Gaudí’s canvas: Barcelona

My trip to Barcelona recently in March 2017 began on a sour note.  I was on a 2-week whirlwind tour of Spain- a country that I had been aching to visit for the last 7 years. My travel agent had sold me a tour package under the garb of it being ‘very culturally enlightening’. It was heading towards the end of the first week and we had covered the Basque and Navarra regions. But I hadn’t personally come across anything that had blown my mind, or excited me to my core. Our entry into Barcelona on a dull rainy late afternoon only made me feel worse. I was really beginning to think whether the trip was worth the hype.

But I was glad that Barcelona proved me wrong.

If I had to describe Barcelona in one word, it would be quirky. The city quite clearly has Antoni Gaudí’s legacy written all over it. Gaudí (1852-1926) was Spain’s famous architect and interior designer, whose ideas and creations are still considered one of the most unique in the world- quite simply because he defied conventions. At a time when the world was obsessed with staid Victorian and Revival architecture, Gaudí’s work spoke of a union between nature and religion. As a result, his works feature ergonomic designs, recycled materials, symbolism and dazzling colours.

The effect is breathtaking.

Park Güell, for example, looks like something right out of Alice in Wonderland.

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Atop Park Güell’s amphitheater terrace, overlooking the rest of Barcelona

Park Güell was initially designed by Gaudí as a living area for the city’s elite on Barcelona’s Carmel Hill. He had conceptualised it with the idea of humans living amidst nature- a simple communal life, away from the smoky atmosphere of the then- newly industrialised Barcelona. The original plan was for 60 families to live in the area, with each family being allotted a triangular piece of land. However, there were certain conditions that the families had to agree upon in order to maintain the fragile balance between man and nature. Families could only build over one-sixth of their alloted land and these plots’ positions were predetermined in order to prevent obstructing sunlight as well as the city’s view. Such rigid rules meant that even though the location was highly lucrative, none of the elite families wanted to build there. In the end, it was Gaudí himself and Count Güell who moved in there with their respective families.

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Gaudi’s house in Park Guell
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Greek Doric columns in the lower court, which also served as a marketplace. The roof actually formed the amphitheater mentioned above.
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Gaudi’s work often featured recycled materials. The roof of the lower court utilises broken ceramic items, like teacups and saucers.
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Top left depicts one of the many walkways winding through the park. Bottom left and right photos depict the same feature: the communal washing area. Notice the “washing women” in the bottom left photo. Also notice the ergonomic design of the “washing board” on the right, resembling sea waves.  Nature was one of the strongest influences on Gaudi’s work. It is not a coincidence the manner in which these rocks were arranged on the features- the aim was to make them look like tree barks.
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Another example of employing an ergonomic design: Gaudi made a workman sit on the wet cement of these benches of the amphitheater. The workman’s body moulded the shape of wet cement, which was then used to model the rest of the benches. The zigzag design of the benches ensured privacy in conversations, even though it was a public space.

Gaudí’s famous masterpiece is La Sagrada Família (The Sacred Family). Its construction began in early 1882 and it is still nowhere near completion! As a cathedral, it does not have a brooding, orthodox character. Instead, the sculpted exterior is full of lively details about the life of Prophet Jesus (peace be upon him), from Christianity’s perspective.

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The nativity side of La Sagrada Familia
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The nativity scene on the facade of the cathedral
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The differences between the nativity side and the passion side of the cathedral are striking. The passion side is nowhere near as intricate, but instead, reflects the sombre mood of the event.
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Even though these sculptures are far from being “conventional”, Gaudi has been extremely particular about them emoting through their facial expressions and body language. The muscular strain on this sculpture signifies the physical exhaustion leading up to the crucifixion.

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The interior design allows a sense of freshness to permeate through via the skillful use of natural light and bright colours from stained glass. It is vast, spacious and delightfully airy.

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The nave of the cathedral
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The columns in this cathedral are shaped to resemble tree branches
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                                    View of a sunny Barcelona from the Passion Tower.                                      Out of its four towers, La Sagrada Familia has two towers on each side which offer brilliant views of the city at a height of 65 metres. The elevator gets you up, but you do have to climb down yourself. The descent itself is narrow and highly   claustrophobic. The stairs are made of stone that offers little or no grip. 

There are other examples of Gaudí’s buildings dotted throughout Barcelona, like La Pedrera/ Casa Milá, Casa Batlló, Torre Bellesguard and Casa Vicens to name a few. And there’s always next time. 

Exploring Pune: Mumbai’s lesser known cousin

India is undoubtedly a very interesting country to explore but I never knew I could use that word to describe Pune, the city of my birth. As a yearly pilgrimage, I had always been visiting Pune to catch up with my relatives but apart from that, the city held no interest for me.

However, my visit to India this year coincided with Ganesh Chaturthi- the biggest festival of Maharashtra (one of the 29 states of India, whose capital is Mumbai and whose second largest city is Pune). With public holidays in sight, my relatives and I hatched a plan to spend an entire day exploring the main part of this city.

Founded in 8th century AD, Pune only gained importance in 1700s with the birth of Shivaji- Maharashtra’s famous ruler. Pune’s second illustrious moment in history came about when the Peshwas (prime ministers) of Shivaji’s grandson Shahuji became the main residents of this city. The rise of Pune as a sophisticated urban dwelling under Peshwas continued, with many significant contributions made by them in the field of architecture, culture, art, and religion. Many of the trademarks of today’s Maharashtrian culture bear Peshwas’ copyright. It goes without saying that the Peshwas were able to maintain such exorbitant lifestyle because of their successful military campaigns to different parts of India.

The former residence of Peshwas, called Shaniwar wada (Saturday mansion), forms one of the principal highlights of any visit to Pune. An untimely fire lasting for about 15 days in the year 1828 unfortunately completely demolished this mostly teak wood built mansion, making it hard for tourists imagine its actual former glory. The only traces left now are the formidable exterior walls, the colossal entrance gate, stone foundation of the mansion and of course, your imagination as you navigate through throngs of people.

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Main part of the wada as seen from Dilli Darwaza (Delhi Gate)

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A big lunch is necessary to replenish the energy spent walking around this enormous wada, and so my relatives and I headed over to FC Road in the Deccan suburb of Pune- 7 minutes away from the wada minus traffic, 25 minutes away with traffic. The entire length of this road is dotted with restaurants serving a variety of delectable fare. For something completely different, try “Cafe Goodluck” for Parsi cuisine-the most underrated type of Indian cuisine (more on that later). Simple unassuming atmosphere, cheap prices, and big variety describe this place perfectly. Their bun-maska (specially made humungous buns slathered with melt-in-mouth soft butter) with Irani chai and biryani are out of this world. It is an absolute favourite of Pune dwellers, so be prepared to wait in long lines at any reasonable hour of the day. To beat the rush, instead of having lunch you could have a big Parsi breakfast before heading over to Shaniwar wada. 

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 Cafe Goodluck est 1935. Photo courtesy: http://thegoldensparrow.com/opinions/restore-the-past-glory
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Delicious bun maska omelette
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The famous Parsi breakfast combo: Bun maska with Irani chai

If mid-afternoon slumber doesn’t take over, there is plenty of cheap shopping to do along FC Road and Hong Kong lane that comes off it. The shops range from hole-in-the-wall-super-cloistered wooden shacks to proper showrooms, with items mostly ranging from clothing to accessories to footwear. Be prepared to haggle.

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                FC Road , Deccan.                                                                                                                                                                Photo courtesy: www.cityshor.com & http://shoppinglanes.com/pune/fc-road

While it might not be everyone’s “city of dreams”, Pune has its own charm that works on you slowly as you get to know this ambitious city. It is a place where history still echoes alongside technology; a place that is still considered the seat of Maharashtrian culture yet it is also possible to find nightlife as enticing as Mumbai. Suffice to say that while the soul of Maharashtra may reside in Mumbai, the heart still beats in Pune. 

The soul of Mumbai: Gateway of India

“Aap ka naam Mohammad hai?” (Is your name Mohammad?), I double check with the driver as I sit inside my Uber taxi that I had booked to do some last minute sightseeing in Mumbai. “Jee” (Yes), the driver responds as we drive off to see the city’s most iconic destination, the Gateway of India. I casually ask the driver how long it would take us to get there and he replies after checking his GPS “teen ghante” (three hours). My jaw literally drops. 25kms in 3 hours?! And it was already 3pm…

Tip number 1 for anyone travelling to Mumbai: please start your day well in advance, even if you are to cover short distances (25 kms is short by Australian standards). This megalopolis is home to over 22 million people (nearly the same population as Australia) crammed in an area of 603 km². The population density is immense and the traffic is notoriously slow, at any given time of the day. 

I have no choice but to accept my fate of having to sit in the taxi forever, just to see one landmark for half an hour and then Uber it back to my hotel just in time for dinner with an old friend. However, after a “mere” 1.5 hours of people watching and small-talking with my driver, I arrive at my destination. 

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The majestic Gateway of India standing amongst its humble sea of admirers

Walking through a long line of security check, the Gateway of India appears like tall, graceful sovereign ruling over its common subjects. The crowd is even more dense in this area, I note. Tip number 2 for anyone visiting Mumbai: keep your personal belongings under your DIRECT supervision. Don’t let your bag or backpack dangle off your shoulder. Pull it forward and keep one arm over it. You can relax a bit more when you get away from the crowds (which might just be your hotel room in Mumbai).    

Gateway of India was built by the British in 1924 to commemorate King George V’s visit to India in 1911. It faces Mumbai Harbour from Wellington Pier, also known as Apollo Bunder. The architecture of this building, known as Indo-Saracenic, is one of the most distinct styles of architecture to be ever found, for it symbolises the intermarriage between Indian Mughal and British Gothic design. The result is a building that has both domes and minarets as well as cusped arches. While this particular building leans more towards its Indian heritage, there are other buildings in Mumbai that have a greater degree of Gothic character with features like traceries, spires and stained glass. Of this, the main train station of Mumbai known as Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, is a great example. 

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Jali work: net like geometric patterns are very characteristic of Mughal architecture
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Construction of this building utilises the locally found Basalt stone
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The inside remains surprisingly devoid of any design intricacies

Gateway of India is one of the most entertaining places for people watching. Every day is a festival of sorts here: families and friends on their day out; amateur photographers trying to earn a quick buck by persuading tourists to pose; street vendors and touts selling spicy bhelpuri, chana, balloons and all kinds of trinkets. Also pickpocketers. Beware. This really is the place to be if you want to observe the character of Mumbai. Shame I did not take any portrait photos. 

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Gateway of India from Mumbai Harbour

Cover photo courtesy: https://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/LocationPhotoDirectLink-g304554-d321412-i169264241-Chhatrapati_Shivaji_Terminus-Mumbai_Bombay_Maharashtra.html

Cure for my nostalgia: Moroccan Mint Tea

Today has been one of those serene, slow-paced days where all priorities and lists take a backseat and one seamlessly floats through. It’s a Wednesday, but I haven’t been to work since Monday. All thanks to a sore throat and some clamorous pre-wedding shenanigans over the weekend that culminated in me losing my voice. Entirely. I’d be pretty useless as a pharmacist if I couldn’t do the one thing that I am paid to do: talking shit about drugs.

Perth is rolling into October, which means spring has officially arrived. As I opened the windows, I could feel the excitement of being outdoors that approaches with spring. Which reminded me that I needed to do a new post. 

Monday was a very fine day. It wasn’t too cold and there was plenty of sunshine. About 10 months ago, I remember stepping out onto the streets of Fes, Morocco with the weather being exactly the same.As I let my memories take over, suddenly I had an immense urge to drink mint tea.

You can pretty much call mint tea as Morocco’s national drink. It has garnered a cult status in Morocco’s gastronomic culture. It is there when you arrive as a guest in someone’s house, shop or workplace. It is the catalyst that breaks the ice between strangers. It is what keeps conversations going between friends. It is the drink of choice used by men to mull over “important” matters of the day when they are whiling their time away in men-only “cafe houses”. 

Mint tea  is warm, yet refreshing. And very relaxing. And insanely easy to make. Try it once and I bet you will be hooked onto it forever, like me. 

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An afternoon well spent: That sugar brick is only half its original size, as the other half was dunked straightaway into my tea. I’m certain my tour guide thought that I have diabetes. 

Ingredients:

  • 1 tsp Sencha green tea loose leaves (or any plain mild green tea for that matter)
    • Moroccans use gunpowder green tea but that can be quite strong for some people
  • 1 cup water
  • Few sprigs of mint leaves
  • Sugar as desired

Method:

  • Bring water to boil
  • Add green tea leaves and continue boiling for 3 minutes
  • In the meantime, prep your mug of choice with mint leaves and sugar
  • Pour tea into the mug using a strainer 
  • Let the mint infuse into the tea for another 3 minutes
  • You can leave the mint leaves inside the mug or take them out- Moroccans have it either way
  • ENJOY! 

PS: You can use a tea- pot to make your mint tea. Just put mint leaves in the pot and pour in your boiled green tea. Let it infuse and then pour the resulting mint tea into cups. 

Cover photo image courtesy:  http://moroccanfood.about.com/od/tipsandtechniques/ss/How-To-Make-Moroccan-Mint-Tea.htm via Getty Images  

My Moroccan Adventure- practical aspects part 2

In this blog, I will discuss some of the aspects of Morocco you need to bear in mind once you arrive there such as: 

  • Shopping 
  • Female travellers (clothing, safety and gender interaction)
  • Cultural quirks

Shopping

Morocco is a delight when it comes to shopping and the old markets (souqs) in Fes and Marrakech are especially not to be missed. Fes medinah (old part of Fes, which has its famous souq) is actually the biggest of its kind, with 4,000 streets and 90,000 dead ends. 

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Moroccan carpets and leather bags. Image courtesy: www.trekearth.com & www.thejigsawpuzzles.com

The small medinah space is shared by many people, mules, shops, mosques, and eateries. The clamour generated as a result of this congestion results in a very animated atmosphere.

I have mentioned some popular souvenirs from Morocco, and where possible included the shop from where I bought these souvenirs. Our tour guide provided access to some really high-quality goods, so the prices were slightly higher than market but it was worth it. In all the places that we went, we were provided with a tour in English detailing the processes that are involved in making these products.

  • Carpets
  • Leather: Chouara tanneries, or the famous Fes tanneries
    • The smell is highly offensive, but mint leaves (handed out on arrival) provide some relief
  • Brass
  • Ceramics: Serghini Maitre Potier et Zellige Fasi, Fes
  • Argan oil: La Caravane Des Epices in Ouarzazate
    • This is a herbal store with an English speaking herbalist giving demonstrations on the uses of various medicinal plants in Morocco
    • The village of Aguelmous near Tizi N’Tichka pass also has a women’s Argan oil cooperative (Cooperative Feminine Arfa), which sells authentic argan oil products handmade by the local village women. 
  • Kaftans: Weaver’s cooperative, Fes
  • Djellaba (traditional Moroccan dress, pronounced as ‘jelaabaa’): Weaver’s cooperative, Fes
  • Silk: Weaver’s cooperative, Fes

These souqs are a great place to buy anything traditional Moroccan. But you do need to haggle really hard. Some people love the challenge of it and that is great because it is an expected part of the culture. For the rest, try not to get flustered and take it all in stride.

My tips for souqs:

  • The souqs can be really tempting, especially with the shopkeepers being very persistent. And because you are on a holiday, watching your finances would be a worry far far away. But to avoid overspending, make a list of what you would like and for who and stick to it.
  • You will be sold the goods at a higher price than the locals, but haggling will still bring the price down slightly.
  • When haggling, start at 50% of the stated price. And look and feel confident.
  • Learn some common Arabic words and phrases as many Moroccans are not fluent in English. Especially know basic numbers that you can use during haggling.
  • Do not get too worked up if the shopkeeper does not agree to your price after a few attempts. Just try to enjoy this unique experience- you can either pay him/her or continue at another store.

Malls in Morocco are another great place to shop if you are after Western style clothing and apparel. Morocco has good fashion due to its proximity to Europe, and a number of French brands such as ‘Camaieu’ can be easily found. The prices are also much cheaper compared to Australia. Special mention to the brand ‘Marwa’, which is being heralded by fashion critics as Morocco’s Zara. Supermarkets such as ‘Acima’ and ‘Carrefour’ can be used to buy Moroccan spices and other groceries unique to Morocco.

Female travellers

Clothing

As far as I know, by law, there are no dress restrictions on women. However, by culture women in Morocco are expected to dress conservatively compared to their western counterparts. This dressing expectation goes for men too by the way- you will not find a man in Morocco dressed in shorts and singlets outside his home. But, this by no means should be interpreted as a threat to be covered from head to toe, or else. 

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These are the types of outfits you may find women wearing in Moroccan cities. About half the women cover their head with hijab (Islamic headscarf), the other half do not. The face covering (niqab) is hardly seen in both cities as well as villages. And you can see that the above outfits can be easily worn without covering one’s head too. Image courtesy: www.hautehijab.com & www.hijabworld.com

Dressing in winter is easy. Just layer up with long sleeved tops, jumpers, coats, whatever to make yourself feel warm. There is no obligation to wear a scarf, but you can wear it to add extra colour and warmth to your outfit. I saw plenty of women wearing skinny jeans in Morocco, so I suppose with bottoms one can wear something tight. If the bottom is tight, then just make sure that your top comes past your hips (it is considered culturally appropriate to cover the hips and chest with something loose- loose top, scarf, skirt or really loose pants).

Summers might be a bit tricky because it can get quite hot in Morocco and you can’t exactly walk around in shorts or miniskirts (unless you fancy unwanted attention). To keep it real, you can wear a loose T-shirt or a top, coupled with a long skirt or loose pants. Alternatively, wear a maxi dress that can be dressed up or down depending on where you are headed in Morocco.

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Some inspiration for summer clothing in Morocco. Make sure to take sandals that cover your feet well to protect them from dust. Image courtesy: www.pinterest.com www.guardian.co.uk

Make sure your shoulders and upper arms are covered well, and that there is no sign of cleavage.

I have heard conflicting reports regarding whether in summer women should cover their arms fully or halfway. I am not sure on this one as I travelled to Morocco during winter. But just to be on the safe side keep a long sleeved thin jacket or cover up with you. 

In rural settings, there is not much variety in terms of what women tend to wear. Every woman I met wore a djellaba (Morocco’s traditional dress) along with a hijab. Djellaba basically is a long loose cloak with a hoodie attached and looks something like this:

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Rural women in Morocco wearing djellaba. Image courtesy: www.advocacynet.org

Djellabas are quite comfortable and are worn in the cities as well. It is not a gender specific dress and men are equally fond of them. It is especially comfortable when winters are being brutal. 

Keeping the  conservative rural mindset in perspective, it might be a smart idea to avoid tight clothing altogether when you are in a village. Wear full sleeved clothing, if possible. However, scarf is still optional. Villagers will be one of the friendliest people you will meet and I was even invited inside the kitchen of one of the families to witness their food being prepared. But remember, these people have not been exposed to different cultures too many times, so if they feel some sort of connection with you- even if it is over modest clothing- they will find it easier to open up to you and you will become intimate with a part of Morocco that not many people get to experience.

Interaction between genders

While Morocco is not a restrictive as Saudi in terms of gender interaction, it is still a relatively conservative society. I was not there long enough to understand the gender dynamics within different age groups and different socioeconomic classes, but as a female traveller, I would definitely advise other female travellers to avoid getting too friendly with the men, as it would be interpreted as a sign of interest. Just stick to the main conversation and once you have exchanged the information you require, you do not have the obligation to continue the conversation. Otherwise, you will be surprised how quickly a simple aimless conversation will turn into requests for your phone number or email address or facebook ID. 

Safety

I would like to begin the section with this disclaimer: if a man is a pervert, he will harass any woman he pleases- conservative clothing is not a deterrent. Moroccan women get catcalled by men, even the ones that are dressed quite modestly i.e. wearing a hijab (Islamic headscarf) so to speak.

But in all honesty, I found Morocco to be safe for women. I have been out on the streets of Fes, Casablanca and Marrakech at night by myself and it was fine. I have seen women out at night alone taking public transport by themselves. Yes, there have been instances of catcalling but they were merely small annoyances in my otherwise amazing trip.

There is indeed a big range in terms of how different female bloggers feel about the harassment issue. The main point they are all making is that confidence helps a lot. If you are feeling unsafe but stay confident, then you will know where to draw the line. You will know when to talk back firmly or walk off or draw attention to yourself for help.  But obviously, normal travel precautions apply. Please do not venture into quiet, dim lit areas whether you are by yourself or in a group. And if you plan on staying out till late at night, the make sure you are with a group and know how to get back.

Cultural norms and some quirks

Morocco has these cute little ‘cafes’ which actually are tea/coffee houses, where traditionally men sit inside and outside all day around sipping mint tea and generally just chit chat. As a woman, it can be very confronting entering these tea houses as the men inside seem a bit territorial. Don’t get me wrong: there was no harassment, but I did feel as if women were not welcome there. I never spotted any women inside or outside the tea houses during my 15-day trip there and upon consulting our group leader, he did mention how it was culturally inappropriate for women to enter such places. Apparently, in olden times women used to entertain their friends inside their homes as their movement was restricted. Even though these days, women can be seen freely walking everywhere in Morocco, the tea house tradition has still continued. There are plenty of ‘regular’ cafes in Moroccan cities, where everyone is welcome. 

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  • Smoking is allowed inside buildings in Morocco.
  • Street names can either be in French or Arabic, and many streets do not have any names at all. Try to remember directions using landmarks instead.
  • Moroccans DO NOT like being photographed. If you do want to do some street photography, make sure it includes people in general as a part of a crowd and not specific individuals. Do not especially take photos of women without asking them first.
  • The lower and middle range hotels may not match up to the Western standards in some areas, such as hot water not being available 24×7, no room service, not enough towels, no hairdryers….Now I didn’t encounter a hotel that lacked ALL of these features but let’s just say that as long as you expect a basic level of amenities and come prepared, you should be happy. 
  • Whilst I didn’t get a chance to do it: try their hammams.Apparently, you get naked and two women scrub you squeaky clean, so much so that one person could see dead skin getting removed from their body in the form of coils.
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    Hammam in Morocco. Image courtesy: www.lonelyplanet.com

    It sounds quite rough but I’ve always heard it being a very exhilarating experience. These hammams range from very basic ones where the locals go to very expensive ones, with various spa treatments included.

  • Tipping is an integral part of Morocco. Any service you get- please remember to tip. Generall 10-20% of the total bill in a restaurant will be considered a proper tip. If you are unsure as to how much to tip, you can always take advice from your hotel staff or your tour guide. One word of advice: if you forget to tip, Moroccans will not create a fuss, but they will feel belittled if you tip really less.

My Moroccan Adventure- practical aspects part 1

Unlike many others, on my first ever trip abroad, I decided to venture out to Morocco. The country provided me with exciting opportunities for culture exploration, photography as well as adventure. With beautiful architecture, stunning landscape, mouthwatering food as well as a composite culture, it was hard to say no to this small country nestled snugly on the west coast of Africa.

Surprisingly, I had a lot of people ask me about Morocco’s location. I think it was one of the most frequently asked questions of me. To all those people, who do not know where Morocco is: 

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If you do not know where Morocco is, have a look at this map to figure out its location. (Surprise! It is not in the Middle East amidst war-torn nations). Image courtesy: www.library.illinois.edu

Reasons to go to Morocco:

  • Culture, history
  • Stunning landscapes 
  • Architecture
  • Food
  • Friendly people
  • Trekking

In this blog I will be discussing some aspects that you need to consider before you get to Morocco:

  • Important packing tips
  • Money advice
  • Information about Moroccan languages, including some common words

Practical packing

I found these items to be quite useful whilst travelling through Morocco. Some are winter-specific (I went to Morocco in peak winter), whereas others are more general. 

  • Money belt or something similar to store cash and card
  • Rain jacket or portable umbrella (it rains during winter in Morocco)
  • Good quality sneakers or boots that can withstand the intensity of hiking you will be undertaking
  • Winter coat (the Atlas mountains and Sahara desert can be extremely cold)packing
  • Washing brush and detergent (if going rural. Cities have laundromats but rural areas do not. Also laundromats can be expensive- 10 to 30 MAD per item).
  • Try this Aussie washbag invention: it cleans your clothes on the go, 2x better than handwashing! Read its review here: http://adventuresoflilnicki.com/scrubba-washbag-review/
  • If you like Scrubba, you can order it from https://thescrubba.com/collections/all
  • Portable clothesline if you must
  • Spare camera battery (you will be taking lots of photos as Morocco is very picturesque)
  • Toilet paper (restrooms in restaurants and some lower-mid range hotels won’t necessarily have them as they use water)
  • iPod (Morocco was strangely lacking in music everywhere we went)

Money matters

Morocco’s currency is called Moroccan dirham (MAD). 1 MAD = 100 centimes. Morocco only uses Euros, Pounds and American Dollars for exchange so if you are going from Australia, you will need to exchange AUD to any of the above-mentioned currencies and then convert the currencies into MAD upon arrival. 

Otherwise, you can ask Travelex and the likes to order you MAD up to a certain amount. You can then carry this amount straight to Morocco, but ordering MAD takes some time as it is not a common currency. Besides, you will get more if you are converting from Euros to MAD rather than from AUD to MAD. 

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Moroccan dirhams and centimes. Image courtesy: www.moroccoonthemove.com

For my 15 day trip, I took out Euros worth 400 AUD and got it exchanged to MAD upon arrival at Casablanca’s Mohammed V airport. At the time of writing this blog, 1 AUD was roughly equivalent to 7 MAD.

ATMs are widely available in larger cities, so you can take money out as you go. If you are planning to go rural, then make sure you take out enough money in advance because obviously villages will not have ATMs. Credit cards (or credit-debit cards) are readily accepted in modern shopping avenues (such as a mall or a modern chain store, cafe or restaurant similar to the western world). Other places (small shops, roadside eateries) prefer cash. Another thing: tipping is a vital part of the Moroccan culture. Therefore, it is always a good idea to have enough cash on oneself. 

Language

The main languages spoken in Morocco are Berber, Arabic, and French. Moroccans are not fluent in English, so learning a few common words and numbers in Arabic and French should be on your ‘to-do’ list before you go. It will definitely come in handy, especially when you are stuck and want to ask for assistance (in hotels, in stores or on streets), or haggle in the souqs (old markets). It is interesting to note that the more ‘elite’ an establishment is, the greater are your chances of hearing French being spoken. Whereas in more ‘humble’ places, Arabic is given preference. 

Arabic comes in a variety of dialects and it is no surprise that Morocco has its own. It is called ‘Darija’. I am listing some common words I picked up during my stay in Morocco:

  • Hello = Assalaamu alaikum (peace be upon you, to be exact)
    • Respond with ‘Walaikum assalaam’ (and upon you be peace) 
  • Goodbye = Massalama 
  • Good night = Layla sayeeda
  • Yes = Naam
  • No = La
  • Thank you = Shukran
  • Let’s go = Yallah (you will hear this a lot)
  • Quick = Balagh (you might hear this in the medinah, or old city, where a local might be urging his mule to walk faster)
  • How much = Shahal
  • That’s it = Safi
  • Bon appetit = Bassaha
Berber!
Community building in the village of Sefrou. The sign is in Arabic, Berber and French.

About

She wanted to travel the world…and so she did.

Anonymous (but describes me well)
About the blog

Hey there!
My name is Vrushali, and welcome to Navigating Without Borders! Having lived in five cities in three different countries, the desire to know various cultures was long planted inside me, way back in my childhood.
As a person with a constant hunger to travel, I found this blog with the intention of recording my experiences visually and in writing. Here, you will find photo essays with some of my best visual work under the ‘Inspire Me’ section, in case you are in need of some travel inspiration (don’t judge me- I’m still learning!). And for those of you who already know where they want to go, you will find posts related to some practical information about your next destination under the ‘Travel Guide’ section.
For other travel- related topics, such as my personal observations and reflections, be sure to check out the ‘Other Resources’ section.
I hope that through this blog, we are able to interact and inspire each other in equal measures.
My website is still a work in progress as this is not my full- time job, so just be sure to bookmark it, subscribe to it, visit it often and you won’t miss out on any new adventures!
Also, be sure to follow me on my Instagram as it gets updated more frequently than my blog.
See you soon!

About the woman behind the blog

Vrushali D is a travel enthusiast who is always searching for her next adventure. When not travelling, she likes to focus on writing, flexing her culinary muscles, practising yoga and exploring anything Spanish. Her Spanish exploration has led to her spending a year in Madrid, learning Castellano and rediscovering her passion for following her dreams.

Cover photo: View of the old city of Jodhpur from Mehrangarh Fort, Rajasthan.