10 of the best locations for landscape photography in North Devon

10 of the best locations for landscape photography in North Devon

Grab your camera and head to one of these North Devon landscape photography locations!

North Devon has so many picturesque and photogenic locations that it can often be overwhelming to know where to visit for photo opportunities. To help you out and to give you some inspiration I’ve come up with my top ten North Devon photography spots to visit for landscape photography.

1. Westward Ho!

Westward Ho! is the only town in Britain to have an exclamation mark in it’s name! It has a vast sandy beach that extends for two miles north of the village ofWestward Ho! and is backed by a pebble ridge. The pebble ridge leads onto the the grassy plains and salt marshes of Northam Burrows.
Westward Ho! has numerous beach features which make excellent subjects for landscape photography including groynes, rock formations, sea pool, remains of a Victorian pier, rock pools, beach huts as well as the vast sandy beach.

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A post shared by Kim Stone (@kistography) on

A post shared by Kim Stone (@kistography) on

2. Instow

Instow is on the estuary where the rivers Taw and Torridge meet, between the villages of Westleigh and Yelland and on the opposite bank of Appledore. The beach is perfect for photography as it enjoys few waves because of the sandbanks at the mouth of the estuary cancelling out most of the ocean swell. There are also a large number of boats anchored on the sand which make great subjects. Further down the beach towards Yelland there is a wreck and old jetty.

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A post shared by Kim Stone (@kistography) on

A post shared by Kim Stone (@kistography) on

A post shared by Kim Stone (@kistography) on

3. Hartland Peninsular

The spectacular cliffs at Hartland Quay with their incredibly contorted rock layers are always worth a visit and at low tide there is plenty of sand, rock pools and rocks to scramble over. This wildly beautiful bay offers an ancient quay as well as some some of the most spectacular geology in Northern Europe,

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If you drive to Brownsham National Trust car park on the Hartland Peninsula, near Clovelly, you can enjoy a lovely walk which encompasses both woodland and sea and takes you to the spectacular Blackchurch Rock.

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4. Clovelly

Clovelly is well recognised for it’s steep cobbled streets and quaint cottages but it also has a pretty harbour

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5. Woolacombe

Woolacombe has a long expanse of sandy beach or venture half a mile down to Barricane which is a small picturesque location with rocky outcrops and rock pools.

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6. Croyde

Croyde is a village with old world charm, based on the west-facing coastline of North Devon. It’s sheltered bay makes it a fabulous location for various water based sports. There are three fantastic sandy beaches to choose from and some pleasant walks along the cliff top footpaths.

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A post shared by Kim Stone (@kistography) on

 

7. Great Torrington

Great Torrington is a small market town in the north of Devon, England. Parts of it are sited on high ground with steep drops down to the River Torridge below. Torrington is surrounded by 365 acres of common land surrounding the town on all but the eastern side.

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A post shared by Kim Stone (@kistography) on

 

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8. Bideford

Bideford is a historic port town on the estuary of the River Torridge. Bideford has an old arched stone bridge which was built in 1535 and spans the River Torridge. The tree-lined quay still bustles with fishing vessels, cargo and pleasure boats.

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9. Barnstaple

Barnstaple is the main town of North Devon, England and possibly the oldest borough in the United Kingdom. The River Taw flows through the centre of Barnstaple. It has a traditional pannier market as well as fine buildings and attractive narrow streets and alleys.

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10. Ilfracombe

Ilfracombe is a seaside resort and civil parish on the North Devon coast, England, with a small harbour surrounded by cliffs. The seaside town is home to renowned artist Damien Hirst’s famous 20m high sculpture, Verity. This picturesque harbour town is steeped in maritime history and remains one of the key working fishing ports in North Devon

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Which of these North Devon locations is your favourite landscape photography location?

A place to learn – Education in Cambodia

My trip with Edukid taught me so much about education in Cambodia. On our last day visiting Care For Cambodia schools  with Edukid, we visited a school just outside of Siem Reap. This visit was probably my highlight of the entire trip. The Edukid delegates and children all had a wonderful time. There was so much fun, happiness and laughter. The khmer children fully immersed themselves in our ‘British’ traditional sports day events including a sack race and egg & spoon. The event was finished off with a 1.5km race.

The children were so enthusiastic, cheering each other on and embracing the challenges.

Education in Cambodia - Siem Reap School Sports Day

Sack Race!

Education in Cambodia - Siem Reap School Sports Day

Sack Race!

Education in Cambodia - Siem Reap School Sports Day

Water cup challenge

Education in Cambodia - Siem Reap School Sports Day

Egg and spoon race

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is also the school that left a lasting impression for me and I would like to do something to help.


All of the schools we visited were established beneath the teachers own home – this school was no exception. The red plastic chairs you can see in the pictures (below) were hired in, especially for this sports day event…because the school doesn’t actually have their own tables or chairs. The children are either taught on the floor or the teacher uses his wooden bed frame as a makeshift table. You can see the bed frame in the first picture. 

Education in Cambodia - Care for Cambodia SchoolEducation in Cambodia - Care for Cambodia School Education in Cambodia - Care for Cambodia School

 

 

 

 

 

To buy tables and chairs for this school will cost just £350 and I have pledged to raise the money to fund this for the school. The tables and chairs will be sourced and made within the local village, meaning that the money also goes straight back into the local community.

If you feel compelled to help towards the purchase of the tables and chairs, you can make a donation to my justgiving page and the money will go directly towards helping this school: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/kistography

The Education system in Cambodia

 

“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world”

Nelson Mandela

History of education in Cambodia

Over 40 years ago Cambodia’s education system was destroyed at the hands of the Khmer Rouge, which saw the destruction of all schools and intellectuals were executed. Although, since then the education system has been rebuilt – it still has a long way to go.

According to UNESCO, only 1.6 per cent of Cambodia’s Gross Domestic Product (GNP) is spent on education. The GDP on education in most western countries is anywhere between 5.5 to 6.4 per cent.

The number of children entering education in primary school is increasing and the gender gap is closing, however completion rates for primary and lower secondary school are low. Parents are unable to afford the indirect and direct costs of schooling and many children are required to stay home to help with chores, field work or accessing the labour market.

There is also the problem that due to the insufficient funding, there is a lack of quality education and resources. Much of the education centres around learning by rote – rather than child-led and child-centred teaching practices. Also, children often repeat years and there are many over age children in the primary system who have not transitioned into secondary education. This all contributes to the high drop out rates as children are bored and become unmotivated.

There is also a gap in the provision for early childhood education. Less than 26 per cent of three and five year olds have access to early years development opportunities. Social and languages skills are developed in early childhood and it is important to embrace this stage to facilitate their academic success.

We were lucky to have the opportunity to visit a rural State school in the Preah Sihanouk Province (photos below). The school was closed for the summer holidays but even so – the lack of resources, basic equipment, teaching materials and the state of disrepair was concerning. The library was empty – the books worn, tattered and barely usable. 

Cambodian State School

Cambodian State School Library

Cambodian State School Library

Cambodian State School Library

Cambodian State School Classroom

Cambodian State School Classroom

Cambodian State School Classroom

Cambodian State School Classroom

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Schools are frequently overcrowded so often have two shifts – one set of students in the morning and another in the afternoon.


 

NGO support for education is vital.

 

This is where the work of Edukid and Care for Cambodia comes in. Using the donations they receive they provide supplementary education in their village projects during the afternoon and each child is provided with a school pack which contains everything they need to attend school for that year. Edukid currently supports 2015 children.

It was delightful to witness the children receiving their school packs:

Edukid - Cambodia School packs

Edukid – Cambodia School packs

Me with children receiving Edukid – Cambodia School packs

Edukid - Cambodia School packs

Me with children receiving Edukid – Cambodia School packs

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Here are some photos from a few of the CFC run schools we visited during our trip.

CFC school near Phnom Penh

Children enjoying activities in a CFC school near Phnom Penh

CFC school near Phnom Penh

Children enjoying activities in a CFC school near Phnom Penh

CFC school in Preah Sihanouk Province

CFC school in Preah Sihanouk Province

CFC school in Preah Sihanouk Province

CFC school in Preah Sihanouk Province

CFC school in Preah Sihanouk Province

CFC school in Preah Sihanouk Province

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


How you can help:

Through Edukid sponsorship for £20 a month:

  • A school pack containing school bag, uniform and study material for one child
  • One hour’s supplementary education every day after school
  • Supervision and monitoring of the programme both incountry and externally
  • You will receive annual reports, films and lesson plans and further teaching resources.

Download a sponsorship form here

Alternatively you can make a one of donation via my Justgiving pagehttps://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/kistography

SOURCES:
https://www.unicef.org/cambodia/3.Education.pdf

http://www.phnompenhpost.com/columns/education-and-its-role-cambodia

http://careforcambodia.org.kh/about-cfc/our-projects/

 

 

 

Cambodia

To have nothing, is not an excuse to do nothing.

There are many stories to tell from my time in Cambodia with Edukid and I intend to share them via here, on my Facebook and my Instagram. Some full of hope, some inspiring and some also full of sadness.
 
First off, I’d like to introduce you to the most empathic, selfless, driven, kind-hearted, gentle and caring woman I have met – Bonnie.
 

Watch Bonnie talk about her story here:

 

 
I had the privilege of meeting Bonnie on several occasions during our trip. What struck me immediately, was that consistently she was always putting others first. Whether that be fixing one of the groups broken flip flops, spending a bus journey making origami frogs for one of our younger members, sorting out a confused coffee shop order or cooking for us at the Homestay. It’s just instinctively and intuitively in her nature. No education or training can provide someone with these qualities. However, what education can do is enable someone to embrace those qualities and facilitate opportunities for them, to pay them forward on a much bigger scale. Bonnie had the tenacity to recognise this, when she decided at a young age that she wanted to study medicine. Her desire to study medicine was instigated after she witnessed a pregnant lady and her unborn child die – because they were unable to afford medical care.
 
However, as Bonnie conveys during the video – studying medicine was going to be fraught with barriers. Notwithstanding the cost, there was the fact her parents didn’t want her to have an education as they felt she’d be better off earning money collecting recycling, then marry a man and become a housewife – a fate already decided for many girls in Cambodia.
 
Fortunately, Edukid were able to find a sponsor for Bonnie to allow her to attend university and study medicine. Her sponsors were among the delegates on my trip and it was an honour to be there the moment that they met each other for the first time. Through their generosity, Bonnie will be finishing her medical studies in 2018 and she hopes to become a gynaecologist.
 
Of course, Bonnie has bigger dreams than “just” being a Gynaecologist. She has ambitions to also open a clinic in the slum areas of Phnom Penh. There she will offer free health care to those who are unable to afford it (all delivered around her “day job”). Already, still in training, she makes herself available 24/7 to anyone who needs medical care (often woken at 2 or 3am to see people).
 

A truly altruistic and magnaminous human being. Hopefully, through Edukid we could make her clinic a reality.

Please consider making a donation to Edukid – my Justgiving page will remain active indefinitely: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/kistography

Other ways to donate: http://www.edukid.org.uk/donate/

Choum reap lear Cambodia

After an incredible 11 days in Cambodia, sadly, its now time for me to begin my journey back to the UK.

Our itinerary has been so jam packed that its been impossible to blog everything as it has happened, however when I’m back home I fully intend to share the stories, descibe the places we visited, explain the experiences we had and introduce you to the incredible people we have met along the way.

I have so many tales to tell and challenges I want to take on.

From hopelessness to hope.

So yesterday I arrived in Phnom Penh and met up with the Edukid delegates who I will be spending the rest of this week with. We enjoyed an evening meal together and did our introductions. The group comprises of children, teens and adults, from various walks of life, different areas of the Country, but all with the same goal – to try to promote and support the work Edukid does in Cambodia.

 

Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum

Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum

“From hopelessness to hope.” This is how one of the Edukid delegates descibed our day, today here in Phnom Penh and I think this sums it up rather eloquently! Our day started with a visit to S21 Tuol Sleng Museum of Genocide.

Tuol Sleng Museum of Genocide.

Tuol Svay Pray High School sits on a dusty road on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, Cambodia. In 1976, the Khmer Rouge renamed the high school S-21 and turned it into a torture, interrogation and execution center. Of the 14,000 people known to have entered, only seven survived. Not only did the Khmer Rouge carefully transcribe the prisoners’ interrogations; they also carefully photographed the vast majority of the inmates and created an astonishing photographic archive. Each of the almost 6,000 S-21 portraits that have been recovered tells a story shock, resignation, confusion, defiance and horror. Although the most gruesome images to come out of Cambodia were those of the mass graves, the most haunting were the portraits taken by the Khmer Rouge at S-21. Today, S-21 Prison is known as the Tuol Sleng Museum of Genocide. Inside the gates, it looks like any high school; five buildings face a grass courtyard with pull-up bars, green lawns and lawn-bowling pitches. The ground-floor classrooms in one building have been left to appear as they were in 1977. The spartan interrogation rooms are furnished with only a school desk-and-chair set that faces a steel bed frame with shackles at each end. On the far wall are the grisly photographs of bloated, decomposing bodies chained to bed frames with pools of wet blood underneath. These were the sights that greeted the two Vietnamese photojournalists who first discovered S-21 in January of 1979.”

It’s really hard to find words to truely articulate the experience of visiting S21. This was evident as we all gathered at the end of the tour for our Tuk Tuk ride back to the hotel – somewhat pensive, contemplative and reflective. I’m glad that I was in the situation where we visited this as a group, as it enabled us to share our thoughts and experiences on the journey back. We were all touched in different ways by the exhibits. For some it was the reality of standing within the confines of the cramped cells, for others it was seeing the faces of the victims depicted in the countless photos, for me it hit home when I spotted an English man had been caught up in the atrocities. John Dewhirst, aged just 26, was on a sailing trip with New Zealander Kerry Hamill, and ended up in Cambodian waters. Their boat was seized by a Khmer Rouge patrol vessel and they were brought to S21. The circumstances of their deaths are unclear. One thing is for sure, they were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. About halfway through the audio tour I decided to stop listening as it all got a bit overwhelming. The physical reminders, visual images and paintings were over powering in their own right.

After the museum visit, over lunch we got to meet Care For Cambodia who work in partnership with Edukid. Here we were blessed to meet Srey Da who’s story you can watch here:

Srey Da – Edukid

Tomorrow we will be travelling to Srey Da’s village to see the difference she and Edukid have made in supporting the children to receive an education.

We had a small amount of time to browse the sensory layer cake that is the russian markets. Clothes, jewellery, watches, trinkets, motorbike forks, live crabs, a rainbow of fruit & veg…it’s all sold here! I didn’t buy anything here this time, but thoroughly enjoyed the experience of being there with others as they haggled and bartered for their goods.

Our day was rounded off nicely, when during late afternoon, we all piled into Tuk Tuks and headed off to meet with a group of University students that Edukid are supporting to study. They had organised for us to have a boat ride on the Mekong and they’d prepared a selection of local cuisine for us to eat, which included frog, Amok and fish egg soup! My daughter had challenged me to eat something unusual whilst in Cambodia, so this was the perfect opportunity! I decided to try frog and I’m pleased to say it was actually really tasty!

We had lots of opportunities to mingle and chat with the students. Their grasp of English, significantly better than my Khmer! Their commitment and dedication to their education is inspirational. When we visit the village tomorrow, we will get to meet a number of the students again, as remarkab they now volunteer as teachers in the village, selflessly paying forward their gift of education.

We had lots of fun when we were set the challenge of getting the funniest group photo. Here’s my groups efforts!

 

 

And here is all of us together:

I popped my long haul cherry!

First time long haul flight musings!

This is the first time I have ever flown long haul and it is proving to be an enlightening experience! As I write this, according to the techno wizardry on the screen in front of me, I have flown 2583 miles and I’m currently 37,000 feet above Chelyabinsk (wherever that is?), with 3100 miles left to travel.

1) For weeks I had been suffering ‘anxious, avoidant suitcase attachment disorder’. My mind chewing over what would happen to my precious little pink fella as I travelled between airports from Heathrow > Amsterdam > China > Cambodia. Well guess what…my cheeky little rectangular bag of possessions is making it’s own way there, shadowing me along the route, hopefully meeting me at my destination! How’s about that?!

2) I’m a tech geek kind of girl, so also causing me worry was charging up my various gadgets (the tablet I’m writing this on, my kindle and my iPhone). Well who’d have thunked that in this day and age planes would come equipped with USB charging points… Evidently, not me as Schipol Airport mugged me off £18 for a European power adapter plug!

3) With an 11 hour flight I figured the sensible thing to do, would be to get some sleep… I mean the airline kindly provides a wafer thin blanket, a dwarf size pillow, a scratchy eye mask, ever so slightly reclining chairs, a playlist of soothing and enchanting whale song, seats that only jus accommodate your average size 12 Westener… and luckily for me they also provided me with two adjacent passengers who were more than happy to hog the arm rests for the entire 11 hours! With such comfort afforded to me, I’m sure you can tell I was very appreciative of my two ten minute power naps!

On the subject of arm rests…what’s the deal, because in theatres, cinemas and on planes I always seem to dip out on that front? Answers on a postcard!

4) Nobody needs or should have to endure a hangry Kim. Conscious of avoiding this predicament and oblivious to the seemingly continual provision of free airline meals (having only ever flown budget airlines previously), at Schipol Airport, I decided to grab something to eat. I opted for some unidentified chickeny pizza. Little did I realise I’d get hot meals during each flight. We had two on the 11 hour stretch.

5) …On arrival at Schipol, I was very diligent and checked the departure boards to ensure they married up to the gate information printed on my ticket… ’07’. They did, so I settled myself down for the two hour wait beside ‘Departures 07′, at a charging point (with the aforementioned, gold plated(?), £18 power adapter), to charge my phone and make use of the free Wi-fi. Whilst guzzling down my UI chicken pizza, out of curiosity I thought I’d browse the Schipol Airport website to see what departure information they had for my flight. As I scrolled down, I was immediately perplexed to see that my flight was open for boarding. I looked across at gate 07 and the boards were showing a New York flight.

Confused, I thought I’d look at the airport map. To my horror, I quickly discovered that Schipol Airport was in fact EIGHT times bigger than I’d realised, with gates A through to H! D didn’t actually stand for departures after all! A quick scan of the map revealed I needed G07… Which was over the other frickin’ side of the airport! I hot footed it over there (as fast as one could without looking like a muppet who’d been sat at the wrong gate for the last two hours)! Punctuality is something I pride myself on and I still managed to make it to the (correct) gate with 20 minutes to spare! PHEW! That was a close shave.

6) on a final point….Note to self. China blocks every social media…so no Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Whatsapp or Twitter for me!! I had to go all retro, old school and people watch there instead!

THE MOROCCAN SENSORY LAYER CAKE. TRIP REPORT – DAY TWO!

4 Day 3 Night Private Tour

(repost from a previous blog of mine Feb 2015)

We had lots of reservations about travelling in Morocco – many of which were eased by reading the extensive and reassuring information provided on Trip Advisor forums. It was a daunting prospect, being two female travellers, having to spend 4 days with someone we’d never met before, in a country that was alien to us. I didn’t sleep very well the night before – thinking what have I let ourselves in for?!

It only took a few moments in the presence of our driver, for my worries to be dispelled. As had been arranged, we were met at our Riad at 8:30am. Mohammed, our driver for the next 4 days, introduced himself and immediately demonstrated his polite, gentlemanly manner as he carried our bags up the cobbled streets of the medina. His impeccable manners and charm were endearing characteristics, present for the entire trip. The vehicle (Pajero) was new, clean, comfortable and well maintained.
Mohammed ensured we felt at ease and was very attentive – frequently checking that everything was ok – and giving us space to take in the sights, at the right moments and providing us information as required. When we were taken to ‘prime’ tourists spots, such as the Argan Oil co-operative, Rissani Market or the Labyrinthe Du Sud, in Ouarzazate, Mohammed gave us a pep talk briefing beforehand, explaining that we should not feel obliged to buy and use the opportunity to get lots of photos. This helped us to relax and enjoy these experiences without feeling pressured. He always hovered at a respectful distance and intervened if he felt it appropriate or necessary.
Day ONE of tour:
Today’s journey would take us from Marrakech, across the High Atlas Mountains, ending the day at Ouarzazate. As we drove out of Marrakech, the looming, snow-capped mountains seemed such a contradiction to the dry, arid flat plains stretched out before us. However, it didn’t take long for the terrain to become more rugged and undulating.

Atlas Mountains

Atlas Mountains

Obviously familiar with this route, within a few miles our guide pulled over to provide an opportunity for us to get some photos. Within seconds of us leaving the vehicle I hear the sound of a creaky bicycle pull up behind us (seemingly out of thin air). Immediately the rider begins his well-versed sales patter “Mineral”, “Amethyst” “photo?”. His ‘merchandise’ was three vibrant (more than likely fake) minerals. As fascinating and as dazzling as they were, I rolled off my standard “Non! Merci”. We quickly learned that we could expect to encounter these sellers any time we stopped… no matter how remote or isolated the spot! During one photo stop, my daughter was busy snapping away at the impressive view, when she turned round and was eye to eye with an outstretched hand containing a pair of lizards…. followed by “You take photo?”. I wish I could have captured her expression at that moment! Needless to say she was back in the car like a shot!

Tizi Ntichka

Tizi Ntichka

After a few hours traversing the winding roads, which snake up the sides of the mountains, we passed the highest point (Tizi Ntichka) – blink and you’ll miss it!

Our driver briefly pulled over to allow for an ‘out of the window shot’! We then dropped down off the main road and our guide explained we were heading towards Telouat Kasbah. Traversing the narrow, rugged roads on this part of the journey, left me feeling somewhat ‘sea-sick’!!

Telouat Kasbah

Telouat Kasbah

Telouat Kasbah

Telouat Kasbah

Telouat Kasbah

Telouat Kasbah

Telouat Kasbah was the only place where we needed to pay to visit (20 MAD). We were fortunate to have the place to ourselves. Mohammed explained the history of Kasbahs in Morocco, and guided us through this now unoccupied and largely dilapidated building. The downstairs area (where the poorer people would have resided) crumbling and in a state of disrepair, was dull and uninspiring and doesn’t prepare you for what’s in store upstairs! Floor to ceiling bright zelije tiles, ornate cornices, ironwork window grates and beautiful hand decorated panels on the doors. A photographer’s dream.

Our next destination was Ait Ben Haddou, where Mohammed explained we would break for 90 minutes, for lunch – “and just relax” he reassured us! The restaurant was clearly a regular haunt for organised trips – with numerous 4×4’s and coaches lined up outside. We now realise that lunch breaks were always taken at restaurants that seemed to cater for tours like ours – I wonder if the guides get a discount? They generally offered a limited set menu costing 100 dirhams (£7 approx) – this you needed to pay for (however breakfast & dinner were included in our tour price).
It was pleasantly warm so we chose to eat upstairs on the roof terrace – with a fabulous view of the famous Ksar – Ait Ben Haddou.

Ait Ben Haddou

Ait Ben Haddou

It’s a good job we’d been given those 90 minutes to relax, and a hearty dinner (Moroccans certainly don’t hold back on portion sizes) – as the walk up to, and through, the Ksar involved ascending countless stairs! Nevertheless, it was a beautiful example of traditional Moroccan architecture and I particularly enjoyed walking through the many alleyways that were lined with shops – their vivid scarves, pictures and pottery illuminating our way. Simply charming. I took some of my favourite photos along there.

 

Ait Ben Haddou

Ait Ben Haddou

Ait Ben Haddou

Ait Ben Haddou

Ait Ben Haddou

Ait Ben Haddou

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We travelled on to Ouarzazate – Mohammed drove us past the film studios. He offered us the opportunity to visit them, but explained there wasn’t much to see. So trusting his opinion, we declined!

The final stop of the day was the Labyrinthe Du Sud – an Aladdin’s cave with two rooms full of antiques, proudly displayed against striking indigo walls and a vast pillared room, stacked with multicolour rugs and carpets. Mohammed left us in the capable hands of an animated and enchanting man, adorned in indigo blue traditional berber robes and headdress. We were guided through a whole host of artefacts, enraptured by their fascinating and eclectic history, before being led into the brightly lit carpet bazaar! I knew this was where they were going to get into serious sales pitch mode as the mint tea made an appearance! We took a seat, accepted the tea and braced ourselves for the sales pitch! I was quite happy to sit back and enjoy the ride as I knew I only had 200 MAD on me…. I doubt that would have even got me a carpet tile! Berber man and his faithful assistant set about a well choreographed routine, producing intricately made rugs and passionately illustrated each design for us… “these diamonds represent the Milky Way”, “this chevron show shooting stars” “pyramids for sahara desert” ,“this rug fold into suitcase to go on mule”, “this is family rug for marriage”. After being presented with about 15 rugs – getting progressively smaller, the anticipated sales pitch made it’s appearance. 1500 MAD for the smallest one… I took out my 200 MAD and conceded, “I don’t think this will buy anything here?”! Not surprisingly, we were soon redirected to a room containing jewellery and smaller artefacts where we leisurely snapped a few photos before returning to Mohammed outside.
My daughter and I now fondly remember this encounter and chuckle when we see a rug – as it provides an opportunity to try our best to creatively interpret the designs! It doesn’t quite have the same resonance on a brown two-tone IKEA rug though!

Just a 5 minute journey down the road and we arrived at our hotel, Riad Bouchedor. The grand building seemed very out of place amongst the incomplete and under construction buildings surrounding it. The staff were courteous and attentive at all times. The room was probably the best we experienced during the entire trip. Dinner was a fixed menu – and the food just seemed to keep coming (7 courses??). For some unknown reason my phone wouldn’t connect to the WiFi (although my daughters would) – as a result there then ensued about 45 minutes and seven Moroccans trying to get it connected for me…. I really wasn’t that fussed about having WiFi, but I was flattered and appreciated their relentless determination!

THE MOROCCAN SENSORY LAYER CAKE. TRIP REPORT – DAY ONE!

REPOST FROM PREVIOUS BLOG FEB 2015
Curious to see more of the world, I decided to book my first ever holiday outside of Europe, bringing my 16-year-old daughter along for the ride too. Fortunately she is better travelled than me – having already visited Swaziland last year with her school. After much research and reading of the Trip Advisor forums I opted for Morocco as my destination of choice. My friends told me I was ‘brave’, ‘mad’ and that I should cover up (head to toe). ‘Stay safe’ were their parting words! Clearly these are people who have not truly experienced Morocco.

[THE FLIGHT – ARRIVAL]
Our early morning journey to Morocco began with us having the pleasure (!) of being seated next to a gentleman on the plane who was afflicted with verbal diarrhoea! He deemed it appropriate to tell me his life story, and then continued the one-way conversation by delighting in talking me through mobile phone photos of his dog, Porsche engine, family and 12 beheaded men (as you do)! He also relentlessly tried to get me to join him in drinking his recent purchase of duty free whisky (an absolute bargain apparently)…why am I such a ‘nutter magnet’?! He explained how his last trip to Marrakech had involved 8 men, a villa, 32 litres of spirits and the nightclubs. This time he was bringing his wife back for a similar experience! Lucky lady (?!) Needless to say, his itinerary was clearly very different to ours!

From the minute we stepped off the plane, we were experiencing the sensory layer cake that is the hustle and bustle of daily life in Marrakech. The heat enveloped itself around us. Despite it being mid February, it was pleasantly warm – comparable to a good English summers day. All around the airport, Moroccans were busying themselves (in a way only Moroccans can…often this seems to involve not much, apart from sitting/standing around and chatting)! We could hear the distant throng of a busy city – mopeds, cars, horses hooves, braying donkeys and the general buzz of animated chatter.
On a practical note, when you first arrive at the airport you are required to complete an embarkation card before passing through the passport control, so it definitely pays to have a pen in your hand luggage. Like a good boy scout, my daughter and I were prepared for this. You will need your passport number and hotel/Riad details to complete the form, so make sure these are to hand too.

We made arrangements with the Riad to provide a hotel transfer at a cost of 15 Euros. This meant a smiling Moroccan gentleman, holding a sign with our Riad’s name on it, greeted us in the arrivals lounge. For a fleeting moment we felt important! He whisked our cases from us and guided us towards his taxi, exchanging conversation in broken English and we had our first opportunity to practice our scant French linguistic skills! We trekked across the car park through lines of tired looking beige colour Mercedes (I bet they have many a tale to tell) – but fortunately 15 Euros buys you a little more luxury and our journey would be in a clean, modern people carrier. This was our first taste of Moroccan travel and roads…and suffices to say – anything goes! There seems no limit to how many people you can cram on a moped, or any regulation regarding wearing helmets. Mum on the front wears a flimsy plastic one, small child clinging on behind – no need (hold tight and hope for the best)! Cars, cyclists, motorcyclists, donkeys and pedestrians all seem to have a knack of weaving around each other without causing a collision! With my inexperience and lack of confidence as a driver, I was definitely best placed in the passenger seat! After a hair raising and eye-opening, 10 minute journey we arrived at an arched gateway in the ‘orange-red clay and chalk walls of the ‘red city’ (medina). Here a young Moroccan ‘Ali’ who was our host at the Riad Inaka, met us and guided us down the cobbled streets to the tucked away building.

[ACCOMMODATION – RIAD]

Riad Inaka is nestled amongst several buildings within the narrow passageways and Derb (streets) of the Medina (old town). We’re glad our host, Ali, came to meet us from the taxi, as the black, fortified, door only sported a small, shiny, discreet, brass plaque with the Riad’s name. The red clay, non-descript and unassuming exterior of the building gave no clue as to what lay inside. Once through the door we entered into a traditionally decorated courtyard.

Riad Inaka Courtyard

Riad Inaka Courtyard

The floor was tiled with soft blue and red patterned tiles that extended up and around the base of a central fountain.

Riad Inaka Courtyard fountain

Riad Inaka Courtyard fountain

The space was furnished with a mixture of traditional and modern furniture and had many plants dotted in between. Above us was a sliding roof, which was half open, allowing the midday sunshine to warm the space.

Riad Inaka Courtyard

Riad Inaka Courtyard

 

We were invited by Ali to take a seat, where we were then presented with our first exposure to the infamous mint tea – A small decorated silver teapot and two mini patterned glasses, neatly seated on a silver tray. Being a newbie to this territory, I was not yet familiar with the etiquette to tea pouring and I clumsily went to pour the tea – as Ali arrived back with a selection of Moroccan pastries (cookies). He chuckled, and rescued me from my uncouth moment! It would seem there’s definitely a knack to this tea pouring business – none of this ‘instant cuppa’ we are accustomed to in the UK! The teapot is poured from high, and the first poured glass is returned to the pot. I had read that the tea is very sweet, often with copious amounts of sugar added. This one wasn’t! I guess they were trying to cater for the western palette! It turns out I do prefer it sweeter!

After 10 or 15 minutes to enjoy our beverage we were shown to our room. It was situated on the upper floor, which overlooked the courtyard below. The bijou size of the room allowed for two single beds, with just enough space to get between them. There was a compact curtained wardrobe and to the right an ensuite with sink, toilet and shower. Ali showed us how to operate the air conditioning – setting it at 30 degrees for us (!), then left us to unpack. The room was simple, well presented and met our needs. For the price we paid (about £25 a night) I was delighted with the standard.

Riad Inaka bedroom

Riad Inaka bedroom

Like many of the buildings in the Medina, the Riad has a roof terrace. We took the opportunity to take in the panorama of the distant snow-capped Atlas Mountains, looming above the tightly packed rooftops of the cramped Medina.

Riad Inaka roof Terrace

Riad Inaka roof Terrace

Breakfast was substantial (compared to what I would usually eat)! Every meal in Morocco seems to be accompanied by bread – breakfast was no exception, although rather than the customary round Moroccan bread, we were treated to French baguette. We had a choice of tea or Coffee. We chose coffee for our early morning caffeine jumpstart, plus we were also given freshly squeezed orange juice. The main breakfast was pancakes or potato scones.

Jumping ahead a little here, but it seems appropriate to include this now as I am describing our Riad experience… Having read the Riad reviews, and then met Ali, we wrongly assumed that he was someone who’s word was reliable. We discovered this was naively misplaced, after we returned to the Riad from our four-day desert trip. Whilst we sat and enjoyed a welcoming mint tea he enquired as to the cost of our desert trip. I told him the price (350 EUROS each) and he looked shocked and told us that it was too expensive. I had done extensive online research, and the price was the cheapest of all the quote requests I’d made for our itinerary (about seven quotes altogether). I know that you can go on group trips for significantly less, but we made a conscious choice to pay the extra, and have a private tour. I thought nothing of this conversation, and just assumed Ali was not fully aware of the full package we had benefited from (and also the fact that to Moroccans, this is a lot of money). The next morning we decided we wanted to visit the Ensemble Artisanal. According to our Trip advisor app it was 2 miles away. Having only spent a brief amount of time in Marrakech on our first day, we thought we’d take a taxi there and then walk back (via Djemaa El-Fna). After breakfast we asked Ali if he could arrange a taxi for us. He quickly replied with “I can do private taxi for 300 Dirham”. I knew straightaway that this was extortionately high. My daughter quickly tapped it in her currency converter app and it was £20! Ali, still hoping for a sale, explained, “Taxi will wait for you and bring you back”. I let him know that it was too expensive and that we wanted to walk back. He replied (with what I have now concluded is a facetious response), “I know. It’s too expensive”. He was clearly having a sly dig at our discussion from last night regarding the cost of our desert trip. He then walked us out towards the main street to get a taxi. On the way we met a local man who seemed to ask Ali if we wanted a taxi. After a stream of exchanges between them in Arabic – it was offered to us at 70 MAD (just under £5). We opted for this just to get where we wanted! With hindsight (and discovering it was NOT 2 miles away) I also believe this was too expensive! I’ll write more about this part of our trip, later!

[TIME TO EXPLORE]

After settling into our room, we decided we would make the most of our half-day in Marrakech, as in the morning we would head off on our four-day tour. We were beginning to feel hungry so we decided to find somewhere to eat, therefore Jemaa El Fna seemed like the obvious port of call.
We asked Ali for directions, but by the time we had followed the first two instructions we had forgotten the rest, so we employed the use of the Trip Advisor City Guides app. Thanks to the app (which you can use offline) we effortlessly navigated the streets… when I say effortlessly, I am simply referring to the sense of direction. There is nothing ‘effortless’ about walking along or across these lively streets! You will find yourself zig-zagging around food stalls, parked vehicles, ambling pedestrians, stray cats, rubbish, parked donkeys – whilst also dodging the approaching mopeds, cars, donkeys, men pulling carts and cyclists. Crossing the road is a rousing experience, which I can only liken to playing ‘chicken’ as a child! Very rarely will a car stop to let you cross the road (even at marked crossing points). We quickly learned to shadow the locals as they crossed the road – closely following their path between the moving vehicles. By the end of our stay we were able to cross like a local too!

As we strolled down Rue Bani Marine, approaching Jemaa El Fna, all of our senses were being invaded and tantalised. The exotic aromas filled the air, and the sounds of drums and snake charmer flutes become louder and more hypnotic. Brightly coloured Caleches (horse drawn carriages) were lined up ready to whisk tourists off around the city.
I had read about the atmosphere (and the pit falls) of the square so we tentatively circumvented the perimeter. We saw leashed, performing monkeys wearing nappies, not something that interests us, Henna ladies perched on plastic stools – accosting anyone that walked within arms reach. Men in fringed hats and multicolour costumes, clang brass cups together, asking “Take photo?”. Teeth sellers sit with their best gnashers, dentures and braces proudly for sale on their table. We quickly bypassed charmed snakes (no thank you) and wide stepped the rows of orange juice sellers who relentlessly called out “Ay, Ay, Ay”. Crowds gathered around acrobats, story tellers and musicians as they performed in whatever space they could find.
Behind the sellers on the central square we discovered the labyrinths of souks (markets). Whilst browsing the vibrant, enthralling and colourful souks we were called ‘skinny girls’, ‘fish and chips’, ‘sexy ladies’, ‘Asda Price’, ‘nice eyes’ as well as being asked to buy some unknown item which included 10,000 free camels and a Ferrari! “Everything is free to today ladies”. “It’s free to look”. I quickly developed a quite tuneful ‘Non! Merci’, accompanied by a cheeky smile – much to the amusement of the traders!

We’d only arrived in this vibrant city about 2 hours ago, but already we felt we had experienced more than our brains could accommodate. We decided it was time to do what Moroccans do so well, and stop for a sit down, a tea, something to eat and recharge! We chose a quiet, shaded restaurant on the far edge of the square. We thought this would allow us chance to digest the experience and avoid the sellers. However no place is free from traders (even high in the mountains as I will detail later)- cigarette and souvenir sellers were free to meander around the outside seating areas of the restaurant! My daughter opted for the safe option and chose pizza, whilst I was feeling braver and chose beef & vegetable tagine, accompanied by mint tea (this time with sugar).

Beef and vegetable Tagine

Beef and vegetable Tagine

With hindsight, the food was average, but as newcomers to the culinary delights of Morocco, it seemed like a taste sensation!

Now feeling recharged and primed to put my haggling to the test, we revisited the stalls in the souks. I proudly carried out my first barter purchase…for some shampoo (we forgot to pack ours). Afterwards, I calculated I had probably paid way too much! But it was genuine quality shampoo you see! “Handmade in the mountains by Berber women with their bare hand…Not factory shampoo”!!

We returned to the Riad taking an alternative route back to amble around the Minaret de la Koutoubia and the park behind it.

Minaret de la Koutoubia

Minaret de la Koutoubia

We had a couple hours breather, sat on the Riad roof terrace, drinking mint tea, and made use of the free WiFi.

That evening we ate on the third floor of the Café De France. We hadn’t chosen this restaurant for its food…but simply so that we could enjoy the panoramic view across Jemaa El Fna. The food was a limited choice, from a set menu (100 MAD – approx. £7). Salad for starter (which we didn’t eat as we read it can cause a dicky tummy). Chicken Cous Cous for main, followed by seasonal fruit (mandarins) for dessert. Drinks were approx 15 MAD (£1) each.

 

 

The sun slowly set on the horizon, creating a beautiful silhouette skyline. The lights of the stalls illuminated the hustle and bustle that raged on below us. A perfect end, to an exhilarating first day.

Djemaa El-Fna at sunset

Djemaa El-Fna at sunset