When Jules Renard uttered this famous quote, he could not have been more correct. There are very few places in the world that are able to justify the hype surrounding them. Paris not only justifies that hype but threatens to challenge it, mock it, as if describing its beauty and sophistication is beyond the realm of human intellect.
I found myself in Paris in April 2012- an unexpected and impromptu trip. This was a time when photography and the creative arts barely interested me. It was also a time of great, many personal tragedies and I credit Paris for coaxing me out of my shell, for making me believe at the time that beauty still existed in the world.
I apologise in advance for the quality of photos, but I do hope they capture a sense of allure that Paris has to offer to any traveller lucky enough to visit. One day, I hope to go back again.
So, what do you think? Does Paris sound like a good idea to you?
Cover photo: View of Pont Alexandre III and River Siene, Paris.
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.
Magnificient entrance to the wada
Typical embrasure to allow cannons to attack enemies
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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
In this post I will be reviewing a product by London’s thisworks® makeup company called Camera Close-Up, which comes under its “in transit™” range. This is one amazing product that is actually a combination of a hydrating mask, a primer and a moisturiser, making it a perfect companion for flights. It is especially useful if you have dry skin like me that tends to get drier due to in-flight air-conditioning. As a result, by the time I get off my flight my skin (especially on my face) ends up having more oil than the entire reserves of the Middle East.
By having 3 products in one, not only is it saving you some bag space but the ingredients augment each others’ effectsto produce a skin that is well hydrated, fatigue-free and camera ready! The mask in this product is a leave-in one, therefore you just need to shake the bottle and apply the product evenly on clean and dry skin. You can then add on a tinted moisturiser (I use bareMinerals® Complexion Rescue). I was extremely pleased with the results and could really tell the difference in my skin texture and appearance from my previous flights when I didn’t have this product on.
It comes in a convenient 40mL pump bottle and is priced at AUD 65, if you buy from Mecca stores. Alternatively, you can buy it straight from their websitewww.thisworks.com: it is priced at £30, excluding international shipping.
In this blog, I will discuss some of the aspects of Morocco you need to bear in mind once you arrive there such as:
Female travellers (clothing, safety and gender interaction)
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.
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 areinvolved in making these products.
Leather: Chouara tanneries, or the famous Fes tanneries
The smell is highly offensive, but mint leaves (handed out on arrival) provide some relief
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
Reasons to go to Morocco:
In this blog I will be discussing some aspects that you need to consider before you get to Morocco:
Important packing tips
Information about Moroccan languages, including some common words
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)
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).
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)
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.
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 willnot 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.
The main languages spoken in Morocco areBerber, 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)
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.