Bonjour, Hi from Montreal

Wondering around Montreal has been delightful but I began to wonder if I had left continental Europe at all. I knew that I had because the people of Montreal are much friendlier than the entire continent of Europe combined.

Everyone greeted you with ‘Bonjour, hi’ to gauge where you were from or if you were a fortunate Canadian who could speak both of the national languages. A local told us that the people in Montreal are actually some of the most unfriendly people in all of this maple syrup loving nation but coming from a place where even allowing an elderly person to sit or holding open a door is too much to ask for; this was a refreshing change.

Our morning was spent making our way over to Mont Royal, a beautiful park on the top of a hill which allows any visitor with a panoramic view of the city. We opted for the bus to take us to the top and since we had a day pass on public transport we figured we may as well use it. We were dropped off and took a casual stroll through the park towards the view point but we were not alone.

Some Canadian wildlife had decided to join us for some of the journey, a small squirrel was obviously using his looks to manipulate the two very obvious tourists that had wandered into his turf. Eventually the squirrel found something a little bit more interesting than us and we reached the view point.

The View from Mont Royal
The View from Mont Royal
The view was truly spectacular. The palate of reds, oranges and yellows from the changing leaves surrounded the tall and powerful grey and dark browns buildings creating a stark contrast. A slight and rather chilly breeze swept across us bringing with it leaves that whimsically danced in the wind as they made their great escape from the roots that had nurtured them. With a last little glance at the view we decided it was time to become a little more acquainted with the city; but first we needed something to eat.

We were told by several locals and visitors that a bagel was an absolute must and that there was one small establishment that made the very best bagels. St Viateur Bagels sits close to the Mont Royal metro station and part of their fame comes from the fact that they make their delicious bagels in the store and boil them before placing them in a large pizza type oven for baking.

Making our way down the store lined street we eventually found St Viateur’s with large bagels on the front signage. Once we were inside we chose a small table in the front window; the sunshine had made it a lovely and warm place to nest.

St Viateur's Traditional Bagel
St Viateur’s Traditional Bagel
We decided on sharing a traditional bagel and allowed our waitress to make the rest of the decisions on our behalf and within minutes our Montreal specialty had arrived. The bagel was covered in sesame seeds that were as toasted as we were in the midday fall sunshine, the cream cheese was liberally plastered on one side and on the other half sat layers of fresh pink salmon, red onion that had been crafty laid on top with capers that had hid themselves in the luscious folds.

For my first bite I had to make sure that I had all of the ingredients on my fork to have a true experience and I was certainly not disappointed. The bagel was so fresh and lighter than the dense bagels I have had previously. Suffice to say that my meal did not last long and I was left feeling perfectly content by the end. We sat chatting while observing the staff in the kitchen making endless streams of bagels to delight other visitors to St Viateur’s. Eventually it was time to make our way into Old Montreal.

St Viateur's Bagel
St Viateur’s Bagel
Arriving in the downtown area we wandered towards the port. I was surprised by the small number of people around, they too had drifted like the coloured leaves on the trees. The port provided an interesting side of the city with many buildings and factory warehouses having been completely abandoned. The number of these buildings around the area was astonishing and the only company that they now have are of the graffiti faces that decorate their walls.
With the cold wind picking up it was easy to understand why there was no hustle and bustle in the main squares of the city. Instead people sat indoors and ventured out to quickly nip inside somewhere else. As we weren’t accustomed as yet to the chilling wind we decided to explore some of the underground shopping malls.

These malls have over 32km of walkways and are home to hundreds of stores that sit in a world entirely on  it’s own. After a couple of hours meandering our way through these large and yet stuffy shopping pavilions we decided that it was time for something very important; dinner.

Each person we had spoken to had recommended a little place called Schwartz Deli and so without delay we made our way over to the Jewish Quarter. Arriving at Schwartz the first thing that we noticed was the very long queue out the front; initially we were put off by the hoards of people who too had followed the smell of smoked meat but if we weren’t going to wait we certainly weren’t going to get any.

We were sat at the counter of the small diner; newspaper articles and photos of semi – famous people covered the old smoked meat absorbed  walls. Every single table was full and each person had the same dish placed in front of them. We sat next to an older Canadian couple and as is custom, it seems, in Canada they greeted us and gave us some advice on what to order. We ordered with our waiter who also seemed to be the manager of the joint. Minutes later we had enough food in front of us to feed a small army or at least two self confessed food lovers.

 

Schwartz Heaven
 The sandwich had layers of thinly sliced deep pink beef with the edges brown and grainy from the spices that gave it the unique Schwartz flavour. Protecting the middle of the sandwich was of course the bread but this bread was fresh; the centre was soft and when you pressed strategically grabbed it, so as not to have the contents fall out, the bread felt like a soft cushion with the crust a light tanned colour. Mustard smothered each gap on one side of the sandwich and a dill pickle that looked like it was sat amongst Arnold Schwartzengger’s steroid cabinet, had a plate entirely on it’s own. We sipped the very local Cott’s  Soda which was insanely sweet but complimented the savoury meal which was slowly being devoured.

We savoured each bite and just as the people around us did we finished up and allowed those eager and waiting in the cold to come in and enjoy their experience. Plunged into the cold; which our waiter was insistent was worse than normal, we made our way back to our hostel for a quiet drink and a toast to completing our first city on our two month adventure. In two days we had completed the top three food experiences recommended to us by all those we spoke to about the beautiful city of Montreal.

Arriving back at the hostel we were greeted with a friendly smile and a ‘Bonjour, Hi.’

Bärenquell; a Berlin brewery without beer.

Breweries tell stories and the abandoned Bärenqull Brewey in the former East Berlin is no exception.

There aren’t many things as good as a cold beer; the condensation on the glass as the label wrinkles, the unmistakable and satisfying sound of the top as it pops off of the bottle only ever wanting to be free. 

We don’t often think about where these glass bottles of heavenly liquid are made or the long process behind how beer is pefected.
The Brewing Mill

The Bärenquell brewery was created in 1888 and was situated in East Berlin during the time of the Cold War. After the fall of the Berlin Wall many East Berliners decided that they preferred the refreshing taste of a new capitalist country with beer brands which matched those ideologies.  

Bärenquell Art
Abandoned in 1994 the brewery fell into disrepair and now the red brick walls have become a blank canvas. A canvas not only for graffiti artists but for anyone who knows how to handle a spray paint can or is seeking a little adventure in the city of Berlin.
 
Bärenquell doorways
The complex is huge and could take a good few hours to explore. We wandered through the different sections of the old brewery and tried to piece together the functions of each building.  
Bärenquell Brewing Complex
The tall mill and brewery tower still stand. While barley and hops don’t pass through the large drums the only life are trees that have somehow managed to creep up the outside walls and grow through any crack creating a stark contrast of green splashed on the red brick. 

Colour & trees
More colour has been splashed across the building and the artworks bring more character to this brewery with so many stories. From small pieces to wall murals these pieces of art captivate any visitor.  
Towering Murals
Broken glass scatters the floor and some had been strangely arranged in piles as though someone had been looking to clean up the place but had given up. 
Old burnt out cars sit in the manufacturing hall and bottling plant. If you look closely enough you can find the old neglected beer labels and coasters covered in 20 years worth of dirt and grime.
The old office provides any intruder with an insider’s point of view. Old files lay on the floor opened with crumbled and curled edge papers scattered around only longing to be straight, uniform and systematically ordered once more. 
Empty Loading Docks
This huge complex is crying out for visitors or for someone to give it a purpose. On my visit I didn’t see anyone else and I wondered how much longer this brewery would stay so isolated after its near hundred year existence. Or if it would ever relive it’s glory days where a unique East Berlin beer quenched the thirst of the population.  
Bärenquell Brewery
It now seems that the only thirst quenching qualities this huge complex provides is for that of street artists or for adventurers looking to do something unique and off the beaten track in the fascinating city of Berlin. 

Tempelhof takes flight

An airport without travellers is like night without day; the two naturally coincide. Berlin Tempelhof,  an abandoned airport, has arrival halls that hold the excitement of past passengers where the memories of heartfelt goodbyes fade like the paint on the walls. It is something so unique and bizarre because it is not often airport walls tell a story to people who are willing to listen, rather than travel in another direction. 

The story of this airport is an interesting one and a two hour guided tour of the airport will give you a complete idea of the grandeur of the building and the  tales of struggle and triumph which have since been neglected and ignored.

Tempelhof Airfield
Tempelhof Airfield

Before the 1970’s the Tempelhof airport had seen over six million travellers  and the facilities trump any other airport. Walking through the airport would make anybody feel so insignificant because of the sheer size. Knowing the history of Germany makes it even more intriguing and made me question the sheer capabilities of man.

Hitler had imagined great things for this airport and wanted it to serve as a multi purpose building. It would not only be an airport but would also allow for hundreds of thousands of people to gather to listen to the captivating speeches and the calculated propaganda which fuelled the basis of the Nazi Party during the Second World War. Hitler wanted Berlin to be redesigned and Tempelhof was only the beginning of this wildly overestimated plans.

Empty Arrival Halls
Empty Arrival Halls

This enormous building; shaped like an eagle spreading its wings, was the largest of its kind when it was built. It has since been the inspiration for many of the world’s most modern and busiest airports. It still ranks third as the tallest building in the world in terms of floor area.

During the Second World War it held in its broad grasp a prison camp. Hundreds of political prisoners were held here in 20 barracks which were destroyed after the war when the Allies took control of the area.

The Americans used the airport as their base during the Cold War for the Berlin Blockade. The Berlin Blockade saw the Allied forces bringing in supplies to West Berlin when the USSR blocked all land routes into Berlin through East Germany.

Planes were landing here every minute with essential supplies for the citizens in West Berlin. The air traffic at this airport was busier than that of London Heathrow and if pilots weren’t on time they had to fly back to their starting point and try again at a later stage.

The American Basketball Court
The American Basketball Court

When these soldiers weren’t constantly bringing in a stream of supplies they lived in the self-sufficient airport complex. Many soldiers had their own rooms in the barracks and didn’t have to share. There was a grocery store, basketball court, entertainment room, restaurant and bar. Soldiers were able to live their free time here and to escape the world outside where the Berlin Wall stood tall and mighty while separating different ideologies.

The Original Raisin Bomber
The Original Raisin Bomber

One story which I found most interesting was that of the Raisin Bombers or Candy Bombers as they were commonly known. Gail Halvorsen, one an American pilot, used to regularly fly into Tempelhof and he would drop candy and chocolate bars attached to handkerchiefs creating parachutes of joy for those children living below. The Candy Bombers created hope and happiness in a time of struggle. This is just one tale from this historic place and a visit to the airport will provide any curious traveller with the chance to hear what the wall have to say.

Tempelhof Airport
Tempelhof Airport

Now the buildings wait for visitors and the runways have become an outdoor oasis for families. Children race on bikes race down the middle and the health concious sprint down the 2km strip. If you were interested in visiting the airport then have a look at the Tempelhof website as tours offered in different languages and at different times. The tour cost €12 and was completely worthwhile. Our guide was so knowledgeable an gave the group some great insight into this mysterious building.

Tempelhof may also be the only chance you get to go to an airport where you don’t have heartfelt goodbyes, where there is no excitement for the prospect of travelling somewhere new and where the stories cling to the walls like passengers cling to a boarding pass before leaving the gate.

The 10 Misconceptions of Trip Managers 

Being a Trip Manager means you just get to drink and party all the time right? Wrong! The misconception of the life as a trip manager is something we all find pretty common.

Being a Trip Manager
Being a Trip Manager

Here are the top ten misconceptions of Trip Managers who take bunches of 50 youths around a continent.

1. Yes we party, but not all the time– We visit some of the world’s best party cities and trust me when I say that we enjoy having a boogie but we can’t always show you our winning dance moves (of which we have many). Getting very little sleep is normal and it sometimes means that we have to do the occasional ‘smoke bomb’. This ninja-like move is when we walk around; check that you are all having the best time and then ‘poof’ we disappear.

We do this knowing that you are going to have a great night regardless and that we will be the ones working the next morning while you attempt to cure a hangover. Do be aware though, that when we do pick a night to party we usually go hard and it means you may need to clear the dance floor and we will usually be in the last taxi home.

2. We are not human- This common misconception is felt by many in the industry. Now I know that sometimes it may seem as though we are robots; finely tuned with genius minds which never switch off but really we are not. Being human, as you may know, means that we have our ups and downs just like anyone else. We have to smile and be accommodating, that’s an essential part of our job but being human means we may have a day where we are sad, tired or do not want to be disturbed because we want to have a quick shower at the end of a long day.

St Mark's Square- Venice
St Mark’s Square- Venice

3. We know it all- So many people ask how we can remember as much as we do and when you work as a trip manager you are able to retain plenty of information but that doesn’t mean that we know it all. We are always learning and we may not have the answer for you but we are willing to find out or to listen to a fun fact that you have to share.

It is impossible for someone to know everything and this also means that sometimes we get lost; yes that’s correct. Sometimes we take a wrong turn in cities we know but most of the time you won’t even notice because we don’t want you to have to worry.

4. We don’t know the gossip on the coach- Please don’t be fooled. We know exactly what is going on. Organised group tours often have a feeling similar to what we all experienced in high school. There are groups of friends; some outgoing others a little shy and people who end up in a relationship on tour. Don’t think that we are oblivious to these happenings. We are always listening and just because it’s hasn’t been explicitly said that people didn’t spend the evening in their room doesn’t mean it’s not, almost always, noticeable the very next morning.

5. We don’t have lives outside of tour- We are faithful to you always, for 24 hours of the day you are in our care but sometimes we get to grab a few minutes to ourselves and in that time we will do normal things. We have family and friends who want to hang out and chat just as you do in your day to day life. We have hobbies and interest which extend well beyond our work and when your tour is finished; unless you were someone we genuinely enjoyed spending time with, we will part ways, continue with our lives as you continue with yours.

6. We haven’t done this before and have no idea what we are doing- no matter how many tours you have been on our how many times you may have visited a particular city you are not the Trip Manager. I’m sure you would be a little grumpy if someone came into your place of work and told you how to do your job so please don’t tell us how to do ours. Which leads to the next point

There is always time for a selfie
There is always time for a selfie

7. Anyone can get this job- We go through some of the longest and most intense training of all companies globally. No matter which company takes you on your tour rest assured that trip managers have put the blood sweat and endless tears into getting our dream job. Each year youth travel companies receive thousands of applications and companies will maybe employ around thirty to forty of those applicants; those aren’t great odds unless you work your butt off.

8. A tour just happens- The amount of work that goes behind a tour is staggering and it goes well beyond just the role of the trip manager. Our offices have teams who organise these trips and take the worry out of it for you. They probably have a fair few grey hairs for organising every aspect of the tour up to a year in advance. Have a think about the hotels, dinners, transport, drivers, activities, ferries, flights and activities, these things only cover the tip of the iceberg. This is why you booked a group tour, for us to take the hassle out of you having to organise it all yourself. You’re job is to be on holiday while we do the work remembering it is not only your driver and trip manager who make it happen.

9. We like you all- This may be the hardest blow for some of you but with every tour taking fifty travellers around continents we sometimes encounter people that we get on better with than with others. This is the way life works and there will be people you like and dislike. Just because you may not be someone we connect with as much doesn’t mean that you will have less of an incredible experience. We have to be professional, treat people equally and with respect but if you are not going to reciprocate that behaviour then don’t expect us to be best buddies outside of your tour.

10. We are on holiday- So many people assume that because we travel for work that we are on holiday; this couldn’t be more untrue. If we were on holiday we would be sitting next to you on the coach not at the front with mounds of paperwork and a list of endless tasks each day. If we look like we are having a good time it’s because we have managed to get all of our work done prior and because if we didn’t look like we were having a good time you may question if you were.

We Sphinx Egypt is Amazing
We Sphinx Egypt is Amazing

These misconceptions are common but our line of work lends to them but there aren’t many people in the industry who would trade it for anything else because we do have the best job in the world. We often take it for granted but it is a job and it does see us working hard to ensure that you have the best time possible.

We do have fun on a daily basis and most of that can be attributed to all of you who put trust in us to show you some of the most unique and fascinating places. You teach us things along the way and while you are busy making memories that you will cherish and hold dear; we are too and you are part of them and we wouldn’t want it any other way.

Basking in Bali: Day Four

Traditions and rituals are two things which define a culture. Seeing both while travelling allows for a greater understanding and overall appreciation of a country.

Our fourth day in Bali was spent observing some of these traditions and rituals as we made our way to one of the most popular temples in Bali;  Pura Tanah Lot.

Tanah Lot is located in Tabanan off of the Indonesian island and is perfectly placed on the top of a large rock which juts out from the sea. It stands tall while the Indian Ocean batters and shapes its sides while the temple is witness to some of Bali’s best sunsets over the horizon. It is around a 45 minute drive from the centre of Seminyak. Entrance costs 30 000 IDR each (around AUS $3) and to park a car it costs a small 5000 IDR (AUS $0.50) which is a small price to pay for the beauty of the complex.

Pura Tanah Lot
Pura Tanah Lot

Once through the gates  you will find an array of market stalls. While many of the goods are the same as you can find in Seminyak there are a few slight differences in some of the products with more hand-crafted goods including woven bowls and wooden statues.

One of the stores had three women sitting in a row and they ran a well-oiled coconut cutting machine; two of the women shaved coconuts and rolled the shavings into small balls for people to try while the third woman stood with a machete knife and beheaded coconuts; pouring the water into a small plastic bag and before tying the top places a straw in the bag for easy drinking which is much lighter than carrying an entire coconut around.

Meandering through the markets and dodging the daily offerings we made it to the entrance gates of the Tanah Lot area. When we arrived the tide was low, the sky clear and the sun high. To the left of Tanah Lot was the Pura Batu Bolong temple. This tiny temple is situated on the edge a cliff sticking out into the ocean where centuries of crashing salt water waves have eroded the rock causing a hole in the wall of the cliff creating a unique natural scene.

Pura Batu Bolong
Pura Batu Bolong

Meandering from the Pura Batu Bolong we made our way down the stairs to the entrance of the Tanah Lot temple where the sea water swashed its way around the rock holding the temple. People were getting photographs from every angle while ensuring that they didn’t step in a puddle left from the low tide.

We walked up towards the temple and saw people crossing the small stream to get to the entrance of the temple. Upon crossing the stream ourselves and with soggy shoes we noticed that the men in the temple were offering blessings to all. There was a stream of Holy Water which you poured over your head, once you had done this you then were sprinkled with more water, had rice grains placed on your forehead and a frangipani placed behind your ear as a blessing. It was a very peaceful and beautiful ritual which I have never experienced before.

Guarding the Guardians
Guarding the Guardians

After our blessing we were able to have a look at the Holy Sea Snakes. These snakes are said to guard the temple from evil spirits and they used to be free and able to protect the area.Now they are kept in a small sand cave with a local man guarding the guardians and ensuring visitors pay a small fee to view them.

In the heat of the midday sun the Tanah Lot stands cool and calm with its free-flowing Holy Water and it’s age old traditions. A visit to Bali wouldn’t be complete without visiting this unique Sea Temple.

The Blue Lagoon; a Heaven on Earth

Among the barren-looking wasteland where the surface of the unstable ground is volcanic rock and a soft green moss ground cover is the only form of plant life; sits a heaven on Earth. A heaven known as The Blue Lagoon.

This murky blue haven is where we spent our first full day in Iceland and what an introduction it was to this diverse and unique country. The Blue Lagoon are a series of geothermal hot springs set in the heart of the Icelandic landscape. They contain silica mud, sulphur and other magic minerals which help you feel rejuvenated after bathing, or wallowing, in the warm water. The springs are naturally renewed every two days and the healing and relaxation properties are something to behold.

Being November in Iceland it is cold but this did not stop us from wanting to visit one of Iceland’s major attractions. Arriving at the Lagoon it doesn’t look like much. The first thing that hits your senses with every breath is the smell; an undeniable egg, bordering on rotten egg, smell which is a result of the sulphur. With egg filled nostrils and after a few minutes walk through a walkway surrounded by tall volcanic rock we found the tall glass doors open into a reception where the clean-cut staff welcome you with friendly faces.

The Walkway into the Lagoon
The Walkway into the Lagoon

We had each paid a €60 as part of our package deal to Iceland with Reykjavik Excursions and Iceland Air. We received entrance to the Lagoon and its facilities as well as an electronic wrist band for the lockers and to form a tab and the bar and shop, a neatly folded towel and a fluffy gown along with a free beverage and an algae mask. Equipped with all that and a pre-booked in water massage we found ourselves to be giggling like little girls at the prospect of being pampered in this natural wonder.

The bathrooms are comfortable and clean. One tip I will give anyone wanting to visit this blue paradise; conditioner is key. If you don’t want your hair to feel like dried out straw or stale spaghetti from the sulphur in the water then use conditioner, more than you have ever used before and then add more, trust me it will help.

Faye and I were lagoon ready
Faye and I were lagoon ready

Wearing our bathing suits during an Icelandic winter certainly wasn’t what I was thinking of doing while on holiday but it was unforgettable. Walking out of the bathroom block we tip-toed onto the frozen wooden path, hung our fluffy gowns on the outside racks and quickly made our way from the single digit outdoor temperature to the warm double-digit murky blue water.

The temperature of the lagoon is like that of a nice warm bath, the floor feels slimy between your toes and at first we walked and then ended up ‘gracefully’ doggy paddling from one end to the other so as not to wet our hair; which realistically didn’t last very long. This is probably because any time we ever try and be graceful ladies one of us ends up failing in some sort of epic proportion and we break out into hysterical fits of laughter which has been described by any as a cackle.

Entry to the Lagoon
Entry to the Lagoon

With our giggles behind us we began observing others in the lagoon we saw they all had an interesting tinge to their skin. A white green gooey substance was being applied by partners and friends onto each others faces. One thing was sure; we wanted to do the same.

Faye and I awkwardly swam over to these large white tubs, which are scattered throughout the lagoon, using a plastic spoon we slopped this clunky substance into our hands and then began spreading it all over our face, neck and shoulders. This mud is silica from the lagoon, not only did it feel good but it has rejuvenating qualities which will make you reconsider using any other type of mud mask found on the grocery shelf.

We rubbed silica all over our faces
We rubbed silica all over our faces

We ‘gracefully’ rubbed silica mud onto our faces, followed by algae masks then we sipped on freshly pressed fruit juices and had a light lunch in the cafe. We nibbled on salmon sushi fresh from the Icelandic waters some 30 kilometres away.

The in water massages were next and it truly was a unique experience. We ‘gracefully’ swam over to our masseurs; Faye was rather happy when she found out she was with the Icelandic Viking looking man who possessed an extraordinary beard.

Being an in water massage we were told to lie on a sort of floating yoga mat, a soaked heavy blanket was placed on top of us and the massage began. Every now and then we were dipped into the hot springs to ensure we didn’t get cold. It was absolutely incredible and each and every minute of the hour spent getting that massage was heavenly. The massage was not the cheapest you could find in Europe but it was worth every penny and cost us around €95.

Before leaving the lagoon a staff member asked us how long we had spent in the lagoon. We had soaked in the Icelandic minerals for over eight hours but time did not play a role in this heavenly experience. Everything had exceeded our expectations; the service was excellent, the facilities were more than adequate and the price was reasonable.

Blue Lagoon Bliss
Blue Lagoon Bliss

The Blue Lagoon is an absolute must when visiting Iceland. It is an affordable experience which will leave you feeling rejuvenated and it will certainly be something you won’t forget.

Fez-tive Moroccan Madness

Moroccan Sunlight
Moroccan Sunlight

The dark red cotton sheets hang from store to store as the setting sun peeks through the small holes onto the rough cobble stone streets below where tourists and locals alike wander the marketplace.

Assaulted with colours and smells; store owners try and lure you into their hole in the wall stores with the best possible deal. The array of products on offer is enough to entice any market wanderer. There is the sound of the butcher chopping a head of a lamb while the live chickens cluck with their legs tied to the cages which bind them. An old man with skin wrinkled by the Sahara sun pushes a cart of fresh mint as shoppers bargain for a bunch to add to their daily dose of Moroccan tea.

Morocco truly is a feast for the senses; an overwhelming experience that will leave you wondering how the chaos seems to make this thriving country function while remaining so very unique.

We made our way to the ancient capital of Fez where we had our first true Moroccan experience.

The madness of the Fez markets was something to behold. Every place we looked it seemed that everyone was on a mission. The shop keepers so desperately trying to get the attention of any of the tourists who walked past their shop front and the tourists doing anything to avoid making eye contact with these shop keepers, so that they weren’t lured into their special price web in which so many became so easily entangled.

The markets displayed an enormous amount of products from leather shoes and teapots with the mint cart brushing past your thigh to the goat head; chopped and skinned with a blank stare as the butcher behind the counter cheers and shouts to other shop keepers with chicken feet in his hands.

The smell of the market is what hit me first; each section of the market has a rather unique smell. Beneath it all is he smell of urine from the stray animals but this is combined with the smell of Moroccan leather in shoe alley, to raw meat, fresh fruit and the best of all; the smell of the restaurants, it sure does fill the nostrils.

The Blue Gate
Bab Boujeloud

Tourists in Fez stick out like a sore thumb as they all dine in the same area near the Blue Gate or Bab Boujeloud as it is known is a hive for tourists with overly friendly waiters luring on the edges of their establishments with menus to entice anyone who is ready to try a Moroccan dish.

Sitting amongst tourists; which admittedly is not something I enjoy doing but my stomach gave me no other option, we ordered our food but as it appears we were not the only ones at the table. The stray cats weaved between our legs trying to charm us. Lucas, not a lover of cats, soon chased them away and we ordered. The mint tea was overly sweet but the contrast of the granulated sugar at the bottom and the fresh mint certainly cooled me off after a hot day. Morocco is known for tajine, a couscous dish cooked with meat or vegetables in a traditional dish called a tajine. I had to have one and being a Monday I knew it was a good idea.

Why Monday you may wonder? Well the locals in Morocco only make and eat fresh couscous on a Friday; it is an age old tradition which makes eating couscous unique. Of course there is couscous available every other day for tourists but if you want the best then it is a good idea to order it as close to Friday as you possibly can. My tajine with couscous was not really what I expected, being in Morocco I expected the food to be spicier; however it is more plain than you would imagine and by no means less tasty. Lucas enjoyed a variety of meats on kebabs and we sat and watched the waiters lure in tourists just as we had been lured ourselves.

Women in the Market Place
Women in the Market Place

The Moroccan sun set over the distant mountains and the sound of the call to prayer brought a calming effect on the bustling city. Sat on our rooftop with the cool Moroccan summer breeze on our backs I felt tranquil and relaxed as after the prayer the city below began buzzing again.

The following day we had only one goal; get lost in the Medina or the Old Town. Upon further examination we had discovered that we had only scratched the surface of the Medina the night before and that we needed to delve deeper inside the maze that dominated the city of ancient Moroccan city of Fez.

Wandering through the markets I felt less intimidated than I had the evening before. The overwhelming attention thrown my way was certainly not something that I was used to but it was something I was going to have to come to terms with. While I dressed respectfully I still stuck out and not only was I stared at by men who would whistle and holler at me but by Muslim women who were dressed in their Burqas. I noticed one woman staring at me from across the street, she had been for quite some time. I looked at her and smiled as a natural reaction and I am positive she smiled back. In that moment I felt some kind of mutual understanding. We may have been from opposite ends of the earth with different beliefs and lifestyles but at the core we were both women who in some way understood each other. It may sound odd to some but that was one of the most beautiful moments of the day.

Moroccan Tanneries
The Tanneries

An essential part of the Moroccan markets was the leather products and Fez has one of the oldest tanneries in the world. A tannery is where all the leather is chemically and mechanically dyed before it is made into the diverse range of products which are later sold in the market place. We both knew the direction of the tanneries however as soon as we were spotted by local we were helpfully escorted to the tanneries; for a fee of course. We were greeted with a handful of mint which was abruptly shoved in our hands which confused us ever so slightly.

We walked up to the balconies and saw the array of ancient tubs with the dyes in each and local men doing backbreaking work as they dyed each piece of fresh leather as if the animal was skinned that morning; possibly because they had been. Then we needed the mint. The smell of the fresh leather and the dyes was quite gag-worthy. A few tourists were spotted gagging as they passed by, it was rather comical really. Tourists would have a sniff of the mint, lower it, raise the camera, get their shot before quickly replacing the mint while gagging on the smell. The experience was certainly one that is an absolute must in the ancient city of Fez and one that me and my nose would never forget.

Tombeaux des Merindes

As we continued to wander we left the Medina and started climbing an endless hill, arriving later at the top of Fez with a view of the entire city at the Tombeaux des Merindes. These tombs were home to ancient Kings of Morocco which have since been raided and only the outer walls remains. It provides locals and tourists with one of the most spectacular views of the city and once again we were moved by the sound of the call to prayer bellowing across the city from left to right.

I had no expectations of what the city of Fez would be like but this ancient city became somewhat of a surprise. The people were friendly, the markets packed with a chaotic business which when you sat back and observed gave it a certain meaning. All of my senses were completely overwhelmed but it was exactly what I was craving; something new and exciting and this was only the beginning of the Moroccan adventure. The best was yet to come.

 

Barcelona, a City Like No Other

Whether visiting Barcelona for the first or fifth time; Barcelona leaves you breathless. The green strip of the Ramblas gives you a Spanish skip in your step and La Boqueria food markets leave your eyes gazing at the endless colourful variety while your mouth salivates over the smell and taste of the fresh produce. Leaving an identifiable mark on the city’s skyline is the wonder of the Sagrada Familia a Basilica like no other, in Barcelona, a city like no other.

Having visited Barcelona severally  times I am still so amazed at how I never grow tired of the city. It offers an abundance of attractions for any traveller with a unique Catalan flare.

If you only do one thing in Barcelona it should be to see the Sagrada Famillia. This Gaudi masterpiece is something to behold and is guaranteed to be something you will remember. As the main attraction in Barcelona it naturally attracts the majority of tourists in the area and the queues can take over an hour. However, if you plan ahead then you can book your tickets online and jump the long line. General admission costs €12 and should you wish to climb one of the soaring towers then that will cost you an additional €6.

Once inside you will be instantly in awe of the meticulous detail and beauty that surrounds you no matter which way you look from the soaring granite columns to the stained glass windows in an array of colours. Allow yourself at least two hours to explore this incredible Basillica and the museum underneath explaining how the Basillica is being built as it is not yet complete.

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A walk or a quick metro ride will get you to the Ramblas and Gothic Quarter in Barcelona. The Gothic Quarter is the perfect place to get yourself lost. The small winding streets lead themselves to small treasures from the old palace walls to historical squares. When you are finished getting lost in the Gothic Quarter it is just a short walk to the Ramblas.

Just as a precaution beware of your belongings when wandering the Ramblas, there are always opportunists around so it is good to be vigilant. I recommend walking down the centre of the Ramblas, at the top there are many small market stalls selling fresh flowers and small souvenirs with department stores and tapas bars lining the sides of the Ramblas. Around halfway down the shopping street are the La Boqueria markets. The only way to explain these markets is to say that it is a sensual overload. From stores with sweets stalls that sell fruit, juice to the fishy back corner. It is a colourful experience that will have you digging for gold euro coins to try the fresh ingredients.

Closer to the bottom of the Ramblas is the more creative section, artists sit in wooden chairs sketching tourists are painting pictures of the beautiful attractions in Barcelona.

When you reach the bottom of the Ramblas you will see a statue of Christopher Columbus pointing out to sea, he is not pointing to the New World, being the Americas but to his home in Italy. Walking along the port area is great to do with street vendors and people on bikes casually riding past.

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If you continue to walk along the port you will eventually end up at the beach. There are numerous activities around including a fernicula ride to the top of Montjuic, tapas bars, bike hire and enough ice cream stores to keep anybody happy.

My final recommendation would be to make your way to Port Olympic, which is around a twenty minute walk from the beach. The port has a huge variety of restaurants where the waiters will try their hardest to pull you in with all sorts of deals and special prices. Usually you can get yourself a three course meal with a glass of Sangria or drink of your choice for around €15.

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Should you wish to experience the Barcelona nightlife then Port Olympic is also the place to be and the party kicks off from around midnight but remember everything in Spain starts late and so you don’t need to worry about getting up too early the next mornimg.

Barcelona is by far one of my favourite cities, it is colourful and has a Spanish culture all of its own that is just waiting to be discovered.

The Real Madrid

From the cobble stone streets, colourful expansive squares where activity buzzes to the black, grey and white of Picasso’s Guernica; Madrid will captivate you in more ways than you might expect from this Spanish capital city.

Having only ever been to Barcelona in Spain I wondered what to expect of this diverse capital and suffice to say I was blown away.

Arriving in the evening with plenty of jet lag my priority was food and bed however I was immediately struck by the beauty of Madrid. Emmerging from the Metro into Puerta del Sol my eyes darted from one building to another. Their elaborate decoration and height reminded me of Vienna. Knowing the Hapsburg’s had an influential reign in this great city made me understand it’s architecture that much more.

Puerta del Sol is adorned with a statue of King Charles III who sits on his horse in the middle of the square keeping a watchful eye over the happenings below. Another statue on one end of the square shows a bear reaching for the Modrono Tree; a heraldic symbol of the city of Madrid.

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Charles III keeping a watchful eye over the city

Surrounding the square are various main streets which allow for a wide variety of stores to spew out onto the street for the tempted visitor.

Spain is know for it’s clothing brands with Mango, Berksha and Zara being some of the many stores available in the surrounding areas.

If you are a big shopper then it is a great idea to explore El Cortes Ingles. This enormous department store truly does have anything you will need. It is so big that it is separated into different stores along the main strip according to categories. A wander through this store won’t cost you anything but a purchase might. El Cortes Ingles stocks designer brands and designer prices. Should you wish to shop without emptying your purse I would recommend Top Shop or the always reliable H&M; while not Spanish in origin it still allows for a few new items in your suitcase without entirely blowing your budget.

A twenty minute walk down Calle de Alcala sends you into the business district of Madrid with the Palacio de Communicaiones immediately drawing your eye. This grand building proudly waving the Spanish flag used to be the headquartersfor the Spanish Post and Telegraphy Company.

The Palace of Communications

A short walk away is the cultural triangle of Madrid. This triangle; made up of Museo Prado, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia and Museo Tyssen Bornemisza contains all the art you need to be completely blown away.

A visit into Museo del Prado is an absolute must and you can either pay €14 during the day for admission or plan your day around a visit between 18:00 and 20:00 and save yourself that €14.

The Museo del Prado has ever changing exhibitions which are included in the admission cost, it also hosts an array of Spanish, French and Dutch works from the likes of Goya, El Greco, Rembrant, Bosch and Raphael.

Should you wish to spend more than two hours quickly rushing through the museum I suggest you pay the admission price and take your time wandering through pieces of art and sculptures which range from the early 11th century all the way through to the Renaissance era and up until the 18th century.

If you are hoping to see art which is a little more modern then the Museo Nacional de Arte Reina Sofia is your best option. Once again you can either pay the €12 admission or arrive between 19:00 and 21:00 and pocket the extra cash.

Reina Sofia contains enough Picasso to leave any art lover satisfied for a lifetime. From the Lady in Blue to Picasso’s most renowned work; Guernica, you will find your jaw slack throughout the museum with your eyes capturing more detail  the longer you stare and the magnificent paintings. The variety of Spanish artists on display in the museum include the likes of Joan Miro and Slavador Dali along with many other local and international artists that will leave you wondering what exactly it was they were smoking when they picked up their paintbrush.

Other recommendations include Retiro Park which allows for a break from the tall city buildings and facades to a well mantained public park where a stroll to the famous Alfonso Monument is an absolute must. The monument hugs a murky blue lake with romantic couples and close friends rowing in small dark blue boats from one end of the lake to the other.

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Alfonso Monument in Retiro Park

The enormous Royal Palace is certainly something to behold. As the largest in all Europe it boasts an unfathomable 3418 rooms. For just €11 you can have a peek into the official residence of the Spanish Royal Family or just walk around the immense building getting a feeling of its sheer size.

Finally food is one of the most integral parts of Spanish culture and it would be silly not to embrace it while in the country’s capital. Madrid is home to one of the oldest Churro restaurants around. A Churro is basically a long cinnamon doughnut but it is not like your average cinnamon doughnut. The place to try these is in the most famous Chocolateria San Gines; open since 1894 they got something right. Their fresh Churros dipped in warm melted chocolate will have you drooling for more. The restaurant is a stones throw away from Puerta del Sol and will only cost you around €3.50 for a plate of 6. Sharing is optional.

Besides stuffing your face with Churros your options include enough tapas to satisfy any size belly accompanied by Paella or a freshly grilled Spanish steak. Your options for food truly are endless and you can wash it down with a large glass or five of Sangria.

Madrid privides any tourist with endless possibilities from museums that take an entire day to pubs that will keep you drinking all night. The atmosphere of this beautiful city is certainly something to behold and is a recommendation for anyone looking to visit Spain.

The Final Countdown-Contiki Training Part Six

It has been nearly a year since Contiki training started and the feeling of finishing that trip is possibly the greatest achievement in my short 23 years on this beautiful planet.

The final stages of the Contiki Training Trip were possibly the most difficult. Following the ‘Zombie Stage’ comes the stage where everything becomes a bit of a blur. Eastern Europe felt so rushed, we travelled through more than one country a day and as soon as we finished studying one we were hurtled into another.

The cities began to look the same and the routine of each day became like that of ‘Ground Hog Day’ just with a different background.

Highlighters marked each completed day and the closer we got to the end the more it began to dawn on me and others that we were going to do this, that we were going to successfully complete training and be signing a contract with Contiki, the World’s number one tour company for 18-35 year olds.

It is the most testing thing I have ever done and one that makes me proud every day. I pushed through with my colleagues and we finished together. Sixty six long days; we were grumpy, tired, emotional and occasionally snapped at each other but all worked endlessly to get through.

So many of my readers are going on this journey themselves. Jumping into the relatively unknown and attempting to land the job that I consider to be the best in the world (I know this may sound cliché but it is true).

To all of you who are on this years training trip or to anybody who is considering it in the future; work hard. Nothing is ever easy and you will be testing to your physical and mental limits. You may find that there will be days that you want to quit and throw in the towel, where getting out of bed seems impossible but really it is not.

Training is designed to test you and just remember that you have already put in some of the hard yards; you have gone through the interviewing process, been accepted and hopefully poured your heart and soul into the assignment.

Contiki saw something in you, a little sparkle and they are giving you a shot, a big opportunity. Show them what you have got and more importantly prove to yourself what you can do.

Give it your all; head down and bottom up, don’t think that you know it all because you most certainly do not. Do what you are told, get the work done and most importantly remember to enjoy yourself.

Training allows you to see some of the most incredible places in all of Europe so wake up each day with a fresh outlook, smile, laugh and stay off of the caffeine tablets!

I won’t say good luck because luck has nothing to do with it, work hard and hopefully I will see you on the road.

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