Tag Archives: travel

San Francisco: Golden Gate Park, Mission Dolores and family fun

It’s hard to believe that it’s already two months ago that I was anticipating the arrival in San Francisco of my dear friend Heather. The wonderful thing about blogging after the event is that it gives me a great way to remember every laugh, every bit of sight-seeing and every glorious glass of California red drunk!

There are many fab things to do in SF and I would put The Japanese Tea Garden right up there near the top of the list. It’s a glorious little corner of delicate loveliness. To get there, we walked up through Haight Ashbury, as we had to have a little look at the ‘hippy’ area.

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It was a really bright day, so my pictures of the Japanese Tea Garden aren’t brilliant but hopefully these will give you an idea of how nice it is.

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We also sauntered around the Botanical Gardens. I like the way the gardens are divided into the world’s regions, so that you step from one type of flora to another.

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The next day’s sightseeing was to Mission Dolores and to see the Mission district murals. The first is San Francisco’s oldest building. It’s thick adobe walls mean that it has withstood all the earthquakes. It’s a wonderful chapel with a cathedral next door and I’m glad I visited.

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The murals are great. We didn’t have much time, as we were heading off to meet my Aunt and Uncle, flying in from Atlanta that morning, but what we did see were wonderful.

And then it was time to reunite. I have the most welcoming family imaginable in the states and they all ‘re-adopted’ my friend Heather in super quick time (it had been many years since she had visited Boston with me).

Niece and Aunt reunited.
Niece and Aunt reunited.

Thursday dawned bright and clear again. No San Francisco fog for us at all! After a morning at the Asian Art Museum, we headed off for Sausalito, for gorgeous ice cream and a very hospitable bar, The Wellington Arms pretending (and failing in the best way possible) to be an English pub!

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Friday was Dave’s birthday and it was off to Alcatraz for us. I had underestimated how interesting it would be. The culture snob in me couldn’t figure out what could be so fascinating about a prison. I stand corrected. It was superb. Great location with amazing views back to the city and an audio tour that immerses you in the prison stories. I highly recommend going. Alaz (see what I did there?!?!), I forgot my camera.

The day finished with an undoubted highlight of the trip; supper in a private dining room at Restaurant Gary Danko. Great food, pretty place and the best company.

Private dining room at Gary Danko
Private dining room at Gary Danko

The menu was mouth-watering.

Gary Danko - menu
Gary Danko – menu

I started with Lobster salad, moved onto the scallops, main course was seared tuna, then cheese and finally a lovely dessert that I failed to snap!

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A fantastic night and one to be remembered.

Tomorrow, on tour in Napa!

By Carole Scott

 

California: the joy of redwoods and friendship

A few years’ ago I went on a fantastic trip to Cuba (I can recommend Intrepid Travel‘s itinerary – it was a scorcher!). From one two week trip I made six really wonderful friends, three who (now) live in Australia, one in Cuba and two in California.

Janet and Carol, my Californian friends, weren’t on the same trip as I was but it was these two fantastic women with whom I shared most late nights, as most of my group tended to go home quite early. I chatted happily with Janet and Carol in between fantastic dances with their tour leader, Roger.

When I went to Burma in December, it was a real kick to meet up with Carol and Janet for lunch in the capital, Yangon – they were on the last day of their trip and we were on the first day of ours.

As soon as I confirmed that I would be visiting California, I got in touch with Carol and Janet. Not for us a quick lunch in San Francisco – no, the plan was for Janet and I to travel up from the Bay Area to Carol’s place in Humboldt County. I was excited to get into the heart of the redwood forests.

I had completely underestimated, though, just how wonderfully remote Carol’s place was. I had the most fantastic few days, in a place of such peace and calm that if I hadn’t been returning to meet my lovely friend from the U.K. and to reunite with the U.S. branch of my family, I think I may have skipped town altogether!

Janet gamely agreed to travel up Route 1 instead of the quicker Route 101, just so that I could get the feel of the coastal road. Wow, it winds and winds and winds! There were stunning views all the time and it was certainly worth feeling dizzy. For some inexplicable reason, I didn’t take a single photo. I’m blaming the jet lag.

Finally we moved inland and Janet pulled over to let me see my first Redwood Grove. It’s amazing to me that such mighty trees are growing right next to the road – sometimes even beginning to encroach upon it.

© Carole Scott 2013
© Carole Scott 2013
© Carole Scott 2013
© Carole Scott 2013
© Carole Scott 2013
© Carole Scott 2013

Humboldt4After a good eight or so hours on the road, we arrived and Janet pulled off the road onto a dusty track. As we wound up the hill, I was enchanted by the views of meadows. It simply wasn’t what I expected.

That evening we caught up, ate, drank and laughed. All the time, the view from Carol’s deck beguiled me and I came back to it time and again during my few days. I loved it best in the morning, when the breeze rustled the beech tree, the wind chimes sang and the crickets (cicadas?) chirrupped noisily but no other sound could be heard. I meditated, I did some yoga, I read. I was calm.

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This short clip doesn’t do justice to it but it helps remind me of the peace…

Carol, Dexter (the dog), me and Janet on the deck:

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Janet left the morning after we arrived (all thanks for her for making the trip when she had to dash back!) and Carol, Dexter and I set off for a lovely long hike through meadows and pine woods over to friends about seven miles away. It was a glorious day – clear blue skies but not blisteringly hot.

I drank wonderful pinot noir made from these grapes
I drank wonderful pinot noir made from these grapes

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Nanny goat looks round for her kids
Nanny goat looks round for her kids
Nanny goat and kids on a neighbour's land
Nanny goat and kids on a neighbour’s land
Jumping for joy on a spring day!
Jumping for joy on a spring day!
Meadow and pine - the views just went on forever.
Meadow and pine – the views just went on forever.

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A banana slug - what a revolting-looking creature!
A banana slug – what a revolting-looking creature!

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One very happy dog, roaming free!
One very happy dog, roaming free!

The next day Carol took me to the ‘Avenue of the Giants’, which delivers what it promises…great big glorious redwoods! Stunning.

It was a wonderful trip and I shall always treasure both the views and the conversations. It has certainly opened my eyes to just how beautiful California is and I will return to see more of it.

Thank you, Carol, for such a lovely visit and to Janet for driving up there!

Next time, back to San Francisco for wine, sight-seeing, family reunions and glorious food!

By Carole Scott

San Francisco: Part one of a great holiday

I’ve had a busy few weeks, so my poor little blog feels rather neglected. I was expecting sun today but as it hasn’t appeared, I’ve finally had a chance to stay in and do a wee bit of editing.

My trip to San Francisco began with the first of many superb brunches at Kate’s Kitchen, just round the corner from my cousin’s apartment. I don’t have photos but I can tell you that if you’re in the area, it’s a must visit. Featured on the front of Jimmy Smith’s ‘Home Cookin’, it’s a great little place with the best scrambled eggs I’ve ever had.

Food related Blue Note cover no. 1
Food related Blue Note cover no. 1 (Photo credit: tristanf)

Fuelled up, we set off for Marina Green to begin a six mile walk up round by the Golden Gate Bridge, round the coastal path to Land’s End.

The walk gave us a chance to catch up on a few years’ of gossip. It doesn’t matter a jot that I’m 19 years older than Andrew; we have heaps to talk about. I did manage to look at view after view of the bridge, though. I’m sure someone has written a great book about the psychology of bridges, investigating why they have such an impact on us? It’s not just the fantastic engineering; there’s something that goes much much deeper than that. Whatever the deep-seated fascination, the Golden Gate really does have a visual pull and I took too many photos. Here’s my gallery:

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Our end goal was Cliff House, the bistro complex on the site of the old Sutro Baths. It’s a stunning location. With spectacular views of the setting sun, we had a hoot of an evening. A friend of Andrew’s works there, so we sat at the bar, noshing on really rather gorgeous food including a scrummy tuna tartare. Entertainment was provided by a very good-looking guy who ‘races powerboats’. I missed a cue early on in the conversation (old age; getting deaf) and thought he meant speedboats, actual boats that people sit in. Nope. We’re talking remote controlled boats; the kind that sad whiskery guys put on park ponds on Sunday mornings. I’m sure it was all BS, as believe me, I had a wee look around the internet and couldn’t find any evidence of him or the well-paid professional circuit he was ‘leading’ in. But it was entertaining stuff, particularly when he said I could ‘take’ his number in case I wanted to hook up later in the week. I didn’t laugh. I played nice.

A fun end to a superb first day of sight-seeting. The hike was the perfect way to start a San Francisco trip – it cleared the jet lag and gave me heaps of views of that international orange bridge.

Join me next time, when I’ll be off to get back to the Land in Humboldt County.

By Carole Scott

 

Marrakech: to the hills, the Majorelle Gardens and buying a rug!

On the second day in Morocco my friend Liz and I decided a day trip out of the city was in order. A lovely couple from our Riad decided to join us and I imagined a trip for just the four of us. I should have realised that for 200 dirham it wouldn’t be quite that exclusive!

We were taken by taxi to a petrol station near the Koutoubia Mosque, where we joined about 15 others on a minibus.

It was a nice trip but rather cheesy. We headed into the Ourika Valley.

Ourika Valley with the Ourika River.
Ourika Valley with the Ourika River. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Our first stop was at a herb/argan oil place. Although touristy, it was genuinely interesting and I bought Amber perfume, which I love (still haven’t quite worked out what Amber actually IS though!).

Onto our next stop, which was truly cringe-worthy. A beautiful Berber man guided us round a ‘traditional Berber house’. I don’t like being shown round people’s houses when I’m not a real guest. What need do I have of gawping at someone’s bedroom or storeroom? I was glad to leave simply because I felt it was a plastic experience.

We headed up the valley to go see some waterfalls. This was huge fun, with local daytrippers as well as international visitors.

Clambering ensued, to reach a small and then a larger (just) waterfall. They weren’t spectacular but it was fun watching our guide scamper around sure-footed as a mountain goat, helping everyone from slip-sliding middle-aged women to a five-year old girl. Moroccan men showed off by leaping from rock to rock, while women with high heels or backless slip ons tip-toed up and down, much to our amazement.

I have no photos, as they died in my memory card crash. Hot and thirsty, we tripped back to the city and headed for our rooftop haunt to watch the sunset and the world going about its business.

The sun begins to set
The sun begins to set
The sun dips a little lower
The sun dips a little lower
And it's gone...
And it’s gone…

It was a touristy, fun day. I wouldn’t particularly recommend the trip we did but it’s a nice punctuation if you’re only going to be in Marrakech and want to see something else of Morocco.

Our third and final day started early-ish. The Majorelle Garden was top of my list of things to do as, along with the Ben Youssef Medersa, I had missed it last time. I had read that it’s super busy by 10 a.m. so my original plan was to be there for eight. That didn’t happen but thankfully it was still quiet when we got there at 9 am. I really would recommend being the first in, as by the time we left, it was getting busier.

You can read about the gardens here. It’s a gorgeous walled garden, filled with water features, the famous ‘majorelle’ blue at every turn and urn, and is delicious in its clever walkways and bowers.

It is also very difficult to photogrpah! Here’s my poorly attempts at capturing some of the delight.

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We returned to the square – well, it was time for coffee and, of course, more people-watching!

Next up was some actual shopping rather than simply ‘souking’ up the atmosphere. Liz wanted a rug. I didn’t, as there is no space for any more. We headed for the carpet section and I was immediately distracted by a cute little kitten.

I don't like cats but how could I resist this little mite?
I don’t like cats but how could I resist this little mite?

Liz bought a rug and, inevitably, I did too! I have a high atlas one (traditional deep red kilim) but simply couldn’t resist the Berber colours and designs.

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Once you have decided to buy a rug, it’s a hugely enjoyable process. The key to it is to start with a rough budget in your head. If you can afford to spend £100, for example, don’t go crazy and spend double the amount!

Choose your shop, accept a glass of mint tea, sit back and let the show begin. As many rugs as you want to see will be arranged in front of you. Then you narrow it down to two or three. If you don’t think they’re quite right, look at more until you stumble across ‘the one’, the rug that makes your heart sing.

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Yassin gets out the first kilim, the one that eventually became mine by accident!

Once you have it sight, start the negotiations, keeping hold of your budget and feeling confident that hard-bargaining on both sides is all part of the fun. If you can’t get down to a price you’re comfortable with, then be prepared to walk away.

But don’t walk away too early as a tactic!

I don’t know why I thought I would come away empty-handed. As Liz bought her big rug, I salivated over another that she had rejected. Alas, it was way outside my budget so I negotiated on a smaller one instead. We were all happy!

Yassin and his Dad
Yassin and his Dad

We couldn’t leave before trying out a traditional Berber wedding cloak!

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More shopping and then lunch. Yes, you’ve guessed it – more people-watching.

Lunch above the spice market
Lunch above the spice market

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We wandered around and deliberately got lost. Now that we had done our essential shopping, we were happy just to discover.

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We found the dyers' souk
We found the dyers’ souk

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By this time we needed a rest. On the way back to our Riad, I took three of my favourite photos of the weekend.

This photo makes me want to write a mystery set in medieval Marrakech
This photo makes me want to write a mystery set in medieval Marrakech

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Shed full of random bike parts
Shed full of random bike parts

Our pretty Riad was the perfect place for a rest.

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A pool you would never want to dip in!
A pool you would never want to dip in!

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Before we knew it, it was time for our final night in the Jemaa el-Fnaa. The food from the stalls is far more interesting than what we had eaten in restaurants and I only wish I hadn’t been so chicken before!

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And so the long weekend drew to a close…back home to cold old Britain!

By Carole Scott

Marrakech: sight-seeing, people-watching and back in the souks

Last weekend I was in Marrakech. My friend and I arrived after dark and after storms, so we woke on Saturday morning unsure of what would await us outside.

This was the wonderful blue sky that greeted me as I opened the door of our room.

Blue sky above Marrakech © Carole Scott 2013
Blue sky above Marrakech
© Carole Scott 2013

I was happy and couldn’t wait to start the day.

First stop was to find our way back down to Jemaa el-Fnaa, as we had become pretty lost the night before. After many digressions into souk alleyways we made it and headed straight for the Cafe de France balcony, which gives a great view of life happening down below. It was to become a regular haunt in our short stay.

All along the rooftops are satellite dishes and people working/having a break
All along the rooftops are satellite dishes and people working/having a break
My Dad swears he recognises this face from his last trip to Marrakech!
My Dad swears he recognises this face from his last trip to Marrakech!
We had no idea how this cart had fitted into the souks in order to emerge from them!
We had no idea how this cart had fitted into the souks in order to emerge from them!
A helping hand...
A helping hand…
Another helping hand
Another helping hand
Ancient and modern together
Ancient and modern together

I could have stayed there all day – not only was the people-watching magnificent but the coffee was superb. Best of all there was shade for me and sun for Liz – the perfect arrangement! But the Ben Youssef Medersa, the tanneries and the souks were calling.

When I visited Morocco in 2002 with a travel company that still claims to be all about ‘small group travel’, even though we were in a group of 24 (begins and ends with ‘e’), our local guide promised we would visit the famous Ben Youssef Medersa (or Madrassa as it used to be – why the change, I wonder?). He failed to deliver on his promise two days running, so this architectural gem was top of my sight-seeing list.

I could quite happily have spent a few days contemplating life and studying in one of the tiny rooms off the courtyard. Here are my snaps. If you go to Marrakech, I would recommend it as a ‘must see’.

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Happy me in the medersa
Happy me in the medersa

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We had a lovely lunch break nearby and I couldn’t resist taking sneaky snaps. There are so many interesting, craggy and beautiful faces in Marrakech but it’s not a place where I feel comfortable asking to take people’s photos – it’s hard to get your hands on small change and many people who would make for the best pictures would need a little ‘thank you’.

So these are my sneaky lunchtime ‘world goes by’ photos.

Marrakech40 Marrakech41 Marrakech42 Marrakech43We strolled through the streets to go and visit the tanneries. My advice? Don’t bother! Before we could find the classic views of the vats of colourful dye we were gathered up into an impromptu tour of one man’s ‘patch’. It was interesting enough but the photos weren’t even worth keeping and I can’t say I learnt anything about the process that made it worth the smell. If anyone knows how to find the section that gives the classic views (I visited them last time I was there), do post a comment with info!

A bit more ‘souking’ followed – we weren’t necessarily interested in buying. Rather, wandering around the ancient alleyways is a major sight-seeing joy in its own right. Here’s today’s selection of pictures. There will be more tomorrow!

Marrakech20 Marrakech21 Marrakech22 Marrakech23 Marrakech24 Marrakech25Our final stop in our crammed day was the Menara gardens. Personally, I wouldn’t bother going again but I imagine if you went in the early morning or at sunset, the view would make up for the fact that this is a rather dull garden with a big resevoir and a building that frames pictures of the snowy mountains rather nicely.

Marrakech44 Marrakech45The highlight in these gardens was being ‘mobbed’ by a group of about 30 very enthusiastic school children who all wanted their photo taken with us. While we were joining in and finding it good fun, when their teachers arrived, they were horrified that the kids had ‘bothered’ us. They explained in French (and I was chuffed to understand) that the children were from a rural area and hadn’t met many tourists!

We forfeited the sunset on our second evening in favour of going for a beer in a hotel off the square. It was an expensive stop (about a tenner for two beers served with lots of gorgeous nuts and olives) but absolutely worth it, as it had been a hot day of wall to wall sight-seeing! If you find yourself needing a beer stop, then head for Hotel Les Jardins de La Koutoubia

Tomorrow – a trip to the mountain waterfalls with no photos, the Majorelle Gardens, rug-buying and some sunset pics.

By Carole Scott

 

Marrakech: the souks and square at night

Getting lost in the souks is an absolute must in terms of the Marrakech experience. To be honest, you probably won’t have a choice! If you do, then do just go with the flow. Worst comes to the worst – accept a tag-along ‘friend’ and pay them a bit to help you find your way again.

My friend Liz and I arrived at our Riad at about 8pm, so by the time we were ready to go out and eat, it was pretty dark. Armed with a hand-drawn map of the ‘short cut’ to the Jemaa el-Fnaa we set out. Within seconds we were confounded. I had been so laid back and ‘non preparing’ about the weekend break that I all I knew was that we were somewhere north east of the souks. Beyond that, I simply figured that we’d find our way with what the Riad staff provided us…should have known better as I’ve been to Marrakech before.

The alleyways around our Riad were straight out of the middle ages – dark, narrow and mysterious. At night, with lads lurking and eager to ‘help’, it could have felt dangerous. But do you know what? It just wasn’t. We smilingly shook off offers of help and found our way into the souks. At the northern end some were beginning to pack up for the evening. Eventually we stumbled upon the main artery, still packed with people at 9pm.

And out into the heaving, smoky square. The Jemaa al-Fnaa is a sensual feast. Musicians and story-tellers attract huddles of locals, keen to enjoy the evening’s entertainment. The smoke rising from hundreds of food stalls forms ever-shifting clouds, stinging the eyes and making the mouth water (and I’m not even a meat eater!).

I was a right old chicken on that first night, refusing to eat the street food in case my stomach rebelled. How foolish I was. It was the best food in the city, something I only found out on the last night. Take it from me, eating in the square offers the best choice, particularly if you’re a veggie who gets bored of unseasoned five-veg couscous and tagine after a couple of days!

Here’s some night time photos of the Jemaa el-Fnaa.

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Tomorrow, it’ll be onto souks, sunsets and people-watching!

By Carole Scott

 

Marrakech: sunny jewel in a dark April

Maroc Marrakech Jemaa-el-Fna Luc Viatour
Maroc Marrakech Jemaa-el-Fna Luc Viatour (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

I went to Marrakech for a long weekend last Friday. First off, I have to recommend cheap breaks website Ice Lolly. My friend Liz had used them before and she found a brilliant deal – just £350 for four nights and flights.

 

It was the perfect getaway. Liz has lovely children and they are now old enough for her to have a girls’ weekend away without feeling guilty or starting to miss them.

 

We both needed a break from the miserable weather and we couldn’t have timed it better.  Marrakech had storms and rain on Friday but we didn’t arrive until about 8pm, once they were over. We woke to brilliant blue skies on Saturday and they stayed that way all weekend.

 

You can’t expect too much from a £350 break – our Riad is billed as four star but was a bit dusty and worn around the edges. For us (keen backpackers, not bothered about luxury touches) it was absolutely spot on.

 

I don’t have pictures of Riad Amsaffah yet, as I have temporarily lost my photos, but I should be sorting out the photo issue tomorrow and will gleefully post as many as I can. And by the way, the ‘delete after download’ option will now always be unticked by me; I’ve learnt my lesson the hard way. My download failed but the delete went ahead despite this. I understand from the ever helpful internet that they will still be on the memory card (as long as I don’t use it). Unfortunately the free software I downloaded didn’t recognise my camera as a drive, so I’m waiting for a card reader to arrive tomorrow before I can sort it out. I mention all of this, as I hope that other bloggers can learn from my mistake!

 

So until I have sorted out my own photos, I’ll resist writing of my sun- and souk-filled days in Marrakech.

 

In the meantime, here are my top tips:

 

1. Take a canny bottle of your favourite spirit from duty free if you’re partial to a sunset drink. Mint tea is glorious but there is something so lovely about a ‘proper’ drink at that time of day and the rooftop locations around the Jemaa El Fna don’t serve alcohol.

 

2. The gates to the souk all close by 10pm at the latest, so if your Riad requires you to walk through them from the square, make sure you leave yourself enough time! We did but it was very close on the last evening. Taxis are surprisingly expensive and the drivers aren’t keen to haggle.

 

3. Budget to buy a rug. Sitting down to drink tea and be presented with a fulsome range of kilims is a great experience.

 

4. Visit the Majorelle Gardens, as they are stunning. But go early. By 10 a.m. they get busy and it’s a small place.

 

5. Get lost. Allow a whole afternoon simply to wander the souks without worrying where you are. It is like stepping back into the middle ages and is the most absorbing sight-seeing possible.

 

By Carole Scott

 

Jordan: walking through the Siq

English: Petra, view on Al Khaznehfrom the siq...
English: Petra, view on Al Khaznehfrom the siq Deutsch: Petra, Blick auf Khazne al-Firaun aus dem Siq (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

My favourite place in the world is Petra, the hidden Nabatean city in southern Jordan.

 

It is hard to describe the hold and the pull that this mystical, magical place has on me. I visited first in 1994, before tourism took off. It was the year that the Jordanian and Israeli governments opened the border and day trippers were just beginning to hop over from cruises.

 

I was with Explore Worldwide, back in the days when they really WERE all about small group travel (sadly, that changed many years ago). There were eight of us plus a British tour leader, who was passionate about Jordan and hugely knowledgeable about the geology of the beautiful rocks.

 

It was a formative holiday for me and when I took a short career break eight years ago to become a tour leader, I was thrilled to be sent to the Middle East, to take tourists on a circuit of Lebanon, Syria and Jordan.

 

Petra has remained an inspiration and I hope to take a small group of friends there in spring 2014, Inshallah.

 

In the meantime, it has been the backdrop to my biggest creative project to date: a novel. I have no idea whether the finished article will be of publishable standard but I have loved every minute spent writing this tale.

 

I thought I’d share the passage in my manuscript where the protagonist walks through the Siq for the first time. For those of you who have visited Petra, I’d love to know whether the description resonates. For those of you who haven’t, I hope it inspires you to visit. You will be richly rewarded….

 

Alex woke with the call to prayer. She liked the plaintive wail. It was a powerful reminder that she was in a strange land.

 

She crept down the hallway, anxious not to wake anyone and feeling like a thief leaving the scene of a crime. In reception, she was offered a small breakfast. She relished the strong coffee and wrapped up the food.

 

She was at the entrance gate at six. The first small rays of light were stretching over the hills behind her to light the path ahead. Alex was surprised at how open it was. She had expected to be surrounded by the tall narrow rock walls of a gorge. This was a proper track, wide enough for a car and open to the skies. The rocks formed a tight wall to her right with the valley stretching fifteen metres to her left. There was no one around but she could hear horses whinnying and men talking in a stable block somewhere behind her.

 

Alex came to the start of the gorge. Huge rocks rose in front of her, with an opening enticing her in. She felt goose bumps on her arms and a shiver at the back of her neck.

 

She spent the next half hour in wide-eyed wonder; the ravine was narrow – in some places just a couple of metres wide – and the rocks curved up as far as the eye could see, with a narrow band of pale blue light above. Each twist and turn brought a new pattern in the sandstone and Alex stopped every few minutes to admire the layered waves of colour. The peace was broken by an occasional flurry of wings, as birds took off from nests high above. Alex wrapped the silence around her like a pashmina. It was both spooky and comforting.

 

Footsteps made her jump. She swung round as two figures emerged from a bend. She smiled and the couple nodded a silent greeting in return. Alex waited a few minutes before carrying on. With each swirling bend in the path, Alex wondered if the famous view would be just around the next corner.

 

There it was; a slender, uneven slice of light pink embossed with columns and carvings. Alex gasped, the familiar postcard sight made new and exhilarating in real life. She paused, allowing her eyes to adjust to the light, and looked into the narrow frame.

 

She emerged into sunshine. The tall façade rose up before her in an area surrounded by towering cliff faces. A path broke the rocks to her right, disappearing into a bend. She gazed at the sight in front of her. El Kazneh! Tears pricked her eyes and although no one was around, she felt foolish for being so moved by a stone monument. Alex marvelled that this grandiose, intricate façade was carved out of the rock, not built into it. Pairs of square marks ran up the side, as if someone had carved footholds in order to climb up to create the higher reaches.

 

She walked toward the building and climbed up the steps into the shade. There was nothing inside but it was impressive all the same, the cool, dank walls covered in wavy stripes of multi-coloured sandstone.

 

By the time she came out, the rough-hewn square was full of activity. A camel was folded onto its knees by the steps, its prehistoric moans echoing in the square, and a few Bedouin men were unpacking things to sell.

 
By Carole Scott

 

Marrakech: your tips please!

Marrakech: Majorelle Gardens
Marrakech: Majorelle Gardens (Photo credit: Martin and Kathy Dady)

I’m going to Marrakech in 11 days’ time and I’ve not had a chance to think about it. It has been 11 years since I was last there, so I need some tips from the wonderful blogging community I belong to.

The Majorelle Gardens are number one on my list, as I missed them last time.

Apart from the obvious (hanging out in the medina), what should I be doing? I need restaurant and bar recommendations too please!

By Carole Scott

Isle of Wondrous Spring…in January

Back in January, I trooped off to the Isle of Wight with a bunch of strangers for a walking weekend. Today I am remembering that mild, sunny weekend with great fondness, as sit in my living room wearing a huge jumper, with a woolly scarf wrapped around my neck. For here in Britain, as we head toward the end of March, it is a shudder-inducing 0ºC outside.

I had only ever been to Cowes before, in the height of summer, sailing for the day with friends who own a lovely boat. I wasn’t expecting much; I didn’t think the Isle of Wight would wow me given I’m from Scotland and have been many times to the Peaks and Cumbria.

I recommend this lovely pocket island for a weekend visit. The walking was superb – strenuous but across chalky clifftops with big wide skies.

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We were all delighted by the sheep dogs who leapt up onto the back of a quad bike to hitch a ride rather than run:

Even working dogs need a rest.
Even working dogs need a rest.

The sun was glorious – it looks cold here but it was beautiful.

iow02We spotted a red squirrel who stayed still for ages but even so it was hard to get a decent photo among the spikey branches.

A twinkle in his eye
A twinkle in his eye

And I loved the cattle; reminded me of being in Scotland.

iow06 iow07I like this view for its perspective and the feeling of the unknown waiting behind the crest of the ridge.

Do you know where you're going to?
Do you know where you’re going to?

At the end of the first day’s walk, we passed by a crazy little garden. It’s a bizarre way to try and raise money for lifeboats!

iow10 iow11We stayed in a FANTASTIC manor house; Northcourt Manor. Our group was so large that we rented out the entire house but it’s possible to stay as an individual as a B&B guest. I will be returning, as it was a little haven.

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After a Burns’ Night Supper and Ceilidh on Saturday night, I was well and truly ‘grouped out’ by Sunday morning. Rather than going on another walk, I decided to explore the garden in the crisp winter sun. It was so warm that after I had taken enough photos to fill a book, I sat in a sunny spot, coat and jumper flung to one side.

The garden was full of contrasts – the remnants of winter mixed with the promise of spring.

iow13 iow14 iow15 iow16 iow17 iow18 iow19 iow20What other little pockets of secret loveliness can people recommend in the UK?

By Carole Scott