the market.

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Colour and culture

Take an historical tour of the Bahia Palace and the Saadian Tombs are exquisite examples of refined architecture and tradition. Bahia (Bahia means brilliance) Palace was built in the 19th century and captures the the essence of Islamic and Moroccan style.

DSC03632It’s interesting to explore the layout and see the rooms of the harem which includes a vast court with four rooms built for Si Moussa, the grand vizier’s wives and many more for his 24 concubines. School rooms for the great many offspring that were produced on a regular basis.

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A visit to a souk is mandatory. If you’ve run out of spending money – sell a kidney. Beautifully made shoes and leather goods, carpets, embroidered caftans, spices, brass and copper goods are begging to be snaffled up.

In the early morning when the traffic is cool and calm, hop into a caliche (horse-drawn carriage) and let your destination be spectacular Jardin Majorelle, with its abundance of giant bamboo, yucca, palm, cypress and banana tree, bougainvillea and otherworldly cacti. These earthy, natural colours contrast vividly with the cobalt blue façade (called Marjorelle Blue) of the villa lovingly restored by Yves Saint Laurent.

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The French fashion legend said he ‘found colour’ in Morocco and made it his second home. The Musee Yves Saint Laurent Marrakech is a joy, a revelation and to see the exhibits is an emotional experience. The building is made from local bricks and the architecture is formed like the fabric of a dress with the curve of a draped cloak. There’s a rotating cast of 500 fashion items of clothes, and 50,000 pieces of accessories on display to be absorbed.

Saint Laurent dedicated his later years to this museum and created the extraordinary Berber Museum and stocked it with glorious, historical garments and accessories from the diverse Berber community that he had collected in his travels over the years.

Shuffle through the medina to fill your heart and soul with the essence of Morocco and once you’ve had your fill of the sights and sounds, the people and the donkeys crowding the medina’s alleyways step back in time to the 12th century. Count the 19 grand gates surrounding the medina – the grandest of all being the Bab Agnaou. And before you leave the distant past behind, walk the grounds of El Badi Palace, a 16th century ruin (but in very good shape) that still has an orchard growing ornamental oranges.

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Close by to the museums and gardens there’s a small local and French designer section of new buildings promoting modern, collectible goods and there’s a cool café to calm the shopping ardour.

A taxi ride back to Jardins de la Medina a superior riad (a type of traditional Moroccan house or palace with an interior garden, courtyard and fountain) to shake off the heat of a heady Marrakech day and perhaps take a dip in the pool set in luxurious gardens or maybe a spa with hammam (a traditional cleansing ritual), steam bath and traditional Moroccan beauty treatments.

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Marrakech has centuries old layers to be uncovered and enjoyed. So much of its history is on display and open to touristic scrutiny but remember it has secrets – just think about the streets lined with orange trees, so pretty and not quite what they seem.

The trees are for ornamentation only – you can’t eat the fruit.

The author travelled to Morocco with http://www.bypriorarrangement.com

This story was first published by https://letstravelmag.com/

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I have to fess up – I did not drink the water.

 

 

 

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