A Travellerspoint blog

Turku and Helsinki Finland

semi-overcast 13 °C

We travelled from Stockholm to Turku on the all night ferry. The cost was just a little over fifty dollars Canadian each which is pretty reasonable for an ensuite private cabin. The Viking Line ship is large and has casinos and night clubs but after a brief foray we were happy to spend time in our cozy cabin.

Turku is the oldest city in Finland, first settled in the Thirteenth Century. Today it has a population of just under 200,000. It is located at the mouth of the Aura River and is an important seaport. The city spreads out on either side of the river with the "downtown" side being the east side. Turku means something like market place in Finnish.
Arriving at the Port of Turku at 730 am on Sunday morning, we took a city bus from the ferry terminal to downtown Turku.
I would not recommend a Saturday night crossing, nothing is open seemingly in Turku. We walk forlornly in the rain down the deserted streets, all the shops and restaurants are closed.
Finally I see a man walking and approach him. "Hej, do you speak English?" It turns out he does and he says, in response to my question, is there a coffee shop or restaurant open near here, "not now" and ceases eye contact firmly and with finality. We aren't in Stockholm any more. People there seemed to be helpful when asked a question.
Then I spot a woman walking through a park and approach her. She says she speaks a little English and then says, "American" no I say, ‘Canadian’.
She says, I swear to God, "I luf Canada!" Well the Fins have come up several notches in my estimation, and I snuggle under her umbrella and she walks us a few blocks to a hotel where she says we can get food and coffee.
We part gayly, I give her a hug, and Jeff and I bring our wet and bedraggled selves into the hotel lobby. No sign of any restaurant being open. I approach the deskclerk, "Hej, blah blah blah", who advises me that for eighteen dollars each we can have breakfast with the hotel guests on the second floor. Although I wince at the price we agree to purchase breakfast and haul ourselves upstairs. It is a smorgasbord. Bacon, eggs, coffee, breads and sweet rolls, pickled herring, lingonberries, porridge, smoked salmon, different cheeses and cured meats, a feast. We now spend an hour and a half grazing, killing time.
The friendly lady had told me that the Cathedral would open at nine also so we decide to go there as it is now ten thirty. The service is underway when we arrive so we sit on a bench in the lobby listening to the sermon, even though it is in Finnish, I get the gist of what they are doing, it seems a bit familiar, comforting. To me it is an intimate moment in a historically significant Finnish building. The pipe organ and choir are amazing. In recent times I have mostly gone to church for funerals so I have a little cry back in our dark corner. The tone of the choir is so sweet and haunting, we are both surprised by the quality.
Finland is a Nordic country, coming late to Christianity. Turku Cathedral started out as a Catholic Church in the thirteenth century, later becoming a Lutheran church.
Turku Cathedral

Turku Cathedral

24 September, we take the bus downtown, there is a big farmers' market at the square, we wander around and marvel at the piles of orange mushrooms, huge! and the enormous baskets of lingonberries. "Where do you get these?" I ask a vendor and she replies, "In the forest."
The Finns are huge coffee drinkers. Something like nine cups a day. Their coffee is good. We stop at a department store and have a cup and go on wifi. Then we walk back over to Turku Cathedral and have a tour. This is the flagship church of Finland. There is a museum upstairs that has relics going back to the thirteenth century. Turku used to be the capital city of Finland under the Swedes but the Russians made Helsinki the capital when they took over.
We can buy nice baking at the grocery store for less than half of what a cafe charges so we purchase a meat bun, good, and a sweet roll each and eat it on the street. Then we go into a cafe and have a coffee and relax awhile. It is chilly here, close to water, damp, I am wearing a jacket with two fleece tops underneath, knit gloves and a knit cap. I look a fright but nobody knows me. With all these clothes, a money belt and a neck pouch I look pretty stout.
Lots of people ride bikes, being outdoors and keeping active seems important. There are also gambling machines in corner stores and grocery stores, typically being used. There are a lot of grocery stores, even downtown. We saw two in close walking distance to the central area. Also there is a grocery store right near our bus stop, a few short blocks from "home".
Bakery in Finland

Bakery in Finland

In Sweden they use Swedish Kroner but Finland is on the Euro. I am just now getting used to the money.
Finnish is a different language, related closely to Estonian and less closely with Hungarian, part of the Uralic language family. Kiitos is thank you in Finnish. Keetos, long o.
Three shops we see a lot more of in Europe than North America - shoe stores, bakeries and flower shops.

Couch Surfing in Helsinki

25 Sept 2012
We took the ten am train from Turku to Helsinki, nice train, comfortable, smoking car oddly enough.
I had looked for hotels and hostels in Helsinki, various sites including Hostelworld and one hundred dollars a night seemed to be cheap for Helsinki. I had joined Couch Surfing on the advice of a friend before embarking on this trip. Two days ago I put out a request. We were invited by a 26 year old man, Uzair, to spend the night at his aparment. If you have never considered couch surfing, please do look at it as a novel way to meet local people and find out more about how they live. I paid twenty-five dollars to be verified but a lot of people do not do this.
Here is the deal: you stay with another member of the couch surfing community. As people get experience they get references which are posted with their profile. By reading through the references you get some kind of idea what to expect. Many of the members are University students but people from all walks of life and every age group participate. It is a mutually beneficial relationship as members are expected to be hosts as well as travellerrs. It is a way to get to know people from different countries and to share information. Go to couchsurfing.org to find out more.

Couch Surfing - apparently has been around for years. I was a bit skeptical and my son more so. What would it be like? We had no references so we were fortunate to be invited.

Since we werre totally green, Uzair took a chance on inviting us. He emailed us to meet him at the White Church at 5 pm. We did not bring a cell phone so rely on my Blackberrry Playbook to communicae with others. We arrived in Helsinki in the early afternoon and the first thing we did was find the white church. OK, walking distance to the train station, we could do it.
Lutheran church in Helsinki Finland

Lutheran church in Helsinki Finland

Tuomiokirkko, the Lutheran Cathedral, is a signature of the Helsinki skyline, visible from the harbour and from Suomelinna. It is located in Senate Square, just a short walk from the central station or the harbour. Note the green dome showing Russian influences. It was designed by the German architect, Engel. It was built in 1852 and until the Finnish independence from Russia in 1917 was called St Nicholas Church. Now it is called the White Church.
white church on skyline Helsinki

white church on skyline Helsinki

The train station is centrally located only a few minutes to the harbour and shopping. It is constructed in Art Nouveau (National Romantic) style of Finnish granite and sports a clock tower and statues holding globes that light up at night. The station is Finland's most visited building, about 400,000 people per day pass through the facility. The metro station is here as well and buses and trams are right outside.
It is considered one of the world’s most beautiful stations.

The Helsinki National Theatre building was completed in 1902. Located just north of the train station this Art Nouveau building is also built of granite with a red tiled roof. The square is called Rautatientori, Railway Square. Helsinki celebrated 2012 as the "Design Capital of the World."
Helsinki Finland

Helsinki Finland

We purchased a twelve euro regional bus pass which would cover our trip to Espoo where Uzair lives. We met him at the appointed time and off we went by train. The Espoo station has a grocery store and a shopping centre attached. We picked up a few groceries, fruit and chocolate to share with our host and he picked up some new sheets. He lived in a new one bedroom apartment, very clean and modern, the bathroom had a sauna attached. I would sleep in the bedroom, Jeff and Uzair would sleep on the floor of the living room.

Uzair, originally from northern Pakistan, is into mountaineering, photography and world music so he and Jeff had good rapport and I went to bed and enjoyed a restful night. In the morning he left us the keys and we were to just throw them back into the mail slot. This was very trusting, but as he said in his comments on the Couch Surfing website, he enjoyed old people and their wisdom and that is why he invited us. Now we had one good reference on couch surfing.
Uzair made us student coffee which we really enjoyed. Milk and sugar heated in the microwave, add instant coffee and you have a good drink. He had gone to University in Finland to get his masters - he did not speak Finnish but was employed now in Helsinki. Anybody from any country can take their masters degree for free in Finland - in English, this has been so for many years, funny, we had never heard of it. Finnish citizens get university for free like everybody else but they also get a living allowance from the government. Education is truly free in Finland. What a great place.
We found our way back into the central city, Espoo is classed as a separate city but is really like a suburb of Helsinki.
We booked our passage to Estonia with Tallink Line and took a tram around the downtown looking at the sites. Then we took the ferry to
Suemenlinna Island, this passage was included in our regional pass.
Suomenlinna is a World Unesco Heritage Site. The fortress was constructed by the Swedish crown is 1748 to protect Helsinki from the Russians. The Russians took the fortress in 1808 and occupied Finland the following year, ending about 700 years of Swedish involvement in Finland. Tsar Alexander I of Russia moved the Finnish capital from Turku to Helsinki in 1812,
Sumenlinna is home to about 900 residents and is used as a park by Helsinki residents. The naval college is here, museums, an art colony, and even a minimum security prison.

Helsinki is the most northerly city with a population of over one million in the world. It has close ties with the neighbours to the south, Estonia, the east, Russia and the west, Sweden. Although Finland is not considered a Baltic State it is located on the Baltic Sea.
Amber, or Freya's tears in Norse mythology, is a gemstone of note in this area. Fossilized tree resin from ancient forests washes up on shore, golden like Freya's golden tears, wept eternally as she wanders the earth searching for her lost husband. Still, amber is suppose to bring luck and be good for you. Old graves from Viking times, thought to be the graves of sorcerers, sometimes had amber buried along side the deceased, along with other emblems like Thor's hammer and maybe a few horses sacrificed for the occasion. Sorcerers were respected women back in the day, and sometimes they were buried sitting up. As Christianity started to seep in, around the tenth century, some women would cover all the bases and have Christian religious symbols as well. Amulets of Christian and pagan origin can be found in some of these graves. I will buy my amber further south where it will likely be less expensive.

Posted by CherylGypsyRose 11:24 Archived in Finland Tagged trains history heritage ferry couch_surfing unesco_world_heritage_sight Comments (0)


We needed Subotica.
We had reserved seats on the train from Budapest, and because there weren't many people on board had the whole compartment to ourselves.
It was a pleasant journey of about three hours.
Subotica is clean, the beautiful old town is near the train station, they serve good coffee.
It is located in northern Serbia near the Danube and the Tisa Rivers. It has several Art Nouveau buildings including the Town Hall and the Synagogue, unusual buildings from the early 20th century. The cafes on Corvin Street are beautiful, inexpensive delights.
Subotica has the best coffee culture so far as the cafes are really attractive, good service, well dressed, well groomed patrons, (except for us) and smoking everywhere, on the patio and inside the cafe as well. Keep in mind that this doesn't bother me and Jeff smokes so it was nice for us as we spend a fair amount of time on wifi at cafes.
And the prices are amazing. The cappuccinno is served, cup and saucer, little doily, dainty spoon, maybe a chocolate, maybe they also bring a glass of water, speak English, our kind of place. One dollar for one cup and oodles of atmosphere.
The main square has wifi and is pedestrian friendly.
The Blue Fountain Subotica Serbia

The Blue Fountain Subotica Serbia

Cars drive on the sidewalks and boulevards throughout the area including Lake Palic which is 8 kilometres east of Subotica. We did take a taxi there but took the city bus back. Well loved wines from the sandy local region are served here.
We stayed the first night at an airbnb at Lake Palic just outside of Subotica. Tom and Iona. He was Croation and spoke good English, she is a retired doctor, Hungarian, learning English. Subotica used to.be part of Hungary. Now those of Hungarian descent can have dual passports and Tom has three, Serbian, Hungarian and Croatian. He speaks these languages as well, you have to be able to speak Hungarian to get the passport. Their daughter lives in Belgium, just got married in Sept, her husband is studying medicine there, she works in animation with puppets. I thought Tom was saying puppies and Jeff understood it as poppies, an interesting conversation.

We were served Turkish coffee and got a ride into Subotica in Tom's restored 1956 Mercedes, 17 metres of leather in the interior.
They also had delicious sweet grapes and Iona makes apple and cherry brandy, we had to try some, it was good.
abundance of grapes

abundance of grapes

We were served a special dish with cheese inside like a phyllo or puff pastry crust, Tom went specially to the bakery to get it for our breakfast.
Although it is something of a national dish we have sampled a version of this in Romania as well - burek, brought north by the Turks but I suppose each region or country added a little twist to it.
It was raining on 16 October, worse luck as the day before had been warm and sunny. We borrowed umbrellas and walked the 1.5 km to Lake Palic and sat in a nice restaurant by the lake, drank coffee, I had a slivewitz, cheap, I did not care for this national drink, it was only eleven in the morning. So...
Warmed me up, it was pouring.
We took the bus into Subotica with Iona at 1230, 60 cents. Had lunch at the Boss Cafe, (had lunch and supper there yesterday), nice place, gorgeous patio and the inside has china cabinets full of ornaments.
Very clean.
We had been invited to couch surf with Melinda but wifi was down through the main square so I couldn't contact her. Luckily we found the American Corner at the library, tourist information told us about it, paid for by the U.S., magazines, books, free use of the computers, and the staff there phoned her for us. Melinda came right away to get us, put our backpacks in her car and took us for a walking tour.
We walked to the town hall where everybody gets married, a civil ceremony required, beautiful venue. Then you can also get married in a church like St Therese on the square, really pretty inside with kind of aqua coloured walls and lots of paintings. In the lobby of the Town Hall there were several detailed pictures, done in wheat. Very intricate work, a craft here.
Wheat Picture in Subotica Town Hall

Wheat Picture in Subotica Town Hall

We walked by the second largest synagogue in Hungary, impressive, but in an expensive state of disrepair, nobody can afford to renovate it, so it sits empty, nobody uses it, the Jewish people mostly moved to Israel so the fewer than 300 left cannot support this synogogue and meet in a smaller venue nearby.

We walked through a pretty park called the Little Woods, then Melinda bought us roasted chestnuts from a street vendor, very good. It had stopped raining hours ago and it was a pleasant evening. We went to her place where we each got a room, clean, spotless, comfortable, lovely single family home. She fed us fish soup and bread and the salty version of the national dish burek in puff pastry, kefir, yogurt drinks too and then to the living room for tea with a cookie, make yourselves comfortable, feel free to help yourself, an amazing hostess. She would go to work at 7 in the morning and at 9 or 930 will come back to pick us up. "we will see inside city hall and then get you to the train"...very, very nice woman. We each had our own bedroom, so comfortable and clean. Melinda is Hungarian. She gave us apples to eat on the train, very generous and thoughtful.
We take her for a quick coffee at a super nice cafe she shows us, and then we have the train to catch. Too bad I pre-booked the overnight train from Budapest to Brasov, we are sorry to leave Subotica. We part as friends, funny how you can make such a strong connection in such a short time.
Couch Surfing - go to couchsurfing.org. People of all ages surf and host, you must be prepared to do both. It is so much more than a free bed for a night and we really were invited by some awesome hosts. We must pay this forward when we get home and have had good examples of what would make a good host. To be a good guest you should bring a gift, help out, be pleasant and clean and express interest in learning about the host and the local customs. If all you are looking for is a free bed, then maybe couchsurfing is not right for you!! On this site you have the opportunity to rate your host and they also have the opportunity to rate you. Then you have references for future guests and hosts to peruse when making their decision whether or not to make a connection.

Posted by CherylGypsyRose 11:06 Archived in Serbia Comments (0)

Transylvania, Brasov, Dracula's Castle, Bucharest, Romania

Brasov Romania Oct 18
We took the all night train from Budapest to Brasov commencing our journey at 730 pm. It is a 12 hour trip and we have a sleeping car which turns out to be compact and clean with a sink and a bunkbed. It was relaxing to sit with our feet up, listening to the clickety clack as we quietly chatted. Since it was already dark we did not bother looking out the window. The conductor was nice and told us we would get breakfast in the dining car as it was included in the price of our ticket.
We ate chocolate and chips and felt very cozy.
Jeff had to take the upper bunk as I wasn't about to climb up there!! We had a good laugh as the bunk was narrow and he was worried he would fall out. it should have come with some kind of strap to hold him in. Somewhere between 11 and midnight customs stopped by twice, first the Hungarians, then, just as I may have been falling asleep, the Romanians. All they did was look at our passports and stamp them.
I like the train, the swaying motion, etc but I do not think I slept a wink. I was a bit worried that Jeff might roll over and crash to the floor and also did not want to be sleeping when we rolled into Brasov. But I had a nice rest in my snug little bed.
Anyway we officially got up and went for our "free" breakfast at 7 in the "dining car."
It was so misty, foggy, trees, rolling hills, tiny mountains, rocky, I did not see the wolves, but felt them, sensed them.
In the grey morning light we saw a wagon pulled by horses, more like a farm cart, still it made me think about a headless horseman.
By 930 am we have taken a taxi for ten euros to our "hostel." I booked it on HostelWorld, but it is really a private home. Spotless, old fashioned, greeted by Martha, 79, who showed us our room, utterly charming. She speaks French and Romanian it seems, so with gestures and a few words in both languages we learn that her son will be home in the evening.
We leave our packs and trundle off to explore Brasov. I am back in my hat and mitts and Jeff needs to buy a toque. It is an alpine town. The mountain air is crisp, an overcast fall day.
Brasov like Hollywood has a sign

Brasov like Hollywood has a sign

Within a block we are in a store, maybe 12 by 12 feet, tops, and met the affable thirty something owner, Lewis, who used to work in some kind of movie marketing job and gave it up for this mountain gear shop. We had a fine time visiting with him, had a few laughs, Jeff bought a toque. Lewis knows of Whistler and Vancouver, the perfect combination, ocean and mountains.
We didn't have a map at this point so just walked until we found a nice restaurant, where we had coffee and an early lunch. Wifi is available so we check our emails. It is 11 am, I have a glass of red wine, soup and bread, and then later their special dessert which is like two tennis ball size doughnuts with a vanilla sauce topped off by blueberry sauce. Served warm, very good, yum yum.
Dessert in Brasov

Dessert in Brasov

Good food on a crisp day and now the sun is out. Three older ladies, pearls, well coifed grey hair, take the table next to us. They order wine and eventually eat lunch. So European. Just like me only leave out the well coiffed and pearls.
I am catching on to the culture.
We dawdle about, our whole effort here costs twenty dollars, not bad, and a pleasant environment. Jeff had a big plate of sausage and potatoes, a few cappuccinos and our favourite tonic water Kinsleys. Very lemony and good but wine or beer are cheaper.
Having now killed two hours we go for a walk, check out the local stores, look at the surrounding hills, the "Hollywood" like Brasov sign and pick up a map and some tourist literature.
We go back to our lodging, have a nap, Eugine the cheerful English speaking owner comes home, chats with us a bit. We go, on his recommendation, to Pepperonis for supper. All wood, mountaineering style, I have a Romanian dish, pork stew with a fried egg over polenta. Jeff had chicken schawarma which came on a big plate with salad and fries.
Later we visited with Eugine in the comfy, old world living room, talked til 1130, at least three hours. His mom was a nurse. He is an engineer. When the communists left they got their property back.
They are Romanian, celtic, dacian, something like that. The ancient Dacians lived around the Carpathian Mountains.
Romanian is not to be confused with Roma which is a large culturally and socially disadvantaged group in Romania and other countries. Eugine talks about the monks in the mountains near the pineal clouds, water from the clouds is good for them. Or maybe he meant the clouds are good for the pineal gland, his English isn't perfect.
Eugene knows a lot about natural remedies. The candle plant, verbascus phlomoides, is good for sore joints. Do we have that back home I wonder. You can tap the pure juice from the birch before they bud - note the white bark - tap in the spring like a maple and the juice is good for cancer. Also "sour of the rabbit", is this oxalis acetosella, watercress, good for parkinsons.

There used to be 500.000 people in Brasov but since communism ended and the industries were taken out, it is half that size. That is a lot of people to lose in twenty years. Eugine's dad was also an engineer. He was not a communist. When communism ended the high placed communists all got mega rich. They were also better off during communism so for them it was a win win situation. It is like an old boy's club - if you were in the communist youth then you hire your homies in 2004.
Before communism ended there was. in the last year, food rationing, all the agricultural products were being exported. If you were a good communist you had more food.
He talks about chewing gum, "blades of gum", and how he craved it as a child. A fun conversation.

There are a lot of Hungarians in Transylvania so we are fortunate to now meet a Romanian. The house is furnished in old school Romanian style I think, lots of ornaments, woven tablecloths, needlework table runners, persian style carpets everywhere, but they may be from here. There is a big antique, ceramic tile heater in the living room.
Eugene warns us about pickpockets, especially around the train station and tells us about two Canadian mountain bikers who were robbed and slightly injured recently near Bran. From here on we are worried about being robbed even though we carry little cash and wear money belts and neck pouches. We are bulky all the time with this padding.
Oct 19 - The day was bright and sunny and actually reached 20 C, a heat wave.
Martha gave us a nice breakfast and insisted we have a small glass of brandy. So I had two, Jeff none, did I start out the day slightly tipsy? The main part of breakfast was a cheese in phyllo crust dish, flaky, slightly sweet pastry, brought north by the Ottomans but adopted as a treat here also, Jeff has had it before, is not fond of it, I eat most of his as well as mine so we don't offend the hostess, he will be served a version of this at least twice more in our travels before we get to Turkey. Placinta, there is a sweet and savoury version, we are served the sweet and it is presented and accepted as a special treat and sign of hospitality - albeit that we snuck Jeff's onto my plate, he is now offered more, oh no thank you, no thank you, rubbing stomach, delicious. I like it but can only handle so much.
This is such a cozy house, clean, quiet and comfortable.
We walked to the old town, saw the black and white churches and took a few pictures of Council Square where, it is said, the Pied Piper led the children from Hamelin. There are numerous bakeries, coffee houses and shoe stores around the old town. All kinds of pleasant side walk cafes.

Then at 11 am we decided to go to Dracula's castle. We got lost on our way to the bus station, likely walked five km, took us two hours to find it.
Anyway the bus to Bran was only six lei one way and left right after we arrived which was good.

Bran is a touristy, pretty alpine town. After exploring the picturesque downtown we purchased tickets to Dracula's Castle. It was a beautiful sunny day, small mountains all around, some fall colour, but still very green, a lovely day. Vlad the Impaler may never have set foot here but the castle was home to the royal family for a time and the grand daughter of Queen Victoria lived here.
Dracula's Castle, Transylvania, Romania

Dracula's Castle, Transylvania, Romania

On the way to Dracula's Castle

On the way to Dracula's Castle

Draculas Castle, Transylvania

Draculas Castle, Transylvania

Outside Dracula's Castle

Outside Dracula's Castle

It was interesting to walk all through the castle, quite a large endeavor, furnished in period style, quite a few stairs and narrow passages. Worth it. Tick. We toured a castle.
Now although Bram Stoker, the author, never set foot in this castle either, his classic work, Dracula, can easily be imagined here.
Queen Marie of Romania is said to have lived here around 1920.
Raised in England, the granddaughter of Queen Victoria, she married Ferdinand of Romania when she was seventeen. Queen Marie was a glamorous and interesting figure, her rumoured affairs and unlikely friendship with the Canadian, Klondike Joe Boyle, are documented, and perhaps her story could be a tourist draw as well. Just a suggestion. Joe and Marie got chummy during the first world war and she actually provided the tombstone to his gravesite in London, England. His remains were brought back home to Canada about sixty years after his death and he is now buried I think in Woodstock Ontario. He was called the saviour of Romania and the inscription Queen Marie placed on his tomb reads "Man with the heart of a Viking, and the simple faith of a child."

We ate lunch and had coffee in Bran and caught the van to Brasov at 440, the drive back was only half an hour.
This whole endeavor, start to finish from the bus terminal in Brasov was just over four hours. Anybody could do a daytrip from Brasov in five hours and see a lot of Bran. I enjoyed walking through the market and bought a small cutwork tablecloth, handmade, very similar to Hardanger embroidery. A souvenir of Romania.
One Romanian Leu is about thirty cents Canadian. Therefore a thirty leu tablecloth is about ten dollars. Brasov has a population of about 228,000 and is surrounded by the Carpathian mountains. Bran is a town of about 5000 but does do a brisk tourist trade, thanks to the castle. Try to get rid of your Romanian money in Romania. It may be difficult to convert it in another country.
We stayed at Eugine Jr and Garlicia Guesthouse for twenty five Canadian dollars a night. What a bargain!! Breakfast was not included but Martha did serve us two breakfasts and gave us brandy and cake so we were treated very well. Very homey and warm and exceptionally clean and quiet.
We are wondering why we are still stiff and achy having walked 10 ks a day for a month now. Jeff was chilled last night and not too perky today. Now I have a theory. Mild food poisoning or the flu.
The landlord, Eugene, in Brasov, gave us special herb tea with lemon and at noon we trundled off to the train station.
He called a cab for us and it was one third cheaper than our inaugural trip.
The train station has all kinds of unsavoury types hanging around and we have been warned about pickpockets. We have booked to Bucharest with the idea that we will book the overnight train to Sofia from there. About seventeen Canadian each from Brasov to Bucharest, about 120 kilometres.
We have seats, the train gets pretty full and eventually there are people standing.
Beggars come around from time to time. One kid passes out photocopies of some hard luck story and then comes back around and picks up his money and the photocopies. Another older guy came around, I thought he was crawling but Jeff told me later he didn't have legs. Well, he started the conversation out by saying "I wonder if they get more money if they don't have legs,.....". I'd like to know how he got on the train.

Get into Bucharest at 510 and find out there is no sleeper car available to Sofia tonight, we can get one tomorrow for four people. We don't want to share so will take the day train or bus.
We book into a hostel with wifi and try to get a cab but the driver waves us away with "Get some exercise". No cab driver will take us as the hostel is close and the fare is too low. We now spend two hours looking for the hostel with no luck, ask numerous people for directions, wave down taxis, get refused, it is dark and the streets are badly in need of repair.
Shortly after 8 pm we found a cab driver who took us to the hostel and then they were full and moved us to an affiliate by private car. We had walked through so many dodgy streets we were glad to bunk in across from the French embassy. I must have gone to sleep by 930, felt chilled and exhausted and then Jeff got sick at 5 am so now he is back sleeping but I am awake.
Staying an extra night
On our long route to nowhere last night one of the many places I asked for directions was a hotel, Hello,
close to the train station, where the young man behind the desk spoke good English and did his best to tell us what streets to take. Someone pointed out that we would be walking through a sketchy neighbourhood.
Well I was more surprised today in daylight to see several people running around in housecoats. Like instead of throwing on a sweater I will go out in my housecoat, sit on a chair on the street and visit with my neighbours. Of course last night there were a lot more wearing housecoats because today is warm and sunny.
The sidewalks and roads are in poor condition, we were lucky we did not fall in a hole or get tangled up in a loose wire. There are a lot of loose wires and what appears to be power lines strung through the trees. I would like to get that type of thing in a picture, I would also like to take snaps of some Romas with their long black braids but then I have been warned not to so I don't. Roma are not Romanian but rather from India it is speculated, they have been here since the thirteenth century. Another name, gypsy, is from Egyptian though.
There are a lot of gypsies in the Balkans and right now I am one of them.
Boy, we are lucky - we could have done worse than wander around and get sore feet last night, with the loose electrical wires flapping around, large holes in the pavement and the stray dogs. Last night was the second time we could have benefited from having a cell phone, otherwise it has not been much of an issue. Bucharest seems way more run down than Brasov.
So because we are still under the weather we decided to book into our first real hotel, Hello, for 33 euros which is only a few dollars more than the hostel.
Very nice and a tv with BBC so we catch up on the news.
We walked here from our hostel and this evening walked to the train station and got our tickets, 280 rom for two seats, we leave at one pm and get into Sofia at 1030 at night. We are splurging and staying at the Budapest Hotel for sixty Canadian a night for two nights.
Bucharest train station

Bucharest train station

Some guys at the hostel were saying the train is dodgy and filthy, but we found the train from Brasov fairly comfortable, even though it was crowded, there were beggars on it and there was no toilet paper in the washrooms.

We actually saw very little of Bucharest, other than the area around the French Embassy which has been gentrified and then wherever we were last night in this area near the train station. The largest Parliament Building in the world is here though, with the lofty title, Palace of Parliament.
It is 5 am, between Jeff snoring and the dogs barking I couldn't get back to sleep, after I initially woke up at 330 am. Must try to get some rest so I am alert tomorrow. We have now travelled over 13000 kilometres. It's funny that we don't hear dogs during the day.
Human population of Bucharest is around 1.6 million, dog population is likely 10,000 strays, apparently 75 people get bitten every day but I only discovered this after we left, on the internet, so do not have proper stats.

Posted by CherylGypsyRose 11:00 Archived in Romania Tagged budget backpacking Comments (0)


Budapest Oct 10, 11, 12
Arrived at 1130 AT NIGHT on 9 Oct. on a nice, cheap flight with Ryanair. Highly recommend checking out both Ryanair and Easy Jet for travel within Europe.
October 10 - Gorgeous sunny day.
Took the first taxi of our trip, so far; getting from the airport to our hotel because we arrived so late at night. We are staying at Hotel Timon which is relatively close to the airport. It is actually the nicest, cleanest hostel we have stayed so far, breakfast included, under forty dollars for the two of us. And we met Attilla the Hun. Who knew he was Hungarian? Middle aged desk clerk very helpful and spoke good English.
We have now taken one trolley and two subways to get to our next accommodation. We wanted to get on wifi so are in MacDonalds where they serve the coffee in a cup and saucer and give you a real spoon. Also the fries are different from home, better actually. We do endeavor to eat local food but going on wifi kills a bit of time while we rest our feet and backs. There are lots of backpackers around but I am the oldest one I have seen. Damn I'm good!!
We have rented an apartment through airbnb.
Our accommodation from 10 to 14 October is lovely. The building is from 1850 or something but the apartment has been renovated and is very clean with a 12 foot ceiling and huge windows. The appliances are all new, I am washing clothes. Gabor, as in the Gabor sisters, but this is his first name, our landlord, left detergent, there is also a dishwasher. Flat screen tv with BBC in English. He provided poppy seed croissants also. Strong wifi connection, we are styling!! 176 dollars for four nights. We could sleep two more people here and reduce the cost. Just kidding, it is nice to have this spacious and bright area so we have to push ourselves to get outside and walking while we have good weather. Grocery store and bakery right across the street.
our suite in Budapest

our suite in Budapest

Ok so we went to a restaurant, The Drunken Taylor, just half a block away and enjoyed goulash for supper and then went downstairs to the cellar to listen to folk music. Before we went downstairs our server treated me to "a spirit, the Hungarian Brandy I believe, in a pretty glass. She said, "let it linger". It was good Poplinka. Yes, I liked it and was touched when she said "it is on the house". So now this is our local spot.
Tonight we will go for the beef stew which is likely closer to what we think goulash is, because goulash is actually a soup. People have been good to us.
The folk music was lively, violin, viola and I really liked watching the dancing, the two young men were so light on their feet it was like they were floating and then they would slap their feet. The girls had scarves so although they were in street clothes, as in jeans, the scarf was part of the story. One girl had on a gathered skirt and red tights though and really looked cute when she twirled around. Too dimly lit in the cellar to get a photo. A few wall sconces, candles, reminded me of a coffee house in the late sixties. Or a really retro basement.
October 11
Another sunny day. We bought 3 in one coffee at the grocery store so now I can make a morning coffee. Eegads, this building is being renovated and for the first time I am hearing it (as I write this on Oct 12). It is 845 in the morning though. I am sitting by the window so my aging eyes can see better. Now I looked out and what do you know there are workmen right on our balcony, how they got there I have no idea. We haven't been able to use this balcony due to the scaffolding and in fact they are doing something that involves drilling. Lucky thing I was more or less dressed. Likely scared the guy as I haven't combed my hair and look a fright.
So now I have moved to the desk, slowly, with my coffee. Slowly for my aching feet, we walked up 240 steps yesterday on a long walking tour - free by donation. We saw St Stephen's church, Andrussy Avenue, the Parliament buildings, the changing of the guard at Buda Castle, Fisherman's Bastion.
We walked across the chain bridge from the Pest to the Buda side of the Danube. On those stairs up to the castle I was pretty winded. There is a tram type contraption, the Funincular, that takes people up to Castle Hill but tourists older than me were taking the stairs. So to save face and two dollars I narrowly avoided a heart attack and took the stairs along with most of our walking tour. The thought of a heart attack briefly crossed my mind on step 143 when I stopped counting to concentrate on my breathing, muttering to myself, calm down, calm down.
The Buda side of Budapest

The Buda side of Budapest

We have decided to stay another night so lined that up with Gabor. For 42 dollars a night our rooms are amazing and although we took the subway to the tour yesterday, we did walk (slowly) home. Jeff is usually ten paces out front. So now we will leave on Monday. For lunch yesterday we ate cinnamon buns on the street on the Buda side which is more expensive than the Pest side where we live. While we ate we watched a man play the hurdy-gurdy, an instrument with a crank and drone strings, I had never seen one before. Well I thought it sounded a bit like the bagpipe. It has been around though since at least the 12th Century.
Playing the hurdy gurdy, Budapest, Hungary

Playing the hurdy gurdy, Budapest, Hungary

You should see how far underground the red subway line is, the longest escalator I have ever been on, hope it doesn't break down, could be more than 200 steps. Budapest has the second oldest subway system in the world, the yellow line was built in the 1890s and appears to be original. The red line, built later, has an escalator that takes you deep underground into what was once a nuclear shelter.

Hungarian is an inductive language, shares some root with Finnish and Estonian, and the Hungarians were originally from Mongolia. They are Magyars. Attila the Hun. The seven tribes joined up, didn't go back to Mongolia, and settled down here in Hungary.
They say something like seeya for hello and hello for goodbye.
Warning if you pay your bill and say thank you they think the transaction is over. Keep your mouth shut as you pay the bill and don't breath a word til you get your change. Count it, check it twice, then go ahead and say thanks. The money is confusing and this is a poor country. Also, pulling something over on somebody, may make you feel like a national hero, they have only been free from the Soviets for 21 years, and like the poplinka, the flavour lingers.
However, centuries as a melting pot produces people who look like you and me. They just speak a very difficult language, one of the five most difficult languages in the world and their language makes them good in math and science. They start from the big picture and work their way back. 2012, 10, 11. Like Yoda, their phrasing would be, "go we will".

Budapest has a wonderful Opera House and I highly recommend that you buy a cheap seat in advance, just to get in to look and listen. This is better than a tour. If Budapest is on your itinerary book the cheapest tickets as soon as you can online. Well worth it. I did not do this and really regret it.
Today we are going to the baths, good for rhumatism and whatever ails you. Good day for me to go.
October 11
The jack hammering on the balcony worked better than the alarm clock so Jeff woke up, and soon we were off for our day at the baths.
We went to the Szechenyl Baths at city park on the Pest side. Family friendly, works for us.
3400 florints gives you all day admission. Who spends all day at a thermal bath?
Two hours later I was limp. My fingers looked like prunes. My feet are nice and clean.
Rented a sheet to use as a towel for 500 florints. You get a locker and there are individual change rooms.
The pools are much nicer than Watrous and there are lots of them, also saunas.
Everybody was in a suit and none of the women were topless. We were all there, old, young, men, women, a few kids, the good, the bad and the ugly and nobody cared.
We went into all the warm pools and spent quite awhile in the outdoor pool where some older men play chess. They have been there since Rick Steeves did his video, look just the same.
Very ornate building with domed ceilings and pillars.
Bath in Budapest

Bath in Budapest

foyer of spa, Budapest

foyer of spa, Budapest

We went to a different place for supper and almost washed dishes as I wasn't carrying much cash. I ordered the beef stew and Jeff had chicken paprika. Turned out all the side dishes were extra and I misunderstood the waiter, so when the bill came we pooled all our money to pay the 5400 fl bill and maybe left a 300 fl tip and hightailed it out of there. It was expensive for us, about 29 dollars but there was also a violinist and accordian player. They came to our table and played a special song for us and offered to sell us their cd for 4000 fl but will have to wrestle their share of the 300 fl tip from the waiter. It sounds better in florints, in English it is likely under two dollars. I have no shame and apparently no class either, that was our most embarrassing moment so far.

We had not wanted to have too much cash or anything to steal at the baths so left our credit cards and debit cards at the apartment.
When we got back I felt something lumpy under my shirt and it turns out I had another 2000 fl in my neck pouch so Jeff went to the store and bought some tonic water and yoghurt as supper had been kind of skimpy.
Hungarians consider themselves central European although we are counting it as Eastern European. Budapest is located in north central Hungary and we will travel south to Serbia and then east to Romania by train so we expect to see a lot of the great plains.
October 13
We walked from our apartment along Andrussy Avenue to the Keleti train station and booked round trip to Subotica Serbia and one way to Brasov (sleeping car) for 280 C or 62000 florints, not bad for two poor globetrotters. Built in the 1880s, Keleti Station has an elegant facade.
Buy paprika, does not take up much room, they have a sweet paprika and a hot, get one of each.

After getting the train tickets we went on the free by donation walking tour about Budapest under Communism.
The Parliament Building in Budapest overlooks the Danube and is really beautiful, similar to (but larger than) the House of Parliament in London. Budapest has the second largest Parliament Building in Europe. The largest is the Palace of Parliament in Romania.
Apparently the communists encouraged drinking to keep the people happy, Hungarians are among the heaviest drinkers in Europe we were told on the tour, Top 3 percent, but behind Russia.
We had noticed that there are bars everywhere, not so easy to find a restaurant. Also booze is cheap.
In the main square on a Saturday we people-watched and drank cappuccino on a patio. The people looked very smart, even the men wear a carefully tied scarf in a casual way.
The women are wearing a lot of jeggings and other tight pants tucked into boots, or short skirts over tights, lots of very smooth pulled back hair dos.
Out in the hood where we stay, not so much.
October 14 - we got up early to take the subway to the bus station for our day trip to Esztergom and Slovakia.
We had to transfer from the red line to the yellow line, bought a book of ten transit tickets, each took one, stamped them in the machine, showed them to the transit police, got on the train, red line, got off at the right station, threw away the tickets so as not to get them mixed up with the new tickets we were going to get stamped for the next leg of the journey and were fined each 8000 florints by the transit guards at the exit for not having tickets.
I was carrying the recently purchased book of tickets in my hand so I could divvy them out. There was no explaining the situation, we did not have the stamped tickets to show, anyway, Jeff had the cash on him as he was going to pay the landlord later, I don't think they take credit.
We were so upset by this incident, it really soured us on Budapest in specific and Hungary in general. I think we could have ignored them and walked away but at the time we were so stunned and upset, they were so aggressive and officious, but really they aren't the police. We were targeted as tourists for a cash grab. Now the streets are dirty, the subways stink, we see the vomit and dog poo, we resent that the menu says soup with bread and you don't get the bread, the sign says lunch special til three pm but when you go in at 215 oh, no longer available....but you can order and get the individual items off the menu, they see us coming, dumb tourist, it is a post communist country, poor, the health care is free but people still need to pass cash under the table to their doctor if they want to be given attention when they are sick or in hospital.
We took a bus to Esztergom, had coffee in a bar, walked over the Maria Valeria Bridge to Sturovo, Slovakia.
Bridge over Danube joins Slovakia with Hungary

Bridge over Danube joins Slovakia with Hungary

Being Sunday there was a huge street market, like ten or more city blocks, I lost Jeff for an hour, but he found me so all is good. Sturova has a population of about 11000 and is the southern-most city in Slovakia. There are great views across the Danube of the striking Esztergom Basilica. Slovakia is on the Euro, Hungary is on florints.

Eszertogom is situated on the bend of the Danube River, the domed basilica is perched high above the river, reflected in the water. Rich in history it was the royal seat for two centuries. The largest church in Hungary is located in Esztergom.
We went to a bakery cafe and had dobras tort and chocolate pudding, then Jeff felt sick for a couple of hours from only ingesting sweets and coffee all day. and we came home. You can find bakeries and bars but the family restaurant is elusive - except for Burger King, MacDonalds, take out pizza places. There are lots of restaurants, we just could not find them. Of course the small places like Ezstergom didn't have Macdonalds but we had one in Budapest as a landmark near the subway stop on the way home, stopped in there for fries and they were out of fries, now we are really getting negative, picked up frozen pizzas from the little grocery store and "cooked" supper.
High time to leave Budapest we are seeing the beast, not the beauty. If you stay in the tourist area near the river and the attractions you can walk everywhere, all will be good.
Hungarian florints - as a guide I figured two hundred florints was a dollar. Therefore one thousand florents is five dollars. Twenty five thousand florints is twenty five dollars, no that can't be right - ok one hundred florints is fifty cents, twenty five thousand florints in twelve dollars and fifty cents, no wrong again, it is one hundred and twelve dollars and fifty cents, it is confusing. I had major difficulty with the conversion, ten thousand florints sounds like a lot of money!! That was our daily budget for accommodation and meals.
1.75 million is the population of Budapest. It is considered one of the most beautiful cities in Europe and is a popular tourist destination.

Posted by CherylGypsyRose 10:36 Archived in Hungary Tagged budget backpacking Comments (0)

Marrakesh, Tangiers, Rabat, High Atlas Mountains, Morocco

sunny 20 °C

Morocco borders the Atlantic Ocean to the west and the Mediterranean Sea to the north. The interior features impressive mountain ranges and the Sahara desert.

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 in the group. The other nine travelers 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.
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 remained 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 monarchy 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 eventually 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 satisfied, 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, more like thirty minute 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. The largest square in Africa:
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 has 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 dangling 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, so much smoke from bbq it appears to be burning.
Yes the snake charmers are in the bustling square, camels, donkeys pulling carts, mopeds, bikes, cars, people.
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 08:19 Archived in Morocco Comments (0)

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