Everything You Should Know Before Eating Southern Soul Food

Eating good Southern Soul Food is possibly one of the greatest things in the world. Here are a few handy things to know before you gorge yourself silly.

Southern Soul Food will reduce you to tears. As you bite into each dish you cannot believe how good everything tastes.

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The Soulful Spread.

Stretchy trousers are necessary. Tight jeans become a hazard as unbuttoning them on a full belly could mean the button flies off like a rocket in any possible direction.

No matter how hard you try you will leave feeling completely stuffed. You will need to stop but the overwhelming urge to continue eating will be too powerful.

Southern Soul Food is best when shared with good company. Company that is as happy to be a glutton as you are.

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With our lovely host; Mrs Wilkes in Savannah, Georgia.

The fresh, hot cornbread are like clouds in your mouth but don’t eat too many as you will fill up too quickly.

When the fried chicken arrives; pause, embrace the moment, listen to choirs of heavenly angels sing and remember that you are about to taste the most wonderful thing known to man.

Soul food is good for your soul not your waistline. Constant eating of this irresistible cuisine will ensure lard forms in place you never wanted it to.

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Savannah, Georgia.

Allow yourself to taste every single side dish. There will be many and at first it may be overwhelming but unless you try each dish you will not have had a true Southern meal. Here are some of the sides you could expect on your freshly pressed table cloth; mashed potatoes, mac & cheese, beans, gravy, cabbage, butter beans, black-eyed peas, squash, candied yams, pickled beets,  Okra and tomatoes, potato salad, coleslaw, fried green tomatoes, snap peas, apple salad, macaroni salad and English Peas and noodles to name just a few.

Eating Southern food is best down in the South of United States. Find a place that provides that homely feel.

Leave space for dessert. You may think that you cannot have another mouthful but that piece of pie or banana pudding beg to differ.

 

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.’

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.

Why Wanderers Wander

Movement is natural, change is imminent and the longing to do both constantly seems instinctual.

Many ask why we wander and how it is that we can forever be chasing the horizon without a fixed address, with no plans of slowing down or stopping but perhaps only ever slightly changing the route from time to time.

The Sahara Desert- Morocco
The Sahara Desert- Morocco

It is an addiction at its very core. Just like any other addiction it takes hold, enticing you to want more and rendering you helpless to its grasp. At the same time it is the sort of addiction which gives you a sense of freedom; empowering you in a way which allows you to feel true happiness, even if just for a moment, no matter your surroundings.

We wander because it is normal although it may not be normal to those who stay put in what society considers ‘normal’. We wander to break the mould, to take ‘normal’ and to tip it upside down.

Shibuya Crossing- Tokyo
Shibuya Crossing- Tokyo

Essentially we are misunderstood souls searching for something which we temporarily call home; even though we often could not be further away from home. We live for the moments where we feel true happiness; whether that be watching fellow misunderstood souls singing in a bar for the love of it and not for the applause, eating local delicacies on the streets, noticing small details on a historic artwork which completely changes its meaning or waiting for the moment when we are alone and have an opportunity to enjoy the silence in our ever changing world.

We live and wander from one happy moment to the next because that what really matters in our life; being happy.

Geirangerfjord-Norway
Geirangerfjord-Norway

We crave going to new places and venturing beyond the tourist spots heaving with bodies. Not because we have seen it before but because we want a deeper understanding of our ever changing surroundings and what makes them so unique. We walk on the edge of the pathway to get to that hidden cafe a little quicker, we take the quiet streets, we notice the street art and don’t have a favourite lunch spot or favourite city because that would be too difficult a choice.

Many people say that wanderers are lucky. That is true; we see some of the most diverse and interesting places in the world. Our best moments are plastered for the world to see but just like anyone we have numerous bad days while wandering and working with situations where everything that could go wrong does.

Gullfoss- Iceland
Gullfoss- Iceland

Working in an industry where wandering and moving becomes a part of everyday life allows us to appreciate the little things, recognise those happy moments and live the life we made happen with plenty of determination and hard work.

We don’t know where our next step will take us or what the future holds just yet and while it can be a scary thought it is thrilling and exciting. We know that we wander to escape but that eventually we too will stop changing our horizons or chasing a new and exciting location. We will eventually live the ‘normal’ life where movement and change become a little more difficult because of life’s inevitable commitments. We stop chasing a temporary home and find a place we can be comfortable.

The Eiffel Tower-Paris
The Eiffel Tower-Paris

I am not sure the instinctual urge to move will ever disappear entirely; it is part of who we are. We are wanderers and when we do eventually stop we will have stories and memories that most people only ever dream of having and that we were happy to have lived.

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.

To Live the Suitcase Life

So many people seem to call themselves well-travelled these days but many seem to live something they imagine to be the suitcase life.

Once you have lived out of a suitcase for over two or five years then perhaps you can call yourself reasonably travelled.

The idea of being well-travelled does not mean staying in 5 Star hotels and having mummy and daddy pay for it all. It means; getting lost and not knowing which direction to turn, scraping pennies for the £3 meal deal at Tescos, having all of your belongings stolen in a land where not a soul speaks English and waking up in the middle of the night with a swollen face from the bed bugs who have bitten you in the early hours.

I am well-travelled and this is something I would not trade for the world.

There are so many ‘travellers’ and impressionable bloggers out there who call themselves well-travelled but who have no real idea what it truly means.

In my job I travel every day and I take people for whirls around Europe. I enhance their experiences by showing them the time of their lives. Some of these people are what most consider to be well-travelled but really they are only beginning to get their first glimpse of what real travelling truly means. They have budgets and commitments which anyone who is travelling should have. For many of these temporary suitcase travellers they really do have the time of their lives, I know this to be true as many have said that they felt liberated, free and happy with the people they have slowly become by travelling over time by discovering new cities and cultures. They live the temporary suitcase life but ultimately return to normality where life is comfortable and constant; something we humans crave.

I like to think that I show them the real world and not some jaded image of how people think people should be travelling these days.

The real suitcase life means hanging around a laundromat until your washing is dry enough that it won’t smell like mould in the next 3 days, it means wearing flip-flops in the shower and hearing the person snoring in the bed across the dorm as you imagine throwing a pillow at their head; and in some instances you do. These descriptions merely scratch the surface of a real suitcase traveller.

I cross countries every two to three days and yes in my job I get a snapshot of cities; but these cities I return to, the locals become friends and the customs become ordinary.

To live the suitcase life means to you become a local; you are greeted in the language of the country you are in because you are seen as one of them. You don’t stand out and flash your Prada handbags and free top-notch accommodation because all that does is scream ignorant tourist and spoilt little brat.

You spend your free days (which are few and far between) searching for something new to do where the tourists do not exist and where you feel as though you fit the mould of a local. Your holidays are spent scouring any possible resource for the best bargain to the most remote place you know. It becomes a new adventure to add to the never-ending list you have not written down but have scrambled in your head with everything else you wish to achieve before you have to get “serious about life”.

To live the suitcase life is not for everyone but rather for those with the spirit for it. It is for those who have nothing to prove to everyone else. Nothing to show off to the endless followers with floppy hats claiming that they are wanderlust when really all they are is delusional. Delusional about reality and what it really means to travel.

I salute all who really embrace the suitcase life and all the hard times that go with it. I admire those even more who take those hard times with their suitcase and who make friends with people that they never thought they could, who live life on budget they never thought that they could manage, who fall in love with remarkable cities and who see the world with new eyes because they have truly travelled and know that they have gained a world of experience from it. To live the suitcase life is to take anything that comes your way and to turn it all into noteworthy memories and times that you shall never forget.

If you really live the suitcase life then you know what I am talking about because you are in it, living it and breathing it because the normality of life that humans crave does not fit us. We break the mould each day, we become locals in several countries because we know how they live. Everyday we get up and our suitcases are packed and ready to go, ready to see what awaits us at our next destination.

To those who truly live the in this never ending moving world that I speak of; go and make memories while living your suitcase life because it certainly is the best time of your life.

 

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.

 

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.

Enter Zombie Phase-Contiki Training Part Five

We have all had those days where getting out of bed seems near impossible; where turning over and going back into a heavy dose trumps doing anything else, your body aches, you feel heavy and your brain is wondering if you are dreaming or if you are awake. NO! You are not dreaming, get up, GET UP!

You think that is bad for one or two days? Well try having that same feeling every single day for 66 days. Surviving on very little sleep was probably the biggest challenge for most of us on Contiki training. It allowed us to enter a phase that most dare not enter for fear that they will never return; the Zombie Phase.

WAKE UPNow when I say Zombie I don’t mean the human eating kind; with rags for clothes, red eyes and arms directly in front as they wander in your direction and you run screaming. No I mean the kind where everything is an effort and where each minute you are fighting sleep with your eyelids feeling weighted and the pen in your hand slipping off your sheet of paper.

You may be wondering how this is humanly possible? Living on less than four hours each night, running around cities all day, consuming more information than you every thought you could. The truth is I have no idea how I did it.

If training taught me one thing it was that I would be able to push myself further than I ever thought I could. Getting out of bed each morning was agony and having to endure the same belittlement and anxiety at the thought of having to do a speech, I may not have got round to the night before, was horrifying. So many days I felt myself living for the moment that I could fall into bed, absolutely exhausted and slip into a deep sleep that if it were up to me would last an eternity.

Sleepy Lucas
Sleepy Lucas

Each drive day there was always one person who would nod off and we each had a strategy to not get caught. Firstly you needed the help of your buddy, the person sitting next to you. You would inform them that you were going to try and grab a quick micro sleep.

Micro sleep:

Noun

Defined by all Contiki trainees as a recurring period of between 2 and 10 minutes on a Contiki coach in which the nervous system is inactive, the eyes closed, the postural muscles relaxed, and consciousness practically suspended until violently woken by your buddy.

Secondly you needed to make sure you looked like you were doing something. The trick was to deceive your trainer. We did this by making sure our papers were on our lap, pen in hand, looking down to ensure we looked like we were working.

Lastly you had to be quiet about it; snoring would instantly give you away and if you looked odd or in the least bit funny; you risked alerting fellow trainees who would giggle, point and take photos of you as they tried to stick their finger up your nose.

Unfortunately sleeping on training is not allowed and the violent shove you got from your buddy was enough to alert you that the trainer is looking your way and that the pen, which a second ago lay limp in your hand, needed to be scribbling down something mildly relative to European subject matter.

The most entertaining part of my day was watching others take their micro sleep. Heads fell back and tongues flailed to the side, all while our pens were resting on our pages with tiny words scribbled down, slowly forming a long solid blue line from the minute we began falling asleep. I watched my buddy draw on his own hand for a solid four minutes while falling asleep, convinced he was still awake and writing an incredible history.

Ian working hard
Ian working hard

The Zombie Phase was made worse by some with the use of ‘No Doz’; a caffeine tablet to help relieve mental fatigue and drowsiness, helping you stay alert and awake. That is all fine and well, until you have been living off of caffeine tablets for more than two weeks.

You have endless shakes, paranoia, little sleep and a huge crash an hour after consumption. One Contiki trainee has told me she thought that they were going to kill her by the end, causing her to break out into spontaneous fits of tears, pull out her hair and vomit on a constant basis; not pretty. My advice; avoid all of that kind of stuff and ensure you are eating healthy and opt for coffee rather than a tablet solution.

Entering the Zombie Phase sounds frightening and alarming; I can assure you it is but that is the time where you need to push harder than before. You need to try and stay awake, pay attention and absorb everything around you. One thing I wish I had done was to pay more attention on training.

Enter Zombie Phase
Enter Zombie Phase

Prioritise your time on the coach and work as hard as you can, leaving the late nights for what they are meant for; much needed rest before that alarm goes off and the Zombie Phase starts all over again.

10 Lessons Learnt On the Road

From putting on your ‘big girl’ panties, to letting go of the tight knit control you have on your life. Packing everything into a suitcase to pursue a life on the road is not for everyone but once experienced you learn a few lessons about who you really are and the things that you can do, even if you have never thought you could.

Here is what made the cut of the 10 most important things learnt on the road:

1. Put your ‘big girl’ panties on

Nobody does big girl panties like Bridget
Nobody does big girl panties like Bridget

Just like Bridget Jones; we sometimes need to wear our big girl panties. Why might you ask? Well it is not so we can have a hunky Hugh Grant discover them and be absolutely mortified. No, it is because he won’t always be around. You may have to do some things on your own; cart your own suitcase across a city you have never seen, deal with people who may not have any inclination to help you or to be friendly and because the people you love are not always there for a hug or an old-fashioned whinge.

2. Things don’t always go as planned

That’s right, this means that you won’t always be where you need to be on time. You cannot control each and every detail because let’s face it folks; shit happens. It happens to the best of us; flights get delayed, traffic can set you back hours and public holidays can throw a spanner in the works. As a control and planning freak with compulsive OCD this can make you tear your hair out, chew your nails to the bottom of their nail beds and develop a nervous twitch in your right eye. Here is the thing, as good as you think you are at planning, you can’t do anything about it. Sit back in the airport and watch the passengers go by, relax in the car and be thankful it’s not you in the car wreck and join the festivities in the public holiday parade.

3. How to packPacking

Spending your life on the road sure does help you prioritise and the four extra pairs of shoes, hair straightener, nail kit, make up brushes and full bottle of mouth wash belong at home. Think practical, this may be difficult but you must persevere because you do not want to be carting around five extra kilograms each day when you don’t use it. A handy trick is to take everything you think you should pack and halve it, then you are nearly there now go and put the extra shoes back in the cupboard.

4. Relationships, really?

Some people can do it and hats off to them but unfortunately in this day and age there aren’t many people who would be willing to wait around. Especially while you galavant around the globe with selfies in the most exotic places while they sit in an office and turn green with envy. It is difficult for both parties and often results in a teary mess that can be avoided. They say that distance makes the heart grow fonder and if you are willing to try then go for it and good luck to you.

5. Be spontaneous, you can do it.

Put fear aside because there is not enough space for it in your suitcase. Jump in, have experiences and make memories that will last a lifetime. If you think that you can do it you are halfway, now you need to do it. Sometimes there is nothing better than being spontaneous and seeing where it is you end up.

6. Enjoy and appreciate the little things

Learning to appreciate the little things in life is a very important thing to learn. It’s sometimes about sitting in a park and watching an old couple walk past, children playing and laughing or having a conversation with a new friend you have just made. You don’t always have to be doing big things to see the beauty in the little things.

7. Patience is really a virtueTake what you need

The more patience you learn the more you can appreciate. it doesn’t help getting your knickers in a twist because you don’t understand what is going on; sometimes you need to wait and all will be revealed in time. Be patient with yourself too, life n the road is not easy and sometimes it can take a while to adjust and learn things about yourself.

8. You are not the centre of the universe

Get out of you bubble that only you occupy because there is no need for it. In fact, burst that bubble entirely, get out of your comfort zone and realise it is not only you that matters. Life on the road teaches you to adapt and make new friends. You learn that there are other people in the world that matter and the friendships you make on the road are often the pure and last.

9. Call me cultured

Travelling can be an annihilation to the senses, overwhelming and fascinating all at the same time. Exploring new places and cultures helps you grow as a person. It allows for a common understanding of humankind and what makes each of us tick. You learn to accept people for who they are even if that means that you are sometimes perplexed by their customs.

10. Compassion

We aren’t all fortunate to see what the big wide world has to offer. You see what others who are less fortunate than you have to go through on a daily basis and you think yourself lucky that you don’t have to worry about what they do. It teaches you to be compassionate towards others whether you like it or not and you learn things about yourself that you never thought possible.

A life of endless travel will enrich your life in more ways than anyone could ever imagine; whether or not you take the step out the door is all up to you

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