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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.’
One cannot truly experience a new land without seeing how the locals live. A land far from tourist areas where the pace is slower, the grass is greener and the country really shows you what it is has to offer.
Our fifth day was spent venturing away from the buzz of the beach area and into the archipelago wilderness towards the serene Ubud. The journey from Seminyak took us a good two hours. We had arranged the day before and booked with Bali Eco Cycling.
Our transfer arrived and our driver didn’t speak much English although we wouldn’t have been able to hear him over the loud snore of the engine getting gradually louder as the gears changed. We picked up four more people on the way and ventured from the tourist areas past the little villages and lush green landscapes to Ubud.
We stopped and picked up Weda, our guide for the day. He explained how he used to be a rice farmer and that he was now doing tours to improve his English; which was perfectly comprehensible. With a wide smile and a welcoming face he explained a short history of Bali and certain cultural aspects of Balinese life.
Listening intently we drove the tight road into a national park in the Kintamani area which is home to the active Batur Volcano and the calm Batur Lake. Our snoring van came to a halt at The Lookout Cafe where we were to have some breakfast. The view made me forget all about the void in my stomach and I was taken back by the sheer natural beauty of the area. The Batur Volcano last erupted in the sixties but the fertile land is a blessing and the lake below provides water to the rice paddies in the larger surrounding area.
Eventually after a light breakfast and when I could tear my eyes away from the majestic landscape, it was back into our noisy van to visit a coffee plantation. We were shown a variety of different plants by Weda and told about a type of coffee very unique to Indonsia and the little animal who helps produce it.
Kopi Luwak is the rarest type of coffee around and is produced after a small luwak or civet cat digests the beans allows them to pass through their system and then locals look for the droppings, clean them and roast them. Unfortunately these days the poor little luwaks are just kept in cages and exploited for the sake of a very expensive coffee. Coffee you cannot bring into Australia.
With our tea and coffee experience behind us it was time to start seeing the countryside without the constant grumble of the van. We were trading our four wheels for two and placing a helmet on our heads as we began a 25km ride.
It wasn’t long before we picked up a fair amount of speed as we were continuously travelling downhill and just as I was beginning to get used to the gears on the bike it was time to pull over onto a dirt track to our first stop.
Weda told us that we were going to visit a compound where several families lived and that some of the money from the tour was used to help the family. Walking in we were shown the kitchen. The small fire in the corner had coloured the walls black and the preparation bench was low to the ground. Traditionally in Balinese homes the women cook but Weda explained that it is not exclusively the women who cook and that for Balinese people meal time is something which is enjoyed alone and not in the company of others as Westerners are so used to doing.
Walking out of the kitchen someone caught my eye. There was a small old man who had been following me through the compound. With skin like a well-used leather bag and more wrinkles than a shirt in need of an iron this man muttered to himself. He sat himself on the side of the compound; always muttering to himself and seemingly pointing at nothing at all. Meanwhile around him was a hive of activity where the women were doing all the work weaving banana leaves into decorative shapes and bowls in preparation for the New Year festivities in a few days time.
I couldn’t tear my gaze from this old man. His empty eyes had caught mine full of wonder and I took a photograph of his face, he had a face full of stories and I had to capture it. Once I had I asked Weda about this intriguing man. He told me that he was the crazy man and that when his wife died so did his spirit.
We wandered through the compound and saw the ATM; which is the livestock. The livestock in the compound allow the families to make a small yet steady income. The old man was the only male I saw in the compound all of the other women has busied themselves and there was no barrier on age.
The oldest woman in the compound was 92 and she sat weaving while she gazed off into the distance. It made me wonder what they thought of us, tourists watching them. Encroaching on their daily routine with cameras and a sense of curiosity. This old woman; the grandmother of the compound had captivating eyes the colour of the ocean just after sunrise and age spots covered her face. When we said hello she smiled and gave us a nod all the while her hands never once stopping the intricate banana leaf weave.
It was a humbling experience to see the way that the majority of Balinese people in the rural areas live and how important trade and hard work is to them. Walking out of the compound I turned around one final time to see if I could spot the old man but he was gone.
Peddling down the hill we began seeing wide open spaces with eternal green rice fields, people were working in the fields and children ran to the road to wave frantically and shout ‘hello’ as us, the strangers, passing by in awe.
We stopped in the rice paddies and got to have a little walk through, balancing carefully, so as not to fall in the mud below, we walked on the paths between the paddies. Rice is the staple food for the majority of the global population and to see the work behind something we take so for granted was fascinating.
Weda handed us ponchos and said it was going to rain; without question we popped them on and continued our ride through the countryside. True to his word the heavens opened and a refreshing tropical rain fell. Within minutes we were all soaked but there was something magical about riding in the rain. All the tension and electricity held in the humidity before just dissipated and the cool drops were welcoming with both of us opening our arms and embracing the droplets rolling off of our faces. The path cleared of frantic children, the rice paddies were deserted and had an overwhelming feeling of solitude and happiness.
Our day cycling around the countryside was nearly complete but we needed to have a final lunch stop before the journey home. We drove up to a beautiful restaurant which overlooked yet another rice paddy field and the smell of peanut and chilli filled the air along with the damp ground below from the rain. We sat and indulged on a variety of different dishes all with an Indonesian or South East Asian influence. There was Nasi Goring, similar to fried rice, duck, chicken satay with a tofu dish and of course fresh steamed rice.
Paying only US$40 for our whole day with Bali Eco Cycling; we were amazed at everything that had been included and I really would highly recommend them if you plan on going to Bali.
We eventually said our goodbyes to Weda our wonderful guide and began on the winding road away from the dense forest and green fields back towards the brown sandy beaches of Seminyak on the outer edge of the island. I began reflecting on the morning and everything that we had done. It had been spectacular, not just this day but all the previous days in Bali too. It is beautiful to see how the people are so gentle, friendly and welcoming.
Our last days in Bali were spent embracing the culture, rituals and traditions of the island. We sat and watched the sun set over the ocean, we laughed and we experienced a place of true beauty which captivated me and left me wanting to stay.
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.
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.
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.
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 tranquillity and friendliness of the Balinese people and the culture breeds an air of calm which is something so often lost in our crazy lives.
Our third day in Bali was spent trying to regain some of the calm.
A morning spent at the pool was certainly what was needed; we sipped on a freshly opened coconut with the water inside sweetened with cane sugar and fresh lime. The pool area a perfect place to catch up on books which have been waiting for holiday reading.
After a lazy morning it was time for an Indonesian lunch feast. The smell of Nasi goreng with chicken satay and prawn crackers filled my nostrils and as hungry as I was I tried to abstain from devouring it in one go. Nasi goreng is like an Asian fried rice. It has legumes and small pieces of chicken throughout with fresh chilli.
After our Indonesian feast we decided it was time to be pampered. A one hour Balinese massage was on the cards and at AUS $8.50 for an hour it was difficult to deny. A Balinese massage is the perfect way to relax; it uses a firm hand and comes complete with head scratch and the light fragrance of frangipani oil smothered all over the body.
Floating away from our massage it was time for a little adventure. We hoped in the car with Mr Pasak, our driver, and we were off to tick something off of the bucket list; a yoga class in Bali.
This wasn’t going to just be any yoga class though but one which overlooked a Balinese sunset on the ocean atop a cliff surrounded by forest in Uluwatu.
We drove up just in the nick of time to Uluwatu Surf Villas. The setting was so serene and the yoga class, while challenging, allowed us to take a moment to reflect on our breathing and all things calm. After an hour and a half on the mat watching the sunset over the Indian Ocean with the damp smell of the forest it was time to head back to Seminyak.
The road seemed quieter in the evening but even so there was an audience on the side streets as traffic swirled in every direction like a firework placed in the ground but instead of the slight smell of gunpowder it was the smell of exhaust fumes.
Arriving back in Seminyak we strolled to the strip of restaurants along the beach and popped ourselves at La Plancha. This trendy little restaurant catches your eye more than the others with its splash of colour. Laid out along the beach are beanbags of every colour with umbrellas to match where light bulbs hang above and the staff wear Hawaiian inspired shirts. We sat ourselves down, ordered a Bintang, enjoyed the calm surroundings with a light meal while listening to live music and toasting to another day in paradise.
No travel experience is complete without submerging into the culture and the real hub of any city. You need to be able to work your way through the arteries to the beating heart where everywhere you turn there is something new and different.
Our second day in Bali was spent wandering the arteries to the stores in Seminyak. We couldn’t only keep to the walkway simply because the unstable ground below would have meant a sprained ankle. So we edged onto the road being cautious to not disturb the scooter drivers behind us who were already swerving to avoid vehicles and trucks.
The main streets in Seminyak buzz and are filled with the occasional toot of a horn. In Bali they seem to toot their horn to allow drivers in front to know that they are going to pass them and not a minute goes by without hearing a horn toot. Tourists end up dodging family filled scooters or receive the occasional swipe as they pass by. With tourists dodging left and right it does become somewhat of a quick step, this is also coupled with the fact that scattered along the store fronts are the daily offerings or what the locals call Canang Sari.
These offerings are given three times a day to the gods and inside a small woven basket; made from banana leaves with a light green colour to them, you will find an assortment of little goods which the locals offer to the gods. In many there were small flowers, little bits of food, money or cigarettes and most of the time there is incense burning out of the side of the offering. It is a beautiful tradition and one you are sure to see while in Bali as the locals place them in small shrines outside homes and businesses and they sprinkle water over them to give thanks.
The only problem with these daily offerings is that they often sit just outside the store fronts and so this makes it a challenge, while dodging the scooters and staring in bewilderment at the seemingly crazy driving, to not step on one of these offerings.
It is virtually impossible and when you do eventually step on one, because it is bound to happen, you have an overwhelming feeling of guilt. Guilt because you have essentially squashed a beautiful ritual and that karma is definitely not in your favour. The locals just smile and laugh however some give you a blank stare as if to say “You stupid bloody tourist”.
Walking past the stores you hear the shop owners bargaining with the tourists for an already inexpensive item and every second store is offering a massage or a manicure which cost less than a Happy Meal.
We wandered into a small store and had ourselves a manicure and pedicure with the ladies inside chatting away and telling us all about life in Bali. The time ran away with us which seems to happen often here on the island and we returned to our hotel to get ready for something a little bit fancy, a dinner at Ku De Ta.
We took our first taxi ride while in Bali and it was a terrifying yet hysterical experience which saw a one way alley become a temporary two-way street; where if cars did end up in a stand-off one would eventually give in and reverse just as far as necessary to allow for the other vehicle to pass but not before the buzz of a handful of scooters dodged their way through with fine technique. I found myself covering my eyes and hoping for the best as my heart raced a little quicker.
Ku De Ta is a well-known destination for sunset drinks and fine-dining and it certainly was an amazing experience where there was no holding back on the courses, all of our chips were on the table and we were ready to feast. The food was simply spectacular and the cocktails were something to be desired. I tried the Rumpelstiltskin Cocktail which a rum, ginger beer, Kaffir lime lychee and lemon grass which made it refreshing. To start I enjoyed steamed prawn and snapper dumplings with wilted cabbage, tofu and coriander. My main meal was a lamb shoulder with an eggplant puree, red braised vegetables and chimichurri accompanied by a glass of 2012 Pinot Noir. I thought my stomach was going to burst but I managed to fit in a small home-made magnum ice cream. It was coated in milk chocolate with cashew nuts and peanuts with a slight banana, caramel and vanilla flavour to the ice cream.
It was fair to say that at AUS$100 it was a pretty good deal. We rolled out of Ku De Ta, a little more bloated than when we had walked in and next was the one way hell road back to the hotel. This time I kept my eyes open because it was a thrill making my way back through the arteries to the heart of Seminyak.
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.
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.
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.
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 ‘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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
It is time for you to embrace the idea of living on the road and being proud of your inner pack mule. Taking all that you have and trying to fit it into one suitcase can be a very daunting challenge. You will need to keep your wits about you because you cannot take everything you want along; especially not if you are going to be living out of a suitcase for who knows how long.
I have been asked by several budding Tour Managers to write about what to pack and wear when faced with the prospect of joining Contiki .
Here are the top 10 things you need;
1.A Good Suitcase- now this may sound obvious to some but trust me when I say that spending the extra money is well worth it. Go with a brand you know; I spent a fortune on my little green Samsonite machine and I have not had a spot of bother. When deciding between a backpack or a suitcase with wheels; I would opt for the one with wheels and don’t go old school and choose 2 wheels, be fancy and take 4, your body will thank you.
2.Wikipedia Offline- this handy offline encyclopedia saved my life more times than I can keep count. Free WIFI is time consuming to find and when given 5 minutes to research something you never thought existed, Wikipedia can be a helpful tool. I understand that you shouldn’t always rely on Wikipedia for your information but it can help with a basic understanding. You can download Wikipedia Offline onto Android and Apple devices. It is free for Android devices and costs around $10 for Apple devices. It is well worth it; just bear in mind the initial download can take some time.
3.Power board– charging more than one device can be made easy with a power board. It also decreases the amount of international adaptors you need to carry. They have all sorts of fancy ones these days; some have USB ports to make charging phones and tablets a breeze.
4. Running Shoes– not comfy walking shoes; running shoes, you will be running, a lot.
5. Passport Copies- every good traveller knows that they should have at least two copies of their passports hidden in the lining of their suitcase. You are no exception because on the road your passport is your life. Having copies ensures that if something goes wrong you have a copy to fall back on. It is also a good idea to keep copies of your travel insurance details with your passport copies.
6. Enough underwear and socks- again this may sound simple but there is not much time to do washing while on the road and nobody wants to wear underwear more than once.
7. Washing powder- if you do find yourself running short on underwear and socks it is a good idea to keep a small tub of washing powder in your suitcase that you can hand-wash a pair of knickers or jocks if crisis strikes. Run out of washing power? Use shampoo.
8. Rainproof jacket- getting stuck in the rain is not always very fun so make sure you have something relatively light and waterproof to stop you getting soaked.
9. Multivitamins- travelling can tire you out and if you are training to become a Tour Manager you are always going to be tired. You also aren’t eating the way you normally do and are consuming copious amounts of alcohol. Having a multivitamin that you take each morning can give you the boost you need; even if that boost is just to stay awake all day.
10. First Aid Kit- I do not mean a huge bag with hundreds of different drugs but rather something small that you keep for yourself. The key is to NEVER tell clients you have medication because ultimately you become a free pharmacy and when you get sick you are left with nothing. Let them go to a pharmacy on any street and you ensure you have the following in your personal first aid kit:
Cold and Flu tablets
Travel sickness tablets
Antiseptic cream-Betadine does the job
What to wear on training
With regards to what to wear on the training trip with Contiki; ensure that while looking professional you have items of clothing that are comfortable and follow the issued list.
On training I wore jeans or high waisted work pants and a nice polo shirt or blouse with either black ballet flats or closed shoes. Blouses are great and you can get some that cut at the shoulder or lower. As it got slightly warmer I would wear a nice day dress of a moderate length or tailored shorts again with a polo shirt or blouse.
Ladies take a couple of nice dresses along and perhaps a little bit of make-up for the evenings when you go out. Heels can stay at home, ballet flats will suffice. A nice blazer is always handy to have to dress up an outfit.
Gents ensure you have more than one collared long sleeve work shirt and one pair of smart works pants with black shoes and socks to match.
Do not stress too much about what to wear on training; you all end up wearing the same thing over and over again and trust me when I say that it is the least of your worries.
Armed with all of this knowledge you are ready for life on the road and to embrace your inner pack mule. You best get packing!