Last Day …..then Home

And so this fantastic trip has come to an end. We rose early, and jumped into our car waiting to take us to the airport for the flight home. This might be a good time to mention motor vehicles here in Abu Dhabi..the car to the airport was a 7 series BMW, one of many here. When we arrived here I made the comment to Fi that in the first one hour in Abu Dhabi I had seen more Porsches than I had in my whole life to that time!!! Bentley Continental GT’s, Ferrari’s, Lamborghini’s, Maserati’s, Aston Martin’s, Audi’s, Merc’s, BMW’s and …Holden Commodore’s!

We checked in for our 14 hour flight home and we had been upgraded to Business Class…wooohooo! Thru customs and into the lounge, breakfast and onto the plane for the flight home. The flight was great, we were able to get some reasonable sleep, were well fed and watered and touched down in Sydney around 7.10 am on Saturday morning. Off the plane, thru customs, collected our bags, out and into a cab and home all within 45 minutes, a world record!

LIFE’S GOOD!

Abu Dhabi

Well here we are, the final day of our holiday and my birthday and awake bright and early to make the most of the day πŸ™‚

Abu Dhabi has been a great place to stop over on our way home. We spent the first 2 nights at Qasr Al Sarab Desert Resort, an amazing resort in the Liwa Desert about 2 hours from the city. There’s lots to do there but we chose not to and spent our time relaxing by the pool, eating nice food and drinking a cocktail or 2 πŸ™‚ this is a really beautiful hotel, service, facilities – everything was spot on and we enjoyed it all immensely. The most energetic we got was to climb to the top of a huge sand dune near the hotel to take photos at sunset, well worth the effort, so beautiful and peaceful and the views were just breathtaking.

The hotel limo took us from the resort back to the city yesterday and along the way we passed by a car museum. The driver explained that this was a private collection owned by a sheik and that he didn’t mind stopping for us to go inside to see. We didn’t actually have enough local currency with us to pay and he lent this to us, so nice!

I copied the article below from Time Out Dubai as it gives a great overview of what the ‘museum’ is like:

……..The title β€˜museum’ is something of a misnomer here: there is no information. No plaques. No audio guides. No brochures. There are no set exhibits because everything must be free to move at a moment’s notice lest the owner – Sheikh Hamad bin Hamdan Al Nahyan, colloquially known as the Rainbow Sheikh (he acquired this nickname from the insignia emblazoned across many of his motors) – wishes to drive one of his collection. It is no coincidence that the path around the displays is marked like a road. Only the occasional bench signals that company is welcome. This is less a museum and more a shrine to one man’s passion.You may need to find an attendant to open the museum, but once inside, the hangar-like size of the place will become apparent. Rows of vehicles fan out to either side. Directly ahead, in a cage of its own, sits the first mass-produced automobile; a glistening black 1908 Model T Ford. Down one row is a Rolls Royce used by Queen Elizabeth II of the UK, another reveals a rare Lamborghini 4×4, a third, a bizarre moon buggy designed for a future where disco is decidedly not dead. Here, the extraordinary (an 1875 steam-powered carriage) mixes with the mundane (a rather grim set of Range Rovers).

Possibly the most impressive sight, however, is the 5m-high replica of a 50s Dodge Power Wagon, custom built in Abu Dhabi to a scale of 64:1. Its wheels came from an oil rig transporter, its wipers from an ocean liner. Inside is a full apartment with bedrooms, bathrooms, a meeting area and a kitchen. Incredibly it can actually drive – it had to in order to enter the Guinness Book Of World Records. Take a step back and between its front wheels sits an ordinary-sized Dodge, and in front of that, a knee-high radio controlled model. Anywhere else this might be considered unusual – here, it makes an odd kind of sense.

So then onto Abu Dhabi and checked in at Jumeirah at Etihad Towers our luxurious home for the last days of our holiday πŸ™‚ I do think we’re pretty good at spoiling ourselves! Our room here is on the 59th floor with amazing views of the city and coastline. We didn’t do a great deal in the afternoon, a late lunch and then went to the adjoining tower to the 74th floor to check out the 360 degree views from there. A nice quiet night last night and now looking forward to our last day πŸ™‚

The day started with a magnificent breakfast, again…then we jumped in a cab to visit the ‘Grand Mosque the mosque is one of the worlds largest which can accommodate 41,000 worshippers!!! There are 82 domes, more than 1,000 columns and gold covered chandeliers and the worlds largest hand woven carpet…ok get the feeling it is impressive?? The mosque is open for all religions to visit as long as you wear appropriate clothing….(cover ups are available for the ladies).

From there we went to the ‘Gold Souks‘ to see what we could find for Fi. The market was on the lower level of a shopping centre and was a little difficult to find…but worth the search as there were lots of shops all vying for your money and willing to barter to seal the deal. Fi settled on a very nice bracelet and we headed back to the hotel. We had drinks in the bar, and an awesome dinner on the terrace overlooking the pool to finish of our last night on what has been an absolutely fabulous six weeks away from home. Can’t close without mentioning the truly outstanding staff at the hotel, every single person was keen to have a chat, ask if we were ok, needed any help, they genuinely wanted to see that we were having a good time.

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Marrakech

We spent a total of 4 nights in Marrakech, the first the night before our tour and then the last 3 when we got back. We did realise it would be a bit of a culture shock, which was pretty spot on. We stayed in the Medina which is the old area of the city, in a Riad, which is a traditional type of Moroccan hotel. The Riad advise to eat in house the first night you arrive which is a great tip as the initial impression you get of the Medina is fairly daunting. We booked a taxi through the Riad to pick us up from the airport, another great idea, as the place you’re staying in isn’t always accessible by car. Our taxi phoned ahead and we were met by the Riad owner and a guy with a pull along cart on wheels for our luggage, we then followed both through a maze of lane ways, full of people, rubbish and cats……makes you wonder exactly where you’re being taken! The beauty of the Riad’s is that the style of building has no exterior windows but is built around and opens onto a courtyard, so as soon the door is opened and you enter inside it’s like being in a beautiful calm oasis and the noise and craziness of the Medina is left behind.

Once we ventured out into the Medina it really wasn’t as bad as we’d first thought, although very full on and can be dirty and smelly in places. The thing you soon realise here is that tourism is the main source of income and everyone wants your money, from hustlers and beggars to people wanting to take your photo or give you directions, or the many many stall or store owners wanting you to buy the local handicrafts, it all comes at a cost. To put that into context tho, half of the Moroccan population is under 25 and a massive 44% of those people are unemployed, so life can be terribly tough, you then understand why everyone is after a piece of you. The basic monthly wage here is only around 240 Aussie dollars.

Not wanting to paint a bleak or bad picture here, the Moroccan people are lovely, very respectful and friendly with a great sense of humour. Even the first night we arrived we were following the taxi driver through the car park loaded up with our 4 big suitcases and he stopped at the smallest car in the parking lot and indicated it was ours, he had a huge laugh at the shocked look on our faces! We usually don’t go for souvenir’s when we travel or even the local handicrafts, but there’s lots of great things to buy here, ceramics, Tajine’s, spices, beautiful lanterns and amazing handmade rugs are just some, and yes we have a few small things packed in our bags to bring home. Larry and Rhona have headed off home with a Tajine in their back pack which cost all of $5 as well as some amazing spices from the guy that had the spice stall just outside of our Riad. The food here is also awesome, with salads, kebabs, Tajine’s and many types of pastries being the main traditional choices.

We spent our days wandering with no real plan, the sun shone each day and we didn’t need to wear our jackets until the evening, a nice change from Shap πŸ™‚ Being a Muslim country alcohol isn’t always available, when you walk past the square’s and cafe’s everyone is drinking water or mint tea, which is the local speciality. We actually got our driver to make a special stop at a supermarket before we went to the desert so we could have a wine (or 2) with our meal. We did find a bar in the Medina tho that was set on a terrace with lovely comfy lounges, maybe a bit embarrassing that we became regulars in the space of 2 days, with the staff recognising us as we came in the door πŸ™‚ we all treated ourselves to a Hammam one afternoon, very different to the one in Seville, but really great. We relaxed in a steam room and were then scrubbed clean with a loofah and a traditional black soap, then covered in a clay mask and left to sweat, followed by a massage – so good πŸ™‚

The first night we ate away from the Riad we went to the local market that’s set up in the main square and full of stall holders all wanting your business, extremely full on and very busy, we finally chose one and had a great meal – Rhona was taking a pic of the man behind the stall that was cooking a whole heap of Tajine’s and the waiters got her up (and then me) to get her photo taken with the cook – lots of laughs and fun.

Advice in Morocco, being a Muslim country is to not show too much skin, so shirts with sleeves and shorts or skirts below the knee. For our last night we wanted to dine somewhere special and asked the advice of the Riad manager – he told us about a restaurant located in the ‘new’ part of the city where the food was traditional and there was music and belly dancers – sounded good to us, so he made a booking and arranged a taxi to take us there and return us to the Riad when we were done. Other than driving from the Airport and out of the city on our tour we hadn’t seen much of the new part of the city. So, picture this …….. we walk from the Riad to where our taxi is waiting, down the lane way past the local stall holders, women wearing burka’s, sitting on a crate selling bread and of course the odd stray cat or 2. Into the cab, leaving the Medina behind we drive down avenues lined with palm trees and fancy hotels and pull up at the entrance to the restaurant where the doorman opens our door and ushers us inside. We go upstairs and are shown our table, the restaurant is plush, low lighting, a DJ spinning some tunes in the background. There’s not a Burka in sight and the women are dressed to impress, tiny short skirts, cleavage and sequins everywhere you look, and lots of older guys with very young lovely girls! So bizarre!! We had a great night the food was awesome and the belly dancers sensational, some were balancing silver trays with tea pots and lit candelabras on their head while they danced, very talented ladies!

So now, we’ve left that behind us and are slowly heading towards home, on our Royal Air Maroc flight to Paris for an overnight stop and the onto Abu Dhabi for our final few days. As always, we’ve had an awesome time with Rhona and Larry, so special to be able to spend Christmas together and to be here to celebrate Rhona’s birthday, I did have tears leaving her behind 😦

We’re hooked on Morocco and will come back, but next time will stay longer and travel much further πŸ™‚

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The Atlas Mountains, Berber Villages and the Desert

Crowded roads, traditional dress, tajines, small children, donkeys, goats, mosques, beggars, Kasbahs, camels, rocks, rubbish and sand……

A driver collected us in the square close to our Riad and we began the drive up and over the high Atlas Mountains. Another sunny day with lots of clear blue sky, and people on the same route as us. The drive was spectacular, the mountain road winds it way precariously, continually climbing up over this rocky steep snow capped terrain. We had stops along the way to digest the natural beauty and harshness of the country the Moroccan people call home. We stopped in the tiny village of Telouet where we had lunch and wandered through an ancient Kasbah with a local guide. A short drive after lunch to our overnight stay at Ait Benhaddou passing the most spectacular scenery along the way. Berber villages built from a red mud brick made from a mixture of mud, straw and stones blending in to the red landscape. The Berbers live a simple life, animals are their wealth, donkey’s for transport, goats for milk and chickens for eggs and food. Some Berbers are still nomads and live between the desert and the mountains as the seasons change. There’s a Unesco protected Kasbah built in the 11th century in Ait Benhaddou, of course built on top of hill which we explored the following morning. This has been used as a location for films including Lawrence of Arabia, Prince of Persia, Gladiator and many more.

Our driver is Hamaal a 6ft 5in Berber dressed traditionally in a Jellaba, (an ankle length robe with a pointy hood) an imposing figure, he chatted along the way on our drive, telling stories and explaining the history and culture of the Berber people and stopping the car so we could jump out and take photos.

We stayed the next night in Tinghir and celebrated New Years Eve and Rhona’s 50th with other ‘Morocco Explored’ travellers. The tour manager had arranged a dinner and celebrations at the hotel where we stayed. Probably 30 or so tourists, locals and musicians all together to see in the new year and party loud and long! We had a great night, eating, drinking, singing, dancing and generally celebrating together. Fi had arranged a birthday cake for Rhona and everyone joined in to sing happy birthday and celebrate her special day!

In the morning we walked through the palm grove then headed out to our desert adventure. Again the drive was a tour through different landscapes, continually changing and always interesting. Off the bitumen and onto the sandy desert track, travelling on tracks in the rocky, sandy plain toward the hotel on the edge of the Sahara Desert.

After a quick lunch we were ready to climb onto our camels for the trek into the desert, the four of us were ushered to our awaiting camels, each sitting on the ground, groaning…one in particular groaning lots and foaming from the mouth…..this one ended up being Rhona’s ride…One by one we mounted our camels, me first on the camel at the end of the queue, then Fiona, then Rhona,( on the frothing one)…..and finally Larry at the front. You know something is going to happen..and sure enough Rhona’s frothing noisy one slobbered on Larry’s back…….Not a pretty sight…but a good laugh at Larry’s expense. And so we set off with the camel trek guide walking ahead and our camel train following…(Larry’s on the lead camel,his black coat covered in slobber).

The camels took us out over high dunes, travelling for about an hour and a half, taking in the spectacular sunset along the way before we, along with three other groups of camel trekkers, arrived at our camp. The camps are semi permanent tents grouped together with a central fire where the nights music, singing and dancing took place. We were shown to our tents, dropped our back packs and all met at the centre of the camp to get to know each other. The guides lit a campfire and prepared dinner whilst we sat around the fire talking. Night fell and the air cooled. Awesome tajines were served for dinner accompanied by red wine we bought into the desert with us (excellent planning on our part). After dinner we all moved back around the fire, the music started..bongo drums?…the guides were good musicians as well, and they had a great sense of humour. Solo performances were expected from everyone, and lots of fun was had.

Well fed and exhausted from camel riding, singing and dancing we slept the night away under a magnificent star filled sky. The return trip in the morning gave us the chance to see the sunrise over the dunes…a great experience for us all and well worth the early start.

We spent the remainder of the day driving back to Marrakech, our guide, Sala, providing interesting information along the way. Back over the High Atlas Mountains, treacherous narrow winding roads shared with pedestrians, buses, donkeys, motor bikes and hawkers, what a fabulous place! We all had a good laugh recounting New Year’s Eve party stories, camel trek stories and general catch up reflecting on the past few days.

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