A Travellerspoint blog

Marrakesh, Tangiers, Rabat, High Atlas Mountains, Morocco

Come With Me to the Kasbah.....

sunny 20 °C

On Dec 6, 2012 at 10 am we crossed into Africa.
The fast ferry from Tarifa Spain left at 9 am. We docked in Tangiers, Morocco.
We are met by our guide, who else, Mohamed. He is wearing a jalaba, traditional Moroccan dress. He looks a bit like a wizard, his jalaba is black, long, and has a loose pointed hood. The driver's name is also Mohamed and he is wearing western style clothing.
We decided to take a bus tour of Morocco, worried about safety issues, various things, so booked this four night tour of Marrakesh, the High Atlas Mountains and points in between.
We are the only Anglos on the tour. The other nine traveler's are Spanish. This is Thursday and Spain has a bank holiday, a four day weekend.
Our guide explains things in Spanish and English. He is fluent in German, Italian, Portugese and of course French as well.
Three of the Spaniards were an hour late, likely held up in the odd passport stamping process that is mandatory on the ferry. It takes so long to process as at least fifty percent of the passengers do not bother to complete their customs paperwork. The lone employee is obliged to do the documenting for them. Jeff pretty well stood in line for the entire crossing, I was sitting, fidgeting and guarding the packs. I thought I could see him, a big guy wearing a toque, pretty much standing in one spot for half an hour. Yes, now he is motioning for me, or is he just waving hi, I cannot tell, but I make an executive decision to find out what's up and ask an American couple to watch the bags.
I got to jump the line and we were processed in thirty seconds.
When Mohamed does his spiel in English the Spanish people talk and laugh so I have to really concentrate when we are in the van. They are talkative, exuberant people. The noisiest bus we have taken was the coach from Seville to Tarifa. Nothing like Stockholm, where you could converse in a whisper on a crammed subway.
We drive through Tangiers, have a comfort stop for fifteen minutes about two hours in, then stop at a few sights in Rabat, the capital of Morocco. We visit Mohamed fifth's Mausoleum. He is buried there with two of his sons. The Mausoleum is finished in typical fashion of elite design here: Wood on the ceiling, carved alabaster on the upper walls and tiles on the lower walls. Very opulent, intricate. We also walked the extensive grounds of the royal palace. Morocco is a constitutional democracy now, since March 2012, a result of the Arab spring. The king is still head of the military and the mosque. Pretty substantial influence still.
Rabat Morocco

Rabat Morocco

Rabat Morocco

Rabat Morocco

Lunch is at a gorgeous restaurant on the Atlantic Ocean on the outskirts of Rabat. We sit on the terrace overlooking the ocean. It is four pm and we have an hour. This meal is our dime and to be polite I say I will have the set menu, salad, assorted grilled fish, dessert and also order a sparkling water. Jeff is not about to fork over twenty dollars for lunch and requests a menu. We are now ignored at our table for two, the other tables are getting baskets of bread, beverages, all we have, eventually, is the menu.
Since the French occupied Morocco from 1912 to 1956 it is a bilingual country and the menu is in French. OK I can read most of it. Time passes, I am checking my watch, we are craning our necks looking for service. Finally another waiter comes over, Jeff orders a salad and coffee. A basket of bread materializes, he gets his coffee and finally a nice big salad arrives and is set between us. So I have a sip of his coffee and some of the bread and salad, it is twenty to five. We admire the ocean view, people are surfing. Now I am full, and the original waiter shows up and asks if I still want the fish. No but I would like a coffee. Time passes, I am wondering if all of a sudden a salad and grilled fish will show up, no here is the coffee, and at 515 the bill is presented. Jeff is a very laid back kind of guy so I was surprised how quickly he got to his feet, anxious to pay, no they had charged us for the fish. This took ten minutes to straighten out and in the end we had enjoyed a nice lunch in a beautiful environment for eight euro with tip included, The Spanish had all ordered the set menu and wine so they were even more talkative when we got back in the van at 530.
View from the Restaurant, Atlantic Ocean

View from the Restaurant, Atlantic Ocean

One more fifteen minute, more like thirty, comfort stop and we drive now quietly in the dark. Nobody mentioned a time change so I marveled as the sun set at 7 pm, orchids and pinks, then a deep blazing fuchsia, the sun had set in North Africa. The roads are good, multi-lane, modern, lots of toll stops.
We got to our hotel in Marrakesh at ten pm.
From the hotel balcony Marrekesh

From the hotel balcony Marrekesh

As soon as we check in and deposit our bags it is dinner, which is included in our tour fare. Big salad bar, fish, chicken, dessert table, a fine meal, hard to settle down for the night, but we start our tour of Marrakesh at 930 am. We are sleeping by midnight. The hotel lobby is opulent, chandeliers, marble floor done in mosaic, indigo blue tiles on a kind of reverse dome ceiling, wrought iron, fancy. I had a long time to admire it as I waited for the rest of the tour, we were ready an hour early due to my confusion about the time change. The Spanish feel right at home, this could be Seville, which has a strong Moorish influence. Our room has a balcony and a large flat screen tv with several channels in English but no wifi. Weefee the Spanish say. It is available in the lobby, the signal is weak.
Morocco is home to the oldest university, located in Fez. It is a country of culture and contrast. Fishing is an important industry, lots of coastline and agriculture supports the economy by over 50 percent, wheat being a major crop, and of course fruit trees, olives, sheep, etc.
A national dish is a tajine, cooked in a clay pot - various stews are made this way.
7 Vegetable Couscous Tagine

7 Vegetable Couscous Tagine

The major square in Marrekesh is a Unesco world heritage site.
Djemaa el Fna Square. Snake charmers, dancing monkeys, motorcycles, bikes, horse carts, cars, mingling with the crowd, music, exotic smells, camels, donkeys name it, a happening place. Colourful, noisy, crowded, traffic weaving around the people. Merchants are everywhere, calling to you, adding to the din. Tiny stalls sell souvenirs, carpets, leather, olives, mint tea, spices amid the jostling, horn honking, dancing and drums. A big movie screen is set up, it is the Cannes of Morocco here this week, major film festival. A real hullabaloo.
Kasbah means fortress and all these medieval old towns have one.


Medina means old town and jiad is a euphemism for palace. If you are invited to someone's jiad they are pretty well off. They say jiad so it doesn't sound like bragging. The jiad is actually the central courtyard/garden complete with a fountain. All the windows of the palace face into the courtyard which have tile walkways and fruit trees to attract songbirds. We visited a palace where the owner, long dead and no wonder, had four wives, a harem and eighteen concubines. His concierge kept a schedule, ok today it is lunch with wife one, dinner with wife four, etc, etc, etc. Each wife had her own quarters, the concubines had to settle for more of a dorm set up. Four wives is the legal limit. Or at least back then it was. We met a carpet seller who currently has at least two wives, one makes ceramics in the city, the other weaves rugs in the mountains. To the west is the Atlantic, to the east the Sahara dessert. Berbers live in the mountains.
Morocco has twenty percent unemployment and fifty percent of the population is under 25.
Marrakesh is a city of two million people. Winston Churchill loved it here and has a reservation at an elegant hotel in Marrakesh to this day. His family still use it. The couture designer Yves St Laurent owned a jiad here for forty years, his ashes are in the garden.
We visited the Saadian Tombs, lots of geometric mosaic tile as well as marble. Muslims are not cremated.

One thing about Morocco, you see all kinds of different clothes. Modern, conservative and traditional. Almost as many men as women are wearing the jilaba so it doesn't seem as one sided as Turkey, for example. Lots of headscarves, not too many burkas. A real mix.
Marrakesh is located near the foot of the High Atlas Mountains.
High Atlas Mountains, Morocco

High Atlas Mountains, Morocco

The mountains are about an hour's drive from the city, we drove there Dec 8.
Here the roads are dirt, we bounce along, the mud and hills are a rusty red colour. Lots of adobe buildings and fences, stacks of pottery for sale along the road, sort of reminded me of Mexico. The people selling their wares to the tour bus crowd kind of swarm around, make me an offer, they speak at least four languages, Arabic, French, Spanish and English. They are good-natured but persistent and hang on the bus til you buy something or drive away with them practically hanging off the sides. Good quality, madam, berber made, I'll make you a good deal....
We enjoyed our foray into The High Atlas Mountains but were disappointed that we did not meet a Berber family like the brochure had said. I had envisioned introductions, some kind of tour of their home or yard, sitting on the floor while food and tea were offered. Unless that pack of necklace salesmen were related, we did not meet a Berber family.
High Atlas Mountains

High Atlas Mountains

We saw people with donkey carts but you see those right in Marrakesh. I did see a lady carrying her laundry on her head and of course lots of men in jalabas, this is kind of practical. Many are made of coarse wool, they are loose enough to fit over street clothes, long, almost floor-length and have a roomy, pointed hood. This would keep you pretty toasty, a simple garment, Berber origin, unisex.
Most of the buildings in Marrakesh are ochre and only a few stories high. A low profile, homogenous look, very pretty with a profusion of rose bushes growing in the boulevards and parks, still blooming in December.

On our last afternoon, Saturday, we had free time from three to eight. We decided to walk to the main market and look at the monkeys. Along the way an older man on a bike rode beside Jeff chatting to him in English. He suggested we detour into the berber old town, lots to see, it was their Saturday market. To shake this guy we were agreeable and thought we would just loop around the block and continue. What do you know a guy on foot gets in step with Jeff, he would show us where the market was, he lived close by....the next thing you know we were climbing stairs, they were steep and narrow, but I did notice shops on the way up. We were now on a roof with five foot high walls, Jeff stood on an overturned tin pail and took a few pictures. I was thinking about how this was going to play out, up here on a roof, just the three of us.........oh, now we are going back down the stairs, a shopkeeper is on the landing, thank goodness, we were being taken to a carpet shop. We went through the drill, not interested, meeting somebody in five minutes, drank the tea, got out, there was the guy, cheerful, chatting away, and after about two blocks he bid his adieu, what a relief.
What were we thinking!!!! We followed a stranger onto a deserted roof. Once again we trusted in the goodness of people and it had turned out ok. Let's never do that again!!
We headed straight for jemma el fna, it is a zoo there, so much smoke from bbq it appears to be burning, the snake charmers are there, camels, donkeys pulling carts, mopeds, bikes, cars, people, all in the square, my head is on a swivel so I don't get hit by a motorcycle, we find a rooftop cafe and survey the scene, drinking mint tea, listening to the drum beat, the honking, the shouting of merchants advertising their wares, the monkey is all dressed up, getting off and on his little stool, the sky turns pink, the sun goes down, we take a cab back to the hotel.
The hodge podge of Marrakesh Square

The hodge podge of Marrakesh Square

There are a lot of stray cats here, also some stray dogs and quite a few storks.



Morocco is home to 35 million inhabitants, mostly berbers who were converted to Islam by the Arabs who invaded in the eighth century. Morocco has also been occupied by the French and the Spanish, there are still two Spanish cities on the north coast of Morocco, Cueta and Mallila.
Our guide, Mohamed, only wore his jalaba the first day. After that he wore ordinary street clothes. He took us to a spice market and a huge miscellaneous market that sold everything from silver to leather to old doors. I think he gets a cut when his group makes a purchase. It is that kind of an economy. Inshallah. Unless the shop has fixed prices, bargaining is expected. Offer one quarter to one fifth of what the shopkeeper first indicates as a price. Do not pay more than fifty percent of his opening price. They can be pretty aggressive, you have to be prepared to walk away. We are not too comfortable with bargaining but sometimes it was fun.
If you have room to carry one, buy a wool jalaba. There are nice scarves, spices, trinkets. And of course, carpets.
Moroccan money is the dirham. One dirham is about twelve cents. So if they say one hundred dirham then it is twelve dollars. So you offer twenty five dirham and try to remember not to go over fifty dirham which would be six dollars. I found this fairly confusing. Sometimes they quote in euros so then you have to switch gears, do the conversion, offer one quarter, remember one half, etc.
We spent two nights in Tarifa, Spain at Hostal las Margaritas, 37 Euros a night, clean, walking distance to everything, twin room, private bath, no breakfast.

Posted by CherylGypsyRose 14:15 Archived in Morocco Comments (0)

Budget Travel Tips - Europe on a Shoestring - Epilogue

backpacking across a continent on fifty dollars a day - sort of like travelling on a hope and a prayer!!

So how did we stay on budget, fifty dollars a day, with the arguably well known expensive stops in Finland and Sweden as well as a guided bus tour of Morocco on the itinerary?

  • we couch surfed seven nights: to find out more about Couch Surfing go to couchsurfing.org. Often used by students as a place to flop for a night or three, we discovered the cultural joys of being hosted by locals proud to showcase their city. Twice I had my own bedroom and the other times we were either on mattresses or hideabeds in the living room.
  • we volunteered for free room and board for five days - teaching English with Vaughan Town in Spain. Met some lovely people doing this. To find out more about volunteering to teach English in Spain go to vaughantown.com. You must be a native English speaker. Spain was already on our itinerary - you pay your own way to Madrid. Then on a Saturday night there is a free tapas reception. You must also pay your own accommodation on the Saturday night. Then from Sunday after breakfast until Friday after lunch all your (four star) accommodation and meals are gratis.
  • we took two all night buses so did not have to book a hotel

So out of 89 nights 14 nights were free

  • we ate some meals in our hotel room, just food from the grocery store. I bought plastic spoons, good for eating yogurt or spooning olive spread on bread.
  • we usually chose our restaurants carefully, but ensured we had one good, typical meal in every country.

We chose to stay in private rooms with bath in hostels or in hotels with private bath.

Could you do it for less? Yes, you could stay in a dorm in a hostel, or you could stay in a room with a shared bath

  • You could cook your own meals in hostels rather than eat out in restaurants as much as we did.
  • you could drink fewer cappuccinos which was our splurge
  • you could couch surf almost everywhere
  • you could fly more with budget airlines rather than take buses or trains.
  • You could take no taxis and always use public transport or walk

You could bypass Sweden and Finland and go to more eastern European countries like the Ukraine or Moldovia
I would spend more time in Serbia and Portugal if I did this over - very inexpensive but good quality.
Portugal is cheaper than Spain
Serbia is cheaper than Hungary or Poland

Things we learned

  • There are free walking tours (tip encouraged) in most cities. Learn the highlights, get oriented, go early in your visit so you can go back to see sites in more detail
  • The Metro bus system in Turkey has a free service bus that takes you to the centre of the city. Most bus stations in Turkey are outside the city or on the outskirts
  • Spend a week in Rome - if you have never been there make a point of going.
  • Hotels are often as cheap as hostels if you want a twin room with private bath. I used hotelscombined.com and booking.com and once expedia was cheaper,

Travel light - two pairs of pants and three tops is enough, wash light clothes in your hotel room. I bought a few cheap tops and scarves in Turkey to supplement my wardrobe.
Take a waterproof, windproof shell and a lightweight fleece that will fold up small.

Discount airfare with Ryanair and EasyJet are cheaper than the bus or train sometimes. I booked Krakow to Budapest for nineteen dollars each in advance, from home, as well as Rome to Madrid for under fifty dollars. You are only allowed one carry on (and purses qualify as carry on) or you pay extra for checked and this can cost more than your flight. I took along a small cloth tape measure to ensure our backpacks did not exceed the carry on limit which is 21.6 by 15.7 by 7.8 inches or 55 by 40 by 20 centimetres.
No food or drink is free on these flights. Who cares, they are short flights.
I used skyscanner to find the cheapest flight from Izmir Turkey to Bologna Italy which turned out to be Pegasus Airlines for this trip.

I budgeted fifty dollars a day for food and hotel, and one thousand dollars extra for transportation such as buses, cabs, trains, flights within Europe. I was successful on this budget. I did purchase some gifts and souvenirs which is extra. Due to carrying a backpack and being on a limited budget I purchased carefully and because of the time of year of our return, 17 December, I brought back all my Christmas gifts. I can honestly say that the fifty dollars per day and the thousand for transportation was achieved. We traveled in the shoulder season, cheaper than traveling in summer. Hotels are based on two people sharing and splitting the cost.
I am 63 years old and I traveled with my 36 year old son. We needed two beds and always tried for a private bathroom. Hello hotel in Bucharest, La Botanica in Portugal, TRYP Washington in Madrid, for example were clean, nicely appointed three star hotels for under fifty dollars per night. In our entire journey I think we spent four nights in hostels with a shared bath. These rooms are always cheaper than a private bath so we could have saved more money had we gone that route.

We found people watching, cafe culture, taking public transportation, shopping in grocery stores, walking from our accommodation to and from public transportation gave us a different perspective and feel for the country than staying in a fine hotel and always taking cabs. We were out and about with the common people, people in fact, like us. We spent time in public parks in many cities, sat on park benches, watched children play and old people take the sun. Staying with families, four nights with airbnb and seven nights with couchsurfing, gave us a better appreciation on how people live. We met some nice people this way and had lovely conversations.

Our trip was sort of the road less traveled, the Balkans, the Baltic, the Black Sea coast. However, if you look at the map you will see that it all made a nice route, starting out in Stockholm and finishing up in Lisbon. We flew with AirMiles, the carrier was British Airways, we were able to land in one spot and leave from another. British Airways was very good, both ways we had to change planes in London so we saw a bit of Heathrow. We got a meal and a snack and lots of drinks included in our second class fare. I should mention that the snack was a sandwich so it was satisfying. They give everyone a pillow and a blanket and there is decent leg room. You also get a toothbrush and toothpaste and earphones - I could not sleep coming back so watched three movies. Also we could check our bag for free.
You can't go everywhere in three months. We did not go to cities that Jeff, who has been to Europe five times previously, had already visited. Therefore, in Turkey we did not go to Cappadocia or Pamukkale as he had already been there. In Italy we did not go to Venice, they were having floods there anyway, but it was never really on our agenda. We had hoped to go to Greece but with the transportation workers on strike there we did not want to chance being stranded. Also Jeff had already been to Athens. In Spain we bypassed Barcelona and Granada for the same reason. All the other countries we visited were new to him as well.

I first went to Europe in 1974, backpacking on five dollars a day. We went to England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland and Holland. The second time was in 1986. We lived in Germany and traveled to France, Switzerland, Lichtenstein, Luxembourg, Belgium, England, Norway and Denmark. The third time was 26 years later, from 19 September to 17 December, 2012, and I backpacked for fifty dollars a day. We went to Sweden, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Slovakia, Serbia, Turkey, Italy, Vatican City, Spain, Morocco, and Portugal. This was the trip of my lifetime so far. A feast of memories.

Note, I am a card carrying couch potato. I did not work out before the trip. Still I managed to walk ten kilometres on lots of days and carried a backpack that weighed about eighteen pounds when we left in September and about 38 pounds when we returned to Canada in December. A lot of my purchases were made in Lisbon though. I was typically the oldest couch surfer my hosts had met and the oldest person in the hostel. We were outside most days for at least six hours. We did not carry a cell phone nor did we carry an umbrella. I took no jewellery (other than a cheap watch) nor make-up but did break down in Istanbul and purchased mascara I was so fed up with looking like an albino, but it did not help much. Most days I started off looking neat but by noon was bedraggled and my pictures show pretty messy hair from having my hood up or from being in rain or wind. I took one of those small fold-up scissors and periodically trimmed my bangs.

My blog was written over the course of our travels from Stockholm to Finland to Tallinn, Riga, Vilnius, Warsaw, Krakow, Budapest, Serbia, Brasov, Transylvania, Sofia, Istanbul, Florence, Rome, Seville, etc. Seventeen countries and about forty cities and towns where we either stayed or visited on day trips.

Traveling light, traveling the way we did, I am very proud of myself. If I can do it, you can do it. I hate camping and "roughing it." On a normal vacation I like to stay in a good hotel, minimum three star, prefer four star. But in order to afford this trip I needed to stretch my money. Therefore, the trip was a choice and the way we traveled was a choice. Every day was a new day, a new adventure, places to go, things to see.
I would do it again. Next time maybe it will be Greece, the Ukraine, Moldovia, Belarus, Turkey, Serbia, Cypress, Portugal, Norway and Warsaw.

A few days after returning home I went for a pampering facial. The esthetician commented that my skin looked good, and asked me what I used. I said "I haven't been using a thing". I haven't worn foundation or anything else for over three months and I've spent at least six hours a day outside. "I just backpacked across a continent and I am 63 years old."
By this time there was lots of attention to our conversation and the chorus of "Good for you!" warmed my heart. "On fifty dollars a day!" I beamed. Another round of "Good for you!" I was on a roll. The next thing they are going to do is pat my head. Still I sensed a new respect from the bevy of young girls surrounding me. I looked at them benevolently with my glowing skin and rhymed off the seventeen countries we had visited.
Sweden, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria, Turkey, Italy, Vatican City, Spain, Morocco and Portugal. Damn, I'm good!!

Yes it was an incredible journey unless you think about the KonTiki crossing the Pacific in 1947 or consider the incredible journey of three Canadians and some kittens in 1956. Strapping nine telephone poles together with rope, they embarked from Dartmouth, Nova Scotia. 88 days later they had crossed the Atlantic and landed in Falmouth Harbour, Britain. Why hasn't somebody made a movie about this? Think of the adventure, the drive, the passion of these three men: Henri Beaudout, Gaston Vanackere and Marc Modena. They were the first to cross the Atlantic on a raft. Somebody, do something, while they are all still alive to tell their story!

Still, mine was an incredible journey.

Posted by CherylGypsyRose 15:07 Tagged budget backpacking Comments (0)

Eceabat, Gallipoli, Anzac Cove, Lone Pine, Canakkale, Turkey

First World War, history, Europe, Asia


We went on a guided tour of the ANZAC battlefield near the small town of Eceabat, just across the Dardanelles from Canakkale. Eceabat is the closest town to the Gallipoli combat zone.
We took the thirty minute ferry from Canakkale to Eceabat for two fifty tl each (1.45 Can), effectively moving from the Asian to the European side of Turkey. We stayed at Crowded House Hotel, just a short walk from the harbour. Crowded House is a clean bed and breakfast establishment that provides tours of Anzac Cove for sixty tl each (34 Can. dollars). We arrived at 1130 am and were in time for the tour leaving at 1230. Besides the van driver and tour guide there were only three other people with us, all from Australia.

In the first world war the Galipoli penninsula held a strategic location. The Ottoman Empire sided with Germany and the Allied forces were sent in to take the penninsula and thereby gain access to the Black Sea. Over one million troops spent time here.

the Sphinx

the Sphinx

Lone Pine Cemetary

Lone Pine Cemetary

ANZAC stands for Australian and New Zealand Army Corps. They trained in Egypt and were sent over to Gallipoli - they landed on the Aegean Coast on April 25, 1915.

4,228 Australians and 708 New Zealanders lost their lives at Lone Pine where rosemary grows wild.

Our tour guide, "Bill," is Turkish and speaks English with an Australian accent, explains things, gives both sides. We stopped at Brighton Beach, it has a different name in Turkish of course, Kabatepe, proceeded to ANZAC Cove, Lone Pine, and the New Zealand monument at Conkbayiri. Forty nine Newfies died at Gallipoli, there were five hundred thousand casualties and by the time the Gallipoli Campaigne ended over 120,000 people had died including about 80,000 Turks.

The whole thing was pretty much a stale mate for nine months in 1915. The soldiers were in trenches, in the heat of summer they got a cup of water a day, their clothes were filthy, full of lice, and no man's land was the width of a road.

They fought hand to hand combat, it was a blood bath, the last gentleman's war.

Turkish trench

Turkish trench

Ataturk led the reserve battalion that turned the tide of this war and I feel so emotional about the whole thing. The Aussies and the New Zealanders come here, they suffered huge losses, but the Turks flock here as well as it is a matter of national pride and of course after the first world war there was no more Ottoman Empire. I love Ataturk too when I read what he said in 1934, about the mothers from far away lands that have lost sons here, lying in Turkey's bosom. Very moving. There is a large monument with these words engraved in English at Anzac Cove, cold comfort for the mothers still alive back home in Australia, 20 years after the fact.

He did have a good speech writer:

'Those heroes that shed their blood and lost their lives...
You are now lying in the soil of a friendly country, therefore rest in peace. There is no difference in the Johnnies and the Mehmets to us where they lie side by side, here in this country of ours...
You, the mothers, who sent their sons from far away countries wipe away your tears.
Your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace.
After having lost their lives on this land they have become our sons as well.'. Mustafa Kemal Ataturk

During the Gallipoli Campaigne Mustafa Kamal's life was saved by his pocket watch. His shattered watch is apparently on display somewhere in Germany.

The Allies finally abandoned the futile effort and evacuated Sulva Bay and Anzac Cove in December 1915 and January 1916. With no casualties the evacuation was deemed a brilliant success. The Turks say they knew the Allies were leaving and chose to let them go with no more bloodshed.

Memorial 57th Turkish Infantry Regiment

Memorial 57th Turkish Infantry Regiment

Driving back to our hostel I pondered the futility of war. Along the way we passed a shepherd. Perhaps this was the type of scene common in 1914, before Winston Churchill's ill-fated scheme for the Allies to open a passage to the Black Sea via the Dardanelles.

Getting there
We went from Saffranbolu via Bursa to Cannakkale and then to Eceabat on the Gallipoli Penninsula.
The bus from Saffranbolu to Bursa left at 10 am on Sunday, cost forty five tll each and arrived about 5 pm. It cost thirty tl to take a cab to our hotel. We still had not figured out the Metro Service bus option. The hotel in Bursa was wonderful. Clean, modern, hair dryer, slippers, nice linen, lots of towels, wow, so much better wish we could stay a few days. Breakfast is incuded, buffet, lots of choices, olives, tomatoes, cucumbers, hard boiled eggs, cereal, sweet rolls, assorted breads, yoghurt, coffee, tea, hot milk which I use to make latte, really good, we eat on the terrace, lovely. The cost inclusive with breakfast was 31 Euros, tax included and a fabulous breakfast. That is about forty two dollars. A great deal in our opinion, after the sketchy hostel in Saffranbolu this is luxury. Very clean and modern with a lovely lobby, Boyuguzel Termal Hotel.
Bursa Turkey

Bursa Turkey

Bus tickets from Bursa to Cannakkale (pronounced Chen-awk-a-lee) were 30 tl each. We left on Monday at one pm. We took a city bus to the bus depot for two tl fifty cents each, really easy. We are getting somewhat smarter and ask the attendant if there is a service bus in Cannakkale, guess what there is and it is free and it drops us off near Egam Hostel, which was ok but a total let down after our nice hotel, kind of noisy also. The owner there wants us to book a tour to Gallipoli with his friend down the street, but the notebook all of a sudden kind of charged up to over forty percent so I got on line and booked us into Crowded House in Eceabat, right on the Gallipoli peninsula, for the next day.
Of course, you can get to Cannakkale from Istanbul, it would be easier than our route from Saffranbolu!!

One turkish lira is about fifty seven cents Canadian at this time.
Population of Cannakkale is about 100000 and Eceabat is less than 10,000.
Crowded House was forty Canadian a night and had a good breakfast, Egem Hostel cost the same but was not as nice.

Posted by CherylGypsyRose 21:06 Archived in Turkey Tagged history bus budget backpacking ferry Comments (0)

Rila Monastary Bulgaria



On October 25 we took a bus from Sofia to Rila Monastery, the largest East Orthodox monastery in Bulgaria. We bounced along, through the mountains in the mist, stopping in villages where ladies in housecoats passed money through the window to the driver in exchange for packages, what I do not know, this is his route. We picked up people along the way, passing men leading cows along the road. There were cornfields, orchards, and now we arrive at Rila Monastery.
Originally built in the tenth century, a small part of the fourteenth century re-construction, the Tower of Hrejla, still exists today. Most of the monastery was destroyed by fire in the 1800s and had to be rebuilt yet again. It has five domes, three altars and two side chapels. The impressive frescoes were completed in 1846.
Rila Monastary Bulgaria

Rila Monastary Bulgaria

The living section has three hundred rooms. We stayed one night in the monastary and enjoyed the peaceful setting. Of course the novelty of sleeping in an actual monastery was a draw for us. They lock the gates at ten p.m. so it you are outside, too bad.
Our room at Rila Monastary

Our room at Rila Monastary

No pictures are allowed inside the chapels where the intricate woodworking is a highlight. The bearded monks move gracefully and silently on their way to prayers. Within the chapel they sing acapella. Pilgrims and tourists take pictures in the inner yard, snapping photos of the frescoes and the architecture. There is a post office in the courtyard as well as a shop selling religious icons and postcards. Outside of the gate there are two restaurants and other souvenir shops. The dining experience is tolerable at best. Bring snacks. There is no food available within the monastery.
It does seem like a place where time stands still.
An Orthodox priest slowly circles the courtyard beating a piece of wood with a stick to give the call to prayer.

Monk at Rila Monastery

Monk at Rila Monastery

Rila Monastery is 117 km from Sofia. If you are into hiking there are trails from the monastery to the surrounding Rila Mountains. You could choose to stay over night or just make a day trip from Sofia on the bus. The morning bus back to Sofia leaves shortly before 9 am, it is a small, jolly bus, lots of locals sharing their chocolate with other passengers, chatting up the driver, very lively. Fun, I'm glad we came this way.

Rila Monastery Bulgaria

Rila Monastery Bulgaria

Here we can see the oldest part of the monastary, the Tower of Hrelja from the fourteenth century. Rila Monastery is a UNESCO World Heritage Sight.
Over 900,000 visitors make their way to Rila Monastery every year.
Interesting when you think about the founder, St Ivan: he was a hermit and lived in a cave.

Posted by CherylGypsyRose 23:32 Archived in Bulgaria Tagged mountains churches budget backpacking Comments (0)



Oct 23, 24 Sofia
We took a slow dirty train from Bucharest to Sofia. It left at 1 pm and arrived at 1030 pm. No time change.
Once on the train we could not get off and there was no dining car or food of any sort to be had on board.

We secured our seats and had the area to ourselves in what would have been an 8 passenger booth. Having the area to ourselves was the best part. I sanitized the arm rests and door handle and settled in. We had only had a coffee, served nicely with a tiny cookie at the hotel and a miniscule yoghurt drink at the station. We had with us 8 tiny cookies from the hotel bakery and one bottle of Kinsley tonic water. I was positive I had another bottle of water in my backpack but when we needed it, no, not there!!

Anyway we thought there would be food on the train. Long trip on an empty stomach. But we also had a small bag of cracked walnuts that Eugene in Brasov had given us, picked fresh from his walnut tree, and a bag of hard candy from Budapest that I had bought as a souvenir. We rationed the food and once I knew there was no bottle of water in my pack we rationed the few swallows left of the tonic water.

Crossing the Danube

Crossing the Danube

I liked the train ride though. It was peaceful sitting alone with Jeff looking at the scenery which was lots of trees and small mountains. We crossed the Danube, stopped in every little town it seemed, to pick up or unload passengers, but we could not get off.
We saw lots of garbage along the way, I was thinking maybe the train just threw their empty bottles and other garbage out along the tracks. Also very run down houses with laundry flapping on the line and holes in the roof. And donkeys, frequently on the street, loose in the little towns. It is not uncommon to pass a horse drawn cart. It seemed we had travelled back in time.
Along the road in Bulgaria

Along the road in Bulgaria

When darkness came only a quarter of the fluorescent tube light in our compartment worked, dimly flickering for four hours.
We kept the door closed to deter beggars who might get on during the numerous ten to fifteen minute stops along the route.
Before we left the station in Bucharest a few beggars hit us up but we did not give anything, even to the elderly man in a tan suit who exposed his bandaged lower leg as he implored us for money. (it looked infected, not that I looked as you want to look the other way).

Sofia is the capital of Bulgaria. We walked about seven blocks from Hotel Budapest to the old town and went on the free walking tour. The sites are very nicely laid out, a lovely walk on a sunny day. We saw the St George's Rotunda, the National Theatre, the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, (lovely, huge, domed church), Sofia Church and the ruins of an ancient settlement. We watched a street musician play the 'gaida', a Bulgarian bagpipe.

East Orthodox Church Sofia Bulgaria

East Orthodox Church Sofia Bulgaria

Changing of the Guard Sofia

Changing of the Guard Sofia

St George's Rotunda

St George's Rotunda

St George's Rotunda was built by the Romans in the fourth Century on, apparently, what had been a pagan site. It is the oldest buidling in Sofia and was used as a mosque during Ottoman times. The Ottoman rule of Bulgaria lasted almost 500 years, commencing in 1396.
First came the Thracians in 400 BC. Then came the Romans in 100 AD. Bulgaria has a long history of being under somebody's rule, it was under Communist rule from 1946 to 1990, a satellite state to the Soviet Union. Bulgaria was the one eastern European country where we heard nothing negative about communist times.
Sofia Church, the Hagia Sofia, is the East Orthodox Church which gave its name to the city of Sofia. It is built of red brick in byzantine style and dates back to the fourth to sixth century. St Sofia is built on the former site of a Roman theatre from the second century. The bronze lion in front of the church is protecting the tomb of the unknown soldier.

Church in Sofia

Church in Sofia

In Bulgaria they nod for no and shake for yes. This is confusing for us. Also they use the cyrillic alphabet, Bulgaria invented it in the ninth century - street names are now extra hard to pronounce. It is difficult to change Romanian money to Bulgarian. The banks will not accept it but the money changers will. Interesting. Recommend you spend your Romanian money in Romania and start fresh in Bulgaria.

Bulgaria invented yoghurt. Therefore for lunch I enjoyed their wonderful cold yoghurt, cucumber, dill and walnut soup, Terator. I also learned the "sour milk" drink is likely yoghurt mixed with water, thinned. We dined at the Mehana Izbata - located in the lower level, accessed down an alley or small side street - a picture of the dining room and the sign follows - great place, reasonable prices, good food, some ambience.
Mehana Izbana

Mehana Izbana

Restaurant sign

Restaurant sign

Bulgarian Rose: buy soap, rose water, rose oil, anything made of roses. Bulgaria is the major producer of rose oil in the world. Of course when you travel with only carry on luggage you are restricted in the amount of liquid you can take so I just bought a bar of soap and some rose lip balm. Worked for me. However, if you are checking luggage make sure to pick up rose oil!!
One Bulgarian lev is about 69 cents Canadian - I just knock thirty percent off the price to get the general idea so ten lev is seven dollars, forty lev is twenty eight dollars etc.
Population of Sofia, 1.3 million.
From Sofia we took an overnight trip to Rila Monastary and then proceeded to Plovdiv


October 26
We decided to take in Plovdiv as it is on the bus route from Sofia to Istanbul and figured we would see an interesting city, the second largest in Bulgaria after Sofia, with an historic (could it be anything else?) old town. By spending the night in Plovdiv we would shave two hours off our trip to Istanbul.
Plovdiv is considered one of the OLDEST continuously inhabited cities in the WORLD, having been inhabited first in the sixth century BC. It is situated on seven hills - how many cities are there situated on seven hills you might ask? Maybe sixty, maybe more and they include the following cities that I am either going to on this trip or have already visited: Seattle, Lisbon, Rome, Istanbul, Edinburgh, Budapest, Turku and San Francisco.
We arrived by bus from Sofia and immediately started looking into our bus tickets to Istanbul tomorrow. The weather is warm, it is a Friday. We book our bus tickets and go back to find a place with Wifi to book our hostel, get that done and then start looking. We arrived in Plovdiv at 4 pm and checked into our hostel at 8 pm. We were so lost the streets are really old time, very lumpy, bumpy cobblestones, nothing is straight, very few street signs, it was a relief when we finally got there. Yes, we had a map and asked for directions numerous times. We did stop for a cold drink occasionally as it was really warm until after dark.
Plovdiv Bulgaria

Plovdiv Bulgaria

The morning of October twenty seventh was a bit overcast but not cold. We walked around the old town, saw the amphitheatre but were not allowed to go into it, saw some really old ruins of the city wall, peeked into an East Orthodox church, really elaborate wood carving. The Roman amphitheatre is 2000 years old.
We stayed at Plovdiv Guest House in the Old Town, twenty five euros per night, no breakfast included. Seventeen dollars each. On budget.
In Bulgaria and Romania there are numerous stray dogs and cats. Jeff tells me it will be like this in Turkey as well. Where is the SPCA?
Cats in Plovdiv

Cats in Plovdiv

Plovdiv, Bulgaria

Plovdiv, Bulgaria

We made it to the bus station in good time, by cab. We are travelling with the Turkish bus company called Metro. No bathroom on the bus but they do have an attendant who passes out wet wipes for your hands, water, cakes, coffee or tea.
The bus is a Mercedes, new and clean, it is a big holiday in Turkey, this is Saturday, the bus is full. We have seen a lot of Bulgaria, many mountains, quaint little villages trudging up hills and tucked into valleys, crumbling roofs in occupied houses, clothes hanging to dry from balconies and lines, donkeys and horse carts. We reached the border about two o'clock.
We went through customs on the Bulgarian side and then were held up at customs on the Turkish side for six hours, what a long and boring wait with very little information. So instead of getting into Istanbul at fivish we got in after eleven at night, the bus station is massive, buses pulling in everywhere, lots of honking and really we did not yet know about those service buses that Metro has so took a cab to our hotel near Sulhamet square, really a hostel but we liked it and it had a very good location to visit all the sites.
If you take a Metro bus in Turkey point to your watch and say Service. The bus stations are not centrally located and they typically have small service buses to take you to the centre. Although Turkey is a secular country I am estimating almost half of the women I see on buses and public transport are wearing scarves. Maybe the modern dressed women are driving.

Posted by CherylGypsyRose 22:46 Archived in Bulgaria Comments (0)

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