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: 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’m posting this as an update, after the devastation throughout Australia of the bushfires, wrought on country towns and villages that will be doing it tough for a long time to come. 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. 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.

 

 

 

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.

 

Postcards from the Seaside

Postcards from the Seaside

I know my beaches. I grew up in Sydney and had the advantage of swimming at the great urban beaches in this part of Australia’s east coast. Golden sand, the smell of coconut oil and hot chips, squealing children and days so long that they went on forever.

And as I grew older and began to travel I became a bit of a beach snob. New Zealand Bay of Islands got the big tick; Fijian Islands got a tick; northern Bali with the black sand and tepid surf, no: Greece’s pebbly shores no but the water yes; the warm China Sea off the coast on Saba, Malaysia, no. And swimming in the Red Sea was fun but it sure wasn’t Bondi!

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Checking out the surf.

When I lived in England in the 80s some friends and I (two Kiwis) took a trip from London to Brighton in January. Sweet Geezus it was cold. The ice-chill breeze slowly making its way off the water would freeze eyeballs and I couldn’t believe my half-frozen eyes at what was happening on the pebble-strewn beach. With the tide out there was an enormous stretch of beach and all along it, what looked like people were sitting in deck chairs, rugged up against the wind, enjoying the fresh air and the diluted sunshine – it almost appeared as a work of cruel sculpture art – but no, they were real – the great English Stoics at play.

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The long, long, long Victorian pier.

From then on I gained an appreciation for the beaches along the coast of England, wild waves coming in from The Atlantic, pounding water from the North Sea, gentle warm (not really) currents on the Cornwell coast and the lovely sweeping beaches of North East England. Each have their own charm and although I couldn’t cope with a swim, they are a delight to walk along and even paddle (briefly).

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Saltburn-by-the-Sea in County Durham, North Yorkshire seen on a sunny day is a delight and edges towards being star of an old Ealing comedy movie.

 

The retro chic of Saltburn is enticing. The long, long Victorian pier juts into the sea and it’s here you’ll see many a surfer (wearing wetsuits) out on OK-size waves.

There’s a water-powered ‘cliff lift’, a peculiar funicular (above) that runs modestly between the upper and lower parts of town. Along the promenade of the beach there’s an ice-cream shop and sweet little ‘beach huts’ where the owners spend time out of the wind among their jauntily decorated tiny house.

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So if you get the urge to explore more than the cities and green fields of England and have a desire to be beside the seaside, check out the east coast of England – you won’t be disappointed.

Author Bev Malzard did not have one swim here.

More info: http://www.visitbritain.com

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