The Atlas Mountains divide Morocco in half. To the north of the mountains are lusch green lands, with trees, shrubs and ground-cover vegetation. To the south is an arid desert. The mountains between the two areas are a combination of the north and south, with the highest peaks covered in snow. You can be standing in the desert looking up at the snow-capped peaks. In two hours driving time, you can be standing in the snow. It’s hard to process how drastically different the climates can be over such a short distance, but this is one of the reasons that Morocco is such an interesting place to visit.
Stray cats and kittens are everywhere in Morocco. The locals seem to care for the strays by throwing out scrap meat into the streets. On a few occasions, I saw old men sitting on a bench feeding the cats like you might see them feeding pigeons in the United States. The cats were definitely cute, but they could also be a bit aggressive and annoying as well. Many of the times I ate at an outdoor cafe, cats would walk up and beg for food. One time a cat even climbed up into my friend’s lap at the table. Love them or hate them, definitely expect to see them everywhere in Morocco.
I still am not entirely sure how to pronounce the name of this beautiful coastal city, but I do know that it is one of my favorite places that I visited in Morocco. It’s only about a three hour drive from Marrakech, but it could not be more different. Essaouria is laid back. Very laid back. In fact, it was the most peaceful place I visited in Morocco. There were a few overzealous vendors along the way, but they were respectful when I said “non merci” in my terrible french accent. In Essaouira, you won’t have to side-step speeding motorbikes or worry about strangers aggressively offering to give you directions to a place you don’t want to go. This was a nice break from the non-stop chaos in some of the other Moroccan cities. (more…)
Marrakech is hectic. From the moment my taxi dropped me off at the entrance to the medina, I was immersed in a world unlike anything I had experienced before. The tight, winding streets of the medina lead you past aggressive vendors, playful children, cafes and restaurants, zooming motorbikes, and donkeys. It’s a city that combines the old with the new.
I had booked a riad (traditional guest house with a courtyard) online. At first I thought I could find the riad on my own, but that was a mistake. After a good fifteen minutes of wandering in circles, I finally caved and asked for help. An older man was kind enough (for a price) to lead me to an unremarkable door down one of the back alleys. The whole situation felt a little shady. I knocked, and the riad owner warmly welcomed me inside and took me to my beautifully decorated room. The calm inside the riad was refreshing. I was a little hesitant to venture back out into the city, but when I did, I was rewarded with beautiful buildings, fascinating history and a melting pot of cultures all converging in one place.
I took a three-hour flight from London to Marrkech. Although it was a short flight, the two locations couldn’t have been further apart culturally. A taxi dropped me off at the entrance to the medina, and I was quickly immersed in a culture unlike any I have experienced before. I spent the first night in a riad (guest house with a courtyard) inside of the medina. Here are some of my first impressions about Morocco. (more…)
On my way to Morocco, I had a one day layover in London-Stansted airport. My flight didn’t leave until the next morning so I had some time to kill. Rather than travel all the way into London for only a few hours, I opted to go a little farther north to Cambridge. It was the right decision. (more…)
Edit: Kia Ora is a traditional Maori phrase that can be used as a greeting or a farewell, similar to how Hawaiians use “aloha.”
New Zealand lived up to its reputation as one of the most beautiful places on Earth. It’s hard to go anywhere in the country without encountering mountains, rivers or rocky coasts. Some of my favorite memories from my trip include:
- Viewing the colorful thermal pools in Wai-O-Tapu
- Hiking in Tongariro National Park
- Cave tubing under glow worms in Waitomo
- Getting my geek on in Hobbiton
- Hiking the Routeburn trail
- Taking a cruise into Milford Sound
- Window shopping and walking around Queenstown
- Tricking my brain in Puzzling World
- Kayaking around Abel Tasman National Park
- Walking the coast at Kaikoura
- Watching the seals sleep and play all over the south island
Kaikoura is a small coastal town located on the Kaikoura peninsula, about two hours north of Christchurch. There is a fur seal colony on the peninsula that is one of the major draws of the area. You can get up close and personal with the seals, as I did in a previous post. Just don’t get too close! The water and rocky coastline are beautiful, and the mountains complete the panorama. Whale watching tours are another main draw in the area. Kaikoura can be seen and explored in a day, but there are plenty of hikes and water activities to keep you occupied longer.
New Zealand is the fourteenth largest wine-producing country in the world as of 2014 (source). You hear a lot more about Australian wines in the United States, but New Zealand has a strong wine-making industry, with large-production and boutique wineries throughout. The Marlborough region on the south island is one of the largest wine-producing areas in the country, and a tasting at a cellar door is a great way to spend a day (or several days). The first thing I noticed during tastings is the lack of red wines on the south island. The climate in the Marlborough region lends itself much better to whites, so at best you may find one or two reds (usually Pinot noir) at a given winery. The Hawkes Bay region on the north island is supposed to have a larger volume of reds, but I can’t speak to that directly. (more…)
The northern coast of New Zealand’s south island is strikingly different than other parts of the island. The warm, golden beaches and bright-blue waters contrast sharply with the rockier and colder coasts to the south. The vegetation also takes on more of a tropical feel. Close by are lively towns like Motueka and Takaka that are bustling with tourists and locals. (more…)